Why are the verse numbers in Song of Songs Chapter 7 different in the EHV than in some other translations?
Before we address that specific question, we will review the common reasons for discrepancies and problems with verse numbers in the Bible.
Early Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the biblical texts did not have the chapter and verse numbers that appear in modern versions. The verse numbers were a very late addition to the text, and, to make the matter more complicated, there are various systems of numbering that do not agree with each other. This produces some discrepancies in verse numbers in different versions.
- Some verse numbers are missing from some translations such as the NIV because these translations chose to omit some verses that are found in the EHV and the King James Version, because they adopt a shorter Greek text.
For example, in Matthew 17, the ESV and NIV have no verse 21 in the text.
In Matthew 17:20-21, the NIV reads: “ 20 …Nothing will be impossible for you. a.” It adds the footnote a: “Some manuscripts include here words similar to Mark 9:29.”
The EHV includes a verse 21 in the text: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” with the footnote: “A few witnesses to the text omit verse 21.”
There are about twenty such passages in the New Testament. Most translations that omit these verses account for the missing verse numbers with a footnote or with a blank verse number in brackets. In older editions they sometimes simply skipped a verse number, but this made it look like they had accidentally omitted a verse, so most of them have switched to using a bracketed verse number in such cases.
- There are many differences between the Hebrew chapter and verse numbers and the English numbers. This means that very often when translating from the Hebrew text, the translator not only has to translate the words of the Hebrew text into English but also has to “translate” the Hebrew verse numbers to English verse numbers. The list of these discrepancies covers four small-print, double-column pages in the SBL Handbook of Style (p 172-175). That same SBL list also includes a list of discrepancies between the Hebrew numbering and the numbering in the Greek and Latin Old Testaments.
If readers of the English Bible are trying to look up the Hebrew text for a specific verse of the Old Testament, they may be baffled when they cannot see any connection between what the Hebrew text for that verse is saying and what they have just read in English. They need to look for a different chapter and verse in the Hebrew Bible. To help our readers who want to consult the Hebrew text for a verse, the EHV has footnotes at those spots in which the Hebrew numbers do not correspond to the English numbers. These notes direct readers to the appropriate Hebrew references.
The discrepancies between the Hebrew and the Greek/Latin verse numbers come into play when students are trying to use Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic commentaries, especially patristic and medieval commentaries, since these works often use the verse numbers from the Greek Septuagint or Latin Vulgate. English translations of these works of the church fathers may sometimes “translate” the original Latin or Greek verse references into English verse numbers to help their English readers.
The Book of Psalms offers a special example of the verse number problem. The headings of the psalms are part of the Hebrew text, and in Hebrew they have their own verse numbers. In English translation these headings have no verse number. The result is that verse numbers in the Hebrew Psalms are often one or two numbers higher than the numbers of the corresponding verses in the English Bible. In the EHV Study Bibles, any footnotes pertaining to items in the unnumbered headings are listed under verse one, so that all footnotes will have a verse number for computer searches.
This issue is discussed in detail in Wartburg Project FAQ 52.
- Sometimes there are simply discrepancies in the sources. An example is found in Matthew 2:2.
This is what the EHV text says: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, when Herod was king, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, 2“Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”
The NIV has: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”
A sharp-eyed reader asked why the EHV moved the verse number. The answer is that we didn’t. We were simply following a different textual resource than the NIV. This is one of the passages in which there is disagreement in the Greek and English resources concerning the placement of the verse number. This is documented in the footnote to Matthew 2:1-2 in the UBS Greek text. The footnote is fairly cryptic but indicates that the Greek, English, and German versions are divided on the issue of the placement of the verse number. There are other such verses in the New Testament. We leave the fun of finding such verse number discrepancies, of which there are quite a few, to our readers. See Wartburg Project FAQ 52.
- In some cases, differences in Hebrew word order from English word order force the translator to move material from a Hebrew verse 5 into an English verse 6 or vice versa. If we think that this shift might raise questions for readers, we note the shift of material in a footnote.
At other times we may shift a verse number from one chapter into another, because it looks awkward to place the large chapter number that occur in the margin before each chapter into the middle of a paragraph. If the line of thought requires that the last verse of a chapter 10 be placed in the first paragraph of a chapter 11, we may place the large chapter 11 number before the last verse of chapter 10, but give the verse a special small verse number in a format like 10:32.
