Go ahead. I’ll wait. Look it up. Pull out your Bible, or even a Bible app on your phone, and find it. — 6th book in the New Testament, and the last chapter. Scroll down to verse 13 and enjoy. OK. Done it? A few of you probably even just straight-up googled it, right? I’ll confess: I wanted you to get a little more practice opening that Word, but if you googled it, it’s forgiven. So, I guess I should probably address that puzzled expression you are now sporting.
The first time I encountered Romans 16:13 as an individual quote was via apologist and author, Frank Turek. I’ve listened to Frank for many years, and met him in person a few times, including presenting to him, so he could critique and train me at the Cross Examiner’s Instructor’s Academy. Frank has a sharp wit and, compared to the always nice and calm Greg Koukl (another mentor whom I recommend to you), Frank sometimes has a bit of an edge to him. In discussing Bible verses, he said that he sometimes signs books with Romans 16:13. Over the years, I have memorized plenty of Scripture, but I drew a blank at that one, and that was exactly what he intended.
Frank was using the out-of-context quote to illustrate a point. When I looked it up, I was just as confused as you were reading it just now. Despite believing that he had signed one of his books that I own in that way, I couldn’t find it, and now think that memory was just from looking it up while he was explaining this on his CrossExamined podcast. Why did he do it? To encourage thought, and I have followed suit a few times.
How often do folks really look up verses signed on cards and books, anyway? Do they admit it when they do not know them? Do they confirm it when they think that they do? To notice that something is off, you need to actually know the verse or crack open your Bible and check it out. Given that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Timothy 3:16) we should be digging into it, examining it, absorbing it.
But if all words are inspired, why does Romans 16:13 seem odd? What about Malachi 2:3? Look that one up, too, and know that we soften the translation in English. It is important that we all understand that verses were added much later to help us with memory. The verse numbers and those divisions are not inspired Scripture themselves. Each verse has a context. 2 Peter 1:20 informs us that Scripture has only one meaning, and we need the context to figure out that meaning.
In the case of Romans 16:13, it is also important than we remember that Scripture had an original audience. The verses did not come down through the ages as little dew drops from Heaven just for you. All verses are true, but not all verses have a modern application, or even any application for our lives. Romans 16:13 did give an instruction to the original Roman readers, and even gave a little hook to help verify its historicity, and it’s pretty harmless to take out of context. Not every verse out of context is harmless, though.
Romans 16:13 may not end up on any pillows or posters, but Jeremiah 29:11 will, and yet that verse wasn’t written to us, and wasn’t written in isolation. It was written to a people about to go into exile. I’ve been there with people in tears, who “named and claimed” that verse and yet went through deep personal tragedy. They thought God broke his promise, because they were counting on a promise God never made to them. Taking verses out of context does have consequences. As John Stonestreet likes to say, “Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.” I hope that by occasionally referencing Romans 16:13, I will reinforce the idea that the context of Scripture matters. God’s book is too holy to be used incorrectly.