V is for . . .


When did the Bible become a sea of numbered verses? I’ll leave it up to you to find out. Or perhaps you’re a better scholar (or trivia expert) than me and already know. I’ll work through my humiliation as you laugh at my ignorance.

1But—liberal or conservative, orthodox or agnostic—most know the Bible’s earliest manuscripts, 2the long-ago source materials, were without numbers. 3There were no miniscule digits superscripted into the sentences. 4Everything was jammed together, sentenceslikesardinesincan, 5verbs clinging to nouns as if they were afraid of the dark.

I’m glad verses have numbers. I’m glad that historical person or persons I don’t want to Google did the hard work of word segregation and sentence division. And I also believe this: the Bible’s verses aren’t magical, or easy to understand, or (best and worst of all) they are often far too easy to understand. (Such as “love your neighbor” or “the first shall be last” . . . drats, those are way too easy to understand.) Nonetheless, every verse represents a flawed, bold human attempt to understand the Holy. But ultimately the verses declare . . . God was, is and will be a mystery. About the best we can do sometimes is put a little numeric order in the Bible and try to keep our faithful heart open.

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Larry,
    That’s what I love so much about Bart Ehrman’s books. He has informed us, with a very easy to read presentation, about most of these things (although being a scholar of the ancient, he hasn’t touched the Chapter and Verse numbering done in the Renaissance. (One caveat, since he is writing for a popular audience, he tends to leave details out here and there.) I have seen pictures of these original biblical codices, and they are even worse than you describe. Our NT professor says the people who deal with these spend hours squinting at the letters to make out the difference between the nus and the upsilons…. And there are parts where we are still not 100% sure what the original author meant, due to a missing comma or period.

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