Numbering the Bible is a relatively recent invention in the history of Sacred Scripture.
Christians around the world are accustomed to citing the Bible by chapter and verse. However, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, dividing up scripture in this manner is rather new and developed only recently during the past several centuries.
Considering that the book of Genesis dates to about 1,400 BC, the invention is something that Jews and Christians did not have for many years.
It took until the 13th century for a Catholic cardinal in England to divide up the sacred text into the chapters we are familiar with today. Prior to that, the Bible was copied on individual scrolls. The Old Testament was already separated into paragraphs and sections, but did not have a specific numbering system. Also, traditionally both the New and Old Testaments were transmitted orally. In particular, chanting sacred scripture was an ancient way of passing on the words of Divine Revelation to the next generation. Christians learned this method from the Jewish people, who have been chanting the words of scripture for thousands of years.
For this reason, in ancient and early medieval homilies, there is no citation of biblical verses. Quotations from scripture came from memory or were copied from scrolls or books used by clergy and religious. The laity did not have access to any physical copies and passed on the Bible to their children from what they heard at Mass as well as through the artwork seen in paintings and church architecture.
Then everything changed with Cardinal Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 13th century. He divided up the Latin Vulgate into chapters, upon which all other modern Bibles have based their own numbering system. Later, it was the work of Robert Estienne, a Protestant layman in the 16th century, to further separate the Bible into verses. He is often credited as the first person to print the Bible with verse numbers in each chapter.
Ever since, Bibles everywhere have been produced with chapters and verses to help all people study the words of Sacred Scripture.
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