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