It's pretty well universally accepted that Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 represent one view of the story of creation and 2:3 - 25 a second.

And yet, when Stephen Langton instituted his chapter scheme in the 13th Century, he must have had a motivation for separating the chapters as he did.

What was that motivation?

  • 1
    I think it was Bart Ehrman who suggested that Robert Stephens' pen must have slipped on occasion while numbering verses as he was riding a horse at the time. But that doesn't answer the current question. It might not be possible to answer the question as chapter divisions were likely for the benefit of the scribes and readers of the texts rather than for interpreters. Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 20:07
  • related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1190/… Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 11:05

5 Answers 5


This is just a hypothesis, since I can't see into the mind of the person who split the chapters, but even with verses split the way they are into the chapters, the second chapter still is noticeably shorter than the first. In general, the chapters are usually divided such that they are a relatively even amount of words per chapter throughout. So he could have just been trying to pick the best split point he could that wouldn't make the second chapter horribly short compared to the other chapters, and without having an even odder split in the following chapter. Its certainly not ideal, but I suppose after six days of doing something, splitting at the sabbath being in the next chapter would be less awkward than making the split after four or five days.

  • Chapter length was not a consideration. For instance, chapter 24 is roughly four times longer than chapter 23.
    – user2672
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 7:45

As I wrote on a related question, Ziony Zevit, in his 2013 What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?, offers a compelling reason (p. 76):

The (mis)division benefited those celebrating the Lord’s Day, sometimes called the Christian Sabbath, on Sunday, the first day of the week. Thus severed for Christian reading, Sabbath on Saturday became associated with the Garden story and the Fall. When read liturgically in the synagogue, the creation story from Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3 is read straight through as a single unit. In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath, from Friday sundown through Saturday sunset, is considered the culmination of creation.

To understand this, you need to know something about the history of the division into verses, paragraphs and chapters (from my linked answer):

The original Hebrew text did not have a division in chapters (see Chapters and verses of the Bible on Wikipedia). There is controversy as to whether the division into verses (with the sof passuq, a symbol resembling the colon) is of ancient origin; the Talmudic tradition says it is.

Further divisions stem from the Masoretic tradition of the Middle Ages, although some claim it goes back to oral traditions and reflects ancient readings. These divisions include petuchahs and setumahs. A petuchah is indicated with the letter פ peh in the running text; a setumah has the letter ס samekh in the margin and starts on an indented new line. Generally, a setumah consists of several petuchahs. However, in the case of the creation story, there is a petuchah break between 2:3 and 2:4 and a setumah break in the middle of 2:4. At the end of chapter 1, there is only a petuchah break.

Because of this and other textual issues there is disagreement among scholars where the two stories should be separated. In the latest relatively competent Dutch Bible translation, the NBV 2008, a section heading was placed in the middle of 2:4. However, I believe the translation team has decided to move it back to the end of 2:3.

Separating the stories at the end of 2:3 seems to be in favour at the moment, although as I said there is still disagreement. The main reasons for not separating 2:4 are:

  • The verse indications are the most original and therefore must be respected.
  • 2:4b is a subordinate clause ("on the day that YHWH God made earth and heaven") which cannot be a standalone sentence and cannot be prepended to 2:5. Therefore, it assumes the context of 2:4a.

The main reason for separating 2:4 is:

  • 2:4b repeats 2:4a, therefore it would be unnecessary if it came from the same source.
  • Interesting. I wonder, had Stephen Langton placed the chapter division in the middle of 2:4 instead, if less people would have understood the seven days literally, as in 2:4 the word "generations" would be applying to them.
    – Matt White
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 12:29

The question is why Stephen Langton placed a chapter division where he did, rather than between Genesis 2:3 and 2:4, given that it is pretty well universally accepted that Genesis 1:1-2:3 represent one view of the story of creation and 2:3-25 a second.

Langton made these decisions long before the advent of modern critical scholarship, which had its genesis (excuse the pun) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. David M. Steimle (Preliminary Biblical Studies, page 40) says that his decision to end chapter 1 where he does, was based on the exegesis of his time. Since that time, scholars have identified two entirely different creation stories in chapters 1 and 2, and even identified the two sources believed to be responsible for them.

  • 2
    Steimle makes the claim but offers no explanation or source for it. What exegesis would make sense of this awkward division?
    – Schuh
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 4:19
  • @Schuh Simplistically, 1:31 finishes of the six days of creation, and is therefore (on that exegesis) a good place to end: And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. On the 7th day, God admires his handiwork and rests, followed by what was thought to be a summary account. Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 4:54

Chapter 2 begins by describing the events of the seventh day of creation:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ), because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 ESV)

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. The word holy is וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ which is sometimes translated as consecrated. One element of the meaning is to set apart (Strong's 6942)

The remembrance of the seventh day is that it is to be set apart from the other six days:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

Whether or not it was intended, the Chapter divisions in Genesis 1 and 2 follow the command to set apart the seventh day. The first six days are found in Genesis 1 and the seventh day is found in Genesis 2.

If this was intentional, then it was to apply the command to the fullest extent possible: a division was placed so the written word of the seventh day was truly set apart from the first six days. If it was unintentional then it can be seen as done through inspiration from the Holy Spirit who understood the significance of having the division.


Is it mere coincidence, or did Langton see hidden pictures of Christ in the scriptures and divided the chapters at the high point of each picture?

Gen 1 ends with The man and his bride (Christ and the church)

Gen 2 THe man and his bride naked and unashamed

Gen 3 Christ is the "way" and the Tree of life the cross.

Gen 4 Seth has an "only begotten son" named Enos (man) and people once again called on the name of the Lord. Certainly a high point of the chapter.

Gen 5 Lamech means powerful Noah means rest and he has three sons. After Christ comes in power there is the rest of God (Trinity). Shem (nmae) represent the Father whose name is Holy. Ham (hot) whose zeal for his house consumed him. And Japheth (Opon) who gives the increase of the church as the gates of heaven were opened and the dove descended upon Christ and the church.

Gen 6 Noah/Christ did all the Father told him.

Gen 7 Noah/Christ in the flood/grave

Gen 8 The promise of the rainbow, also a symbol of the cross.

Gen 9 Noah's ages at death hold a picture of God's church with Christ

Gen 10 Genealogies showing the fruitfulness of Christ and the church from the end of Chap 9.

Gen 11 Babel is a picture of the cross ending with Christ's fruitfulness hidden in the genealogies.

Gen 12 Contains a cross scene where Abram is afraid to die. Ends with the earth rejecting Christ and the church after the resurrection. This is a rapture scene.

Coincidence or by design ? The Archbishop was an accomplished theologian and commentator on the Bible. It is more likely that he had theological motives than mere page sizes for the divisions.

If he had full awareness of the sodim, Genesis 1 would have been extended into 2.5.

This will make an interesting study someday.

  • A few more chapters like this and it might be considered evidence that Langton saw sensus plenior.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 4:05

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