How and when did the chapters and verses get in the Bible?
The modern chapters and verses that are found in our Bibles today are provided to help in private and public reading. Chapter and verse divisions were not in the original Hebrew and Greek autographs and were added in the sixteenth century. An autograph is the original document that the authors of the Bible wrote of each of the books of Genesis, Daniel or Acts, for example.
Who Divided The Old Testament Into Chapters and Verses?
Historical records reveal that Jews had divided the Pentateuch into one hundred fifty-four sections prior to the Babylonian captivity. During the Babylonian captivity, the Old Testament Scriptures were divided into fifty-four sections called parashiyyoth. These were divided by the Masoretes into 669 sedarim or orders. Geisler and Nix indicate the following about the current chapter division of the Old Testament.
After the Protestant Reformation, the Hebrew Bible for the most part followed the same chapter divisions as the Protestant Old Testament. These divisions were first placed in the margins in 1330. They were printed in to the text of the Complutensian Polygot.
There were also divisions in the Greek and Latin manuscripts, but they are different from those found in the Hebrew manuscripts. These divisions were irregular and very different from the Old Testament in our modern Bibles.
Geisler and Nix state that there was some form of division before the modern chapter divisions were added to the Old Testament.
Ancient verse indications were merely spaces between words, [since] the words were run together continuously through a given book . . . After the Babylonian captivity, for the purpose of public reading and interpretation, space stops were employed, and still later additional markings were added. These “verse” markings were not regulated and differed from place to place. It was not until about A.D. 900 that the markings were standardized.
Reformation verse indications appeared in the sixteenth century. In the Bomberg edition (1547), every fifth verse was indicated; in 1571 Montanus indicated each verse in the margin for the first time.
Who Divided The New Testament Into Chapters and Verses?
Verses were added after chapter divisions were added. Verse divisions help the reader quickly locate smaller sections of the text of the Bible. Geisler and Nix help us with this statement,
The autographs of the New Testament were undoubtedly written in an unbroken manner, similar to the Old . . . However, there was an early sectioning that took place, and it is commonly referred to as the old Greek division into paragraphs (kephalaia).
It was not until the thirteenth century that these sections were changed, and then only gradually. Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris, and afterward Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible into the modern chapter divisions (c. 1227). This was prior to the introduction of movable type by printing.
The verse divisions of the New Testament continued to developed. In 1551 the modern chapter and verse divisions were included in a printed Bible.
These markings first occur in the fourth edition of the Greek New Testament published by Robert Stephanus, a Parisian printer, in 1551. These verses were introduced into the English New Testament by William Whittingham of Oxford in 1557. In 1555, Stephanus introduced his verse divisions into a Latin Vulgate edition, from which they have continued to the present day.
The first Bible to include both chapter and verse divisions was the Latin Vulgate edition of Robert Stephanus in 1555. The first English Bible to include chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible of 1557.
John McClintock and James Strong concur that the first printed Bible containing both chapters and verses was published in 1557.
Morinus (Exercit. Bibl.), who is followed by Prideaux (Connection), attributes the verses to Vatablus, without naming a date, while Chevillier (Hist. de l’Imprimerie) and Maittaire (Historia Stephanorum) assert that Stephens divided the chapters into verses, placing a figure at each verse, in the New Test. in 1551, and in the Old in 1557.
Problems With Some Chapter Divisions in the Bible
While we can thank God for the chapter divisions, there are issues with some divisions because the break from chapter-to-chapter often leaves the reader with the impression that a new thought or idea is being introduced just as occurs in English books and articles. 1 John 1 and 2 is an example of a bad chapter break,
1 John 1:9-10 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
1 John 2:1-2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Notice that 1 John 1:6-2:2 is discussing sin. Verse 6-7 is about the person who claims that they are a Christian but willingly continues sinning. The Holy Spirit says that person is a liar. Verse 7 describes the person who claims they never sin. They lie too! Verse 9-10 states that the mark of a Christian is that they confess their sins. They admit they sin. Then 1 John 2:1-2 continues talking about a Christian and their sin. If a Christian sins, Jesus defends them. The chapter division is not serious, but it can lead to a misunderstanding.
Another example of a poor chapter division occurs between Daniel 10 and 11. In Daniel 10:10-21 an angel touches the prophet Daniel and speaks to him from verses 11-21. Due to the chapter division it would appear that Daniel 11 is a new topic. But Daniel 11:1 says “I arose.” The “I” is the angel who appeared in Daniel 10:10. He is still speaking. This chapter division can lead to confusion.
There are other confusing chapter divisions, but we must remember that the authors of the chapter and verse divisions did their best and we should not condemn them.
Problems With Some Verse Divisions in the Bible
Some verse divisions break the flow of an idea too! For example, consider Ephesians 1:4-5 where at the end of verse 4 we read, “In love He” and then the verse ends and the sentence continues in verse 5.
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He
5 predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, Ephesians 1:4-5 (NASB)
However, in the Greek text the apostle Paul’s sentence starts in verse 3 and continues through verse 14. Therefore, it is important to notice such breaks in the flow of thought in the Bible are man-made and do not exist in the autographs.
It is often believed that Stephen Langton is the originator of the chapter and verse divisions of our modern Bibles. But it is important to know that is in dispute. John McClintock and James Strong state,
The numerical division of the Old and New Testaments into modern chapters is by some ascribed to Lanfranc, who was archbishop of Canterbury in the reigns of William the Conqueror and William II, while others attribute it to Stephen Langton, who was archbishop of the same see in the reigns of John and Henry. Its authorship, however, is usually ascribed to the schoolmen, who, with cardinal Hugh of Cher, were authors of Concordance for the Latin Vulgate, about A.D. 1240 . . . This Latin Bible . . is generally supposed to be the first Bible divided into the present chapters.
While the originator may be in dispute, we rejoice that the Bible has chapter and verse divisions even if they are not always precise. The first English Bible that contained both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible, published in 1557. These chapter and verse divisions help us quickly locate a passage of scripture. May the Lord bless you as you read His Word – the Word of Truth!
1. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible., Moody Press., 1973., pp. 230.
3. John McClintock and James Strong. Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Baker Book House. 1981, vol. X, p. 759.
4. Ibid. pp. 230-231.
5. Ibid. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix.
6. Ibid., pp 231-232.
7. McClintock and Strong. Ibid. , p. 233.
8. John McClintock and James Strong. Ibid.
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible., Moody Press., 1973.
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