What is the difference between verse, Scripture, gospel, and Bible?

Q. What is the difference between scripture and verse, between Scripture and gospel, and between Bible and Scripture?

Thank you for your questions. I think the answers will be helpful to many readers.

Let me start with the word Bible. That word describes the collection of books that people of faith believe that God inspired various authors to write at different times in history and that God then gave to the world as a guide to what people should believe and how they should live. The Christian Bible has two parts, the Old Testament (books about things that happened before Jesus) and the New Testament (books about things that happened when Jesus came and afterwards).

Over 1500 years after the Bible was completed (that is, after the last books in the Bible were written), the whole Bible was divided into small sections so that people could find things in it more easily. These small sections are called verses. About 300 years earlier, the Bible had been divided for the same purpose into somewhat larger sections called “chapters.” Using a system that relies on books, chapters, and verses for reference, people can find things in the Bible very quickly. For example, if someone said, “I want to talk about Romans 5:8,” everyone who knew the system and had a Bible or Bible app with them could go right to that small section and read together, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Sometimes people refer to a verse as a scripture. (Note that the word is not capitalized in this usage.) They might say, for example, “There’s a scripture that says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This can be confusing, because the word Scripture (capitalized) can also mean the same thing as “Bible.” The word “Bible” comes from the word “books,” while the word “Scripture” comes from the word “writing,” and they both refer to the same thing. Sometimes the plural term Scriptures is used to refer to the writings in the Bible, since there are many different ones.

Finally, the word gospel means “good news,” and it refers to the story of Jesus. It includes his birth, life, teachings, and miracles, and it is especially concerned with his death for us on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. This story is told in four different books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these books presents the story from a slightly different perspective, and it is helpful to view it from all of these perspectives at once. When the term “gospel” is used as part of the title of one of these four books, it is capitalized, for example, the Gospel of Matthew. The term not capitalized can also be used to describe the message about Jesus itself, told in summary based on how it is told in these four books.

I hope these explanations are helpful, and I hope that as you read the Bible (that is, the Scriptures), you will hear more and more of the good news about Jesus (that is, the gospel).

Where can I get the NIV without chapters and verses?

Q. Where can I find the edition of the Scriptures from Biblica that takes out the chapter and verse numbers and presents the biblical books in their natural form? I am interested in the Book of Mark!

The Books of the Bible, edited by Biblica, is now being published by Zondervan as a four-volume set. Since you’re interested in Mark, you will probably want to start with the New Testament volume. But I’ll include links just below for each of the four volumes and for the whole set. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your reading!

New Testament

Covenant History (Genesis through Kings)

The Prophets (Isaiah through Malachi)

The Writings (the rest of the Old Testament)

The Four-Volume Set (whole Bible)

Acronym chapter summaries for Genesis

Q.  Hello, Dr. Smith. Wanting to summarize an entire book of the bible chapter by chapter, I developed a system using 9 words as acronyms. Using this system I now know what each chapter of Genesis is about. Please review, would love to get feedback.

I think your system, which I’ve copied below from your original submission, is simply brilliant.  One of the essential disciplines for engaging Scripture is memorization, and making up “mnemonics” or memory devices is a time-honored component of that discipline.  I think you’ve been exceptionally creative and shown a mastery of the material in Genesis as you’ve developed your own mnemonics.  Great work.

I’d even suggest that you don’t need to drop the “L” in “ISRAEL” in your last section.  You can use it this way:

EL – End of Jacob’s Life; even then the brothers are afraid of Joseph; EviL by the brothers used for good by God.

My only reservation about what you’ve done is that the chapters in Genesis, and for that matter the chapters throughout the Bible, often don’t correspond to the natural divisions of the material.  For example, the opening creation account in Genesis clearly extends through the seventh day.  But the break between chapters 1 and 2 cuts off the seventh day from the other six.

To give another example, only about a third of chapter 11 is about the “interruption at the Tower of Babel,” as you aptly put it.  The other two thirds consists of “ancestry from Shem to Terah” and “Terah’s family line.”

Simply stated, Genesis is not a book that consists of 50 chapters.  Rather, it consists of 12 sections, each of them (except the first) introduced by the formula, “These are the generations of X.”  That is, “This is what came from X.”  Some of these sections are quite short, such as the “Generations of Ishmael,” which makes up only about a quarter of chapter 25.  Others are much longer and extend over many of the customary chapters.

