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. in Hebrew Bibles is numbered as in Christian translations.
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.
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.
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.
Versification exists as a convenience to the reader. As an aid to memorization, or as a means of finding the same lines during a discussion, versification may be useful. However, it may also lead toward the conclusion that only a few lines need be taken together in order to interpret them. The impulse to conceive of verses as independent, isolated units of meaning is strong, despite efforts on the part of Biblical scholars to discourage this.
Some scholars contend that any statement in the Bible should be understood in its own context. Interpretation of isolated verses often leads to misunderstandings that would be clear if the same words were studied in context.
A fortiori this applies for parts of verses. For example, the Bible says: "There is no God." The complete sentence, from , reads, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The meaning, in context, is quite different from the meaning, in isolation, of the last four words.
Some sentences in the Bible are divided across several verses. As an example, says, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," in the King James Version. However, this verse is only part of a longer sentence spanning verses 22-25.
The following apply to the King James Version of Bible in its Protestant form, i.e. including the New Testament but none of the deuterocanonical books.