The modern reader has to read the Story of Scripture through the added distraction of chapters and verses.* The reduction of the metanarrative to chapters and verses added in the 1500s became the root for fragmentedly reading Scripture. Chapters and verses are clearly not a part of the metanarrative. The use of chapters and verses diverts the reader’s attention from the larger Story by the practice of being encouraged to memorize verses. From our earliest reading experiences, we have learned to read in chapters. Verses, on the other hand, pose a whole different obstacle. Verses are a convenient way to look up a reference. But that’s where their usefulness ends. The addition of verses to the pages of the Bible is the single most harmful barrier to reading and understanding its Story. Most verses are only part of a sentence. To only read them or memorize them has no real meaning. These little groups of words that have been sloganized, placed on banners, greeting cards, and plaques are not God’s word when seen, memorized, or printed by themselves apart from their historical context. It is true to say that readers would not read one of their favorite books in this fragmented way.
*M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary “Chapter” (Public Domain, accessed June 24 2005).
The books of the Old and New Testaments were divided into chapters from an early time. The Pentateuch was divided by the ancient Hebrews into 54 parshioth (sections), one of which was read in the synagogue every Sabbath day (Acts 13:15). These sections were later divided into 669 sidrim (sections) of unequal length. The Prophets were divided in the same manner into haphtaroth or passages.
In the early Latin and Greek versions of the Bible, similar divisions were made. The New Testament books were also divided into portions of various lengths under different names with titles and heads or chapters.
In modern times this ancient example was imitated, and many attempts of the kind were made before the existing division into chapters was fixed. The Latin Bible published by Cardinal Hugo of St. Cher in A.D. 1250 is generally regarded as the first Bible that was divided into our present chapters, although it appears that some of the chapters were fixed as early as A.D. 1059. This division into chapters came gradually to be adopted in the published editions of the Hebrew Bible, with some few variations, and in the Greek Scriptures. The division into verses came in A.D. 1551 when Robert Stephens introduced a Greek New Testament with the inclusion of verses. The first entire English Bible to have verse divisions was the Geneva Bible A.D. 1560.<!–
One might note that the understanding of one Bible verse (Psalm 119.11) has largely been responsible for verse memorization. Its meaning may actually demonstrate that Story, not verses, is a preferred method for memorization.
Verses are not helpful when it comes to reading the stories in Scripture. Giving attention to verse breaks would be like reading this sentence:
3. I love the sound 4. of your voice in the springtime.
Then, for some unknown reason, we decide to memorize only verse 4, “of your voice in the springtime.” After memorizing it, we quote it over and over again hoping it will help the hearer in some moment of need. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Remember, the books of the Bible were broken down into chapters and verses a long time ago. You may wish to note that the original writers did not write this way, nor did the original readers read this way. It is unfortunate that we have been taught to memorize and quote verses. We were taught this because of a verse (wouldn’t you know) from the book of Psalms.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you (119.11 NIV).
We have interpreted word in this verse as â€œverse or verses.â€ The context of this verse is vv. 9-16 which form a complete section of the larger poem of Psalm 119. It begins with a question reminiscent of a style of Wisdom writings in the Old Testament (Prov. 23.29f.; Ps. 25.12f.). The question posed is: How can a young man keep his way pure? The answer is in the second part of the parallelism: By living according to your word. Word can have many meanings in the Old Testament, among them an event such as the covenant with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15.1-21. In 119.9, word is the â€œdivine wordâ€ that proceeds from the mouth of God as it is in Psalms 17.4 and 33.6. Word can indicate:
- A particular message as in Jeremiah 7.2, or
- It can also be the sum total of God’s revealed will as in Deuteronomy 4.2.
In 119.11 the Psalmist says that he has treasured the words of God so that they may determine his actions in life. The word word here is a poetical synonym to the word word in verse 9 and usually means the Law in Psalm 119. Law should be understood as an instruction rather than a legal prescription.
On one occasion the word word means a promise as in 119.140. The followers of God in the Old Testament were taught the stories of God and their meanings. It is in this context that we should render this section of Psalm 119.
To hide his word in our hearts is at the very least to hide the stories of how God has acted in faithfulness on behalf of his children throughout the Bible. These action-packed stories should determine how we approach life as a child of God.
Chapters And Verses. An Illustration: 1 Thessalonians 5.22
The text of 1 Thessalonians 5.22 in the King James Version is often quoted that makes the author of the text say something that he did not mean to say.
The following is an illustration of how quoting memorized verses often causes misquoting the intended contextual meaning of the verse.
The text of 1 Thessalonians 5.22 reads, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (KJV). This is one of the most misused and abused passages from the King James Version in the New Testament. It is quoted to provide the basis for living a holy life. It is taken completely out of its context when quoted. It is part of a conclusion that Paul is making in regard to prophecy and should read as follows:
Do not attempt to put out the fire of the Spirit by treating prophecies with contempt; test every prophecy and act on the good ones while avoiding the bad ones.
Paul is suggesting that the things to be avoided are prophecies that have been tested and found not to be from the Spirit. To use this text in any other way is not to use it at all, but to abuse it, thereby making God say something he never intended to say at this point. There are other Scriptures, but not this passage, which urges us to live a holy life and even go to lengths to tell us what evil to avoid, (Gal. 5.19ff. for evil to avoid and 5.22ff. for the Kingdom life to be lived).
As we will suggest below, if one is going to memorize Scripture, then story memorization might be the choice over verse memorization.
It is almost impossible to find Scripture published without chapters and verses. The Message by Eugene Peterson is an exception to the rule. Publishers continue to aid the reader by formatting the text of Scripture with these obstacles and that addition aids the reader in thinking to the smallest realm rather than the larger realm of the metanarrative.
Sermons are infamous for presenting a topic supported by a few scattered verses. The presentation of sermons in this vein continues to reinforce a fragmented way of thinking about Scripture. Wright suggests that “most churches, even those with well-developed educational programmes, have a long way to go in their teaching of Scripture.” [ref]N. T. Wright. Scripture and the Authority of God. 102[/ref]
Propositional thinking led to systematic theology which was aided by chapters and verses that served as the basis for the propositions of systematic theology.
Chapters and Verses: Summary
The rise of propositional thinking in the Enlightenment, aided by the previous addition of chapters and verses in the text of Scripture, has led readers to read the text of Scripture in a fragmented way.
The rise of foundationalism was the result of Descartes’ decision, in the midst of culturally based and culturally dependent beliefs, to seek to find certainty for a knowing mind. The concept of foundationalism moved from the philosophical realm to the theological realm and led many eighteenth-century religious thinkers to arrive at two conclusions. First, the Bible or the church was a sure foundation. Second, the embracing of skeptical rationalism.
Nineteenth-century theological thinkers sought a new foundation. Two separate conclusions were drawn: Schleiermacher’s “experience of God consciousness” or Hodges’ “error free Bible” could be foundational. Hodges’ concept led to systematic theology and Scripture’s division into chapters and verses aided the foundational mindset along in producing systematic theologies. The systematic theology mindset has influenced a myriad of variations of the Biblical text which leads to fragmentation of the text and away from its Story intent. Educational materials are often built on the smallest fragments of Scripture: verses or sets of verses, topics made up of verses or individual stories with no tie to the larger Story.
The church and individual reader is presented with a quagmire: fragmentized reading of the text of Scripture. What is the antidote to this problematic situation? Story!