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Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible Divided into Chapters and Verses?

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Don Stewart

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When the books of the Bible were originally written there were no such things as chapters or verses. Each book was written without any breaks from the beginning to the end.

They Have Been Divided For Convenience

The chapter and verse divisions were added to the Bible for the sake of convenience. There is no authoritative basis for the divisions we now find.

The Chapters Added In The Thirteenth Century

A man named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in the year A.D. 1227. Langton was a professor at the University of Paris and later he became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Verses Were Added In The Sixteenth Century

Robert Stephanus (Stephens), a French printer, divided the verses for his Greek New Testament. It was published in 1551.

The First Bible With Chapter And Verse Divisions

The first entire Bible in which these chapter and verse divisions were used was Stephen's edition of the Latin Vulgate (1555). The first English New Testament to have both chapter and verse divisions was the Geneva Bible (1560). Fortunately Jewish scholars have followed the way of dividing the Hebrew Scripture into chapters and verses.

They Are Helpful For Reference And Quotation

The chapter and verse divisions are convenient for reference and quotation purposes. They make it easier to find certain statements and accounts in Scripture. Yet the chapter and verse divisions can cause a number of problems.

They Are Human-Made

It must always be remembered that the divisions into chapters and verses are human-made. They are sometimes arbitrary, and they sometimes interfere with the sense of the passage. The first step in Bible interpretation is to ignore the modern chapter and verse divisions.

They Can Cause Problems

The divisions into chapters and verses can actually cause some problems. There are instances where chapters are wrongly divided. For example, the end of Matthew chapter 16 should actually be placed with the beginning of Matthew 17. Jesus said.

I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28).

The next verse reads.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves (Matthew 17:1).

This verse should have been in the same chapter as the previous verse since it is continuing the story.

The Verses Also Can Cause Problems

Dividing the Bible into verses can also give the opinion that the Scripture consists of a number or maxims or wise sayings. For example, Paul wrote to the Colossians.

Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! (Colossians 2:21).

This verse gives the impression that Scripture encourages some type of physical self-denial. Yet just the opposite is true. In context, Paul is actually teaching against this type of behavior. This verse previous to this reads as follows.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:22).

Therefore, this one verse, read on its own, gives the wrong impression of the biblical teaching. This is one of the problems with the Bible divided into verses - people will isolate the verses from the rest of the context.

This Is Not What the Authors Intended

The original authors of Scripture did not intend that their writings be divided up into chapters or verses. They intended that the books be read straight through from the beginning. A number of the books of Scripture can be read through in one sitting. This is the best way to discover what the author is trying to say. Dividing up the Scripture into chapters and verses encourages people to read only small parts at a time. This is not always helpful.

Summary

In the original text of the various books of the Bible there are no such things as chapter and verse divisions. They were added later for the sake of convenience. While they are helpful, they are not authoritative in any sense of the term. In fact, they can cause a number of problems. Chapter and verse divisions give the impression that the Scripture should be read and studied in bits and pieces. This is not what the original authors intended. The entire context must always be considered. Consequently the chapter and verse divisions should be ignored when one attempts to properly interpret the entire message of Scripture.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.