When were Chapters and Verses Divided in the New Testament ?



The earliest Greek manuscripts (MSS) of the NT didn't even have spaces, nor punctuation, let alone chapter and verse divisions. Here is a part of the significant MSS called P75 from around 200. 'P75' is the symbol or siglum for Papyrus 75, in the numbering system for early MSS on papyrus. :

The image above shows the end of G.Luke, and the beginning of G.John - one can clearly see:








By late 4th century, Christians were using parchment (cured sheep skin) in codexes (codices), now called books. (Jews still use scrolls for their official Torah etc. )

Here is a page from the famous 4th century bible called Codex Vaticanus, siglum 'B' (early upper-case Greek MSS, called 'uncials' because they use large 'inch-high' letters, use upper case sigla.)

The image above shows the ending of 2 Thess. and the beginning of Hebrews. Note clear signs of deletions and additions.



In the 4th century, the church settled on Latin as the official church language, with Jerome producing a critical version later called Vulgate bible (from vulgar, common.) Here is a page from the Codex Amiatinus (with siglum 'A'), the earliest surving nearly complete Latin Vulgate bible, from early 8th C. :

Note there are spaces are between words, and sentences are clear.

Centuries passed -

in which Christian scribes developed initial letters into an elaborate art-form, but not much else changed :

Above is the start of Psalm 136.



The first person to divide the NT into chapters (in the Latin Vulgate) was Stephen Langton, Arch Bishop of Canterbury, in 1227.

He died in 1228.



The first bible to use these new chapter divisions was the controversial English Bible of Wycliffe - the very first English version of the Bible. John Wycliffe criticised the Papacy and argued the Bible was more important, and lead his team including John Purvey to produce a vernacular version (two versions actually) of the bible in Middle English from 1382. Here is is a page of his Bible (yes that's Middle English) :

Each new chapter starts with a red first sentence, but not yet with numbers.

Unfortunately the translation was done from the Latin Vulgate slavishly into Middle English (i.e. Greek to Latin then later to Middle English) creating a rather poor result. The Catholic Church was so dis-pleased with Wycliffe that they declared him a heretic. But they were rather slow in reacting, and Wycliffe died first, so the church had to settle for digging up his remains and ritually cursing them, then grinding his bones into dust and scattering them on the river Swift in 1428 :



In 1453 the last remnant of ancient Rome - Byzantium (Constantinople, now Istanbul) - fell to the Ottoman Empire of the Turks. Scholars and church men and people fled west to Europe, bringing their treasures with them, such as the ancient work (allegedly) of Hermes TrisMegistus (Thrice Great) which arrived in Florence to the delight of the Medicis.

At about the same time, Johannes Gutenberg developed (practical) movable type printing. China had previously developed the idea, but were severely limited by their vast number of symbols, whereas the much smaller European alphabet(s) were ideally suited to movable type (where each letter is hand-carved into an exemplar and then copied many times to be used in making pages of print). The very first book printed by Gutenberg was the Bible of course - the Latin Vulgate in 1455 :

Which seems to have gone backwards a little in readability. Still no chapter (or verse) numbers. The font used is called 'Gothic' and appears to have been easier to carve than to read. This was the first time that the concept of a 'font' came into use.


Greek Returns Bringing Lower Case

Scholars began to pay attention to Greek MSS again, after a millenium of little interest. There was still a tradition of Greek NT use in various regions and quite a few Greek MSS were available, but most were quite late. Spanish Cardinal Cisneros started a project in 1502 to create a polyglot (multi-language) Bible 'to revive the languishing study of the Sacred Scriptures' which eventually produced a magnificent bible called the Complutensian PolyGlot Bible :

Still not very readable, sentences are unclear. Greek is at top right with interlinear Latin. Publishing was delayed until 1522, the year the Magellan-Elcano voyage finished the first circum-navigation of the globe.


