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The Bible: Verses and Chapters and Why They Don’t Do Justice

The bible wasn’t originally written with verses and chapters. That may come as a surprise to many; others have already stopped reading because they knew that already. While chapters and verses have helped many remember where specific stories or ideals are in the bible and help keep our sacred text organized at times I think these consecutive numbers do us more harm than good.

I believe there are over thirty thousand verses in the bible. There are hundreds of commentaries on each verse of the bible. These are all great resources to help understand the bible more completely. However, I think sometimes that even these commentaries add to the confusion to what our bible is meant to be. We all will see bumper stickers, church signs, t-shirts, calendars and all kinds of other attire plastered with encouraging or point driven verse. We all know the common verses like Jeremiah 29:11, John 3:16 and John 14:6.

You will also notice when someone is trying to prove something theologically that they will make a statement and then list a few verses from all over the bible to prove their statement. Like this that I found on a denominational website:

The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.(2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21)

People will do this all the time in regular conversation. They will make a statement and then say; well it says it in this verse. Preachers will preach from the pulpit taking 30 different verses to make their three point sermon or to prove his statements. We are encouraged to memorize bible verses since the day we could start talking. We got stars for that sort of thing; gold ones. We put verses on our wall to remind us to do something, or be someone. We encourage each other in rough times by quoting verse like all things work together for the good of those who love Him or something like that.

None of these things are wrong in themselves. Nevertheless, they all point to the ethos of the church today and how we read the bible. We’ve think the bible is a bunch of verses meant to benefit us. We’ve taken the bible apart into over thirty thousand different pieces and now we have thirty thousand different bibles that we can just pull out of anything whenever we need to place authority on something.

The bible was never meant to be like this. The bible was written as sixty-six different books all telling one story, all pointing to one person. When we start to pick apart the bible and use it to support our own statements, use it for our own comfort and use it for our own agenda it becomes a device that was created for our own selfishness. The bible is meant to be read as a whole. Every verse and chapter fits wonderfully into the whole, not vice versa.

The Pharisees were the ones that used the bible for their own agenda. They would take it out of context of what God was really trying to say and put burdens on people and refuse to help them. The church has done the same thing. We constantly use the bible to heap rules and standards on people and we miss the point, the message behind the story as a whole. I don’t want to be a Pharisee church; I don’t want to think like they do. We need to desperately try and not miss the point of Scripture like the Pharisees did and read the bible in light of the message instead of trying to read the bible into our own theology.

***added after John’s comment
I just noticed that John posted on my previous blog, and he made reference to a scripture (yes two verses). Read it in context to get the full picture, but it is interesting to see that Jesus points his finger and says that the Scriptures got in the way of the message of Christ and eternal life. Has this happened with us?

John 5:39-40 (New American Standard Bible) 39″You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

9 Comments

  • Wow, I just typed in comment number 7 on your previous blog Nathan and referenced how the Pharisees used Scripture to miss Christ, and here you are drawing out that point in the next blog I read.

    I guess that means I agree.
    :)

  • good discussion around a lot of these issues guys. i’m glad to see you wrestling through this to find the truth. keep pursuing truth in everything and God will continue to reveal Himself to you through it.

    i have a lot of scattered thoughts on the subject and i’m a talker, not a typer so i’ll just keep it brief.

    i think the main thing way we have missed the point with the Bible is that we have reduced it to nothing more than a book– a Christian manual or guideline that we use to live a better life or support our humanistic beliefs. and while on many levels it can be used for “teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness”, i believe we are selling ourselves short if we are reading it exclusively as such. bottom line: the Bible is a Person to be known, not a texbook. the minute we reduce the Bible to nothing more than the value of its words and paragraphs we have sold ourselves short and completely missed the point.

    there is definitely a danger in viewing verses, paragraphs, and even books without seeing them in light of the entire Book… after all, Scripture historically has been used to support genocide, racism, and numerous other things that would make our stomachs turn.

    may we pursue the Person first and use the Book as a tool to do so– not as an end to itself.

  • I agree in one sense that the Bible is to be taken as a whole story, but I also think that it is unavoidable to use parts (verses) of the Bible to understand how to live our life or to support our understanding of who God is and to tell others about it. I think that we have to use Scripture to back up the things we say/believe (often times by reference to specific verses – see Jesus as He is tempted in Matt 4). Otherwise, how can we be held accountable? It doesn’t work to say “I read the whole Bible and got the feeling that God wants us to use it a whole (or 66 books), and not reference specific verses” without actually referencing verses to support your point of view.

