December 04, 2005

Word Counts in the Gospels

I was recently reading a commentary on the Gospels that repeatedly made use of word counts from different Gospels. The phrase “Son of God” appeared so and so times in Mark, and many more times in John and the like. This was done to point out the differences in Christology, or themes in the Gospels.

In the sprit of this, I decided to do a study of my own based on two separate terms. I used to the ESV as a basis for my research.


Matthew (10) times.
Mark (6) times.
Luke (8) times.
John (23) times.

From this we can see characteristically Mark has the lowest “waterology” while John has the higher. This is no doubt due to growing acceptance of water in the later Christian community but perhaps is do to later redaction.

Clearly, given the vast amount of references to water in the later Gospel of John, and so few in the earlier Gospel of Mark (and less over all in “Q”) we can conclude that less water is more likely historically accurate. This should lead one to Markian Priority.


Matthew (7) times.
Mark (1) times.
Luke (4) times.
John (5) times.

Clearly the immediate nature of Mark’s Gospel leaves no room for eating, thus he includes few references to food. Later gospels begin to add details, making up occurrences of food that clearly did not exist in the earlier Mark tradition. Luke being a physician wishes people would eat less, this leads him to redact the occurrences of food in Matthew.

John characteristically rearranges all the passages that we find food, mostly linking this food to the fulfillment of Jewish Festivals. Matthew on the other hand, writing to Jews highlights food more often, and in a Jewish context.

In case you didn’t catch my tongue in cheek --- while I think these “counts” can have some merit I believe they ignore the very real reasons, textual reasons words or phrase appear more in one Gospel then another. Basic themes, length of the Gospel, and relative style dictate word use far more then some of the silly notions careless scholars promote.

Word counts can be a starting point, but shouldn’t be a basis to lay grand claims.


At December 04, 2005 1:50 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Good points. It's hard to take word counts in the gospels to mean much because they are all different lengths. Comparison of certain words or phrases--Mark uses this, while Mathew tends to use this--can be helpful, but finding anything of any real signicance is usually going to primarily be the synoptics against John, don't you think? However, even then, a phrase like "son of God" (used by your professor) if found more in John doesn't necessarily mean a higher christology seeing as the synoptics use "son of man" regularly which carried tremendous messianic significance.


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