Have you ever tried to find particular Bible verses among thousands, especially if you can’t remember the exact wording, only the idea in the verses? Searching for specific Bible verses can be frustrating. There are 66 books in the Bible combining 31,102 verses. Even the seasoned Bible student can be thwarted in their attempt to find a particular selection.
Every growing and maturing Christian loves the Word of God. Even non-Christians come to its pages to discover what it teaches or appreciate it’s literary style.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16-17
Before we look at finding those elusive Bible verses, we need to look at some cautions when looking up Scripture references. Cautions? Yes.
When you find your verse - check out the context. Many Bible verses are misunderstood because people just read one or two verses and think they know the meaning. That may or may not be the case. Taking verses out of context is one of the major reasons for error in Christian doctrine. To take an extreme example, when Jesus said to eat His flesh and drink His blood [John 6:54] He was not promoting cannibalism.
As students of our How To Study The Bible For Yourself course [called Feed Yourself] know, there are three kinds of context that must be considered.
Biblical context is the context in which the verse or verses are located. What is the point of the entire chapter? How do these verses fit in with that point? Each book also has a theme. How do these verses fit in with that theme? And how do they fit in with God’s progressive revelation throughout Scripture? Biblical context is the most important and over-riding context.
Historical context is understanding what was happening at the time those verses were written. It is part of understanding what the verses meant to the original people to whom they were addressed. Until we know what it meant to them, it is difficult to know how to apply it to ourselves. For example, knowing that the Romans were in control of Israel and the Jews were an oppressed people helps to explain some of the things Jesus said.
Social or Cultural context is how the people lived, what they believed, how they looked at life. The Bible was not originally written to Western-thinking people and some of the things it says which are confusing and make no sense to us made perfect sense to those who first heard it.
A modern example of taking a selection of verses out of context is the claim of some atheists that God required a woman to marry her rapist. This totally twists the verses from their Biblical, historical and social contexts! Christians should know this is nonsense even if they can’t explain the specific law referred to. [For my explanation, click here.]
The Bible is a gift from God to His children. It is a covenant book and in order to apply its covenant blessings and promises a person must be in a covenant relationship with God through accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The only thing that is promised to a non-Christian is free salvation through Jesus Christ including that they will never be rejected if they come to Him. Any other promises are based on covenant relationship. For example, God promises that all things will work out for good [Rom. 8:28]. There is no promise that everything will work for good for the non-Christian.
There are general verses and specific verses. General verses give the over all operating procedures while specific verses may deal with a specific situation and may not be applicable in every situation. For example, Pr. 26:4 says not to answer the fool, but then the very next verse Pr. 26:5 says to answer the fool! Contradictory? No. Different situations require different responses.
There are general promises [I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is set upon Me, Is. 26:3] that are always true. There are also promises that declare the general will of God [by His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5] which declare what God has done and wants to do; however, to know the timing and application in our personal lives we need to hear God saying that to us personally. For example, you may have read the verse about healing 50 times and you understood and acknowledged the truth of it, but it has remained just words. Then one day as you read it, your heart quickens and you know that God has said, “This is for you now.” It can be dangerous to act on promises [true as they are] which God has not yet made alive to us personally.
These cautions are not to scare you off of searching for the Bible verses that you need or are of interest to you. These are to help you avoid pitfalls that have snared many people over the years and have even destroyed lives.
So how do you find those elusive Bible verses?
If you can remember the exact word[s] in the verse then a concordance is your first tool. Many Bibles have a mini-concordance in the back. Strong’s Concordance lists every word in the Bible. It is available in both KJV and NIV versions if you use one of those two versions. Other concordances are also available. Begin by looking up the least popular word you can remember. Why the least popular? Because it will have fewer references to sort through to find your verse. If you try looking up “God” you may find pages of small print to look through to find your verse!
There are also online concordances. These can help because you can look of words in different versions. Be sure to use the version that corresponds to the Bible version that you use because different Bible versions may have used synonyms. You can also look up phrases or several words at once. For example, you could search for God, love, world to find all the verses that use those 3 words.
At the bottom of this page is an online concordance from Bible Gateway. Try it out!
What if you think you are remembering the right word, but it never seems to come in any searches? You may be remembering a word in one version of the Bible and searching for it in a different version which uses a different word. Try searching in concordances that relate to different Bible versions. Try searching for synonyms because your mind may have replaced one word for another. Or if you can remember other words in the verse, try searching for them. Sometimes you have to be a detective!
What if you can’t remember any of the words in the Bible verses exactly? You could try looking up the general subject in a Bible Encyclopedia such as this one. It will have many verses on your subject and the one you are looking for may just be there! Or you could enter your subject in a google [or your favourite search engine] search, but sure to specify that you are looking in the Bible. This will return many articles - some good, some bad - but you are not interested in the articles. Just scan the Bible references and/or quotes used to see if the one you are looking for pops up.
Still stuck? Consider that maybe you are thinking of a quote that doesn’t come from the Bible. For example, you are never going to find a reference for “God helps those who help themselves” no matter how hard you try!