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Why Psalm 118:8 Is Not the Middle Verse of the Bible

Web sites, e-mails, and regrettably even some Bibles1 assert that Ps. 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible. But as demonstrated below the claim is incontestably false.

Failure to exercise the prudent care exemplified by the Bereans (Acts 17:10–11) and charged of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:21) only assists and supports the inroads of false doctrine and traditions of men into the life and local church of the Christian. The false claim about Ps. 118:8 as the middle of the Bible—and the propagation of this claim—proves that point perfectly. This paper is a reproof of such negligence. It is a call to diligence.

CLAIM: Which chapter is the shortest chapter of the Bible? Psalm 117.

That statement is true. Psalm 117 consists of two verses.

CLAIM: Which chapter is the longest chapter of the Bible? Psalm 119.

True. Psalm 119 consists of 176 verses.

CLAIM: Which chapter is the center chapter of the Bible? Psalm 118.

False. Over against the longer Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox canons, the common Protestant canon (the canon upon which this claim is based) consists of 1,189 chapters.2 The middle chapter of the common Protestant canon is Psalm 117.

CLAIM: There are 594 chapters before Psalm 118.

False. In the common Protestant canon 595 chapters precede Psalm 118.

CLAIM: There are 594 chapters after Psalm 118.

False. In the common Protestant canon 593 chapters follow Psalm 118.

CLAIM: Combine 594 with 594 and you get 1188.

True.

CLAIM: Which verse is the center of the Bible? Ps. 118:8.

That statement is false by reason of the following:

The body text in English printings of the common Protestant canon generally consists of 31,079 to 31,103 verses with content.3 Textual criticism accounts for the discrepancies.

Textual criticism is the study of a literary work that aims to establish the original text. In the wake of this discipline, up to 23 verse numbers4 from the traditional versification of the NT and/or their content are omitted5 from the body in printed editions of modern translations like the AAT, AMP, CEB, ESV, GNT, GW, NEB, NET, NIrV, NIV, NLT, NRSV, REB, RSV, TLB, and TNIV. The content of these verses will usually appear in text notes or footnotes of the translation. The 1977 NASB and the NASB Update do not omit such numbers or content but bracket the latter to indicate probable absence from the original writings. The practice of the HCSB is similar to the NASB except for Acts 15:34 which the HCSB omits.

Factoring in omitted verse numbers to determine a "universal center verse in the Bible" is not an ethical approach, the approach does not conform to the text-critical conclusions of the translation teams/editorial boards that have omitted certain verses. To overlook or ignore these conclusions yields neither a truthful nor an honest answer.

So What Is the Center Verse in the Bible?

The previous three paragraphs expose this question as significantly flawed. The correct question is, "What is the center verse in my particular translation of the Bible?" The answer to this question depends on how many verses constitute the body of your Bible. Generally, in English printings of the common Protestant canon either the middle verse ranges from Ps. 102:18 (e.g., NEB) to Ps. 103:2 (e.g., NASB Update) or the center falls between two verses (e.g., in the KJV and NKJV Gen. 1:1 through Ps. 103:1 constitutes the first 15,551 verses and Ps. 103:2 through Rev. 22:21 the latter).

However, all such calculated midpoints in our English Bible are practically meaningless. For not only is the current verse division in the NT extrinsic to the autographs6 but also virtually no English printing of the common Protestant canon follows either the book order or verse division of the Tanakh, namely the Masoretic (the traditional Hebrew) text.7 "Knowing the history of our current verse divisions should prevent us from engaging in creative biblical mathematics, claiming divine meaning behind current verse numbers."8


Notes

1 For example, see Ray Comfort, comp., The Way of the Master Evidence Bible (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2003), 788; The New Defender's Study Bible (Nashville, TN: World Publishing, 2006), 924.

2 All such calculations within this paper have been double-checked for accuracy; the present writer bears the full responsibility for them.

3 These numbers are verifiable by manual count and with BibleWorks 8, DVD-ROM (BibleWorks, LLC, 2008). That translations and editions differ on the number of verses in 2 Corinthians 13, 3 John, and Revelation 12 has been taken into account.

Not considered is the 1952 RSV (OT Section © 1952; NT Section © 1946) which, by additionally omitting Mark 16:9–20 and John 7:53–8:11 from the body, contains 31,058 verses. The 1971 RSV (OT Section © 1952; NT Section, 2nd ed. © 1971) has replaced the former. For more information see the preface to the Revised Standard Version (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), xiii–xiv.

The total number of verses with content exceeds 31,103 in printed translations that assign verse numbers to the superscriptions/titles of the Psalms. One such example is Ferrar Fenton, The Holy Bible in Modern English (1903; repr., Merrimac, MA: Destiny Publishers, 1966).

Certain printed editions of the CEB, ESV, GNT, KJV, NEB, NLT, NRSV, REB, RSV, and TLB contain upwards of 36,000 verses owing to their inclusion of apocryphal/deuterocanonical books (NET editions are forthcoming). But this paper is considering only the modern Protestant editions of these translations because the claim about Ps. 118:8 is based on the common Protestant canon.

4 For example, Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:44; Luke 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; Rom. 16:24.

5 Consult Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994) for technical explanations on the side of such omissions from the NT.

6 "The current verse division in the New Testament was introduced by Robert Stephanus . . . in 1551. . . . The first whole Bible divided into the present verses . . . was Stephanus's Latin Vulgate issued at Geneva in 1555. . . . Despite its utility, the system has often been criticized not only because the division sometimes occurs in the middle of a sentence, thus breaking the natural flow of thought, but also because to the reader the text appears to be a series of separate and detached statements. [But] it is too late to change the system." Walter F. Specht, "Chapter and Verse Divisions," in The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, eds. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 89–90. On the division of the versions into chapters and verses E. W. Bullinger writes, "It will thus be seen how very modern, and human, and how devoid of all authority are the chapter and verse divisions which obtain in the versions of the Bible generally, and in our English Bible in particular. Though they are most useful for purposes of reference, we must be careful never to use them for interpretation, or for doctrinal teaching" (How to Enjoy the Bible [1916; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990], 34–35). Bullinger goes on to cite numerous examples of chapter-breaks that interfere with the structure of Scripture as he perceives it.

7 An exception that follows the book order of the traditional Hebrew text is David H. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1998). Another is Fenton, Holy Bible in Modern English. Fenton then oddly orders the NT canon in this manner: John, 1 John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and so forth.

The OT in virtually all English printings of the common Protestant canon consists of 23,145 verses (verifiable with BibleWorks 8). But Masoretic summaries of the past and the definitive edition of the Hebrew Bible today (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) count 23,201 to 23,213 verses respectively. See David Noel Freedman, A. Dean Forbes, and Francis I. Andersen, eds., Studies in Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography, vol. 2 of Biblical and Judaic Studies (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 303–06.

8 Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 29.


© 2002–2016 by Thomas John Dexter. All rights reserved. Commentary subject to change as the author matures in understanding the Word of God and apprehending its personal significance. Contact at tjd.and.vld@gmail.com.

Page last modified October 23, 2014.