“We do well not to jump to conclusions too hastily, but we’d be foolish not to use this study as an occasion to think about our theological principles and of the best practices and examples out there. That said, it is rather shocking not to see Deuteronomy 6:4–5, Exodus 3:14, or Exodus 34:6–7 located in the top 10 verses, much less the top 100! Further, the marginalization of the Psalms surely says something, as well as the seemingly complete absence of the Song of Songs. If the seeming absences really evidence the absence of those texts from Christian theology, then we are the worse for it. Jesus proclaimed his gospel by means of its roots in eternity and in the economy of God’s covenant with Israel. Therefore, we cannot be Christ-centered without being canonical in our approach.”
Do you ever feel that pastors are always preaching on the same Bible verses? Or that theologians always seem to reference the Gospels and Paul, but rarely the Old Testament?
You’re likely right, according to a new study of the 100 Bible verses cited most frequently in systematic theology books. Faithlife, the organization behind Logos Bible Software, examined more than 830,000 verses across more than 300 works to produce the list.
Unsurprisingly, the New Testament gets used a lot more than the Old Testament, with references to Paul’s letters making especially frequent appearances. The Gospel of John, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Book of Hebrews are also frequently cited.
By contrast, only 9 of the top 100 most-cited Bible passages in systematic theology come from the Old Testament—with Genesis accounting for 8 of them. (Isaiah is the ninth).
References to 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, and Ezra are among the least common, with most of the historical literature in the Old Testament receiving very short shrift from theologians. Wisdom literature and prophecy faired a bit better, as did the Pentateuch. But only Genesis and Isaiah cracked the top 100 list.
Certain books had nearly every verse cited at some point by some theologian. For example, Romans and 1 Corinthians are completely accounted for, with each verse receiving at least one citation somewhere. But other parts of the Bible are not cited at all, such as portions of Genesis 5 and 10, genealogies in 1 Chronicles, and even in Matthew.
Logos produced its top 100 list by using research techniques employed for “big data” analytics to comb the systematic theology resources within its databases for all the Bible references, and then ranked the verses by frequency.
Logos also classified each reference for what sort of doctrine or topic it was used for, and offered breakouts of the top five references for a variety of theological categories, including Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, eschatology, and theology proper. After theology proper, Christology enjoys the most biblical references in its top five list, with the top verse (John 1:14) referenced 449 times. On the other end of the spectrum, eschatology (theology of the end times) and demonology (theology of demons) had very low frequencies for their top verses.
This could easily be explained by the relative availability of verses on each topic; but the frequency of citations for the different breakouts provides food for thought when compared. Does the high frequency of references for Christology or soteriology indicate the scriptural importance of those topics, or the concern of theologians to explain them? Perhaps both?
Perhaps most interesting—and potentially disturbing—is the dearth of Old Testament references among the 100 most-cited verses. This raises the question of whether the Old Testament is necessary for Christian theology, and whether it should be included in systematic theology more often.
Is such a strong preference for the same key verses, especially those in the New Testament, a problem in systematic theology?