Q. When and who divided our Bible into chapters and verses?
The Old Testament was originally divided into fifty-four sections by the Jews. One section was read in the synagogue every Sabbath day (Acts 13:15). These sections were subdivided by the Masoretes into 669 “orders.”
The divisions or sections found in the Greek and Latin manuscripts are different from those of the Hebrew books, they are of unequal and arbitrary length, and very different from the chapters in our modern printed Bibles.
The books of the New Testament were divided at an early period into certain portions, which would appear under various names. There were originally two kinds of sections called “titles” and “chapters.” The “titles” were portions of the Gospels, with summaries placed at the top or bottom of the page. The “chapters” were divisions, with numeral notations, chiefly adapted to the Gospel harmony of Ammonius. Other sectional divisions are occasionally seen in manuscripts, which appear to have varied at different times and in different churches.
The numerical division of the Old and New Testament is ascribed to a number of individuals. Some scholars believe that the chapter divisions should be attributed to the students of Cardinal Hugo of Saint Cher in 1240 AD. Cardinal Hugo was organizing a concordance of the Bible and utilized the help of his eager students to reference the verses in the Bible in a way to locate individual words quickly. Others believe that Stephen Langton, archbishop of Cantebury (1228 AD) is responsible for the chapter divisions.
It should be noted that before the invention of printing the Bible had already passed from Latin manuscripts to many other languages and after the invention of printing many of the earlier established divisions became accepted. Chapters in early printed Bibles were subdivided into seven portions, marked in the margin by the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, reference being made by the chapter number and the letter under which the passage occurred. This subdivision continued long after the present verses were added, but by the seventeenth Century was modified.
The present verses differ in origin for the Old Testament and the New Testament. The earliest printed Hebrew Bibles marked each fifth verse only with a Hebrew numeral. Arabic numerals were first added for the intervening verses by Joseph Athias in 1661 A.D. The first portion of the Bible printed with the Masoretic verses numbered was published in 1509 A.D. In 1528 A.D. a new Latin version of the whole Bible with the Masoretic verses marked and numbered was published. The verses in this Bible were three or four times as long as the verses in our present Bibles.
The present New Testament verses were introduced by Robert Stephens first in his Greco-Latin Testament published in 1551 A.D., and then later Stephens published the Latin Vulgate of 1555, the first whole Bible divided into the present verses.
Legend has it that Robert Stephens numbered the verses of the Bible while on horseback on a trip. His son testifies that his father did indeed number the verses of the Bible while on a trip from Paris to Lyons, but that the work was done while resting at the inns along the road.
Since this division of the Scriptures was done by man unaided by inspiration there are notable instances in which the context caused by a division into verses and chapters is destroyed. The careful Bible student will always read verses and even paragraphs before and after a statement to insure that the complete thought of a context is considered.
(Sources: Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Cyclopaedia by McClintock and Strong, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, How We Got The Bible by Neil Lightfoot, Theological Dictionary by Rahner and Vorgrimler, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, New Dictionary of Theology by Ferguson, Write and J.I. Packer, Dictionary of Biblical Literacy by Cecil Murphey, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church by J.D. Douglas)