Has the Bible Always Been Divided Into Chapters and Verses Like It Is Today?


When God, through His Spirit, moved His servants to record their experiences into text, it wasn’t divided up into the form we use today. The original transcripts, as inspired by God, were written down and formed into books and subsequently divided into paragraphs by early Jews. The chapters and verses we are familiar with today came much later in the history of the Bible.

Chapters, as we have them now, didn’t appear in the biblical text until the beginning of the 13th century. Stephen Langton, an archbishop of Canterbury, was credited as first dividing the Bible into chapters. “The custom of referring to chapters when quoting from the Scriptures was rare before the twelfth century… Uniformity was introduced amid such chaotic conditions by the Paris scholars, notably, as it appears, by Stephen Langton… His system, which is substantially the one in use today, was adopted in the earliest printed editions of the Vulgate” (Metzgers, Early Versions of the New Testament). Others tried different means of dividing up the Bible this way, but his method stuck and is in use today.

The Old Testament chapters were first divided into verses in the mid 1400’s. “As for the verses, one Jewish teacher, Mordecai Nathan, divided the Old Testament manuscripts, written in Hebrew, beginning in 1445 A.D.” (www.biblestudy.org).

Further division of the New Testament didn’t occur until the 16th century. “Estienne divided the Christian Greek Scriptures, or what is called the New Testament, into a new set of numbered verses and combined them with those already in the Hebrew Bible. In 1553, he published the first complete Bible (an edition in French) with basically the same chapters and verses that most Bibles use today.” (Chapters and Verses—Who Put Them in the Bible? Retrieved from www.jw.org.)

It is important to understand that these divisions are not inspired by God. But these divisions can be a tool to open up deeper understanding of God’s Word. Paul shows the attitude we should have in our zeal to understand the Bible: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

There are no examples in the Bible of chapters or verses being used, but biblical text was still often quoted or summarized. When confronting Satan, Matthew records the following, “But He [Christ] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:4). Christ stated that “It is written” and was referencing a passage in Deuteronomy 8:3. Luke records Christ coming home to Nazareth, “…where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written…” (Luke 4:16-17). Christ went on to read the passage which is now referenced as Isaiah 61, verse 1 and part of verse 2. Christ then continued, “And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:21).

Throughout Christ’s ministry, He often quoted or paraphrased Scriptures.  He had no trouble recounting the correct passages because He studied and understood the true intent of all Scripture. Christ understood that the entire body of God’s Holy Word was necessary for the complete understanding leading to salvation. Isaiah was inspired to write, “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). We must strive to follow Christ’s example, because properly applying all Scripture is a necessity if we desire Godly understanding.

Lead Writer: Robb Harris

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