Stop Quoting the Bible

There used to be a time when I memorized scripture at a furious rate, filling myself up with verse after verse, like a kid with birthday cake.

Now, I glance at my Bible from time to time. Or read, really read, once a week wherein God gives me some perfectly timed, needed encouragement or admonishment. I’ve ditched the church-imposed idea of morning/daily quiet times. 

But, some of us have begun to reduce the Bible to a series of catchphrases or quotes. As if the Bible is analogous to the latest bestselling self-help book:

7 Easy Verses to a Better Life

Read the Bible to Win at Life

Success: It’s only 5 Short Verses Away

Because the Bible is a lot of things, but one thing it is not is the Christian version of self-help non-fiction.

More than that, when crisis strikes, as it always and inevitably does, that is when so many us begin frantically quoting scripture–pulling out all of the usuals:

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me. 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

We begin quoting verses we haven’t read in months, maybe years. We tend to cling to the Bible and its contents as a miraculous cure-all, imbued with the power to “fix” our messy situation. In that moment, the Bible becomes our magic wand, our rabbit in the hat, our hail mary, reduced to nothing more than superstition.

And why do we read the words of God? Why read the Bible in the first place?

We are not called to be Bible-quoters. We are called to be over-comers.

This Christian life isn’t simply about quoting the Bible, it’s about becoming the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And if Christ was the Word made flesh, and we are His body, then we too are living by the Word.

The Living Word itself–that is Jesus–lives in us.

“You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:14

Think on that. Let that trip you out for a minute…

It is not enough to reach for scripture when trouble comes or when things feel impossible. It is not enough to casually and callously throw around scriptures in an attempt to use them as a bandaid for our hemorrhaging lives.

Because it is so much more…

It is not a band-aid. It is not a quick-fix solution. Scripture is able to perform spiritual surgery–slicing deeply to the root of our very being.

Because when we reduce the Bible to a self-help manual and a patch job we are acting as “hearers” of the word and not “doers” of the word (James 1:22). We cannot simply fold scripture into our old lives when necessary. We must recognize instead, that we have  been given completely new lives.

We are no longer slaves to problems, but instead are freed by His promises.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20

For we no longer live on the teetering edge, bound by fear, and desperate for hope. We live our lives on the solid Rock,“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [we] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:7

It’s the difference between quoting scripture only when a need arises or letting scripture transform us on an ongoing basis. One is reactionary, the other proactive. One is patching holes, the other being made whole.

Not just Bible-quoters, but over-comers. Not patched up, but wholly new.

Thoughts? Reactions? Do you ever use the Bible as a quotable self-help book? Do others around you? How do we stop?

35 thoughts on “Stop Quoting the Bible”

  1. Interesting points. I’m not sure I’m 100% on board, but I like where you’re focused.
    At worst, Bible memorization and catchy quotes become everything you’ve described. But at best, I believe Scripture memorization and quotations can be used to remind us to go to God before the crisis strikes, to respond to situations as He describes instead of according to our gut instinct or worldly ‘natural’ ways. In the past, I used to be nicknamed the Bible Concordance by church friends, because I knew the paraphrase of a verse and the reference to find it for multiple situations that came up. I knew them because I both memorized Scripture and stayed in the Word regularly. They came to mind not as the magic wand or word in a pinch, but as part of my ongoing relationship with God. They were often fresh in my mind, as if I could say, “Oh, we were just talking about this!”
    Sadly, I haven’t kept up on that, and now there’s definitely a lot of rust on the ‘sword.’
    I agree with you that – taken the wrong way – Scripture can be used to stop thinking. “If I just quote a verse, well there’s my answer, and I don’t need to think about how that applies to me or how God wants me to act. Or better yet, I can quote verses at everyone else who really needs to hear it.”
    If that’s what you’re trying to stop, then I’m whole-hearted in agreement.

    1. Hey Dave, I think you’re in agreement in principal with Nicole, as you noted, but since you were the first to respond, I felt like it would be appropriate to challenge a couple notions in your comment that others have similarly mentioned below. Take it as no attack, but purely a brother pointing out a couple errors in thinking that, I believe, have stemmed from much of the American evangelical church’s teaching. (LONG COMMENT ALERT!)

      You said, “I both memorized Scripture and stayed in the Word regularly.”

