Top Ten Bible Verses in Medieval England

IMG_1468According to Bible Gateway, the top Bible verses in 2016 were John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4: 6 and 13, Romans 8:28, and Psalm 23:1-6. So modern Christians with access to Bible Gateway focus on how God saves us and how God promises to take care of us (even during times of anxiety and difficulty). The God, who is our shepherd, who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, and who has plans to give us a hope and future, loves us so much that he gave his one and only son Jesus to save all of us who believe and bring us to everlasting life.

The core of modern Christianity in a nutshell, right?  These top verses also reveal a trend in modern Christianity toward reformed theology, as several highlight God’s sovereignty (even if they are being misinterpreted, like Jeremiah 29:11).

In short, the verses we emphasize say a lot about what we believe as Christians.

So what were the top verses in medieval Christianity?

Before I continue, I have three warnings to give. First, I am giving you a sneak preview of some of my current research. So this is a work in progress; you can cite me next year. Second, assessing “top” medieval bible verses is a lot more complicated than it is today. Bible Gateway can count verses from its search engine to see which are looked for the most. I can’t do that. What I did was count how many times verses appeared in late medieval English sermons (mostly 1350-1500). Usually I am very free with explaining my methodology, but I am going to be more cagey today. Hopefully you trust me by now. I will give you my sources and methodology after I publish. So stay tuned! Third, medieval sermons focus more on passages than single verses. Verse divisions didn’t exist yet and larger chunks of scripture were referenced instead (so, for example, as Luke says in chapter 10….). For the sake of simplicity, however, I am going to pretend like verse divisions existed in our modern form  and give you the scripture references as we would recognize them today (just remember this is anachronistic).

Based on my survey of late medieval sermons, these are the top ten bible passages for Christianity in late medieval England. Here is the countdown, David Letterman style:

10. Matthew 20:1-16 (the parable of the workers in the vineyard, concluding with: “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last; for many are called, but few chosen”)

9 & 8. John 6:1-15 and John 16:23-30 (Jesus feeds the five thousand and Jesus telling his disciples that the time had come for him to speak openly to them because he is about to leave them, “I went from the Father, and came into the world; again I leave the world, and go to the Father”)

7. John 14:23-31 (Jesus explaining that those who love him will obey his word, that the Holy Spirit will come to teach us because he is returning to the Father, and that he gives leaves his peace so that we do not have to be troubled or afraid)

6. Matthew 21:1-9  (the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a.k.a. Palm Sunday)

5. Luke 11:14-28  (When Jesus was rebuked for driving out a demon, he responded that “a house divided against itself will fall” and that “whoever is not with me is against me”; a woman with a loud voice calls out from the crowd, “Blessed be the womb that bore you and the teats that gave you suck” to which Jesus responded, “blessed be they that hear the word of God and keep it.”)

4. Luke 1:16-28 (the angel Gabriel announces birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias, who doesn’t believe and is made mute; Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth conceives, and Gabriel visits Mary: “Hail, Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed be thou among women”)

3. Matthew 11:25-30 (Jesus proclaiming:  “all who are weary, come to me, and I shall give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”)

2. John 8:31-47 (Jesus explaining that only those who hear God and obey belong to God, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”)

1. Matthew 25: 34-41 (the sheep and the goats, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” and “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”)

In two weeks, as I continue my posts on understanding medieval faith, we will talk about what these verses say about medieval Christianity.

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