In sacred Scripture numbers usually have more significance than their quantitative indicators. More often than not even when a number is used to indicate a certain quantity the individual number given may point beyond the numerical value to a symbolic significance. At other times the number given is not to be taken literally and may represent an approximate value, a symbolic value, or may indicate the use of hyperbole—an exaggeration or amplification to illustrate a teaching point in the Biblical text. For example:
- The six day period of Creation may be literal but it might also not be literal, representing a symbolic period of time that was perfected on the seventh day when God rested—seven being one of the four “perfect” numbers.
- The number of the 144,000 heavenly souls were marked with the “seal of the living God” in Revelation chapter 7. Bible scholars both ancient and modern have interpreted this number as reflecting the symbolic perfection of redeemed man in terms of the “perfect” number 12 which signifies perfection of government in Scripture multiplied by divine order (the number ten signifies divine order in scripture). 144,000 is the square of 12 times the cube of 10.
- In Matthew 18:22 Simon-Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive a bother who has sinned against him. Peter asks, As many as seven times? Jesus’ response is, I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times, indicating not a literal seventy-seven times but that Peter’s forgiveness is to be given without limit—an abundance of forgiveness using the “perfect” number 7 which represents fullness, perfecting, covenant union and spiritual perfection.
In addition to the study of the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, there is also the study of the number equivalents of alphabetical symbols and numerical value of the words formed by the letters, which is known by the Greek word gematria. The Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and many other ancient peoples used their alphabets for numbers. The Hebrews used all 22 letters of their alphabet plus 5 finals. The Greeks used a 24 letter alphabet and 3 additional finals. The Romans only used 6 letters of their alphabet and their combinations to form numbers: I= 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500. The number 1,000 was formed by two D’s (combined to form an M like figure). The Apostle John, writing during the time of the first great Roman persecution of Christians, recorded in the Book of Revelation that the number of the Beast was 666. Most ancient MSS (hand-written manuscripts) of the book of Revelation record 666 as this significant number while others manuscripts record the number as 616. Is it a coincidence that all the Roman numeral added together total 666 (excluding the symbol for 1,000 which was not a separate letter/ number but two “D”= 500 placed back to back)? Is it also a coincidence that the gematria for Neron Caesar (an alternate Hebrew spelling of the Emperor’s name in wide use in the 1st century AD) totals 666 while the Greek spelling of Nero Caesar totals 616? Six is the number of the beasts and of man (both created on the 6th day). It is also the number which is symbolic of man’s nature to rebel against the sovereignty of God.
According to ancient tradition each number has significance, for example:
- Three is the number of perfect completion for the Jews, and for Christians the number three symbolized the perfection of the Godhead—the Most Holy Trinity.
- Eight is the number of salvation. It is the number of Christ, of the resurrection, and of the Second Coming. The gematria of the name Jesus in Greek (the language of the New Testament) is 888: a trinity of eights, the fullness of salvation! As a matter of fact, every name identifying the second person of the Trinity is a multiple of 8 in Greek: Jesus Christ = 1480 (8 x 185); Lord = 800 (8 x 100); Savior = 1,408 (8 sq. x 32); Emmanuel = 25,600 (8 cubed x 50); Messiah = 656 (8x 82); Son 880 (8 x110).
The study of the significance of the use of numbers in Scripture requires a lifetime of study and reflection, but a brief summary of some of the most significant numbers may be enough to wet one’s appetite for future study.
ONE: In sacred Scripture “one,” ehad, in Hebrew, represents unity and is the quintessential number of monotheism, the worship of one God.
- This concept of one as a unity of one God is expressed in the opening lines of the first profession of faith found in Scripture, the Shema: Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One [Deuteronomy 6:4].
- One as a cardinal number symbolizes Unity. The number One is indivisible and not made up of any other number representing the unity of the One true God in which there is no division
- One as an ordinal number denotes primacy, sovereignty, divine completeness or perfection.
- Christians recognized the number “one” in Scripture as symbolic of the First Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God the Father.
TWO: This number can mean difference, division or double portion.
- In the Creation event, God separated light and darkness. [Genesis 1:3-4]
- The Ten Commandments were inscribed on two tablets of stone. [Exodus 31:18; 32:15; 34:1, 4, 29]
- The children of Israel were forbidden to collect manna on the Sabbath and therefore were permitted to collect a double portion of manna on Friday.[Exodus 16:5]
- On the 6th day of Creation God created two—male and female—of every species in order that fertility might be a blessing to the earth. [Genesis 1:24-31]
- In the New Testament, Christians also saw this number as a symbol of the second person of the Trinity, the Incarnation of God the Son in the perfection of His humanity and divinity.
THREE: In sacred Scripture the number three represents that which is solid, real, substantial, and something in its completeness. This number usually indicates something of importance or significance in God’s plan of salvation by identifying an important event in Salvation History. This number operates as a “sign-post” in Scripture study for the reader to “pay attention” to the significance of the next event.
In the Old Testament:
- It is the first of the 4 perfect numbers which are 3 (divine perfection); 7 (spiritual perfection); 10 (ordinal perfection); and 12 (governmental perfection).