      I believe it is in error to refer to the Bible as a “the Word,” capital “W”. The only “Word” that is truly capitalized is as it is referenced in John 1, where it is said that “the Word become flesh and dwelt among us.” I believe by capitalizing “Word” today, we emphasized a book over the Living Word. Wherever “word” is used elsewhere in the Bible, it is in lowercase, so as to reference it is *a* word, not *the* word. I also think that, by capitalizing it, it implies that the Bible is the end-all be-all only-all words of God that we have received. In actually, the Bible references that the word is now in us–that is, the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 2:13,
      John 8:37, John 5:38, 1 John 1:10, 1 John 2:14). Throughout scripture, of the 700+ times “word” is used, it mostly is a precursor to some word of the Lord coming to someone in scripture (i.e. “the word of the Lord came to me saying…”).

      You also said, “Sadly, I haven’t kept up on that, and now there’s definitely a lot of rust on the ‘sword.’”

      I don’t know how this particular error in teaching happened, but it was something I too was taught long ago in “Vacation Bible School” and other Christian environments. Did you know that actually, in Ephesians 6:17, the *real* sword is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” So, contrary to much teaching, the Bible is not actually our “sword”, but the Holy Spirit is. And it is the Holy Spirit that is the “word of God,” which is living in us. As 1 Peter 1:23 so well says, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” The word is living inside of us!

      Again, I think you’re in agreement in principal, but thought I might address those two items in particular. Please understand that, in saying this, I’m not devaluing the Bible, for it is good and rich, but even in reading it, we need the Holy Spirit to help interpret and let the words of God bear life and fruit. As soon as we start looking at scripture without thinking “word” = “Bible”, Christians will be a lot better off. The Bible is absolutely *many* words of God, but not the *only* word (or words) of God.

  2. I don’t agree with you that clinging to a verse during difficult times is reduces the Bible to a superstion, catch-phrase, or hail mary. That’s hanging on during the difficult times. Reading the Bible is preparing us, giving us tools for when adversity strikes, and it does.

    One of my favorite Bible verses is, “The righteous will have many troubles, but the Lord will rescue us from each and every one.”-Psalm 34:19

    I did think that your idea to stop quoting the Bible was intriguing because sometimes we just say them without considering the power that they carry or the context of the verse. Then that is an opportunity for the verse to be used wrongly or distorted.

    1. That verse is my favorite because my then three year old daughter totally memorized that before I did and when I was crying she quoted it to me. That brought hope that God is in control and he sees what’s going on and that I am not alone.

  3. If this didn’t provoke thoughts and reactions I’d check your pulse. I wish we were sitting on your couch (mines is about as comfortable as a park bench) talking this out, because I wanna know more. I disagree with much of what you wrote, not because your wrong, but because-and I’m only guessing- you are writing and I’m reading from two different histories.
    Although I began following Jesus at a young age, I didn’t read the scriptures for myself until my late twenties. I was a miserable Christian and I was completely unaware of the inheritance I had access to in Christ until I read through the scriptures. I was the richest beggar you ever saw. When I first came to the scriptures I came looking for Jesus and I found him from Genesis to Revelation. 12 years later my favorite part of the (every)day is my time alone with my Father reading, meditating, praying, and listening. It enhances every part of my life. The words were not a band-aid that covered a wound, they were the key that opened the door to God’s riches, His very self. When I hear the sons and daughters of God quote scripture that’s the lens I see through.
    Now, I’m aware that’s not everybody’s experience. Some may be suffering from a serious religion hangover, and detox is necessary. Reading the Bible daily, and memorizing/quoting scripture might still bring up legalistic flashbacks and temptations. I use to abuse alchohol, and for a time I had to completely abstain while my mind was renewed before I could partake again in the freedom and self-control of the holy spirit.
    I don’t know if any of this is hitting home with you or anyone else, so I repeat: I disagree, but not because I think you are wrong. :)

  4. I am terrible at memorizing verses so quoting the Bible is not something I regularly do, and I think I’m thankful for my poor memorization skills, precisely because I don’t want to fall into what you talk about here!

  5. I do not agree fully on the topic, but I am crazy about your blog! Read it today for the first time, so glad I clicked the link that was tweeted into my timeline. You are a great writer! Oke, so here is why I don’t agree.

    I LOVE quoting the Bible, just this morning I found my favorite quote for probably the rest of the week. The verse is Galatians 5:6b “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” This is now what I will meditate on for as long as it takes t sink in. I will try and practice it daily and live it. I even wrote it on a sticky note, and if anyone asks, that is my motto!

    The previous verse was Proverbs 10:19 “Too much talk leads to sin.” This impacted me because I talk A LOT! So I realized that this is not always a good thing and started thinking before voicing.

    Because that verse is what I focus on, I tend to quote it in almost all aspects of my life at least once while meditating on it. I quote it on social networks, to my family and friends and whenever the opportunity arises. I even have the naivety of thinking that they sometimes need it as much as I do… eek.

