Determining the shortest book of the Bible requires us first to determine in what way we desire to answer the question. We could count the number of verses in each book, but verse numbers were not added to the text until the 1400s and 1500s. Counting the number of words would be more accurate.
The Bible was originally written primarily in Hebrew and Greek, though there are some passages in Aramaic. When translating from one language to another, the number of words can vary. For example, Isaiah 53:3 in the ESV says, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." This is a total of thirty-two words. However, in the original Hebrew there are only thirteen words. This is because several of the phrases in English require only a single word in Hebrew. For example, the phrase "we esteemed Him" takes up three words in English, but in Hebrew only needs one.
If we count the number of words in the original languages, then the shortest book of the Bible is 3 John, which comes in at a mere 219 words. The next shortest book is the book of 2 John with a few more at 245 words. Philemon places third with 335 words. The shortest book of the Old Testament, and the fourth shortest in the entire Bible, is the book of Obadiah at 440 words.
The easiest way to determine these numbers in the original languages is to use a good Bible software program, such as Logos Bible Software, to whom we give our thanks in the counts provided for this article.
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