- The earth was separated from the waters on the 3rd day [Genesis 1:9-13]
- There were three Patriarchs of the children of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel
- There are three verses in the Priestly Blessing in which the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, God’s holy covenant name, appears three times [Numbers 6:24-26].
- Three times the angelic Seraphim cry “Holy, Holy, Holy” [Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8].
- After the Great Flood mankind descended from the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. [Genesis 10:1-32]
- Three “men” announced to Abraham that his barren wife would bear a son [Genesis 18:14].
- Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son after a three-day journey to Mt. Moriah [Genesis 22:1-4].
- Baby Moses was hidden by his mother for three months [Exodus 2:1] and the adult Moses requests of Pharaoh that he let Moses take his people on a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifice to their God [Exodus 3:18].
- There were three divisions of the desert Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem: the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies [Exodus 27:9; 26:1-30, 35-37; 31-34; 38:9-20; 21-31; 40:1-33; 1 Kings 6: 1-37].
- God is mentioned three times in the Shema, the Old Covenant profession of faith [Deuteronomy 6:4] and three times in the priestly blessing [Numbers 6:24-26].
- The three attributes of God mentioned in Exodus 33:18-19 are hen, rachum, and hesed (gracious, compassionate /merciful, and loving kindness).
- Of the seven annual Holy Feasts of the Sinai Covenant, three are “pilgrim feasts” in which every man 13 years or older must present himself before God at His Sanctuary and later at the Temple in Jerusalem. This command is repeated three time in scripture [Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Deuteronomy 16:16]
- Jonah spent three days in the belly of the great fish [Jonah 1:17]; Jonah took three days to journey across the city of Nineveh [Jonah 3:3]
In the New Testament:
- Jesus’ ministry lasted three years, covering three Passovers [John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55-12:1].
- Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months [Luke 1:56]
- Jesus was missing for three days when He was 12 years old [Luke 2:46]
- Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the Mt. of Transfiguration [Matthew 17]
- Jesus arose from the dead on the third day.[Genesis 1:9-13]
- Saul was blinded for three days [Acts 9:9]
- The theological virtues are faith, hope and charity [1 Corinthians 13:13]
- The heavenly Jerusalem has three gates on each of its four sides [Revelation 21:13]
- Christians saw three as symbolic of the Trinity, the triune nature of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Three is also recognized as the number of the Holy Spirit.
- There are three divisions of time: past, present, and future
- There three persons in grammar
- Thought, word, and deed complete the sum of human capacity.
FOUR: The number four represents God’s creative works, especially works associated with the earth:
- Four cardinal directions N, S, E, W. with four Angels keeping watch at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the world [Revelation 7:1]
- The Covenant People of God had four divisions of the day associated with the daily liturgical sacrifice of the Tamid (Dawn – 9AM; 9AM-Noon; Noon – 3PM; 3PM – Sunset)
- Four lunar phases
- Four seasons
- Four rivers flowed out of Eden [Genesis 2:10]
- Four consonants formed God’s Divine Name YHWH
- Four cherubim [Genesis 3:22-24; Ezekiel 1:10]
- In Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly throne/chariot the cherubim each had four faces and bodies with four wheels [Ezekiel 1:10-12]
- Four women gave birth to the fathers of the 12 Tribes of Israel
- The tallit/outer cloak covenant men were required to wear had four corners with four tassels [Numbers 15:38-39]
- Four heavenly creatures surround God’s heavenly throne. [Revelation 4:6-8]
- The Israelite camp was divided into four parts when camping around the Tabernacle [Numbers 2:1-34]
- The fourth book of the Bible is Numbers, in Hebrew B’Midbar = gematria 248 or 4 x 62
- The ancients considered there to be four elements: earth, fire, air and water
- Bible has four-fold division of mankind: lands, tongues, families and nations [Revelation 13:7]
- Four cups of wine are used in the ritual of the Passover Seder.
FIVE: This is the number of power and Divine grace.
- Five kinds of animals were sacrificed under the Old Covenant Law of sacrifice: goats, sheep, cattle, pigeons and doves [Genesis 15:9; Exodus 29:38; Leviticus 1:1-17; 3:1; 4:3, 14, 23, 28; 5:6-7]
- God changed Abram’s name to Abraham by adding the letter/number five to his name [Genesis 17:5]. He changed Sarai’s name by adding the same letter/number with the value of “grace” to form the name Sarah [Genesis 17:15]. Abraham and Sarah were transformed by grace to become the parents of a family from which the Messiah would be born
- The Tabernacle was measured in multiples of five [Exodus 25 – 27]
- There are five books of the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament)
- Matthew’s Gospel is divided into five “books” composed of five narratives and five discourses.
- Jesus bled from five wounds on the altar of the Cross: His two hands, his two feet and His head.
- Daniel proclaimed the Fifth Kingdom to be an Everlasting Kingdom [Daniel 2:37-44].
