Thinking Out Loud

October 17, 2014

Verse Numbering Shifts Emphasis, Misses Contexts

Go to bible verses

1From Paul, a blogger at Thinking Out Loud, to the church online;
2Greetings and welcome to today’s topic.

3Can you imagine if I were to write a book and give a number to every one or two sentences?
4It would break up the reading for sure,
5And people would consider it somewhat pompous.
6While it might be helpful in an historical account, it would surely break up the flow in a romance story or a parable
7And poetry would be rather awkward.

8Yet this is what happens when we read the Bible.
9Because we have such easy, pinpoint access to particular phrases, we are able to focus on those.
10And we often miss the context in which they are being said,
11Or worse, we over emphasize them to the exclusion of other truths.

12So one reader believes he “can do all things,” but can he fly an airplane?
13Another believes God has “plans to prosper” him, but what if he doesn’t see material blessing?
14Yet one more thinks that the parenting she has done assures her children “will not depart from it,” but is that an automatic guarantee or just a statement of principle?

15Churches teach that “all these things shall be added unto you,” but the context is the basic necessities of life, not everything we desire.
16Or that, “all things work together for good,” which is simply a bad translation of the verb.
17Or that, “not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able,” means that God will never give you more than you can handle.

18God is good, and God can be trusted, but if we are to take him at his word, we need to read it properly and in full context.
19Sometimes the verse numbers mitigate against that.
20So we need to be more careful, and more studious in our reading.
21And perhaps we need to be more aware and more embracing of those recent publications which present the Bible as a single story,
22And those translations which relegate the verse numbers to a place of lesser prominence.

23The grace of our Lord be with you all; Amen.


  1. Well Done Paul!

    Comment by rickda — October 17, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  2. So true. And so important in this proof-text ridden age.

    Comment by Paul Martin Waters — October 17, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

  3. Yes! This is so true

    Comment by angie — October 17, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

  4. Paul’s Letter to the Bloginthians, Chapter 1:1-23.

    Comment by flagrantregard — October 20, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

  5. I work as a Bible translator and translation consultant and in some languages, especially those with a young church, each verse is treated as a self-contained truth. It is hard to convince people to read beyond the confines of the verse numbers and their jaws drop when you tell them the original writings did not have verse numbers.

    Comment by Chaz Mortensen — October 27, 2014 @ 9:48 am

    • Thanks for an informed perspective on this. Perhaps we live in an age where people feel that truths are expressed only in fortune cookies or Tweets, but before this, a truth could take a three-act Shakespearean play to be told.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 27, 2014 @ 10:02 am

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