Division of the Bible

Questions?    -    Our Newsletter
QUESTION: When did the Bible get divided into chapters and verses? Who made these changes?

ANSWER: God did not initially inspire the division of the Bible (the Old Testament at the very minimum) into sections such as chapters and verses. The ancient, original manuscripts in Hebrew (and Greek for the New Testament) simply did not contain such edits. A man by the name of Cardinal Caro began to divide up the Bible word from 1244 to 1248 A.D.

The Cardinal's division of the Bible occurred while he created a Latin Vulgate concordance to aid in looking up scriptures. Our division of chapters and verses, however, are believed to be the creation of Stephen Langton, a Canterbury, England Archbishop. He started his editing work in this regard in about 1227 A.D. In 1382 A.D. the Wycliffe translation used these separations.

Where was Scripture written?
Why was New Testament written in Greek?
Are there lost Bible books?

As for the division of Bible verses, one Jewish teacher, Mordecai Nathan, divided the Old Testament manuscripts, written in Hebrew, beginning in 1445 A.D. At a later date, in 1448 A.D., Mordecai and Athias (a scholar) parsed Old Testament verses. The system we see today was put into place by Robert Estienne, or Stephanus who used the numbered verse system when printing the Bible in 1555 or 1551.

Dedication Page of 14th century Bible
Jean Bondol, 1372

Since the time of the Geneva translation (an English version published in Paris, 1560), which preceded the famous King James Version, nearly all Bible versions have used this same numbering system.

Most of the time, the numbering system works well for helping people look up Biblical verses. Sometimes, however, the Bible verses are not well divided and this can mislead readers. An interesting case appears in the book of Revelation chapter 20.

But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5).

The resurrection that occurs at the end of the millennium is obviously the second resurrection, while the first (general) resurrection occurs when Jesus returns, at the beginning of the millennium (see verses 6, 11 - 13). If this same verse division was kept, it would be good to put parenthesis around this last sentence in this verse, in order to offset it from the rest of the verse.

Another interesting case of an erroneous division of the Bible occurs in Genesis 2:1 - 3. These verses discuss how the Sabbath day was created. Since these three verses continue the rhythmic pattern of Genesis 1's description of the first six days, chapter 2 of Genesis should have started after these three verses.

Students of the Bible need to be aware that the chapter and verse system found in Scripture was not inspired by God. This division can be a distraction in some cases, or cause readers to separate thoughts or ideas that were not originally separate when the inspired writers wrote Scripture.

Additional Study Materials
Why are there so many Bibles?
How is God perfect?
What is the greatest war in history?
Scripture's top ten pagan gods
© Bible Study