Understanding Bible Verse Number References (With 9 Examples)

A page from the Bible that shows the corner where the verse reference is visible

When you hear someone mention “John, three, sixteen” from the Bible or if you see it written “John 3:16,” you’re looking at a Bible verse reference. These help us know where in the Bible to find that specific passage.

What do Bible verse numbers mean? Bible verse numbers are a way to reference a specific passage in the Bible. The basic pattern is the name of the Book, the chapter number followed by a colon, and the verse number. For example “Genesis 1:3” refers to the book of Genesis, the first chapter, and the third verse.

Basic Bible verse references are pretty straightforward, but there are several variations and exceptions to this basic pattern. Here are 9 examples of the most common types of Bible verse references.

If you’re looking for more practical steps on how to read the Bible, you might be interested in this article: What is the Best Order to Read the Bible? (Link opens in a new window). In it, I share the 15 books in the Bible to read to get an overview of the main storyline of the Bible.

Table of Contents

1. Consecutive Verses

Gen. 1:1-3

The Bible is a collection of 66 books. Each book is divided into chapters. And each chapter is divided into verses.

The above reference refers to the book of Genesis, the 1st chapter, and verses 1 thru 3. The names of the books can be abbreviated. If someone were reading the Bible out loud, they would say: “Genesis, one, one to three.” It’s also not uncommon to hear something like: “The first chapter of Genesis, verses 1 thru 3.” There isn’t one definitive way to say it. It’s mainly a matter of making it clear and simple for readers and listeners.”

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen. 1:1-3)

2. A Selection of Verses

Psalm 119:9, 11

Whenever there is a comma in the reference, what follows it is a verse or multiple verses in the same chapter.

Sometimes the Scripture reference can include a selection of 2 or more verses. The example above references the book of Psalms, the 119th chapter, and both verse 9 and verse 11 in that same chapter. This reference would not include verse 10.

9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word…
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:9, 11)

Also, a reference can be made to a lot of verses in that same chapter. For example: Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26. This would refer to 7 different verse in that same chapter of Genesis 1, each verse separated by a comma.

3. A Combination of Consecutive and a Selection of Verses

Matt. 6:25-27, 34

This example references verse 25 to 27 and then also verse 34 of the 6th chapter of Matthew.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?… 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt. 6:25-27, 34)

4. An Entire Chapter

Psalm 23

Sometimes, the verse numbers are not specified when the reference is to an entire chapter of the Bible. For example, “Psalm 23” refers to the book of Psalms, the entire 23rd chapter. So Psalm 23 means the same thing as Psalm 23:1-6.

By the way, you might hear it referred to as “Psalm twenty-three” or “The 23rd Psalm.” For the book of Psalms, instead of referring to each one as a chapter, they are often referred to as a Psalm. There are 150 chapter or 150 Psalms in the book of Psalms.

5: All The Verses Following

Luke 15:11ff

When you see “ff” after a Scripture verse, it means “and following.” The above reference would refer to verse 11 and following, which in the case of Luke 15, would be to the end of the chapter at verse 32.

Luke 15:11ff is the same as Luke 15:11-32. Sometimes, it’s just simpler to say where the reference starts and then say it’s the verses following that one. When it’s not necessary to be very specific in which verses are meant, “ff” is sometimes used. Some people avoid it because it is more vague.

6. Books with Numbers Before their Names

1 Cor. 13:1-13

There are few books that have a number in front of the names. For example, there is a book called “1 Corinthians” and the book right after it is called “2 Corinthians.” The above reference would mean the 13th chapter of the book “1 Corinthians,” verses 1 to 13.

This would be spoken as: “First Corinthians, chapter 13, verses 1 through 13.” Sometimes, but less common, people might say: “One Corinthians” instead of “First Corinthians.”

Books of the Bible that Have a Number in Front of Their Names

1 Samuel1 Corinthians1 Peter
2 Samuel2 Corinthians2 Peter
1 Kings1 Thessalonians1 John
2 Kings2 Thessalonians2 John
1 Chronicles1 Timothy3 John
2 Chronicles2 Timothy

There is a book called “1 Corinthians” and the book right after it is called “2 Corinthians.” The above reference would mean the 13th chapter of the book “1 Corinthians,” verses 1 to 13.

Look out for 4 books in the Bible that have the name “John” in them. There is “John,” which is sometimes referred to as “The Gospel of John.” Then there are 3 letters (or epistles) that John wrote: 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. People usually call these “First John,” “Second John,” and “Third John.” Note: John 4:18 is not the same as 1 John 4:18!

