In the beginning, God said: Let there be lights in the vault of the sky… and let them be lights in the vault of the sky. God created us in his image, and in his image he created us. And that’s the story of the heavens and earth when they were created, when God created the earth and heavens.
That sounded awfully unnecessarily repetitive, didn’t it? Well, that’s pretty much how those parts, and a whole lot more, are written in the Bible. Unnecessarily repetitively. Imagine how much shorter the Bible would be without all that pointless repetition…
After God is done talking to Job, he speaks to the people who have been claiming that God is just, and he tells them that unlike Job, they have not spoken the truth about him. Then he says the same thing again.
The Bible says Ephron the Hittite sold Abraham a field with a cave in Machpelah near Mamre, and then Abraham buried his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. And then it says Abraham bought the field and the cave. For the purpose of burial. Later, Jacob told his sons to bury him in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, which was the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre that Abraham had bought with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite and buried his wife. Then he says the field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.
It tells you that the master of the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt was the king of Egypt. It says he put those two people, who were the cupbearer and baker, in custody. And then it tells you what happened to each of those two people (who were the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt, who were in prison) after they had been in custody.
God says he’s seen how the Egyptians are treating the Israelites, and he has heard their cry. And then he says it again. God tells Moses he’s the Lord, and to tell the Israelites that he’s the Lord, and that he’ll free them from Egypt. Because then they’ll know that he’s the Lord, who freed them from Egypt. Also, he’s the Lord. (And that’s just in one chapter; there’s plenty more of the same later.)
When a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle, Moses couldn’t enter the tabernacle because a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. It says Moses sprinkled some oil and blood on Aaron and his garments, and on Aaron’s sons and their garments. And that’s how he consecrated Aaron, and his sons, and their garments.
Near the end of Leviticus, the Lord decides he needs to tell everybody that he’s the Lord a couple more times. When some Israelites were challenging Moses’s authority, Moses said God would have whoever really belonged to him come near him, and the man he chose he would cause to come near him.
When the priests and soldiers were marching around Jericho for seven days, it says on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times, the same way they had on the previous days, except this time they circled the city seven times. Then when Israel attacked the city of Ai, it says they left no survivors or fugitives. That’s redundant, because in that situation anyone who was one of those things would also have to be the other.
In a story in Judges, six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate, and five men went in and took the idol, the ephod, and the household gods that somebody had in his house, while the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.
The story of Ruth begins by telling us about a man from Bethlehem in Judah who took his family to live in Moab. Then it mentions that they were from Bethlehem, Judah, and that they went to Moab, and lived there. Later, it says that man’s wife had a relative from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And then it says the wife’s daughter-in-law went to work in the fields of Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.
David told Jonathan that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast. Then after they discussed what they would do tomorrow, Jonathan told David that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast.
After Jonathan died, David asked if there were any relatives left for him to show kindness to. Whoever he was talking to summoned a servant, and then David asked the servant the exact same question. Was it really necessary for the story to include that first part, where he doesn’t get an answer? The servant then tells David about Jonathan’s son, and mentions that the son is lame in both feet. Ten verses later, the narration mentions that Jonathan’s son was lame in both feet.
When the king of Assyria removed the Israelites from their land and replaced them with foreigners, he was told that the people didn’t know what the god of that country required. And he was told that that god had sent lions after them, because the people didn’t know what the god of that country required.
When the king of Babylon removed the people of Judah from their land, he carried off all the fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans. He also deported the entire force of fighting men, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.
Jesus (who was God, who was all-knowing) informed God that his disciples were “not of the world” any more than he was, and then he said it again, in case he hadn’t heard himself. According to John, when Judas came to betray Jesus, Jesus betrayed himself instead. And then when nobody arrested him, he did it again. Three times in a row, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, Peter said he did, and Jesus told him to feed his sheep.
In three different chapters in the book of Acts, Peter tells people that when God sent Jesus to them, they had him killed, and then God brought him back to life.
