The problem with Bible verses

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Serious Stuff, Words

On a pretty regular basis, I have people ask me something along the lines of, “Where’s that verse in the Bible that says _____?” Though I can’t prove it, I feel like most of the time I’m being used to help show a friend or relative the error of their ways. The problem with trying to do this, though, is that there usually isn’t a Bible verse that says whatever it is they’re wanting it to say. The Bible wasn’t written like that, and was never intended to be used that way.

Think of it like this: We live in a very image-saturated society. Photos are used so much because they’re easy to understand. The subject is clear, the intent is evident, and it doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking to see what’s happening in a photograph. But if you take a picture and turn it into a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, suddenly things aren’t so easy. It’s hard to see what’s going on because you have to take time to see how it all fits together, putting together small sections at a time before putting the small chunks together to form a bigger picture.

Biblical living is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a photograph.

Often, what people want is a snapshot of God. “What does God say about this?” But that’s not what he gave us. Granted, there are a few verses that spell out how God feels about a particular subject. “Don’t murder” is a pretty clear cut one. So are, “Don’t commit adultery” and “Don’t steal.” Everybody knows those things are wrong. (If you’re trying to convince a loved one not to murder someone, don’t go to you pastor, go to the police. We didn’t take any crime prevention classes at preacher college.) But for the most part, the Bible is a collection of stories from which we are supposed to draw conclusions and understand principles to live by, and you don’t usually get those principles from single verses.

It’s a complex book with hundreds of characters that span thousands of years. It’s got history, parables, census-taking, genealogies, private letters, essays, narrative- have you ever read the Bible? There’s a lot going on there. And when you try to reduce it to single verse, dogmatic statements, you’re doing it wrong.

You can’t understand God and faith by memorizing or relying on single verses. You have to take into account the breadth of scripture, and piece together your understanding of God like a huge puzzle. One piece at a time, see where it fits in the larger context, grab another small piece, figure out where it fits… It’s a lifetime’s effort.

People don’t like that. It’s hard work and it takes time. When we’re in the heat of theological or moral battle, we want to be armed and ready with that silver bullet verse.

Sorry, kids. Most of the time they don’t exist.

That’s why it is so important for Christians to study the Bible. So that when those things come up, you can say, “This happened in 1 Samuel, and Paul mentions this in Romans, and Jesus said this- so I think what God is saying about this issue is…”

If you claim to be a Christian, and you want to understand the will of God better, there’s no way around it: study the Bible.

  1. granna07 says:

    One day it occurred to me that when I get to heaven, God may say to me, “have you READ MY WORD?” Since then, I’ve read it through 2 times and I’m about to complete my 3rd. Reading [and studying] the Bible is definitely a part of my life, and I plan to continue as long as I’m able. Even though I’ve read it through a few times, I always discover something new or He speaks to me in a different way & it’s ALL GOOD! It amazes me to think of those men long ago transcribing God’s truth without the benefit of our modern way of communicating using pens, pencils, or computers. To anyone reading Jared’s blog::If you’ve never read through the entire Bible, you are missing a blessing!
    “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

  2. efchristi says:

    I agree that not one verse defines the bible, however, I have set in church on many a Sunday morning listening to my pastor telling me that this one verse means this or that. The problem is when you read the verses before and after that one particular verse, the entire meaning changes. Does that make the pastor wrong? No, for he is trying to make a point, but it does draw into question why do pastor or even the writers on our Sunday school books try to depict one verse as meaning the life of a Christian.
    There are many places in the bible that one verse tells it all- John 3:16, John 1:1 – but most of the bible is, like you mention, a group of stories showing us the way we should be living our lives as Christians. But, I am learning that not many Christians take the time to study the bible.
    I agree with you, the best way to learn what the bible says is to study it. There are many guides out there that will help you set a daily reading that will take you through the entire bible in one year and I encourage everyone to take it on. It will change your life!

  3. Matt Richard says:

    Biblical living is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a photograph.

    Love that analogy. Will probably use it in the future. Will try to remember to give you credit. Thanks in advance!

  4. It’s kinda hard for me to make a serious comment as “possiblyfakenews” but …this is a really good post.

  5. joshfults says:

    Really enjoyed this post. We approach the Bible like twitter sometimes. We want answers that fit into 140 characters or less.

  6. JBen says:

    This is a great reminder. I have never been a fan of proof-texting and can’t stand it when people do it to me.

    Perhaps another analogy would be a story. When do you ever think you understand a whole book by looking at one sentence? Harry Potter can’t be summed up by one sentence or even one chapter in the middle of The Order of The Phoenix.

    It is one reason I am blogging my way through the Bible. See how I did that shameless plug?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s