After editors cut out this one part of the Bible, it finally started working for me...
“Quiet time” is a phrase Christians use to describe a pocket of the day for Bible Study and prayer. It’s not exactly a direct command of Jesus to have a quiet time, but quite a few churches and para-church organizations teach believers to embrace the discipline.
Over my 30+ years of faith, I've been through several stages of quiet times. When I was taking Precept classes, I embraced my daily homework like a literary scholar, coding, marking, analyzing. Other years I would print off a book-by-book reading plan that allowed me to methodically work my way through so many chapters and verses per day.
My prayer life has swung from free-form communion with my Lord to meticulous charts that break down global, community, and individual needs alongside specific lists for gratitude and praise. Okay, some mornings I've tried to pray while just falling back to sleep, too.
But even though my methods have changed, having a quiet time has often been sort of like exercise. I have done it because it was good for me and I liked the results. Some days, I just wasn’t very excited about getting started.
That’s changed over the past few months. Every day now, I’m itching to sit down for a quiet place to work through my Bible. I’m reading with curiosity and interest, and I’m finding teachings in the Bible I somehow missed in the dozens (hundreds?) of times I’ve read it before.
This change hasn’t come from a new method. It began when I found a Bible without verse and chapter numbers.
I first heard about this concept of a Bible without number markings through the Bibliotheca Kickstarter years ago. I ordered a set for my husband through that campaign, but as much as I adored the artistry of those books, I wasn’t thrilled about switching to the ASV. (Rabbit trail info: My favorite translations for study are ESV or Holman Christian Standard. My favorite translation for beauty is the KJV. My favorite paraphrase for reading is The Message. )
Anyway, when I read that Crossway was releasing a 6-volume reader’s version in the ESV, my ears perked up. I bought a set for my classroom at school, and I let my high schoolers check them out. When a 17-year-old male told me (with a stunned look on his face) that he had accidentally read the Bible for two hours without realizing it, I knew the concept had worked. One of my best friends and I bought each other a set for Christmas, and that’s when I finally got to tear into this new, old way of reading the Bible for myself.
Until they were finally gone, I hadn't realized how much visual distractions were impacting my comprehension, or how much the presence of numbers poking out everywhere gave me a sense that the Bible was somehow mathematical. The numerical quantification of words also caused me to assume that the Bible was empirical more than narrative, and I see now that this was a much bigger deal that I realized.
The versification of scripture also made me more militant about how I used it. Remember how the old fashioned Bible drills told us to “present arms?” There can be a forcefulness to the wielding of amputated Scriptural bullets. By naming book, chapter, and number, I can engage in Westernized dialectics. I can truncate complex stories into linear arguments that may or may not be indicated by the actual source material I am citing.
Once the coordinates for a tiny piece of Scripture were gone, I was immediately forced to explain greater sections of Biblical context to get any ideas across to others. When that happened, I found that I was yanked out of a imbalanced, humanistic dependence upon my own reason and thrown back into the power of a living document that was powerful without my help.
It took me a while to adjust to this. I felt disarmed and uncomfortable for several weeks. But now I see how it often feels more respectful of the Scripture’s power and of my listeners hearts to orient conversations around images and themes instead of simply numbers.
Even more importantly, I hadn’t realized how those numerical divisions were determining how I interpreted various passages. If I am reading a versified Bible, when a given chapter ends, I have several tendencies:
First, I can have a sense of “reaching my goal,” and then stopping my reading, no matter what comes next.
Secondly, I can subconsciously assume that the end of a chapter is the end of a Scriptural idea, which is not necessarily true. So many times, the flow of a section of Scripture moves beyond the end of a chapter, and I just wasn’t able to see this fully until those divisions were gone.
Thirdly, a versified Bible keeps me bound to the clock. I don't know why, but it does. Just like my student noticed, I tend to lose all sense of time when reading a words-only Bible. I just melt into it like I melt into a good novel, sinking into the rise and the fall of the picture the author is painting. This allows me to dance with my Lord while reading, listening to His guidance for where to stop and when to keep going. This pushes me into a more relational reading of the Bible instead of just jumping through hoops. I find myself in more regular conversation with him as I read, waiting for the “slow down here” or the “dig here” or the “reread,” or the “this is enough for today.”
I felt a little strange when I first realized how big of a difference the reader's version was making for me. In fact, for a while I kept comparing my verseless Bible with my versed Bible to make sure the words were really all the same. It just felt so different, and this difference was a disorienting. I almost felt like I was doing something scandalous like Jefferson with his infamous razor.
Then I realized that the verseless way of reading the Bible is closer to the original text than anything I’ve ever read before. As you might have already guessed, chapter and verse numbers weren’t in the original manuscripts of the Bible. In fact, from what I understand, our present chapter divisions didn’t exist until Stephen Langton added them in the 12th century. Before this, subdivisions of Scripture existed as early as the fourth century. Robert Estienne divided chapters into verses in 1551. So since the publication of the Geneva translation of 1557, the Bible has used a similar breakdown (bible.org). Over the past few months, I’ve begun to wonder if adding those numbers was a more serious step than our early fathers realized.
Now that I've told you my story, let me leave some room for possible differences in the body of Christ here. (The last thing the Church needs is another us vs. them debate.)
First off, it's possible that the presence of numbers impacts some personality types more than others. Also, I’m not sure if I would feel as strongly as I do if I hadn’t already had years of Bible training (with scores of commentaries and Bible classes), which helped me collect the broad strokes of how the Scriptures work.
What I do know is that taking the visual clutter out of the Bible has been revolutionary for me. It’s changed how I study the Bible, and it’s changed how I feel about studying the Bible. If you feel stuck lately, maybe this little change will help the same happen for you.