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I'm attempting to store the Bible text of several translations into a single database. What I'm noticing is that some translations have some sort of subheaders within the chapters that don't seem to belong to the chapter verses themselves.

I always assumed the text consists purely of books -> chapters -> verses. But it seems there is text outside of the verses like these subheaders. For an example of what I mean see below:

In the English Standard Version (Romans 1), for example:

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation

...

I have a couple of questions regarding these headers:

  1. Is there is an official name for these subheaders?
  2. Are they part of the original text or added by the translation?
  3. Do they belong to a verse or are they outside of the verse text?

Any clarification is appreciated.

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In the prefaces of many Bible translations, there are notes that describe the origin of these headers:

As an aid to the reader, sectional headings have been inserted. They are not to be regarded as part of the biblical text and are not intended for oral reading. It is the committee’s hope that these headings may prove more helpful to the reader than the traditional chapter divisions, which were introduced long after the Bible was written. (NIV 2011 preface, emphasis added)

These section headings are added by the translation committees (or, on occasion, the publishers) to break up the text and help readers find what they are looking for. It becomes clear that these aren't "part of the text" when we realize just how much they vary. Here's a quick sampling for Romans 1:16:

  • ESV: "The Righteous Shall Live by Faith"
  • KJV: None
  • NASB: None
  • NIV: None
  • NLT: None
  • RSV: "The Power of the Gospel"

But it's not just the section headings that aren't part of the original text. As the NIV preface indicates, even the chapter divisions (and verse divisions) are relatively recent innovations – the chapters we use today are based on a system developed by Stephen Langton in the 13th century. And even these divisions are not fully standardized – see Are chapter and verse divisions international? for some exceptions.

So consider section headings as simply aids to the reader, not as components of the original text. They should also be regarded as separate from the chapter and verse divisions.


N. B.: There are some "headings" in the Bible that are commonly considered "part of the text" – the titles of Psalms, such as in Psalm 14, "To the choirmaster. Of David" (ESV). These are usually considered "canonical" but not necessarily original – some of them may have been added by editors in the centuries leading up to the apostolic era. For more on this, see Mark David Futato, Interpreting the Psalms, pages 119–122.

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Subheadings, chapter divisions, and verse numbering are all added to the text after the fact. They are not inspired, nor always necessarily correct, and can be safely disregarded. The reason that they are there is for reference purposes, given that the body of text is rather massive.

So while the NT often says "as it is written by the prophet so and so", we can now point others directly to the passage we are referencing, and add references directly to notes and written works.

That said, the titles given to the Psalms are included in the original manuscripts, and are a part of the text, and not merely a reference device.

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