Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Guest Post: Old Testament Verse Numbering Differences

Thanks to Gerald for this helpful post.  This is of interest to me, particularly due to an issue that always pops up when I am teaching books of the OT, most notably the prophets.  The RSV/NRSV follow the Greek verse numbering, while the NABRE follows the Hebrew.  This occurs at various points, for an example compare the chapter and verse differences in the Book of Joel.  This would be one area that I wish the NABRE folks would reconsider before the complete NABRE revision process is completed.  Now, on to Gerald:

One thing that we Bible readers inevitably deal with is the numbering of the Bible verses in the Bibles that we have. Though the numberings are not part of the Word itself, it has been a great help to Bible readers since they were devised from the Medieval times.

But the problem now exists: For instance, when we saw a nice Biblical verse cited on a display, we initially look into its verse numbers so that we can look for that verse that catched our attention in the Bibles we hold.
HOWEVER, unfortunately, Bible verses numbering is not that uniform for all the versions of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. In this post, I would like to discuss about this matter. Being particularly aware with these differences, comparing across versions will be a lot easier to deal with. You may ask on how I became aware of these.

Being a long-time Bible reader, my reading plan has been entirely Lectionary-based approach. In the case of the US Lectionary, which is based on the New American Bible, following the Mass readings outside of the NAB is a laborious task to settle. Perhaps this occurs to the most of us. For every Bible version I owned, I had always tweaked my list of American lectionary readings, thanks to Fr. Felix's site: http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/OT-Statistics-Compared.htm

(1) So now, let us now proceed to the main topic of this post. Generally, there are two major Bible verse numbering schemes that are present:
*Hebrew numbering - this is the system used in the Hebrew texts and is used mainly by versions made by Catholics.
*Geneva/KJV numbering - this is the numbering that was first used in the Medieval times and was subsequently applied to the King James Version. Most Protestant versions of the Bible exclusively use this system. That being said, Protestants don't often encounter problems in numbering differences.
How to know: Check Genesis 32:1. If you read Laban kissing her grandchildren, then your Bible follows the Hebrew system. Otherwise, your Bible follows the Genevan system.

(2) But not only the two systems are the source of divergence. Psalms, in particular present a very interesting case. Though using both systems the whole Psalter would still yield a count of 150, the divisions of the Psalms differ.
For the numbering of the Psalms itself, there are two systems:
* Hebrew system - the one used in the Hebrew text. This is the system exclusively used by Protestants.
* Greek system - the one used in the Septuagint and subsequently the Vulgate. Most Catholic version in the past and Orthodox versions use this system.
How to check: If the Psalm of the Divine Shepherd is numbered Psalm 23, then you are using the Hebrew system. If it is numbered as Psalm 22, it is the Greek numbering.
In summary, these are the differences in the numbering of the Psalms.

(3) In addition, the individual numbering of the Psalm verses also differs. I have not came across with the technical terms with the two approaches, so I might only give them my personally-devised terms.
* The "Short" approach - In this approach, every Psalm verse begins at 1. All the words after the Psalm number which describe the Psalm are not numbered. This is the system that most Protestant versions use.
* The "Long" approach - In this approach, unlike the Short approach, all the words describing the Psalm are likewise numbered together with Psalms itself. Thus, in this system, you find the Psalm verses starting at number 2 or 3.

How to check: Find the Miserere (Psalm 51 in the Hebrew, 50 in the Greek). If the opening verse, "Have mercy on me..." begins at verse 1, then you have the "Short" approach. If it begins at verse 3, you have the "Long" approach.

