Reading the Bible Without All Those Numbers 2

Let me offer a few examples of this disassociation of verses and chapters from the surrounding, relevant material, which is an unfortunate (but ever-present) byproduct of versification.

Example One: "Hebrews 11" is a famous passage of Scripture known for its clear and passionate explanation of faith. It is often known as "The Faith Chapter" of the New Testament, much like 1 Corinthians 13 is known as "The Love Chapter." However, Christians usually approach the section as a stand-alone discussion of faith—something like an individual article that contributes to the overall conception of the subject of faith in the larger volume of the New Testament. We start in chapter 11 verse 1 and read up to the last verse (don't hear what I'm not saying), but give little thought to the sentence right before verse 1 or the sentence right after verse 40. Let me ask you, answer for yourself: Do you know how this discussion of faith relates directly and logically to all of the rest of the book of Hebrews?

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Example Two: "1 Corinthians 13" provides a beautiful description of true love right from God's dictionary. Sure, it is a beneficial discussion in itself, but why did God inspire Paul to write this literary and spiritual treasure exactly where it is in the Bible? Do you just think of it as "The Love Chapter," or do you think of it as a convincing argument that love is the most desirable of all God's wonderful gifts—to be sought before all talents and virtues and means?

I say to you, we frequently have a tendency to see a passage in the context of the whole Bible and how it relates with ideas over in some other book or how it harmonizes with the overall Biblical narrative before we see a passage in the context most immediate to it.

A parable: A certain man began reading Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" series of books. Each time he sat to read, he would choose a random page and read a selection. Sometimes he would read a sentence, sometimes a paragraph, and sometimes a whole chapter. However, after a time, the man found that no matter how frequently he read like this, he could scarcely find any enjoyment in the reading, and no matter how hard he tried to understand the story, he found that the process was so slow and confusing as to be an almost prohibitively monumental task.

The only sensible way to seek to understand the whole Volume of God's Word is to seek to understand the individual books that make it up. But how often we look over the grains of sand, expecting to see a beach! And that just makes no sense at all.

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  1. Duane Garner Thu Aug 21, 01:04:00 AM EDT

    I think you are right on here.

    The Bible wasn't written as a scattered collection of little bumper sticker quotes to be doled out on inspirational calendars.

    Rather, it is a grand narrative with a wealth of literary symbolism and rich symphonic themes that we have almost lost entirely by reading it (and preaching it) in little bite-sized pieces.

    I loved your LOTR illustration.

    You ought to check out David A. Dorsey's "The Literary Structure of the Old Testament" and James Jordan's "Through New Eyes" or Peter Leithart's "A House for My Name".

    I think I know people you know. I surfed over here through a chain of blogs.

    I used to be an ABA pastor, graduated from OBI and all that.

    Anyway - I'm going to bookmark your blog. Interesting stuff.

    Duane Garner

  2. Dave Gregg Thu Aug 21, 02:40:00 PM EDT

    Hey Duane! We've spoken before actually. We exchanged a few emails and blog comments back in early 2007 over the subject of water baptism on my old blog, Radical Obedience (
    I enjoyed our conversations and welcome you to participate in the discussions on this blog. I get the sense that you are a critical thinker and appreciate your voice.

    I just added you on Facebook, send me a message.


  3. Anonymous Thu Aug 21, 03:37:00 PM EDT

    Funny, that you should use Hebrews 11 as an example, because it just so happens that is probably the one example where I could answer affirmatively. I once stumbled onto a study of Hebrews while I was trying to read the book as a whole. I got to a certain place where it said "therefore" (or "thus" or "since" or something similar), and became curious as to what the "therefore" was about. So I began reading Hebrews backwards, tracing the logic back through every "thus", "therefore", "since" and the like. It took me all the way back to the beginning of Hebrews, and I then turned around and read it forwards again. I remember I got a lot of insights from that exercise, but one of the big one's was about faith, which I got not from Hebrews 11, but from the whole of the book -- that faith and obedience are inextricably linked. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said "only he who believes is obedient; only he who is obedient believes."

    It was also from this perspective of reading Hebrews as a whole that I drew many of my conclusions about the biblical purpose of gathering by looking at Hebrews 10:25 within the context of the entire book.

    Have also done this exercise with Romans (another book that has a lot "therefores"). However, what a great tool to actually have a Bible that lets you read without the numbers. Because even when one tries to read in context having that chapter break is a really hard mental block to overcome. It takes something like my reading backward exercise often to break out of it.

    Great thoughts!

  4. Duane Garner Thu Aug 21, 04:14:00 PM EDT

    Here's a Bible that is printed as a collection of books and doesn't have the coventional chapter / verse divisions -

    But it is in the TNIV, so ehh.


  5. Dave Gregg Thu Aug 21, 08:09:00 PM EDT

    Duane, thanks for the link. Part one of "Reading the Bible Without All Those Numbers" suggests the use of the edition you mention. I use it very frequently. But then again, I love the TNIV. That and the NLT are my bread and butter. Though I frequently reference several other translations, and the Greek, in my studies.
    Someday, other translations will be made available in this or a similar format.


  6. Dave Gregg Thu Aug 21, 08:15:00 PM EDT

    Maggie, that is almost exactly how I started my study of Hebrews, except I started with the discussion of discipline and suffering at the end ("chapters 12 and 13") and then worked back from there. You are exactly right when you say that it helps you understand the logical flow of a book. It forces you to be very intentional about thinking how it all works together.
    I'm also doing this in the book of Isaiah (in the NLT), which has been a very fruitful study as well. Extremely enjoyable.

    I expect to post on Hebrews shortly. I'm planning a post or series entitled, "Stubborn Confidence in Stubborn Promises: The Point of Hebrews."

    Btw, I enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good thoughts!