Have you ever noticed that people who ask questions are not necessarily looking for answers?

Some ask questions to show their displeasure:
To the waiter…You call this a corned beef sandwich?
On the road…Wher’dja learn howda drive, Jersey?
To the pupil whose dog allegedly ate the assignment…You expect me to believe that?

Other more tactful people ask questions to provide guidance:
To a spouse…Do you really think you should be eating that?
To a child…If everybody else jumped off the Empire State Building, would you jump, too?
To a friend…Would you care for a breath mint?

But the most ingenious question of all is the one that looks like it’s asking you, when in fact it is telling you, what you want:

Q. What would you like for dinner?
A. Steak sounds good.
Q. Steak? You don’t think we’ve been eating too much red meat?
A. Okay. Chicken then.
Q. Chicken? Do you know how many hormones they shoot into those birds?
A. So forget the chicken and we’ll have veal.
Q. Veal? I guess I could go out in the rain and buy you some, although I am just getting over a cold. Or would you maybe rather have the nice salmon steaks I just thawed that need to get eaten before they spoil?
A. Look, do what you want and just stop asking me!!!
Q. So when did it become a crime to ask what you want for dinner?

Not all non-questions are as easy to spot as the ones above. Many people ask questions” which are designed to make you feel guilty or trap you. We’ve all heard the variations on the “have you stopped beating your wife” theme, such as, “Doesn’t it bother you that your faith in Jesus is putting your parents into an early grave?”

One of the most fruitless and frustrating things you can do is try to answer a question that really isn’t a question. Yet as believers, we often feel obligated to answer all questions about our faith, even though there are times when we suspect it would be better to remain silent. After all, the Apostle Peter said, “in your hearts set apart the Messiah as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

We can obey Scripture and still avoid answering insincere questions by comparing Scriptures and understanding them as groups of teachings on various topics. For example, in considering I Peter 3:15, we must also think about Matthew 21:23-27. There we read how the Messiah, the one whose example we are to follow, clearly refused to answer a question. Jesus knew that the questions of the chief priests and elders were insincere and divisive. They were looking for fuel to fire their accusations.

Yeshua had no reservations about rolling this strategy right back onto his opposition. Notice how he answered by asking a question which his accusers could not answer without losing face. When they realized whatever answer they gave about the authority of John the Baptist would implicate them, the chief priests and elders simply told Jesus, “We don’t know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Matthew 21:27)

Notice the beauty of Yeshua’s reply to his opposition. He did not say, “Well, then, I don’t know the answer to your question either.” Neither will I tell you reveals that Jesus knew his accusers were not unable, but unwilling to answer his question. Jesus did not pretend ignorance, nor did he allow his opposition to feign ignorance. In essence he told them, “I have no more intention of answering a question designed to trap me than you do.”

Believers in Yeshua ought to be prepared; we should have a readiness of heart and mind to explain what Yeshua has done for us to everyone who truly wants to know. But a sincere seeker is interested in knowing what you think, not showing why you’re wrong. Sometimes the best thing you can do when someone asks an insincere question is point out the fact that they don’t really want to know. This may come as a surprise to them—it may even be the first step on the way to a less biased look at the gospel.

To help you recognize an insincere inquiry, here are a few tracks of the “carnivorous question beast.”

  • Rapid-fire questions that don’t allow you to finish one answer before the next one crashes in on you like a relentless wave on the shore.
  • Questions that begin with “How could you…’ or “Why don’t you.…” Those are accusations, not inquiries as to the means or the mode.
  • Questions that are supposedly about what you believe but always focus on who you are instead of who Jesus is. After all, we don’t need to explain ourselves.

The mark of a real question is that it allows you to give a meaningful answer which the other party is willing to consider.

Of course, if there is a doubt as to whether or not a question is sincere, it is always better to give the benefit of the doubt and answer. Yet your answer should be brief. Their response will help you to know whether or not they are seeking to know what is true. Sometimes even an insincere query can be turned around with an insightful reply. The best thing for any of us to do is pray that we will have the mind of Yeshua and respond as he would respond to unbelievers whom we encounter.

But what about believers? Believers in Yeshua also occasionally ask questions that are not really questions. They usually start with “Don’t you think it is unscriptural to…” and then they describe something you have done or said, and list several Scriptures to point out why you should not have done or said it. If they were interested in whether or not you thought something was unscriptural, they would not have listed all the verses to back their point of view. Many believers find it difficult to come right out and say, “I’m offended” or “My feelings are hurt” or even “I disagree.” Believers try to avoid confrontation; instead we sometimes try to lead one another to our own conclusion by “asking” questions.

If a brother or sister asks a sanctimonious question to prove their point, once again, pray for the mind of Yeshua. Do be gracious enough to consider their point aside from their manner. They may have chosen a poor way to make a good point. Whether or not you agree with them, you might smile and say, “You seem to be asking me such-and-such, but I think you are really trying to tell me so-and-so.” You may or may not want to pursue the conversation from there. But we should help one another to be forthright and avoid expressing complaints in the form of a question.

I’m glad to say, as we sort through the Mishpochah Mailbag, we rarely find that kind of question. Most of the complaints we get are pretty straightforward, and most of the questions are very real. In fact, we feel that many of your questions are of general concern to the mishpochah. We decided to combine them into composites and publish them in this issue, along, with answers from Moishe Rosen, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, and Mitch Glaser. So, dig in!