In The Books of the Bible, the chapter-and-verseless edition of the NIV for which I was a consulting editor, Genesis is divided into these 12 sections, and its longer sections are further divided (using white space of varying widths) into their natural smaller pieces.  I’d be very interested in seeing someone with your creativity and knack for words summarize the book of Genesis according to this outline!

Thanks very much for sharing your work with me.

Key words:

Chapters 1-8

C- creation in 6 days
R- responsibilities, rib, restrictions
E- eating the fruit, exit from Eden
A- Able killed by Cain, a mark on Cain
T- timeline from Adam to Noah
I- instructions to Noah
O- obliteration of the earth by water
N- never again God promises

Chapters 9-15

R- rainbow, reckless with alcohol, rebukes his son with a curse
A- ancestry from Noah to Abraham
I- interruption at the Tower of Babel
N- not my wife but my sister, nation out of Abram’s seed
B- bad relations between Abram and Lot’s men, Better land taken by Lot
O- offensive by Abram to save Lot & kings of Sodom, offering to Melchizedek
W- warning to Abram that his seed would be placed into bondage

Chapters 16-20

H- handmaid taken as a wife
A- Abram to Abraham and Sara to Sarah
G- guest from heaven, giggling Sarah, grace if 10 righteous in Sodom
A- annihilation of Sodom, Ammonites and Moabites created
R- returning Sarah to Abraham by Abimelech

Chapters 20-25

S- son of Abraham and Sarah Isaac is born, sending away of Hagar and Ishmael
A- altar made to sacrifice Isaac, angel of the Lord stops him
R- resting place for Sarah
A- asking for a sign to find a wife for Isaac, answer animals given water
H- Here lies Abraham, Hostility Ishmael’s & his brothers’ seeds, heel grabber, hungry hunter sells birthright

Chapters 26-30

J- just like his father Isaac tells Abimelech his wife is his sister
A- animal skin used by Jacob & Rachel to trick Isaac
C- Canaanite women do not marry Isaac warns Jacob, climbing Jacob’s ladder, commits to give 1/10 to God
O- offered Leah to Jacob who was looking for Rachel tricked by Laban
B- baby boom Lord blesses Leah with 4 sons Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah

Chapters 30-34

E- escape from Laban, exercise caution Laban is warned by God when pursuing Jacob
S- showdown with Esau, struggling all night with an angel until hip socket pulled out
A- amends made between Jacob and Esau
U- uncircumcised the Shechemites cannot marry Dinah who they rapped, unwelcome in the land after Simeon and Levi take revenge on the Shechemites

Chapters 35-40

J- journey to Bethel by Jacob and family, just call him Benjamin last son born by Rachel before she dies.
O- offspring of Esau
S- seventeen and hated by his brothers, Sold into slavery
E- Er’s widow Tamar poses as a prostitute to have a son by Judah her father-in-law
P- Potiphar’s house, prison
H- headless and hired the dreams of the baker and butler

Chapters 40-45

D- dreams by Pharaoh interpreted by Joseph, deputy under Pharaoh
R- reunited with his brothers, return with Benjamin while I hold Simeon
E- empty cupboards force return with Benjamin, extra food 5x’s given to Benjamin at Joseph’s dinner
A- any brother will go to prison for Benjamin who is accused of stealing from Joseph
M- masquerade over Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

Chapters 45-50

I- instructions to Jacob to move to Egypt
S- settling in Egypt, selling grain for money, livestock, and land, Joseph’s plan
R- right hand of Jacob placed on Joseph’s youngest son and not the oldest to bless him
A- all Jacob’s sons are blessed by him, addresses their past and future
E- end of Jacob’s life, even then the brothers are afraid of Joseph, evil by the brothers used for good by God

(Had to drop the L.)

How does biblical literacy today compare with earlier generations? A case study

One of my recent freelance projects has been to proofread a new edition of John Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection (forthcoming from Whitaker House).  In addition to learning from (and marveling at) Wesley’s profound theological insights, I was also struck by the way he referenced (actually, didn’t reference, in most cases) the quotations from Scripture that saturate his thought and writing.