Combining the two peculiarities in the Book of Psalms, we find a bewildering array of differences:
Here's how the opening verse number of the Miserere appears:
Hebrew Original [Heb+Long] :                  Psalm 51:3
Septuagint/Vulgate [Gk+Long] :               Psalm 50:3
King James Version [Heb+Short]:             Psalm 51:1

(4) With the different arrangement of the Deuterocanonicals in different versions, either being separated from the Hebrew Protocanon or being integrated in the Old Testament. As a Catholic, I obviously preferred the integrated approach. Having said that, a particular incident affecting these differences is the verse numbering of the Songs of the Three Young Men.
 * The “Separated” numbering – Azariah began to speak at verse 1. This is the numbering you’ll find if the Deuterocanon is separated from the Hebrew Canon (Protocanon, to be exact).
* The “Integrated” numbering – Azariah began to speak at verse 24. This is continuing the count from the Aramaic Daniel 3:23.
Note: Bible versions also differ on numbering of the parts of Daniel 3 after the Songs of the Three Young Men. Some revert to the Hebrew general system of counting (i.e. Daniel 3 ends at verse 100 in the Integrated count). Some revert to Genevan counting (i.e. Daniel 3 ends at verse 97 or verse 30 in the Separated count)

(5) Esther, also presents a very interesting case. Let me share a bit of history about the two arrangements:
* The Vulgate arrangement - When St. Jerome translated the Book of Esther, he chose to separate the Hebrew parts apart from the Greek glosses, as he initially deemed it non-canonical. But the Greek glosses eventually became canonical anyways. Jerome’s arrangement of Esther is one that we’ll see in the Latin Vulgate, and subsequently the Douay-Rheims, and probably all versions translated from the Vulgate. When the Bible was numbered during the Medieval times, it was numbered according to this layout. In this arrangement, it seems that Esther is misarranged. In this layout, the Greek glosses are numbered continuously from the Hebrew Esther.
* The Original Greek arrangement – In aim to read Esther in its proper and full Greek arrangement, modern versions of the Bible reverted the Greek glosses to its rightful sequence in accordance with the original Greek layout. Final product is, Hebrew Esther is mixed up with Greek Esther arranged according to Greek Esther. In this arrangement, Greek glosses may still be numbered according to Vulgate, (thus, Dream of Mordecai starts as verse 11:2), or the Greek glosses are designated by lettered additions in order of appearance (for instance, the Dream of Mordecai is designated as Chapter A.)
How to check:
1.     If your Esther begins at “During the reign of Ahasuerus…”, you’ll probably reading with the Vulgate arrangement.
2.  Otherwise, if it begins with the Dream of Mordecai, you are dealing with the Greek arrangement.

(6) And finally, Sirach is a book that is particularly the most difficult book to handle. There are several arrangements in this book:
* The Greek/Latin layout – In this layout, the full version of Sirach is presented, that is, no verses are missing from the main text. This is the layout used in versions based from the Vulgate.
* The Hebrew layout – Due to recent Biblical scholarship primarily from the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was later found out that some verses in the Greek/Latin Sirach were already glosses to the original Greek/Latin Sirach. In this arrangement, you’ll see some verses left out from the main text.
* The NRSV layout – This is a layout only peculiar to NRSV. This is essentially the Hebrew system, however numbered very differently. If you’ll read the Preface of the NRSV, they said that the numbering comes from Joseph Ziegler as used in the Gottingen Septuagint.
How to check: Look for Sirach 1:5 and 1:7 in your Bible. If you find them, it is the Greek layout. Otherwise, you are dealing with the Hebrew.
To check for the differences, go on this link (this might be copyrighted): http://www.bombaxo.com/vulgatenrsv.html

To summarize, here are the verse numbering schemes in different Catholic versions:

1)     General Numbering:       Genevan
2)     Psalter:                         Hebrew + Short
3)     Song of Three Youths:  Separated + Genevan
4)     Esther:                          Original Greek (additions numbered from Vulgate)
5)     Sirach;                          Hebrew (2CE returns some glosses)

1)     General Numbering:       Hebrew
2)     Psalter:                         Hebrew + Long
3)     Song of Three Youths:  Integrated + Hebrew
4)     Esther:                          Original Greek (NAB: lettered additions / JB: small-lettered additions)
5)     Sirach;                          Hebrew

