Verse Divisions in the Bible

20120709.122700All the elements of page and book design can be thought of as punctuation, even if some of them are not intended to have any effect on the reading. Verse division, for instance, is a reference system, yet it exerts a strong influence on how the text is read.

—David Norton, A Textual History of the King James Bible

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.


  1. Mark L Ward Jr on July 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Here I go again, leaving comments on my own posts, but I want to keep these notes together!

    Norton also wrote that versification sometimes forced a period into the middle of sentences because the end of a verse feels final, like the end of a sentence (Amos 1:3-4; Acts 21:40 in the 1611 KJV).

    Benjamin Blayney in 1769 revised 17th-century punctuation in light of 18th-century standards, stripping out a lot of unnecessary commas (which tend to clutter the text—as in modern German) but otherwise (in Norton’s view) making the punctuation heavier.

    A funny comment from Norton: “The only thing sacred about this [KJV] punctuation is that it has not been changed for a quarter of a millennium.” (2:155)

    “The practice of starting a new verse on a new line is one of the greatest barriers to a coherent reading of the Bible, splitting the text into small units only for convenience finding references.” (2:158)

    Norton also speaks effectively against the use of italics in the text. Most readers simply don’t understand what the italics mean. (2:162)

  2. Parallax Perspective on July 10, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I sometimes wonder if verse numbers would be best moved to the margin as is common with most ancient works that have similar numbering systems. It would take longer to find verses, but people would be forced to read some of the context in the process.

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