Chapter, Verse, Blog


No, that’s not a new law firm. We need more legal eagles like we need more “spiritainment.”

Instead, that title exists because of a common criticism I see in the comments of other blogs. A Godblogger posts on some topic and, inevitably, a reader comments that the posts was essentially nullified by a lack of Scriptural citations. Never mind that the entire post speaks from the whole revelation of Scripture. Too few Bible verses plucked from Haggai or Philemon and the whole thing topples like an Enlightenment house of cards.

I saw such a criticism on another blog that linked to my post from last week, “Leer and Foaming in Las Wendy’s.”  The commenter at that other blog didn’t like that I failed to quote the same verses on modesty that we’ve all heard a million times. Never mind that part of my point was that we know what to do, we just don’t do it; because I cited no Scripture, I had no real Christian admonishment worth reading.

I’m not bothered by that comment. I’ve no verse citation quota to live up to. I’ve included enormous numbers of verses in many of my posts to underline points—enough to get the imprimatur of whatever Evangelical pope exists.

What bothers me is we’re potentially abusing the Bible by always rendering up select verses to make our points; we slice and dice the word of God to make it fit our particular theory. Like cluster bombs, our choice verses descend on our enemies in awesome, domain-name-shaking explosions that threaten to destroy the very foundational IP addresses that undergird the Internet. We quote passage after passage, highlighting them with whatever our blog theme summons for a blockquote. And before blogs—remember life before blogging?—Rock, Paper, Scissorswe filled our books, and sermons, and tracts, and on and on with this verse and that, carefully woven together to form a bulletproof “defense of the Gospel.”

But something’s missing. We’ve overlooked the best for the good. The result is a perpetual game of Rock, Paper, Scissors in which your passage from 1st Corinthians beats her chapter from Leviticus, which annihilates his verse from Revelation.

And yet I imagine that many Christians today are sitting back and thinking what all that verse-slinging has gotten us. I mean, are we truly happy with the state of the Christian Church in the West today?

Late last year, I read an excerpt from a book by Frank Viola, a house church proponent. The excerpt had little to do with house churches and everything to do with the way Christians today handle the Word of God. And unlike most things I read, eight months have gone by and I still can’t get Viola’s excerpt, “The Bible Is Not a Jigsaw Puzzle,” out of my head. I’ve exhausted more mental time thinking about the ramifications of Viola’s argument than nearly anything I’ve considered in the last year.

I’m not even going to attempt to excerpt his excerpt. Read the whole thing. I promise it’s worth it.

Most of us have seen the fallout from our overemphasis on chapter and verse. People can quote verse after verse of Scripture, but their micro-understanding of God’s Word suffers in comparison to His macro-revelation. It’s a little like being given the key to an Aston Martin Vanquish, only to rejoice in the key and not the whole car. If you never drive the thing because you don’t know a steering wheel from a ferris wheel, then what’s the point?

Too many Christians fail to grasp the overarching testimony of the Scriptures. We may talk about a Christian worldview, yet hardly anyone correctly handles the entirety of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Can’t I make a case for God’s enduring love for us humans, His ultimate creation, without citing John 3:16? If I don’t mention Romans 12:1, can I still talk about worship? If I cite no Scriptures at all, but appeal to their truth in their entirety, have I somehow slighted the Lord?

I think we’ve reduced the Scriptures to a potpourri of pithy sayings. I know that when I sit down and read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting it speaks in a way that no piecemeal reading will ever match. No rending of each verse to wring every ounce of meaning out of it, but just sitting down and reading a book all the way through. And while I admit that some books like Psalms or Proverbs are collections, Paul’s epistles were never intended to be read as a New Testament version of Proverbs. Nor were the Gospels. They have an arc in their writing that carries its own meaning, and when we neglect to read them in the form they were designed to be read, we miss more power and wisdom than we realize.

Moving away from piecemeal study into a more holistic handling of each book will carry over into a greater understanding of the entire testimony of Scripture. Our quiet times won’t be the same. Meditation on the Scriptures won’t be on just this verse of that, but on entire books, and possibly the whole of God’s revelation to Man.

