Every Bible Author’s Favorite Words

28 minute read

This is a VerseNote, a quick meditation inspired by a specific passage of Scripture. See the rest of them.

Once you start studying the Bible seriously, at some point you’ll notice, or somebody will tell you, that Mark’s favorite word is “immediately.” He uses it thirty-six times in just 673 verses, which is more than once every nineteen verses, or once every four hundred words or so. The exegetical reason is pretty straightforward: when Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand,” Mark took Him literally. Mark’s gospel was the first of the four to be written; it’s the shortest (22.6% shorter than John, 36.6% shorter than Matthew, and 41.7% shorter than Luke); and it’s by far the most action-packed (more than half of Jesus’s recorded miracles are recorded in Mark).

But I keep thinking, what about the other 65 books?

What are their favorite words, and what does that say about them? And what about favorite phrases, not just words? Ezekiel, for example, likes to explain God’s actions by concluding, “and you [or they] shall know that I am the Lord.”1

So I fired up some computational linguistics software2 and went to work.

Every Book’s Favorite Words

Let’s start with the easy question: what’s the most-common word in every book?

Spoiler: it’s “the” in all but six books:

Book Most-Common Word
Mark and
Luke and
2 Corinthians be
1 Thessalonians you
Titus to
Philemon I

Okay, that just mirrors the English language, so it’s not that helpful. Maybe longer phrases will work better? I did the same thing with phrases up to six words long, with some preprocessing to make sure we didn’t miss anything for silly English reasons3, and removing one- and two-word phrases4.

There are a lot more questions we can ask, and over the next few articles, I’ll explore some of them, but for now I’m going to pause and observe the famous phrases and topics in already uncovered in each book.

Old Testament


3 4 5 6
the land of in the land of these be the son of year and have other son and

Each entry in the “book of the generations of Adam” in Genesis 5 follows the same pattern: “When [father] had lived X years, he fathered [son]. [Father] lived after he fathered [son] Y years and had other sons and daughters.” It is this line of long-lived fathers and sons that is interrupted by the corruption on the earth to which God responds with the Flood.


3 4 5 6
the people of the people of Israel the LORD say to Moses blue and purple and scarlet yarn

The dual foci of the book—the word of the Lord to Moses and the God’s relationship to His people Israel are quite evident—but what stands out to me is the “blue and purple and scarlet yarn” that adorns the tabernacle as God describes it to Moses. The exacting colors and qualities of the tabernacle as a shadow of the heavenly throne room were so important that they show up in a simple frequency analysis of the text.


3 4 5 6
the priest shall and the priest shall the LORD speak to Moses the LORD speak to Moses say

As a list of laws for priests and ceremonies given by God to Moses, we shouldn’t be surprised that the most common phrases are God talking to Moses and Moses commanding the priests.


3 4 5 6
the people of the people of Israel of the people of Israel the LORD speak to Moses say

Everybody who starts at Genesis in January and bogs down in Numbers 2 thinks the whole book is all censuses, but in fact Numbers is a book about the journey of Israel in the wilderness, so we see God speaking to Moses and the people following along.


3 4 5 6
the LORD your the LORD your God that the LORD your God that the LORD your God be

How amazing is it that each longer phrase builds up to the same phrase? Unfortunately, if we go a little further the pattern breaks down. Two themes of Moses’s sermon have the same pattern. First, he reminds them over and over that God is giving them this land: “the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Second, he tells them about this God whom he has met, but they haven’t: “the LORD your God is” a merciful God (Deuteronomy 4:31); a jealous God (Deuteronomy 6:15); the faithful God (Deuteronomy 7:9); the one who makes you wealthy (Deuteronomy 8:18); and many more.


3 4 5 6
the people of the people of Israel tribe of the people of the tribe of the people of

We all remember Joshua and the battle of Jericho, but one of his major challenges was to partition the conquered land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel. Here we see his reference not to the whole people only but to each tribe.


3 4 5 6
the people of the people of Israel and the people of Israel do what be evil in the

The story of Judges is that the people become wicked, and their neighbors invade them, and God sends a savior, and the savior judges for forty years and dies, and the people become wicked again. The repeated refrain, as we see, is, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” (Judges 2:11, Judges 3:7, Judges 4:1, Judges 6:1…)


3 4 5 6
mother in law her mother in law from the country of Moab return from the country of Moab

The story of Ruth is all about her relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi and her decision to return from her home country of Moab to Israel, thereby becoming one of the ancestors of King David and eventually Jesus.

