The Bible is undoubtedly one of the most influential books in human history, having shaped cultures and faiths for over two millennia. With its resonant stories, lyrical poetry, and timeless teachings, it’s no wonder that the scriptures continue to captivate readers today.
If you’re pressed for time, the short answer is this: most counts estimate the King James Version of the Bible to contain around 783,137 words.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the intricate details around quantifying scripture – from the challenges of accounting for the various editions and translations, to breaking down word counts between the Old and New Testaments and individual books.
Counting Words in the Bible: Why There’s No Definitive Number
Determining the exact number of words in the Bible is a challenging task for several reasons. The many editions, translations, and variations make an absolute count difficult to pin down. However, examining the complexity behind tallying words in the Bible helps provide valuable perspective.
The Many Editions and Translations Make Counts Variable
There are numerous editions of the Bible—Hebrew, Greek, Latin Vulgate, King James, and more. Each contains slightly different content and word counts. For example, the King James Version has about 783,000 words while the New International Version has just over 727,000 words.
Even different printings of the same translation may vary slightly as revisions are made over time.
There are Challenges Translating Ancient Hebrew and Greek
The Old Testament was originally written mostly in Hebrew, while the New Testament was written in Greek. Translating these ancient languages often requires interpretive decisions around grammar, syntax, and word meanings. Subtle variations in translation approach lead to different word counts.
For instance, a Hebrew verb tense may be translated as present or past tense in English. Or an original Greek word may convey multiple meanings, requiring the translator to choose the most appropriate English word. These judgment calls affect the final word tally.
Word Counts Depend Heavily on Translation Approach
Some Bible translations take a more word-for-word approach, while others aim for thought-for-thought translation. Word-for-word translations adhere closely to the original phrasing and grammar, even if awkward in English.
Thought-for-thought translations use more words to convey the intent clearly for a modern audience.
For example, the New American Standard Bible is quite literal, while the New Living Translation aims for readability. As a result, NASB has over 200,000 more words than NLT.
Breakdown of Words by Bible Section
Old Testament Word Count Estimates
The Old Testament contains a wealth of fascinating stories, teachings, prophecies, and poetry. But just how many words make up this venerable collection of ancient texts? Here’s a breakdown of estimated word counts for the various sections of the Old Testament:
The Torah, also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses, contains around 78,064 words in the original Hebrew. This section includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The historical books, which include Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, contain roughly 206,185 words.
The poetic and wisdom books – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs – have approximately 176,459 words.
The Major Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel – have around 132,393 words.
Finally, the Minor Prophets – Hosea through Malachi – contain about 55,541 words.
In total, a rough estimate for the word count of the entire Old Testament comes to around 548,642 words in the original Hebrew.
New Testament Word Count Estimates
Shifting to the New Testament, we find another wealth of spiritual wisdom and truth, communicated through Gospels, letters, and apocalyptic prophecy. Here’s a breakdown of estimated word counts for the various sections:
The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – contain approximately 64,972 words in the original Greek.
The book of Acts has around 18,451 words.
Paul’s letters to churches and individuals (Romans through Philemon) contain roughly 32,404 words.
The General Epistles – Hebrews through Jude – have about 11,224 words.
Finally, the apocalyptic book of Revelation contains around 9,352 words.
In total, a rough estimate for the word count of the entire New Testament comes to around 136,403 words in the original Greek.
Apocrypha Section Word Counts
The Apocrypha refers to biblical books included in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) but considered non-canonical by most Protestants. Estimated word counts for the various Apocrypha books are:
- 1 Esdras – 9,573 words
- 2 Esdras – 16,510 words
- Tobit – 11,035 words
- Judith – 12,548 words
- Additions to Esther – 3,924 words
- Wisdom – 19,271 words
- Ecclesiasticus – 51,780 words
- Baruch – 5,858 words
- Letter of Jeremiah – 1,197 words
- Additions to Daniel – 4,406 words
- Prayer of Manasseh – 227 words
- 1 Maccabees – 24,143 words
- 2 Maccabees – 19,294 words
The total word count for all Apocrypha books is around 179,766 words.
Estimates By Individual Bible Book
Longest Books by Word Count
The Bible contains over 3 million words across 66 books. According to research, the longest book is the Book of Psalms with over 42,000 words. This poetic book contains 150 psalms filled with praise, lament, and worship for God. Coming in second is the Book of Ezekiel at over 39,000 words.
This prophetic book contains messaging from God to Ezekiel regarding the destruction and revival of Jerusalem. In third place is the Book of Genesis with over 38,000 words which covers the creation story and beginnings of the nation of Israel.
Shortest Books by Word Count
In contrast to the longest books, several Bible books contain less than 100 words. The shortest of all is 3 John with a mere 219 words. This brief letter from the Apostle John encourages believers in the early church. Jude contains only 461 words, making it the second shortest book.
Jude urges followers of Jesus to contend for their faith. Coming in third is the book of Philemon at 555 words. This letter from Paul requests grace and forgiveness for a runaway slave named Onesimus.
Though the Bible contains lengthy collections of books as well as very concise ones, each book contributes to the overall narrative of Scripture in its own unique way. Whether long or short, poetic or historical, every book offers revelation of God’s plan to redeem humanity through Christ.
Factors That Impact Bible Word Counts
Use of Numerals vs. Words for Numbers
One factor that impacts the word count of the Bible is whether numbers are written out as words or as numerals. For example, “one hundred” would count as two words while “100” would count as just one word.
Some Bible translations choose to write out small numbers as words, while using numerals for larger numbers. This contributes to variation in the total word count between editions.
Inclusion of Supplementary Materials
Many modern Bible editions include supplementary materials like introductions, footnotes, cross-references, maps and chronologies. The amount and length of these extras substantially increases the total word count.
For example, the New International Version contains over 775,000 words, with about 300,000 additional words in introductions and notes. Editions with more supplementary content will understandably have higher word counts.
Simple formatting choices also impact word counts. Most Bibles print the names of books in all capital letters which count as multiple words, while sentence case would count as just one word. Some translations break up long verses into separate lines or paragraphs, which increases the number of lines but not necessarily the number of words.
Line breaks, paragraph breaks and other formatting conventions contribute to small variations in total word counts between editions.
Getting an exact count of words in the Bible is a monumental undertaking, given the complex textual history surrounding ancient scripture. While there’s no definitive number, most Bibles contain around 783,137 words, with about 592,439 in the Old Testament and 180,552 in the New Testament.
Beyond the raw word totals lies a wealth of theological meaning and literary artistry just waiting to be unpacked. We hope this guide has shed some light on quantifying the beloved book of books, while also kindling an appreciation for the living wisdom within its pages.