The first stage in preparing a biblical message is to select the passage. This is incredibly easy if you take an arbitrary approach to the canon. For example, maybe you plan to preach chapter-by-chapter through a book, or even verse-by-verse through a section. Wait! This sounds easy, but we must not take this approach.
The chapter divisions and the verse divisions are not there by author’s design. These helpful little reference markers were added later to help us find our place, not to help preacher’s select their passage. This is not new news for most of us. But it is so easy to slip back into bad habits like this. After all, every time you open your Bible to read it you subconsciously take in a silent number every sentence or so. Although not spoken, their voice is still heard, at least subconsciously.
Let me quote Richard Erickson’s helpful book, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis, as he makes the same point:
If we desire to be as faithful as we can be to the text as its author first wrote it, then we should never set out to “preach through” a biblical book chapter by chapter (or worse, verse by verse). We have no guarantee that the later editors of Scripture who added the familiar chapter and verse divisions did so in the way the original authors would have done it. In fact, we have many reasons to suspect they did not! As far as you are able, let the book itself tell you where to make appropriate divisions in the run of its “argument” or its “plot.”
As you prepare for your next sermon, take a few moments to evaluate the passage boundaries – are they what the book itself would tell you? Ignore the numbers, the author didn’t put them there.