Five Greek words form the acrostic phrase “Jesus Christ, God’s Son Savior,” taking the first letter in Greek from each word forms the Greek word for “fish”: Iota, Chi, Theta, Epsilon, Sigma = (ichthys) “FISH”, which became a symbol for Christ and a secret symbol for identifying Christians.
SIX: Both man and the serpent were created on the sixth day, therefore, the number six represents both man and rebellion. In the Greek alphabet the number six is not represented by an alphabetic letter but is instead represented by a symbol called the “stigma.” In Revelation 13:18 the number of the Beast is written not as 666 but is instead is written with the Greek symbols for 600 and 60 and 6. In his book Numbers in Scripture, E.W. Bullinger observes that these three symbols correspond to first and last letters of the Greek word for Christ = CHRISTOS, with the symbol of the serpent in between the two other numbers of 666 [see Numbers in Scripture page 49]. Perhaps this arrangement can be seen to be Christ the Messiah crushing the serpent as God told the serpent in Genesis 3:15: I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head and you will strike its heel.
- 666 is the number of the Beast: There is need for shrewdness here: anyone clever may interpret the number of the beast; it is the number of a human being, the number is 666 [Revelation 13:18].
- Man is commanded to labor six days [Exodus 31:15]
- The sixth commandment in the Ten Commandments is the sin of murder [Exodus 20:13]
- The sixth clause in the prayer of the “Our Father/ Lord’s Prayer” petitions that we not be led into sin and be delivered from evil. [Matthew 6:13]
- The world turned dark beginning at the sixth hour Hebrew time (noon) when Christ was on the cross [Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44]. In Roman time the sixth hour is 6-7AM when Jesus was being tried by the Roman governor Pilate [John 19:14].
- Jesus suffered on the cross for six hours (as he suffered that man might be saved); from 9 AM, (see Mark 15:25) the hour of the first daily sacrifice in the Temple to 3 PM, (see Mark 15:33-34; Matthew 27:45; Luke 23:44) the hour of the last sacrifice, and gave up His life at the beginning of the 7th hour (the number of completion and fulfillment).
- All six of the letters which represent the number system of the Roman Empire added together yield the number 666: I = 1; V= 5; X= 10; L= 50; C = 100; D= 500 [there is no letter/number M. 1000 was two Ds back to back which resembled an M].
SEVEN: Spiritual perfection and fullness or completion. It is the number of Covenant and of the Holy Spirit.
- Seven is the second perfect number.
- In Hebrew seven is shevah (shebah) from the root shava (shaba or sheba), meaning “to be full.”
- God rested on the seventh day (Saturday) after Creation [Genesis 2:2]
- To swear an oath in Hebrew is “to seven oneself.”
- There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (CCC#1831; Isaiah 11:1)
- The sacred Menorah has seven branches (six on each side of a central shaft) and seven cup shaped lamps for the olive oil
- There were seven classes of furniture in the Tabernacle: Bronze sacrificial Altar, Bronze Laver, Golden Menorah, Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence, Golden Altar of Incense, Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy-seat/Seat of Atonement.
- The Tabernacle was built in six days and dedicated on the seventh [Exodus 40:17]
- It took Solomon seven years to build the Temple in Jerusalem. [1 Kings 6:37-38]
- There are seven annual holy feast days observed under the Law of the Sinai Covenant [Leviticus 23:1-44]
- The Feast of Passover is the 1st month of the liturgical year but the seventh month of the civil year. [Exodus 12:1-2]
- The Feast of Tabernacles completes the cycle of Holy Days in the seventh month of the liturgical year.[Leviticus 23:33-43]
- There are multiple sevens in the Book of Revelation: There are 55 sevens and 5 sevenths, 5×7 (35) phrases of sevens in the Book of Revelation. List of “sevens” in the Book of Revelation:
|Spirits||1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6|
|Golden lampstands||1:12, 20; 2:1; 4:5|
|Stars||1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1|
|Seals||5:1; 5:5; 6:1|
|Angels||8:2, 6; 15:1, 6, 7; 15:8; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9|
|7 Thousand people||11:13|
|Heads||12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 7, 9|
|Plagues||15:1, 6, 8; 21:9|
|Golden bowls||15:7; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9|
|Last 7 visions||Chapters 20-21|
Seven is a significant number in the natural world:
- mammals and birds have a gestation of multiples of 7:
|mouse: 21 days (3 x 7)||cat 56 (8 x 7)||Sheep 147 (21 x 7)|
|hare & rat, 28 ( 4×7)||dog 63 (9 x 7)||hen 21 (3 x 7)|
|humans 280 days ( 40 x 7)||lion 98 (14 x 7)|| duck 42 (6 x 7)
- With insects the ova are hatched in seven half-days (the wasp, bee, etc). But with other insects it is seven whole days. The majority of insects require from 14 (2×7) to 42 (6×7) days and the same applies to the larva state.
- Man’s pulse beats on the seven-day principle. For six days out of seven it beats faster in the morning than in the evening while on the seventh day it beats slower. The seventh day is the day of rest!
- 7 days in a week
- 7 colors in the spectrum – the seven colored rainbow was the sign of the covenant with Noah
- There are 168 hours in a week = 7 x 24