Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Insertion of Chapter and Verse Divisions in the Bible

Chapter and verse markers act like stop and yield signs for Bible readers. They play major roles in creating the contexts in which readers view the words of their Bibles. As we have pointed out before, if they are inserted in the wrong place they can literally destroy a context and change the way the words are understood. Who decided to insert chapter and verse dividers in the biblical texts?

The most ancient manuscripts of the books of our Bibles did not contain the chapter and verse divisions in the numbered form familiar to modern readers. Archbishop Stephen Langton and Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro developed different schemas for systematic division of the Bible in the early 13th century. It is the system of Archbishop Langton on which the modern chapter divisions are based. These chapter divisions have become nearly universal.

With the invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into English, Old Testament versifications were made that correspond predominantly with the existing Hebrew full stops, with a few isolated exceptions. Most attribute these to Rabbi Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus's work for the first Hebrew Bible concordance around 1440.

The first person to divide New Testament chapters into verses was Italian Dominican biblical scholar Santi Pagnini (1470–1541), but his system was never widely adopted. Robert Estienne created an alternate numbering in his 1551 edition of the Greek New Testament which was also used in his 1553 publication of the Bible in French. Estienne's system of division was widely adopted, and it is this system which is found in almost all modern Bibles.

The first English New Testament to use the verse divisions was a 1557 translation by William Whittingham (c. 1524–1579). The first Bible in English to use both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible published shortly afterwards in 1560.

Our advice for Bible readers is to ignore the chapter and verse number when you read your Bible. Let the flow of the account define the context or as we like to say:

“Let your Bible tell its own stories.”

For more information about the creation of chapter and verse divisions go to --

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