The Readable Bible series

This ‘Readable’ revision of the King James Version of the Bible is intended to address a very significant problem. The Bible has for many centuries been the single most popular and most often quoted book in the world. It is undoubtedly a work of important historical interest and of great value to a wide range of potential readers, both theological and secular. But in its traditional form, with constant interruptions created by chapter and verse numbering, it is virtually unreadable as a narrative work of literature.

The original biblical manuscripts did not contain the chapter and verse divisions with which we are now so familiar. The books of the Bible were first separated into chapters in about 1227 CE by Stephen Langton, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Wycliffe Bible of 1382 CE was the first translation of the entire bible into the English language, and it was the first bible to use this new chapter pattern.

The division of these chapters into verses came over 200 years later. A Jewish rabbi named Nathan divided the text of the chapters of the Old Testament into verses in 1448. The chapters of the New Testament were split into verses in 1551 by the French scholar Robert Estienne. His verse divisions were first used in his own Greek edition of the New Testament, published in 1551.

The goal, of course, was to enable particular sections of the scriptures to be quickly and easily referenced to enable them to be more easily discussed and studied. However, this stilted and incontiguous style had a significant negative impact on the readability of the book. In the early twentieth century, the American academic Ernest Sutherland Bates wrote, “Certainly, no literary format was ever less conducive to pleasure or understanding than is the curious and complicated panoply in which the Scriptures have come down to us. None but a work of transcendent literary genius could have survived such a handicap at all.”

This artificial segmentation of the bible’s narrative also lends itself to convenient but often misrepresentational quoting of small sections of the text. The result is disagreement about the intention and meaning of the quotations, which in turn leads to endless confusion and conflict between religious sects and individuals. Removal of these distractions helps restore continuity and context, and consequently aids the reader’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the stories.

In particular, an intended consequence of this de-cluttering of the biblical text is to enable it to be seen and judged in a clearer light. Despite its reputation as the authoritative, accurate word of God, and an infallible source of objective morality, the open-minded and un-biased reader will now be in a position to see very clearly the frequent contradictions, confusions and frequent immoral instructions and behaviour throughout many areas of the Bible – particularly in the Old Testament. It is important for us to be well aware of this aspect of the texts and to take this fully into account when considering how we respond to its advice. It is therefore hoped that this revision will be of similar value to people of all religious persuasions, from devout Christians to affirmed atheists.