Q. Did the Bible always have chapters and verses?
During the Middle Ages, when Jews were compelled to take part in disputations with Christians, both sides needed to quote the sources of the Biblical passages that were under discussion. In the late 13th century the Christians subdivided the Latin translation, the Vulgate, into chapters. Before long, Rabbi Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymos of Provence compiled a Jewish Bible concordance, Me’ir N’tiv, completed in 1445 and published in Venice in 1523. He utilised the Christian subdivision into books, chapters and verses, despite its defects.
The same was done in the late 15th cent. by Eliyahu Levita (“Eliyahu Bachur”) in his HaBachur. He justified the use of the Christian subdivision on the basis that it would help Jews when they had to debate Christian scholars. Later on, the now standard rabbinic Bible, Mikra’ot G’dolot, used the system found in the work of Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymos.
Problems with the Christian version include the number of the Psalms. Though the Christian enumeration has 150 Psalms, Jewish tradition said there were 147, combining Psalms 1 and 2, 9 and 10, and 114 and 115 (Massechet Sof’rim 16:11). The Christian version, some suggest, deliberately looked for 150 Psalms for the sake of a monastic order which worshipped 150 times daily (Rabbi Pesach HaCohen Finfer, Massoret HaT’nach).
Another difference is found in passages which Christian thinking regarded as prophesying the Messiah. Hence Jeremiah 3:1 is the beginning of a new chapter in the Christian version, where the Jewish version sees it as the continuation of the previous verse.
(This material is based on Rabbi Dr Yaakov Vainstein’s essay, “The Chapter Division of Our Bible – Is it of Non-Jewish Origin?” in the Jewish Review, London, 10 Jan., 1962.)