Brazil’s Top 10 Bible Verses

The most popular verses for Brazilians in 2023 focused on the provision of God.

Those digitally cracking open their Bibles were most likely to search Joshua 1:9, followed by Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 41:10, according to YouVersion.

Valdemar Kroker, who pastors Igreja Irmãos Menonitas in Curitiba, a city of nearly two million in southern Brazil, found the results unsurprising.

“It’s not surprise to me that Joshua 1:9 is the top verse,” he said. “I’ve heard my father sing this passage countless times.”

Nearly all the verses that made Brazil’s Top 10 are Old Testament texts that ring with a sense of “promise,” according to Paulo Won, a Presbyterian pastor, theology professor, and content creator.

“The focus is on what God can do in us, in the sense of granting us victories in life, more than on how we can be molded to God’s will, and thus live the discipleship that presupposes eventual difficulties and tribulations,” he said. “It’s a clear diagnosis that our way of living the gospel is largely triumphalist.”

The appearance of these verses suggest that Christians aren’t learning the Bible as a “grand narrative” or always being given the larger context of where these words come from, says Cynthia Muniz, a biologist and theologian.

“The Brazilian evangelical scene itself has been strongly influenced by triumphalist theologies, so that some of these texts can be understood as personal promises of prosperity and victory, including material ones,” she said.

YouVersion’s apps include tools designed to help people read the Bible more frequently and pray more regularly. These were downloaded 11.2 million times in 2023, an increase of 112 percent compared to 2022. (YouVersion also noted that they worked with 150 partners to launch 330 new Bible plans in Portuguese last year.)

“This year, our team really focused on expanding partnerships in Brazil because we want everyone to have easy access to quality biblical content in their native language,” said Bobby Gruenewald, founder and CEO of YouVersion. “More than anything else, we want to help people experience God’s love, and our ministry would not be possible without these incredible partners we work with in Brazil who are passionate about investing in the spiritual growth of their communities.”

Daily YouVersion Bible use increased 27 percent in Brazil in 2023. But this fervor to read God’s Word wasn’t limited to digital texts. According to the Brazilian Bible Society, on average, the country prints seven Bibles per minute.

Despite this energy around Bible engagement, a close reading of YouVersion’s verse list offers some feedback for the Brazilian church. Beyond identifying a triumphalist tone among the popular passages, theologians also noted the dearth of Bible verses quoting Jesus. Out of the ten verses on the list, only two were found in the Gospels and only one contained Jesus’ words (Matt. 6:33).

“We are, in fact, not only reading too little but also preaching too little from the Gospels,” said Won. “We associate the gospels with stories about Jesus, which often don’t carry the prosperity emphasis that many of our churches favor.”

For example, Matthew 6:33 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ main teachings to his disciples and full of instructions on how to embody his values to the world. But today’s churches pay too little attention to Matthew 5–7, says Muniz.

“This is worrying, because the gospels are at the heart of the New Testament message,” she said. “Furthermore, as followers of Jesus and called to be ‘his imitators,’ it is essential that we meditate on his words and be inspired by his actions. There is no doubt that we have a lot to learn from Jesus.”

Muniz and Won also expressed concern about Brazilian Bible readers’ tendency to separate a verse from the larger passage.

For example, Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s part of a larger section of text where Paul is discussing “the adversities of the present time, the effects of sin, and our participation in Christ’s sufferings so that we can also share in his glory,” said Muniz.

“This text is a good example of how not taking the context into account and reading the verse by itself can lead to misinterpretations,” she added.

The idea of victory that Paul notes in Rom. 8:28 does not refer to “prosperity in this life or the conquest of anything worldly,” said Won.

“The victory is over death and sin, over principalities and powers,” he said. “It is Christ’s ultimate victory in which, in him, we have a share. In this sense, reading the text as a simple hope for believers is not only an inappropriate reading but a diabolical misrepresentation of the true triumph we have in the Lord.”

According to Won, the Brazilian church needs to read Matthew 11:29 more, where it says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

“We are experiencing the intensification of polarization in various areas of society. For me, Jesus’ call to meekness and serenity must not be forgotten,” he said.

Kroker emphasizes that Jesus needs to be our greatest example. Brazilian church leaders need to devote more sermons to the Gospels, specifically focusing on Jesus’ nature, actions, and mission, he said.

“We need narrative sermons that more vividly highlight the example of all the qualities and attitudes that are expected of us and that is in the life of Jesus.”

[ This article is also available in
Português. ]

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