QUESTION: Why are some chapter and verse numbers in the Hebrew Bible different from English Bibles? For example, in the book "Malachi" the Hebrew bible goes all the way to 3:24 and the NIV, King James etc... only go to 3:18. Why?




Sometimes the chapter and verse numbers are different between English translations and the Hebrew Bible/Tanach.  The verse and chapter numbers were added hundreds of years after the original authors wrote.  The chapter numbers were added in the Medieval Period and the verse numbers were added in the 16th century AD/CE.  By the time these were added, there were already translations of the HB/Tanach in existence, like the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was done from 275 BC/BCE to 105 BC/BCE.  At about the same time the chapter numbers and the verse numbers were being inserted into the Hebrew text, scribes and printers were inserting them into the Septuagint.  More people had access to/knew Greek than those who knew Hebrew, so the English translation tradition tended to follow the numbers in the Septuagint.  The numbers are especially different in the books of Jeremiah and Psalms, but minor differences such as the one you ran across in Malachi also exist. 


Now, on the Malachi issue in particular, what has happened is that a whole new/additional chapter number has been inserted.  4:1-6 in the English Bible corresponds to 3:19-24 in the HB/Tanach.  In other words, the content of the TEXT is the same, and the only difference is the way the two traditions insert the chapter and verse numbers.  My opinion: it was dumb that the two different traditions ever started in the first place, but dumb things happen when people are doing their own thing and not talking to one another (like whatís been going on for hundreds of years between the Jewish and Christian communities), and now weíre too late to change it!  Thankfully, thatís not the case with every issue!


Wave Nunnally, Ph.D.




The chapter numbers for our English Bibles were invented by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, between AD 1200 and AD 1228. The verses were created by Robert Stephanus in 1550. Thus one should not make a big deal about all the 3:16ís, etc., in the Bible. The SBL Handbook of Style has a listing of all chapter and verse differences between the Hebrew and English versions of the Bible. Many of the Psalms are off by one verse, for the Hebrew Bible often designates the superscription as verse 1.


In addition, the order of the Hebrew Bible is itself different. Bear in mind the fact that all of the books of the Bible were written before the invention of books sewn on the side (known as a CODEX). We have the right books in the Bible, but the order is not inspired.


William P. Griffin, Ph.D.