7. An Exception: Books That Are Only One Chapter Long

Jude 24-25

Jude 24-25 refers to verses 24 and 25 in the book of Jude. Since there is only one chapter in the book, the chapter number is not mentioned.

There are 5 books in the Bible that are only 1 chapter long. These usually skip the chapter number and are only followed by the verse numbers.

5 Books in the Bible That Are Only 1 Chapter Long

  • Obadiah
  • Philemon
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

Note: If you’re looking up these verses in a Bible app or on the internet, some programs will require you to put the chapter number, which in this case would be “1.” So although most books won’t reference it that way, in a Bible app, you might have to look it up as: Jude 1:24-25

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

8. References that Span Across More than One Chapter

Gen. 35:1-36:43

This would be read: “Genesis Chapter 35, verse 1 to Chapter 36, verse 43.”

This Genesis reference starts at chapter 35, verse 1 and goes alway the way to the next chapter, Chapter 36, verse 43. It basically means the entire two chapters: Genesis 35 and 36. It can also be referenced with just the chapters: Gen. 35-36

9. Multiple Chapter/Verse Combinations Separated by Semi-colons

Eph. 1:3; 2:8-9

When the reference is to verses from different chapters of the same book, a semi-colon is used to separate the chapter/verse references. The reference above is to Eph. 1:3 and Eph. 2:8-9. If there is no reference to a book after the semi-colon, it is referring to the last book that was mentioned.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3)

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Eph. 2:8-9)

These 9 examples above cover just about every type of Bible verse reference you will run across. As you read the Bible, there are a few tips about Bible verse numbers that you might find helpful.

Looking Up Bible Verse References in a Bible App

In most Bible apps, you first choose the book, then select the chapter. Some apps also give you an option to choose the verse while other apps just take you straight to the beginning of that chapter.

Try to Read Entire Books of the Bible and Not Just Isolated Verses

Chapter and verse numbers are a tool to help you locate specific verses. These numbers don’t have any other special meaning beyond that, so don’t let them hinder you from reading each book of the Bible as a whole and in its context.

Before you go, here’s an article you might be interested in: The Main Message of the Bible: Its Central Theme & Purpose

If you found this post to be helpful, you can check out other articles like this in the Bible Basics section.

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David Kim

I'm David Kim and the Bible has been a passionate pursuit of mine for many years. This is a site where I get to share with you some of the things that I’ve been learning. I’m a husband, a father, pastor of a Parkway Fellowship Church (Dublin, CA), and a life-long student of the Scriptures.

15 thoughts on “Understanding Bible Verse Number References (With 9 Examples)

  1. Hi David, I’m not sure you know the answer to this, but if you do I would appreciate your answer. I am writing a Christian book and I am not sure when I print out the whole verse within the book itself if I should write out One Corinthians 1:2 (for example) or 1 Corinthians 1:2.

    Thank you so much for your help,
    Christine Williams

    1. Hi Christine. The most common way is to write (1 Corinthians 1:2). How exciting, God bless you in your book!

  2. Hi David,

    Thank you for this article, it was very helpful.

    Does John 20:21-2 mean the book of John from chapter 20 through chapter 21 verse 2?

    This particular notation has me puzzled so I want to be certain I understand it for my Bible study class.

    Thank you again,

    1. Hi Bill, I don’t usually see that type of notation. My best guess is that it means the 20th chapter of John, verses 21 and 22. The more common way would be to write it as John 20:21-22.

      1. Hello David

        Please explain how one would interpret a verse in the following format: Romans 12:1b-d.

        Thank you for the above helpful tips.
        Appreciate it.

        1. Hello Deena, The letters following the verse are a way to refer to the phrases in the verse. In the ESV translation, Rom. 12:1a would be the first phrase, which is “I appeal to you.” Rom. 12:1b would be the second phrase “therefore, brothers.” Rom. 12:1c would be the next phrase “by the mercies of God.” Rom. 12:1d would be “to present your bodies.” So Rom. 12:1b-d would refer to the second to fourth phrases, which is “therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies.” The order of the phrases depends on the translation that the author is using.

  3. I’ve been searching online for the correct way to write, for example, verse 12 and following. I don’t know whether or not there should be a space between the number 12 and the letters ff.

    Your site was one of the possible answers and I was so relieved to find an answer! Example 5 above showed me what I needed – put the space between the two components. Then I read further.

    In the heading for Example 5, you have added the space, but in the text, you haven’t used the space. I’m now just as confused as I was before I came.

    1. I’m sorry my example wasn’t helpful in giving you a definitive answer. I did some more research on it and the Chicago Manual of Style seems to use “ff” with no space now, so I think that’s a safe way to go. I’ll update my article to reflect that. Thanks for the catch!

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