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Jesus's Top Five Favorite Nouns
What are the top five Greek nouns that Jesus used the most frequently? Jesus used at least four hundred and one different nouns in just over nineteen hundred verses. Sixty-six of these nouns appear in only a single verse. The most popular noun appears in over two-hundred verses. And he only uses five nouns, the top five, in a hundred verses or more.
One thing we learn from looking at these five nouns is how important repetition was in Jesus’s teaching style. All of these words appear in the “catch phrases” used in the repetition that was part of Jesus’s humor. All of the top five nouns are used together in repeated phrases.
What nouns does Jesus used the most frequently?
Is This Number One?
By one way of counting, the most common noun Jesus uses refers to “humanity.” The Greek word is anthropos (ἄνθρωπος). In the singular, it means "man," "person" and "humanity". In the plural, it means "men," "people," and "peoples." Jesus uses this word two hundred and nine times. He apparently agreed with Alexander Pope, who said, "The proper study of mankind, is man."
This word applied to both sexes. This is not the word for a “male,” or even, a “masculine person” which are different words in Greek. In Mark 10:6, Jesus makes this point very clear by quoting the Greek of the Septuagint in Genesis 1:27:
Greek: καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον κατ᾽ εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς
NIV: So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
In this verse, “mankind” is anthropos (ἄνθρωπον), and “male” is a different word, arsen (ἄρσεν), and “female” is thelys (θῆλυ). So, if “mankind” comes in two different types, we clearly aren’t referring just to males but to women as well.
Over half of these references, in a hundred and twenty-two verses, come from a phrase where Jesus is referring to himself. This is, of course, “the son of the man” phrase, which we discuss in three or four articles, depending on how we count, starting here. Many of these “son of man” verses also use anthropos to refer to other people. For example, there are four verses where Jesus talks about the “son of man” being betrayed into the “hands of men.”
However, if we take out all those verses which only reference “the son of man,” we have a different number one.
The Better Number One?
In a hundred and ninety-one verses, Jesus uses the word “father.” In Greek, the word is pater (πατὴρ). This word is a bit broader in meaning than the English word. Jesus used it to mean "father," "author," “creator,” "parent," and "forefathers."
About ninety percent of the time, Jesus uses pater to discuss his own Father, but he also uses it to refer to other fathers, such as Father Abraham. Jesus quotes the commandment, “honor your father and mother," and called his opponent’s father, “the devil” in John 8:44. There is a pater in in the story of the prodigal son. A father defined the “house” or family people belonged to. When Jesus says he acts in his Father’s name, he is claiming to be a member of his house, under his authority and representing him.
Number Three: “Son”
The third most common noun Jesus used is the Greek word for “son.” The word is huios (υἱὸς). It appears in a hundred and fifty eight verses. It means a "son," and more generally, a "child." It is translated both ways in the Bible. In translation, we cannot tell if the “child” in any verse is huios or one of the five other nouns also translated, or one of the five other nouns also translated as “child. Just as “father” can refer to previous generations, this term was used to refer to any later generation. More broadly, any younger male might be called “son” when addressed directly. Jesus also used huios metaphorically to describe those who follow a set of beliefs that descend from an individual.
Of course, we already know that a hundred and twenty-two verses, refer to “the son of the man.” This accounts for most of the verses containing this word.
Number Four: “God”
The next most common noun is “God,” theos (θεος), which appears in a hundred and forty-four verses. The word means “God," "divine," and "Deity." It is almost always introduced with an article, so "the God," "the Divine" or "the divine one." Jesus usually uses it this way, perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.
How does Jesus most frequently talk about “God?” In terms of things that belong to him. In ninety-six of the verses in which he uses theos, it is in the form of possession, the genitive. In forty-nine of those ninety-six, it is used in the phrase “kingdom of God.” Which explains why the Greek word for “kingdom” is number six on the top ten list of nouns.
The phrase “son of God” is not common at all. The word “son,” (huios), is used with “God,” (theos) in only seven verses. In only three of these verses is “son” preceded by the definite article, identifying a specific person. In one verse, “sons” is plural. In only four verses, “God” is preceded by the definite article, “the Divine,” so it has the sense of “a divine.” Although both theos and huios make our top five, they are not used together much at all. Similarly, “father” (pater) and “God” (theos) are not used together very often either. They appear together in only eleven verses.
Number Five: The Skies
Our fifth most common noun, ouranos (οὐρανῶς), means “sky,” "the vault of the sky," "the region of the gods," "the universe," and "the climate." See this article. It is usually translated as “heaven,” but it most commonly appears in the plural with an article in front of it, “the skies.” Though it means “the region of the gods,” it didn’t mean it in the same way as we do when we talk about heaven. Pagan peoples meant the home of the gods in a physical sense: the sun, moon, and planets were not only named for the gods but were worshipped as gods.
Ouranos appears in a hundred and eleven verses. Thirty-one of those verses include the word “kingdom” for the common phrase, “the kingdom of heaven”, or, more accurately, “the realm of the skies.” More about the word in this article.
Jesus’s Most and Least Favorites
If we put the Greek words for “father” and “God” together, they are by far the most popular topic for Jesus to talk about. However, “God” or “the Divine” must take a back seat to “Father.” Jesus was working very hard to change people’s perspective on God, seeing Him as a loving Father, rather than as the power judging the law.
Some concepts that are very important in Christianity today, such as “son of God” and :”God the father” were very minor aspects of Jesus’s teaching. However, seeing himself as the “the son of the man” was a major element of what he taught. It accounts largely for the frequency of both “man” and “son.” It was his humanity that Jesus focused on, not his divinity.