Vulgate / Douay-Rheims / Knox / Nova Vulgata
1)     General Numbering:       Hebrew
2)     Psalter:                         Greek + Long
3)     Song of Three Youths:  Integrated + Hebrew
4)     Esther:                          Vulgate
5)     Sirach;                          Greek/Latin

Good News Translation
1)     General Numbering:       Genevan
2)     Psalter:                         Hebrew + Short
3)     Song of Three Youths:  Separated + Genevan
4)     Esther:                          Original Greek (Lettered Additions)
5)     Sirach;                          Hebrew

1)     General Numbering:       Genevan
2)     Psalter:                         Hebrew + Short
3)     Song of Three Youths:  Integrated + Genevan
4)     Esther:                          Original Greek (Vulgate Numbering)
5)     Sirach;                          NRSV

Hope you find this post very helpful! Thanks for reading!


Gerald de Belen said...

Thanks Tim for the prologue!

Anonymous said...


Dominic1752 said...

Good stuff!

CarlHernz said...

Great post, Gerald, and thank you for your hard work.

I do have some bad news for Tim, though. Because the 2025 NABRE will be adjusted to follow the guidelines of Liturgiam Authenticum, the numbering in the NABRE such as in Joel will NOT be changing. (I know, I know. I love my NRSV very much too.)

The numbering found in the NABRE follows the Hebrew numbering (such as found in the JPS Tanakh), and so does the Nova Vulgata. Since translations are asked to follow the numbering of the Neo-Vulgate as part of adherence to Liturgiam Authenticum, the numbering scheme will thus remain.

It appears this is the trend for the future as Christian Biblical scholars are now working side-by-side with Jewish ones in ways never before attempted. And as a result it seems that certain aspects of older traditional renderings, such as favoring the Greek numbering over the Hebrew is being abandoned. Add to this the fact that every book of the Old Testament (except Esther) now exists in a proto-Masoretic Hebrew form. We even have the Deuterocanonicals attested to in Hebrew, though most in part, due to the discovery of the Dead Sea and Masada texts. The Greek numbering system is no longer efficient in the light of these textual witnesses.

Out with the new, and in with the old...so to speak.

Timothy said...


Perhaps the fine people working on the NABrE will at least provide a footnote indicating where there is a departure. I am not as optimistic that we will see a wholesale switching in future English translations to the Hebrew numbering as you are. Thankfully the fine people who worked on the NRSV (and RSV) include the notes alerting the reader.

Gerald de Belen said...

Carl Hernz comes in, it's my pleasure...

Carl's remarks in numbering patterned after NV is indeed mandated by Liturgiam Authenticam.

That being said, we expect the 2025 NABRE to:

1) Number Greek Esther glosses accdg to Vulgate numbering

2) For Sirach glosses, one compromise is that they will not remove the perceived Greek glosses in the main text, provided that they will be enclosed in brackets, just as how they did to dubious New Testament verses. It will surely happen as some of contested Greek glosses were included in the Lectionary. For instance, 1st Reading on the 7th Monday of Ord Time Year I cites Sirach 1:1-10, which obviously includes the contested verses 1:5 and 1:7. That being said, the 2025 NABRE will be compelled to include them in the main text.

Dealing with skipping verse numbers in Sirach has not been useful to readers ever since, might as well, include the Greek glosses to provide continuity of count.

citizen DAK said...

Interesting post indeed, thank you.
It does open up a can of (related questions;) These are nitpicky, please forgive this huge stream-of-consciousness comment:

* Which numbering-system do other "current" documents use (in various countries), especially the CCC and Lectionaries?
[I'd have guessed the Nova Volgata, but my (green-covered USA edition of) CCC refers to the RSV & NRSV on its copyright page - so probably also uses the numbering from RSV(ce)?]

