Chapters and Verses

October 27, 2020

The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. As helpful as chapters and verses are, they are a later addition to the text. The chapter divisions came first. They date from the thirteenth century and are usually attributed to Stephen Langton in an edition that he did of the Latin Vulgate. (However, the psalms were always individual poems.) The verse divisions were added by Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus) in his fourth edition of the Greek New Testament in 1551. The first translation to employ his versification was the Geneva Bible (1560).

Since chapters and verses are imposed on the text, they sometimes introduce breaks at the wrong place for the reader. One sentence can run over several verses, and a new sentence can even begin in the middle of a verse. Some of the unfortunate verse breaks led to a quip about Robert Estienne’s work. He made the verse divisions while traveling by horse from Paris to Lyons. The quip says that some of the unfortunate divisions occurred because the horse stumbled. Estienne’s son, however, said that his father likely made the versification when he stopped at inns and not while he was actually riding his horse. The same thing can happen with chapter divisions. They also may break up material that really belongs together.

My advice is don’t read verses; read sentences and paragraphs. To try to understand a verse by itself without seeing it in the larger context of the sentence and paragraph is to make an interpretive mistake. The inspired authors of scripture were not writing in verses; they were writing sentences, paragraphs, and books. It is up to us as readers to understand how these meaningful groups of text fit together.

The need to read the Bible as a book and see beyond the chapter and verse numbers has caused a few publishers to be creative. Alexander Campbell, the Restoration Movement leader, published a New Testament that he called The Living Oracles. Campbell only had a verse number at the beginning of a paragraph. The ESV is now published in the ESV Bible, The Reader’s Edition. It has chapter markers but no verses within the text. Biblica, the copyright holder of the NIV, has published The Books of the Bible, which is an NIV edition without chapter and verse numbers. All these publishing endeavors are attempts at getting readers to see sentences, paragraphs, and books. In other words, to read the Bible in context. They are also not a replacement for your regular Bible.

Do I want to get rid of chapters and verses? Absolutely not! They are helpful in pointing people to a particular place in the text. I always want to give book, chapter, and verse for what I believe. However, I do want us to understand the origin and limitation of chapters and verses. They are convenient place markers and not thought units. As readers, we must read in context.

—Russ Holden




Book, Chapter, and Verse

October 9, 2020

When a Christian refers to book, chapter, and verse, he or she is locating a portion of the Bible. Although the word, Bible, means book, the Bible is really a library of 66 books — 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The chapter and verse divisions were a later addition to the text. The chapter divisions are usually attributed to Stephen Langton in the thirteenth century, and the verse divisions were added by Robert Estienne (also know as Stephanus) in the 16th century. Chapter and verse indicators are not essential, but they are certainly helpful. When citing book, chapter, and verse, you can point to a portion of the Bible very easily and precisely. The system works very well to provide a location in the Bible.

When a Christian demands book, chapter, and verse, he or she are making a plea to base our authority for religious matters on the Bible. I’m not wanting an opinion that we should do thus or so when it comes to worship, church life, or Christian living. I’m wanting to know that it is from God’s word. Citing specific passages allows others to examine the evidence, just as the Bereans did at Paul’s preaching: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV).

Citing the evidence of book, chapter, and verse is important because the Bible can be misunderstood. Peter reflecting on how some have misunderstood Paul’s letters says, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”(2 Peter 3:16 ESV). That means we need to check out what the Bible says for ourselves.

There are no special rules for inspired writings. We have to ask the same questions as we would any other text. What genre or kind of writing is this? We have to ask the typical reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why? We must understand what is said in context — both the literary and historical contexts. But citing book, chapter, and verse allows others to read and conclude for themselves. I don’t want someone to believe something just because I said it, but because I’ve provided the evidence which others can check for themselves.

For the novice to the Bible, “book, chapter, and verse” can seem like a code. But once you see that it is a system of navigation for this library, it begins to make sense. What is required is to get familiar with the library of books which comprise the Bible. Citing book, chapter, and verse is our way of citing the evidence for our beliefs and practices, because the Bible is our sole authority for Christian faith and practice.

— Russ Holden

Where Jesus Is Called God

October 2, 2020

In Christian teaching, God is more complex that what the philosophers of Ancient Greece may have thought. We believe in one God as some of them did, but God is in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Several passages teach this, but there are a couple of often overlooked passages where Jesus is called God. But we have to check our translations to get the Greek grammar correct.

“… waiting for … the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13 ESV)

The ESV makes clear that in this verse Jesus Christ is called both the great God and Savior. The NKJV, NASB, NIV, NET, CSB, and NRSV render it the same way. The King James has the following.

“Looking for … the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13 KJV)

So why is there a difference in the translation? In 1798, Granville Sharp, a linguist, noted that in Greek when you have an article, a noun, the word “and” (which in Greek is kai) followed by a noun without the article, if the two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper nouns), the two nouns are governed by the same article and always refer to the same person. Sharp and the scholars who followed him demonstrated that God (theos) and savior (sōtēr) were common nouns. Proper nouns in Greek are words that cannot form a plural. Both God (theos) and savior (sōtēr) can be found in the plural. Grammarians have attempted to disprove the Granville Sharp Rule for the past 200 years but have been unable to do so. Modern translation after the ASV have reflected the rule in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. In both passages, Jesus is called God.

The teaching about the deity of Christ is not dependent on these two verses. We also find it in passages like John 1:1-14, Hebrews 1:1-4, and Philippians 2:6-7.

Sometimes I’m asked do I understand the teaching about the godhead (the traditional term is “trinity”). I would answer yes. But do I necessarily comprehend it all? I would say no. But that is also true of qualities like God’s eternal nature, omniscience, and omnipotence. I understand that these things are taught about God. I understand the implications of these teachings, but do I totally grasp them? The answer is no. The practical outcome of the teaching concerning the deity of Christ is that we worship Jesus Christ. I can accept the plain teaching about the godhead, but I suspect that even in eternity we will be growing in our understanding of the nature of God. God is worth eternal contemplation and worship.

— Russ Holden