Is It Scriptural To Use Page Numbers or Book, Chapter, and Verses?
by David R. Kenney
Occasionally someone asks a question that the answer to should be shared for the benefit of all. Someone asks, “Why do we give page numbers during the Scripture Reading segment of the worship service? Should we not know the books of the Bible?” Some may be tempted to phrase the question in this fashion: “Is it scriptural to use page numbers?”
Without de-emphasizing the importance of book, chapter, and verse preaching (since this is the sole authority of the preacher’s message), and without de-emphasizing the good practice of knowing the books of the Bible and how they fit into the scheme of redemption, let us consider whether or not using page numbers is “scriptural”. By the use of the term “scriptural” many mean whether it has Biblical authority. In answer to this, let me suggest that it is no more “scriptural” to use page numbers than it is to announce chapters and verses. Consider the following from Nichol’s Pocket Bible Encyclopedia:
· The entire Bible was divided into chapters by Hugo in 1240.
· The Old Testament was divided into verses by Mordecai Nathan in 1445.
· The New Testament was divided into verses by Robert Steven in 1551.
There were no chapters and verses in the original manuscripts; therefore, the tradition of using chapters and verses is just that—a tradition. So the same authority exists for announcing chapter and verses as for announcing page numbers. But why announce page numbers?
First of all, it must be made clear that this was the decision of the leadership of the congregation. When the practice was first adopted it was when the men of the congregation decided there were distinct advantages to doing so. This leadership has now been transferred to the eldership. If the elders would deem that this practice was no longer beneficial, they would have the authority to change this incidental method of reading from the Bible. At one time, the preacher was requested to announce the page numbers for all his scriptures during the lesson, but this became too impractical and awkward so it was discontinued.
There are two basic reasons for announcing the page number for the Scripture Reading. The first reason is to ensure that a reliable translation is read from the pulpit. When new pew Bibles were ordered great care was exercised to have a translation that would be more up to date and reliable. No translation is perfect but there are better translations than others. So the practice of announcing the page number and reading from the pew Bible helps ensure that a reliable translation is consistently used and helps keep everyone on the same page during the reading. That does not mean that the New King James is free from errors any more than the King James is free from errors. All translations have errors since they are the works of men. Only the original autographs were error free.
The main reason for this practice is to assist those who do not know the books of the Bible to participate in this part of the service. Imagine if the reader just got up and read without announcing the book, chapter, and verse. How would you feel? You may say “They should announce the book, chapter, and verse so I can read along.” Your point would be valid but why would it become invalid if one uses page numbers? As a mature Christian, we should know the Bible enough to know where the reading is from. Right!? If that is unrealistic, then why is it more realistic to have everyone know the books of the Bible before they walk through our doors? We need to give people the opportunity to grow. I can scarcely remember the days that I did not know the books of the Bible since my parents taught them to me from my youth. Others have not had that blessed opportunity. In Romans 12:10 we find these words “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” Or as another translation puts it: “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honor let each set his neighbor above himself.” (Conybeare & Howson).
Reprinted from The Edifier, Streetsboro, OH: Streetsboro Church of Christ, 14 May 2000.