Reading for Understanding: The 5 Ws

Over the course of this week, I (Pastor Lorinda) will be sharing several approaches to reading Scripture. Today I’m discussing an approach I call the 5 Ws. This is not a particularly helpful approach if you are reading five verses a day. The 5ws works best with longer passages of Scripture, ideally a whole “unit,” meaning an entire parable, for example, or a complete story (like the story of Jesus walking on water). If you have a Bible that includes “sections titles” (usually in italics), the “units” are easy to see.

The 5Ws approach is a good one if 1) you want to understand what is happening in what you are reading and 2) you have some time to study and ponder.

Start by reading the passage at least once. Then ask the 5 W questions:

Who: Who appears in this passage? Who is being talked about? What do you know about each person named or mentioned in the passage

When: When is this happening? I don’t mean a specific date (in many cases for Scripture, we don’t know this). Instead, look for what happened before or after this happened. If you have a study Bible, you might also check the introduction for clues about when these events happened and/or other “when” information. (For example, you may learn that the letter from Paul you are reading was written when he was in prison). How does understanding “when” of this event/story/parable affect your understanding of it?

Where: Where are the events of this passage happening? Or where are the people for whom this passage was first written? If the passage itself doesn’t tell you, look at any notes you ave in your study Bible.

What: What is happening here? What is going on? What is being said? What does it mean?

Why: Why is this happening? Why is it important? Why was it included in Scripture? Why does it matter to me/to Christians today?

You won’t always be able to answer every one of these questions, and that’s o.k. But the 5 Ws gives you a framework to reflect on and become more familiar with Scripture.

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