Question: Chapters of the Bible
Answer: The original manuscripts of the Bible did not have the chapter and verse divisions that we are familiar with today. However, portions of the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures were divided into sections labeled using letters of the Hebrew Alphabet (particularly the Psalms). Prior to the Babylonian Captivity (536 B.C.), the five books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), were divided into 154 sections and 669 sub-divisions to fit into a three year reading cycle. Some time before 325 A.D. the New Testament was divided into paragraphs which are not the same as those found in modern translations.
The modern chapter divisions of the books of the Bible are based on a system devised by Archbishop Stephen Langton around 1230. The modern verse divisions of the New Testament were added by Robert Estienne, also known as Stephanus, in the 1551 edition of his Greek New Testament, know as the Textus Receptus (the textual basis for the New Testament in the King James Version). The verse divisions in modern Old Testament versions are based on divisions in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible (the textual basis for the Old Testament in most modern Bibles) which were marked with special characters.
The first Bible printed in English with chapter and verse divisions was the Geneva Bible of 1560. The King James Bible of 1611 kept these same divisions, as have most modern Bibles. Although the King James Version of 1611 is a revision of the Bishops Bible, based on original language manuscripts and other versions such as the Geneva Bible, it does feature newly written chapter summaries (then called “arguments”), which were further revised with later editions. The Oxford revision of 1769 modernized the spellings and this is the edition of the King James Version most people are familiar with today. Each version of the Bible features its own chapter summaries, which draw attention to particular issues and passages that the translators and editors feel are important.
In summary, the chapter and verse divisions, along with chapter summaries and other marginal notes or commentaries, are all “helps” which were not part of the original manuscripts of the Bible, but have been added by translators and editors and are intended to make reading and studying the text easier.
God bless you!
Michael T. Panell
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