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There are Right and Wrong Ways to Quote the Bible

  • Rachel Dawson
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  • 2016 Sep 08
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Not a day goes by without seeing a friend share a Bible verse on Twitter or Facebook or even in a conversation. I commonly hear “Jeremiah 29:11 says, ‘For I know the plans I have for You,’ declares the Lord…” and I cringe, knowing the verse is both out of context and awkwardly quoted. Other times, I see verses shared that begin with “But” or “For” and I’m left wondering what comes before them and how it relates to the meaning.

Thankfully, there are better ways we can share Scripture without altering the meaning of the messages or causing confusion.

Mark Ward recently shared “3 Practical Tips to Keep in Mind When You Quote Scripture” on Logos Talk, focusing on the “more subtle set of unfortunate customs we use in evangelical churches when we quote the Bible.” He realized after hearing a relative share their testimony that many believers think we have to quote the Bible in a certain way (such as using the reference explicitly) when that’s not true at all.

While there isn’t one established Bible-sharing method, there are many great ways to go about sharing Scripture-- we just have to focus on what’s important and be careful not to trip ourselves up over common mistakes.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Instead of making the reference the focus, make the message the main idea.

There is a time and place to share where the verse can be found in Scripture (such as during a Bible study or sermon when people are looking up the passages for themselves), but in regular conversation, it often isn’t necessary. “Unless you do in fact want people turning to a given passage,” Ward explains, “the time you spend saying ‘Romans chapter 1 verses 16 through 18’ could be better spent making a brief reference to the context of the statements you’re about to quote.” He goes on to add, “Much more than knowing a Bible statement’s precise “home address,” people need to know the general terrain in which it resides.”

Quote what matters, even if it isn’t the full sentence.

It’s understood that quotes are parts of the larger story or passage, so we can zero in on the exact part that’s relevant to what we are trying to communicate. Often, we share too much because we want to keep the integrity of the passage in place, but it can muddle our message and distract others from what we are really trying to get at. “You don’t have to say the whole line when you quote something,” Ward says.

Tie in your story with the story of Scripture.

The best sermons I’ve heard and the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with friends about the Bible have all done this well. They’ve not only shared verses of Scripture, but they’ve made those verses relevant to our world today in impactful ways. It’s one thing to read a verse like Hebrews 6:19 about our faith acting as an anchor for our souls, and another to hear of a friend who clung to that verse and found comfort in its truth as she grieved the loss of a dear friend. When we share the ways Scripture has encouraged, challenged, comforted, or taught us, we are bringing the Word of God to life in a beautiful way.

It’s okay to leave a few words out for the sake of clarity.

Many verses begin with words that call back to the sentences that came before, like “for” or “but” or “therefore.” When we are sharing these verse on their own, it’s better if we just drop those words to let the verse stand on its own more clearly. “Make truthful and effective communication your goal, not pedantic precision,” Ward says.

Use different translations when it’s helpful.

Many people have a preferred Bible translation, but it’s often illuminating to read and share the words of Scripture from different versions. Don’t feel like you have to stay loyal to just one-- give another version a chance (this Parallel Bible is a great tool to use!) and see if there’s another translation (or even a paraphrase) that communicates the message more clearly or in a way that’s more aligned with your overall message.

Curious what this looks like in practice? Here’s a great example from Ward:

“I’ve always loved the words Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. Right after reminding them of the depths of sin from which they’d been saved, he says that ‘God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.’ Paul says—and I know it’s true from the Bible and my personal experience of divine mercy—that it’s ‘by grace [we] have been saved.’”

Doesn’t that sound better? No unnecessary references, no confusing wording, great context and connections, and a personal touch that shows us how relevant Paul’s letters are to our lives today.

As you share the mighty truth of Scripture with friends, family, or even your congregation, keep these tips in mind so you can focus on clarity and understanding.

Publication date: September 8, 2016

Rachel Dawson is the editor of BibleStudyTools.com

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