Wesley provided actual Scripture references almost exclusively in the few places where he adopted a question-and-answer format.  There he used them either on the part of his hypothetical interlocutor, or in the guise of the respondent. For example:

Q. Is there any example in Scripture of persons who had attained to [Christian perfection]?

A. Yes; St. John, and all those of whom he says, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because, as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

In other contexts Wesley may name the biblical author and book, but not provide a specific reference:

Did not St. Paul pray according to the will of God, when he prayed that the Thessalonians might be “sanctified wholly and preserved” (in this world, not the next, unless he was praying for the dead) “blameless in body, soul and spirit, unto the coming of Jesus Christ”?

Or, he may name the biblical author, but not even the book, expecting his readers to recognize the source of the quotation:

The words of St. Paul, “No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,” show us the necessity of eyeing God in our good works, and even in our minutest thoughts; knowing that none are pleasing to Him, but those which He forms in us and with us.

And in some cases, to support his points, Wesley quotes Scriptures from different places without even identifying the authors:

Be “slow to speak,” and wary in speaking. “In a multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” Do not talk much; neither long at a time. Few can converse profitably above an hour. Keep at the utmost distance from pious chit-chat, from religious gossiping.

Seeing how Wesley was able to quote the Bible this way, with the full expectation that his readers would recognize the source of his citations, to such an extent that chapter-and-verse references were not generally required, made me think that biblical literacy was much higher in his day than it is in ours, when a book like the Plain Account of Christian Perfection could hardly be published without chapter-and-verse references.

Can you identify the source of the last three quotations used as examples here (the biblical book, at least?)


Referencing the Bible without using chapters and verses

Readers of this blog will have noticed that in my posts I never reference the Bible by chapter and verse.  That’s because the original purpose of this blog was to be a resource for individuals and groups who were using the Understanding the Books of the Bible study guides from InterVarsity Press.  Those guides were designed to be used with The Books of the Bible from Biblica, an edition of the Scriptures that takes out chapters and verses and instead presents the biblical books in their natural literary forms.

This blog’s readership has now expanded well beyond the circle of the users of the study guides, as others have been reading along and asking their own questions.  I’m very glad to have everyone aboard.  But I’m sticking with the original format of no chapters and verses for some very important reasons.

Chapters and verses are late and artificial additions to the Bible that distort our understanding of the literary structure and genre of its books.  By making all the books appear to be look-it-up reference material, they suggest the wrong answer to the question, “What is the Bible and what are we supposed to do with it?”  They make it only too simple to zip in and out of the Bible, looking at statements without regard to their literary and historical settings.  (I explain much more about this in my book After Chapters and Verses.)

For all of these reasons, I reference instead by content and context, which I find much more meaningful and more respectful of the Bible.  In this recent post, for example, I refer to how Paul in 1 Corinthians “applied the law about not muzzling an ox to his own right to receive support as an apostle.”  This kind of referencing encourages greater biblical literacy: once you learn even a little about 1 Corinthians, you can find that place without difficulty, whether or not your Bible has chapters and verses in it.

This is actually how Jesus and the apostles referenced the Bible.  For example, when disputing with the Sadducees about the resurrection, Jesus referred them to a particular passage by asking, “Have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush . . .?”  And in Romans, Paul refers to “what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel” before he quotes Elijah’s words at Mount Horeb, ““Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars . . .”

And when it comes to referencing the Scriptures by content and context, we today enjoy one great advantage that Jesus and the apostles didn’t: hypertext.  If we are writing online (or in any other format that supports hyperlinks, including even email), we can link our descriptive references directly to the actual text of Scripture on an online Bible site. (When I do this, as you can see in the preceding paragraph or in any of my previous posts, I choose a key word or phrase in my context-and-content reference to serve as the link.)

There are many good Bible sites out there to choose from; I’ve always linked my blog posts to BibleGateway because it’s my personal favorite for online Bible reading, searches, and so forth. So far, over the life of this blog, readers have clicked through to BibleGateway many hundreds of times to read the actual text of the passages I’ve been discussing.

Here’s what I hope will happen when they do, so that we don’t perpetuate that zip-in-and-zip-out mentality.  I try to provide as much of the immediate context as possible for each reference.  However, if a statement might be hard to locate, I may cite it alone.  Either way, I hope that readers will use the “expand” button in the middle of the BibleGateway toolbar just above the text, to call up an even wider context.  And I also hope they will use the “Page Options” button to turn off verse numbers and headings.  That way they will be reading the Scriptures as this blog has intended to present them from the start, as they appear in The Books of the Bible.

