This might be a meta question, but I really mean it in a scholarly way. Does paraphrasing the Bible for conversational use make Sola Scriptura folks cringe?

I'm not even sure what my Church thinks about it, other than improperly quoting the New American Bible too much is a copyright violation. But as for Bible Only Christians who believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and are of the mentality that the Bible is the Mother of the Church rather than the other way around, should I take the extra effort and state what the Bible says correctly, or is it OK to paraphrase or change words around to draw out a particular meaning or just make it more readable or conversational?

For instance, not that there are a lot of Protestants in my Catechism class, but if I were to just say, without a bible open to the chapter and verse, "Jesus says, Love one another as I have loved you". I've got no idea if that's exactly what Jesus said, but I know he said something like that. So, if in conversation with a Bible Christian, if I don't have the Bible open, can I say anything to them without pointing out the chapter and verse?

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    Can you give us some examples of what you're worried about? Are you asking about paraphrase translations or quoting loosely from memory while in conversation or what?
    – Caleb
    Sep 13, 2011 at 16:49

12 Answers 12


I don't believe there is a problem with paraphrasing the Bible in conversational, or even teaching use. The important thing is that what is being paraphrased can be verified against the Bible.

A lot of a pastor's message is likely to be paraphrasing or expounding on a Bible verse. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as it is being verified against the original Bible.

This is why there are so many different translations. Why are there so many translations of the Bible? There are a lot of ways to convey a message in English, and some may understand one method versus another better. Even then, when using 1 or more translations as the verification, these translations can be further verified against the original Hebrew or Greek, such as with an interlinear Bible.

As far as it applies to this site, I think it'd be nice to provide the base scripture for any direct paraphrasing, either directly quoted or just as a link. This would make it easier for those who are new to the Bible or who would like to read more into what you are saying to access the scripture. For a comparison, would you ever expect to have a church leader teaching on the Bible without actually being able to reference it directly?


I've never heard the term 'Bible Christian' before, but I'll roll with this one. It's a really interesting question. Because of the generally vague nature of the question I don't think it's fair to answer on behalf of anybody but myself and a handful of others that I know personal. Lets start with a couple statements of what I believe:

  • I do believe in Sola Scriptura, meaning that God's word in the form of our written Scriptures is the only and final authority on doctrine. Not nearly enough Christians take the word seriously from beginning to end, examine how it fits together as a whole, and apply it as written to their lives.

  • I do not believe in personal interpretation, meaning that humans are not allowed to take the scriptures and squash them around like spineless jelly until they fit whatever mold they aproached them with. Far too many Christians treat reading their Bible as an exercise in Humpty Dumptyism.

With those in mind, the issue of paraphrasing is a complex one. I would suggest that the example you gave of quoting a bit of a verse in the closest form that came to mind is acceptable, and even desirable. We should seek to communicate on a natural level with people, and the more scripture that is laced into our conversation, the sounder it is likely to be.

On the other hand, the danger exists that we are misleading folks, pulling things out of context and construing them to mean something they don't. Because of this I think it is important we give references and encourage people to read the real thing. The end goal should always be directing people to God's words, not ours. They should never just take our words for anything.

If/when we do paraphrase, we must make a good-faith effort to be faithful to the meaning and context of the original text and have the intent of funneling people to God's word rather than to our words. We must be open to correction: if a paraphrase we use is demonstrated by a brother to not be an accurate representation of the Word, we must repent and fix our phrasing.

Lastly comes the issue of paraphrase translations. These, I think, can be bad. They serve a purpose certainly, and are interesting to have around to read and inspire thought and application, but they should be approached in the same way that you listen to somebody's sermon: as one persons interpretation of a text that you then need to study and apply yourself. While purely paraphrased translations may have their purpose, they are far too often used as an excuse to put less effort into studying the word.

Is it distasteful? It can be beautiful and it can be ugly. It depends on the context.

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    I make charting software for nursing homes and we actually have a demographic option for residents labeled 'Bible' as a denomination. That's kinda where I got it from.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 13, 2011 at 18:30
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    @PeterTurner: Huh. I find that amusing actually :) So "Bible Christians" is a demographic. Makes me wonder how they label other folks.
    – Caleb
    Sep 28, 2011 at 14:00

Whatever we feel, Christians shouldn't find paraphrases of the Bible distasteful, as long as they are accurate paraphrases.

Christianity is not a text-based religion. Islam believes that the Quran was literally dictated by God in Arabic, and the actual text is sacred. Christianity believes that the Bible was 'inspired' by God, but written down by the human authors in their own words. This means that the message and not the text is sacred.

Because of this the Bible can be freely translated (unlike the Quran) and paraphrased, and the end result is just as sacred as the original (provided it is done truly).


It's impossible to say that all people of any one group believe a specific thing or feel a specific way. Any question like this will find at least one person that identifies themselves as a member of a group but doesn't follow a given aspect of that group.

So, in that sense...

No, not all Sola Scriptura believers feel that paraphrasing is bad.

"Real Life"

From my experience, paraphrasing isn't--in and of itself--a bad thing. There are many times (pretty much all the time) that I can't remember a verse word for word. So, I paraphrase. The important point is that the content is valid and relevant.


On a site like this, though, it seems that paraphrasing might be a bit dangerous because it could invite arguments and misunderstanding (see here). Also, for the non-believers or the people who don't know their Bible well enough, it's nice to be able to point them to the actual verses. Finally, it gives more support to answers so that the answers can be believed conclusively and other questions can be closed as off-topic more easily. Having hard scripture is just nice to have within a post for those reasons.

