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How Did We Get Chapters and Verses?

Here’s a question I get on occasion, about where the Bible’s chapters and verses came from (did the original authors write that way???).   I’ve drawn my answer from my textbook on the NT, and since the answer is so brief, I’ll attach another couple of paragraphs drawn from a nearby page in the book, dealing with another somewhat related and even more important (for many people) problem: when did scholars start to think that the differences in our manuscripts were a VERY big deal?

 

 

QUESTION:

About the numbers of the verses, who put them?  Who divided the text in verses and chapters, and when?

 

RESPONSE:

Here is my answer taken from The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings:

 

Given the fact that ancient manuscripts did not use punctuation, paragraph divisions, or even spaces to separate words, it will come as no surprise to learn that the chapter and verse divisions found in modern translations of the New Testament are not original (as if Paul, when writing Romans, would think to number his sentences and call them verses!). In order to facilitate the reading of these books—especially in public—scribes began to make chapter-like divisions as early as …

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  September 6, 2019

    I simply can’t understand how anyone today in good faith can claim the NT or any other part of what we take to be the Bible is literally true, inerrant, the literal word-for-word transcription of what God intended to say. I don’t want to be uncharitable but I see only two options: dishonesty, or ignorance– wait! Here comes the Spanish Inquisition! NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! THREE options: dishonesty, ignorance, or some combination of dishonesty and ignorance.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      Sometimes people just have a different opinion based on other criteria from the ones we ourselves might use. It doesn’t mean they are dishonest or ignorant necessarily.

    • Avatar
      BeccaHolder  September 9, 2019

      Then, later came the American Civil War no one expected with Puritans in the North and South killing 600,000.

  2. Avatar
    quadell  September 6, 2019

    Was the Hebrew Bible divided into chapters and verses before or after the New Testament was? And why are there discrepancies in the chapter numbering between (most) Jewish Bibles and (most) Christian Bibles?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      Hmmm… Now that’s a good question. I don’t remember. I’ll have to ask around.

  3. Rick
    Rick  September 6, 2019

    Interesting anecdote about Stephen Langton… It is with some difficulty that I resist making up a line about his 25th Great Grandson Robert discovering the Holy Grail!

  4. fefferdan
    fefferdan  September 6, 2019

    How about the Hebrew Bible? When did those chapter divisions start being made? Did the rabbis take the tradition from the Christian scribes, or vice versa?

  5. Avatar
    AstaKask  September 6, 2019

    Can you give an example of a passage which is hotly debated and has a significant effect on the interpretation of the passage?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      See my Misquoting Jesus. E.g., Luke 22:43-44.

      • Avatar
        meohanlon  September 9, 2019

        Interesting example. Wasn’t this quote in Luke believed to be a later addition, due to its inconsistency with the tone of Luke’s version of the passion? If so, why and when and why do you think it was added? I’ve heard apologists make much of it, claiming that Luke, being a physician, correctly identified a particular medical disorder wherein people actually sweat blood. But like the blood and water quote in John when Jesus’s side is pieced, one must ask if such claims are contextually plausible.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 9, 2019

          Look for it on the blog: search for Bloody Sweat. I answered just your question at some length there. Maybe I’ll repost it all!

  6. Avatar
    Stephen  September 6, 2019

    Prof Ehrman are you aware if any of the major Bible publishers have an edition sans Chapter and Verse? The only one I’m aware of is J B Phillips’ New Testament from 1958, which is very illuminating. I would love to read the KJV without C & V.

    Thanks

  7. Avatar
    Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  September 7, 2019

    Bart dixit:
    “But it is also important to know that some of these differences are extremely important, affecting how significant passages—or even entire books—are interpreted.”
    It is well known that an apologist who claims to be a perfect professional in defense of indefensible things, uses the excuse that the vast majority – even give percentages, up to 99%, surely invented because they have never bothered to check it out– of the differences are tiny as a smokescreen to hide the reality: that there are such great differences in some of the manuscripts that have come to us that it amazes me that they do not take note. Or if they know, they will shut up iniquitously

  8. Avatar
    Ruven  September 8, 2019

    Do we have any idea for what purpose or audience Langton divided the Bible into chapters and verses?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2019

      I think it was to make reading easier, and to make it easier for readers to indicate what part of a book they were referring to when they quoted or referred to a particular passage.

