. How to Quickly Find Every Rhetorical Question in the New Testament

How to Quickly Find Every Rhetorical Question in the New Testament

How would you find all the rhetorical questions in the New Testament—like “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Finding such questions—questions which aren’t seeking answers but are instead making statements—is a tougher task than it may first appear. As far as I know, Logos 7 is the only tool that can do it.

Sentence Types

Every kid in school is taught the three sentence types:

  • Declarative sentences make assertions, such as, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son.”
  • Interrogative sentences ask questions, such as, “Who do men say that I am?”
  • Imperative sentences give commands, such as, “Let your light shine before others.” (Sometimes “exclamatory” sentences are added to the list, those which state something emphatically, but we’ll subsume those under declarative).

Logos 7 includes the “Sentence Types” dataset dividing New Testament clauses into these three categories.

But if you want to find a rhetorical question in Scripture, you can’t just search for question marks—because not all interrogatives are rhetorical. There is nothing grammatical that sets a rhetorical question apart from other questions. The tense of the verb, the order of the words in the sentence—it all looks just the same as an information-seeking question. We know a rhetorical question when we see one only because we humans are experts at discerning meaning.

Speech Acts

That’s why Logos 7 also includes the Speech Acts dataset. It describes sentences in the New Testament according to the apparent purpose of those who uttered or wrote them.

Speech Acts (in the schema adopted by this dataset) also divide into three categories: “informative” speech acts, which deliver (or request) information; “obligative” speech acts, which direct someone to do something or promise that the speaker will do something; or “constitutive” speech acts, which either state something about the speaker’s internal state or, if the speaker has the requisite authority, effect change in the real world (the classic example is, “I now pronounce you husband and wife”—which only works if you’re the right person in the right setting).

If you made it through that paragraph, I’m giving you five extra points. Now let’s get to the good stuff: examples. Here are two passages illuminated by the Speech Acts dataset. The first two are rhetorical questions.

1. “Who is it that struck you?”

You know intuitively that not all interrogatives are uttered for the purpose of seeking information. For example, take the mocking “question” of the men slapping Jesus as he stood before the chief priests the night prior to his crucifixion:

Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matt. 26:67–68).

This is a kind of rhetorical question, one in which the individual speaking is expressing something about himself, namely his cruelty and mockery. The Sentence Types dataset faithfully and rightly marks that last sentence as an interrogative. But the Speech Acts dataset marks it as a “Constitutive-Expressive” speech act. That language is doing something, it’s expressing the speaker’s inner state.

2. “Which one of you, when his son asks for a fish, will give him a stone?”

There’s another kind of rhetorical question, one which states something as fact:

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9)

This is a rhetorical question, because Jesus wasn’t expecting anyone to raise his hand say, “Uh, me—yeah, I’ve done that. . .” Jesus was doing what good teachers do; he was using an interrogative sentence type to state a fact dramatically, namely, “nobody does this.”

More power

Anybody with basic language-processing capability can tell what the two passages above mean. You don’t need two wonky datasets to help you. So why bother with them?

Because: only by combining the power of the datasets like the Speech Acts and Sentence Types datasets can we search for both form (which tell us what kind of sentence we’re reading) and meaning (which tells us why that sentence is there). Only with these two datasets can you find rhetorical questions.

And not just rhetorical questions—these two datasets can find other interesting things, such as declarative sentences which are doing something more subtle than relaying information.

“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly” (Matt. 8:6) is marked as a declarative sentence type, but as an “obligative-directive” speech act. On the level of form, the centurion is stating something; on the level of meaning, he’s trying to get Jesus to do something for him.

Again, you know this intuitively when you read it, but can you find other examples?

The How-To

To find out how a given clause is marked, just right click on it and look at the bottom right of the context menu that comes up. Let’s try this on the rhetorical question in Matt. 5:13:

If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?

