The Bible in Statistics

Updated 2/19/2013 because there were a few mistakes in the verse counts.

So I work with databases. iMinistries is really a big database with an engine that reads from and writes to that database. Under the hood, every page, every form, every form field and every comment on a blog is a row in the database. Obviously there’s a lot to how that gets rendered, but data is a big part of it. And data fascinates me. The Bible fascinates me too.

Reading the through the Bible is a daunting task. Over the years I have compiled a good deal of data on the Bible and I’m happy to share it with anyone who is interested.
Let me start with the caveats. At this point, I haven’t come up with a good way to count the words in the Bible. I will probably do it eventually, but for now, the best I can do is count verses.
I use the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible because I am convinced by people I trust that it is the best combination of readability and accuracy of the available English translations. And, just so it gets said and the appropriate people are offended, I believe that not only is the King James translation not inspired but that it also isn’t even very accurate. The following are based on a verse-count of the ESV.

Finally, I’ve done my best to triple-check the accuracy of these numbers, but I’m not totally confident that I got it 100% perfect yet. If you find my counts to be incorrect, please point out where and I’ll check again. Thanks.
Let’s start at the beginning. The Bible has 31,142 verses. The Old Testament has 23,184 (74.44%) and the New Testament has 7,958 (25.56%). You read that right, the New Testament is only a quarter of the Bible. Assuming you’re going to take a year to read the Bible (and I wouldn’t personally recommend that pace, which I’ll address in a future post) and that you’re going to read every verse at the same pace (and I would guess that the Old Testament verses are “harder” to read and will take longer to read/ponder) you’re looking at spending 9 months in the Old Testament and only 3 in the New.
Have you just started a read through the Bible? Did you start with Genesis (like almost everyone before you)? If you finished Genesis, congratulations you are roughly 1/20th (5%) of the way through the whole Bible. If you like to push through the hardest tasks first, by number of verses alone, the following are the biggest books:
Book Verses %
Psalms 2461 7.9%
Genesis 1534 4.9%
Jeremiah 1365 4.4%
Isaiah 1292 4.2%
Numbers 1288 4.1%
And what about low-hanging fruit? If you want to get a sense of accomplishment, start with 2 John (13 verses), 3 John (15), Obadiah (21), Jude (25) or Philemon (25). Sadly if you read all 5 you’ll have read only .32% of the verses in the Bible but 7.6% of the Books.

The Bible by Section
Some thoughts on the above chart:

  • If you read through the first 5 books in the Bible, the Pentateuch, you’ll be done with roughly 1/5 of the whole Bible. A lot of people find the first 5 books to be enjoyable to read through, except Deuteronomy (it’s a lot of re-hashing of Leviticus). But you should feel pretty good if you get through those first 5.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the major prophets. Personally, I find Isaiah and Jeremiah the two hardest books to get through. I suggest that you don’t read these back-to-back and that you get yourself a good commentary or study guide to help you spice these up a bit.
  • God devoted 12% of his Book to the 4 books that tell the story of Jesus, the Gospels. That’s a pretty big deal. Anything you spend 12% of your time talking about is something pretty important to you. On the other hand, if you spend most of your Bible-reading time in the Gospels, you’re not paying enough attention to 88% of the story.

The Old Testament by Section

Some thoughts on the above chart:

  • There’s a pretty good split in the Old Testament between God speaking to us poetically and laying out history. Be sure you know what you’re reading and learn to interpret each correctly.
  • Once again, I suggest not reading all the history in one shot. I would suggest that you read some history and then read some poetry and then back to some history. If you’re really clever, you can even find ways to read Psalms that correspond to where you are in the history sometimes.

The New Testament by Section

Some thoughts on the above chart:

  • Don’t forget that the above only represents 25% of the whole Bible.
  • Let’s face it, most of us find the New Testament the easiest and most “fun” to read. If that’s true for you, then I suggest using it as “dessert”, using it as a reward for finishing large sections of the Old Testament.

Hopefully all of this will help you in your Bible-reading. Eventually I plan to share some thoughts on how to approach reading the Bible that I have picked up along the way. For now, enjoy these statistics. If you’re looking for me to break down the data another way, leave a comment and I’ll consider it.

So, what do you think ?