What is less obvious is the fact that the biblical text wasn't always divided in this manner. There was a time when the 66 books of the Bible were structured as free-flowing letters, or epistles. No big number "2" to indicate the end of chapter one and the beginning of the second chapter...there were no chapters. John 3:16...the text itself...was there, but it wasn't preceded by a number "16" and it wasn't in a "third chapter."
Chapter and verse divisions came about later in history. According to some of the research I've done, the New Testament was divided into paragraphs by the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., but it wasn't until the 13th century that the actual chapter divisions emerged, thanks to the work of men like Stephen Langton, a cardinal of the Catholic Church. Regarding versification, Robert Estienne included our modern numbering system in his 1551 edition of the Greek New Testament. The Geneva Bible of 1560 was the first Bible to be fully divided into chapters and verses. Since then, various Bible publishers have probably printed hundreds of different types of Bibles, all structured differently. Again, paragraphs with heading and sub-headings, commentary, scripture references, and so on.
There's nothing wrong with many of these manmade divisions. After all, the text itself isn't altered. In fact, the chapter and verse divisions are especially helpful when it comes to memorizing scripture, studying scripture, and preaching. As a preacher, I can't imagine preaching without the chapters and verses! All I've got to do is call out "Romans 5:8" or "1 Peter 3:21 and the members of the congregation know exactly where to go.
But at the same time, these chapter and verse breaks aren't always beneficial. Sometimes, these manmade divisions break up the inspired text in such a way that we misinterpret, misunderstand and/or isolate the free-flowing words of God. Where a new chapter begins, we assume that there is a break in the apostle's thought. Instead of studying and interpreting the content of a chapter in light of the overall context of the book, we isolate the chapter and sometimes miss out some very important questions: WHY? TO WHOM? TO WHAT END?
In the four gospels and Acts, the chapter divisions may not be as harmful (although I'm sure there are instances where they are), but in the epistles, chapter breaks are especially significant. Romans is the perfect example. Almost every chapter break in Romans is incorrectly placed and hurts our reading of it. In 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14 address the same basic subject: attitudes towards miracles...and yet how many times have you heard someone quote the 13th chapter in a wedding ceremony..."Love suffers long and is kind..."? In Colossians 3, Paul gives commands to wives, husbands, children, fathers and bondservants, and then chapter 4 begins with a command for the masters of the bondservants. Why the break? And don't even get me started on Hebrews!
We run into similar problems with versification. Again, a part of me loves the convenience of the verse numbers, but another part of me is distracted by them. Inevitably, what ends up happening is we study a "verse" or memorize a "verse" and in so doing we totally remove it from its context. Galatians 2:16 is a case-in-point. So many denominational people use this verse to teach that works aren't necessary...but if they would read the surrounding verses (and be honest), they would see that Paul is not condemning obedience; rather, he is contrasting a system of works (the old law) and a system of faith (the new law). Hundreds of other examples could be cited. Literally.
Again, I'm not saying that the chapter and verse divisions are wrong. Personally, I love them because they're convenient. All I'm saying is that when we study the Bible, we need to keep these things in mind. Sometimes, we just need to do our best to ignore the manmade divisions. Trust me, it'll change the way you see the scriptures.
Try memorizing a large segment of scripture...even a book of the Bible. Or transcribe a book of the Bible WITHOUT the chapter and verse breaks. Then read it. See if you notice a difference. I believe you will.
Not that this has all been a sales pitch, but I will say that I HAVE published a book called, "The Undivided New Testament." This is an ASV New Testament with no chapter and verse divisions, no paragraphs with titles and subtitles, no commentary or scripture references...just the inspired text itself. I published this book because there's NOTHING like it on the market, and I felt that something like this needed to be available to the public. If you'd like to learn more about this book, go to http://silverfallspublishing.com/book-store.html. Currently, you can pre-order "The Undivided New Testament" for $13.00 (plus tax and s&h). The book should be in stock within 1-2 weeks, at which point the price will go up to $15.00.
If you'd like to purchase one of these books, great. Trust me, I'd love to sell one to you. But this article isn't just about boosting sales. I just want you to think about the dangers of dividing and sectioning off the inspired scriptures. I really, truly believe that there'd be less error in the religious world if we'd all read the scriptures with context in mind.
What do you think?