Last or First? - Part 1

September 4, 2021

But many who are first will be last, and the last first (Matthew 19:30).

This text forms a natural bridge between the encounter of Jesus with the rich young man who inquired about eternal life but went away grieving because he thought the cost was too high, and The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The former reveals the principle governing entrance into the Kingdom, while the latter illustrates the application of that principle.

Some scholars believe this verse is improperly placed - that it should be the first verse of chapter 20 rather than the last verse of chapter 19. Understand that in the original canon of Scripture there were no chapter and verse designations. The books of the Bible were written narratives, like letters we write to each other. The Bible was divided into chapters and verses to help us find passages of Scripture more quickly and easily. It is much easier to find John 3:16 than it is to find for God so loved the world. . . . In a few places, chapter breaks are poorly placed and as a result divide content that should flow together. Overall, though, the chapter and verse divisions are very helpful.

The chapter divisions commonly used today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton put the modern chapter divisions into place in around A.D. 1227. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since the Wycliffe Bible, nearly all Bible translations have followed Langton’s chapter divisions.

The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in A.D. 1448. Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses, in 1555. Stephanus essentially used Nathan’s verse divisions for the Old Testament. Since that time, beginning with the Geneva Bible, the chapter and verse divisions employed by Stephanus have been accepted into nearly all the Bible versions.

Does this add to or take away from Scripture? Not in the least. Chapter and verse designations have nothing to do with translation or interpretation. They are simply tools that help us locate certain texts more readily. So, while Matthew 19:30 fits the flow of thought better if it were Matthew 20:1, in reality it would flow better if there were no chapter and verse designations at all (which is how we should read Scripture).

“Father, Your Word is truth. You have, through Your Holy Spirit and through the church leaders of the past, ordered and affirmed those texts that form the canon of Scripture that we have today. The Bible is not only the miracle of inspiration, but also the miracle of preservation that we should be able to possess our own copy to study and learn the ways of true spiritual faith. Thank You, Lord, for this wonderful gift of spiritual light and life. Amen.”


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