No original Bible manuscripts contain chapter or verse divisions, so when were they first introduced?
In antiquity, Hebrew texts were divided into paragraphs. These paragraphs were identified by two letters of the Hebrew alphabet that acted much as a book end: one indicated a paragraph was ‘opened’ — it began on a new line — while another character indicated the paragraph was ‘closed’, and began on the same line after a small space. The Hebrew Bible was also divided into some larger sections. Neither system corresponds with modern chapter divisions.
Chapter divisions (with titles) first appeared in a ninth-century manuscript, the so-called Bible of Rorigo, but it’s very unusual.
The first systematic division of the Bible was first attemepted adopted in the early thirteenth century. The idea came from the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton and a colleague, Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro. We retain their divisions to this day.
The first person to divide New Testament chapters into verses was a Dominican scholar, the Italian Santi Pagnini (1470–1541), although his system was never widely adopted. Perhaps people thought his verse divisions were too long; they were certainly much longer than those known today, so there was little point in his approach. The verses needed to be shorter.
Robert Estienne devised an alternate numbering system in his 1551 edition of the Greek New Testament, which he reproduced in his 1553 French edition of the Bible. Estienne’s divisions were widely adopted, so we duplicate his system in most modern Bibles today Estienne’s verse numbers appeared in the margin of his Bibles. His 1555 edition of the Latin Vulgate Bible was the first to actually include the verse numbers integrated into the text.
The first English New Testament to use Estienne’s 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 so-called Geneva Bible published soon afterwards in 1560. These verse divisions were accepted as a standard way in which to notate verses, and have since been used in nearly all English Bibles and the vast majority of those in other languages.