1 Samuel

3 4 5 6
of the LORD the ark of the the ark of the LORD the ark of the God of

1 Samuel almost has the same cool pattern that Deuteronomy does, but about the ark of the covenant instead. The whole book isn’t about the ark, but there is a long story about its passage from Shiloh out to the field of war at Ebenezer, where the Philistines captured it and brought it back to the temple of their god Dagon in Ashdod (where the statue of Dagon kept falling on its face each night the ark was there). They sent it to Gath, then Ekron, then back to Israel at Beth-shemesh, whose people sent it up to Kiriath-Jearim, where it stayed for twenty years. The story takes five chapters, more than 16% of the book.

2 Samuel

3 4 5 6
the son of my lord the king and the king say to the people who be with he

2 Samuel is primarily the story of David, which we see in its constant discussion of the king. The longest repeated phrase comes from Absalom’s war against him, where the author is concerned not only for the king but for “the people who are with him” as they flee the coup.

1 Kings

3 4 5 6
of the LORD the king of Israel the word of the LORD the LORD the God of Israel

I admit no particular story comes to mind when looking at the most-common phrases in 1 Kings. Sorry.

2 Kings

3 4 5 6
the king of the house of the the house of the LORD the house of the LORD and

Chapters 5–9 of 2 Kings detail Solomon’s building of the temple and his own house, after which the temple becomes the singular iconic landmark of the kingdom, so we see repeated references to it.

1 Chronicles

3 4 5 6
the son of of the son of his son and his brother his son and his brother twelve

The shorter common phrases in 1 Chronicles come from the expected genealogies. But to my delight, the longer ones come from the obscure division of the labor of the singers of the temple in 1 Chronicles 25. There were 288 skilled singers, and David divided them by lot into twenty-four groups of twelve; for example, the final lot fell “to the twenty-fourth, to Romamti-ezer, his sons and his brothers, twelve.”

2 Chronicles

3 4 5 6
of the LORD the house of the the house of the LORD the house of the LORD and

Clearly, 2 Chronicles is all about “the house of the Lord”—indeed, it contains a second telling of the building of the temple, and then many later stories involve the cycles of corruption and cleaning of the temple.


3 4 5 6
the son of of the son of the province beyond the River of the province beyond the River

Because Ezra begins the return of Israel from their exile in Persia as permitted by Cyrus, it is concerned with recounting the genealogies of Israel—in particular, enrolling the true members of the nation of God. Many dozens of family listings follow, resulting in various forms of “the son of.” But what about that “province beyond the River”?

The grace of God shines through Cyrus, who sent Ezra with a letter to “the governors of the province beyond the River” to ensure he had the materials he needed to rebuild Jerusalem, and that those governors didn’t disrupt his work. Ezra records copies of those letters and his interactions with those governors.


3 4 5 6
the son of of the house of the house of our God and set its door its bolt

Nehemiah oversees the rebuilding of Jerusalem and especially its wall. Nehemiah 3 describes the rebuilding and setting of the gates of Jerusalem, saying that the builders rebuilt each gate, laid its beams, “and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.” He is also tasked with not only rebuilding the temple but restoring, to the greatest extent possible, its former glory. The book therefore records the people’s gifts to “the house of our God.”


3 4 5 6
the king ‘s of the king ‘s if it please the king month which be the month of

Esther’s story takes place under the reign of King Ahasuerus, who is also a major character in the story, so the repeated references to the king make sense. The book also explains the origin of the celebration of Purim, which occurs on a specific day each year, and as a result is significantly concerned with calendar time—when a bet was made, when an edict was issued, when a battle took place. Two formulas are used, one for days and one for months:

  • “On the [first, second, etc.] day of the [first, second, etc.] month, which is the month of [name of month]”—giving the Hebrew month name, presumably to translate for a people living under the Babylonian calendar system.
  • “In the [first, second, etc.] month, which is the month of [name of month]”—same concept, but excluding the day.


