WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE CHAPTER AND VERSE DIVISIONS OF THE BIBLE?
“I just wonder if the Bible was divided into chapters and verses since the beginning or it was incorporated only later on? Why the Bible is divided into chapters and verses? Who made those divisions and when?”
Origin of the Chapter Division
There was no early division into chapters corresponding to the chapter division of our Bible today. About 1227 A.D., Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris and afterward Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible (both Old and New Testament) into the modern chapter division (Geisler and Nix, p. 339.).
In c.1330 A.D., the chapter division of the Latin Vulgate introduced by Stephan Langton was later transferred to the Hebrew Text by Solomon ben Ishmael:
“They were later transferred to the Hebrew text by Solomon ben Ishmael (c. 1330). Solomon must have adjusted them to some extent because chapter divisions in the English Bible sometimes differ from those in Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew chapter divisions are generally preferred because several English chapters divisions separate literary units. (Gen. 1:1-2:4; Exod. 21:37 [ET 22:1] Isa. 8:23 [ET 9:1]; Ps. 42-43), sometimes hindering the meaning.” (Wegner, p. 176)
Since the Wycliffe Bible (about 1382 AD) followed the chapter division of Langton, that basic chapter division has been the virtual basis upon which the Bible has been printed to this very day. And finally, after the Reformation, the Hebrew Bible followed the same chapter divisions as the Protestant Old Testament:
“Finally, ‘after the Protestant Reformation, the Hebrew Bible for the most part followed the same chapter divisions as the Protestant Old Testament.”(McDowell, p. 20)
Origin of the Verse Division
Today, our Bible is consists of 23,214 verses. The Old Testament is divided into 15,255 verses, and the New Testament is divided into 7,959 verses.
A division of the Old Testament corresponding closely to our verses is ancient:
“There was no early division into chapters, but a division corresponding closely to our verses is ancient, although numbers were not attached to these successive passages until medieval times. When a reader in the synagogue in the time of Christ, or for centuries thereafter, had read a short passage, an interpreter would translate it into Aramaic, which was the language of the times (compare Nehemiah 8:8). The practice indicates that there were regularly recognized divisions in the text.” (Price, p. 25)
The first indicators of verse division in the Old Testament were merely spaces between words, as the words were run together continuously through a given book. After the exile, for the purpose of public reading, space stops were employed, and still later additional markings were added. These verse ‘markings were not regulated and differed from place to place. There were significant variations according to scribal centers. Verse division appeared as early as the Talmudic period, but it was only about 900 AD did the Masoretes standardize or fix the verse divisions:
“Standard verse divisions were set by the Ben Asher family (c.900) and were indicated by a large colon, called a sop pasug (:), which means end of the verse. The Old Testament contains 23,000 verses. These end verse indicators appears in Codex Cairensis (895), the Aleppo Codex (930), Or. 4445 (c.920-950), and others.” (Wegner, p. 177)
The New Testament was divided into verses only about the middle of the sixteenth century, following the development of chapters, to make public reading easier:
“Verse markings similar to what we have in our modern Bibles did not appear in the New Testament until the middle of the sixteenth century. They actually followed the development of chapters, ‘apparently in an effort to further facilitate cross-references and make public reading easier. The markings first occur in the fourth edition of the Greek New Testament published by Robert Stephanus, a Parisan 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.” (McDowell, p. 20)
Robert Stephanus divided the New Testament into verses in his fourth edition of the Greek New Testament, published in 1551. In 1555, Stephanus introduced his verse division into Latin Vulgate edition. This verse division was introduced into the English Bible in 1557.
The whole Bible divided into chapters and verses first appeared in the “Geneva Bible” about 1560 AD.
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- Geisler, Norman, and Nix, William E. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986.
- Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 2000.
- McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
- Price, Ira Maurice. The Ancestry of Our English Bible. 3rd revised edition by William A. Irwin and Allen P. Wikgreen. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1956.