Example of the Four Questions Method of Bible Interpretation: Exodus 20:1-17

A couple of weeks ago, I shared four questions that can be asked of any passage in Scripture. This is a simple method of Bible interpretation meant to help someone discover the meaning and significance of any Bible passage. The questions are designed to help the interpreter keep the immediate context of the passage in view as well as the way the passage fits into the big story of the Bible. The questions are also framed in a way that promotes a Christ-centered/gospel-centered interpretation and application of the text.

Below is an example of how the Four Questions Method could be used to study Exodus 20:1-17 (the giving of the Ten Commandments).

1. How does this passage fit into the larger context of the biblical book of which it is a part, and what is the book and passage’s role in the big story of the Bible?

  • Which book of the Bible is this passage in, and what is the major purpose for which that book was written and included in God’s Word?

Exodus. The purpose of Exodus is to give an account of how God rescued his chosen people from slavery in Egypt. This is one of the greatest salvation events in the Bible. The hope of a “second exodus” is what God’s people long for at the end of the Old Testament when they are sent into exile and become the servants of a foreign nation once again.

  • How does this passage contribute to the purpose of the book of which it is a part?

This passage shows that as a result of God saving and delivering his people (Exod 20:1-2) those people now have a relationship with him in which they are expected to obey his commands (vv. 3-17). The Savior God is also the Lord and Master of his people. God’s commands are summarized in the Ten Commandments and are expanded upon in the rest of the law of Moses.

  • How does the message of this passage fit into the big story of the Bible?

As part of the redemption portion of the Bible’s story, this passage on the giving of the Ten Commandments shows that part of God’s goal in redeeming a people for himself is that those people will live in complete obedience to him. This goal of God is also seen in his expectation that Adam and Eve obey him. As God’s story of redemption unfolds throughout the rest of the Old Testament and on into the New Testament, we learn that all people ultimately fail to completely obey the Ten Commandments, as well as the rest of God’s laws, and therefore deserve death as punishment for their sins (see Rom 3:23, and 6:23). Mankind’s failure to obey these laws shows us why we need Jesus if redemption is going to be possible. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments, and sacrificed his life so that we could be forgiven of all the ways we have disobeyed them. The Holy Spirit helps Christians obey God’s commands, but we won’t perfectly obey them until we get to heaven, and then forever in the new creation where we will always walk in perfect obedience to the Ten Commandments and all the rest of God’s standards.

2. What are the principles this passage teaches about God, man, sin, and salvation?

  • Does the passage teach us something about who God is and what God does?

It reminds us that God is Savior (vv. 1-2) as well as Lord and Master (vv. 3-17). It teaches us that God is righteous and that he has righteous standards. It shows us that God reveals to man what his laws are.

  • Does the passage teach us something about who man is and what God expects man’s behavior to be?

It teaches us that man is lower than God and is expected to obey God.

  • Does the passage teach us something about man’s fallenness and sin?

The very fact that these laws are given reveals man’s propensity to sin. If man was perfect, then these laws would not be needed. The laws have to be given because men commonly commit the sins these laws are meant to prevent.

  • Does the passage teach us something about God’s plan to save the world from sin?

It teaches us that when it comes to having a relationship with God, salvation comes before obedience. The Israelites did not first obey God, and then on the basis of that obedience receive God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt. Rather, God first saved them from Egypt by his sheer mercy, and then those who were saved were expected to obey in their ongoing relationship with God. This pattern is the same in the New Testament (see Eph 2:8-10).

3. How do the principles taught in this passage point out my sins and shortcomings of which I need to repent?

  • Does this passage give a command I need to obey? Do I need to repent of not obeying that command faithfully?

Yes, all of the Ten Commandments.

  • Does this passage give an example I need to follow or avoid (from a faithful or unfaithful Bible character, for instance)? Do I need to repent of not following or avoiding that example?

Besides God’s example of resting on the Sabbath (v. 11), no other examples are given, just commands.

  • Does this passage give a truth I need to believe? Do I need to repent of not fully believing in this truth?

That God is a righteous God. That God is a “jealous” God (v. 5). That God punishes disobedience (v. 5) and blesses obedience (v. 6). That God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (v. 11).

4. How do the principles in this passage lead me to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and model my life on His perfect example?

  • Confess to God the specific ways you have not lived up to the principles in the passage you are studying, and trust that because of the cross of Christ God will forgive you of those specific sins.
  • In what ways does Jesus perfectly exemplify the principles in the passage you are studying?

Jesus is the only man who has ever completely obeyed the Ten Commandments at all times (see Heb 4:15). He always perfectly refused to have any other gods before God the Father, and never served any other gods. He never took the name of the Lord in vain. He always remembered the Sabbath (fulfilling it in fact! see Heb 4) and kept it holy. He always honored his earthly father and mother as well as his heavenly Father. He never murdered or even hated someone in his heart. He never committed adultery physically or in his heart. He never stole. He never bore false witness against his neighbor. And he never coveted anything that wasn’t his. Jesus was and is perfectly obedient to the Father and perfectly righteous.

  • Ask God to conform you to the image of Christ in these areas.
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