Why Did the Fishermen Leave Their Nets? Part 2 (Asking the Right Questions in Inductive Bible Study)

If you are just joining in with this post, I invite you to visit “part 1” of this lesson and complete those exercises first. Then come on back here to complete part 2.

In part 1, we practiced making observations from Matthew 4:17-22. After making observations, we want to start making inferences based on those observations.

Asking “Interpretive Questions”

Before we get to the process of making inferences, I want to introduce a step that may help you as you start out.

When you are first learning to move from observation to inference, it can be helpful to start by asking “interpretive questions.” Those questions help move you from observation to inference.

We want to ask three kinds of questions:

  1. Definition = What?
  2. Rational = Why?
  3. Implications = What are the implications?

As you get used to this process, you will be able to move from observation to inference without making a formal list of questions. But for now, let’s practice coming up with those questions.

Matthew 4:17-22 Observations and Questions

Here again are my sample observations from Matthew 4:17-22. These are the same observations I shared with you in the last lesson.

Below each observation, I have listed the “interpretive questions” I came up with. Notice that I have included all three kinds of questions – what, why, and implications. (“How” questions can sometimes be helpful in addition to “What” questions.)

Verses 17-18: I observe that Jesus preaching is followed directly by Jesus gathering fishermen.

What is involved in connecting these two actions? How are these actions of preaching and gathering fishermen related? Why does the author place these two actions in direct relationship? What are the implications of this connection?

Verses 17-20: I observe that the description of the fishermen with their nets comes directly after Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God being at hand.

What is the nature of the relationship between these two items? Why does the author make a direct transition from one to the other? What are the implications of this transition?

Verses 17-19: I observe that Jesus’ invitation for the fishermen to follow Him comes directly after His preaching and His words about repentance and the kingdom of God.

What is the nature of the relationship between Jesus’ invitation to the fishermen and the topics He discusses immediately before this? How do the kingdom of heaven and repentance connect with the invitation to follow? Why does the author follow Jesus’ preaching with this invitation to follow? What are the implications of placing these two moments one after another?

Verse 20: I observe that the word “immediately” gives a sense of either urgency or not lingering or hesitating. (This word is repeated in the next paragraph, verse 22, under similar circumstances.)

What does “immediately” mean in this situation and how does it affect the narrative? Why does the author include this adverb? What are the implications of the brothers following “immediately”?

Verses 19-20: I observe that the author emphasizes the role of nets for the fishermen. (This imagery is carried over into verse 21 as well.)

What is the significance of the nets? What does leaving their nets mean to the brothers and to the earliest readers? Leaving their daily work and what they know? Their identity? Their security? What are they giving up? Why does the author include this imagery of nets? Why is leaving their nets the result of following Jesus? What are the implications of the “net” imagery as well as following Jesus by leaving the nets?

Verses 19-20: I observe that the author contrasts the casting of nets and the leaving of nets.

What specifically is being contrasted in the two different actions regarding nets? Why does the author emphasize these differences? What are the implications of this contrast?

Verses 17-20: I observe that the author gives two different sentences of Jesus’ words, and each is followed by a demonstrated response to these words.

What is involved with each response? Why does the author follow Jesus’ words by a demonstrated response (twice)? What are the implications of this demonstrated response to Jesus’ words?

Verses 19-20: I observe that the author sets up an “if-then” connection and two-way dynamic: “Follow me, and I will make.” If you follow, [then] I will make. The offer is conditional (if-then), and the possible response requires a two-way exchange: the brothers can follow Him, and then He will make them fishers of men. The response becomes actual in verse 20, but it is preceded by the conditional.

What is specifically involved in this if-then connection and this two-way response? How does the conditional statement and the two-way dynamic shed light on the brothers’ response in verse 20? Why does the author precede the response in verse 20 with the conditional in verse 19? Why does the author emphasize the two-way dynamic? What are the implications of this conditional, two-way dynamic and response?

Verse 17: I observe that the content of Jesus’ preaching highlighted in this narrative is repentance and the kingdom of heaven. The content of Jesus’ preaching sounds similar to what John the Baptist was preaching (in the RSV, the words of Matthew 4:17 are identical to Matthew 3:2). And this paragraph follows right after a reference to John the Baptist (verse 12).

What specifically is involved in repentance and the kingdom of heaven? What do these words mean in the context of Jesus’ preaching? What do these words mean to the earliest readers of this narrative? What is the significance of repentance in this narrative? What does the author mean by that term in this particular paragraph? Does the meaning differ from what the earliest readers are familiar with? If so, how and what are the implications? Why does the author focus on these two terms as the content for Jesus’ preaching? What are the implications of focusing on these two terms regarding His preaching?

Verse 17: I observe that Jesus specifically refers to the “kingdom of heaven.” Not an earthly kingdom. Not a hypothetical kingdom. Not the “kingdom of God.” But specifically the “kingdom of heaven.”

What specifically does “kingdom of heaven” mean in this context and for the earliest readers? What is involved with the grammatical construction “kingdom of heaven”? Why does the author specifically use “kingdom of heaven”? What are the implications for using this phrase in this way and in this context?

Your Turn to Ask Interpretive Questions

Do you see how these questions begin to move you toward a deeper understanding of the passage? That deeper understanding leads to coming up with inferences that will lead to a careful interpretation of the passage.

Once you review these sample questions and get the idea of asking interpretive questions, go ahead and come up with questions for the observations you’ve already made on this Bible passage. Use all three kinds of questions: what, why, and implications.

Remember to contact me if you have questions. I am praying for you as you begin to explore inductive Bible study more deeply. God bless!