After you right click, click the sentence type in the context menu, then select “search this resource” on the left to search the NT for other instances of that sentence type.


Click the Speech Act label, then select “search this resource” on the left to search the NT for other instances of that type of speech act.


Look at the searches you just generated. They’ll look something like this:

{Section <Sentence ~ Interrogative>}

{Section <SpeechAct = Info.:Assert.>}

Now just copy and paste one of them next to the other, and type “INTERSECTS” between them:

{Section <Sentence ~ Interrogative>} INTERSECTS {Section <SpeechAct = Info.:Assert.>}

If you’d like to run this search yourself, and if you have Logos 7, click here. Run this search, and you’ll see every place in the NT where an interrogative sentence is used as an informative speech act. In other words, what you will find are rhetorical questions.

You can’t find them any other way besides searching with Logos 7—or taking a highlighter to the Bible yourself. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but Logos is quicker.

mark ward
Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.


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Written by
Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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  • Mark:
    Thanks for sharing this. This is the type of search that I enjoy doing, but I would have had great difficulty developing it by myself.

    One thing that I observed is that it makes a difference over which search expression is put first. When using the NIV, one order results in about three and a half more hints than the other order.
    {Section } WITHIN {Section } results in 978 results in 663 verses.
    {Section } WITHIN {Section } results in 290 hits in 185 verses.

    Both were done with “Search All Bible Test in All Passages in The New International Version.”
    The second version seems to be better catching rhetorical questions. For example, Matt 2:2: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” and Matt 2:4: “he asked them where the Messiah was to be born” are both caught by the first query order, but not the second. I would not consider either of these questions rhetorical because a response was expected.

    I did not try other translation as yet. I just wanted to share my first result that order does make a difference. Also all results are from the New Testament. Perhaps the tagging for the Old Testament is not yet complete?

    Thanks again for sharing.


    • Good call. I’ve changed “WITHIN” to “INTERSECTS” in the post. (I chose “WITHIN” when writing this a number of weeks ago before we introduced/I was aware of the “INTERSECTS” operator.) Here’s why, borrowing from the wisdom of our own Rick Brannan, you got different results depending on the order you placed the search terms in: “WITHIN” depends on what is found first—a smaller unit may not consider a larger unit to be “WITHIN” it. But an intersection does. In other words, the order in which one “WITHIN”s units matters; the order in which one INTERSECTS does not.

  • My understanding is that at present, the speech acts dataset pertains only to the New Testament.

  • Hi Mark, thanks for these helpful instructions. Perhaps in your article you might want to mention that one must have the full feature set in order to have the speech acts dataset. The way you have it, it seems like it is always included with Logos 7. But someone who only has the starter dataset will not be able to do this search.

    • You are right. Someone else has made this comment, and I apologize to readers for failing to clarify in the first draft that this requires the full feature set. I’ve been using the new features since before their release and I do sometimes forget that to others they are brand new or not yet owned.

  • I appreciate tutorials like this one because I have always had a hard time fully understanding how to use all of Logos’ features. I realize you provide some basic tutorials which I’m grateful for, and I know about the seminars I can attend, but traveling to a seminar and the cost are not very practical for me. If I could vote for one feature, it would be for you to spend time clearly explaining how to use all the features without have to pay again to attend a seminar.

    • Your wish is our command! Were you aware of the Logos Pro page? We have there exactly what you asked for: videos providing free training.

      Note, too, that we actually don’t provide seminars. Morris Proctor’s excellent Camp Logos seminars are highly recommended, but Morris is not an employee of Faithlife. The Logos Pro team is the first sustained effort at free training that Faithlife has provided.

  • Ok, so I ran this search: {Section } INTERSECTS {Section } in the NASB 95 and got 1028 results, including Mt 2.4 where “where the Messiah was to be born.” is highlighted… I get the same result by switching the order, but I guess Mt 2.4 is inappropriately tagged in the NASB?