3 4 5 6
answer and say be in the right then Job answer and say and the LORD say to Satan

The entire plot of Job is set up in the first chapter as a series of conversations between Satan and God, explaining the repeated phrase, “and the Lord said to Satan.” Most of the rest of the book is a conversation among Job, his wife, and his four companions, regarding the cause of and solution to Job’s suffering. The beginning of each discourse is marked by, “then [speaker] answered and said…” Finally, a significant topic of their discourse is how a man can ever “be in the right” before God.


3 4 5 6
of the LORD his steadfast love endure his steadfast love endure forever for his steadfast love endure forever

With 150 psalms written by no fewer than seven authors, it’s not surprising to find little commonality. However, Psalm 136 has a repetitive call-and-response structure where the response is always, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”


3 4 5 6
of the wicked be an abomination to the fear of the LORD be an abomination to the LORD

Almost every proverb contrasts the thoughts and deeds of the wise man and the foolish man, the upright and the wicked. The author repeats sentiments like, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.” (Proverbs 15:9)


3 4 5 6
under the sun this also be vanity be do under the sun that be do under the sun

One of the most famous phrases of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), is just one of many examples where the author draws a universal conclusion about “all that is done under the sun.”

Song of Solomon

3 4 5 6
be like a o daughter of Jerusalem I adjure you o daughter I adjure you o daughter of

This love song repeatedly compares the lovers and their bodies to other things, so the super-common simile language makes sense. The author addresses “the daughters of Jerusalem” six times, of which four are adjurations, and three of those are pleas “that [they] not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” (Song of Solomon 2:7, Song of Solomon 3:5, Song of Solomon 8:4)


3 4 5 6
of the LORD the LORD of host the Holy One of Israel for all this his anger have

The prophecies of Isaiah are long and complex, and its most famous passages (like Isaiah 9:6) do not have enough repetition to show up on this chart. However, we do see Isaiah’s favorite name for God: “the Holy One of Israel.” Of the thirty times this phrase appears in the Bible, twenty-five (83%) are in Isaiah.


3 4 5 6
declare the LORD thus say the LORD the word of the LORD thus say the LORD of host

I was very surprised to see the declarations of God show up on this list in Jeremiah and Ezekiel; I would have guessed all the prophets, especially the major prophets, would use such a formulation, making it less unique and therefore less likely to rise to the top. However, Jeremiah uses fifty of the seventy-three instances of “thus says the Lord of hosts,” more than two-thirds.


3 4 5 6
the daughter of of the daughter of the daughter of my people of the daughter of my people

Referring to Israel, “the daughter of my people” appears in both Jeremiah and Lamentations, which is not surprising considering their shared authorship. Ten of the eleven occurrences of this phrase (91%) are in one of those two books (the eleventh is in Isaiah).


3 4 5 6
the Lord God thus say the Lord thus say the Lord God know that I be the LORD

As with Jeremiah, I was surprised at the first five entries here. However! I was not at all surprised by the sixth, which is a phrase that shows up all the time in Ezekiel—next time you read this book, watch for it. You’ll be amazed: fully eighty-one of the Bible’s eighty-eight instances of this phrase (92%) are in Ezekiel. He wants you to know who God is.


3 4 5 6
the king of the king of the the wise man of Babylon be wet with the dew of

Most people know the basic outline of Daniel: he is exiled to Babylon, raised in the palace, thrown in a lion’s pit, and rescued from there by God. But there’s a lesser-known story in Daniel 4 where King Nebuchadnezzar is made to live like an animal, driven from cities, and naturally every morning he is “wet with the dew of heaven.”


3 4 5 6
and I will in the day of the child of Israel shall I will betroth you to I

The great metaphor of Hosea is his marriage to Gomer, a prostitute. God commands Hosea to seek out Gomer repeatedly and redeem her, just as God seeks out His children and redeems them. We, as his children, are betrothed to him “forever…in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy…in faithfulness.” (Hosea 2:19–20)


3 4 5 6
of the LORD the LORD your God for the day of the for the day of the LORD

“For the day of the Lord” is just barely most-common in Joel; four of the Bible’s seven uses of the phrase (57%) occur there. In each case, “for” means “because”—Joel proclaims mourning because of the imminent day of the Lord.


3 4 5 6
the Lord God thus say the LORD thus say the LORD for thus say the LORD for three

Amos proclaims judgment on Israel and her neighbors, one by one, with the formula, “Thus says the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of [nation], and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because….’” The first two chapters of Amos proclaim eight judgments this way: Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, the Ammonites, Moab, Judah, and Israel. Bonus: this formula is called Graded Numerical Parallelism, probably my favorite construction in all of Scripture.


