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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Use Fewer Bible Verses In Your Manuscript If You Love Jesus

One of my pet peeves—as a reader, as an editor—is when authors use long passages of Scripture in their manuscripts, or pepper it with too many verses. I can only admit this grumpy thing publicly because I finally figured out why it gets under my skin:

Cutting and pasting large portions of Scripture into your manuscript, 
or peppering in way too many verses, DOES NOT SERVE READERS.

And serving readers is the job.

Overusing Scripture is problematic for two reasons: it’s either too much or too little.

I. It’s too Much: Avoid Including Lengthy Scripture Passages

Problem: When readers—and I mean Christian readers—encounter long passages of Scripture in a manuscript, they tend to skim over them. From the cursory glance at keywords—“Moses,” “praise,” “sanctify,” “Jesus”—the reader determines that she’s already read this before and keeps reading (if you’re lucky) beyond the Bible-brick to discover what he or she does not yet know.

Solution: Use a shorter passage of Scripture. When you crop the text down to the most salient verse or verses, the reader can better glean what you most want to communicate.

Example: In lieu of including all 176 verses of Psalm 119, give the reader a bite and tell them enough to make them hungry for more…
"Every verse of Psalm 119 describes the good way God’s designed us to live: 'I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.' (Psalm 119:11-12) "Word" and "decrees" are synonyms pointing reader toward the good way God’s designed. And If you read all of Psalm 119, you’ll find more euphemisms for this path that leads to life."

II. It’s too Little: Avoid Including Too Many Scripture Passages

Problem: You might pepper too many verses of Scripture into a manuscript, assuming that lots of Scripture is benefiting the reader. But there actually might be more value in including less! Too many verses of Scripture can feel like being pelted by a rapid-fire Nerf gun. If the reader can’t make a meaningful connection to each passage, the verses will bounce off the reader’s mind and heart and fall to the floor.

Solution: When you do weave Scripture into your manuscript, it’s your job to help the reader find fresh spiritual nourishment from the passage by demonstrating the connection to your message. Here are a few ways to help the reader glean as much as possible from the biblical text:
  • Note what's surprising or remarkable about the passage.
  • Offer historical context, noting time, place, speaker, culture, audience, etc. (Make it interesting.)
  • Provide literary context, helping reader understand why what comes before or after this passage illumines its meaning.
  • Offer practical application, demonstrating how this passage was vivified in your life of someone else’s.
  • Strengthen the connection between the passage and the reason you’ve shared it.

"When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), he’s making a radical claim! Did you know that, in the ancient near east, a nation’s king was said to be the “light” who reigned on behalf of a deity?! Jesus is saying something pretty bold, then, about the kingdom of God and about your role in it."

Bottom line: Scripture was never intended to become a quantity to be used, cropped, leveraged or wielded. I know that and you probably do, too. It's power does not depend on us! Being thoughtful about presenting Scripture in a way that it can best be tasted and digested, to offer real nourishment, is a gift to your reader.

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

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