The Bible comprises 24 books for Jews, 66 for Protestants, 73 for Catholics, and 78 for most Orthodox Christians. These books vary in length from a single page of modern type to dozens of pages. All but the shortest are divided into chapters, generally a page or two in length.
Each is further divided into verses of a few short lines or sentences. Pasuk (plural pesukim) is the Hebrew term for verse.
The Jewish divisions of the Hebrew text differ at various points from those used by Christians. For instance, in Jewish tradition, the ascriptions to many Psalms are regarded as independent verses, making 116 more verses, whereas the established Christian practice is to count and number each Psalm ascription together with the first verse following it. Some chapter divisions also occur in different places, e.g. 1 Chronicles 5:27-41 in Hebrew Bibles is numbered as 1 Chron 6:1-15 in Christian translations.
The original manuscripts did not contain the chapter and verse divisions in the numbered form familiar to modern readers. Some portions of the original texts were logically divided into parts following the Hebrew alphabet; for instance, the earliest known copies of the book of Isaiah use Hebrew letters for paragraph divisions. (This was different from the acrostic structure of certain texts following the Hebrew alphabet, such as Psalm 119 and the book of Lamentations.) There are other divisions from various sources which are different from what we use today.
The Old Testament began to be put into sections before the Babylonian Captivity (586 BC) with the five books of Moses being put into a 154-section reading program to be used in a three-year cycle. Later (before 536 BC) the Law was put into 54 sections and 669 sub-divisions for reading.
By the time of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, the New Testament had been divided into paragraphs, although the divisions were different from the modern Bible.
An important canon of the New Testament was proclaimed by Pope Damasus I in the Roman synod of 374. Pope Damasus also induced Jerome, a priest from Antioch, to undertake his famous translation of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the official language of the time. This translation is known as the Vulgate. The Church continued to finance the very expensive process of copying and providing copies of the Bible to local churches and communities from that point up to and beyond the invention of the printing press, which greatly reduced the cost of producing copies of the Scriptures.
Churchmen Archbishop Stephen Langton and Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro determined different schemas for systematic division of the Bible between 1227 and 1248. It is the system of Archbishop Langton on which the modern chapter divisions are based.
It is presently unknown how early the Hebrew verse divisions were incorporated into the books that comprise the Biblical canon. However, it is beyond dispute that for at least a thousand years the Tanakh has contained an extensive system of multiple levels of section, paragraph, and phrasal divisions that were indicated in Masoretic vocalization and cantillation markings. One of the most frequent of these was a special type of punctuation, the sof passuq, symbol for a full stop or sentence break, resembling the colon mark (:) of English and Latin orthography. With the advent of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into English, Old Testament versifications were made that correspond predominantly with the existing Hebrew full stops, with a few isolated exceptions. A product of meticulous labour and unwearying attention, the Old Testament verse divisions stand today in essentially the same places as they have been passed down since antiquity. Most attribute these to Rabbi Isaac Nathan around 1440.
The first person to divide New Testament chapters into verses was Italian Dominican biblical scholar Santi Pagnini (1470–1541), a system that was never widely adopted. Robert Estienne created an alternate numbering in his 1551 edition of the Greek New Testament. The first English New Testament to use the verse divisions was a 1557 translation by William Whittingham (c. 1524-1579). The first Bible in English to use both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible published shortly afterwards in 1560. These verse divisions soon gained acceptance as a standard way to notate verses, and have since been used in nearly all English Bibles.
Unlike the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the structure of the Greek language makes it highly susceptible to being broken up into divisions that would be syntactically inappropriate and even contrary to the sense of the passage. Inexact apportionment of the Greek into verses therefore could easily have obscured the intent, relation, emphasis and force of the words themselves, and thus elicited the most strenuous objections of theologians. The retention of Robert Estienne's verse divisions essentially without alteration is a tribute not only to the inherent utility of his contribution to Bible study, but also to his excellent knowledge of the scriptures and grasp of the fine points of the ancient Greek language.
The following apply to the King James Version of Bible in its modern Protestant form, i.e. including the New Testament but none of the deuterocanonical books.
- There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament and 260 chapters in the New Testament. This gives a total of 1,189 chapters (on average, 18 per book).
- Psalm 117 is the middle chapter of the Bible, being the 595th Chapter.
- Psalm 117 is also the shortest chapter of the Bible.
- Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible.
- There are 23,145 verses in the Old Testament and 7,957 verses in the New Testament. This gives a total of 31,102 verses, which is an average of a little more than 26 verses per chapter.
- Contrary to popular belief, Psalm 118 does not contain the middle verse of the Bible. The King James Version has an even number of verses (31,102), with the two middle verses being Psalm 103:1-2.
- 1 Chronicles 1:25 ("Eber, Peleg, Reu") is the shortest verse in the Old Testament.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16 ("παντοτε χαιρετε", "Rejoice always") is the shortest verse in the original Greek of the New Testament.
- Isaiah 10:8 ("Dicet enim") is the shortest verse in the Latin Vulgate.
- John 11:35 ("Jesus wept") is the shortest verse in most English translations. Some translations — including the New International Version, New Living Translation, New Life Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible and New International Reader's Version — render Job 3:2 as "He said". However, this is a translators' condensation of the Hebrew which literally translated is "And Job answered and said."
- Esther 8:9 is the longest verse in the Masoretic Text. The discovery of several manuscripts at Qumran (in the Dead Sea Scrolls) has reopened what is considered the most original text of 1 Samuel 11; if one believes that those manuscripts better preserve the text, several verses in 1 Samuel 11 surpass Esther 8:9 in length.
- List of omitted Bible verses