What is the shortest verse in the bible?
Any quick research will tell you that the shortest verse in the bible is located in John 11 verse 35 which is translated into english “Jesus wept.” Which, unfortunately, is not the shortest verse in the bible, let me explain the mix-up and tell you the true shortest verse. Using our criteria there is actually a tie for the shortest verse but neither of them are John 11:35.
The Bible Was Not Originally Written in English.
I know what you might be thinking, “no kidding captain obvious, so what?” This is where all the mix-up has happened. In the english bible we can easily find the shortest verse as John 11:35. “Jesus wept” is only 9 letters in total, it is hard to get much shorter than that! There are indeed shorter verses when you look at the bible in its original language. You may know that the new testament was written in Greek while the old testament was written mostly in Hebrew and some Aramaic.
What Criteria We Used to Decide Which Bible Verse is the Shortest.
- Original Language: So technically, when we are looking for short verses in the bible, I think it’s fair to say that we should be looking at the original language. Only considering the english language translation would make us change which verse is shortest depending on what language it was translated in, I think to stay true to the Holy Bible we look at the original text.
- Letters Over Words: This was a more difficult decision than you would think. You can look at bible verse length in 2 ways, the number of words in a verse or the number of letter/syllables in a verse. The main reason the number of words in a verse did not become the main criteria is due to the number of verses that have the same amount of words. There are many that only have 2 words in a verse. So naturally, looking at the mount of letters/syllables is the next logically step, almost like a tie breaker criteria. I would like to recognize that his gives a slight advantage to the Old Testament and here’s why:
- Koine Greek: This is the original greek language of the new testament and has 24 letters in its complete alphabet.
- Hebrew: The original language of the majority of the old testament has 22 letters but are only consonants. I think this gives a slight advantage to the Old Testament because their words are naturally shorter without the vowels.
John 11:35 is Powerful but not the Shortest Verse in the Bible.
Well, at least it is not the shortest by our standard. If you are attempting to answer a trivia question, this might be the two-word verse they are looking for (Jesus wept), but it’s wrong. It is, however, very moving to know that Jesus Christ would feel grief to the point of weeping. As you may know, Jesus lost a friend and was “deeply moved” (vs. 38) by the loss. The loss of His friend (Lazarus) had impacted Him. I think there is power in the fact that Christ Jesus too has emotions and has experienced loss. He is a God that truly understands. You may also remember that Jesus then performs the raising of Lazarus shortly after this verse. A powerful act that reveals the glory of God
John 11:35 Original Koine Greek Language: ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ ἰησοῦς
Although most of us understand this verse to be “Jesus wept,” a better translation would be “Jesus shed tears.” Either way it doesn’t change the concept or an understanding of what took place. It is worthy to note that the greek manuscripts show this verse to have 16 Greek letters. While this definitely ranks in the “shortest bible verses” list, it is not at the top of that list. When it comes to the shortest verse there is actually a tie, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 wins on having the least number of letters (syllables) in the new testament and Job 3:2 wins for the Old Testament.
1st Thessalonians 5:16 Original Koine Greek language: πάντοτε χαίρετε
You’ll notice that this verse has 2 less letters in it when comparing it to the verse in John. This 14 letter verse is often translated into english as, “Rejoice Always.” The translation is a tiny bit longer when in english as apposed to “Jesus wept.” The mix-up tends to happen based off of the english translation. This verse is tied with a verse in the old testament, I will describe this next verse below…
Job 3:2 Original Language: וַיַּ֥עַן אִיּ֗וֹב וַיֹּאמַֽר׃
You will most likely see this bible verse translated as “and Job said.” You may notice that this verse has the same amount of characters in it as the verse in Thessalonians, 14 syllables. I have to admit that this is more difficult to see unless you are familiar with Hebrew. So by using our criteria we can see that there is a tie for the shortest verse in the bible, I think I may have a tie breaker to consider if we absolutely had to make a decision.
The Tie Breaker Criteria and Winner:
The bible has been around for a long time with multiple cultures and languages over the years which makes good reason why this task is difficult. If I had to choose a winner, I would choose Job 3:2 as the shorter verse. The tie breaker criteria I would use is the Greek translation of this verse. The Koine Greek writers were even closer to this verse’s original writing date. When they translate this verse it came out to one word “λέγων” which translates into english as “He spoke.” The Greek translation has very few symbols, it is numbered at 5 syllables which is by far the least compared to any other verse in scripture. I would place 1 Thessalonians 5:16 as the second shortest verse.
Who Decided Where Bible Verses Began and Ended?
It may be no surprise to you but the entire bible was not originally written with chapters and verses. These came later… much later. These were added later to simply help with finding and referring to areas of scripture. Stephen Langton was the one who developed the chapters and verses that we are most familiar with today. He was an Archbishop of Canterbury and had developed and placed these chapter/verse divisions around A.D. 1227. Nearly all bible translations have used Langton’s chapters/verses references but The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first.
Why Does It Matter?
To be candid with you, whatever the shortest verse of the bible or longest verse in the bible is does not really matter. Unless you are trying to win some points in a trivia game, chapter and verse length matters very little. It was just meant as a tool to help us reference parts of scripture.
The Holy Spirit inspired the holy scripture and any time spent reading it and studying can be life changing. The gospel of John, as well as all the gospels, share with us the life of Jesus that made it possible for us to experience eternal life. We get to read a glimpse of the life that He lived, from His miraculous birth to His death on a cross. It doesn’t take years of seminary or help from greek students to experience the love of God.
I understand the need to want the correct answer to some of these bible questions. Before we seek to be right, let us strive to be asking the most important questions.
Am I spending time with God regularly? If not… why not?
Christianity is about a relationship with the Lord, let’s prioritize the relationship over the knowledge and I am confident that you will grow spiritually.