An extreme example if this type of problem is found in 1 Samuel 4:1. The first half of 4:1 clearly should be the final thought of chapter 3. Placing this sentence into chapter 4 gives the wrong impression that Israel’s going out to battle was under the guidance of Samuel. This example is especially complex because of the double textual variant issues in these verses as indicated by the half-brackets. This is what the EHV has at this chapter transition:
21The LORD continued to appear in Shiloh, because at Shiloh the LORD revealed himself to Samuel by the word of the LORD. ˻So Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD for all Israel, from one end of the land to the other end.˼g
4 So the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
Israel and the Philistinesa
˻Eli was very old, and his sons kept getting worse in their wickedness in the presence of the LORD. In those days the Philistines gathered themselves together for war against Israel.˼b
Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle. The Israelites camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines camped at Aphek.c …
Above, as we often do, we tried to handle the problem with the headings. We probably could have improved the readability and the formatting of this section by applying the principle of verse transfer here as is done in the following:
21The LORD continued to appear in Shiloh, because at Shiloh the LORD revealed himself to Samuel by the word of the LORD. ˻So Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD for all Israel, from one end of the land to the other end.˼g 4:1So the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
Israel and the Philistinesa
4 1˻Eli was very old, and his sons kept getting worse in their wickedness in the presence of the LORD. In those days the Philistines gathered themselves together for war against Israel.˼b
Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle. The Israelites camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines camped at Aphek.c
This alteration to the verse and chapter numbers makes the transition between the chapters less awkward and clarifies the placement of the variant reading.
4b. More rarely we may use the Hebrew verse numbers to give better structure to the translation, as we will do in the case of Song of Songs 7 which is discussed below.
Now at long last we come to the question “Why are the verse numbers in Song of Songs 7 different in the EHV than in some other translations?” In the latest printing of the EHV Study Bible, the translation of this section provides a rare example of principle number 4b: in difficult cases the translator may use the Hebrew verse numbers when necessary to clarify the flow of the text for the reader.
This is what the NIV has at the transition from Song 6 to Song 7:
NIV formatting of Song 6 & 7
13 Come back, come back, O Shulammite;
come back, come back, that we may gaze on you!
Why would you gaze on the Shulammite
as on the dance of Mahanaim?b
7 a How beautiful your sandaled feet,
O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
the work of an artist’s hands.
2 Your navel is a rounded goblet
that never lacks blended wine.
…chapter ending with a verse 13….
13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,
that I have stored up for you, my beloved.
The NIV adds the footnotes: In Hebrew texts this verse (6:13) is numbered 7:1,
And: In Hebrew texts 7:1–13 is numbered 7:2–14.
This NIV formatting has the virtue that it retains the common verse numbers of most English versions. It has the disadvantage that it produces a very clunky transition from chapter 6 to chapter 7 , with no clear indication of which lines constitute verse 1 and with a large chapter number 7 occurring in the middle of a paragraph. Providing clear poetic formatting is especially important in the Song of Songs, so improving the formatting here would be helpful.
This is what the latest printing of the EHV computer Bible has for the same section:
EHV formatting of Song 6 & 7
13 Turn back, turn back, O Shulammite.j
Turn back, turn back, that we may look at you!
7 The Woman
1 Why would you look at the Shulammite
as at the dance of Mahanaim?
The Friends or The Manc
2 How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
Your hips are curved like a necklace,
the work of the hands of a craftsman.
… chapter ending with verses 13 and 14…
13 Let us go early to the vineyards.
We will see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
if the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give my love to you.
14 The mandrakesm send out their fragrance.
At our door is every delicacy,
new as well as old,
that I have stored up for you, my lover.n
Following verse 14/13 EHV has this footnote: n7:14 In the EHV, Song of Songs chapter 7 has one more verse number than many other translations since it adjusts toward the Hebrew verse numbers, which give a better layout to the chapter.
This exceptional approach has the advantage that it allows cleaner formatting and easier reading of the chapter. This approach has the disadvantage that the verse numbers are different from those in most English versions. (How much of a problem this discrepancy causes is debatable since in the first two years of use of the EHV, nobody ever noticed (or at least nobody reported) the discrepancy. We first noticed the unclarity concerning what we had done in this case while we were doing the final check of the print study Bible. We pay special attention to verse numbers at the end of chapters, since omission of a verse number there would escape detection by a computer scan which checks for consecutive verse numbers. We noticed an extremely long final verse 13 of chapter 7, which suggested omission of a verse number. On checking, we realized that if we wanted to more consistently reflect the Hebrew verse numbering system in this special case, we should have added a verse number 14 at the start of the mandrakes verse and added an explanatory note as is done in the EHV translation above. In the first printing of the EHV Study Bible we had failed to provide such an explanation of this special case, so it might have caused confusion (if anyone ever noticed it). Who could have imagined that a single verse number could have caused so much work! In any case, our formatting decision here is not the only way to try to smooth the reading, and some may prefer other solutions. For example, it might make more sense to place the large chapter number 7 before verse 6:13.
There are about 31,100 verses in the Bible. (The number cannot be exact because different editions disagree on the number of verses.) Over the years, the placement of verse numbers into the text required more than 31,000 editorial decisions by the transmitters of the text. Most contemporary translators simply follow the decision made by the editors of the base text that they are using. In the EHV we try to do whatever will best help our readers follow the flow of the text and locate the corresponding verses in the Hebrew and Greek texts. We have general rules governing verse numbers, but they are not applied mechanically. “What will be most user-friendly” is also a consideration. In many cases, including this one, the best solution is debatable, and our treatment does not aim for mechanical consistency in every case.
The problem raised by the verse numbers of the Bible is just another illustration of the principle constantly experienced by translators: “This is a little more complicated than I thought it was going to be.”