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Explore The Shortest Book in the Bible and More

If you ever wondered what is the shortest book in the Bible, you actually have a few short books to consider. Some of the shortest books in the Bible have only a single chapter. These short books are Obadiah, Philemon, Second John, Third John, and Jude.

Obviously, the word count would have been different in the original languages of Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek. To determine which book of the Bible is the shortest, consider the number of words or the number of verses. But, despite the minimal volume of the book, these short books of the Bible have much to say to the careful observer in their single chapter.

Shortest Book in the Bible — Number of Verses

The shortest book of the entire Bible, counting by number of verses, is the book of Second Epistle of John, which is found in the New Testament. The English translation of this short epistle has only 13 verses with a total of 298 words.

In this interesting short book, John identifies himself as “the elder,” and addresses his writing to “the elect lady and her children.” (verse 1) The Bible never divulges the identity of this chosen lady to whom the Apostle John wrote this letter, but some clues given.

an old lady reading

Some Bible scholars believe that John wrote this letter and called “the Church” the elect lady, meaning, he was writing to Christian believers in general. But upon close examination of this epistle, it seems that this individual was a specific woman. In verse 1, John addressed his writing to both the lady and “her children.”

It appears that this woman had biological children, i.e., a family. In verse 4, it also appears that John was very acquainted with at least some of her children, since he told her that he rejoiced when he found her children “walking in truth.” (verse 4)

The last verse of this short book of the Bible references that this lady also had a sister who had children, “The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.” — verse 13 (KJV). John was passing on greetings from this lady’s nieces and nephews, which gives another clue that the recipient of the letter was an actual female, and not a metaphor for a group of Christians or a house of worship.

Of all of the speculations as to the identity of this individual, it would seem that this lady to which John wrote this short letter was none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Jesus, while He was on the cross, entrusted the care of his mother to the Apostle John.

This is recorded in John’s Gospel. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” — John 19:26-27 (KJV)

Jesus on the cross

Interestingly enough, in this same chapter of the Gospel of John, he recorded that Mary had a sister, or perhaps a sister-in-law, whose name was Mary, too. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas.” — John 19:25 (KJV) This other “Mary” could have been the sister John referred to in his letter.

Shortest Book in the Bible — Number of Words

If you are looking for the shortest book in the Bible when using a word count alone, that book would be Third Epistle of John. With 294 words and 14 verses, this book has fewer words, but one more verse than Second John.

Third John was also written to a specific individual, this time to the “well-beloved Gaius.” (verse 1) John, again, introduced himself as “the elder.” John desired that Gaius would enjoy good health in verse 2, proving that Gaius was an actual human. And in verse 4, John indicated that Gaius was one of his sons since he used the phrase “my children” in verse 4. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” — 3 John verse 4 (KJV)

an old man reading

Whether Gaius became a son through conversion to Christianity, or a biological child of the apostle, it is not clear, but when the apostle learned the good news of the Godly actions of Gaius, he rejoiced.

In writing to Gaius, John mentioned two particular individuals — the prideful Diotrephes, in verse 9, and the faithful Demetrius, in verse 12. He warned Gaius about Diotrephes, telling him not to follow evil, but rather, follow what is good. Then, later in his letter, John praised the faithful Demetrius since he had heard good things about this particular servant of God.

About the Author of These Small Books

Bible scholars have guesstimated that the Johannine Epistles were written between 80 and 100 A.D., though they are not certain where John was living at the time he wrote these early church letters. In Bible times, the ability to read and to write may have been limited to certain classes of people, usually wealthy, and not the general population.

Also, in those days, the materials on which to write letters were scarce. It may be that the specific individuals to whom both of these letters were addressed were never taught to read. Perhaps the letters were read to the recipients, and they may have committed the words to memory while carefully storing the original manuscripts.

ancient scrolls with red wax seal and white feather

Even though the Apostle John wrote the two shortest books of the Bible, brevity does not distinguish all of his work. He also wrote the First Epistle John, which is five chapters in length, the Gospel of John containing 21 chapters, and the prophetic book of Revelation with 22 chapters. He obviously wrote other letters that were not included in God’s Word, since he said in 3 John verse 9 “I wrote to the church…” (KJV)

Shortest Book in the Bible — Old Testament

The shortest book of the Old Testament and the third shortest book of the Bible is the Book of Obadiah, who book is contained among the “minor” prophets. In English, this book has 1 chapter containing 21 verses with a total of 669 words.

The “minor prophets” are called minor because they are some of the shorter books of the Christian Bible. Their volume may be minor, but their message is just as important as all of the other writings of God’s Word. The Prophet Obadiah wrote his book in the Hebrew language.

book of Obadiah

The significance of the Book of Obadiah concerns the nation of Edom, and in particular, the judgment of God against the people of Edom. The reason why God instigated the downfall of Edom, and brought severe judgement against them, was because of their cruelty toward the nation of Israel.

The key verse that summarizes this short book is verse 15: “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.” (KJV)

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The most important thing in reading the Word of God is not to look at the length of the book, but rather, to learn about God’s promises, the reality of the judgement of God, how to avoid His judgment, and keep yourself in the love of God.

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