In Defense of Open Borders
No, this article is not discussing whether a wall, fence, or slatted structure should be built on the United States’ southern border; instead, it deals with borders created by Stephen Langton and Robert Stephanus. While these names are unfamiliar to most, Bible readers have become accustomed to the borders they created long ago. Langton, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207-1228 is credited with devising chapter breaks within the Bible and Stephanus, a printer in the 16th century, is credited with creating a system of numbering verses. Through their efforts, Bible readers, teachers, and students have been given an easy way to reference the portion of God’s word under consideration. What, though, if the borders were removed? Would the approach to reading the Bible be any different?
In regard to the latter question, I undertook the challenge to read a version of the Bible with no chapter or verse breaks as a part of my daily Bible reading in 2018. It only took about a week of reading to realize that, from my perspective, the answer to this question is yes! Below, I will share some of my observations, as well as some suggestions, regarding use of an “open border” Bible:
- Clarity of Context: For most Christians, certain chapters are ingrained in memory (e.g., Genesis 12 – promises to Abraham; I Corinthians 13 – the “love” chapter). As one reads a Bible with chapter and verse breaks, these chapters are anticipated. Interestingly, when chapter and verse breaks are removed, these sections of God’s word can take the reader by surprise. This is very helpful in getting a richer understanding of the Holy Spirit guided context. For me, the biggest “surprise” was Isaiah 53. While I have read this chapter many times and heard it referenced even more in comments before the Lord’s Supper, it was amazing to read it unexpectedly. The beauty of the thought became even more profound.
- Ease of Storyline: While most novels are divided into chapters, imagine reading one divided into verses. While there may be one out there, most are written so that the author’s storyline flows without interruption and is easily identified by readers. While the Bible is certainly not a novel, God has chosen to include biographies of many people throughout history. The absence of breaks greatly aids in reading these accounts. The book of Genesis stood out to me as the best example of what is being described. I found the accounts of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph highly enjoyable to read in this style.
- “Where did that come from?” Another exciting part of open border reading is finding information that has received little attention in the past. Most any Christian who spends time with his or her Bible will attest to this no matter what type of Bible is used, but reading with no verse breaks deterred skimming. For example, I must confess that I often “skim” genealogies in my daily reading. I found, though, that in at least some of these genealogies I was missing nuggets of gold buried among the names. Tying in with the previous point, I also found details I had previously overlooked when reading biographical accounts of past saints and villains.
- A Letter Reads Like…A Letter: Though handwritten letters are quickly becoming a thing of the past, there is still a rush of anticipation when one arrives in the mail. Such correspondence reveals knowledge from the writer and is styled to get the information across in an understandable way. Much of the New Testament is composed of letters written to individuals and churches. Reading these with no breaks helps to read it as the original audience would have read it when their letter arrived.
Based on the above observations, consider a few suggestions:
- Before teaching or studying a book in a Bible class, read it with no breaks: I began this long before taking on last year’s challenge and have found it very helpful in my teaching. It helps to provide a good overview of the material under consideration. If possible, conduct this reading in one sitting. While the length of some books would make this nearly impossible, many are short to moderate in length. Remember, the purpose of this reading is not for in depth consideration of points that might be made in class; it is a time to grow more comfortable with the book.
- Set a goal for daily reading: While what follows sounds quite contradictory to the point of this article, it is important to determine how many pages you will read daily. The reason for this is simply for the purpose of procrastination prevention since procrastination can lead to one beginning, but never finishing a reading program. The exact number of pages may vary based on what part of the Bible is being read, but a threshold number of pages to read daily is important if you plan to finish in a year.
- Record your thoughts after you finish reading: These do not need to be elaborate, but simply something you may have never noticed before or a question you would like to consider in the future. Often, the things we think we will never forget are forgotten quickly. Notes are a good preventative!
- Don’t throw away your border Bible: While reading without borders is quite helpful, this does not mean there is no value in chapters and verses. These divisions provide an easy way to reference where information is located. There is a place on the shelf for both styles!
As Paul wrote to Timothy, he stated, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). Every child of God should allow His word to grow more dear each passing day. All should be committed to reading His inspired message in order to grow in holiness and to live as He instructs. May we each commit ourselves to becoming not only effective students, but also effective readers of His message to us.