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750,000 Words

There’s a saying in publishing that writers should take to heart: Edit to amplify. Editing is hard work, but it makes all the difference in the world. Too many unnecessary words dilute the message and cloud the story. As Mark Twain famously said to a friend, “I would have written you a short letter, but I didn’t have time, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

There’s no one who exemplifies the power of crisp editing better than God, the world’s all-time bestselling author. His written word, known by modern readers as the Bible, clocks in at an efficient 750,000 words.

You may be rolling your eyes at that number, thinking that three-quarters of a million is a lot of words. If so, consider this. William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets total 960,000 words. The Harry Potter books come in at just over a million. As Jon Bloom observed in his blog, “Numbers like these simply make us pause and wonder over God’s written word economy.

Economy indeed. The Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, so that’s just over 11,000 words per book. Granted, some books are longer than others, but even the longest one, Jeremiah, is just 33,000 words, which would barely fill 100 pages of a book with normal type and trim size.

The Book of Psalms, with 150 chapters, has 30,000 words. Yet contained in that collection is some of the most beautiful, insightful, timeless, and majestic literature ever written. Take the 23rd Psalm for example. This poem is just 109 words long, yet the astounding beauty and truth of those words tell us volumes about the nature and character of God in relationship to a hungry and grateful soul.

Edit to amplify. It’s a principle of communication the Holy Spirit followed at every step and in every detail through the 40 authors he inspired (2 Peter 1:21). Whether history, poetry, prophecy, biographies, or letters, the writing is crisp, lean, clear, and powerful.

We may sometimes complain that the Bible is too long and complicated, and it’s true that there are parts that call out for understanding and sometimes ignite disagreement. But there’s no denying that these 750,000 words are, as the writer of the Book of Hebrews puts it, “alive and active.” They are “sharper than any double-edged sword,” penetrating our very “soul and spirit, joints and marrow” judging “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

It would be nice if every time we read some of those 750,000 words we felt their power. That isn’t always the case, however, because too often we approach the Bible without expectation. Sometimes we read its words out of duty. It happens.

Other times we have to get to the end of ourselves before we realize just how alive and active and sharp and penetrating God’s words really are. Recently I heard of a young woman who felt about as far away from God as you could feel and still be one of his children. She was alone in a cabin that has been in her family for four generations. On a bookshelf she saw an old black King James Bible, worn and tattered, but identified inside as once belonging to her great grandmother.

At that moment, she was a little like Martin Luther, who heard the voice of God saying, “Take up and read.” And read she did, beginning in the first book. Nine hours later she was still reading. For three days she did nothing but read, compelled and confronted by the same supernatural God who wrote the words in the first place. She bent and bowed and became a new person all over again.

I don’t know how many of the 750,000 words she read, but it was enough to convince her of God’s power. For me it was a reminder that every word is “God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16, The Message).

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.