I encourage all of you to get into the habit of referencing the Scriptures by content and context and then providing hyperlinks to the actual text in your own writings about the Bible.  This will be more meaningful and respectful, and still allow the same ease of access as chapters and verses, but without endorsing them as if they constituted the real structure of the Bible.

Full disclosure:  I was already planning to write this post when I received an invitation to become a charter member of the Bible Gateway Bloggers Grid.  Its members are asked to link the Scripture references in their posts to Bible Gateway—something I had already been doing from the start.  They’re also asked to put in a good word for the site from time to time, which is also something I’d been doing already (as in this post). It’s something I’m happy to do because, well, I’m a fan.  In return, BibleGateway will promote my posts from time to time, particularly when they have some direct connection with the site.  I’m very pleased to have this new association.

Sample page from BibleGateway with "Page Options" used to turn off chapter and verse numbers. The "Expand" button (four horizontal lines) is in the center of the toolbar just above the text.
Sample page from BibleGateway with “Page Options” used to turn off chapter and verse numbers. The “Expand” button (four horizontal lines) is in the center of the toolbar just above the text.

Should Psalms 19, 40, and 66 be divided?

Q.  Since The Books of the Bible combines Psalms 9-10 and 42-43, why doesn’t it divide Psalms 19, 40, and 66?  I’ve heard that each of those were originally two separate psalms that were later placed together.

One essential goal of The Books of the Bible is to help people read the Scriptures with greater understanding and enjoyment by presenting whole literary compositions as the Bible’s fundamental units of meaning and authority.  That’s why the edition removes chapter and verse numbers and section headings–they send the wrong message about what those units are.  That’s also why it recombines individual compositions such as Psalms 9-10 and 42-43, as well as longer, more complex compositions such as Luke-Acts.

There’s clear internal evidence that those psalms should be recombined:
–  An acrostic pattern runs all the way through Psalm 9-10, in which pairs of lines begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  (This pattern has become corrupted in the Masoretic Text, but it can be restored by reference to other Hebrew manuscripts and ancient versions.  The NIV translation reflects a restored acrostic pattern.)
– A three-fold repetition of the same refrain ties together Psalm 42-43. (“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”)  This is like the threefold refrain in other psalms, for example, Psalm 80 (“Restore us, O God make your face shine on us, that we may be saved”).

There’s also external evidence, in the manuscript tradition, that Psalms 9-10 and 42-43 are originally unified compositions.  Psalm 9-10 is a single psalm in the Septuagint and Psalm 42-43 is a single psalm in many Hebrew manuscripts.  So they should indeed be recombined.

But it is not similarly the case that Psalms 19, 40, and 66 should be divided.  The argument for dividing them is based what is known as form criticism, the idea that the history of a composition can be determined by identifying the literary genres of its constituent parts.  (There is no manuscript evidence that Psalms 19, 40, or 66 ever circulated in separate parts.)

The case that some scholars make for dividing these psalms is based on the distinctive conventions of the different psalm genres:  supplication (or lament), thanksgiving, and praise.  (I introduce and explore these genres in my study guide to Psalms.)  Some scholars feel that they can discern two different types of psalms living together uneasily under a single number in these cases, and they want to pull them apart.

For example, Psalm 40 appears to contain a fully articulated psalm of thanksgiving, acknowledging God’s deliverance, and then a fully developed psalm of supplication, asking God not to “withhold his mercy.”  These seem to be two separate occasions of composition, and so it appears that two different psalms have been put together here.

However, in his book The Message of the Psalms, Walter Bruggemann demonstrates (quite convincingly, to my mind) that Psalm 40 is not simply a psalm of thanksgiving to which a separate psalm of supplication has become attached.  Rather, the psalm of supplication has been crafted expressly to be added onto the (likely pre-existing) psalm of thanksgiving, resulting in a new integral composition.  The supplication intentionally echoes the specific language of the thanksgiving in several places, for example:

At the end of the thanksgiving it says, “I did not conceal your love (hesed) and faithfulness (‘emeth)”;
At the start of the supplication it says, “May your love (hesed) and faithfulness (‘emeth) always protect me.”

