Why Is the Bible Divided into Chapters and Verses?

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 ofMatthew 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.

  • Martin Renew

    Why do verses sometimes end just before the end of a sentence? e.g. The verse might be 12 words long but the sentence 13 words long. Why put the last word in a new verse? Why not number whole sentences?

    • http://www.jamespoteet.blogspot.com James Poteet

      The punctuation is actually added as well. The translators tried to determine where sentences ended and the next began. Some of the newer translations try to break up some of the really long sentences you find sometimes (I’m looking at you Paul and your 4 verse long sentences!) and since the verse breaks have become generally agreed on, the verses breaks come in the same places, but the sentence breaks may change.

  • http://whatmeanethhtis? Mathew

    Scripture cannot be broken or bound, but these are all good study helps. Paul’s Rapid Fire ONE, ONE, ONE is eye-catching; it seems he is travailing to project the UNITY OF THE SPIRIT Eph.4:3-
    The central theme, the quintessence, the CYNOSURE of the Scripture is so evident, obvious that
    ..THE WAYFARING MEN, THOUGH FOOLS, SHALL NOT ERR THEREIN.(Isa.35:8).
    It was for this, FOR THE JOY THAT WAS SET BEFORE HIM, THAT HE ENDURED THE CROSS (Heb.12:2)!

    WHAT IS THAT?

    To the praise of the glory of his grace.
    Poor and needy one,
    mathew

  • Janet

    This past year, I began to read the epistles in one sitting, ignoring punctuation, verse divisions, and even the italicized (added) words. It opened up the Scriptures in a new way. If one reads without the punctuation, one can see the different ways it might have been emphasized or intended by the writer. The same goes for the words that are added “for clarification.”
    Try it.

    • http://whatmeanethhtis? Mathew

      Sister, these days smart people change not only the tittle and jot, but the whole titles! Hope you will enjoy the humour and irony and pathos and bathos of the situation and my words too.

      In Isa.59:19b shift the coma after ‘flood’ to after ‘in’ and you find a sea change in meaning. Ps.126:4 speaks of flash flood in Negev, desert. Also Eze.47 has rising healing waters. That is the power and glory, and grace of our God.
      Once I politely suggested to one of our Pastors ( he was a Chemical Engineer, Ph.D scholar), “Brother, every year read a different version of the Bible so you can see the different shades of meaning.” He was a promising young man of God, hence I made the foolish suggestion. He instantly corrected me, “No brother, IT IS THE ANOINTING (compare SMART SAUL & THE RUNT DAVID!)that teaches 1John.2:27.” Some trust in horses, chariots… but we… We cannot apprehend, or comprehend him with our swords & staves & torches & lanterns, like the elders and mob, we have to do it the Pauline way (1Tim.4:8). No other way.Thanks.
      Abundant grace be with you all.
      Poor and needy one,
      mathew

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  • Rex Cleveland

    Notation Boo-boo:
    The Scripture listed, Colossians 2:21, does not precede verse 22. It follows verse 20. It’s just a typo. My teaching notes often contain the same kind of things, e.g. a missing number or misspelled word, etc. As Chris mentioned, we are humans and we make mistakes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rixmohaykline mohayrix

    Intereting article at the perfect time for myself. Just yesterday I was went from the end of Exodus into Leviticus and noted that the chapter was a continuation of Exodus. I double checked it after reading this and sure enough. Live and learn. Thanks for posting. Rixmohay

    • http://whatmeanethhtis? Mathew

      ” DO NOT INTERPRETATIONS BELONG TO GOD?”
      If he can construct and uphold all things by the word of his power, giving sense (Neh.8:8) is no big deal for him.
      Grace be with you all.
      Poor and needy one,
      mathew

  • MESSENGER – 2

    Shabbat Shalom ( Sabbath of Peace ! ) to all , Excellant Post brother Chris !!! Scripture tells us … a precept here … a precept there … Here a little … there a little ??? !!! The Lord is a God of Order …!!! Jesus said to be as wise as serpents , and gentle as a dove !!! Read the Bible even if you Don*t understand what you are reading … !!! The Lord has the meaning !!! He is faithful to bless his children !!! It*s Better to read the Bible … then to let the Bible collect Dust !!! Glory to God through Christ , blessings from Mount Zion amen shalom bye !!

  • http://theforgottenfifty.blogspot.com richard koustas

    one of the reasons i like the darby printed version is because it is in paragraph form and the verse numbers are actually in the margin. can’t use it during sword drills. i think that the first time i read the darby bible was on blueletter years ago…