Many people are unaware that the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles are only about 500 years old. The Bible was not divided into chapters until the 13th century, and the Bible was not divided into verses until the 16th century. In some ways, chapter and verse divisions are very helpful, especially in helping us to quickly reference specific parts of scripture. But for better Bible study, it’s important to remember that these divisions aren’t original. In some ways, they can actually make Bible study more difficult.
For starters, many books of the Bible have a natural structure that is often overlooked. For example, Matthew doesn’t have 28 chapters, it has five natural sections. The book of Acts has six natural sections, each ending with the phrase “and the word of the Lord continued to spread and flourish”. Chapter divisions can sometimes distract us from the more natural divisions intended by the author.
If we aren’t careful, chapter and verse divisions can cause us to miss the author’s natural flow of thought. It’s easy to read to the end of a chapter and then use the chapter break as a good place to stop. But this isn’t always helpful. For example, its not uncommon to hear people use Romans 13 (where Paul says that governments do not bear the sword in vain) to show that Christians are allowed to bear the sword against evildoers, without acknowledging that God uses governments to accomplish the very thing Christians are forbidden from doing in Romans 12. If it weren’t for Paul’s thought being divided with a chapter division, perhaps less Christians would draw incorrect conclusions about this text.
Another problem caused by chapter and verse divisions is that it makes it all to easy to grasp onto random scriptures and to use them for our own purpose instead of considering the wider context. How often have you heard Philippians 4:13, Psalm 33:12, and others misused in social media memes without any consideration to their original context?
Although chapter and verse divisions continue to play an important role in helping people to interact with Scripture, for better Bible study it’s best to try to ignore these divisions. Try to pay attention to the original author’s natural flow of thought.