An old book was entitled Your God Is Too Small. Well, I think our Bible reading is too small, too. Instead of chapter and verse, we need a more macro approach to the Scriptures that imparts a holistic view of the entirety of God’s speaking to Mankind.

Or we can keep on playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with the words of the Lord.

31 thoughts on “Chapter, Verse, Blog

  1. Malana J

    Having just left a church after 25 years that decided to “cut and paste” the Scriptures, I am now attending a church that teaches what they call “Route 66″, going through all the books of the Bible systematically. Never in my life have I learned so much about the Word of God. The more I hear, the more I want to know and, unfortunately, the more I see how starved I was at the old place. The more we study the whole of God’s Word, the more we get to know God whether it be in Genesis, Amos, or Revelation. My question to you is,”Do people spend much time reading and/or studying the Scriptures anymore or have other books taken over.?”

    • Malana,

      I’m not sure I can objectively answer your question about other people’s study/reading habits. Anecdotally, I would say that we SAY we spend more time in the Scriptures than in other books, but I suspect that isn’t the truth.

    • Francisco

      I’m with you. My church just finished a series on Galatians and it has been a blessing taste God’s Word and not only one but ALL verses preached. Same for personal bible study…

  2. Northwriter

    You said this:

    “I think we’ve reduced the Scriptures to a potpourri of pithy sayings. I know that when I sit down and read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting it speaks in a way that no piecemeal reading will ever match. No rending of each verse to wring every ounce of meaning out of it, but just sitting down and reading a book all the way through.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. Last night, I read all of 2 Corinthians and all of Galatians. I gleaned more meaning from that than the last 40 or so sermons I’ve heard.

    I always try to read through whole books at a time (in the New Testament, anyway). They are whole stories, whole letters. Verses I’ve heard quoted a thousand times sound so different when they are in their proper context.

    • Northwriter,

      Yep. Although you may lose salvation points in the eyes of some Christians if you read all of Matthew on Monday, then don’t read anything on Tuesday.

      • Francisco

        I guess we have to leave room to meditate in God’s word. Sure you can read the whole book in a day and get an overview, but then keep on reading passages, memorize and meditate. Anyway, it’s just a suggestion

  3. I agree with you here and am surprised that someone would comment about you not using enough scripture. They must not read your blog regularly.

    My only objection is that I have read blogs that talk alot about spiritual matters, but almost never post any scripture. Then I start to worry a bit because I don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s thoughts that aren’t being driven by the Word.

    There are also some people who have opinions that I believe don’t line up with scripture (or the majority thought on a good Christian discussion). In that case, I like to see some scripture to back up the opinion so I can make my own judgement call.

    But ultimately it is my duty to weigh everything I hear and read against the scriptures. I guess I worry that some may be more easily mislead.

    Interesting post.

    • Carrie,

      Sometimes I cite and sometimes I don’t. I realize that 99.999% of readers here are Christians and are probably familiar with most of what the Bible says on any topic I write about. I fall into the same trap of using the Scriptures piecemeal to defend my points and that bothers me. I try to cite large sections when I can so that things are in context, but as Don noted below, people have a tendency to skip over them the second they recognize the passage quoted.

      It’s a weird thing and sort of a cultural phenomenon.

      • Francisco

        I recall your post about reading Rom 8:38 with the lens of rugged individualism off. I shared it at small group and we all read the passage making emphasis in the “us”…just think how people reacted to it…

        • Francisco,

          Well, you weren’t stoned to death, so I guess it couldn’t have been TOO bad!


          I’d be interested in knowing how people reacted to that. It’s not a very American message; if you go to the Third World, it’s more common to think of the “us” as the collection of believers.

  4. Well written and thought-provoking. I completely agree and appreciated the link to Viola’s article. I have to admit that many times when I am reading Christian books or articles I skip over the verses that are given. I usually do that because I am already very familiar with these verses and I am trying to save time (Most points are backed by the same KEY Scriptures so you know what the writer is going to use before he uses it.). I also find that reading the entire book in one sitting is very helpful in getting the BIG picture. That is why I have enjoyed the Walk Thru the Bible seminars so much (as well as the book – Talk Thru the Bible). I graduated from a four-year Bible College, was in full-time ministry and still struggled with the overall theme and flow of the Bible. I knew many bits and pieces but I was definitely missing the “macro-view”. Thanks again Dan!

