The double-edged sword I do not use.
When someone says, “Show me chapter and verse,” they are using an idiom derived from the religious study and use of the Bible. Used secularly, it means the speaker is requesting to be shown a pertinent reference from an authoritative source that substantiates the claim in question. I have heard engineers use this phrase in reference to manuals or other specifications that govern the design and manufacture of items.
If you spend much time at church and around Christians, you will hear this expression. At best, the phrase means we demand biblical support for our doctrine and practice. It means we hold the Bible to be our only and all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. At least, that’s the ideal.
The other edge is when chapter-and-verse becomes a mentality. Then it does not mean biblical support is required, but rather prooftexting is required. In more extreme cases, it means the proponent demands at least one verse that unequivocally states the claim in the proper formula, or they will not accept it. In other words, the Bible has to say we should not do X exactly or we should do Y exactly. If this criteria is not met, they remain belligerent.
I chose that last word carefully because the chapter-and-verse mentality does not reveal the heart of someone devoted to Scripture. Rather, it reveals the obstinate heart of someone who is rejecting God’s Word and doing what is right in their own eyes. This is not someone who is searching, comparing, interpreting, and applying God’s Word.
Three Biblical Problems with the Chapter-And-Verse Mentality
- It demands something of the Bible that it was not written to provide. The Bible was not written as a list of dos and don’ts. It contains some lists, but even those need interpretation, as we will see in a moment. Think about it. This mentality is demanding the Bible have an unequivocal statement that addresses a particular situation and, if it doesn’t have such, they feel justified in doing whatever they want. The second most used phrase from people with this mentality is: The Bible doesn’t say anything about that.
- The Bible self-testifies that not everyone uses it rightly. Consider this passage from Hebrews:
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
– Hebrews 5:11-14
Those that need milk are “unskilful in the word,” and they are not able to “discern both good and evil.” It is the mature who use the word, exercising their senses, and are able to discern between good and evil. Note that it requires discernment to determine what is good and what is evil. Reading a list of dos and don’ts to find your specific situation does not require discernment.
- This mentality is not how Jesus viewed the Bible. Look at one instance that demonstrates how Jesus read and understood the Scriptures. Immediately after declaring that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees fell woefully short, He corrected their teaching. They taught: “Thou shalt not kill” (Matthew 5:21) and if one does kill another, he will go to judgment. If you check Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, that is exactly what those verses say: “Thou shalt not kill.” But Jesus said their teaching was incomplete because He went on to speak about being guilty if you were unjustly angry with your brother, but did not physically kill him.
Jesus indicated that Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 were not the only word. He referenced Leviticus 19:17-18 to show that the law did not end with physical murder. They were to go beyond chapter-and-verse and search, compare, think, and rightly use the Word of God.
The study of the Bible is not about finding prooftexts to accuse or excuse. It is about knowing God in all that He has revealed of Himself. We are also told we need our minds renewed because they have a sinful bent and we have constant worldly pressure on us (Romans 12:1-2).