Reading a Verse Versus Reading the Bible

Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on a time of question and answers with Gordon Fee of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth fame.  While Dr. Fee interacted with the small group of pastors gathered I was awed by the man, and his obvious love for our God.  What struck me most about Gordon is his passion for God’s word.  There is no doubt in my mind that this man passionately loves scripture… as I write this I am disappointed with my inability to convey just how passionate Gordon Fee is about scripture, the words escape me.  I pray that I may one day be so passionate about God’s word that I tear up at the mere thought of it, as Fee is.

This passion was most evident when he spoke against the current numbering system in the Bible.  Fee said “the numbers ensure that people will never be able to really read scripture.  They are reading verses, not the Bible.”  A while back I wrote about syncretism in the church and how things that we meant for good can end up having negative consequences that we never expected.  Ever since hearing Dr. Fee share, I have been soaking wondering if the numbers aren’t one of those well intentioned ideas that have had a negative effect on the church.  While verse numbers help us to pinpoint the position of specific treasured morsels of scripture, Fee says that they cause us to subconsciously read each verse almost as if it is a separate thought…

I can’t help but wonder if the numbers have gotten in our way of fully comprehending what God has for us in his Word.

After the formal question and answer session ended, I asked Dr. Fee how we, as church leaders, can work to overcome the damage done by the numbers.  So much of our preaching and services are based on the numbers, and if this is getting in the way of helping our congregations fall deeply in love with scripture, there must be some way to begin to course correct.  His response was two fold… first we need to be teaching our congregations to treat the numbers like nothing more than bookmarks: totally ignoring them except to find the passage we are looking for.  Second, we need to change the language that we use to describe scripture.  Instead of saying “In this verse, Paul is instructing us to…” we should try “In this sentence, Paul…” or “In this paragraph…”.  Fee’s suggestion is to begin to speak of paragraphs and sentences instead of verse and chapter… modeling a change in mindset from the front.

I know that I am not completely done soaking on this and I know that I have not even begun to scratch the surface on this, but I have a feeling that there is something significant to this… we just need to figure out how to embrace it.

How do YOU read scripture?  Are YOU reading the Bible, or are YOU reading verses?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • Joel

    thanks for sharing. good stuff.

  • Jeff

    Good stuff Matt! I have realized this truth myself over time. I have often wished someone would publish a solid translation without the verse numbers. The only ones that I have come without verse numbers are some of the paraphrases, like “The Message”.
    To avoid thinking in verses, I will often cut the chapter out of my PC study bible and paste it into word, deleting all the numbers and then sit and read.

  • Zig

    Great article Matt.  Reading verses of the bible instead of reading through the bible has been the experience of many, unfortunately, due to the presence of verse numbers.  But there are other bibles without verse numbers such as The Message and The Books of the Bible.  There’s also a publisher that offers the American Standard Version without verse numbers and according to their site, a verseless King James Version is being prepared for publication – https://sites.google.com/site/verseless

    • http://www.churchthought.com Matt Steen

      Thanks for commenting, Zig!  Zondervan did a TNIV version at one point without the numbering… I think you can still find it if you look hard enough, I am hoping that they do the 2011 NIV in a numberless version.

  • Marshal

    Awesome article! I had already heard a little about the whole focusing on verses more than the complete thoughts and books as a whole; however, the ideas you shared in your article really helped it sink in. I never fully realized just how much I tend to focus on verses rather than the main message of the paragraph, chapter, or book that I am reading. I’m going to try a different approach to reading the Bible now, and I am excited to see what happens!