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10 Surprises about 2014’s Most Popular Bible Verses (Part 2)

Finally, brothers and sisters… let me share more surprises about 10 of 2014’s most popular Bible verses. (See here for the first 3 surprises and background data for this post.)

I’ll summarize the first three surprises and continue:

  1. Bible reading is growing fastest in unlikely places, including Israel, South Sudan, the Republic of Suriname, Iraq, and Macedonia.
  2. “World” in Romans 12:2 might better be translated “age.”
  3. “Finally” in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t necessarily indicate Paul plans to quit soon.
  4. Despite Philippians 4:6 (“Do not be anxious about anything”), not all “anxiety” is wrong. A fairly literal translation of this command would read, “For nothing be anxious.” Yet another form of this same verb “be anxious” (μεριμνάω) is used earlier in the same letter in a positive way: “I have no one like [Timothy], who will be genuinely concerned [μεριμνήσει] for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). This is high praise of Timothy: he was genuinely “anxious” about the Philippian believers!
    Paul uses the same verb to tell the Corinthians of God’s purpose for the Church body: “that the members may have the same care [μεριμνῶσιν] for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). Earlier in that letter he uses related words to say both positive and negative things about “anxiety” (1 Cor. 7:32-35). First he seems to be opposed to all anxiety: “I want you to be free from anxieties.” Then he seems to affirm a certain kind of anxiety: “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” Next he clearly dislikes another kind: “But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife.” Then he clarifies his real point: “his [the married man’s] interests are divided… I say this… to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
    Jesus, using the same verb, strongly forbids anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet even he seems to leave room for some legitimate “anxiety”: “Tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). In other words, concern for today’s needs is understandable (cf. “give us this day our daily bread”), but anxiety about tomorrow demonstrates lack of faith. We find a similar tension in Jesus’ words when he tells his disciples “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, different Greek verb), for his own heart was troubled multiple times (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21).
    Finally, back to Paul: He confesses his own “anxiety” to the Philippians (Phil. 2:28; unrelated Greek word) and tells the Corinthians of “the daily pressure… of [his] anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28; closely related word). So don’t be anxious if you are sometimes anxious! Just cast it on the Lord (1 Pet. 5:7).
  5. Some who are claiming Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”) are actually destined to experience Jeremiah 18:11. Jeremiah 29:11 is an increasingly popular verse. Last year it didn’t make the top 10 ranking for YouVersion. But this year it was the only verse to make top five ranking for both YouVersion and Bible Gateway, and it was the number 1 most popular verse this year for YouVersion in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia. It’s not hard to understand why this verse is popular. Who doesn’t want to be assured that God has good plans for them?
    But what if he doesn’t? Does God have good plans for everyone? Apparently not, according to Jeremiah 18:11: “Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’”
    Those who hope to legitimately claim Jeremiah 29:11 for themselves must remember several things: (1) It was initial spoken to a specific audience just as much as Jeremiah 18:11 was; the original audience was also assured in the immediately preceding verse that “when seventy years are completed for Babylon,” God would bring them back to Jerusalem. (2) The original hearers were warned not to expect God’s good plans for them to happen anytime soon; contrary to the words of the false prophets, they would have to wait seventy years before being released from exile–by which time many of the original hearers would have been dead! (3) The original promise was given to a group of people and not to an individual; only faithful members of the group who sought God with all their heart could hope to benefit from the promise. Those who were not part of Israel’s faithful remnant would not experience God’s good plans.
    In summary, while Jeremiah 29:11 certainly does reveal God’s heart for his own people, it is dangerously wrong to use this verse as a universal promise to hand out indiscriminately to high school graduates and New Year celebrants. God has plans for you, no doubt! But unless you are repentant, his plans will only bring you disaster.
  6. The “you” in Matthew 6:33 is plural. As with the preceding example, this verse is often taken as a personal, individual promise: If I “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” then I can expect God to give me “all these things”–sufficient daily food and clothing, according to the context. And perhaps it is legitimate to understand this statement this way. Maybe Jesus simply meant “every individual (singular) one of you (plural).” But it is intriguing to ponder a possible deeper significance of the plural “you.”
    Might Jesus be saying that if his followers, together, faithfully seek God’s kingdom first, then he will ensure that his followers as a group will be given sufficient food and clothing to go around? Might he design to give this provision in such a way so that we share among ourselves until whoever gathers much has nothing left over, and whoever gathers little has no lack (2 Cor. 8:15)? Could it be that some poor believers are waiting for us to enable this promise of God to be fulfilled on their behalf? Can anyone who prays “give us this day our daily bread” act otherwise?
    Craig Blomberg writes the following about this verse: “Either one must entirely spiritualize this promise or relegate its fulfilment to the eschaton, neither of which fits the immediate context of one who is worrying about current material needs; or else we must understand the plurals of verse 33 as addressed to the community of Jesus’ followers corporately (as indeed the entire sermon is…). As the community of the redeemed seeks first God’s righteous standards, by definition they will help the needy in their midst… Serious application of this principle to contemporary churches would require such radical transformation of most Christian fellowships that few seem willing even to begin.” (Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 132)
  7. The Gospel writer John uses bad grammar in John 3:16. The phrase “that whoever believes in him should not perish” literally reads, “that whoever believes into him.” (For you Greek readers, the word is εἰς, not ἐν.) In the previous verse Jesus said, “that whoever believes in [ἐν] him.” But when John adds his commentary, beginning with verse 16 (another surprise–literary clues strongly suggest Jesus never spoke 3:16), he strengthens Jesus’ words by using bad grammar: “believes into.” Bill Mounce says that this is “a horrible ‘blunder’ that is so bad we have no record of anyone else in all Greek literature making the same blunder.”
    Why does John do this? Mounce again: “Of course, he is doing it intentionally to make a point… Saving faith is a trusting in the person and work of Jesus (who he is and what he has done) such that we move our self-reliant trust out of ourselves, flinging ourselves into the merciful arms of God.” (For more, see here.)
    And another surprise: The word “so” in the opening phrase (“For God so loved”) might not mean what you think it does. See the NET footnotes for more.

