Can you imagine reading your Bible without the chapter and verse numbers?
The chapters and verses weren't present in the original language manuscripts. (Manuscripts are copies of the biblical texts made over and over.) In the earliest translations of the text into Latin, these divisions were not present either.
It wasn't until about 500 years ago that Scripture was divided into chapters and verses. They were added for our convenience.
These were universally adopted and the chapter and verse numbers are the same for all Bible versions. If you are in a Bible study group and someone reads from the New International Version (NIV) and someone else reads from the English Standard Version (ESV) and another from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and yet another from the King James Version (KJV) - you can all follow along!
Chapter #s added: Chapter numbers were added first. Stephen Langton, who was a professor at the University of Paris and later the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the common chapter divisions around the year A.D. 1227 into the Latin Vulgate. The first English Bible to include this chapter pattern was the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382. Tradition says these chapter numbers were transferred to the Hebrew Bible. (The Hebrew Bible text is our Old Testament.)
[Note some manuscripts from as early as the 4th century did have some chapter divisions. But the universally accepted chapter divisions were created by Langton in 1227.]
The printing press was invented about A.D. 1445.
Verse #s added:
Old Testament - The Hebrew text was further divided into verses about A.D. 1448 by a rabbi named Nathan.
New Testament - The New Testament standard numbered verses were added about A.D. 1551 by French printer Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus. He added them to the Greek New Testament.
The chapter division for the Old and New Testament in 1227 by Langton.
The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 included chapter divisions.
Printing press invented about 1445.
The verse division of the Old Testament in 1448 by rabbi Nathan.
The verse division of the New Testament in 1551 by Stephanus.
The Latin Vulgate was published in 1555 with chapters and verses.
The Geneva Bible (the first published English translation of the Bible) published in 1560 employed these common chapter and verse divisions which we still use today.
Passage Headings: Later Bible translators also added passage headings to the Bibles. These passage headings are not universal in all Bible versions.
In the above picture the headings at the beginning of Romans chapter 5 is "Results of Justification" in the NASB; "Peace with God Through Faith" in the ESV and "Peace and Joy" in the 1984 NIV. The translators added these headings to give us an idea of the theme of the passage we are about to read.
Dividing the original text into chapters and verses within those chapters has proven to be very helpful for reference, Bible study, and verse memorization. They make it easier to find certain accounts and passages in the Bible. We can't imagine them not being there!
However, there are some problems with dividing Scripture this way. It chops up the continued thought and teaching of a passage. The chapters and verse numbers sometimes awkwardly break the flow of the passage. I am sure you have noticed as you read how a verse suddenly ends mid-way through a sentence or an idea. Reading just a verse can lead to taking it out of context.
The Bible has a unified body of teaching and we should always let Scripture interpret Scripture. An important Bible study habit should be not to just read a verse or two, but to back up and to also move past the verses you want to read to get the sense of the entire passage in context. I've heard this called 20-20 vision. Go back 20 verses and ahead 20 verses to get the passage. Of course they don't mean actually 20 verses before and ahead, but the idea is to read enough to understand the context.
We have gotten the impression the Scripture should be read in bits and pieces. This is not how it was written and is not how it should be read. I am currently studying the Sermon on the Mount and I see how those 3 chapters flow together into one teaching. It starts with the blessings and builds on those ideas - taking them deeper into a more profound context for our lives. There are a number of short books in the Bible which can be read in one sitting. For the longer books, try to read an entire account of a person or event or teaching at one time.
Biblegateway.com will let you turn off the verse numbers. To do that go to settings and you will be given page options of cross-references, footnotes, verse numbers, headings, and red letter. Uncheck verse numbers if you want to try reading without them. I check red letter because I like the words of Jesus differentiated from the rest of the text. It might be worth experimenting to see if it changes your reading experience not having the verse numbers on.
Bottom line though is we love our chapter and verse divisions and they make reading the Bible so much easier for us!