Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: What Is the Verse Mapping Method of Bible Study?

 

What is the “verse mapping” method of Bible study? Do you recommend it? A friend was asking about it and she is a big follower of Proverbs 31 Ministries, which was a red flag for me.

This is an excellent question, because there are lots of different Bible study methods out there, some good, some not. And you want to make sure you’re using a method that will help you correctly understand the text so you can grow in your faith.

I had never heard of verse mapping either, so I did what I usually do when I’ve never heard of something but want to know what it is- I Googled it. And several red flags popped up for me too.

The first hit I got was this article written by someone who thinks Beth Moore is an exemplary Bible teacher and that The Message is a reliable translation. She linked to an article on verse mapping at Proverbs 31, whose author says we need to “listen to God’s voice“. The Proverbs 31 article linked to another blogger – “the one who taught us how to verse map” – who recommended closing your eyes, letting your Bible fall open and pointing to a random verse as one way to choose a verse to map.

The rest of the first two pages of search results all seemed to be from Christian women’s blogs, none of whom I was familiar with. That’s not to say there’s necessarily anything wrong with those women or their blogs, I’m just saying I didn’t see any well known, doctrinally sound ministries recommending verse mapping in the most popular Google results.

I get the impression from these articles that verse mapping methodology can be a bit fluid. The first blogger used a journal and made copious notes (her method appeared to me to be more akin to inductive Bible study). The other two used an index card and wrote very few notes. So it would seem there’s no one set way to do verse mapping.

Separating the method itself away from the taint of false teachers, some of the recommended techniques in verse mapping are solid and could be very helpful, such as using commentaries, looking words up in the original Greek or Hebrew, writing down what is happening in the verse, and looking at the immediate context of the verse. These are all good principles of biblical hermeneutics, and if you use them as part of a systematic study of a book of the Bible or as part of a study on a biblical topic, your understanding of God’s word will be greatly aided.

The problem is, those good techniques are mixed in with some bad techniques, so you have to be discerning enough to tell which is which. And, chances are, if you’re discerning enough to do that, you’re probably a good student of the Bible who’s already using the good techniques of verse mapping, so you don’t really need it.

The bad techniques?

1. Choosing random verses to dissect
There’s more to the context of a verse than just the couple of verses that immediately precede and follow it. There’s how the verse fits into its chapter, book, testament, and the overall narrative of Scripture. If you skip through Scripture picking out a verse here and a verse there to analyze you’re going to misunderstand those verses because you’re not going to know the larger context they fit into in their own immediate story and the story arc of redemption. Can you imagine studying any other piece of literature – a Shakespearean sonnet, the Declaration of Independence, a medical journal article – this way, picking out a random sentence or two here and there? Of course not. Then why would we study the Bible this way?

2. Personalizing the verse
One of the techniques verse mapping recommends is to cross out all general referents (you, they, we, etc.) and replace them with your own name. Do not do this.

First and foremost this exhibits utter disdain for the God of the universe who wrote the Bible. If He wanted your name to be in Scripture, it would already be there. You don’t get to change, even temporarily, what He wrote, and to think it’s OK to do so is arrogant and irreverent. These are the very words of God Himself- do you really dare to change them?

Second, it’s an extremely self-centered way to look at Scripture. The Bible isn’t about you and it wasn’t written to you. When those words were penned, there were real, live people – just as important as you – on the other end, and none of them were you because you hadn’t been born yet.

Third, doing this will almost certainly give you a wrong understanding of the verse. “You” doesn’t always mean you personally, Buttercup. Sometimes “you” means Israel. Sometimes “you” means the church. Sometimes “you” means Amos or Cain or Judas or Philemon. Sometimes “you” means God. Sometimes “you” even means Satan. And sticking your name in for one of these “you’s” is going to lead you away from a correct understanding of Scripture, not toward it.

3. Focus on anything that jumps out at you
Again, this is a very self-centered way to look at Scripture. Just because something jumps out at you doesn’t mean it’s the main point of the verse or that it has significant spiritual import. Certainly, if there’s a word in the verse that you don’t understand you should look it up. Or, if you find some concept in the verse interesting, go ahead and search out the cross-references for clarity. But don’t assume that word you’ve looked up or that concept you find interesting is the meaning of the verse just because it happened to catch your attention. When we study the Bible, we search for what God meant by that verse.

4. Find verses that minister to you
Now I ask you, if you follow that guideline, how often are you going to pick verses out of Leviticus that have nothing to do with your life today? When will you pick verses that step on your toes and convict you of sin? Will you ever examine hard verses that take a lot of historical and cultural understanding? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is a self-centered way to look at Scripture. Yes, the Bible can bring us comfort and reassurance, but the Bible isn’t a bottle of aspirin. You don’t just pop a couple of verses whenever you have a headache. The Bible isn’t there to minister to you. It’s there to equip you to minister to God, the church, your family, the lost. There’s a reason God wants pastors to preach the whole counsel of God – we need all of God’s word, even the parts that don’t “minister” to us.

In conclusion, I would not recommend verse mapping as a whole the way it is presented in the aforementioned articles, but some of the individual techniques I noted can be helpful as part of your regular, systematic study of Scripture.

If you need a little help learning how to study your Bible using good study habits, click the Bible Studies tab at the top of this page.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

7 thoughts on “The Mailbag: What Is the Verse Mapping Method of Bible Study?”

  1. It comes across to me as a “politically correct” study, non-offensive and all inclusive.
    We grow in Christ through discipline, Hebrews 12:4-17.

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  2. Interesting. What you describe is almost opposite of what I have experienced and learned from the “verse mapping” community. I have been a part of a FB group focused on verse mapping for a while. It is very much an Inductive form of Bible study. They are very focused on exegesis over eisegesis. It is very similar to the Bible study that Jen Wilkin wrote about in her book “Women of the Word.” I’m sure there are people who abuse it and make it self-centered rather than Christ-centered, but we could say that about anything in the church. There is nothing about the method itself that is bad but there are people who use it improperly.

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  3. Yes, context is king whenever studying the scriptures etc… Interestingly, there are those who would say that referring to passages for confirmation of doctrine in different books, even when the context covered in those passages is the same, is “cherry picking”. I’ll never understand that one.
    Blessings:-}

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