Glenn R. Paauw. Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
I learned about this book when I listened to Tony Reinke’s fascinating 30-minute interview with Paauw. It didn’t take long for me to get the book and read it—particularly chapters 1–4.
- My core argument is that for most of us, most of the time, small readings prevail over big readings. (p. 11)
- One of the core reasons for our Bible engagement breakdown is that so many would-be Bible readers have been sold the mistaken notion that the Bible is a look-it-up-and-find-the-answer handy guide to life. They’ve been encouraged to treat the Scriptures as if they were a collection of doctrinal, devotional and moralistic statements that can be accessed and chosen at will. This topical-search mode of Bible use directly undermines authentic Bible engagement. The advent of electronic Bibles with their speedy find-a-verse feature is only making it worse. One glaring failure of such an approach is that it ignores huge swaths of the biblical text that don’t comfortably fit the model. Many books have no candidates for the My-Favorite-Scripturette award and are studiously avoided by the verse-pickers and therefore effectively decanonized. (p. 15)
- Marking divisions in the text is perhaps the key intervention made through the Bible’s history. … Chapters were organizing principles, developed to structure liturgical readings or to help speed the finding of passages and topics within the Bible. Their guiding principle tended to be breaking up the text into sections of roughly equal length rather than attentively revealing the natural literary sections of the Bible. We tend to think of our ever-present modern Bible companions—chapter and verse numbers—as belonging inexorably together. But they actually have separate histories. The chapter system we know today was developed around the year 1200 by the English church leader Stephen Langton. But this system wasn’t immediately standardized. For example, the famous printed Bibles of Johannes Gutenberg, beginning in the 1450s, didn’t include it. Eventually, however, Langton’s chapter divisions would be married to verse markings, and the new arrangement would become a dynasty. (pp. 27–28)
- Robert Estienne, a French printer and classical scholar, gave numbered verse divisions another shot in 1551. What was Estienne’s motivation? He wanted to produce a Bible concordance, a tool that would change decisively the answer to the question, what are we supposed to do with the Bible? Estienne introduced his numbered verses to a Greek New Testament, and this time the system caught on. These are the verse numbers we see reflected in most Bibles today. (p. 30)
- The King James Bible was a literary masterpiece as far as its language was concerned, but it continued the destructive device of indenting and thus isolating each newly-numbered fragment. And it became the new standard for Bible printing. It was the death knell for a certain kind of Bible, a Bible that presented something closer to what the Scriptures inherently were. (p. 30)
- As the reader takes in the numbered list going down the page, the message is clear: these propositions are meant to be read and understood independently as separate statements of spiritual truth. (p. 32)
- We’ve created a Bible exoskeleton— a hard outer structure that covers and essentially hides what is beneath. Columns, numbers, headings, footnotes, cross-references, callouts, colored letters, etc., etc., etc. Our overindulged addiction to addition has given us everything we could ask for except the text itself in a clean, natural expression. What we have in our Bibles now is excess. We have effectively buried the text and blinded readers with data smog. (p. 33)
- Bible readers now face information overload, leading paradoxically to information anxiety. At some point, serving up more facts, data, interpretation and application about the Bible only serves to make us nervous about all that we apparently don’t yet know. The release of every new study Bible only reinforces this anxiety. In all of this, the original has gotten very hard to recognize and we seem to have lost the core thing itself. (p. 35)
- Form and content always belong together in God’s good creation. Form is part of the content of things. If you change the form, you change the content. If you change the form of the Bible, you have already answered the question of what it is. (p. 39)
- Stephen Langton wanted short, easy-to-find sections for commentaries, so he developed a chapter system. Robert Estienne wanted a Bible concordance as a tool to study the Bible in a new way, so he added numbered verses to the text. The Complicated Bible begins with the question, how can we do what we want with the Bible? The Elegant Bible begins with the question, what is the Bible and how can we honor what it is? (p. 40)
- Deconstructing the Bible of the Reformation is the first step toward saving the Bible. The Langton-Estienne dynasty has had its day, but it’s time for the rule of chapter-and-verse to end. (p. 41)
- Contrary to what most people think, a chapter-and-verse Bible is not essential for referring to a particular passage. It would be healthier and show a greater knowledge of the Bible itself if we were to adopt the practice of referencing by context and content. People in book clubs do it all the time, the Bible itself does it when quoting from other books in the Bible and the whole church had to do it for most of its history. (p. 41)
