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Never Cut-and-Paste a Bible Verse

Updated on December 26, 2009
Procrustes' victim was ultimately force fitted onto the infamous bed frame.
Procrustes' victim was ultimately force fitted onto the infamous bed frame.

Force Fitting Bible Verses Into Inaccurate Translations

Whenever I’m studying the Scriptures or writing hubs for that matter, I use this simple rule—Never cut-and-paste Bible a verse—to help me and my readers interact with the author’s intended message in any scriptural passage. It’s an amazingly effective technique that I’d like to share with you as well.

I read the paragraph, not just the verse. I take note of the context by reading what is written before and after the verse in question. Since the context frames the verse and gives its specific meaning, it helps me to understand and answer the question, “What is the author saying?”


A Strange Bedfellow To Avoid

In Greek mythology, Procrustes, whose name means “he who stretches,” was a villainous son of Poseidon. He was a monstrous bandit from Attica, who made life miserable for travelers along the mountain road from Troezen to Athens. He kept an inn along the side of the road in which there was an unusual bedchamber with a very special iron bed. He would offer his hospitality to these travelers by providing them a pleasant meal and a night’s rest in his special bed. If the guest asked what was so special about it, Procrustes replied, "Why, it has the amazing property that its length exactly matches whomsoever lies upon it."

What Procrustes didn't volunteer, was the method by which this "one-size-fits-all" bed was achieved. As soon as the guest lay down, Procrustes would shackle their bodies to the bed frame. If they were too short for the bed, he attached ropes to their ankles and stretched them until their bones cracked. If they were too long for the bed, Procrustes chopped off their feet or lopped off their heads. In this way, everyone was made identical in size. The victim was ultimately ‘force fitted’ onto the infamous bed frame.

Similarly, biblical scholars, students, laypeople, and even well meaning hubbers alike, have sought to force fit the Scriptures upon the bed of their brand of theology. By ignoring the context and isolating the verse(s), we do violence to the bibilical truth. If we neglect the context, the result of our study or written hub subjects the Scriptures to a cut-and-paste up job of ideas, illustrations, and interpretations of others as well as our own. If we fail to exercise due diligence in our study of the Word, we will unwittingly hold the Scriptures hostage as we unintentionally shackle, squeeze, stretch or sever the text to fit into a Procrustean Bible study of sorts. The fruit of our finding will only result in an inaccurate amputated interpretation served on a misleading cut-and-paste biblical bed.


A Simple Rule To Adapt

Here’s how to use the simple rule, Never cut-and-paste a Bible verse. In its original form, the Bible was never written with chapter or verse numbers. These are modern day tools that help us easily locate the chapter and verse. When you come across a verse in your reading or study, try to catch “the big picture” by looking at the larger unit or context that it’s anchored to. Then begin to narrow your focus. It’s not a difficult or time-consuming study discipline. Take a brief moment to read the verse in its wider context.

With the verse before you, have the broad context of the book in the back of your mindset. What type of literature is it? Are we dealing with history, poetry, or narrative? Different literary forms require specific approaches. What was the author’s intended meaning in the passage? What idea was he trying to develop and communicate? Who was his audience? What the life setting or cultural background at the time this writing?

It pays to stand back from the verse and seek out natural breaks in the text in order to identify major units of thought. Ask yourself, “What does this paragraph or group of paragraphs tell me about the verse in question?”

Why is this little exercise important? Words have different meanings in different contexts. If we isolate the verse, one meaning may surface. But how can we determine if it’s the right one? Reaching out for the nearest dictionary won’t do. Dictionaries only complicate the issue, giving us a wide range of choices. This can get confusing. Fret not friend, help is not far away, but just around the corner. It comes to us in the form of the surrounding paragraph.

With the larger context before us, you are free to narrow your focus, observing and/or interpreting the meaning of the verse itself. Summing up the passage in your own words, based on your findings, is a key element to your study. This includes your careful observation, research and study of the verse in its context. By paraphrasing the passage, you will discover if your interpretation is running parallel to the overall context or found contrary to the author’s intention.

Here’s how it works. Just replace the passage in question with your own words or paraphrase. Does the passage still make sense in light of the larger context? Is it still in sync with the bigger picture? Does it flow naturally?

This technique will immediately release interpretations that may be mercilessly shackled, squeezed, stretched or severed in a Procrustean Bible bed. Be mindful that an interpretation is your ability to say essentially the same thing as the author, but in your own words.

Please notice that I didn’t say, “Never quote a Bible verse.” I said, “cut-and-paste.” Just beware of simply reading the verse expecting to get an accurate meaning in isolation from the rest of the passage.

This simple rule just happens to be one technique drawn from the method of Inductive Bible Study—a subject that we will continue to explore in future hubs.