In the thanksgiving: “I speak of your . . . saving help (teshua‘)”;
In the supplication:  “may those who long for your saving help (teshua‘) . . .”

In the thanksgiving: God’s deeds are “too many to declare” (they are “beyond numbering”);
In the supplication: “troubles without number [“beyond numbering”] surround me”

These deliberate echoes of the language of the thanksgiving in the supplication show that the psalmist has used the occasion of celebrating one deliverance as an opportunity to pray for rescue from a further trouble.  So Psalm 40, as we know it, is an intentional, integral composition.

Similarly, Psalm 66 is not, as some have argued, a psalm of praise for God’s historical deliverance of the nation at the time of the exodus, to which a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of the psalmist personally has somehow become attached.  Rather, the whole psalm is a thanksgiving that begins with a “song of victory” that harkens back to the exodus as the archetypal event of deliverance.  (Compare the ending of Psalm 77, a psalm of supplication that similarly invokes the exodus.)  Claus Westermann discusses the role of the “song of victory” found in many psalms of thanksgiving in his book The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message.

Finally, some scholars consider Psalm 19 to be two psalms of different genres that have been combined, the first a psalm of praise for God’s glories in creation (like Psalm 8) and the second a “poem of the law” that extols the value of meditating on God’s word (like Psalm 1).  It’s possible that the first part of this psalm did once circulate independently.  But as we know it today, it has been intentionally paired with the second part to create a meditation on the “two books” that reveal God: creation and the Scriptures.  It is an integral composition, even if it may incorporate an earlier song, and it would not be proper to pull it apart.

We can witness a similar process of composition at work in our own day as songwriters have take traditional hymns and add their own original material to make new integral compositions, for example, Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain” from “Amazing Grace” or David Crowder’s expansion of “All Creatures of our God and King.”  We would not want to pull these songs apart, nor should we pull apart the psalms that have been created by a very similar process.

The initial page of the Leiden St. Louis Psalter, an illuminated manuscript of the book of Psalms. The “B” is the initial letter of Psalm 1 in Latin, “beatus” (blessed).

Didn’t Paul quote from the Old Testament by chapter number?

Q. In the book of Acts, when Paul was speaking to the people of Pisidian Antioch, he introduced one of his Scripture quotations by saying, “As it is written in the second Psalm . . .”  Isn’t this evidence within the canonical Scriptures of referencing by chapter number, and can’t we take it as support for doing that today?

Paul, of course, could not have been using the system of chapter numbering that we know today, since it was only added many centuries after he lived, in AD 1200.  Rather, he was simply referring to one of the psalms by describing where it came in the traditional ordering.  In addition, the numbers of the psalms, unlike the chapter numbers in most other places in the Bible, serve to identify distinct compositions rather than to break them up.  So this is not exactly a case of quoting by chapter number as is done today.

Still, this is an important question, because here Paul is not citing Scripture by context and content, the way he does in Romans when he speaks of “the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel” (referring to the contest on Mount Carmel), or the way Jesus does when he refers to “the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush.” Paul doesn’t even identify the psalm by its first line, as was customarily done.  This seems to be definite biblical evidence for an apostle referencing by number, rather than by context and content.  So what’s going on here?

Actually, when understood in light of the broader manuscript tradition of the book of Acts, this citation by Paul provides canonical support not for referencing by chapter number, but for recognizing chapter numbers as a late and fluid addition to the text of Scripture.

While most ancient codices of Acts read “as it is written in the second psalm,” Codex Bezae, representing the Western textual tradition, reads, “as it is written in first psalm.” This reading has significant patristic support.  P45, an important third-century papyrus, reads simply, “as it is written in the psalms.”  The editorial committee for the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament was so uncertain about the original reading here that they ranked the reading that appears in the text, “the second psalm,” a {D}, expressing their greatest degree of uncertainty.

Bruce Metzger writes in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament that “the variety of positions at which the numeral (whether prōtō or deuterō) is introduced makes both numerals suspect.”  This would suggest that P45 has the correct reading, “as it is written in the psalms.”

