Better Bible Study Tip #36: Pay Attention to the Formatting

Pay attention to how your Bible translation formats the text. Sometimes translators will use formatting to give readers clues about how to read a particular text.

For example, notice how the ESV formats Genesis 1:26-27:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Notice how verse 26 is formatted differently from verse 27. Verse 26 begins with an indention, but contains no other line breaks or indentions. The text is presented as simple prose like a historical narrative would be presented. The initial indention indicates that readers should read verse 26 as it’s own paragraph, or as a unit of thought.

Verse 27 is formatted with line breaks and indentions. The translators have formatted this part of the text as a poem, in which different lines are written in a parallel relationship to each other. The translators are giving you a clue that you should look for the poetic symmetry in the lines of verse 27.

Not every translation formats the text in the same way. For example, the KJV, NKVJ, and NASB usually start each verse on an new line. This makes it easier to reference specific verses. The ESV and NIV format prose into paragraph form. This makes it easier to follow the natural flow of thought in the original text. There’s not a right or a wrong way to format the text. The different formats have their own unique strengths (and weaknesses).

So yes, formatting makes a difference. Pay attention to how your Bible is formatted.