always read the context

Why Reading a Random Bible Verse Is a Bad Idea

Imagine this: you pull the Bible of the shelf, dust off the cover, and let the book fall open to a random page. Then you close your eyes, wriggle your finger in the air, and let it land on a random Bible verse. You read the verse and, satisfied, close the Bible and check “Bible reading” off your list.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, other than the hockey-pokey blind hope of landing on a great verse (and not something like “For at the voice of the Lord, Assyria will be terrified” (Isaiah 30:31), it’s a terrible way to engage with Scripture if you’re hoping to grow in your knowledge and love for God.

Now let me clarify: there’s nothing wrong with reading or sharing Bible verses that you see online or receive in your inbox. In fact, I share these beautiful verse images on my Facebook page all the time. They’re a great way to remind us of God’s Truth when we’re scrolling our Facebook feed.

But it’s a bad approach to studying the Bible. Here’s why:

1. Reading a random Bible verse means you miss the context.

As we talked about before, you can’t properly interpret and apply a text without understanding who it was written to, as well as the what, when, where, and why. In other words, you need to understand the 5 W’s of a passage before you decide whether this can become your life verse or was promised only to the original audience.

For example, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most-quoted Bible verses in gift shops. You’ll find it on mugs, plaques, pens, keychains, and everything in between. But should it be? Do you know the book of Jeremiah was written to God’s people that they would be conquered by the Babylonians and exiled to a foreign country? There’s a LOT of bad news in that book, and 29:11 stands as a beacon of hope that even though they were being punished for disobeying God, God would still be faithful to His promise and bring them back to the Promised Land SO THAT they would call on Him and live in fellowship with Him as was originally intended (see 29:12-14). Peachy, right? Well, God then goes on to promise destruction on those who falsely promised the Jews an easy life even if they ignored Him (see 29:15-32).

God is not promising an easy life, nor is He saying everything is going to be find and dandy. Quite the opposite: life is going to be rough, but He will be faithful to His promise, and He will restore the Jews to their original purpose: to live in fellowship with Him. That’s what “a hope and a future” means. Not a great score on that test. Not big bucks in the bank. Not health and prosperity. But a life of fellowship with Him. Suddenly, Jeremiah 29:11 is so heavy with meaning that those unassuming trinkets in the gift shop would break under its weight.

But you’d miss all that if you only read the one verse and moved on with your day.

Aren’t you happy you now know never to read a random Bible verse and call it quits?Wow! I didn't realize that reading a random Bible verse is such a bad idea! Glad I know now.

2. Reading a random Bible verse means you miss the Big Story of the Bible.

Let’s face it: Malachi and Numbers and Philemon aren’t the most popular books in the Bible. Most Christians wouldn’t be able to tell you who wrote them or what they’re about. And that’s mostly due to our tendency to stick with passages we know and enjoy.

But there’s beauty in reading everything in the Bible. Remember, the whole Bible is about God’s story, and just like you wouldn’t understand a movie if you kept leaving the room every ten minutes, so you won’t get what the Bible is all about if you skip every other book.

The more you read the Bible cover-to-cover, the more you’ll understand how all the seemingly-random parts fit together. And you don’t have to be a theologian to get it. I’ll post soon about some easy ways to understand the Big Picture of the Bible. It will be worth the wait. Promise.

3. Reading a random Bible verse means you miss the main purpose of the Bible.

I started off this series by stating that many people read the Bible for wrong reasons. And here’s the thing: when you read a random Bible verse, you’re reading for yourself, as if it’s written to simply be a guidebook for life or to boost our self-esteem when we need it.

(And if that’s what you think, sweet friend, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when you get to the less-popular parts of the Bible. Brace yourself. Or better yet, keep reading.)

The Bible isn’t about us. The Bible is about God. 

All throughout Scripture, God reveals Himself to us in beautiful stories of personal redemption. You’ll find these themes repeat again and again, like how God is faithful even though His people are not, how He provides for His children even when the situation looks dire, and how He keeps working humans’ good toward His glory. It’s an incredible story that’s drama, suspense, comedy, thriller, and romance all in one.

When you approach the Bible asking, “What’s in it for me?” you’re missing the point. And reading a random Bible verse sets us up for this mindset.

But when you approach the Bible asking, “How can I learn and love God more?” you’re on the right track. And you’ll be thrilled by all the riches you’ll discover.

Alright, that was a lot for one day. We’ll stop here.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how prayer can revolutionize your Bible study, and then Monday we’ll be back to our daily assignements with a fun assignment that includes colored pencils and doodling!

Your Turn

  1. Spend a few moments talking to God about today’s reading. Have you fallen into the habit of reading a random Bible verse as your main Scripture diet?
  2. In your journal, write a few sentences responding to each of the three dangers. How has this affected your walk with God? Whyat would you like to do differently?
  3. Take what you’ve written back to God and ask for His help in your commitment to grow in knowledge and love for Him. Ask for His strength and power, and thank Him for being ever-patient and willing to help you every step of the way.

31 Days to Deeper Bible Study