Ever wonder how many words in the Bible are said by women? Several of us have just spent almost four years researching that very question…and here’s a basic summary of our findings, also documented in Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter, just published by Forward Movement.
By our count…and we pored through every page in the Bible, specifically the NRSV, about 14,000 words are spoken by women. Some comparisons: The average size novel (take Brave New World by Aldous Huxley) is about 64,000 words long. Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union address averages about 7000 words; George W. Bush’s were about 5100 words. Using the average speaker’s pace of about 120 words per minute, the words of Bible women could be uttered in less than two hours.
The Bible—including the Old Testament, New Testament and Apocrypha—is about 1.1 million words long. Ballpark total, then: About 1.2% of the words in the Bible are said by women. Obviously an incredibly small number, there are two ways to look at that total: be angry and dismiss the whole thing, or pay more attention, rather than less, to what the verbal minority says. We have chosen the second option.
In the Bible, such words as “small” and “least of them” often mean, “Pay attention; something is happening here.” Note these examples of biblical minimalism:
- Gideon says he is the least of his tribe, (Judges 6:15) and therefore not worthy to be called as a judge or warrior in Israel—yet goes on to be both;
- Hagar, a servant, (Genesis 16:13) is the only person in the Old Testament to name God and one of the few to talk directly with God;
- Mary, an adolescent, (Luke 1:31) is chosen by God to give birth to Jesus;
- Elizabeth, an older childless woman, (Luke 1:13) is chosen by God to give birth to John the Baptist.
- And from Jesus, the same: When two or three are together in his name (Matthew 18:20) he will be in the midst of them; If his disciples had the faith of only a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), they could move a mountain.
- The widow put into the treasure only two small coins (Mark 12:42-44), yet was lauded by Jesus because it was all she had.
- And from Judith: “For thy power depends not upon numbers, nor thy might upon men of strength; for thou art God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forlorn, savior of those without hope.” (Judith 9:11)
Clearly, God’s vision does not place high value on quantity, but on quality. And the quality of words spoken by Bible women—whether they be said out of love, fear, passion, or frustration—has changed the world. Best example: If Mary had not said, “Let it be to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38)…imagine how different things would have been.