    It seems to me that this is what you did, Nathan, in referencing John 5:39-40. I know that you said to take it in context but that is still using a part (section) of the Bible. I do believe, however, that using specific verses must be done with extreme caution and, as you said, that the context should always be referenced or understood. This caution should be doubled when someone else is giving us guidance based on verses here and there.

    Please forgive me if I misunderstood your point, especially so if I’m focusing on one or two of your sentences to the exclusion of what your main point was.

    Respectfully,
    Ollie

  • John, Aaron, Ollie; thanks for your comments.

    Ollie, in response to yours I just want to say that I didn’t mean that we couldn’t or shouldn’t quote verses to support our claims (as I did this in the exact post, like you pointed out, and I did in the post also by saying ‘yes two verses’ because I suspected that might be pointed out.

    Obviously Christ, Paul and the discples all used Scripture to back their claims. My point wasn’t to abolish that practice. I was hoping to show how in general we have lost the concept as the bible being a whole, and have reduced it to ONLY parts. The only way those parts make sense is in the context of the entire bible, we can’t pick and choose verses from everywhere to support or claims, when the point of the bible may have nothing to do with that at all?

    How many different contexts can “I know the plans i have for you, plans to prosper….etc” Jer 29:11 be used? If we read it in context though, we know that God is talking to Jeremiah about something specific, maybe the nation of Israel, maybe Jeremiah specifically, to be honest i don’t know. But is it really a verse that we can use to encourage someone whose wife left him? Read out loud in front of a church to support financial prosperity. Encourage high school students that God has a plan for their lives in regards to their careers and so on. Not that they shouldn’t be encouraged, however reading the verse takes it out of context and just applies ‘authority’ to claims that make us feel good (even if they are truthful claims). I’d much rather support my claims by verses in context of the entire message.

    So you are correct, verses by themselves have their place and they are not wrong in themselves as i have stated, but i think we need to push hard as the church to be continually lining ourselves up not with invidividual verses but the entire message of Christ.

    Thanks Ollie, i really do appreciate your comments, i apologize for not being clear on that, but thanks for bringing it up.

  • wow dude
    nice facts

  • Hi,
    Interesting discussion! I too agree that the Bible has been prostituted for financial and personal reasons. The scriptures are good for reproof and edification. I have heard many sermons preached that take so many scriptures out of context! We must as leaders see to whom the verse was speaking, what was going on at that time, and what the message was within the text. The scripture says that we should only use words that lift and edify those around us. Nowhere in the Bible did Jesus ridicule or put down anyone! God is the judge, not us, so we should lead people with encouragement and example. I do not believe that we should take a few scriptures to justify our own convictions. If God tells you to leave it alone, then do it. Do not try to mold every situation to fit those convictions. Let God be God and that is it! God Bless All! Amen.

  • There is a compiled copy of the Holy Scriptures that has had the chapter and verse divisions placed in the left margin.
    I, too, beleive the artificial divisions have done at least as much harm as good.
    The website http://www.kathosgrapho.com has a sample of the text and other information.

  • This discussion has grown very nicely. As I see others commenting on the verses and chapters, I am reminded of how the Bible is an example of the “Living Word” and we can all benefit in different ways. God can speak to us from the scriptures and deal with issues in our lives based on a single verse. I have had many that hit me between the eyes and opened my heart more to the Lord. The love in these blogs is not even in the least offensive or stabbing at one another. That shows the Christ like character that we as Christians should always carry.
    I say keep reading, pray and also study. There are many who miss this very aspect of God’s Word! I am absolutely thrilled to read the responses and opinions. Everyone has made excellent points! Thanks!
    May God Bless All!

  • Wow I thought I was the only one who thought that. You hit that nail right on the head. Good Discussion. You only have to watch the God Channels and TBN where this is heavily prominant. Verses are constantly used out of context and a lot of the time its for financial gain. The God channels are no different to the shopping channels, qvc etc… its all money orientated. Selling countless things to people who are struggling but are led to believe that their asking for money to do Gods work and that it will come back to them. I agree give unto the lord and it will come back to you but these ministers on Tv:- Benny Hinn, Juanita Bynum, TD jakes, Paula are just stealing from Gods people as they blindly give money to these ministers so they can buy big private jets and live in luxury and party. Give to a church that has a main focus on worshipping God and following his commandmends, not a church that is purely money orientated. People really need to open their eyes and see whats goin on.

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