The Books of the Bible: De-Versify: Organic References?

Greg just showed me a project that I think is fairly interesting: De-Versify. Their goal is to “read the scriptures without any additives.” Now, I do think some of the “additives” can be very helpful and beneficial to scripture reading, but the original Biblical manuscripts didn’t carry with them chapters or verses, so I can appreciate what they are trying to do. There are numerous circumstances where the flow is very stilted because of the interruption of a chapter or even a verse indicator. I am a huge fan of the NASB but the way they have each verse on a different line is definitely not like the original. Eugene Peterson in The Message moved in a good direction by leaving out verse numbers. I am quite a fan of his paraphrase but wouldn’t generally use it for more in depth study.

The De-Versify project has produced The Books of the Bible. Using the TNIV they have created a single column chapter-less, verse-less, and note-less version of the Bible that will flow much better and read much more like the narrative that it is.

This all being said, I just read a blog post over there that has made me questions some of the practical uses of TBofB: Organic References. As the title suggests, they propose that providing scripture references can be done more organically rather than with a specific chapter and verse. While I may agree with certain aspects of that philosophy (I am a HUGE fan of context), I also have some reservations about it. What follows is a comment I left there at that post (you might want to read the post before my comments on it).

I will preface this by saying that I am in full support of the de-versifying project. The original scriptures didn’t need numbers, so we don’t either.

That being said, I think this post gets at the heart of one of my biggest issues. In the modern world of the printing press… or Blackberries and iPhones… we are encouraged by our churches, and I would say the Spirit, to not just blindly follow what the fine chap up front is telling us. We are called to challenge what it is we are being taught by checking things out ourselves. Will this become more difficult if our pastors start using The Books of the Bible?

When pastors quote or make reference to other passages they could, as you have suggested in this post provide the context and surrounding of that particular quotation so the actual verse and chapter is not strictly needed. That is fine and all, but I have two issues with that.

1) For the new Christian who is exploring their faith and who is (hopefully) trying to deepen their understanding of said faith the context might not be enough to let them know where to search out those passages for further research.

2) For the Christ follower who is familiar with the scriptures, it is still a time saver to have the actual chapter and verse. This may be somewhat of an indicator of laziness, but not necessarily. Aside from those with amazing memories, providing the setting for the verse won’t necessarily lead us right to where that passage comes from. In note taking during sermons it is not only a time saver to jot down the chapter and verse, but is actually more beneficial; in the time it takes for me to sloppily write down hints about where to find the verse, the pastor may have moved on to another talking point or may even just be reading that particular passage (which I am not fully paying attention to because I am writing).

This, obviously, isn’t a condemnation of The Books of the Bible, it is just an issue that, I feel, need to be more directly dealt with.

When I read “Isaiah 42” in The Books of The Bible, I can easily see that there is a lengthy oracle that precedes it.

In that one sentence you made reference to a chapter because it was much easier and more succinct than writing out the summary of the content of that chapter.

The other that arises is this: if I provide the context for a passage by saying “shortly after this happened, and before this story” you are opening up the possibility of confusion. What if there are two similar stories or what if someone writes down a detail wrong so assumes you are talking about a different story or location?

The Bible’s books have natural, intentional, literary breaks. Let’s start talking about them. And let’s start practicing referring to them in natural, contextual, literary ways.

I completely agree. The more context, both historical and literary, can be provided in a sermon or study the better. People need to know where the stories are coming from, why they are where they are, etc. But progress (if chapters and verses can be seen as such) is not always a bad thing.

Any thoughts on this issue?

Categories: Religion, Theology
  1. Jae
    March 30th, 2008 at 22:10 | #1

    Props to the Zondervan marketing dept. :)

    “Scriptures, the way they were intended to be read”…
    “Read the scriptures without any additives”…

    So, woe is you if you don’t order a copy of “The Books…” right away! Otherwise you’re reading the Scriptures not as God intended, but with inorganic artificial preservatives.

    Matt, you gotta love the incredible pretense we’re capable of and susceptible to as ‘consumers’ of Bibles…

    Seriously tho, I really do enjoy reading the Bible with chapter/verse markers removed, but such shameful sloganeering takes a tool that could simply be ‘helpful’ and brands it as something ‘necessary’. If that doesn’t reek of peddling God’s word, then I don’t know what does.

