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On Chapters, Verses, and Paragraph Divisions

April 29, 2014 | by: Mike Law | 0 Comments

When we worked our way through John 15 and 16, many of you may have noticed that I broke those chapters up in a way that did not exactly match the paragraph structure of the Bibles that we provide at our church. I actually had a couple of paragraphs explaining why I had broken the passage up in the way that I did, but due to time (and my love for the children of our congregation and those who care for them), that material needed to get relegated to a footnote.

I’m sure some of you are shocked that I have more to say than what I actually say in the sermon, but I confess it is true. Anyway, I think that bringing that explanation out now might be helpful to your own reading and understanding of the Bible. Let me set the stage first. Over the last two weeks, we’ve covered John 15:18-16:4 and John 16:5-33. If you take a look at versions like the New Century Version, Contemporary English Version, New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version, you will notice that verse 4 is divided in half with the first half belonging to a paragraph, and the second half beginning a new paragraph. These translations have, I think incorrectly, broken verse 4 apart. It is an admittedly difficult decision of whether or not to include it in one section or the other since it is clearly a transition verse, but on balance, I think that it does properly belong to the content of John 15:18-16:4.

Enter footnote. If I felt like I had the time in the sermon, then I wanted to share with you brothers and sisters a little insight on the Bible’s chapters, verses, and paragraph divisions that we’ve come to know and love and use today:

Originally the Bible was not marked by chapters, verses, and paragraph divisions. The books and letters were clearly divided up, but the chapters and verses and paragraph divisions were later additions. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the early thirteenth century, is the one who most scholars understand created the chapter system. The verse system that we all know and love, however, was created by Robert Stephanus in the mid sixteenth century.
These men were not inspired writers of Scripture, and so these chapters and verse numbers are not inspired, but they are extremely helpful. They do have their drawbacks. At times, the divisions between chapters and verses (like what we have here in John 15 and 16) are a bit awkward, but at times the divisions are remarkably insightful. The same goes for the paragraph system, which come from the editors of various Bible translations.
Editors of Bible translations try to help us capture the thought of individual units, often called pericopies, so that we better understand what we’re reading. It is my personal opinion that we should give thanks to God for Stephen Langton, Robert Stephaus, and the editors of Bible translations (like the ESV) because they have made it easier for us to talk about Scripture and memorize it.

This, of course, isn’t a typical message, but I hope that has at least been informative and that it gives you a greater appreciation for those scholars who give so much of their time to making the Bible easier for us to read, memorize, and talk about. The Lord has been exceedingly kind to his people, and I think the work that has gone into the chapters, verse, and paragraph divisions is one more way he has shown his kindness to us.

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