    I agree that sometimes the Bible (and even religion) gets used as a crutch, and I have had a verse or two that dragged me through a difficult time. It helps, and is amazing! If that is all you ever quote it for, I see a problem. But I think quoting is great. Sometimes a friend quotes a verse and when I go read that verse and the chapter to put it into perspective I maybe get a whole other verse to focus on.

    Oh yeah and just one more thing, if you read the Bible, but like REALLY read it, you will win at life! ;)

  6. I am a big fan of Scripture memorization, simply for the fact that God uses the verses I’ve hidden in my heart to speak to me all the time. Even when I don’t have my Bible open, He brings a verse to my mind at the most appropriate times to remind me of His truth in the face of lies I hear throughout the day. So for me personally, memorization is incredibly helpful & something I practice regularly.

    I think the fault in memorizing a single verse is that we can take them out of context and stretch them to mean something they don’t. For example, we find peace in quoting, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” but we don’t know what “all these things” are. So we stick whatever we want in there: a raise, an engagement ring, healing, etc., and we claim that God’s Word says what we want to hear.

    When I choose a new verse to memorize, I never do so without investigating its intended meaning in context. I believe misquoting God’s Word is worse than not quoting it at all, but I would rather quote it well, because that has proven to be enormously helpful to me.

  7. I do agree with this. I think it is important to be reading/studying the Bible on a regular basis so that we know what it says and are prepared for situations. I had a wonderful mentor who always said that if you wait until you are in the middle of a battle to pull out the Bible and find out what it says, it can be too late. We may already be do emotionally caught up and it will be hard to magically have a mountain of faith. She said we need to know what the God says about any situation, increase our faith on a daily basis by meditating on His Word and when something arises, we know just what to do. Soldiers don’t wait until they are on the battlefield to learn how to shoot a gun or set off a bomb, they train before they go to war so they know just what to do when they get there to win.

  8. Thanks Nicole, for giving us a good polemic against our watering down of the life giving scriptural witness to the life giving Word that dwells in us. Many of us will have to confess and repent of our superstitious and hollow beliefs about how scripture should be used.

    But in my experience, scripture memory and quoting scripture are very valuable. Jesus fought of temptation, taught people about himself, and encouraged others extensively by quoting scripture he had memorized.

    As far as “devotions and quiet time” go, I am afraid that we have made these things about checking off another thing from our to do list, and not about spending time daily and abiding in the presence of our heavenly Father. Or, we make excuses to justify the busyness in our lives as legitimate reasons why we cannot and should not take a few moments to quiet our souls before God.

    The last couple sentences of this post are a treasure chest!

    “It’s the difference between quoting scripture only when a need arises or letting scripture transform us on an ongoing basis. One is reactionary, the other proactive. One is patching holes, the other being made whole.

    Not just Bible-quoters, but over-comers. Not patched up, but wholly new.”

    I wouldn’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. You have quoted and used scripture beautifully in this post to teach, rebuke, correct and train me up in righteousness; quoted from 2 Timothy, by the way.

    1. John,
      I think you and I agree on much of the meat of this. To be fair too however, I never discounted memorization of scripture, not quoting it for that matter. But as you point out in my final sentences, I tried to cut right to the chase.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  9. I love you Nicole… MUAH!!! xoxoxo….. Not in the secular way but, the Christian (I wanna see you again in Heaven way). You have so hit the nail on the head. Kind of Goes along with my sermon on Facebook “Casting the first stone”. A phrase that is taken waaaaaaay out of context each time it is used. Amen. Thank you Jesus for like minds in a world of decay.

  10. I can’t fathom how someone would not agree with this. The quiet time debate you mentioned, that I could see raising eyebrows. But the content of the rest of your post is so true, in my opinion. Too many times Christians are only clinging to the handful of verses they know, many times out of context, and since they have such a limited knowledge of/experience with Scripture they are easily blown over by the force of life’s storms. When the Word transforms a believer they are able to stand firm and free. How on earth can any Christ follower disagree?

    1. P.S. I don’t see this post as “anti-Scripture memorization”, either. I’m not sure why it’s being interpreted as such. I think it’s obvious (to me at least) that it’s not enough to memorize Scripture, we must become it and be transformed by it. Or else we might as well be memorizing the dictionary.

      1. Nikki,
        Thank you for realizing that this post is not an “anti-scripture memorization” post. I have to laugh because I don’t think I used the word “memorize” int he post. Perhaps group think is to blame. ;)

          1. Ha! Yeah, I did. But I never said it was bad or wrong. People took my stating that to mean I was implying it’s wrong. Assuming or reading between the lines…

            It causes for comments to be dominated by off-topic discussions, but alas I opened the door….which I like to do.

