The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal before the time of Jesus that Jewish copyists divided the books of the OT into sections called parashot according to the logical sense of the text. Such is similar to modern paragraph indentions. Greater uniformity began to emerge in the Rabbinic period when Babylonian Jews divided the Torah into 54 parashot divisions. Early Christian copyists also began to segment the books of the N.T. By the fourth century, it was common for Christian scribes to denote shifts in subject matter by dividing a New Testament book into sections called kephalaia.
Langton divided the entirety of the Latin Vulgate into chapters so that readers could easily locate a given portion of the text. To this day, Jewish Bibles continue to utilize this same basic reference system. Around AD 1230, Hugo of St. Cher, further divided Langton’s chapters into seven subsections using the first seven letters of the alphabet to designate them.
The division of a Biblical book into very small segments, or verses, is a practice that originated with Masoretic Jews of the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, Rabbi Isaac Nathan took this a step further. He created a concordance to the Hebrew Bible that cited Masoretic verses according to the Vulgate’s chapter divisions, just as we cite the chapter and verse of a Biblical book today. Printed Hebrew Bibles of the 16th century then began to include numerals to designate the verses of each chapter. The first person to versify the chapters of N.T. books was Dominican scholar Santi Pagnini in 1527, but his system of numbered verses was never widely adopted. A 1551 edition of an early English Bible (“Matthew’s Bible”) with chapters, but no verses.
The NT system of versification that we have in our modern Bibles was developed in the 16th century by Robert Estienne, who in 1551 that divided each chapter of a N.T. book into numbered verses. The first English Bible to insert both chapter and verse divisions into the text was the Geneva Bible, published in 1560.
The above survey shows us that throughout the centuries people have divided and subdivided the text of the Scriptures in various ways. Sometimes these divisions were designed to help a reader see logical shifts of thought in a Biblical book, but very often the main motivation was simply to provide a means of referencing portions of the text. Laudable as these helps may be, it is important to recognize that they are still man-made alterations of the text. Bible readers need to be aware of the ways in which they can negatively affect our reading of God’s word.
The chapter and verse divisions of our Bibles visually interrupt the act of reading. They encourage us to read a Biblical book in a piecemeal fashion. We assume that the end of a chapter is the end of the topic at hand and a good place to stop in our reading; however, such is often not the case. We assume that the end of a verse is the end of the sentence, with the next verse beginning a new thought; frequently, this is not so. This problem is exacerbated by Bibles that indent each verse as one would a new paragraph and separate each chapter by a wide gap. Many preachers and Bible teachers make the mistake of relying on these divisions of the text when outlining a Biblical book as if the chapters and verses are trustworthy indicators of a shift in thought.
How many of us will quote Ephesians 5:19 as God’s commandment for us to sing and make melody in the heart to the Lord and forget that this is just the middle portion of a very long sentence which began with verse 18 and ends in verse 21. So many will take just a portion of a verse and negate the rest in order to prove their point. Is this rightly dividing God’s Word or as some want to call it, “cherry-picking”? Remember that Jesus quoted to Satan snippets from the book of Deuteronomy to fight against the temptations before him. Mt 4:1-11 ff; Deut 8:3 cf; 6:16; 6:13 So, is the bible written in subjects or is the word of God truth no matter how it is used? The truth of the matter is that the answer is both. The bible was written in subjects so that man may be able to discern the moral of the story. This is for the beginning of knowledge which we all need when trying to discern the deeper meaning of the subject matter. We can read about Noah and the flood and understand how God punished the wicked by drowning them by the means of water, and yet get a deeper meaning that as water saved Noah and his family by water, water saves us today by the means of baptism. 1 Pet 3:20,21 We can read the story of Abraham who had a child by the bondwoman Hagar called Ishmael, and a son by Sarah his wife named Isaac. Yet, the deeper meaning is how Abraham was commanded to send Hagar and Ishmael from his midst and make Isaac his heir; even so, Israel was run from our midst that Christians today can become the modern day Israel. Gal 4:21-31 Thus is the promise of God fulfilled through Christ that Abraham’s seed would live forever.
How many denominations today are destined to never understand the bible because they still see the old testament and the new testament as one very large book. Yet the bible was properly divided into two segments, old and new. The first testament was given to Israel for a covenant between them and God, which covenant they brake. Therefore the Lord gave Israel a writing of divorcement for committing spiritual adultery (Idolatry). Jer 31:31 -34 Therefore, Jesus could be married to us today when we become dead to our sins that we might be married to Him. Rom 7:1-4 We become dead to our sins when we are buried with Christ by baptism. Rom 6:3,4
Are there things in the new testament which don’t apply to us today? Oddly, yes! The ability to perform miracles, the ability to speak in tongues, the ability to prophesy, and the knowledge which they received from on high is not for us today. How do I know this definitely? It is because the bible actually tells us so. Paul wrote, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” 1 Cor 13:8-10 It is self-evident that no person can raise one from the dead today. It is self-evident that no one can speak in tongues today. It is self-evident that no one can make prophecies that will come true every time today. It is self-evident that we don’t get knowledge from the Holy Spirit separate and apart from the bible today. Yet, many denominations will try and deceive their followers saying that this is not true. The truth of the matter is that Jesus initially sent his disciples to the lost house of Israel only, and not to the Gentiles. When Jesus was resurrected, he sent his apostles into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature. Mt 28:19,20 f; Mk 16:15,16 “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” Matt 10:5-8 Such miracles were not given to the Gentiles of today because that which was perfect was come, that is, the ‘Word of God’.
So, if we rightly divide God’s Word we can understand that all are commanded to obey the gospel of Christ. 1 Cor 15:1-4 All are commanded to believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. Rom10:9,10 All are commanded to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Acts 2:38 All who do such are added to the Lord’s church, the churches of Christ. Acts 2:47 All the saints are commanded to remain faithful to the doctrine of Christ. 2 Jn 9 If there be any other commandment it is surmised as this: to love our enemies, love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love our fellow brethren as Christ also loved us. Mt 5:43 ff; Mk 12:31; Jn 13:34,35 When we study God’s word and diligently seek God’s Word, loving it, obeying it, and keeping it, we will rightly divide the Word of God correctly, and will be rewarded a heavenly home with God. 2 Tim 2:15