First Published Printed Greek NT - 1516

Meanwhile Desiderius Erasmus had already published his own Greek NT alongside his new Latin version - in a rush, possibly to beat the Complutensian Polyglot (which he did) and became the first to publish a Greek NT in 1516 :

More readable, although the fonts are a little odd. Note Latin still has no letter 'J' and uses the long 'f' for s (like English at the time.) The Greek version was poorly edited and based on late MSS and was much updated over several editions. Some of the Greek was even back-translated from the Latin, while the Comma Johaneum was inserted into later editions in dubious circumstances (the trinity passage that reads ' in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth ' in 1 John 5:7-8.)

Greeks and Romans made busts and statues of their heroes, then later portraits became the norm, Victorian England added death-masks, and we still have Einstein's brain in a jar. Apparently the hands of Erasmus were also considered important enough for Holbein to draw :


The Textus Receptus (TR)

The Greek NT was a big hit and several versions were produced, eventually settling down into a widely accepted version that became known as the 'Textus Receptus' in Latin, meaning the text that is received by all. Received meaning accepted or agreed to (cf Jesus saying 'if you will receive it', meaning agree or accept.)

The (re)arrival of the Greek NT made for a flurry of interest, especially as the Church's monopoly on the scriptures was fading. Martin Luther produced the first vernacular Bible in German in 1522. Here is a page from a 1545 version :


Stephanus and Garamond's Greek NT - 1550

Robert Estienne (also called Robertus Stephanus in Latin) printed a series of superb Greek NT editions - the first two called 'O mirificam' for their quality, and the third in 1550 became known as the Editio Regia, or Royal Edition because of its wonderful Greek font :

This lovely font was created by Claude Garamond, one of the leading font-cutters of his time. He was the first to work as an independent font-cutter for a variety of clients, rather than just working in-house for a book publisher - essentially creating the font-foundry industry. His fonts were highly influential and not only are still in use today, but his name now refers to a whole class of fonts.


First Critical Apparatus

He was also the first to have a Critical Apparatus in his Bible, which are the symbols in the right margin showing the variant readings in different MSS (there are a huge number of variations in the NT MSS, which are all slightly different to each other.)

In modern Greek NT editions such as the Nestle-Aland or UBS, the Critical Apparatus has become quite complex. Here is an example showing the text (above) and apparatus (below) for Luke 3.22, (with coloured boxes added by me) :

The green boxes in the text show the brackets that identify the specific text which has variations. The red boxes show the sigla of specific MSS (e.g. 'P4', ? aleph, 'B') which have the variations shown. As an example, the blue boxes show how the apparatus identifies MSS 'D' as having the word 'εις' instead of 'επ'. Isn't that wonderful iconic jargon ?


First Printed English NT - 1526

William Tyndale saw Luther's German Bible, and set out to create a new English Bible from the Greek TR (and the Hebrew.) The Catholic Church was still suppressing English Bibles so they chased him down and burned him at the stake in 1536. But his work lived on in the Tyndale Bible :

The English Tyndale Bible was hugely influential and contributed many English biblical phrases that were included in the KJV and/or became popular phrases, such as : “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, “under the sun”, “signs of the times”, “let there be light”, “my brother’s keeper”, “lick the dust”, “fall flat on his face”, “the land of the living”, “pour out one’s heart”, “the apple of his eye”, “fleshpots”, “go the extra mile”, “the parting of the ways”.

Even into recent culture - Tyndale, Matthew 20:16 : “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” Dylan, from The Times They Are a-Changin : “And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’.”


First Chapters and Verses in NT 1551

Robert Estienne's fourth (and poorest) edition had Greek and Latin, and was the first Bible to have numbered chapters and verses :


First English Bible with Chapters and Verses - 1560

The first English Bible to have chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible of 1560 :

Note the use of 'u' for modern v, tall 'f' for s, and 'i' for modern j. The name Jesus looks like 'Iefus'. The letter J had still not yet arrived in English.


The King James Version - 1611

The first edition of the KJV used the Gothic font of Gutenberg, meant for a weighty large Bible with the weight of authority behind it.


A version using Roman font quickly followed in 1612 :

Much closer to modern Bibles, but still no letter 'J'.


The Arrival of the Letter J by 1638

By 1638 (and even earlier) the KJV was using the new letter 'J' :


The story of chapters and verses in the Tanakh, the Jewish scriptures, also called the Old Testament, is also a complex tale - but that's for another day.



by Kapyong


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