3 4 5 6
the day of in the day of in the day of his in the day of his calamity

Obadiah says “in the day of his calamity” only twice, both in Obadiah 1:13 as a warning to Israel’s neighbors not to gloat over Israel’s judgment. But the value of the technique we used to find all these phrases is that even though it only appears twice, and judgments against Israel are not exactly rare among the prophets, it’s unique to Obadiah.


3 4 5 6
of the LORD the word of the the word of the LORD from the presence of the LORD

Jonah is the most famous person to run from God, so we are not at all surprised that this fact appears on this list.


3 4 5 6
of the LORD of the house of of the house of Israel of Jacob and ruler of the

When I think of Micah, I always think of his prophecy of Jesus (Micah 5:2) and his ringing correction of our understanding of sacrifice (Micah 6:6–8). But he also speaks directly to the “heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel,” the corrupt ones who “detest justice,” and this linguistic tool reminds us that there’s more to the Bible than the verses we remember.


3 4 5 6
the LORD be he will make a he will make a complete he will make a complete end

“Nahum” means “comfort,” and indeed the bloody, disaster-filled book of Nahum is intended to be a comfort to Israel as God defeats all her enemies; “he will make a complete end” of them.


3 4 5 6
woe to he woe to he who why do you idly look why do you idly look at

The five woes in [Habakkuk 2] clearly shine through this analysis, as do his admonitions to those who can see the wicked and, instead of defending the righteous and punishing traitors, merely “look idly at” them.


3 4 5 6
of the LORD the day of the at that time I will from the face of the earth

The most-indicative phrases from Zephaniah tell a story of destruction by God in the day of the Lord, and indeed that’s what you find in his prophecy. The disaster he prophesies is total, rivaling the flood: God says, “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:2)


3 4 5 6
the LORD of the LORD of host say the LORD of host the word of the LORD come

Two major prophets—Jeremiah and Ezekiel—use “says the Lord of hosts” enough that it shows up on their lists; the same is true for the final three minor prophets: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. So let’s focus on the other phrases. Haggai records the prophet bringing the word of the Lord specifically to Zerubabbel and Joshua, the governor and high priest of Judah, respectively.


3 4 5 6
LORD of host the LORD of host say the LORD of host thus say the LORD of host

Every most-indicative phrase in Zechariah is about God speaking. Awesome.


3 4 5 6
say the LORD the LORD of host say the LORD of host but you say how have we

Malachi answers the outwardly faithful just as Jesus does in His famous story about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25): “But you say, ‘How have we done this bad thing?’” And he answers exactly how they have done this thing of which they refuse to be accused.

New Testament


3 4 5 6
say to he I say to you truly I say to you what be speak by the prophet

Matthew wrote his gospel to a primarily Jewish audience with a focus on the inclusivity of Jesus’s saving work—that is, Jesus came for Gentiles as well as Jews. Matthew serves this audience in a couple of important ways, and one of them is explicitly demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.


3 4 5 6
say to they and he say to and he say to they the chief priest and the scribe

I was hoping “immediately” would show up in this initial analysis; it didn’t, but it’s coming later. Instead, we see six instances of “the chief priests and the scribes” (compared to one in Matthew, four in Luke, and none in John), all in the context of the plot to arrest and kill Jesus.


3 4 5 6
he say to and he say to and he say to they say to they why be you

My only guess for why this six-word phrase pops out of Luke is that his gospel is so diverse that there are relatively few phrases that repeat at all. He is giving a history, so we might expect that he would have less repetition for storytelling or poetic reasons than the prophecy-focused Matthew, the immediacy-focused Mark, or the theology-focused John. Otherwise, I confess I’m not sure.


3 4 5 6
say to he I say to you truly truly I say to truly truly I say to you

I love that John’s use of Jesus’s promises shows up here. He’s the only gospel author who uses this specific repetitive formulation for these promises, and he uses it twenty-five times.


3 4 5 6
the Holy Spirit and when they have the word of the Lord the name of the Lord Jesus

We are not surprised by the sudden appearance of “the Holy Spirit” in Acts, since the work of the Spirit through the disciples of Jesus is the entire point of the book.