    • I saw this one, too, and wondered the same thing. Tagging is done by humans, not computers, so errors can occur. More likely, however, this is a sentence in which different judgments are possible. This is marked as a declarative and an interrogative at different levels. And it is indeed a question they’re asking, though not with straightforward interrogative grammatical features. I guess the question is: would you want this to come up in a search for questions? I would. I’d rather find a few borderline cases than miss them completely.

      • I suppose so, though I am not sure how useful it is to think of this particular passage as a question.

        Which of course strays from the point of your post. It is a nice feature and it is good to learn how to do it.

  • Mark, could this method be used to find all the places where Jesus warned people that they would miss out on the kingdom, eg. ‘cannot be my disciple’ Lk 14.26; ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Mt 25.12; ‘shepherd separates’ Mt 25.32; ‘gnashing of teeth’ Mt 13.50

    • Boy, I’m not sure I’m following you… Do such warnings map to either sentence types or particular speech acts? Note that the list of speech acts is provided in the help file here.

  • Thanks, Mark, for this nice tutorial.
    I have Logos 7, I can do both searches separately, but when I combine them (either creating the search myself or copying it from your tutorial) then the results are zero…

    Btw, I am using the ESV and NIV84, both with the same zero result.

    Any idea of what goes wrong?

    I have a screenshot but I don’t see a way to add that to this post.

  • Thanks, Mark.

    A great example of the power of Logos. Have appreciated it since Logos 1.6.

    I have always noticed that as improvements/corrections are made to the data, I get different search results. Please suggest that every search results page include the data version (e.g. NIV84: 2014-10-30T03:55:23Z & 2014-10-30T03:42:58Z) and the search engine version (e.g. Logos 7.1 SR-1 ( I always append that info to my footnotes so that next time I do the same search, I know why the results are different.

    • Wow. Good point. This would be true especially if you’re looking for academic levels of accuracy in citation. The simple fact is that when the Bible gets tagged by humans, and gets tagged according to meaning and not just form, you are going to get “errors” and, much more commonly, differences of opinion. What we’re aiming at with the Speech Acts dataset in particular is not “truth” so much as “usefulness.” Does that make sense? Then again, I disagreed with the taggers on one verse and told them so, and they ended up agreeing with me and changing the tagging at that place. =)

  • Am I doing something wrong? I right-click on the phrase, but there are no search options appearing in the left panel.

    • I apologize for my delay in replying (and please say hello to Micah M. for me =).

      It does appear this should be working for you given the base packages you own. Are you in the NT? The Speech Acts and Sentence Types datasets cover only the NT.

      If you are, type “Update Resources” in your command bar, restart the app, and try again. If you still don’t get them, I’m afraid you’ll need to call customer service at 800-875-6467. We’ll get you fixed up. This is such a neat feature; we don’t want you going without.

  • Help. I’ve tried this a couple of times and am not receiving the results described in the column. Not only are all my results from Matthew, not the entire NT, but few of them, if any, are questions, rhetorical or otherwise. Is there a glitch when doing this on a MacBook Pro (my computer) as opposed to a PC? I’m using 7.0 Gold.

    • I apologize for my delay in replying. It does appear this should be working for you given the base packages you own.

      Send me a screenshot if you would (you can do so here)—or call customer service at 800-875-6467. We’ll get you fixed up.

      • Hi Mark,
        I’m having a similar problem to Mike. I don’t get the questions rhetorical or otherwise (which is what I meant by my earlier response above). I’m also using a MacBook Pro as opposed to a PC. I was Logos 6 Gold and did a base upgrade to get the full feature set so I’m not sure what I am now …

        • Hmm… You do have the full feature set (I checked), so type “Update resources” in your command bar, hit enter, give it a minute, then restart the app. Then try again. If it still doesn’t work, I’m afraid you’ll need to call customer service at 800-875-6467. But they’re friendly, I promise!

Written by Mark Ward