At some point, I began to favor a readers version of the Bible over the more widely used chapter and verse format. Nowadays I use a readers format of the Bible almost exclusively. There are (disputed) claims that we have somewhere around 36,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. Regardless of what the specific number is there is definitely a lot. I recently did a quick google search of Christian denominations in the small county that I live in. Google was able to find 83 different denominations. I have often wondered how in the world did we get so many different flavors of institutional church practice. I believe that the differences in doctrine, practice, even the very existence of denominations are largely attributed to the use of chapter and verse Bibles. I believe that how a person approaches the Bible is one of the most important aspects of our lives and will have a major impact on the sort of Christian we will become. The Bible in our day is widely used as a reference book with a bunch of disjointed stand-alone entries similar to what we find in a dictionary. The use of proof-texting (picking individual verses out of their context) can lead to a misuse and abuse of the Bible that has dominated almost every aspect of Christendom.
If you have spent any amount of time in the institutional church (IC) you have no doubt listened to the pastor quote verse after verse that has been pulled from different books that were written to different people groups. Sometimes in sermonizing the verses will come so fast (forget applying context) that there is no way to flip to each chapter and verse and read along. Back when I attended the IC I did not even attempt this hopeless task of flipping to each verse and reading along with the sermon. The misuse and abuse of "bible verses" will allow the speaker to use the Bible to teach anything that he/she wants it to say. The reality is that when using the text in this way it doesn't really even matter what the verses say, it only matters what the pastor has to say about them.
This way of removing verses from its context will lead to many wrong ideas and is a major contributing factor in our divisions in the Church. I enjoy reading Biblicas presentation of the Bible without chapter and verse divisions. This format is significant in letting the reader be able to see the context, culture, and the larger narrative of the individual books.
What is your story? How do you fit into the biblical narrative of God's great drama of redemption?
ABOUT THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE (excerpt bold emphasis is mine). The Bible isn’t a single book. It’s a collection of many books that were written, preserved and gathered together so that they could be shared with new generations of readers. Reading, of course, is not an end in itself. Especially in the case of the Bible, reading is a means of entering into the story. Overall, the Bible is an invitation to the reader first to view the world in a new way, and then to become an agent of the world’s renewal. Reading is a step in this journey. The Books of the Bible is intended to help readers have a more meaningful encounter with the sacred writings and to read with more understanding, so they can take their places more readily within this story of new creation. Just as the Bible is not a single book, the Bible is more than bare words. Those who wrote its books chose to put them in particular forms, using the literary conventions appropriate to those forms. Many different kinds of writing are found in the Bible: poetry, narrative, wisdom collections, letters, law codes, apocalyptic visions and more. All of these forms must be read as the literature they really are, or else misunderstanding and distortion of meaning are bound to follow. In order to engage the text on its own terms, good readers will honor the agreement between themselves and the biblical writers implied by the choices of particular forms. Good readers will respect the conventions of these forms. In other words, they’ll read poetry as poetry, songs as songs, stories as stories, and so forth. Unfortunately, for some time now the Bible has been printed in a format that hides its literary forms under a mask of numbers. These break the text into bits and sections that the authors never intended. And so The Books of the Bible seeks instead to present the books in their distinctive literary forms and structures. It draws on the key insight that visual presentation can be a crucial aid to right reading, good understanding and a better engagement with the Bible. Specifically, this edition of the Bible differs from the most common current format in several significant ways:
: chapter and verse numbers have been removed from the text; : the books are presented instead according to the internal divisions that we believe their authors have indicated;
: a single-column setting is used to present the text more clearly and naturally, and to avoid disrupting the intended line breaks in poetry;
: footnotes, section headings and any other additional materials have been removed from the pages of the sacred text;
: individual books that later tradition divided into two or more parts are put back together again; and
: the books have been placed in an order that we hope will help readers understand them better.
