“How Did the Bible Get Divided into Chapters and Verses?”

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How Did the Bible Get Divided into Chapters and Verses?

I’m glad you asked! Many people don’t realize that the original biblical documents were written without these artificial divisions, which turn out to be unfortunate in some places, with context apparently ignored. For example, the creation account of Genesis 1 ends with verse 31: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” The chapter division ends before the end of the story of Creation Week; it would certainly make more sense to put 2:1-3 with the rest of Genesis 1:

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.
2:2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Illuminated ManuscriptYou may be surprised to learn that the Bible was not divided this way until the Middle Ages. However, if you’ve ever seen a medieval illuminated manuscript (with the colorful and gilded artwork), you’ll note there are no verse numbers on these magnificent pieces of art.

The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by Rabbi Nathan in 1448.{1} Stephen Langton (c 1150-1228), an Archbishop of Canterbury, is believed to be the first person to divide the Bible into defined chapters.{2}

Robert Estienne (1503-1559), also known as Robert Stephens or Stephanus, was a 16th century printer in Paris. He divided the New Testament into verses, and was the first to print the Bible divided into standard numbered verses in 1555.{3} In 1560, the Geneva Bible, an English translation of the Bible made by the English exiles in Geneva, first divided the entire Bible into the verses that we still use today.{4}

Hope this helps!

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries

Notes

1. www.worldinvisible.com/library/kenyon/storyofbible/2ck05.htm
2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Langton
3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Estienne
4. www.learnthebible.org/Divisions%20of%20the%20Bible.htm

© 2005 Probe Ministries

Sue Bohlin

Sue Bohlin is an associate speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 40 years. She is a frequent speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Connections), and serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality. Sue is on the Bible.org Women's Leadership Team and is a regular contributor to Bible.org's Engage Blog. In addition to being a professional calligrapher, she is the wife of Probe's Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two grown sons. Her personal website is suebohlin.com.

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Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

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