What people quote vs. what they read

Theologygrams has published a diagram of Micah that rings too true.


The one verse that everyone knows is Micah 6:8. I even saw it quoted on a billboard for a personal injury lawyer.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Can't you imagine a series of these for every book in the Bible? My guess is that it would be entirely depressing for those of us who study and teach the Bible. If you need any confirmation that people read the Bible primarily as a loosely organized collection of inspiring quotes surrounded by confusing babble, see this horrifying project, Top Verses, whose motto is "The Bible: Sorted." Excuse me, I need to lie down.

OK, I'm back. There are two problems here. First, there is the problem of biblical literacy. Even those who claim to take their faith seriously often have a profoundly underdeveloped knowledge of the Bible. And even if they do know its contents, there is a shocking lack of careful interpretation in the church. If people really knew the Bible, con-men like Joel Osteen and Ken Ham would be out of business.

Second, this way of reading the Bible is a rejection of the flow and structure of the canon. The Bible is not just one text — a large, user-unfriendly quotebook. The Bible contains many texts that have been edited, combined, and arranged in particular ways. Understanding the place of Micah 6:8 within the whole book of Micah, indeed within the larger prophetic proclamation, is the only way to make sense of that (highly quotable) statement. I would suggest that if you do not know what leads up to and follows Micah 6:8, you do not understand that verse.

Clearly, there is more work to be done. Allons-y!