The various titles of Jesus and their usage
A look at the scriptures through the lens of text analytics and data visualization
The Twitter profile of a former U.S. President reads “Dad, husband, President, citizen.” A popular author identifies herself on the social media site as, “Researcher. Storyteller. Texan.” And, an influential scientist describes himself as “Physicist, Author, Co-founder World Science Festival.” Like these examples, many of us also hold titles of familial, national and professional relevance that define our priorities as well as our identities.
Of course, no person holds any title more important than the several that are ascribed to the man Jerusalem knew as Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago. Most were given to him by others, and a few he chose for himself. Either way, they describe his mission, and his relationship to the Father and mankind, in very meaningful ways.
I thought it would be interesting to apply text analytics and data visualization to the usage of these titles, and share what I find. This is not an exhaustive study, but I hope it might raise some interesting questions and refresh how we think of the life and mission of Jesus.
This analysis includes a comparison of how frequently 23 particular titles are used in each of the five canonical books of Latter-day Saint scripture. I chose to use capitalization as the line of demarcation that separates formal titles from descriptive nouns. Admittedly, this approach is somewhat arbitrary and limited. For instance, good shepherd is used about a dozen times in reference to Jesus, but it is never capitalized. So I did not count it as a title. A few exceptions are made where a part of a title is not capitalized, such as with Lord of Hosts and Lord of hosts. Such instances are noted.
Comparisons by Title
The doughnut charts below correspond to the 12 titles that are used most often. The number in the center represents how many times that title is found in all of the scriptures, and the slices are a comparison of their frequency in each of the five books included in the LDS standard works. The frequency, or rate of usage, is determined by the number of times the title was used in a book, divided by the total number of words in that book.
The title of Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, is usually preceded with “I am” in the scriptures. In other words, this is a title that is mostly used by Jesus in reference to himself. It appears 18 times, but not in the Old Testament and only once in the Book of Mormon. It is usually understood to be a symbol for the beginning and end simultaneously, a poetic way to describe eternity. In a more literal sense, the alphabetic nature of this title could be related to another title used in the opening verse of John’s gospel— the Word.
Regality was conferred on Jesus with the title of King, which appears 78 times, and most frequently in the New Testament. The usage only appears four times in the Book of Mormon, where a political system involving judges was usually preferred over kings. The title comes in various forms, such as King of Kings, King of Zion, Eternal King, King of Heaven and tragically, King of the Jews — the final title bestowed on the mortal Jesus by those who mocked and crucified him.
Lord is perhaps the most common title for deity in the scriptures, but not one that I include in this analysis because of the amount of ambiguity it carries. When written in lowercase as lord, it is simply a term of respect that has no relation to deity. When capitalized as Lord, it may refer to God the Father or Jesus Christ, depending on the context. And when fully capitalized as LORD, it is a surrogate used in Bible translations to take the place of the word for Jehovah in order to preserve the sanctity of God’s name. Latter-day Saints would thus interpret LORD to be referring to Jesus. Unfortunately, the search tools I have available to me are not case-sensitive. Since lord, Lord or LORD appear over 10-thousand times in the scriptures, manually sorting those usages is unfortunately unfeasible (God was also not included in this analysis for similar reasons). However, Lord of Hosts is a similar title that refers specifically to Jesus, and it is one that is feasible and searchable. It appears 309 times throughout the scriptures. Hosts is not capitalized in the Old Testament usage, but I still include it in the count because the meaning is clearly unchanged, and it appears there so frequently.
Due to my lack of a case-sensitive search option, it is also very difficult to count the number of times that Jesus was referred to as the Son in the scriptures. But the more elaborate terms Son of Man and Son of God were counted. Son of Man is an etymologically odd title that Jesus often uses in the New Testament to refer to himself and his relation to God the Father, the perfect and prototypical Man of Holiness in whose image we were all created. It appears 179 times in the scriptures, but interestingly never in the Book of Mormon. Son of God is slightly less common, but more straightforward in its meaning. It appears everywhere except the Old Testament.
Although only begotten is used in a descriptive way in the New Testament, its usage only shifts to that of a formal title in modern scripture, where Only Begotten is written 59 times. It appears most frequently in the Pearl of Great Price.
