Should You Only Read a Bible Verse?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you do, don’t stop!  Read the rest of the chapter and even the book you found the verse in.

One of the biggest mistakes Christians make when reading the Bible is opening it up to a book and only reading one verse.  We all have favorite verses that we like to quote, but there is a danger.

The danger with only focusing on isolated verses is that the Bible wasn’t written that way and was never intended to be read that way.  The books of the Bible were originally written as complete works, and they did not contain verse or chapter numbers.  These were added hundreds of years later to help readers navigate the Bible more easily.

Verses and chapters are very helpful to Bible students, but they are also a curse.  They have taught Christians to atomize the Bible into thousands of isolated sentences.  Remember that a verse only makes sense in context with the surrounding paragraphs and the book it is found in.

Christian scholar Gary Habermas emphasizes reading verses in context.  He tells a story of a woman who was angry at God for allowing suffering in her life.  She continuously quoted James 5:15 as evidence that God had promised to heal believers of their suffering.

Here was his response.  Habermas asked the woman, “Did the same James that wrote James 5 also write James 1?”

Whatever verse 15 in chapter 5 means, it must be read in context with the rest of the book of James, which clearly says that Christians will suffer trials and that they should “consider it pure joy.”  This lady had fallen into the trap of reading a single verse and not reading the rest of the book the verse is found in.

Don’t make the same mistake.  If you find yourself quoting a Bible verse, that’s wonderful.  Just make sure that you have read the entire book the verse is in and make sure that your understanding of the verse is consistent with the context.

  • MJ

    Does that mean I can never consider a bible verse as a promise for me? How then can I find out if a verse is given for me? I am confused!

  • Bill Pratt

    The whole Bible is given for you. We’re just saying that when you read a verse, you will not understand what it means unless you also read the surrounding passages. It’s the same way you would read any other book. Context, context, context.


  • MJ

    Ok I agree that opening the Bible randomly and picking a verse as a promise is foolishness in most cases. But how about a “flash” of verse that appears to be speaking out to you… say you are going on the road, and you see a bumper sticker on a car, that reads “Fear Not, I am with you”, or maybe something else that’s just apt for your situation when you are in a complete mess, and the moment you see the verse you have a peace within… do you say even in such instance context matters? Perhaps that verse is in the old testament where God promises Joshua of something great… though the context may not be apt for my current situation, the verse could really be a promise for me… I feel that it is important to read the Bible properly but at times God does speak to you through verses and at such times, the context may not really matter. After all, who are we to control the way in which God speaks to us?