At the beginning of each year I have my students read Chapter 3 (“Inkblots and Puzzles”) of Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet. Without fail, the following quote provokes an interesting dialogue:
“When publishers provide a Bible where the only divisions are chapters and verses, as if each verse were a new paragraph, reading the Bible as a story is much more difficult. Take your favorite novel or book, photocopy a page, cut out each sentence, number each sentence, and then paste them back onto a page with each number beginning at the left margin, and you’ll see the problem. It’s much harder to read a book that way. One has to wonder what got into the head of the publishers who started doing this. It’s a colossal mistake.” [pg. 45-46]
McKnight’s point is that the Bible should be read as a story, despite the fact that we have often created the following “shortcuts” to reading the Bible:
Shortcut 1: Morsels of Law (reading the Bible as a rule book)
Shortcut 2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises (reading the Bible as a devotional)
Shortcut 3: Mirrors and Inkblots (reading the Bible to see our own opinions reinforced)
Shortcut 4: Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind (reading the Bible through a pre-determined systematic theology)
Shortcut 5: Maestros (reading the Bible with a ‘canon within a canon’ such as reading the Gospels through Pauline categories)
Along the way, McKnight makes the point that chapters and verses were added to the Bible well after it was compiled as a canon and that this decision often goes unquestioned. He claims that this has had a negative influence on the average person’s ability to comprehend the Bible, going as far as calling it a “colossal mistake.” For McKnight, dividing the text into verses tempts readers (and preachers) to divide the Bible up into small soundbites and lose sight of the larger literary and narrative context. Do you agree?
How is one’s reading influenced by the addition of (sometimes arbitrary) verses & chapters? Are there any good reasons to include verses & chapters besides making it easier to locate specific texts? Should we get rid of the chapters & verses in our Bibles?