    Last but not least, for awhile now the ESV website ( has been offering verse/chapter removal for their translation (at no charge) via their ‘Options’ page. In fact, this has saved me a lot of hassle in working through texts while outlining and parsing for public teaching, reading… etc.

  2. April 1st, 2008 at 14:03 | #2

    Your props should go to IBS, not Zondervan. ;)

    Yeah, I am not a fan of the sensational type headlines. I was talking to Greg about the last night; there are big swings in our ideas sometimes: when we disagree with something we get a new idea and there is a big swing. This is like one of those swings. I would rather see a push to the middle instead of going way out of balance again. This type of Bible is, obviously, a great way to read the scriptures, but that doesn’t mean it is the ONLY way to read the scriptures.

    I have a feeling that the guys over at IBS wouldn’t ever want to “peddle God’s word,” but they should recognize that the way the market things might not always come across the way it should.

    The option over at the ESV is definitely helpful and I am hoping that they might follow suit with a print edition.

  3. April 1st, 2008 at 15:33 | #3

    I like the idea and have been annoyed by chapters and verses because I get confused about paragraphs on occasion, but it’s just another tool. I’ll probably pick one up when they get it in a version I like.

    And as great as it would be to read devotionally or even as a part of your study, in any given church if you said, turn in the book of 1 Kings and the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, pages would be rustling for minutes. Some people would never find it. And that’s not good.

    Or it could be like Bible evolution, the weak are weeded out and only the bible literate survive. Hmm….

    To sum up, yes, what you said.

  4. April 1st, 2008 at 22:18 | #4

    in any given church if you said, turn in the book of 1 Kings and the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, pages would be rustling for minutes. Some people would never find it. And that’s not good.

    Exactly! I am completely down with providing the complete context of the passage, but it just seems silly to leave out the passage. Especially when that takes, what, 3 seconds?

    Heh, I also like your idea of Bible evolution. In my mind I am, somewhat crassly, thinking: “great, get rid of all those nominal Christians!” In reality, there is a pretty dang good chance I would have some serious problems!

  5. April 1st, 2008 at 23:25 | #5

    See my comments on Matt’s post at the link by my name.

    Thanks again for your strong support, Matt (praise, questions and criticism alike)! You rock!

  6. April 4th, 2008 at 21:50 | #6

    This is another response to Paul’s response at his blog:

    Paul said:

    The interaction with the Bible publishing vet is where much of our ‘marketing speak’ comes in. How do you describe something so different in just a couple of sentences, or even just a couple of words? How do you reference about a complex, nuanced idea in a simple way that people will understand? In our attempts to do so, it’s come across shallow for some. This was not intentional on our part, but that is hardly of consequence. It’s a bit like offending my wife. Whether or not I’ve intended to offend her, she’s still offended and it’s a reality I must deal with. In this case, calling it a Bible without additives is less meaningful for some than describing it in it’s fullness.

    I was thinking of how to respond… I wrote a bunch that I thought was fitting, and I really do think it was, but I think it comes down to this: you asked “How do you describe something so different in just a couple of sentences.” I will just be blunt: it could be said “The Bible with verse and chapter notations removed.” It is simple and to the point.

    Obviously it is a more complex issue than just that. But my fear is that using “marketing speak” just puts us in the realm of being worldly. Of course we have to to live in the world and reach those that know the language of the world… which includes marketing language. Does that mean things should be broken down into a catch phrase or trendy slogan? I suppose that could be possible, but is it necessary?

    Going the “trendy” route might be more flashy and get more people to pay attention (which is a good thing), but at what cost? It isn’t exactly a completely truthful statement (of course things have been added) nor does it actually describe how this version is different than other versions.

    I don’t think I would go so far as to say it is bad that particular slogan was chosen, but personally I don’t know if it was necessary.

    As far as the original topic goes (Organic Referencing), it seems that the crux of your argument is this:

    The reality is that it’s much quicker and (at least in the short run) clearer to people where the passage is in the pages of their whole Bible when you put a couple numbers after a book name. But it’s almost always less meaningful. Attaching a numbered reference to the end merely tells you how to find it. But referencing by context tells you what it is as well.