  11. I once told someone the best thing they could do was to fast the Bible and not quote it any more until he could view it as a Jesus story and not a box of favorite bullets to shoot at people. It’s almost impossible to use it to prove a point and keep it in context. I think we need to find the awe in the word again and let go of the agenda. I’m not into the “daily devotions” but I am learning to let the Word saturate me daily.

  12. Nicole, there are those who ‘cling’ to the bible, I prefer to ‘cling’ to the Author, The Living Word. He is Life, Truth, and provides us His Way. The bible isn’t holy, but The Living Word is, and He is the One who makes us (yep clowns like us) holy,

    That’s bigger than an offer from Don Corleone, one that we can’t refuse.

    “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”

    1. Yes indeed, brother Jim! Words on a page are not living, only He is the Living Word. The words we speak (and the words He always speaks) are life-giving, but they are not Life on their own. He is Life, and it is by the Living Word that we have such Life.

    2. Sir Jim, i do not know you, but based on their replies, Jonathan and Nicole love you and hold you in high regard. Since i hold them in such ridiculously high regard, i have no doubt that you are awesome in every way. I quite love what you wrote and how you wrote it. But it caused me pain to see the statement “The bible isn’t holy, but the Living Word is.” Do i think the bible is holy? Absolutely i do. Why? Because all scripture is God-breathed (end of 2nd Timothy chapter 3), and i consider God’s breath quite holy. The words of God are holy because of the Living Word of God. I love your obvious obsession with Jesus. It is from this same obsession (though i’m sure not as bright and strong) that i had to say this…because the sacredness of the (extremely treasured) words of God stems from the completely Set-apart Word Who is beyond all words.

    3. My take on this, “faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God”. It’s through the Bible that I know about the Word (Jesus) and that I know about salvation. Paul spends much of the New Testament teaching the church how to be the church by quoting and expounding on the word of God. Jesus’ responses to Satan’s temptations repeatedly began “it is written”. In Jeremiah, it’s written “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” Is it living and active? Yes. Is it holy, oh absolutely. It is the word of God, how could it not be?

  13. I have to believe that when you say “Stop Quoting the Bible” it’s just hyperbole because the spirit of this piece has the Bible all over it.

    God reveals himself to me through the word and I wouldn’t know God without the Bible. He can be found in it’s pages and it is an anchor to moor my understanding of God to the rock of truth. I have memorized the John 1 passage and it is a worshipful meditation for me because it tells me who Jesus really is. “He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”

    And so, I amen the spirit of this post. God is not a phrase to be quoted (or misquoted). He is a Being to be known and cherished an adored.

    (I could not however say I only glance at my Bible from time to time or advocate abandoning an attempt to daily meet with Him through the study of his word. If we are to know God, the scripture is the most accurate picture of Him and we must turn to it to validate our experience and to point us toward him but that must be a holistic endeavor that involves our entire being — not searching for a simple pick-me-up when we’re down)

  14. I think what you are getting at is that if we do quote the Bible, that we quote it within the context of whatever we are quoting and that we shouldn’t use the quotes as something to hang our faith in Christ on, rather we should understand the context in which the verses were written in. Our faith shouldn’t be a bunch of self-help quotes, but rather we should live out our faith. And that includes regular reading and studying of the Bible. Hope I understood your post properly.

  15. Hey Nicole! Yesterday when I commented I was in the middle of a crisis of sorts. As I typed, my husband was being questioned by police following accusations that he was proselytizing, which is illegal where we live. I was very appreciative of those who stopped to text me scriptures to encourage me and I think the situation I was in tripped up my ability to understand what you were trying to say. Being aware of the blinding properties of my circumstances, I expressed that I wish I had more than the length of a blog post to discuss your point. I had the feeling that my disagreements were because I was missing something.

    I have slept since I first read your post (I think I’ve read it maybe 10 times to date) and the dust has settled from the storm making it easier to perceive your message. What jumped out to me were the words “reduce the bible”. I have many times seen a verse that I desperately wanted to be able to stick like a band-aid on somebody’s wound only to find when I read it in context it didn’t quite do the job. Dang it, I hate/love when that happens. And being in the middle of a crisis myself, I was glad that I didn’t have to frantically search for the perfect scripture band-aid. I was already abiding in the word.
    Thanks NIcole for teaching me an important lesson about the stupidity of commenting in a crisis. :)

  16. Nicole,

    Yeah, you know me. I read this one and just hadta opine. YOu bring these things out of my spirit. Thanks.