3 4 5 6
the one who as it be write as it be write the to bring about the obedience of

Paul loves to quote the Old Testament as he draws out his arguments from the law and the prophets to the new freedom in Christ. Romans contains fourteen instances of “as it is written”; the rest of the New Testament contains only eleven.

1 Corinthians

3 4 5 6
I do not do you not know do you not know that or do you not know that

Paul’s rhetorical flourish—”do you not know?”—shines in 1 Corinthians, no more so than in 1 Corinthians 6, where six times Paul insists that the people should have known these basic spiritual truths, but they have fallen away from them.

2 Corinthians

3 4 5 6
for we be accord to the flesh in the sight of God be be bring to an end

The long phrase here are the words, “was being brought to an end,” and they all refer to the shining glory of Moses’s face after he returned from speaking with God on the mountain; Paul compares that momentary glory, which the Israelites still could not bear to look upon, to the surpassing and eternal glory of the gospel of Christ.

Paul also clearly thought that the Corinthians had fallen into earthly desires and needs rather than focusing on spiritual things, and he accuses them six times of acting and thinking “according to the flesh.”


3 4 5 6
work of the work of the law by work of the law preach to you a gospel contrary

Paul’s main theme in Galatians is the replacement of the Law—which had value—with faith, which has infinitely more. He therefore discusses the works of the law. The long phrase, “preach to you a gospel contrary,” is used exactly once in Galatians. Does that mean there are no other six-word phrases in Galatians that are unique to that book?


3 4 5 6
accord to the in the heavenly place of our Lord Jesus Christ Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

I wasn’t expecting “in the heavenly places” to make the list for Ephesians, but it surely does: five times in Ephesians and nowhere else in the Bible, Paul refers to both our being seated with Christ and spiritual forces of evil. If you remember the famous “armor of God” paragraph from [[Ephesians 06]], this focus might make sense in the context of spiritual warfare.


3 4 5 6
in the Lord the Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of Christ have reason for confidence in the

Nearly 10% of the verses in Philippians (9/104) use the phrase “in the Lord.” You’d think that phrasing would be common throughout the Bible, and it is, but nowhere as densely as in this letter.


3 4 5 6
that you may the will of God of your faith in Christ to the elemental spirit of the

I don’t know why Paul referred to earthly concerns as “the elemental spirits of the world” in this letter, but it’s an interesting turn of phrase that shows up twice here and nowhere else in Scripture.

1 Thessalonians

3 4 5 6
our Lord Jesus our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father to you the gospel of God

Another phrase that seems more common than it is, Paul recounts his ministry proclaiming “to [the Thessalonians] the gospel of God” in unique terms, apparently.

2 Thessalonians

3 4 5 6
Lord Jesus Christ of our Lord Jesus of our Lord Jesus Christ God our Father and the Lord

“Of our Lord Jesus Christ” shows up as particularly common both here and in Ephesians, but of course similar phrases show up all over the New Testament, so I don’t know that we learn much, unfortunately. The same is true for the six-word phrase here.

1 Timothy

3 4 5 6
of Christ Jesus in the presence of that be in Christ Jesus the saying be trustworthy and deserving

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance” is the full phrase used twice in 1 Timothy and nowhere else. Paul is giving Timothy both advice and confidence to continue his ministry in Paul’s absence.

2 Timothy

3 4 5 6
in Christ Jesus that be in Christ that be in Christ Jesus you have hear from I in

Likewise, 2 Timothy contains instruction from Paul to Timothy; in this case, the phrase “you have heard from me” appears in two sections where Paul encourages Timothy to follow his example and his teachings.


3 4 5 6
be to be of God our Savior to devote themselves to good to devote themselves to good work

Paul wants Titus to teach his people to “devote themselves to good works.” Paul is famously concerned with the necessity of works alongside a strong and informed faith, and it shows up here.


3 4 5 6
to you and the Lord Jesus Christ Paul a prisoner for Christ Paul a prisoner for Christ Jesus

This book is so short that practically every phrase is “common” within it, making these results somewhat suspect. But it’s interesting that of all Paul’s letters, several of which were probably written from prison, only here does he actually introduce himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”


3 4 5 6
the blood of after the order of after the order of Melchizedek at the right hand of the

Hebrews is primarily concerned with the proper identification of the savior of the world, namely Jesus Christ. Three times its author reminds us that Jesus—the creator and sustainer of the universe (Hebrews 1:3), the eternal and surpassing high priest (Hebrews 8:1), and the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)—is seated now at the right hand of God.