  • LOL... nice ref.!!
    – Jas 3.1
    Jun 18, 2012 at 0:06

There are many people out there who will paraphrase the bible to line up with their own beliefs, either maliciously or ignorantly, that does not specifically line up with what the bible actually says. To see the bible quoted with the version noted gives us a baseline for our discussion, across the myriad of beliefs that will be represented here.


While it is impossible to avoid paraphrasing something which is translated, when I was more of a "Bible Christian" (first 21 years of my life I was an Evangelical attending a PCUSA church), paraphrasing the Bible was something which was common and often indistinguishable from biblical allusion, and neither was considered a bad thing.

If I recall correctly (and this is both from personal experience as well as from religious discussions I had with friends in college), the only thing which was found offensive were bad translations. The New Living Translation and The Message came up frequently as abysmal, and some considered them abominations. I also recall one translation which had "Peter" translated as "Rocky" as making blood curdle.

  • "Peter" as "Rocky" -- see freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1159307/posts 'Titled "Good as New," the new Bible is translated by former Baptist minister John Henson for the "One" organization, to produce what the group calls a "new, fresh and adventurous" translation of the Christian scriptures.' (dated June 24, 2004)
    – Bit Chaser
    Sep 27, 2018 at 2:38

No, paraphrasing the Bible for conversational use would not make Sola Scriptura folks cringe. (There are always exceptions, but in general you should be fine.)

Forbidding paraphrases wouldn't make a lot of sense. Everyone paraphrases Scripture - even the writers of the New Testament did this. (example) In fact, every Bible translation out there is actually a paraphrase; word-for-word translations would make no sense in English. (Pick up an interlinear Bible some time and take a look at the direct translations from Hebrew and Greek... they are very hard to follow!)

What Sola Scriptura folks will want to make sure of is that any claims about what Scripture says actually line up with the teachings of Scripture. (further reading) So if you are talking to a "Sola Scriptura person" and you say, "Jesus says, Love one another as I have loved you," just make sure you're ready to back it up with Scripture and you'll be fine.

Case in point: I'm about as Sola Scriptura as they come, and I frequently paraphrase Scripture, but the important thing is that the Scriptures actually do support my claims, regardless of whether I use the exact wording. (example)


If you're concerned about whether you'll offend/annoy people, it will probably depend on the individual. It might also depend how you say it, e.g. if you think Jesus "said something like that" but you have "no idea exactly what", but it means that X is absolutely what we should do, then...I think it's probably time to open your Bible.

For me, I don't mind as long as you don't mind if I then pull out the Bible to check if it reflects what it actually says. Anyway, I myself often paraphrase.


As one who grew up in a "Bible Church," I can answer from my own experience here.

Paraphrases are typically touted as wonderful aids to devotional reading, but are never used for doctrinal discussion. In other words, The Living Bible (or nowadays, the much, much better New Living Translation), would be on the bedstand, but never the pulpit.

The few exceptions I've seen are this:

  • When a pastor is simply trying to give the background to a narrative (i.e. OT stories), if the paraphrase is good, it'll be used.
  • When the pastor's point is to make the listener stop and reflect, I'll often hear them pull out Eugene Peterson's "The Message," and expect about a paragraph.

In other words, its used for context and clarity, but never didactically or for doctrinal dispute.

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    I think the OP was asking about the validity of paraphrasing Scripture in everyday conversation. (...not asking about Bible translations or doctrine).
    – Jas 3.1
    Jun 18, 2012 at 0:11

Well, unless you happen to speak fluent Latin/Greek/Aramaic/Hebrew, you kind of HAVE to paraphrase the Bible. No translation is perfectly equal to the words of the Biblical writers, so there is nothing sacred about the English phrasing that you read in a KJV or NIV or ESV, which brings up another point: Different translations word the Scripture differently, and are mostly considered equally valid (except for some disputed areas, but you get the idea). So, why would paraphrasing, so long as the exact same content and idea are conveyed, be wrong? Unless you are saying, "The Bible says EXACTLY this, blah blah blah" and proceed to paraphrase, you are doing no harm.

Another point that seems relevant is with regard to quoting Bible verses: Do you have to quote the whole verse? Look again at how the Bible came to be as we know it. Originally, there were no enumerated chapters and verses, so these were added later by man so we could reference the material easier. Nothing's codified about where you must begin or end your quoting of the scripture, so long as you don't do so in a way that is deceitful or misleading (which could be classified as false teaching).


There's no problem at all, the only problem is if you misinterpret something and or say something that the Bible/verse,passage does not say, examples like We know Jesus is a mediator between God and Men [the disciples], which is correct and spoken of in 1 Timothy 2:5 and references. An incorrect way as well as a red flag would be saying God is his own mediator when we know in the Bible what mediatorship is all about and of whom is involved.

As for paraphrasing, no issue, just do not be like those who say and or add to the text to try to trick people.


I would be very careful with this subject. http://bible.cc/galatians/1-8.htm

I think that scripture really applies more to Mormons and whatnot, but Gods Word does not need to be paraphrased and it is not boring! It is clear as day, and if you don't understand something, pray for understanding!

Paraphrasing runs the danger of teaching your flock things that does not line up with God's Word. It leads to doctrines that are not sound! It leads to beliefs being formed from a stretch, assuming that something is this way even though it is not clear!

I think the wiki page hits the nail on the head... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_paraphrase

  • Welcome to Christianity.se. You make some good points, but it would be more helpful if you could source the, and identify the traditions associated with them. I realize in the case of Bible Christians that sourcing may mean pointing to local church websites for doctrinal statements, but it would go a long way to bolstering your claims. (I grew up at Reston Bible Church, for example, and even without a "tradition" we could still source our claims. Oct 19, 2012 at 22:59

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