Finally… in good Pauline fashion I think I should give you yet another indication that I hope to end soon. So I’ll make a transition and save the final 3 surprises for yet another post. 🙂

What about the surprises in this post? Which one surprises you the most? Which old familiar verse feels richer to you (or maybe less comfortable) after reading these thoughts? Share your surprising insights below!


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10 Surprises about 2014’s Most Popular Bible Verses

In 2014, more people read the Bible on electronic devices than ever before. This gives us a clearer picture than ever into Bible reading habits and preferences. But are people also gaining a clearer understanding of the Bible verses that they are reading? That is harder to measure. In this post I want to share some things you may not know about the world’s most popular Bible verses.

2014’s Most Popular Bible Verses

Last month both YouVersion and Bible Gateway released data on their readers’ most popular verses for the previous year.

YouVersion has been downloaded nearly 165 million times and its readers have logged nearly 122 billion minutes reading. This almost certainly makes it the world’s most popular Bible app. Among YouVersion readers, these were the five most popular verses in 2014:

  1. Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  2. Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
  3. Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
  4. Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
  5. Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

(For lots more data on YouVersion readers in 2014, see here.)

Bible Gateway logged over 1.5 billion pageviews and over 150 million unique visitors from December 2013 through November 2014. These were the  five most popular verses for Bible Gateway readers during this time period:

  1. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  2. Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
  3. Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
  4. Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
  5. Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
         I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
         your rod and your staff,
         they comfort me.

(For lots more data on Bible Gateway readers in 2014, see here.)

One more thing: I should perhaps quote these verses in either the KJV or NIV translations, since these remain the most popular translations at least among American English readers. But I’ve stuck with the ESV here based on my own preference.

10 Surprises about These Bible Verses

Here are some surprises, big and small, about the verses listed above–one introductory surprise and 9 more based on the verses themselves.

  1. Bible reading is growing fastest in unlikely places. This first surprise isn’t specifically about the 10 verses listed above. But it is a happy surprise that will introduce these verses to many more readers. Quoting from The Huffington Post:

    Interest in using the [YouVersion] Bible App surged over the past year in several surprising places. The highest amount of growth in activity — in terms of reading, sharing, bookmarking, etc. — was found in Israel, according to YouVersion founder Bobby Gruenewald. After that came South Sudan, then the Republic of Suriname in South America, Iraq and Macedonia.

    “What’s interesting to me is that several of those countries are definitely not majority Christian,” Gruenewald told HuffPost. “And in some cases, the Bible isn’t that accessible or isn’t considered to be acceptable culturally.”

  2. “World” in Romans 12:2 might better be translated “age” and refers more directly to a Christ-less mindset or way of viewing reality than to a fashionable or immoral way of appearing or acting. When Paul wrote τῷ αἰῶνι (“this world” in ESV), he  wasn’t thinking of planet Earth, or even just of the unsaved people who surround us on this planet. The word αἰῶνι is often translated elsewhere as “age.” According to NT writers, the history of the world could be described as a series of ages. Paul speaks of a time “before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9), “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), “the end of the ages” (1 Cor. 10:11), and “the coming ages” (Eph. 2:7). The difference between “the present evil age” and “the coming ages” is the difference triggered by Christ’s first coming–his death, resurrection, and ascension to reign at God’s right hand. In Romans 12 Paul is urging us to stop living as if Christ had never come! Being “conformed to this age” can have many different expressions, from sensual living (Rom. 13:13-14) to haughty self-sufficiency (Rom. 12:3) to even legalistic righteousness as with the Jewish leaders who were among the “rulers of this age… [who] crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:6-8). Since we live between Christ’s first and second comings, we live in “the end of the ages”–a time when the old age (pre-Christ) and the coming age (after Christ’s final coming) overlap. We must continually renew our mind with the reality of Christ’s comings and then live accordingly, for this present age is about to die!
  3. “Finally” in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t necessarily indicate Paul plans to quit soon. Okay, this one is no surprise to anyone who’s ever heard a sermon. But here’s biblical data support your experience: Paul used the same word “finally” back at the start of chapter 3! (He did the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, also two chapters before the end.) In Galatians 6:17 this same word λοιπόν is translated “from now on,” and the BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Danker-Gingrich Greek Lexicon of the New Testament) lists multiple definitions, including these which it suggests are mostly likely for its usage in Philippians: “as far as the rest is concerned, beyond that, in addition, finally” (480). So maybe Paul was just showing that he was transitioning to a new topic. Or maybe Paul really did initially plan to quit writing after Philippians 3:1, but then changed his mind. Commentators are divided on this question; we simply don’t know for sure. But we do know that we’re glad he didn’t stop the first time he wrote (or dictated) λοιπόν!

Finally… Surprise! I think I’ll end this post now and save the last seven surprises for another post! 🙂

Do you find anything else surprising about the verses that were most popular in 2014? Tell us in the comments below!


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