Daily Devotional

Word Perfect

Proverbs 30:5–6 - “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (ESV)

During my preteen years, I participated in a competition called the National Bible Bee. Imagine a spelling bee with kids and teens reciting Bible verses instead of unheard-of words, and you’ll get the idea. I did pretty well, too, finishing 3rd place nationally in one year’s competition. I remember my first time in the semi-final round of the Nationals competition, standing on a brightly-light stage looking out at a large crowd, and feeling incredibly nervous. One misspoken word, one word forgotten, one “but” instead of “and,” and you were out of the competition. (This is probably where my struggles with perfectionism got started.)

I’ve since wondered, why the insistence upon memorizing Scripture word-for-word, verbatim, “word perfect”? All my subsequent encounters with serious Scripture memory—AWANA, Bible quizzing, summer camp—have insisted on word perfect recitation. Why is it so important for a poor nine-year-old like me to say “and” instead of “but” when reciting portions of Genesis? Isn’t it spiritually significant enough to have the passage “mostly” perfect?

The answer lies, at least in part, in this passage from Proverbs. Proverbs 30:5–6 tells us that “every word of God proves true” and warns us “do not add to His words.” Notice first that “every” word of God proves true. In hermeneutics (the study of interpreting Scripture), this is called plenary inspiration. It’s the idea that every part of Scripture, from the dimensions of the ark to the genealogy of Jesus, is inspired by God. The Bible is not mostly true; it is entirely true, something no other book can claim. Word perfect memorization is simply the respect due to such a perfectly true, perfectly holy Book. Memorizing Scripture word for word reveals how much I honor and value it.

Second, notice that every “word” of God proves true. Not every “idea,” every “thought,” or even every “phrase.” This is called plenary verbal inspiration. It’s the idea that not only every part of Scripture, but every noun, verb, preposition, and particle (of the original manuscripts) is inspired by God through human authors (2 Peter 1:16). If a passage has a kai (“and”) instead of a de (“but”), it’s because God wanted it that way. Word perfect memorization might seem pedantic at first, but it’s consistent with this view of Scripture. If God thought it important enough to inspire each word of Scripture, we should probably make sure we’re getting those words right.

Finally, Proverbs warns us not to “add” to God’s word. (We could add “take away” from God’s word from other passages, like Revelation 22:18–19.) Why? Misquoted Scripture is a terribly dangerous thing. In Matthew 4:6, the devil imperfectly quotes Psalm 91:11–12 to Jesus while tempting Him to throw Himself from the temple. He quotes the phrase, “For he will command his angels concerning you” while leaving out the critical phrase “to guard you in all your ways.” This changes the meaning of the verse! And it’s not just phrases; a single word can mean the difference between orthodoxy and heresy. The difference between the orthodox translation of John 1:1, “the Word was God” and the heretical Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation, “the word was a God,” is one word! Or in a more contemporary example, consider the difference between God creating “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) and “male to female,” implying a spectrum of genders between those two words. Thus, word perfect Scripture recitation, even when substituting a “but” for an “and” has apparently no effect on the meaning, is not just an act of respect. It’s a vital defense against forces that would twist, dilute, or corrupt the Scriptures.

So if your kid, your grandkid, or your AWANA student says “but” instead of “and” when reciting their verse, correct them. I think causing a momentary frustration is worth it. You’re not just teaching them good hermeneutics. You’re teaching them to love and protect the always right, always true Word of God. Doesn’t it deserve to be learned word perfect?
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
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