Stephan Langton and the Bible

By David Langton

18 February 2010

If you pick up a Bible you will find that some of it was written by Stephan Langton. To be precise he wrote all of the chapter numbers, not the most interesting thing you'll ever read in the Bible but indispensable for finding your way around the Bible or referencing it. Concordances or indeed the internet would be of no use without the chapter numbers.

Stephen Langton was a native of Lincolnshire but became a lecturer at the University of Paris at a time before Oxford and Cambridge Universities existed. He was a teacher of the Bible writing commentaries and a preacher of sermons, hundreds of which have survived over eight hundred years. For those of you who enjoy medieval latin jokes, he was nicknamed Stephen Linguatonam meaning tongue of thunder, Linguatonam being a word play on the name Langton.

It was probably because of his own need to find his way around the scriptures and reference them that he divided the Bible up into chapters. It is often said that he did this in the year 1205. This chapter numbering was so useful that it stuck making its way into protestant translations such as Wycliffe's hand written one, as well as being in the latin vulgate.

In time the chapter numbers even made their way into the Hebrew text used by Jews. Such a system was clearly needed as it seems even the writers of the New Testament understandably struggled without a reference system.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote 'pou tis legon' literally, 'someone somewhere saying' Heb 2:5. The quote he was searching for is Psalm 8 4-6. What is man that You are mindful of him.

If you want to know what the Bible was like without chapter divisions try the following exercise and try not to think of chapter and verse if you happen to know them. The questions get progressively more difficult. Answers are further down the article. Without using a concordance or indeed the internet, find the following in the bible:

  1. The three wise men.
  2. 'In the beginning'
  3. 'These have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him you may have life.' John’s gospel.
  4. 'For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.' John’s gospel.
  5. Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus, 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God.'
  6. 'Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions…and with his stripes we are healed.' Isaiah.
  7. The saying of Jesus often known as the golden rule, 'Therefore whatsoever ye woulde that men shulde do to you, even so do ye to them.' Often known as, do unto others as you would be done by. One of the gospels.
  8. 'Appoint a king to rule over us so that we will have a king over us as other countries have. Samuel was displeased at their request for a king….This is how your king will treat you Samuel explained to them He will make soldiers of your sons….Your daughters will have to make perfumes and work as his cooks and bakers…He will take a tenth of your corn…you yourselves will become his slaves.' Samuel
  9. 'With a loud cry Jesus breathed his last.' One of the gospels.
  10. Jesus’s saying: 'It is more blessed to give then to receive.'

The first printed translation with the chapter numbers in was Tyndale's New Testament of 1526. The verses were added later and were the work of a printer Robert Estienne who added them in the evenings in inns he stopped at travelling from Paris to Lyon. He didn't do it on horseback as is sometimes stated. The verses first appeared in Estiennes Greek text of 1550. The first English Bible with the verses was the Geneva Bible 1560. From there they made their way into the Authorised Version a revision ordered by King James I because he hated the Geneva Bible. James holds the distinction of being the last monarch to have someone - a Baptist - burnt at the stake for their religious beliefs.

We take the Chapter numbers in the Bible for granted. It was Stephan Langton that gave the world this very necessary tool. Well done Steve!

  1. Matthew 2. Well that was easy it should be at the beginning because it concerns Jesus Birth. Note nothing about 'three' wise men and the text is not clear that they were all men, it could have been a mixed group of men and women.
  2. AV It could be Genesis 1 or John 1 both are correct.
  3. John 20 Good News Bible
  4. John 3 Good News Bible. This is perhaps the most famous verse in the world. Did you find it impossible to keep the reference 3:16 out of your head?
  5. Isaiah 9 AV. That was more difficult
  6. Isaiah 53 AV
  7. Geneva Bible Matthew 7
  8. I Samuel 8. Good News Bible
  9. Mark 15 NIV
  10. Tyndale's translation Acts 20. So who was looking in the gospels? What a mean trick to play on you. On the other hand could your family find it?