    He has written His Jesus on our hearts, enthroning Him there as King of Glory and the Judge of the Living and the Dead. Jesus is indeed The Word, The Word is Jesus, our hearts no longer stone but tablets of flesh and blood used by His Spirit to become as walking revivals.

    Having said this, do I still read The Scriptures? Not as often as I once did. Do I have some of them memorized? You betcha. In King James and NIV and NASB, whut?! Have I ever used The Scriptures like a jerk? Yep. Have I ever used The Scriptures on myself? Ha, not anymore. Is The Bible a “self-help book” that is readily and easily exploited via Christian Bookstores, Bible publishers, desktop calender companies, bumper sticker addicts and refrigerator magnet cultists? Yep, and then some. Sure. Weaker mankind has ever had a sick fascination with Jesus.

    Here’s the thing: Take away my personal copy of The Scriptures, my English versions, my Greek versions, my Hebrew versions, my dictionaries, my concordances, my study guides, my commentaries, and burn them all right in front of me. You haven’t done jack squat to the covenant God my Father struck with me through Jesus The Son.

    None of us need to have The Bible memorized when The Author and Finisher of our Faith knows us by name. Sure, it makes for some fun when you can smoke all competitors in a rousing game of “Bible Trivia” (Who was Malchus?…the fella whose ear Peter cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane), but it lacks any spiritual substance.

    Jesus said: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” ~John 5:39,40

    He’s much more than a game of Bible Trivia, yes?

    Sorry for the ramble, sistah.

  17. ,,, I have to make another comment on this.

    One of my favorite quotes that I use is this,”Don’t try and fit Gods word to your life. Instead, persevere to fit your life to Gods word.”

    We need to take in the entire message instead of the fragmented thoughts that are more often than not, taken way out of context.

    1. “…fragmented thoughts…” fits so well. Indeed, we are to have the mind of Christ, and He wasn’t exactly an ADHD kinda person, was He?

  18. FYI – I think your blog is awesome. I’m so glad I stumbled upon it today. I have a lot to learn and your blog helps me think through things I haven’t thought of before.

    Though, I definitely question books that quote 7 bible verses to a better life, I doubt 9 out of 10 Christians can quote Phil 4:13.

    And I completely agree that Scripture “is not a band-aid. It is not a quick-fix solution. Scripture is able to perform spiritual surgery–slicing deeply to the root of our very being.”

    But, you’re also quoting bible verses yourself.

    “You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:14

    Maybe, then, it’s the well rounded, theologically robust quotation of bible verses that’s lacking in Christians today?

    I only respond because I think there is a huge epidemic in Scripture ignorance today and thinking knowing the God’s Word by heart is “setting our minds on Christ.”

    Anyways, good stuff! Keep blogging away sister!

  19. I think a great deal of people missed the point of this entry. To be fair, Evangelicals are trained from the teat to defend the Bible at all costs. Anything that seems to devalue scripture is a threat.
    However, your point rang true to me. Scripture is one of many expressions of Divine Life. Along with brothers and sisters in Christ – the Bible reveals the God who gives it power. But it is God that is Life – and He dwells in us. Therefore, scripture isn’t our indwelling Lord, but an incredible and authoritative tool that God uses to unveil himself.
    I think being misunderstood like this can be very fruitful. For you and for your readers. Much can come of people being offended, albeit misguided offense.

  20. Hi Nichole,

    I read your blog for the first time. You really caught my attention with “I glance at my bible from time to time” and I’ve ditched the imposed quiet time. I’m 58, so I’m not yet an old fogie (spelling?), but I have been around the block a bit, lot’s of difficulty our family has faced, and I’ve learned that the Bible is not a self-help, quote a Scripture as magic potion. However, I’m seeing more and more how Scripture is vital for a God-shaped world view.

    In fact, neuroscience is teaching us a lot now. Neuroscientists tell us that what we pay attention to gets learned. What we pay attention actually re-wires our brain. For example, the more we immerse ourselves into God’s word through reading, meditation, memory, etc., the more we lay down tracks in our brain that form our world view. And the more biblical our outlook on look, the more Christiain-ly we will naturally respond God’s way when tempted to not so otherwise.

    So, I wonder about dissing daily interaction with the Bible through something like a devo time.

    Just a thought. Thanks for your blog.

  21. WOW…that is powerful Nicole! This part…

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    And if Christ was the Word made flesh, and we are His body, then we too are living by the Word.

    Going to go share this with friends now! OH YEAH….we are the living Word :)

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