As we mentioned a while back we’re about to release the New American Bible (NAB), one of the more popular Catholic editions of the Bible. While most people understand that Catholic and “protestant” Bibles differ in the number of books they include in the canon, few realize some of the other differences and how this affects Bible software.
You may not realize it but not every Bible uses the same verse numbering scheme. As a simple test, look up 3 John 15 in a variety of translations. You’ll find that some Bibles have 15 verses in 3 John and others put the content of verse 15 in verse 14.
One of the easiest places to see this in the NAB is in the Psalms. Virtually every Psalm is numbered differently from the KJV. The NAB is not unique in this respect. There are many other Bibles that share this numbering scheme. The main difference between the NAB and KJV is that the KJV tends to treat the titles of the Psalms as titles whereas the NAB treats the title as a verse. So in the KJV the title is displayed above verse 1, where in the NAB the title is verse 1 and the text of the Psalm begins in verse 2. See Psalms 3-9 for examples.
This causes some headaches for Bible software. If you open the NAB and another Bible, like the NIV, you’d like the two to scroll together so that as you’re reading a verse in the NAB you can see the same verse in the NIV. If we’re not careful, though, we’d show you the wrong verse in a book like the Psalms. You’ll note that we are careful, though, so that when you’re looking at Psalm 3:2 in the NAB we’ll take you to 3:1 in the NIV.
This scrolling behavior is only one manifestation of the versification issue. Features like bookmarks and notes are affected. If you place a bookmark on a verse, we assume you are bookmarking the content, not the number. That is, if you go to that bookmark in another Bible, you expect to see the same or similar words, not just the same verse number. Same with your notes: If you add a note about a specific word or subject that is mentioned in a verse, then when you view the note while reading a different Bible you expect it to be attached to the verse that contains that word or subject.
This may all sound like part and parcel of the Bible software business, but it’s not. Consider another Bible program, which we’ll refer to simply as “O”. When you go to Psalm 3:2 in the NAB using O, you read “How many are my foes…”. If you attach a bookmark to Psalm 3:2 NAB, then later go to that bookmark in the NRSV, you’ll be taken to a verse that reads, “many are saying to me…”. This is 3:2 in the NRSV but is 3:3 in the NAB.
Two Bibles may identify the content of two verses using the same verse number, but the numbers appear out of order. Take a look at Proverbs 3. In your Bible, verse 35 probably comes after verse 34 (seems reasonable). In the NAB, verse 35 comes after verse 24. The chapter then continues with verses 25-34.
This doesn’t cause PocketBible to skip a beat. Notes and bookmarks associated with verse 35 will show up on verse 35 regardless of the translation in which they’re viewed. Unfortunately it’s not that easy if you use product O. It places verse 35 after verse 24 just fine. But then it skips verses 25-34 entirely and takes you to chapter 4 verse 1!
The NAB treats some of the deuteroncanonical books differently than even the NRSV, which also includes them. In the NRSV, for example, you have the books of Daniel, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. The NAB includes the latter three books within the book of Daniel.
In the NAB, the book the NRSV calls “Azariah” is inserted between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24 (which the NAB then calls 3:91). Susanna (NRSV) is Daniel 13 (NAB), and Bel (NRSV) is Daniel 14 (NAB).
This creates three problems. First, while the NRSV and NAB both have verses called Daniel 3:24-30, they are not the same verses. A bookmark on Daniel 3:24 NAB definitely shouldn’t be attached to Daniel 3:24 NRSV. Second, not only are they different verses, they’re entirely different books! A note on Daniel 3:24 NAB actually should appear when you view Azariah 1:1 in the NRSV. Third, since Bibles like the NIV don’t even have the Prayer of Azariah, the note on 3:24 (NAB) should not appear at all when viewing the NIV.
Fortunately, as a PocketBible user you don’t have to think about all this. While reading Daniel 3 in both the NAB and NRSV, you’ll see the NRSV switch to Azariah when the NAB gets to 3:24. The bookmark you set on Azariah 1:3 will take you to the verse that has the same content in the NAB, which is 3:26. And of course the bookmark won’t even be visible when you’re reading the NIV, since the NIV doesn’t contain that verse.
The users of product O aren’t that fortunate. While reading Daniel 3 in both the NAB and NRSV, the NRSV happily scrolls to 3:24 when you get to verse 24 in the NAB. This is confusing, since the contents of 3:24 (NRSV) discuss a subject that doesn’t come up in the NAB until verse 91. And when you get to 3:31 in the NAB things get really weird, because the NRSV doesn’t have that verse so you see it go to Daniel 1:1. And none of the bookmarks you set in Azariah take you to the matching verses in the NAB’s version of Daniel. (Actually you can’t even go to any verses other than verse 1 in Azariah, Susanna, or Bel with product O unless you first go to verse 1 then scroll down to the subsequent verses.)
Esther, Esther, Esther! What a mess. In the NRSV, there are two versions of this book. The “extra” version is the Greek version. It begins with chapter 11 verse 2 and ends with chapter 11 verse 1. I’ll let you think about that for a while… it doesn’t start with chapter 1, it starts with chapter 11. And it doesn’t start with verse 1 of chapter 11. It saves that for the very end. Instead it starts with verse 2.
Don’t try to figure that out if you own product O, in which this “extra” version of Esther inexplicably starts with chapter 1 verse 1.
About the time you think you’ve figured Esther out, you get to the NAB. The NAB inserts extra material which it calls chapters A-F in various places in the book of Esther. Chapter B is the craziest. Its first seven verses appear between Esther 3:13 and 14 and its last two verses appear between Esther 4:8 and 9. Now this is a little weird, but when you compare it to the NRSV you find there are paralells. It’s not a perfect match, but it’s close. For example, B:1-7 NAB correspond to 13:1-7 in the “extra” Esther in the NRSV.
As you expect by now, PocketBible handles this extremely well. A bookmark on Esther (Greek) 13:2 NRSV will take you to B:2 NAB. And of course bookmarks on Esther (Greek) 13:2 NRSV in product O don’t take you anywhere in the NAB.
I’m not picking on product O. It is, after all, just an illustration. But if there really was a product O and you were to wonder why we were giving them so many hints on how their program could work better, keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of variations like the ones I’ve described above. The table in our code that drives the conversion between Bibles is 976 lines long and documents over 150 versification variants on the 88 books contained in the 21 Bibles we support. Getting this right is the result of being in this business for over 18 years. That’s not something you can duplicate after having read a blog article.
I’m also not picking on the NAB. It has been a fascinating Bible to work on. Whether you’re a Catholic or just an interested student of the Bible it will be a valuable addition to your library.
There’s no right or wrong way to “versify” the Bible. The original documents contained no verse divisions and in some cases, not even any sentence or paragraph divisions. How one translating team chooses to organize their numbering scheme is up to them. We just publish what they give us.