- Chapter and verse numbers … are intrusions that fail to reflect authorial intent and so divide up the text in unnatural ways. Both are rather inattentively placed. They signal readers to take as appropriate units sections of text that are often not appropriate units. Chapter divisions can break up larger units of thought …. But verses are particularly pernicious because they positively encourage the reader to take each numbered thought out of context as a standalone statement of truth. And to take the bad news and drop it to the level of devastating, verses have now become the primary way millions of people approach the Bible. Verses read in isolation, selected by topic, arranged in groups, sent out in kitschy-decorated Facebook updates—this is what passes for Bible knowledge in our era. The point here is that the format of the Bible is where this trouble begins. The word Scripture has even been transformed. Rather than using the word in its original sense of a complete writing—a book of the Bible—people now commonly use it to refer to a single one of these artificially created fragments: “Let me share a scripture with you.” If we were to do nothing but take the verse numbers out of our Bibles and refuse to use them as references in our Bible practices, this alone might spark a Bible reengagement movement. (p. 42)
- [Section headings] are the literary equivalent of watching a movie and having someone sitting next to you constantly saying, “This is the part where . . .” After a while it’s best to let the person know you’d like to watch the movie for yourself and see what unfolds. These section headings also incorrectly send the signal to readers that the Bible is essentially made up of short, topical portions meant to be read independently, like entries in an encyclopedia. (p. 43)
- The very live danger here [i.e., of using cross references) is that by following the thread of cross references and adding them up, we believe we’ve arrived at the Bible’s teaching on that particular point. … Cross references are the print equivalent of hyperlinks in electronic texts. Both function especially well as a steady stream of distractions, temptations to break our concentration and leave the text we are reading and jump to somewhere else. A cross-referenced Bible is not a deep reading, immersive Bible. (p. 43)
- Study Bibles … have developed the fine art of designing the Bible page to reverse the relative importance of the divinely inspired words and our attempted commentary. All the color borders, shaded backgrounds, and fancy bold and italic fonts surround and uphold the chaff, not the wheat. Readers are strongly directed by the visual cues to prioritize the material and shouldn’t be blamed for doing what they’re told. Neither should it surprise us when readers actually use study Bible notes not to enhance their reading of the text, but to replace it. (p. 43)
- It is nearly impossible to show literary form in a two-column Bible. The short length of each line effectively cuts off the use of white space and lining to reveal genre or the natural structure of biblical texts. (p. 44)
- Philip Yancey has said we’ve essentially reduced our engagement with the Scriptures to eating Bible McNuggets. And snacking, once you’ve begun to indulge it, is an unhealthy but hard habit to break. (p. 56)
- Theoretically, study Bibles have the potential to give plenty of help to Bible readers. But interpretation is often dictated, and they generally direct people to more meager-sized segments as stand-alone units. It’s certainly not a small thing that the additives that at first served like-minded doctrinal groups are now increasingly customized for individuals. The search for perceived contemporary relevance for me, right here and right now, is the god to which the material most often bows. Immediacy of application is the demand. There’s no time for slowing down and receiving the Bible on its own terms. The highly-targeted nature of the add-ons leaves out whole swaths of biblical teaching and narrative. The specialty study Bible model can have the effect of turning Bibles into mirrors. The material focuses more on us and our own pre-understanding of our needs than it does on genuinely opening the gates to the world of the Bible. (p. 57)
- The handbook model is overwhelmingly the view expressed in electronic Bible software programs and websites, whose default answer to the question “How does one engage the Bible?” is to offer nanosecond topical search options based on verses. The implication is that the Bible’s teaching on any topic can be found by simply collecting statements and adding them up. (p. 58)
- Snacking on the Bible is addictive for all the usual reasons something becomes addictive: it’s easy, it feels good at the moment and the alternative seems complex and difficult. (pp. 59–60)
- Because we see the Bible in little pieces, we come to know it in little pieces. Even if you call your Bible snack a Bible vitamin, the bite-sized piece too easily ends up being a replacement for a full meal. Such a thing is not the same and can never be the same as eating a full Bible course. … To chop the Bible into my favorite pieces prevents the Bible from being an alternative voice in my life. (p. 60)
- The fatal flaw of the modernist Bible is how it dictates our relationship to the Bible. It makes us believe we have mastered the Bible. We can use it to either defend what we already believe or feed us the things we already think we need. (p. 61)
- Cherry-picking Bible verses is a confession, an open admission that the Bible really isn’t what we want it to be. (p. 62)
- Reading any book of the Bible, from the first to the last, will immediately put the reader into the midst of a hermeneutical circle. … What do you do with the circle? Simply jump in. Eat books and eat them whole. … [T]he books of the Bible are mutually explanatory and enriching, going both forward and backward in the story. Jump in and keep reading and you will find connections both coming and going. (pp. 70–71)
- What are we supposed to do with the Bible? … [A]ccept it on its own terms by reading its own discrete literary units—not verses, not chapters, not topically headed sections, but whole books. (p. 73)
So how do you read the Bible without any chapter or verse references? Here are three options:
- Use Bible software that has the option to show the Bible text without any chapter or verse numbers. (I do this in Logos Bible Software by selecting “Bible text only.”)
- Get a Bible without chapter or verse references. The two best options are for the NIV and ESV.
- Some websites such as BibleGateway and ESV Bible have an option to hide verse numbers for English translations.