Bible Formats

Charles J. Aebi

Dear Aebi: "Was the Bible written in chapters and verses? Who put the marginal references in?"


Let us take the last question first. “Reference” Bibles have references in the margin, in a center column, inset into the text, or at the bottom of the page. The marginal (“center-column”) references are put in the Bible by the publisher, who either uses references provided by the translators or hires some scholars to find references that are considered suitable to whatever purpose the publisher has in mind. Nelson, World, Zondervan, and other companies print Bibles, some without any references, some with the translators' references, and some with special references provided to emphasize some topic or topics that interest them. Some Bibles have extensive references, while others have only a few. Any given reference may or may not be helpful, depending on how well the man who suggested the reference understood the Scriptures. Remember, the marginal references were authored by uninspired men and are only as good as the interpretations of those men; most, if not all, of whom had their particular prejudices.

Chapters and verses were not included in the Bible books as they were originally written, except that in the case of Psalms, each Psalm was a separate poem, so they were divided into what we may call “chapters.” Various efforts to subdivide the Bible were made among the Jews, but the first chapter divisions as we now have them were made in the 13th century, either by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, about 1215, or by Cardinal Hugo a little later in the 13th century. Hugo used the chapters for a concordance to the Latin Vulgate. The first English Bible to have chapters was Wycliffe’s 1382 version.

Verses were first made by Robert Stephens, a Paris printer, for his 1551 Greek New Testament, which has come to be called the “Textus Receptus” [“received text”] and is the basis for the King James translation. The first entire Bible to have both chapter and verse divisions was Stephens’ 1555 edition of the Latin Vulgate. The first English New Testament to have both chapter and verse divisions was the 1560 Geneva Bible, so named because it was translated in Geneva, Switzerland. [A facsimile of that 1560 edition, published by Hendrickson, is advertised for $39.99 in the most recent Christian Book Distributors’ catalog, p. 26]. 

The chapter and verse divisions may be misleading if one expects them to define new topics each time. For example, 2 Corinthians 7:1 more nearly belongs with chapter 6 than with the rest of chapter 7, and other examples of the same kind could be cited. Sometimes a verse will end in the middle of a sentence, and some verses and chapters are much longer than others. Nevertheless, the chapters and verses are often divided appropriately to their topics. There is a great advantage in having these divisions, for they help us to locate verses, cite them for others to read, quote them in sermons and Bible studies, and use a concordance to find things that we otherwise would not know how to find. –2660 Layman Rd., Vincent, OH 45784-9730.

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