The Bible lists the sons of Seir the Horite, and says they were Horite chiefs. Then a few verses later, it tells you who the Horite chiefs were, and lists the same people. And then it tells you that those people were the Horite chiefs.
The first chapter of Numbers lists the leaders and populations of the tribes of Israel, and so does the second chapter.
1 Kings describes all the things Huram made for Solomon’s temple, and then lists them again. And then it lists some of them again. And then when 2 Chronicles revisits the same topic, it’s pretty repetitive there as well.
1 Chronicles has the same list of people in two consecutive chapters, with a few minor differences.
After the Israelites escape from slavery, the law that tells Israelites how they can permanently enslave each other is given in Exodus, and then given again in Deuteronomy. God’s law tells the Israelites not to oppress foreigners because they used to live as foreigners, and then a chapter later it tells them the same thing.
Instructions for lamp maintenance given in Exodus also appear almost word for word in Leviticus. In the next chapter of Exodus, God says to make clothes for the priests out of gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen. Then he repeats the same list of materials while talking about each individual article of clothing.
Leviticus says in a rambling way that everyone in the land must fast and rest on the 10th day of the 7th month. In a later chapter, it says the same thing again in an even longer and more repetitive way. And then in the next book, it mentions the same thing one more time.
Leviticus 20 repeats most of the same sex rules that had just been given two chapters earlier, but forgets to mention a few of them.
The law tells what the penalties are for killing a human or someone else’s animal, and then a few verses later it tells what the penalties are for killing someone else’s animal or a human. It says the avenger of blood is to kill the murderer, and then it says the same thing again. In three different chapters, it tells about the cities of refuge, where you can safely live if you’ve accidentally killed someone. It says twice, two chapters apart, that a criminal can only be convicted if there were multiple witnesses. And it details the consequences of touching a dead body, and how to become clean again, in an awfully repetitive way.
Repetition can sometimes be more justifiable when you’re writing poetry. Using the same sentences repeatedly within a song isn’t necessarily so bad. (Except maybe when it takes up half the song.) But even in the “poetry” books, the Bible manages to repeat itself excessively, or otherwise badly. Starting but not finishing a sentence and then starting it over just sounds awkward. That’s worse than finishing a sentence and then continuing it by finishing it the same way again, which the Bible also does.
The song of Deborah and Barak has a sentence about the tribe of Issachar, then one about the tribe of Reuben, then a question. Then instead of trying to answer the question, it just repeats the same sentence about Reuben, which sounds out of place this time.
Moses says God tells people to turn back to dust when he turns them back to dust. There’s a psalm where the author says their tongues were filled with songs of joy, and that people said God had done great things for them. And then he says God has done great things for them and they’re filled with joy.
One psalm wants all the Israelites to say they’ve been greatly oppressed since their youth, and then say it again. In another, David asks God to deliver him and rescue him from the hands of foreigners, twice.
The Lord is robed in majesty, the Lord is robed in majesty. The voice of the Lord is over the waters, God thunders, and the Lord thunders over the waters. He sent darkness and made the land dark. David’s heart is steadfast, his heart is steadfast. So wait for the Lord, and wait for the Lord. And don’t forget to praise him praise him praise him praise him praise him praise him.
Some of the proverbs re-use half of another proverb from the same chapter. There are two chapters in Proverbs that contain identical verses about gossip, two chapters with nearly identical verses about sluggards, and two chapters with identical verses about quarrelsome wives. Proverbs 19 has two nearly identical verses about what happens to liars. The idiot who wrote Proverbs 30 says there are four things that never say “enough”. Then when he lists the four things, he mentions that the last one never says “enough”. Jesus gave unoriginal advice about humility that had already been covered in Proverbs.
Ecclesiastes says the oppressed have no comforter, and they have no comforter. In two different chapters of the “Song of Songs”, Solomon describes his favorite girl in the same bizarre way, comparing parts of her body to goats, sheep, and pomegranates. And in one of those chapters, he mentions nard twice in a row for some reason.
