I Confess I Can’t Remember Verse References

I don’t know why but I often find it difficult to remember Bible verse references – the chapter and verse numbers that we use to signify where a particular verse is found in scripture. This is only important because it is basically a part of church culture that when you quote a verse of scripture the church culture mindset is that you add the reference to it.

Have a friend who is dealing with worry and you want to encourage them? Well Matthew 6:34 is a great verse to remember (the first verse of scripture I ever memorized)  Therefore, you would tell your friend, “Well Matthew 6:34 says, ‘ Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'” Struggling with feeling content in a situation? Philippians 4:13 (one of the most misused verses of scripture there is) is a good verse to share. “Have you considered Philippians 4:13? “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

When I started getting serious about studying the Bible and therefore started memorizing scripture I learned in a culture where you quote the reference at the beginning and the end of the quote. So you would say:

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
John 14:6

We quoted the reference twice, while the verse only once – I’m not really sure what message quoting the reference twice and the actual verse once actually sent (and I may not want to know).

Anyhow my problem is that I have always been,and still am, lousy at remembering the verse references of the scripture I memorize. I am good at remembering the actual verses, really good at remembering the content around the verse itself, and even better at remembering whole stories from scripture. In fact, when I try to lift up myself or someone else with scripture I usually go to the stories of scripture. “You’re struggling with God’s presence? Let me tell you about a time in a garden when Jesus felt that same way.” “You don’t feel like God can use you? Can I tell you a story about a man named Ehud?” Still remembering verse references is a pain for me.

Earlier this week I was with a group of men that I study the Bible with each week. We each were discussing one verse that really hit us from one of the chapters of the study. When it was my turn I brought up, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.“. I was immediately asked “What’s the address” (this is the cool kid way of saying “what’s the reference?”) and I had to admit that I couldn’t remember other than it was in the Psalms.  Once again I felt the pang of shame.

These are guys that I love and I know love me, so I’m not bringing this up to say they did anything wrong, they didn’t. Instead I bring up this example in order to admit that at one time in my life I would have felt shame over the fact that I remembered the verse (the actual inspired text) and not the reference (the non-inspired text). In fact, at one time in my life I would have preferred to have the reference memorized rather than the verse, because if you had the reference memorized you could always look up the verse and make sure you had it right.

When they came around references were a huge help. Suddenly you knew exactly were a statement was because of the book name, chapter, and verse numbers. This was a huge step forward. Yet with a miniature super computer in your pocket that can search the whole Bible in less than a second those chapter and verse numbers really aren’t as important anymore. It is more important that we know what is actually in the verse. So why do I let myself feel shamed for not knowing something that I’m not really sure actually helps my faith?

Maybe this is just my own problem and no one else struggles with this, but at one time I seriously struggled, and every now and then I still do,  with feeling guilty about this. I’m a pastor, after all, I should have these references memorized. What type of example was I setting by not knowing the reference? Funny, I never asked myself what type of example I was setting by worrying to the point of shame about the non-inspired portion of the Bible more than the inspired portion. Jesus didn’t quote the references … well … because He didn’t have them. Our chapter and verse references didn’t develop until the mid-16th century (chapter numbers started appearing by themselves in the 13th century). Sometimes He referenced the author, others times He just said the passage with no reference to the author, and other times still He merely alluded to the passage. If Jesus did this then why do I feel bad when I can’t remember a reference that wasn’t added to the Bible till the mid-16th century and is by no means inspired by God. For the Lord did not say “AND THIS A VERSE NUMBER WILL BE PLACED HERE!”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a wonderful statement in one of his letters from prison. He writes:

We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us; if it pleases him to allow us to enjoy some overwhelming earthly happiness, we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and allow our happiness to be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives. (Emphasis added by me – Robert)

“More pious than God”. Yep I can relate to that temptation.

It is very important that we hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11😁) because it helps us to follow Him, but we (or maybe just me) have to remember what is inspired and what isn’t. For we have an enemy, the Accuser, who will try to use anything to shame us as we follow Christ.

Me: I quoted the verse.

The Accuser: But you didn’t quote the reference.

Jesus: Ahem, I didn’t say the reference anyway and Robert has a cellphone and can look up the non-inspired reference in about 2 seconds, so shut your mouth.

2 Replies to “I Confess I Can’t Remember Verse References”

  1. Amen, brother! You are not the only pastor that has difficulty remembering the address. I could have written this article.

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