* Do these diverse numbering-systems cause difficulty for commentaries?
[e.g. the Didache Bible's... Is this part of why Verbum doesn't yet offer that commentary as a separate add-on, which I imagine would simultaneously work with both NABRE and RSV2C (& some dynamic-equiv') e-books? (...interlinear view would be nice too.)]

* Is there a resource in Verbum/Logos which clearly explains all these differences? [If not: Hint Hint. I assume the company has had to address these issues in their software development, so they already have the info.]

* Does Carl's post imply that the NABre uses the same system as the N.V.? In other words, does N.V. use different numbers than the older Vulgate - or is the article's summary correct?

* Also, which do other language Catholic Bibles use?
[e.g. http://www.catholicbiblesblog.com/2015/05/guest-post-bible-versions-in-spanish.html ]


CarlHernz said...

I'm with you, Tim, that I think a lack of acknowledgment in the NABRE footnotes is a mistake. I also don't mean to imply that all future translations will follow the Hebrew numbering as I have it on good authority that there is a camp of translators that are likely to see this as being inconsiderate of the KJV tradition which has done much to shape both Christianity as a whole, not to mention the English language. Protestant versions will not too soon be dismissing the numbering found in the NRSV. But Catholic translations will likely continue down this path, which is all the more reason I like your idea of some footnote helps, Tim.

Citizen DAK, I have noted that Church documents in the past five encyclicals do not favor any existing Englsih translation available. Some have claimed that the RSVce was being employed, but I have actually gone through and marked them out and checked them. Encyclicals quote the NV, and as such follow their numbering (I know this because I've become lost trying to look up Scripture texts more than once).

Lectionaries are using the NV as does the CCC, with one major exception. The Lectionary uses the NAB text in the U.S. unless the NAB translation from the Hebrew or Greek would not represent what is found in the Latin of the NV. (An example would be Luke 1:28 where the Greek uses "favored one," but the Latin renders this as "grace aplenty," which gets rendered as "full of grace.") The CCC does the same, quoting the NV, but allowing the RSVce or NRSVce to take its place UNLESS this does not accurately represent the Latin.

It should also be noted that neither the RSV or NRSV are being quoted In full in the CCC. If you read the copyright page closely, you will see that the CCC is merely "adapting" these translations to fit the NV. So what you currently read in the Lectionary and CCC are but adaptations of either the NAB or (N)RSV, but never exact quotes. There translations are used only where they closely follow the Latin, abandoned and modified where they do not, and always using the numbering of the NV in both the CCC and Lectionary.

This DOES cause confusion in commentaries (but they explain this at beginning, such as the Collegeville series does in its opening pages). Other versions in other languages have a similar non sequitur numbering history, but newer ones are following the direction of LA and following the Neo Vulgate. The latest revision of the official Italian Catholic Bible (the CEI) is what our NABRE will likely soon become. The text is modern, the scholarship top-notch, but NV differences settle main readings (such as Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 1:28) to match with the Liturgy. And the numbering is a match with the Latin text. The CEI is, in my humble opinion, the perfect example of what a Catholic translation of Scripture into the vernacular should be.

Gerald de Belen said...

Thanks to Pope JPII for issuing this very helpful instruction. I remember one time, I watched a YouTube vid explaining the Liturgiam Authenticam. It was explained there that JPII being a very known polyglot had "reportedly" found himself confused in conducting Masses in areas he traveled. This is manily because the translation of each territory vary widely from each other due to loose translations, as the video remarked, "It's not in the Latin."

It was claimed that this inconsistency brought our dearly Saint JPII (perhaps with strong support to Prefect Cardinal Ratzinger of the CDW, i.e. Pope Emeritus Ben XVI) to release this instruction to solve the inconsistency and to promote unity of translations with respect to Latin.

Being said, I suppose only the English Missal only underwent a major revision since the Novus Ordo was released. As I had observed with European Romance languages, their version of the Missal almost follows closely the Latin Ordo. Prehaps this is due to these languages deriving from Latin.