Our Verseless Bibles

There are no verses in the Bible. Nope. Not a one. At least, not in the original, and that’s the Bible that matters.

A really good idea almost five centuries ago had a bad consequence that can sabotage your understanding of Scripture. I suggest you ignore the artificial divisions (chapters, verses, headings) and focus on the larger narrative, argument, or instruction. Start big, then get small. Look at the larger flow of thought, then zoom in on the particulars.

 

Let me offer you a warning that will vastly improve your ability to understand Scripture, if you heed it. It’s a insight for every person who has ever asked, “How does this verse apply to my life?” Here it is: There are no verses in the Bible. Nope. Not a one. At least, not in the original, and that’s the Bible that matters.

First, a definition. A “verse” is a passage of Scripture distinguished from other passages of Scripture by a numerical address (e.g., John 3:16, famously). Those numbers, though, were not in the original, but were inserted nearly sixteen centuries later by French printer Robert Stephanus in 1551.

Beware the Numbers

There’s good news and bad news about verse numbers. The good news is it’s easier to find stuff. The bad news is it’s easier to get stuff wrong. Verse numbers tempt readers to take a passage as a collection of discrete statements having meaning and application in isolation from the larger work (“How does this verse apply to my life?”).

Take a verse like “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex. 14:14). It wasn’t meant by Moses as a stand-alone promise. Sure, the Red Sea narrative has plenty of relevance for New Testament believers, but this individual verse has no application to any Christian isolated from its context. Simply put, it’s not our promise.

In fact, standing on their own, most “verses” have absolutely no application to anyone’s life. That’s because most of the time the precise point of a verse cannot be found in the verse itself but in the relationship of that verse to verses above and below it. We can’t simply isolate a line or two and ask, “How can I stick this line into my life?”

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