  9. Avatar
    jeffmd90  September 8, 2019

    Bart, what is your opinion of Bibles that have the words of Jesus in red?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2019

      I’m not a big fan. And it has always seemed weird. If the entire Bible comes from God (as editors and readers of red-letter editions think) why would some of God’s words be more worth pointing out than others?

  10. Avatar
    Tm3  September 8, 2019

    Stephen,
    The New Testament translated by Richmond Lattimore, North Point Press 1996, does not have chapter and verse.

  11. Avatar
    Silver  September 9, 2019

    You recently wrote:
    “But it is also important to know that some of these differences are extremely important, affecting how significant passages—or even entire books—are interpreted.“

    Please can you give an instance where such differences in manuscripts make a difference to the way an ‘entire book’ is interpreted.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2019

      If the longer text of the Lord’s supper in Luke 22:19-20 is not authentic, but the passage ends after the first half of v. 19, then Luke does not teach a doctrine of atonement in his Gospel or Acts.

  12. Avatar
    Jayredinger  September 9, 2019

    Hi Bart, is there reason to believe that the gospel of John initially ended at verse 30 or 31 of chapter 20 and that rest was added later.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 10, 2019

      Yes, that is widely argued, for lots of reasons. Not sure I posted on it, but maybe I should!

      • Avatar
        Jayredinger  September 10, 2019

        That would be much appreciated

  13. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 9, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I was reading that the earliest extant manuscripts for Paul’s undisputed letters is 175 CE, is this correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 10, 2019

      That would be the early side of the first fragmentary manuscript of any length we have, called P46. More often it would be dated to something like 200 CE, plus or minus 25 years.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  September 10, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Since we don’t have any actual written evidence for 100 years or so after the events they describe, do you still think it is reasonable to believe that what we have now is within the “ballpark” of what was originally written? And if one said that we really can’t know too much at all, would that be getting too skeptical?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 11, 2019

          Yes, my working assumption is that we’re pretty close. But we can’t know for sure.

  14. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 10, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Does Papyrus 46 include the entirety of Gal. and 1 Cor.? I’m reading that while it contains all of Philippians, however 1 Thess 2:3–5:5, Rom 6:14–8:15, and Philemon are Missing.

  15. Avatar
    mikezamjara  September 10, 2019

    thank you Dr Ehrman,

  16. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  September 10, 2019

    And I can’t resist merely noting that Stephen Langton later became archbishop of Canterbury, and was, with the aid of the learned, very powerful, miscreant [4th Lateran Council) pope Innocent III, a major driver of events resulting in Magna Carta.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 10, 2019

      Yes indeed, Archbishop 1207-28 CE, and big conflicts with John I…..

  17. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 12, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    It seems the best reason to indicate that we are close to the original is the fact that there are more than 5,000 Greek copies; the vast number of manuscripts helps with the recognition of scribal errors and also the ability to preserve the wording of the originals by comparing the numerous copies of manuscripts, also with a time gap of only 100 years or so from the events they describe, this is better than what could be said for the writings of Caesar, Tacitus, Josephus, Plato, Artistotle, and Homer, all for whom we have far fewer manuscripts and from much later dates. Do you agree with this analysis?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 15, 2019

      Yes, I suppose so. The problem is that almost all of those 5000 copies are so many centuries later that we don’t have any hard evidence for what scribes were doing in the first 20-30 years, or even the first 120-30 years. That’s the dark period, and it’s the one we would have to have solid evidence of to be sure that what we have is what the author’s wrote. Copies from 1200 years later, e.g., aren’t of much help for that.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  September 15, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        You would say that there are at least certain basic facts we can feel confident about such as Jesus’ death by crucifixion because it is mentioned or strongly implied several times in Paul’s undisputed letters, and that the early tradition from 1 Cor. 15:3ff would have likely been preserved. You are confident that at least these important points go back to Paul himself, correct? And if so, can you offer your primary reason? Thank you.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 16, 2019

          Yes. They are mentioned all over the place, so there’s no reason not to think they go back to Paul.

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