In Isaiah 45 and surrounding chapters, God keeps saying over and over that he’s the only one.1 Isaiah repeats himself quite a bit. He makes the same statement of God’s lack of mercy five times in three different chapters.
Jeremiah has his own statement of God’s lack of mercy that appears three times in two different chapters. When Jeremiah mocks people for their empty lip service, he portrays them as saying: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. If he’s trying to make them sound dumb with the repetition, he’s not making them sound any worse than himself (or the God he’s claiming to speak for).
The king of Judah quotes something that Jeremiah has apparently said to him often enough that the king can repeat the whole thing back to him. Then two chapters later, Jeremiah says the same thing to the king again.
Jeremiah said God would make the Israelites “a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach”. And then he said it again two chapters later.
When Jeremiah answers his own question, he repeats all the details of the question in the answer. There are two three-verse passages two chapters apart in Jeremiah that are almost identical, and another two five-verse passages 41 chapters apart in Jeremiah that are almost identical. He says very similar things about God punishing people for child sacrifice in two different chapters 12 chapters apart.
God tells Ezekiel that when a wicked person does evil, they will die, and Ezekiel will also die if he fails to warn them not to do evil. Then he says the same thing again, except this time it’s about “when a righteous person does evil”. And 30 chapters later, he says the same thing about wicked people again, this time accompanied by an analogy of a watchman not doing his job.
God also tells Ezekiel that wicked people who stop being wicked won’t die, because God doesn’t really like killing anyone, and that righteous people who stop being righteous will die. He responds “No, you” to people who think he’s not just, and then he repeats everything he just said. And then 15 chapters later, he says all of that again, and then repeats what he just said, again.
God told Ezekiel that his people were a rebellious people, and that they couldn’t see or hear because they were a rebellious people. And he said if Ezekiel tried to give them a message by sort of acting out part of it with no explanation, maybe they would understand,2 even though they were a rebellious people.
Ezekiel said the people of the city that brought doom on themselves by shedding blood in their midst and defiled themselves by making idols had become guilty because of the blood they had shed and had become defiled by the idols they had made. He said a shepherd would tend to them, and that the shepherd would tend to them and be their shepherd.
Ezekiel made a weird comment that wasn’t worth repeating about fish sticking to a pharaoh’s scales, and then repeated it. And he made a false prediction about Egypt and then repeated it a few verses later.
God had Ezekiel use a metaphor that nobody understood, and then when they asked what it meant, God began by just repeating the same confusing metaphor instead of explaining anything.
Amos repeats the same description of God “calling for the waters of the sea” in two different chapters. He also uses the same description of the land of Israel rising and sinking like the Nile in two different chapters.
Haggai and Zechariah protest too much that what they are saying is what God is saying. Twice in one chapter, Zechariah asked an angel what the things he saw were, and instead of answering, the angel asked him if he didn’t know what they were, and Zechariah said he didn’t know what they were. Later, Zechariah says he shepherded a flock, and then he took two staffs, and he shepherded the flock.
The book of Revelation says eight times: “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” usually followed by “what the Spirit says to the churches.” While Jesus is vaguely threatening to reward someone by turning them to stone or whatever he’s trying to say, it has him keep calling God (himself?) “my God.” The next chapter refers to God as “him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever”, then “him who sits on the throne”, and then “him who lives for ever and ever”, all in the same sentence.
Hezekiah king of Judah sent word to all Israel, and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh. Which were part of Israel.
Paul writes that anyone who preaches a different version of the gospel from his should be cursed. Then he says he’s going to say again what he already said, and then he says again what he already said. In two different letters, Paul gives the same instructions to wives, husbands, children, fathers, and slaves.
In Peter’s letters, he sometimes repeats words when it’s not really necessary. The author of the Johannine epistles explains why he’s writing to children, fathers, and young men, and then he explains the same things again, giving most of the same explanations he already gave. He explains why he thinks Christians are incapable of sinning, twice in one sentence. In both 2 and 3 John, he writes that he has a lot to say, but would prefer to do it in person rather than on paper.
For more repetitive repetition, see part 2.