But Metzger then notes that if this is the original reading, “One has the difficulty of explaining why, in this passage alone in the New Testament, almost all scribes thought it necessary to introduce the quotation by using a numeral.”  Hence the uncertainty about the original reading in Acts.  We don’t know whether the numeral is original, we don’t know which numeral is correct (“first” or “second”) if it was original, and we don’t know why a numeral was introduced if it wasn’t original.

But we can at least explain the uncertainty about which psalm the quotation comes from.  There’s a well-attested tradition in which the second psalm as we know it today is treated as part of the first psalm.  That’s why some of the manuscripts that do have a numeral say “first” rather than “second.”

This tradition of combining the two psalms doesn’t stand up very well to a literary analysis, which clearly identifies Psalm 1 as a wisdom psalm and Psalm 2 as a coronation psalm.  (See my study guide to the Psalms for an explanation of these types and many others.)  But this tradition, as reflected in the textual variation in this passage in Acts, does illustrate that chapter numbers are a late and fluid addition to the canonical text of Scripture.  All the more reason not to rely on them today, whatever Paul might actually have said to the people when he was in Pisidian Antioch.

Ruins of the Church of St. Paul in Pisidian Antioch, built on the traditional location of the synagogue where he is believed to have spoken on his visit to the city.

Didn’t Jesus and the apostles quote verses to support their teachings?

People ask this question from time to time when they hear about The Books of the Bible, because it presents the biblical books as whole literary works, without any chapters and verses.  The questioners wonder how anyone would be able to quote verses if all Bibles were like this, and since quoting verses seems to be something Jesus and the apostles did, they think it should be possible for everyone to keep doing it.

A friend of mine blogged about this very question a while back and I’d like to share how I responded to his post at the time.  John Dunham, a member of the Bible Design Group that created The Books of the Bible, explained on his blog Quibbling how an article by W. Sibley Towner helped him become much more comfortable with the “versejacking” that the New Testament authors appear to engage in.

We can define versejacking as taking statements from the Scriptures and applying them to contexts that are different from (and, in the worst cases, contrary to) the contexts to which they originally applied.  In other words, it’s the practice of non-contextual or counter-contextual application of isolated biblical statements.

The fact that the New Testament writers appear to do this in many instances has long been troubling to interpreters.  Until recently the only recourse was to draw a contrast between so-called “inspired subjectivity” and “hermeneutical objectivity,” in the words of an essay by John Walton that’s cited in the Quibbling post.  In other words, the biblical writers can get away with this because they’re inspired, but don’t you try this at home.  You need to be objective and carefully contextual.

More recently, however, there’s been a realization that the New Testament writers are themselves being objective and contextual.  They’re actually making valid applications of statements originally spoken at one point in redemptive history to corresponding points later in that history as it unfolds.  For example, things that are originally spoken of Israel can be applied to Jesus as he embodies the people or work of God on earth.  What is spoken of Israel can also be applied validly to the community of Jesus’ followers as the new people of God.

This typological principle accounts for what happens in places like the ones at the beginning of Matthew where the gospel writer describes Scriptures such as “out of Egypt have I called my son” as having been “fulfilled” in the life of Jesus.  This statement was originally a historical description by Hosea of the exodus, not a prophecy about the future career of the Messiah.  So this does seem to be a case of versejacking.

“The Flight Into Egypt,” Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Is this what Hosea meant by “out of Egypt I called my son”?

However, “fulfilled” in cases like this doesn’t mean that a future foretold has come to pass.  Rather, it means that a statement spoken earlier in redemptive history has taken on a fuller and deeper meaning in the light of later redemptive-historical events.  Jesus embodies the new Israel and his flight to Egypt and return from there is like a second exodus.

This promising new understanding is articulated in Towner’s article and in other articles such as Greg Beale’s “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine From the Wrong Texts?” and Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.  (Dr. Beale later updated his article to interact with Dr. Enns’ book.)

While appreciating, and carefully emulating, apostolic typological hermeneutics may feel like condoning “versejacking,” it’s actually very consistent with the overall vision that inspired The Books of the Bible.  We wanted to format the Bible in such a way that people could appreciate its grand sweep and see how the overall story unfolded.  With such an appreciation, which the apostolic writers had themselves, valid typological applications can be made.  In fact, one unexpected benefit of The Books of the Bible may be to equip people to make applications that are closer to the New Testament ones in their actual essence, even as it steers people away from non-contextual, non-typological applications that only appear coincidentally to be like the New Testament ones on the surface.

