What Would YOU Write in 138,000 Words?

I found an interesting set of statistics, and have been playing around with them a little bit. The title of the chart is, “Number of Chapters, Number of Verses in Each Chapter,Total Number of Verses, and Total Number of Words in each book of the Greek New Testament,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Apparently, the New Testament (total, all the books combined) is 138,020 (Greek) words. To try and get a sense of how long that was, I decided to figure out how long my blog would be as a word document. So, starting from day one of the blog back in April until yesterday, I copy-pasted it all over, and it was just shy of 55,000 (English) words, nearly 40% of the length of the New Testament. Of course, this includes textual quotes as well as things like the date and the “Posted by Joe Heschmeyer at such-and-such time” at the bottom of the page, but it doesn’t include the comments I’ve made on my own posts… oh yeah. I tend to blog in English rather than Greek these days, so let’s face it: this is entirely unscientific. But it still gives me some sort of sense of how long the New Testament is, and how much you can express in that length.

For example, this blog, to date, is longer than, for example, all of Paul’s letters combined. Even including Hebrews, Paul’s work clocks in at 37,360 words. Without Hebrews (which is internally anonymous), it’s more like 32,407 words.

When I consider these numbers, a few thoughts occur to me.

  • First, nothing I’ve written measures up. Holy Spirit inspiration is some good stuff. I’ve got the distinct advantage of writing for one audience (more or less), and having hyperlinks to cite to things I’ve said earlier, or biblical passages, etc. And I still feel like I haven’t said (nearly) a tenth of what Paul said in fewer words, even while he’s throwing in things like greetings and salutations to every letter, random “shout-outs” (like almost the entire chapter of Romans 16). This isn’t false humility, it’s a genuine and deeper appreciation for how efficient the NT writers were (especially Matthew, John, and Paul, in my opinion) at conveying their point.
  • Second, I consider the subject matters I’ve covered and those which I haven’t covered. Some of the things I’ve covered, I’ve chosen because of their importance. Some were sort of thrust upon me because of the urgency of the circumstances, or because someone said something which I felt could benefit from a response. Other things were just what was on my mind.
  • The flip side of this is that a lot of worthy subjects have gone with little or no mention. Yesterday, for example, was the first time I really addressed ethical and moral relativism, an area which I care about deeply. And the Eucharist, the center of my existence, has gotten direct treatment only a handful of times, and usually in the context of another point. Enormous areas, like speaking in tongues, the death penalty, euthanasia, the role of women in the church, etc., have been ignored completely, despite my interest in all four of these topics.
  • The obvious implication of this was me wondering to what extent the Holy Spirit allowed Scripture to be formed by these same seemingly random forces. Since NT writers, especially Paul, were writing to different local churches, there is a lot of repetition, as the same questions are asked over and over again. Yet there are a lot of seemingly worthwhile subjects which go with little or no mention.

Who and how to baptize isn’t all that clear from the New Testament alone, although sources like the Didache and others provide some vital 1st century context. Later, this omission would be the source of much strife amongst Bible-only churches, since the Bible alone doesn’t really settle the issue satisfactorily.

Likewise, abortion existed in the 1st century, yet the only really explicit and on-face condemnations we have of it are from non-canonical sources. Both orthodox and heretical Christan sources condemn it, incidentally, but not in the Bible – the Didache (an orthodox source) condemns it in chapter 2, in the same breath with infanticide; one of the two Apocalpyses of Peter (neither of which are authentic) condemns it as well, with a bizarre depiction of hell being a place where aborted children burn their mothers with lasers coming out of their eyes (it’s here, v. 25, if you’re curious). It was perhaps this unanimity which warranted so little discussion. One of the reasons I didn’t really address moral relativism until yesterday is that I sort of assume that’s not a thought most of my readers take very seriously. I also don’t have any posts confronting Islam or Hinduism head-on for identical reasons.

The Eucharist seems to have been like abortion: so obvious it doesn’t need much explanation. It’s considered important enough that all four Gospel writers and Paul devote attention to it, but mostly just to say that this was implemented by Jesus: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:” (1 Cor 10:23). There is much more evidence in favor of the Eucharist than there is of the immorality of abortion (as a specific practice, rather than as an extention of “thou shalt not murder”), but this seems to have been because the Corinthians and others had trouble believing that Jesus could possibly have wanted to the Apostles to implement such a seemingly barbaric practice. Yet there’s still scant enough evidence that some are able in good faith to question the doctrine using the Bible alone. To the extent that the Bible doesn’t go into the level of depth one might like on the specifics of the nature of the Eucharist (what does “This is my Body” really mean?), it seems to have been because (like abortion) it was something which everyone took for granted. You may think the Christians were crazy for believing in the Eucharist, you may want to invent your own Christ-sans-Eucharist religion, but you didn’t say, “The Christians don’t believe in the Eucharist.” Because clearly, they did. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, says of the Docetists (I may have said Gnostics in a previous post) in 110 A.D., “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” He’s not proving the Eucharist. He’s assuming it, and using that to prove why his opponents are untrustworthy nuts. Since the Eucharist is true, then Christ came in the flesh! I’ve definitely used that example before, but I’m using it here (as I often seem to do), not just to assert the fact that I believe the Eucharist is truly Christ, but because I think it reflects a more general point on how much time we spend talking about important v. less-important things.

And finally:

  • Books on tape are usually read about 150-160 words per minute (which is considered ideal for listening). Assuming that the NT writers spoke, instead of wrote, and at a rate of 160 wpm, they’d be talking between 14 and 15 hours. Different speakers, sometimes different crowds, introductions, conclusions, etc. It’s about as much speaking as would get done in a two-day Christianity convention with a single mic and a rotating panel of speakers.
    To me, it’s strange to expect to get everything you’ll ever need to know from a 2 day conference on virtually any topic. Throwing out the Church and Tradition because you have the New Testament seems like throwing out your mechanic because you have the car manual.

One a related note: sola Scriptura is a much more complicated term than perhaps I have presented it in these posts. It’s a broad term, with many parties laying claim to it. I will address this more in-depth later, but until then, I guess I’d just make sure you realize that I’m using it as shorthand to describe “the Bible alone without Tradition or the Magisterium.” Those who believe “Tradition and the Magisterium are fine as long as they don’t contradict the Bible” are much closer to the Catholic position. I’ll address that view another day.

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