Doug at CoffeeSwirls takes our recent post about punctuation and runs with it:
Personally, I would love to have a Bible with only the books to separate the text as well. Especially for the writings of Paul! The translations really butcher his thoughts with the numbering, if you only read from one verse to another. The English translation shows Paul to be a man who wrote rather long sentences, and it is not uncommon for one string of thought to take up two verses and more.
I have had a thought concerning this: What if a respected translation such as the ESV were to put out a Bible with no change in words, but with the verses renumbered. Yes, it would take some getting used to. But I think it would pay off spiritually in the end….
A personal undertaking, or an open source project could be done, not unlike the NET Bible, but they want to be accepted by the community. The KJV doesn’t have the burden of copyright any longer, so that could be a place to start. But the time involved to produce a Bible that would likely not catch on beyond a small group of people who only use it for personal use may not pay off. It would, however, be a beneficial exercise for the individual and would enhance Bible memorization with a fuller sense of immediate context.
Doug, you’re right that no Bible publisher is likely to renumber the verses of the Bible; there’s too much extrabiblical material keyed off the current verse system. But there’s still room for innovation within the current verse framework.
The Dilemma in a Nutshell
Bible publishers face a dilemma when designing a Bible: verse numbers need enough prominence to help readers find a particular verse quickly, but the numbers need to fade into the background during extended reading.
Some translations occasionally combine verses. Take the CEV: it doesn’t separate Jude 24 and 25 into separate verses. This passage in the CEV reads (we’ve indicated what is traditionally verse 25 in bold):
Offer praise to God our Savior because of our Lord Jesus Christ! Only God can keep you from falling and make you pure and joyful in his glorious presence. Before time began and now and forevermore, God is worthy of glory, honor, power, and authority. Amen.
In the ESV, this passage reads (again, verse 25 is in bold):
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The CEV translators felt that rearranging parts of the verses made more sense for their audience, “grade schoolers, second language readers, and those who prefer the more contemporized form.” Read their explanation for more background.
Marginal Verse Numbers
Other publishers take this approach a step further. Some Bibles omit in-text verse numbers entirely in favor of marginal notes showing what verses each paragraph covers. With this approach, Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV) would look like:
4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
On the less-extreme end, Bible publishers can also print verse and chapter numbers in a lighter color (gray, for example), to help the eye skip over them. Some non-ESV editions take this approach.
Do It Yourself: An Experiment
Electronic Bibles don’t face the same limitations as printed Bibles. Don’t want to see verse numbers, section headings, or the words of Christ in red? Turn them off.
Indeed, as Doug hints, you can produce something to help you with your personal study: take Philippians 1 without paragraphs, verse numbers, headings, or footnotes (Word document). Now add paragraphs where you think they should go. (Don’t look at the paragraphs in an existing Bible.) Where does Paul begin a new thought? Where does he build on previous thoughts? An exercise like this one can increase your appreciation for a book’s structure and argument. Paragraphing this chapter might take about fifteen minutes to half an hour.
Now share your re-paragraphing. Leave a comment on this post and paste your re-paragraphed text into the comment. If we get enough responses, we’ll see if any patterns develop. There are no wrong answers, so don’t be shy.
Once you’ve commented, feel free to compare your re-paragraphing to the paragraphing approaches taken by the ESV (and by other translations). See if you can figure out why the translators chose to break paragraphs where they did.
It would be interesting to learn whether the paragraph breaks vary by translation—do people who re-paragraph the ESV tend to have more or fewer (or different) paragraphs than people who re-paragraph the CEV? For this exercise, however, we’d like to stick to the ESV.