None of this supports or condones a very different kind of versejacking, which begins with the premise that there’s such a thing as a “Bible verse.”  This other kind of versejacking sees the Bible as a collection of some 11,000 discrete propositions that are jumbled together and need to be sorted and connected topically.

The very premise that there is such a thing as a Bible verse, and that our goal as readers is to get as much as possible out of a single verses at a time, is contrary to the true character of Scripture.  Hopefully taking the verses out of the Bible will enable people to recognize what the Bible really is, a collection of complete literary works, and help them begin to approach it on its own terms.

But I’m afraid that habits built on “Bible verses” are deeply ingrained and may need some time to change.  That being the case, I would suggest that we keep using the term “versejacking” to describe the approach that takes up “verses” in isolation. We should use some other term to describe what the apostles are doing when they understand Jesus and the community of his followers as the continuation of the story that begins with Israel and they use the language of the earlier part of the story to tell its later parts.

Enns calls this “christotelic interpretation,” in which Christ is understood as the goal (telos) of the story.  Other terms would be Christological or typological interpretation.  I’d go with any of those.  And, as I said, The Books of the Bible might just promote the wider use of this approach in our day.

Were the verses really put in the Bible by someone riding on horseback?

Q. I’ve heard that the verses were put in the Bible by someone who was riding on a horse, and that when you come to a bad verse division, that’s where the horse stumbled.  Is that true?

This story is almost true.  The verses were added to the New Testament by Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus), a French printer, linguist, and classical scholar.  He  wanted to create a concordance to the Greek New Testament and needed to mark off small stretches of text so words could be easily located.

Robert Estienne, the French printer who added the verses to the Bible

His son Henri finished the concordance project in 1594 after his father’s death and tells us, writing in Latin, that his father put in the numbers in 1551 while traveling inter equitandum from Paris to Lyon and back.  This could mean “on horseback,” but it more likely means “while traveling by horse” or simply “while on a journey.”

Bruce Metzger explains in The Manuscripts of the Greek Bible:

“Although some have understood [inter equitandum] to mean ‘on horseback’ (and have explained inappropriate verse-divisions as originating when the horse bumped his pen into the wrong place!), the inference most natural and best supported by the evidence is that the task was accomplished while resting at inns along the road.”

Caspar René Gregory says similarly in The Canon and Text of the New Testament:

“Henri uses the words ‘while riding,’ ‘inter equitandum,’ and it has sometimes been supposed that he actually did it while jogging and joggling along the road upon the back of his steed.  . . . Yet I do not think that he did that, or that his son Henri says that he did that.  It seems to me to be more likely that the words ‘while riding’ simply mean that he did it in the breaks of this long ride.  When he got up in the morning he may have done something before he set out.  During the morning he may have rested a while at a wayside inn, and certainly at noon he will have done so.  And at night he doubtless . . . ‘divided’ away until it was time to sleep.”

So Robert Estienne wasn’t actually on horseback when he added the New Testament verse divisions.  Nevertheless, as Gregory notes, this was a hasty, distracted job.

The verse divisions in the First Testament (Old Testament) have a different history.  As I explain in my book After Chapters and Verses:

“By the early centuries of our era, those who read the Hebrew Scriptures aloud in the synagogues had to pause at regular intervals to allow for an Aramaic translation, since most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew.  By the year 500, the short stretches of text that were read before a translation had become standardized.  They were indicated in manuscripts by a soph pasuq mark (:).  Even so, two different systems remained in use, one in Palestine and the other in Babylonia, until they were harmonized by ben Asher in the tenth century.  When Stephanus versified the New Testament five hundred years later, similar ‘verses’ were created in the Old Testament by numbering the stretches of text between soph pasuq marks.”

So the First Testament verses were created in a haphazard process over the centuries, and this, too, made for some arbitrary and senseless divisions, as anyone who reads through the Bible, rather than picking out a verse here and there, will find out very quickly.

And so we shouldn’t think there’s any such thing as a “Bible verse,” a portion of the text that has been carefully marked off for us as a unit of meaning and authority.  The verses as we know them today are historical accidents that are just as likely to mislead us as to inform us.  Indeed, there are many places where it would almost be preferable to appeal to a horse stumbling than to admit that a person had introduced a verse division there intentionally!