photoHave you ever heard someone say, “Show me one verse that says ___________ (insert controversial/complex topic)”? Usually the words one verse are emphasized, as if to show how absurd the discussion really is, when, honestly, “We both know there’s no verse that says what you’re trying to say!”

Or what about when people say things (like a popular pastor said the other night on CNN) like, “I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed [hot-button social issue].”

Find one verse.

Show me the quote.

Ok, we can all acknowledge the power of this kind of talk. But does it really get us closer to truth? Is that really how these things work? What about Christian teachings (like the fact that God is a trinity) that aren’t necessarily found a verse at a time? (There’s no verse that says, for instance, “God is a trinity.”)

Recently I heard Fred Sanders, (who wrote my favorite book on the Trinity) say something to this effect:

“I like my doctrine in in verse-sized bites as much as any other person, but some doctrines don’t come that way.”

In other words: We might all wish that every question we had came with an answer in a perfect package one sentence long–but the Bible doesn’t always work that way. Often we need to have the patience to read whole paragraphs, groups of paragraphs, whole chapters–even whole books and groups of books–in order to see the truths we need to see.

Sanders continues with this thought:

“We have train our minds to think in bigger sections of scripture than just a verse here and a verse there. The bigger the better.”

In our day, when we are regularly called on to give an answer for why we believe the things we do, and we are often asked to prove it from the scriptures, we need to take Sanders’ exhortation seriously.

Verses can be great. They help us find things in the Bible and give us manageable bits to memorize and quote. They fit nice on an Instagram post. But remember: the Bible wasn’t written in verses.

There were no verse numbers in the Bible until hundreds of years after it was written. The writers weren’t necessarily thinking in, or trying to communicate in, verse-sized thoughts. And with many things the writers of scripture needed to discuss, they didn’t feel the need to cram everything into a verse. They often took their time and developed a thought over sentences and paragraphs and whole letters or books. So if you’re just scanning for verses or doing a word search on Google, you’ll miss what the Bible really says.

Instead, you’ve got to sit with the actual words-on-the-page Bible, give God time to speak to you, humbly seek understanding with patience and diligence, and wait to see what God shows you in all those histories, poems, prophecies, and letters.

So the next time someone demands a verse from you, by all means, give them one if there is one. But if not, take time to explain that the Bible is an intelligent piece of communication which requires patience from intelligent minds, and that, in its pages God has often given us lengthy explanations rather than easily tweetable one-liners.