    • Don,

      I know what you mean about skipping over verses you know. I do it, too, and I get a guilty pang every time.

      I think all of us, even seasoned veterans, need an overarching view (or review, as the case may be.) I’ll look up the Walk Thru the Bible folks to see what their program is like. I may want to teach something akin to it at my church.

  5. Jeff H


    Thanks for the post and link. I’ve though a bit about how this applies to the way we do small group bible study. When studying Paul’s letters, we often break up our studies into portions of chapters. Thus, it can take a number of weeks to go through a single book. On the one hand, given the challenge of reading Paul, this makes sense. Often though I’ve think we spend more time than we should trying to unpack Paul’s individual sentences which can take the focus off the themes of the letter.

    During my own personal bible study times, I ended up doing the same thing (reading small sections). I have to confess that I really didn’t enjoy reading the epistles. A couple summers ago I read through all of Pauls letters reading each letter in one sitting. I learned and retained so much more from reading in this way, and I got a better sense of Paul’s ministry and his humanity (his hopes, struggles, etc.)

    • Jeff H,

      Yep. Reading it all together makes a huge difference. I like Viola’s recommendation that we read the works chronologically, too. There used to be a Bible that laid everything out chonologically, but I never owned one.

      • I’ve got one of those chronological Bibles. It does help put things in context. One of the most powerful things was the attempt made to match the Psalms with the events they were written about or the time written. So you see David fleeing from Saul and them read the Psalm he wrote about it. Cool.

        I recently did a study of Ephesians that was helpful in regards to what Jeff H refereed to above. A friend suggested a pattern which he said came from the book by Fee an Stuart called How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. First, read the entire Epistle in one sitting as well as Bible Dictionary research to learn historical context etc. No commentaries. Then, go through short passages like chapters at a time, keeping in mind the context learned in step one.

        It was a great way to study, but a lot more work than I’m used to. I certainly came away with more than I usually do.

  6. Gina R Johnson

    my gracious, brother Dan….another heavy hitter! I appreciate your take on this. Among other things, this is probably the worst habit we as believers have formed. I teach at my own church, and it is really difficult to get the Lord’s people to see the full panoramic view of God’s purpose in Christ in the entirety of the Scriptures. I cannot stand “prooftexting”!

    • Gina,

      Thanks! I’ve gotten so used to teaching in snippets that I’m not sure I could put together a holistic study that gave a solid overview of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration through all the books. So I suffer from it, too.

  7. MMM

    I have a person in my life who always says: “If it’s not chapter and verse then it’s chatter and worse.”

    It ALWAYS annoys me.

    For a while I had a Dickson Study King James Bible (I gave it away to someone who I felt needed it more) and the one thing I loved about that Bible was that the cross references were right below the texts, because I didn’t mind flipping pages back and forth to see where else what I was reading was mentioned. I had the feeling that once I finished the whole Bible reading that way, I would have a greater understanding of how it all fit together.

    However, I also tend to believe that the Bible is not God’s last Word. I believe He has many more things to say to me, some of which I won’t hear until I’ve crossed over and seen Him face to Face. I believe the Bible is great for living down here. I believe you can find your way to God by reading of what He is.

    Going on from there….well, now, that’s God’s work, isn’t it? We can say to one another, “Well, now that you’ve met God, you have to approach Him the same way we do, or you’ve gotten in wrong and you might lose Him again.” And we would be dead. Wrong. 🙂

    I believe in God. I read the Bible to remember what He did before I came along to occupy my dust speck. And sometimes when I stumble I go back to the Bible to find out where I misstepped.

    But that’s just MMMe, and my approach may be different or disturbing to some. And I don’t really care. I’m here to find Him. And I believe I have, even though sometimes I still feel like I’m looking. 🙂

  8. My issue with “reading the Bible” (as a TASK, vs anything else) is that there are a lot of Christians who deep down actually believe that the more they read God’s Word, the more God will like them. They seem far too concerned with LEARNING and far less concerned with LIVING. It does me no good to read and study and meditate and devour even one word of the Bible – if what I read does not translate into LIVING A DIFFERENT WAY than I did yesterday. Honestly, how many more times do we need to hear a sermon on the topic of “Loving your neighbor.” You either WILL or you WON’T tangibly love them, right? And if you don’t tangibly love them, it’s not because you have not READ ENOUGHT ABOUT loving them – it’s because you are selfish. That’s the bottom line.

