What are the most popular bits of the bible, to quote and discuss?. Often trolling around the religious blogs it is clear that lots of folks don’t have a wide vocabulary to choose from. So tonight I did an experiment.
Using some code I have, I queried Google to ask how many unique pages it has in its index referring to each verse of the New Testament. I won’t go too much into methodology here, its kind of like looking at the number of results when you do a regular google query, but there’s a lot of faffing about needed to exclude duplicate content, and to account for aliases in the names (1Co, 1 Cor, 1 Corinthians, etc) tendencies such as the fact that verses at the start of popular ranges get mentioned more (e.g. 1 Cor 12:1-10, should either be credited to all ten verses, or none, not to 1 Cor 12:1, which a normal search would do).
The searching process involved 8000 separate searches, and the collation of a fair amount of data on about 15m pages. The top ten passages are:
|John 3:16||For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.|
|John 14:6||Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”|
|John 1:1||In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.|
|Matthew 28:19||Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.|
|Matthew 7:16||By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?|
|Acts 1:8||But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.|
|Colossians 4:3||Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.|
|Acts 2:38||Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”|
|John 10:10||The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.|
|Mark 16:15||He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”|
(Quotations from NIV)
Some of these were a *big* suprise to me. Colossians 4:3, really? Wow. And there’s an interesting pattern among the top 50 – many are missional like this. You can also see in this the problem of dividing by verses. Some quotes, like John 10:10 are rarely quoted in full, only the second half is normally used.
If you deal with frequencies at all, you know that distributions tend to be massively skewed: the winners win big, everyone else is way behind. Sure enough this distribution is a power law, with John 3:16 scoring more highly than the next 6 verses combined. And there are a lot of passages with only a handful of mentions.
Here is a graph of the frequency distribution of results. You can see that the first few are huge, and everyone else is basically nowhere. Obviously a very tiny proportion of the NT gets talked about.
A better diagram is the heat map above. This shows the relative distribution of popular bits. Note that the colors are generated by rank (not by absolute score), because if we did a heat map by score the whole thing would be purple with one or two blues, and then John 3:16 in red.
You can see some interesting trends on there (click for a bigger view, really it is worth it! – you may have to click again once it appears though, because it is taller than your screen, some browsers shrink it to fit). In particular you can see that John is the rockstar gospel, although Matthew’s sermon on the mount does pretty well. Among the letters Colossians is the clear winner, although Galatians is also pretty hot. I was surprised at 1 John, being so important, and 1 Corithians being so sparse. And Christians obviously don’t like encouragement, because Paul’s least scathing letter, 1 Thessalonians is practically entirely purple. And interesting that the top passage in Mark (16:15) isn’t really part of Mark at all.
There’s only so many conclusions you can draw around this, it is meant for fun rather than serious study. But if there are specific questions you’d like me to answer with the data, leave a comment.