Copyright 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.

The Modern Day Procrustean Bed
The Modern Day Procrustean Bed

Recommended Reading

The New Inductive Study Bible
The New Inductive Study Bible

Readers will discover simple but powerful tools for discovering what the Bible says, what it means, and how to live its truths. Features include: updated NASB text in a compact, convenient size; an inductive study method explanation; instructions for marking text; overviews of each book; insights on accurately interpreting biblical truth; full–color charts and maps; wide margins for note–taking.

 

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    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      7 years ago from California

      Thanks revmjm. Glad to have sparked your interest. Blessings to you.

    • revmjm profile image

      Margaret Minnicks 

      7 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Your catchy title captured my attention. Thanks for this interesting hub.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 

      8 years ago from Central United States of America

      Enjoyed your pertinent suggestion and its wisdom. But I was dismayed by your one-size-bed deal. Yuk! :-)

      Appreciate your writing and wisdom. Thank you!

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      8 years ago from California

      Marliza Gunter, I'm glad you found this hub useful. Thanks for your visit and comment.

    • Marliza Gunter profile image

      Marliza Gunter 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      yes..this is something to think about...

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      Matt, I appreciate the visit and thoughtful comment. God bless you.

    • mattmilamii profile image

      Matthew Milam II 

      9 years ago from Chicago - Be A Blessing... Become A Hand Of God

      A great way to include the investigative questions; who, what, when, where, and why. It also helps to jumpstart thought towards application by prompting consideration of “how” it applies. Good teaching.

      Blessings,

      Matt.

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      bddonovan, I appreciate the visit and your most insightful comment. Without the product, the process is lost in translation. God bless you Brother.

    • bddonovan profile image

      bddonovan 

      9 years ago from Beautiful Berkshires of Massachusetts

      Great hub. I think I have slept in that bed a few times. The whole is always better than the part. I love the illustration of the child asking for cake and being given flour, egg, oil, and water. The main ingredients but now where as tasty or satisfying as the finishe product.

      Good luck and God speed with your ministry

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      Chin chin,

      When I first came across the infamous Procrustean bed illustration, I knew I had the perfect contraption to get my point across. I'm glad it brought the truth home for you. May God enrich your study experience as you seek to learn and teach his truth with the accuracy Paul pointed us toward.

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      RevLady,

      I'm glad you gathered some great insights in this hub. In fact, this article has drawn a significant number of viewership since I published it. I will be adding related material to this series shortly. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a thoughtful comment.

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      I like how you illustrated the cutting and pasting of Bible verses to the Procrustean bed - it simply is not the right way to teach and learn. Wonderful reminder for Christians like me.

    • RevLady profile image

      RevLady 

      9 years ago from Lantana, Florida

      You highlighted some great insights in the study of the Bible. Context is everything if we desire acquiring as accurate a picture and understanding of what the author was trying to convey to his audience as possible. Thank you.

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      drpastorcarlotta, it's encouraging to know the effect that this hub has brought upon you. I pray that the message serves to challenge Christians to be serious students of the Word. I am doubly blessed by your visit and most generous comment.

    • drpastorcarlotta profile image

      Pastor Dr. Carlotta Boles 

      9 years ago from BREAKOUT MINISTRIES, INC. KC

      The title of this Hub is very catchy! I love it!! These tips are amazing, wonderful! Makes you want to study more, dig deeper into the Bible, YES!!! This is an excellent Hub Gicky, thank you and much love to you!!!! You Go Gicky!!!!

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      coffeesnob, Training children in the right way by grounding them in the study of God's word is a priceless ministry. May the Lord enrich your Sunday School classes with eager hearts and minds.

    • profile image

      coffeesnob 

      9 years ago

      Gicky,

      As usual good writing and excellent instruction. thanks for your love of the Bible. I love the indictive Bible study and have incorporated it into our Sunday School classes in for kids from 1st grade on up. Good stuff

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      broussardleslie, thank you your encouraging comment. Yes, more inductive study tips are underway.

    • broussardleslie profile image

      Leslie Broussard 

      9 years ago

      Excellent tip!

      I look forward to learning more about "inductive" Bible study.

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      NHY, your observation with regard to how scripture must be studied is spot on. Thanks for the visit. All blessings as you seek wisdom from the whole counsel of God's word.

    • profile image

      Not Home Yet 

      9 years ago

      I loved your article on not cutting and pasting Bible verses. So many people try to quote from scripture to prove their own agenda that it can get very distorted. The love letter from our Lord was not meant to be chopped up and inserted. It must be studied and taken in the proper context in order to understand its full meaning.

      Thanks for the words of wisdom.

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