Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Variant Versification

Robert Stephens’s 1551 edition
gave us our NT verse system.
A few days ago I stumbled across a case of differing versification. If you check your NA or SBLGNT, you’ll find that the phrase Γράφω ὑμῖν, παιδία, ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν πατέρα occurs at the start of 1 John 2.14. It’s the same in Tregelles, WH, and Merk. But if you are dutifully reading your Robinson-Pierpont text (so as not to miss any Byzantine readings), you’ll find this phrase at the end of 1 John 2.13. That’s also where it is in Elzevir, Mill, Wettstein, and Tischendorf.

A quick email to Maurice Robinson alerted me to Ezra Abbot’s collation on verse division. In all, he catalogs 71 cases of variant versification in 60 editions or translations. (And here I was thinking I had found something unique.) In the case of 1 John 2.13–14, the discrepancy goes back to Theodore Beza who seemed to struggle a bit with decisiveness. In 10 editions, he is split 5-5 on where to put the phrase in question.

In fact, it seems that quite a bit of the blame for the variation that exists is due to Beza. Here’s what Abbot says:
Beza followed Stephens’s [1551] division into verses, with some variations, in the first edition of his Latin translation of the Greek Testament, published at Geneva in 1557 (this is the date at the end of the volume; the title-page is dated 1556), already referred to as the second volume of Robert Stephens’s Latin Bible of that year. In his first edition of the Greek New Testament accompanied with his Latin version and notes, Geneva, 1565, fol., and in his numerous subsequent editions, Beza deviated much more frequently from the verse-divisions of Robert Stephens; and his editions had great influence in giving currency to the use of the division into verses, which soon became general. His variations from the division of Stephens were largely followed by later editors, especially the Elzevirs, who also introduced others of their own (p. 466).
I asked Dirk about the Tyndale House GNT and he said there were quite a few places where he would have liked to adjust the verse boundaries but didn’t.

I’d like to know if this causes any problems for Bible software.

(Abbot’s collation is also found in Tischendorf’s Prolegomena for those who prefer Latin.)


  1. So that is what you needed the 1551 edition for!
    May I point out the versification example in John 1, which I discussed a few years ago (at

    1. That's great, Jan. Thanks for sharing. I also wonder what role typesetters had in Beza's inconsistency. Re: 1 Jn 2.13-14, my first thought was that maybe Stephanus used marginal verse numbering and that the problem was due to someone not being sure where the break between vv. 13-14 should be. Obviously one look at Stephanus 1551 falsified that hypothesis.

  2. As Abbot mentions at the end of his list, there are still other examples. The 71 examples in his list are only those places of versification difference between Elzevir (1633), Tischendorf's 8th (1869-72), and Stephens 4th (1551). One of the more noticeable additional differences is whether και εσταθη/εσταθην επι την αμμον της θαλασσης is included at the beginning of Rev 13:1 or as a separate verse (12:18) preceding it or as part of 12:17. When the phrase is included in either 12:17 or 13:1, there is no 18th verse in chapter 12. But I'm curious and can't verify this for myself at the moment, it looks like in the BibleWorks (ver. 10) software that Stephens has the phrase in 13:1 and Tischendorf has the phrase as 12:18, which should then be another example in Abbot's list. But like I said, at the moment, I can't verify this in the actual print edition or online images to see if BW10 has represented this versification in these GNT's accurately.

    This different placement of this verse can be seen by comparing NA28 (12:18) to Robinson-Pierpont's majority text (13:1)... or in English, by comparing KJV & NIV (13:1) to RSV & ESV (12:17) to NRSV (12:18). This versification difference results in the total number of verses in John's Apocalypse being either 404 or 405. This is not a situation of a textual variant causing a verse to appear missing (e.g., Mark 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; 15:28) based on Stephen's numbering. This is simply a difference caused by the division of verses. (Note for clarification, there is a textual variant regarding εσταθην/εσταθη as to whether John or the dragon is standing on the sand, but that's the presence or absence of the single letter nu, not the whole phrase.)

  3. Cf. also

  4. "I’d like to know if this causes any problems for Bible software."

    Yes. Yes it does.

    1. Rick, I was going to ask you to chime in. Can you share any examples?

    2. Before Rick comments, I would note that the problems involved (mostly regarding search issues) are the specific reason why the various electronic NT Greek texts that I prepared were adjusted intentionally to follow only one system of versification (which happened to be that of the Berry Interlinear).

      Obviously, the RP Greek editions directly reflect that particular system, while NA/UBS tend to follow that found in WH.

    3. The larger issues come from differing versifications between, say, the LXX and Hebrew editions (esp. Psalms, but several other locations), but folks in academia are mostly aware of those. Essentially, we (Logos/Faithlife) create a 'map' for each translation, and then convert to/from maps as necessary when navigating. The mentioned example at Rev 12.18/13.1 is one that jumps out. Also, note Gal 2.20 start boundary in NA/UBS vs. most modern English translations.

  5. The Vulgate OT is versified quite differently than the MT, especially with all the apocrypha added in. Some electronic Bibles let you see the different verses, others hide them and have to be hacked to show them (eg. go to the following verse and click "show previous verse")