    On this point I completely agree. BUT does that mean we throw out the baby with the bath water? I suppose my argument would be that during a church service it is not going to always be appropriate to use TBotB. YES, context should ALWAYS be provided, but why not show people where they can find the context so they can read it themselves?

    Let me ask this: are you folks recommending that TBotB is the only version used? Or would you say it is more of a companion version?

    I see it as something that can (and should) be used as a study and/or devotional tool, but not as a primary, church going Bible. It is up to the pastor/preacher/speaker/whatever to provide the context, it should not be up to the receiver of the message to figure out where they are pulling the message from (obviously that is somewhat simplified because in many ways, they definitely are responsible for that).

    Tell people where the can find the context, tell people the context, have people read the context. All of it is great, but why remove something that is obviously a helpful tool? Why should we be sold on one way of reading Scripture?

    As far as my experiences go, to be perfectly honest, they have been somewhat limited as of yet. I don’t own a copy yet (poor grad student!) so my experience has been limited to what you have available on your website and my usage of the ESV’s online version that can remove chapter and verse notations.

    That confession said, I love it. I think it is a wonderful way to experience scripture. I love the NASB, but its versing (is that a word?) is horrible! It is definitely very worth while to actually read what the original structure was, to see how the actual paragraphs ans sentences flowed. Definitely a great read!

    I hope I don’t sound like I am being overly harsh, I really do love the project, these are just concerns that I have had in thinking about this approach to Bible reading.

  7. April 5th, 2008 at 18:55 | #7

    Hi, Matt! I hope you are well. Good post. A few months ago I also reflected on the Books of the Bible project:

    In response to your post and the gist of the comments here, I would say (1) that the BotB succeeds despite-and almost in spite of-its marketing claims and (2) that I don’t think the IBS’s intent was for people to use this in public worship settings but in individual reading ans study. It seems a little tangential to critique it based on how cumbersome it would be to use it in church when it wasn’t created for that purpose (unless I missed something in their publicity).

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  8. April 6th, 2008 at 21:10 | #8

    Thanks for your thoughts Jeff. I am not so sure about their intent. It seems as they they are saying that it could be used in public worship. That is one of the questions that I asked. I think that my “issues” really aren’t that important in the large scheme of things, especially if their intent is not to have it a primary source for public worship settings.

    Your analysis at your post is something that I definitely resonate with and I, like you, hope that it will succeed despite their marketing. I also tend to agree with your notes on book arrangement. The rearrangement of the OT I think I can follow. Their reworking of the NT is a little more amorphous. I can understand some of the groupings (Luke-Acts for instance), but others are a bit tenuous.

    Even the issue of grouping isn’t that big of an issue: they have all the books, the translation is solid (not my preference, but decent none the less), and they can be read in their entirety without commentary. So I can dig that.

  9. April 22nd, 2008 at 11:55 | #9

    Hey Matt, sorry it took so long to get your comment published. It is up now and I’ll respond as quickly as I’m able. Chris Smith, a pastor in Michigan who helped with the project, has posted in a similar vein regarding corporate use of TBoTB. Sorry again for the delay.

  10. Luke
    February 14th, 2009 at 18:00 | #10

    Of COURSE a verseless bible shouldn’t be your only Bible… just as reference and study bibles shouldn’t be your only Bible. One commenter on the BOTB site sait it best: he likes seeing the literature “without all the debris.”

    I have long wanted such a bible. I joined in calling for an ESV edition without verse numbers, to which the publisher’s blog responded by mentioning the verseless option on their e-Bible. I bought the original editions of The Message, which were verseless, ref-less, and single-column.

    Heck, it could be printed as standard paperbacks, in several volumes: The Torah, History of Israel, Wisdom of the Old Testament, The Prophets, The New Testament. I’d buy the complete set.

    One of the standard complaints of the publishers is that without the translation footnotes, it’s not an exact translation. The KJV did fine for several hundred years without them; include some boilerplate at the front stating these concerns, and it’ll be fine.

  1. March 30th, 2008 at 10:22 | #1
  2. April 21st, 2008 at 04:09 | #2
  3. March 30th, 2008 at 21:52 | #3

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