The result including Melchizedek might be my favorite on this entire page. Or maybe tied with Ezekiel’s “know that I am the Lord.” Hebrews’s treatment of Melchizedek demands far more words than I have space for here; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read Hebrews 7 and be delighted.


3 4 5 6
the one who testing of your faith have promise to those who have promise to those who love

Those who love God will “receive the crown of life” (James 1:12) and be “heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5). These things are promised.

1 Peter

3 4 5 6
of Jesus Christ to those who be through the resurrection of Jesus through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Here’s another surprisingly unique phrase: “through the resurrection” appears in only 1 Peter. In fact, the phrase “the resurrection of Jesus” is also unique to this book. I had no idea.

2 Peter

3 4 5 6
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of our Lord and Savior of our Lord and Savior Jesus

Peter comes up with another unique phrase: “of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” appears only in 2 Peter: once referring to “the eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11), once referring to “the knowledge” (2 Peter 2:20), and once referring to “the grace and knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18).

1 John

3 4 5 6
we know that have be bear of have be bear of God by this we know that we

John’s principle concern in this letter is to combat gnosticism; one of the ways he does so is to give indicators of salvation through Christ (as opposed to the gnostic sense of salvation, which was escape from the “evil” body to become purely “good” spirit through the revelation of special knowledge). Thus “by this we know…” as well as “has been born of God…”

2 John

3 4 5 6
the Father and will be with we the elder to the elect the elder to the elect lady

The greeting, “The elder to the elect lady and her children” is partially repeated in 3 John, as we see immediately below. The unique words, then, are “will be with us,” a promise of Christ’s eternal blessing. (2 John is a warning to discern teachers of Christ from teachers of another gospel; these words do not add much to this central message.)

3 John

3 4 5 6
go well with be walk in the be walk in the truth the elder to the beloved Gaius

John refers twice to the joy he gets when he knows his brothers “are walking in the truth.” Since all three of his letters urge discernment regarding gnosticism, he would naturally rejoice at those who distinguish the true gospel from false ones.


3 4 5 6
Lord Jesus Christ of our Lord Jesus of our Lord Jesus Christ Jude a servant of Jesus Christ

Jude is only 610 words long in the ESV; he spends twelve of them on six instances of the name “Jesus Christ,” four of which refer to Jesus as Lord. He is concerned, like John, with combating false teachings in the church, which requires him to distinguish the lordship of Jesus from any other gospel.


3 4 5 6
of the earth a third of the 12,000 from the tribe of have an ear let he hear

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you know I love numbers in the Bible, and two of the most-distinctive phrases in Revelation include numbers: “a third” and “12,000.” I love it. You can read all about those numbers in the series on numbers in Revelation, so let’s focus here on the long phrase, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” Seven of these conclude the letters to the seven churches (you can’t escape sevens in Revelation), and one introduces a strident call for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10). The author of Revelation urgently needs all his readers to listen and act.

What’s Next?

There are a lot more questions we can ask about words. I have two.

  1. I’ve been comparing phrases of similar length across books, but we can also ask what phrases of any length are most distinctive for a particular book.

  2. What question do we have to ask to identify Mark’s urgency?

Let me know what else you’d like to know.

  1. Ezekiel’s use of this phrase is so distinctive that Jules’s almighty speech from Pulp Fiction (warning: language) concludes, “And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.” Only that last phrase matches the real Ezekiel 25:17, but it sounds believable, right? 

  2. Python’s Natural Language Toolkit and spAcy

  3. I tokenized the text with spAcy to reduce each word to its base; that way, tenses, plurals and pronouns didn’t interfere with the frequency computation. I didn’t remove stop words, because they are important parts of the way we remember these verses, even though they get in the way of linguistic analysis a bit. 

  4. We already saw that the most-common one-word phrases aren’t very distinctive; two-word phrases aren’t much better. The phrases and frequencies are, “of the” (28), “the LORD” or “the Lord” (16), “say to” (4), “son of” (3), “the king” (2), “in the” (2), and one instance each of “be like”, “be the”, “do not”, “I will”, “Jesus Christ”, “of God”, “the day”, “the truth”, “to be”, “to the”, and “to you”.