How Many Words in the Bible
The total size of the Bible is often under-appreciated, due to it typically being printed in small type on thin sheets of paper. It mightn’t look like a huge book when on the shelf alongside other books, but in reality, it is about eight times larger than a typical novel.
An English Bible has approximately 785,000 words in it. In comparison, a typical novel ranges in size up from about 65,000 words, and seldom exceeds 100,000 words.
There are times when we wish the Bible was very much longer, because there are frustrating gaps in what it tells us, and we are often challenged by passing references to important concepts that are not fully defined or explained. But, to put the length of the Bible into further context, the US Constitution runs a mere 4,543 words (including the signatures) and even when the 27 amendments are added is still only 7,591 words. At the other end of the scale, the US tax code, including all the various regulations and associated legislation, is generally accepted as being about 4 million words long.
However, that is nothing compared to Obamacare, which back in 2013 had already swelled to 11,588,500 words, and probably is massively more by now.
Anyway, enough of these other things. Back to the Bible.
As you probably know, there are many different versions of the Bible currently available, and of course, it has been translated into many different languages. So when one gives a number of words as answer to the question “How many words in the Bible” one should also explain which of the various versions it is you are counting.
Does Any of This Actually Matter?
The most common version of the Bible, even now, seems to be the classic King James Version (KJV), and that is usually cited as having 783,137 words. We’d treat that number with mild caution, but we’re not about to go and count the words ourselves. We find it hard enough to count the stairs, for example, up to a church bell tower! As proof of the difficulty, another source claims the KJV has 788,280 words – and we don’t believe there’s that much of a difference between different editions of the KJV. It must be something in their methodology (or a simple error in counting).
And, while here we are, writing a 1540 word page on this topic, we have to quietly ask the question, does it really matter? It is interesting to know that there are about 785,000 words in a Bible, but aren’t there more important things in our lives and in our faith than drilling down to an exact count?
Well, yes, of course there are many more important things. But if you, like us, enjoy your faith at many levels – at a ‘serious’ level and also at a lighter, more fun level, then why not at least have an understanding of this question. We also find it interesting to see how the word count varies as between different versions of the Bible, although we hesitate to say if it is better that a version should have more or less words than any other version.
Are More Words Better?
All versions of the Bible share a reasonable commonality of source materials. But they diverge in the style of their writing. Old English or modern, direct/concise, or more flowery in text. As a result, the number of words used varies. Should we seek out a longer or a shorter length Bible?
To consider that, think about how you could tell people that it was a hot day.
You could say
(a) It was hot.
(b) At 3pm, the outside temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
(c) According to the local weather service reports, temperatures were about 85° in the middle of the afternoon.
(d) The sun shone down mercilessly from the cloudless sky. There was no cooling wind, the humidity was high, and the overall effect was unbearably hot for anyone as unfortunate as to be caught outside with no shade.
These four versions range from three words to 37 words. The 3 and 37 word versions are factually very similar, aren’t they, and the most exact version has only nine words. The remaining version, at 17 words, is actually less exact than the 9 word version.
So, in this example, there is no match at all between length and clarity of information. From clearest to vaguest, the word counts go 9, 17, 37, 3. From this we conclude two things – more words are not necessarily better, and fewer words are not necessarily worse.
So, to answer our question, more words aren’t automatically better. There is little or no match between the number of words and how well they convey a concept.
Are the Counts Even Accurate?
We hesitate to link to the ‘sources’ for these word counts because our sense is that many of these claims are being recycled over and over, with the original source long since lost/forgotten, and so just because a particular website claims a certain number of words, that doesn’t mean the web page writer personally counted and recounted the words themselves.
We also are generally never told how the words are counted. That might seem obvious, but what about, for example, italicised words in the KJV. These are words that were added by the original editors to make the text slightly clearer. Should they be included in the count or not? Another example – some editors add section headings to help group parts of the Bible together. Should those words be counted or not? What about hyphenated words – are they one word or two? What about even the names of the 66 books (about 375 words in total)? The word “chapter” that may sometimes precede each chapter (there are 1189 chapters, and if we counted both the word “chapter” and the number that followed, that could add another 2378 words). And so on.
Especially if the idea is to have comparative counts of different Bible versions, if the comparisons are to be meaningful, it is important they all use the same assumptions and methods for counting.
In addition, have the words actually truly been counted, or just estimated? If truly counted, was it counted by a computer program or by a real person, and was it double checked?
We’ve seen some analyses which say “an average page has yyy words on it, and there are zzzz pages in the bible, therefore that means the Bible has (yyy) x (zzzz) words. That’s a great way of getting an approximate count, but an approximate count is not the same as an exact count, and depending on how the average words per page was calculated, the resulting total word estimate might be 5% – 10% wrong. So if Bible version A is estimated to be 780,000 words (+/- 10%) and Bible version B is estimated to be 810,000 words (also +/- 10%), in reality, Bible A might actually be 858,000 words and Bible B only 729,000 words. The estimated measurements are not helpful.
We also suspect that some automatic counting programs also include supplementary materials such as Introductions, Appendices and so on. These should not be counted when trying to determine the actual words of underlying original Biblical content.
Which brings us back to the question, does it really matter? Particularly because we suggest there’s not really any clear correlation between word count and translation quality, are we creating another irrelevant discussion like the one that pre-occupied medieval scholars for way too long – how many angels can dance on the head of a pin/stand on the point of a needle. (If interested, see this, this and this for fascinating discussions on that arcane and meaningless topic.)
Some Sourced Word Counts
However, since this article is all about how many words there are in the Bible, we obviously have to provide some word counts. Here’s plenty for you to choose from.
|Original Hebrew and Greek||545,202||Halfway down this page|
|Greek New Testament||138,162||Multiple sources cited here|
|King James Version||783,137||Widely cited, eg here|
|King James Version||936,812||Wordstorming
a strangely large number
|King James Version – original||790,676||Halfway down this page|
|King James Version, Blayney 1769 edition||788,280
|Halfway down this page|
(of the KJV in 1833)
|New King James Version (NKJV)||770,430||Halfway down this page|
|English Standard Version (ESV)||757,439||Halfway down this page|
|New International Version (NIV)||726,109||Halfway down this page|
|New International Version (NIV)||727,969||Openthoumineeyes.com|
|Today’s New Intl Version (TNIV)||723,393||Halfway down this page|
|Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)||718,943||Halfway down this page|
|New Living Translation (NLT)||747,891||Halfway down this page|
|New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)||895,891||Halfway down this page|
|New American Standard Bible (NASB)||782,815||Halfway down this page|
|New American Standard Bible (NASB)||807,361||Neverthirsty.org|
|World English Bible (WEB)||772,352||Wordstorming|
|American Standard Version (ASV)||755,426||Wordstorming|
|J N Darby (DBY)||801,138||Wordstorming|
|Douay Rheims Bible (D-R or DRB)
(Note – includes Apocrypha)
|Composite count based on original Hebrew Greek and Aramaic||611,224||OverviewBible.com|
Please let us know if you find any more sources with word counts for Bible versions. While we do believe this is a moderately trivial issue, we’d like this to be a reasonably complete reference resource for researchers.
Still More Word Analysis
If you’d also like information on how many chapters and verses for each of the 66 books in the Bible, and how many words per each book, too, please visit our companion article “How Many Words in Each Book of the Bible“.