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Are Bible Chapters and Verses Inspired?

David Capes, one of the scholars and writers for The Voice, a new Bible translation that reads like a story with all of the truth and wisdom of God's Word, answered a question about Bible verses and chapters. Are they inspired?

We recently had a fan of The Voice Bible email us to say that we had left out a verse.  He told us to look at Acts 19 and see that there was no verse 7.  My first thought was, “that’s impossible.” You see we had about a dozen people checking and rechecking those kinds of things.  At one point I counted 14 levels of review from start to finish.  My second thought was, “I better check this out!”

Well, I have slept several times since we finished Acts and couldn’t remember exactly what we had done.  Frank Couch and I looked at the text—we were together at the Justice Conference in Portland at the time.  As I turned to Acts 19, it became clear to me what we had done.  We combined Acts 19:1 and 19:7 because there is a single detail in what is traditionally known as verse 7 which makes better narrative sense early in the story. Note too that we put a footnote at the bottom of the page to indicate why we made that editorial decision.

Acts 19:1 relates that as Apollos is in Corinth, Paul travels overland back to Ephesus where he encounters some “disciples” of John (the Baptizer).   Paul addresses them about the Holy Spirit and baptizes them; they then receive the Spirit.  The only detail added by v. 7 is that there were a dozen disciples.  Rather than leave that bit of information until the end of the story, it seemed more helpful to follow the flow of the story to put that detail with v. 1.  If you have a copy of The Voice Bible, take a look and see how we translated it.

While the words and message of the Bible are inspired, the chapter and verse designations are not (and inspiration doesn’t extend to the maps in the back, though they are good maps!). The chapter and verse divisions were added hundreds of years after the books of the Bible were written and collected in order to help people read the Bible better.  Sometimes the chapter and verse divisions serve the story and help the reader.  At other times they seem to interrupt it and muddy the waters.  When they did seem to interrupt it, we used a variety of strategies to help the reader.  In some cases we combined verses (see Matthew 10:22-23).  In a few, rare places—like Acts 19:1-7—we rearranged the verse numbers.  In the vast majority of cases, the chapters and verses you find in The Voice Bible will match exactly what you find in other translations.

Our goal through this process has been: to get the story right and to help our readers step into it.


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