If you’re busy, don’t bother reading all this tl;dr; junk and skip right to the more interesting bits.
UPDATE 2/19/2013 – I made a few mistakes in the original version of this article. I had missed a few of the Psalms, so the total number count and the count for Psalms was incorrect. These have been corrected.
So, I’m a bit of a nerd about Bible Statistics. Looking at the Bible as data has led to a number of big thoughts. For instance, approximately 3/4 of the verses in the Bible are in the Old Testament. Why is it, then, that most of us spend 3/4 of our Bible reading time in the New Testament? (I can probably answer that.)
But, up until this point, I have only looked at it as Testaments, Groupings, Books, Chapters and Verses. The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t compare it to anything else. For a long time I’ve wanted to figure out a way to count the actual words in the Bible. This is no easy task as people haven’t been out there handing out the Bible in digital form and I’m not about to sit down and do a hand count. Plus, we have the problem that there are several translations.
Well, some time ago there was an interesting change. Some folks put together the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. The group that put this together included a number of theologians that I greatly respect. They had several goals, but I believe they made a translation that was almost as readable as the NIV and just as accurate to the original languages as the NASB. I’m no Hebrew/Greek scholar, but that’s my understanding of the situation. On top of all of that, the ESV folks were also forward-thinking about technology. They made a web service available so that a programmer could pull an HTML-formatted part of the Bible.
Well long-story short-ened: I used the ESV web service to write a program to count the words in the ESV Bible (just between us, it took several days because they only allow a certain number of requests per day). Since this is the Bible within which I do my daily Bible reading, these are the statistics that matter to me. I would guess, though, that the other English translations are close enough. So, what did I find out?
There are 756,775 words in the Bible
Wow! Seems like a lot, huh? I thought so too, but a little Googling told me otherwise. Let’s compare that. How many ten-year-olds have read all of the Harry Potter books? Mine has. That’s over 1 million words. Most novels we’re reading are between 75,000 words and 400,000 words. Just skimming this article, you’ll see that The Da Vinci code is 138,000, the Left Behind books were between 77,000 and 110,000 words each (so let’s say roughly 600,000 words in total). Most romance novels are around 100,000 words.
More convicting to me is that:
There are just 175,606 words in the New Testament
So, that’s less than 2 novels for most of us. For our ten-year-old, I’d note that 3 of the Harry Potter books are longer than the New Testament. But, if I’m being honest, reading the whole New Testament sounds like a huge task. But, I read the Hunger Games books in less than 2 weeks (probably close to 300,000 words). I’m not exaggerating when I say that reading through the book of Romans in one sitting seems like too much. At 9,467 words, that’s like 5-10 magazine articles. I’ve probably read 2,000 words about the iPhone today.
Those are the broad strokes, here are a few more things that you might find interesting:
- On the whole, the Old Testaments and the New Testament have about the same number of words per verse on average: 24.6 and 22.1 respectively.
- That said, the New Testament has an average of 675.4 words per chapter as compared the the Old at 625.59. So, you’re packing in more words on average when you read a New Testament chapter.
- Reading chapters at a time, the way I suspect most of us read through the Bible, will be a pretty different experience depending on the book. 1 Kings has 1065 words per chapter on average where just a few books later, in Psalms you’ll get 275 words per chapter (an average heavily weighted upwards by Psalm 119 at 2386 words).
- The Gospels have a low number of words per verse, but a high number of words per chapter, meaning that the Gospels pack a lot of verses in every chapter.
- No big surprise that the Gospels and Acts are the top 5 books by length in the New Testament. You could easily guess the shortest.
- In longest overall, your big winners are Jeremiah, Ezekial, Genesis and Isaiah.
- By way of comparison, if you read all 18 books between Galatians and Jude, you’ve read less words than if you read Jeremiah.
- Here’s how the major groupings come out. Notice that reading the Historical Books has you reading more than the entire New Testament.
I can’t really say how exactly one ought to use this data. I do think that it should have some bearing on how we attack reading through the Bible. I also think that at very least the length of different sections should give us pause to think about where we spend our time (of course, I agree that this is not the only concern). Either way, as a student of God’s Word, I just think it is all interesting to just know.