Why have we made these changes? First of all, the chapters and verses in the Bible weren’t put there by the original authors. The present system of chapter divisions was devised in the thirteenth century, and our present verse divisions weren’t added until the sixteenth. Chapters and verses have imposed a foreign structure on the Bible and made it more difficult to read with understanding. Chapter divisions typically don’t correspond with the actual divisions of thought. They require readers to make sense of only part of a longer discussion as if it were complete in itself, or else to try to combine two separate discussions into one coherent whole. Moreover, because the Bible’s chapters are all roughly the same length, they can at best only indicate sections of a certain size. This hides the existence of both larger and smaller units of thought within biblical books.
When verses are treated as intentional units (as their numbering suggests they should be), they encourage the Bible to be read as a giant reference book, perhaps as a collection of rules or as a series of propositions. Also, when “Bible verses”are treated as independent and free-standing statements, they can be taken selectively out of context and arranged in such a way as to suggest that the Bible supports beliefs and positions that it really doesn’t.
It is true that chapter and verse numbers allow ease of reference. But finding passages at this speed may be a dubious benefit since this can encourage ignoring the text around the sought out citation. In order to encourage greater understanding and more responsible use of the Bible, we’ve removed chapter and verse numberings from the text entirely. (A chapter-and-verse range is included at the bottom of each page.)
Because the biblical books were handwritten, read out loud and then hand-copied long before standardized printing, their authors and compilers needed a way to indicate divisions within the text itself. They often did this by repeating a phrase or expression each time they made a transition from one section to another. We can confirm that particular phrases are significant in this way by observing how their placement reinforces a structure that can already be recognized implicitly from other characteristics of a book, such as changes in topic, movement in place or time, or shifts from one kind of writing to another. Through line spacing, we’ve marked off sections of varying sizes. The smallest are indicated by one blank line, the next largest by two lines, and so on, up to four-line breaks in the largest books. We’ve also indicated key divisions with a large initial capital letter of new sections. Our goal is to encourage meaningful units to be read in their entirety and so with greater appreciation and understanding.
Footnotes, section headings and other supplemental materials have been removed from the page in order to give readers a more direct and immediate experience of the word of God. At the beginning of each biblical book we’ve included an invitation to that particular writing with background information on why it was written and how we understand it to be put together. Beyond this, we encourage readers to study the Bible in community. We believe that if they do, they and their teachers, leaders and peers will provide one another with much more information and many more insights than could ever be included in notes added by publishers.
The books of the Bible were written or recorded individually. When they were gathered together, they were placed into a variety of orders. Unfortunately, the order in which today’s readers typically encounter these books is yet another factor that hinders their understanding. Paul’s letters, for example, have been put in order of length. They are badly out of historical order, and this makes it difficult to read them with an appreciation for where they fit in the course of his life or how they express the development of his thought. The traditional order of the biblical books can also encourage misunderstandings of what kind of writing a particular work is. For example, the book of James has strong affinities with other biblical books in the wisdom tradition. But it’s typically placed within a group of letters, suggesting that it, too, should be read as a letter. To help readers overcome such difficulties, we’ve sought to order the books so that their literary types, their circumstances of composition and the theological traditions they reflect will be evident. Our introductions to each of the different parts of the Bible will explain how we have ordered the books in these sections, and why.
Just as the work of Bible translation is never finished, the work of formatting the Bible on the principles described here will never be completed. Advances in the literary interpretation of the biblical books will undoubtedly enable the work we’ve begun here to be extended and improved in the years ahead. Yet the need to help readers overcome the many obstacles inherent in the Bible’s current format is urgent, so we humbly offer the results of our work to those seeking an improved visual presentation of its sacred books.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of many lay people, clergy, scholars and people engaged in active Scripture outreach who’ve reviewed our work. They’ve shared their considerable knowledge and expertise with us and continue to provide valuable insights and guidance. However, final responsibility for all of the decisions in this format rests with us. We trust that readers will gain a deeper appreciation for, and a greater understanding of, these sacred texts. Our hope and prayer is that their engagement with The Books of the Bible will enable them to take up their own roles in God’s great drama of redemption.