Richard Bauckham in The Climax Of Prophecy , Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993), 30. [Online at the Internet Archive, free registration] observes that John extensively uses certain words and phrases either four times, seven times, or two times, along with certain multiples, such as fourteen and twenty-eight.

Bauckham (p37) supposes that John perhaps borrows this literary device from the Prophets, but apparently lacks (and seeks) evidence for that. In a related stack exchange question Revelation: Why might John use word frequency patterns - do they to convey hermeneutic meaning? commenters suggest that word-patterns might be common in wider Scripture, and asked that this question be raised so that examples might be provided.

I emphasise that this question is not about content or interpretation of the main text of Scripture. It is supplemental, about the literary device of word-frequency in composition of wider scripture, excluding Revelation.

  • I think this is an interesting question, but the answer must deal with the original Greek words used and might be expanded to include the style of Greek writing. For example, the book called Hebrews is an anonymous scholarly argument, letter, or sermon written for Jewish followers in elegant Classical Greek, while Revelation was written (or translated) into Greek by someone not fluent in Greek. The comparison of concepts between New Testament authors is likely more relevant to hermeneutics than their articulation in Greek.
    – Dieter
    Oct 1, 2023 at 18:57

2 Answers 2


Here are some examples:

  • "Three and a half" occurs four times: - Luke 4:25, James 5:17, Rev 11:9, 11
  • The 1260 days/42 month/time, times and half a time occurs seven times in the Bibe, twice in the OT (Dan 7:25, 12:7) and five times in the NT (Rev 11:2, 3, 12:6, 14, 13:5)
  • "Seventy Years" prophecy occurs, Isa 23:15, Jer 25:11, 12, 29:10, 2 Chron 36:21, Dan 9:2, Zech 1:11, 12, 7:5 - nine times
  • "Abraham" occurs 73 times in the NT and 175 times in the OT
  • The verb "love" (agapao) occurs 143 times in the NT
  • The noun "love" (agape) occurs 116 times in the NT
  • The noun "angelos" (angel/messenger) occurs 175 or 176 times in the NT
  • The verb "sanctify" (hagiazo) occurs 28 times in the NT
  • The verb "redeem/buy" (agorazo) occurs 30 times in the NT
  • The noun "Egypt" occurs 25 times in the NT
  • The noun "air" occurs 7 times in the NT
  • The very significant verb "follow" (akoloutheo) occurs 90 times in the NT
  • The noun "truth" (aletheia) occurs 109 times in the NT
  • The adjective "Truthful/genuine" (alethinos) occurs 28 times in the NT
  • The noun "Lamb" (arnion) occurs 30 times in the NT
  • etc, etc

The word frequencies vary from 21117 times (the article "ho") to once for a large number of words. I suggest the OP looks at a good Greek lexicon where all the word counts are listed. There is very little pattern that can be deduced from these numbers.

  • It calls for composition review of the Prophets, by author by book. Of crucial theological or anthropological phrases rather than arbitrary terms spread throughout the NT. Such research is likely to be scholarly. Not least because of the work involved. Bauckham was unware of any such pattern except in Revelation. Commenters on the related thread claimed this literary device is widespread in Scripture, and requested this reasonable question to provide evidence such pattern exists outside of Revelation. Which personally I doubt is possible, but let's see....
    – user59096
    Oct 1, 2023 at 21:40
  • 1
    @Thermion - now you are asking a different question. Your question specifically says "word count".
    – Dottard
    Oct 1, 2023 at 21:43
  • no, the question plainly says word-frequency patterns. Let's take this up in chat, but let's also note I raised this reasonable question at your request, and there still might be some insight from answers to follow.
    – user59096
    Oct 1, 2023 at 21:55

Mikeal C. Parsons provides an extensive account of the ways numbers feature in NT and early Christian composition as a structural literary device [Journal of the NABR Perspective in Religious Studies, 'Exegesis "By the Numbers": Numerology and the New Testament', Mikeal C. Parsons, Baylor University, Waco TX 76798]. This paper cites extensive references and commentary.

It demonstrates example of compositional and structural patterns from NT text, it is claimed, extending even to writings of early Christian elders such as Augustine and Chrysostom. It considers, in part, the role of numerical composition for ancient writers as a structuring principle. Though I note that it differs from Bauckham when considering composition, in that it counts meaningful structures or parts rather than specific words or terms. It nevertheless resembles Baukham's hypothesis, in part, sufficient to warrant reference here as a possible answer or contribution toward the OP question.

A brief example, it claims that the genealogy in Matthew 1 is structured according to the three sets of fourteen (7 X 2) generations each, and the opening narrative of Matthew 1-4 contains seven fulfillments of Scripture by Christ (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14).

Parsons goes further and observes compositional patterns even with the NT canon.

I emphasise this question does not claim or attach any value to interpretation, merely to establish whether or not word-frequency patterns might exist as a literary device in Scripture outside of Revelation. Upon evidence of these references, I accept they might but as structures of composition and compilation, and could even be widespread. However, in Parson's reasonably extensive account I find little or no support for Bauckman's specific request to identify meaningful word-patterns in wider Scripture outside of Revelation. I note that it is notoriously difficult to prove non-existance, and that Parson's paper considers NT only.

Credit Ian Paul, Numerical Composition and Revelation’s Unity [July 13, 2015], for introducing the Parsons reference.

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