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
- 2. A Selection of Verses
- 3. A Combination of Consecutive and a Selection of Verses
- 4. An Entire Chapter
- 5: All The Verses Following
- 6. Books with Numbers Before their Names
- 7. An Exception: Books That Are Only One Chapter Long
- 8. References that Span Across More than One Chapter
- 9. Multiple Chapter/Verse Combinations Separated by Semi-colons
- Looking Up Bible Verse References in a Bible App
- Try to Read Entire Books of the Bible and Not Just Isolated Verses
1. Consecutive Verses
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…
11 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
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
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 Samuel||1 Corinthians||1 Peter|
|2 Samuel||2 Corinthians||2 Peter|
|1 Kings||1 Thessalonians||1 John|
|2 Kings||2 Thessalonians||2 John|
|1 Chronicles||1 Timothy||3 John|
|2 Chronicles||2 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 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
- 2 John
- 3 John
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
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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