The two titles of Messiah and Christ are similar in that both are words that mean The Anointed. The former is Old Testament Hebrew, and the latter New Testament Greek. In the Old Testament, Messiah is only found in Daniel 9, where it is used twice. It is also only used twice in the New Testament, both times in the book of John (written as Messias). As one would expect, the usage of Christ is ubiquitous everywhere except in the Old Testament. Although Christ is used often in modern vernacular as if it were a last name, it can be helpful to remember that it is formally a title — as in Jesus the Christ, meaning Jesus the Anointed.
The role of Jesus as Creator is illustrated most frequently in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, where other doctrines regarding premortality are also more common.
Perhaps no title illustrates the purpose and fulfillment of Old Testament rituals as well as Lamb of God. It is quite appropriate that the only person to use it in the New Testament was Jesus’s close friend and predecessor, John the Baptist. Only in the Book of Mormon is it used regularly.
Although its modern usage is very common, Savior is not the most frequent title in the scriptures. However, it is one of the few titles that is found several times in all of the standard works of scripture. In the Old Testament, savior appears often, but I did not count it as a title due to the lack of capitalization. It may be another example of a word that started as a descriptive noun, and later became used as a title.
It may be surprising to some that Redeemer is never used as a title in the New Testament. However, it does appear in the Old Testament eight times, mostly thanks to Isaiah. As with savior, redeemer also has several non-capitalized appearances in the Old Testament that are not counted as titles. The majority of its 73 occurrences are found in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants.
A host of other titles can be found in the scriptures that are used too infrequently for any useful or interesting comparisons. For instance: Anointed appears once in Doctrine & Covenants. Branch appears five times in the Old Testament. Deliverer is used twice. Immanuel (or, Emmanuel) — meaning “God is with us” — is used at least once in all of the standard works except the Pearl of Great Price, for a total of six times. Judge is also found six times, including its solitary appearance in the Book of Mormon as part of Moroni’s final parting words. Light only has four appearances, all of which occur in the first chapter of John. Mediator has two appearances, which are only in the New Testament. Potentate is used once in 1st Timothy. Rock occurs nine times, mostly in the Old Testament. Stem of Jesse has a couple of appearances in the New Testament. Meanwhile, Son of David appears a dozen times, but only in the Old Testament. John the Apostle gives Jesus the unique title of the Word, which he uses three times in the first chapter of his gospel, and then twice more in his epistles.
Comparison by Book
Another way to think about these titles is to compare the usage of the whole set of titles within a given book of scriptures. Word clouds are a great way to visualize text data such as this. Below is shown a word cloud that was generated for each of the five standard works, with the titles that occur most frequently in the largest font.
Finally, below is shown a word cloud that represents the usage of all 23 titles in all of the scriptures. These are also overlayed on the Bloch painting at the beginning of this article.
The preferences for certain titles in each book of scriptures is quite clear when visualized with these word clouds. Another thing that stands out is the diversity of titles. The Old Testament, for instance, uses fewer of the 23 titles than the New Testament does.
Text searches were carried out using the program LDS Scriptures CD-ROM Resource Edition (yes, that’s right: CD-ROM). This digital text of the scriptures uses the King James version of the Bible, and includes BYU WordCruncher technology. It’s an old program, but one that I find useful. The text of chapter headings and footnotes was not included in the results of text searches for the 23 titles included in this analysis. As needed, search results were manually sorted to distinguish formal titles from informal descriptions, based on capitalization. Doughnut plots were generated in Microsoft Excel. Word counts were generated by pasting scripture text into Microsoft Word. These word counts unfortunately included chapter headings, making the resulting values higher than they would be for just the text of the verses alone. A total of 683,449 words were thus counted in the Old Testament; 196,260 in the New Testament; 285,431 in the Book of Mormon; 134,582 in the Doctrine & Covenants; and 31,731 in the Pearl of Great Price. Word clouds were generated using the Semantic Word Cloud Visualization tool (courtesy of Stephen Kobourov’s work at the University of Arizona), and edited for aesthetics in Adobe Illustrator. The raw data for this analysis is shown below.
It seems clear that there is variation among books of scripture in the preferences for certain titles associated with Jesus. The reasons for this could be related to history, culture, doctrine or translation, to name a few possibilities. In any case, as you read the scriptures and encounter a title in reference to Jesus, it may be worth pausing to ask why that particular title was chosen by the author (or translator) for a given context.
Do you have suggestions for how this analysis could be improved or elaborated upon? Are there titles deserving of attention that I have omitted? Is there anything that surprised you about the results? Add your thoughts in the comments. And if you have read this far, please add a clap or two if you feel so inclined. Thank you for reading!