Is there any value to offering the random selection of a Bible verse on a website? It’s the virtual equivalent of letting the Bible fall open and pointing a finger, with eyes closed, to a verse on the page.
The obvious drawback to random selection is the loss of contextual meaning.
Wasn’t it Spurgeon who told the joke about the man who opened his Bible at random, pointed his finger, then read the verse about Judas hanging himself? Not finding much edification in that, he decided to try again, and this time he got Jesus’ command, “Go and do thou likewise.” (Spurgeon used the KJV, so we make a concession here.)
That drawback is real. We won’t find the will of God for us today by doing something to that effect.
An example of no context
Stumbling across a random-verse page, 1 Kings 13:20 appeared, “Now it came about, as they were sitting down at the table, that the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back;”
Without the full context, the verse doesn’t say much, does it? Who was sitting at the table? Who was the prophet who received the word of the Lord, and whom had he brought back? From where? What was the Lord’s word? Was it a good word?
Rather than a shot in the arm, a thought for the day, or a truth to ponder, the verse raises questions, if that. Probably, your average Joe would either refresh the page to try again, a la Spurgeon’s poor victim, or browse on in hopes of finding the needed jolt.
Values of the random verse
Still yet, a script, service, or application that posts random verses might have its value. I can think of three positive values:
- It gets before people scriptures from books and chapters that might not otherwise be considered. We tend to gravitate toward our favorite passages. A random verse challenges us to get outside our comfort scriptures.
- It may create curiosity to explore further, just as the verse cited above is an open invitation. As part of a narrative or greater work, a random verse may spur the eyeballer to research the context and draw out the meaning.
- It reminds us that all of the Bible is God’s word and deserves study and meditation. A random verse invites us to ask what truth it holds, what application for us, if any, there might be. If it’s in the Bible, it’s there for a reason.
Just because it’s a random verse, shown apart from its context (which is different from being out of context), is no reason to reject such a service. After all, many a preacher and televangelist ignore the context and the plain meaning of Scripture while waving the entire Bible at the hearers or viewers.
The ideal random-verse service
Here are one man’s ideas about making random verses work best, and what to look for when you search for or create such a service.
- Some sites offer random verses only in the sense of appearing in no predetermined order. The owners, however, have chosen a restricted number of hand-picked verses, not an ideal offering to my mind. Why not use the whole Bible?
- With the random verse, a link to the entire chapter in which the verse occurs would provide instant access to the context. No disadvantages to that, are there?
- Most really random-verse pages use the KJV, apparently, for copyright or technical reasons. But copyright is not really an issue. A good version like the NET Bible would be ideal. Please don’t make people furrow their brows over thees and thous.
It’s impossible to know if many services like NET Bible and ESV.org use the entire Bible or if they belong to the group in #1 with hand-picked verses. It seems the former use the whole Bible in their random verse.
Perhaps you can think of other drawbacks and advantages to such a service. In a follow-up, with the Lord’s help, we’ll talk about who we’re trying to reach with such services.
On the whole, it would seem that any effort to get the word of God in front of people would be a good thing.