Questions that Inform

Sometimes a question is asked and and the hearer learns items from how the question is asked or maybe the content of the question tells the one asking certain things about the questioner. For instance: a class of students may ask the lecturer questions about the lesson where the lecturer gauges the general and specific comprehension of the students. However, this is not my focus.

Language usage has fascinated me from my youngest years. I almost couldn’t help it. Whenever my parents wanted to talk among themselves something they didn’t want their children knowing, they would speak their native language, which wasn’t native to their children. Also, the language of our home was different from the surrounding culture. So, I had one language to talk with my friends and at school, another with which to converse with my sister, brothers, and parents, and one to try to figure out what was being kept from me. All languages have ways to ask questions, give commands, and make statements according to Peter Cottrell and Max Turner in Linguistic and Biblical Interpretation.

However, these authors note, about 70% of the interrogatives in the New Testament are rhetorical, and as such, they give information rather than making a quest for content. The authors give a few examples to highlight this feature: When the writer of Hebrews states: “How shall we neglect so great a salvation? (2.3)” he is not expecting his audience to formulate creative ways of neglect. Additionally, in John 7.51, Nicodemus asks his fellows at the Sanhedrin: “Does our Law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” It is not that Nicodemus didn’t know the answer to his question, but to remind them of what they were ignoring.

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