    The Bible is the basis of all of life. Every issue we face and deal with can be approached through the pages of scripture. It is life in and of itself but that life must be transmitted into the DNA of our daily living and interactions with one another – believer and non-believer alike. No amount of “Bible knowledge” is going to change how I treat others until I actually CHOOSE to treat others differently.

  9. Dan,
    Excellent post! Thank you for encouraging us to be sure we have a well-rounded diet of God’s word, understanding the whole and the parts in light of the whole. Also encouraging to see the number of folks who are benefitting from expositional preaching in their churches. Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

  10. Oh… I nearly forgot. A fellow laborer in the Gospel and friend, Michael Lawrence, is in the middle of a five part series called “Biblical Theology.” Thus far, he’s done excellent sermons on creation and fall. Tomorrow it’s love. Those interested in getting a good overview of redemptive history/major themes of the scripture might be interested to check him out at Grace and peace,

  11. Where’s the bible passages to prove it?

    Thanks Dan, is it a product of a material church? If we weren’t always looking for the angle that justifies our lifestyles would we still pick and choose?

    A good link to “The Bible is not a Jigsaw Puzzle”, thanks, looks like some good reading.

  12. This has long been a pet peeve of mine. Not only is this proof-text unnecessary. It frequently leads to inadequate results. Unfortunately, most people approach Bible study and theology this way. To properly understand the Bible we must read it as a big story with large themes. Part of the problem is the Enlightenment idea that we can mine the Bible for facts and data that we can then reassemble into our neat little systems.

    We tend to work on the Bible instead of letting it work on us.


  13. Don Costelo

    Studying and teaching the Bible from the whole book or whole picture method or cut and paste are both appropriate ways of study. The Jewish people have been doing both for thousands of years and so has the church. I think both methods have their place. Last week we had a Bible study at our house about Israel’s right to the land and all the fighting that has gone on since they became a nation again.It was basically cut and paste, but it was good. I don’t how someone could teach on a particlular subject or person, and not cut and paste. I personally love to focus on one book in study, but I also like to cut and paste. When the Apostle Paul wrote most of the Books of the New Testament, he used the cut and paste method, quoting the passages from the Old Testament that the Lord gave him and writing down what the Holy Ghost told him how it all fit together.

  14. Pingback: » We’ll move on from here
  15. Spoof texting is quite annoying. The worst part is when you realize that something you thought was biblical really isn’t. I was raised in a church culture of proof-texting. Even though my father, who was also my pastor, was an amazing exegete, his theology was tainted by proof-texting.

    Thanks for the post!

  16. Kerry Jones

    Publication of the Holy Scriptures without chapter and verse designations–
    All are available in book form or for download.
    What did the original readers/hearers of the writings of the Holy Scriptures understand the writer and Author to be stating?
    How were they expected to respond?
    If I believe in inspiration, then am I not expected to respond in the same way?
    How did disciples know how they were supposed to behave before the segmenting of the Holy Scriptures into chapters and verses?
    “Proof-texting” is practically impossible without the chapters and verses.
    Instead of “not seeing the forest for the trees,” we have stripped the bark from the trees examining each piece of bark then reassembling the “trees” from the selected pieces into “trees” that fit our own desire. The resulting forest looks like we want it to look rather than what the Maker of the forest intended.

  17. Simon

    Great Article, I’ve always thought Bishop Stephen Langton didn’t do us the greatest favour in dividing the Bible into chapters and verses.

    When you consider the large tomes of computer, medical, novel, and other books that people read, it does seem tragic that most cannot read the Bible through at least once a year, which I consider a bottom limit in my Bible reading.

    I also liked your comment about needing to quote a verse for everything. Personally I believe those who are familiar with the Bible should know whether something is Biblical or not when they hear it or read it, without needing a verse quoted (Hezekiah 4:17). Much in the same way that I don’t need to have a rule book to drive my car because I know them in general fairly well.

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