At one point in time the speaker was not required to put chapter and verse to a Bible quote. The people hearing knew and recognized the Scriptures. In fact the speeches of our American heroes of the Revolution, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were accustomed to sprinkling in verses from Scripture quite without attestation because they knew and could expect their hearers to recognize and understand the quotes.
One of the reasons for this was surely the predominance of one single English version of Scripture -- one that was almost the exclusive English voice of God for some 300 years. That, of course, is the King James or Authorized Version. Such a gift was this universally acknowledged English translation that it afforded the people hearing and the speaker a common vocabulary of Bible verses and quotations and the erudite and earnest afforded themselves the luxury of including what they knew would be recognized and understood as the authority of the Bible.
One can complain about the plethora of translations (I often do) but it is not simply the abundance of choices in English that has helped to foster Biblical illiteracy. No, indeed, there is more. Even when the verse changes little from translation to translation, the hearers have lost their grasp of the Word of God and do not have a registry of Scripture to draw upon in which to hear and understand when verses are quoted.
The Bible is not enough. Having the Scriptures is not enough; one must know them and know them well enough to recognize Scripture and to understand when it is being spoken faithfully and when it is not. This is the solemn duty of the people in the pew. They must listen with the informed ear of those who hear the Word of God, who recognize it, and who can tell when it is being misused. That is the other part of the equation. Not only have many of our people lost touch with the sound of their Master's voice in Scripture, they are then rendered powerless to recognize, challenge, and prevent heresy and apostasy and error.
We live in an age that glorifies the personality and supposed success of the popular. We have a cultish fascination with TV, print, and internet stars. Many of them are charlatans and fakes; most of them misuse Scripture and get away with it because the people listening are so unfamiliar with the Word of God and the faithful tradition that has always surrounded it that they cannot identify what is true or false, what is authentic and what is fake. The Bible is not enough. We must know the Scriptures (and Catechism and Confessions and even the popular faith of the hymnal) well enough to be able to recognize the faithfulness of what is being spoken or its unfaithfulness. And if we are not hearing the truth, then we should flee from that place and find a church where the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed and the Word of God is rule and norm of all doctrine.
The Reformation gave birth to a renaissance of Biblical learning designed not only for the scholar but for instruction in basic Biblical literacy for the folks in the pew. That era has come and gone and now it is truly our task once again.We cannot expect to recover what came to be in the aftermath of the Reformation and the desire to know the Scriptures and what they say but that cannot and should not prevent our people from a fresh engagement with the written Word of God today and a growing familiarity with its consistent and faithful expression in the catholic tradition of creed and confession. Only then will they will be better equipped to find their way through the maze of faux teachers who can patch together a loose fabric of Bible quotes only to tear down what the Sriptures really teach. Then and only then will the Word of the Lord be indeed “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our pathway” (Psalm 119:105).