Biblical numerology

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Biblical numerology is the use of numbers for their symbolic value in biblical texts - for example, the seven days of creation in Genesis 1.

While many ancient languages, religions, and philosophies contained numeric interpretation of events, words, and names, this article is concerned with those uniquely affecting Judeo-Christian beliefs. Although Greek culture was well-known to scholars in the first centuries BC and AD in the Middle East, Greek ideas about numerology do not seem to have permeated Jewish and Christian beliefs.

Numerical meaning[edit]

2[edit]

Twos are associated with valid testimony.[1]

3[edit]

The implication of three is "perfection"[3]:1505 or "holiness."(e.g. (Matthew 12:40).[4] Frequently, threes have a superlative force with the last in the series underscoring a character’s resolve, for example the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11 and parallels) and three denials of Peter (John 18:13-27 and parallels).

Examples include:

Threes are also associated with the divine or counterfeit divine.[5] In the Book of Revelation, God’s title is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:4, 8; cf. 4:8). The negative counterpart to God, the beast from the sea, is also given a threefold title: “was and is not and is to come” (Revelation 17:8c; cf. 17:8a, 11). The four living creatures use threes to extol the attributes of God: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). In this instance, threes have superlative force, emphasizing God’s exceeding holiness (“Holy, holy, holy”).[6]

[edit]

Three and a half is a broken seven, a symbolic week that “is arrested midway in its normal course.” [7] It is derived from Daniel 7:25 and 12:7, where “a time, two times, and half a time” or “time, times, and a half” designates a period of oppression and corresponds approximately to the temple’s desecration under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167-164 BCE). In the Book of Revelation, three and a half is a numerical cipher for the in-between times, the time between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return at the end of age to defeat evil. [8] Other variants of three and a half occur in Revelation, for example, forty-two months (Rev. 11:2; 13:5); one thousand two hundred and sixty days (1260 days, Rev. 11:3; 12:6); “time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:4, 11); and three and a half days (Rev. 11:9, 11).

4[edit]

Four signifies a sense of totality[3]:1252,; it is associated with creation or the earth and occurs frequently in the Book of Revelation. [9] It derives its meaning from the four cardinal directions, as also attested in Mesopotamian literature.[3]:1252

  • Around the throne are four living creatures, representing all of creation (Rev. 4:6, 8; 5:6, 8, 14).
  • Humanity is divided into a fourfold division, representing the entire creation: “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9; cf. also 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15).
  • Fours are used to emphasize that the entire creation is engaged in praise: “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea…singing (Rev. 5:13; cf. 14:7).
  • The creation’s acclamation to God and the Lamb is fourfold: “blessing and honor and glory and might” (Rev. 5:13).
  • Four corners of the earth (Rev 7:1), or the four compass points: North, South, East and West. (Rev. 21:13).
  • The new Jerusalem has four sides because it is the new earth (Rev. 21:16).
  • Construction of the altar: four corners, four pillars, etc. (see Exod 27:1-8 and Exod 27:16); many of these altar construction guidelines are still used today

6[edit]

Both Hebrew[citation needed] and Christian sources believe six indicates "imperfection," "man", or "evil."[4] For Christianity, this occurs preeminently in the Book of Revelation.

Six is the number associated with the creation of mankind in Genesis 1:26-31, and it is the penultimate in a series of seven in the Book of Revelation: seven seals (Rev. 6:1-8:1), seven trumpets (Rev. 8:2:-11:8), and seven bowls (Rev. 15:5-16:21). The seventh in the series represents the End and the completion of the seals, trumpets, and bowls series (see below on the meaning of seven as a perfect number). The penultimate (the sixth) in the series has the hallmarks of seven and even appears to be the End (the seventh in the series), but it is not. Similarly, six hundred sixty-six (666), the number of the beast from the sea, has the hallmarks of the perfect seven, but it falls short. It is not the ultimate (i.e., seven); only the penultimate (i.e., six). As Christopher Rowland notes, the beast has “the most of the hallmarks of truth, and so it can easily deceive.” [10] For example, the beast has seven heads (Rev. 13:1)—the perfect number—and a mortal wound that had been healed (Rev 13:3). The mortal wound that is healed is a parody of the slain yet risen Lamb in Rev. 5:6. In short, “the beast [is] the demonic counterfeit of Christ.”[11] It “appears benign… but its true nature is not messianic. It is satanic.” For other interpretations of 666 see “the number of the beast”.

7[edit]

In both Jewish and Christian traditions, seven signifies "totality of perfection," "completeness."[12][3]:382

Examples:

• Sevens are also used in rhetorical sequences in Revelation, for example, “worthy is the Lamb…to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).[15]

8[edit]

Eight means a "new life" or "resurrection".[16] or a new beginning.

Examples include:
  • Eight people on Noah's Ark (see Gen 7:7 and 2 Peter 2:5)
  • Circumcision on eighth day (Gen 17:12)
  • Jesus died on the sixth day, rested in the tomb on the seventh, and rose from the dead on the eighth day.
  • Eighth day of the week marks a new day or a new beginning (cf. 2 Enoch 33.1; Sib. Or. 1.280-81).[17]
  • In Rev. 17:11, the beast from the sea “is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” The eighth is a counterfeit messiah that parodies “the true ‘eighth,’ ” Christ.[18]


10[edit]

Ten represents totality.[19] There are ten fingers and ten toes, the total number of digits normally found on humans. • The red dragon and the beast from the sea each have ten horns (Revelation 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 7), signifying their claim to total power. (A horn is a symbol of power in Deut. 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalm 89:17; Revelation 5:6; 1 Enoch 90.6-16.) • The beast from the sea has ten diadems on its ten horns (Revelation 13:1), emblematic of its claim to unlimited or total ruling authority. • Multiples of tens heighten the notion of totality. For example, the millennium (10 x10 x 10 or the thousand-year reign of the saints in Revelation 20:4) represents a total, uninterrupted period of rule that is characterized by the absence of satanic interference (cf. Rev. 20:2). Ten cubed also suggests symmetry. [20] • Other multiples of tens lengthen and heighten the notion of totality. The 144,000 (Rev. 7:4; 14:1, 3) are the multiples of 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10, a symbolic number that signifies the total number (tens) of the people of God (twelves). The 12,000 stadia (12 x 10 x 10 x 10) of the walls of the new Jerusalem in Rev. 21:16 represent an immense city that can house the total number (tens) of God’s people (twelves). The 1,600 stadia (4 squared times 10 squared) in Rev. 14:20 represent worldwide destruction. Fours, the number of the earth or creation, combined with tens, the number for totality, suggest a bloodbath that is not only extensive but covers the entire earth. [21]

12[edit]

Twelve implies "governmental perfection"[22] or completeness, often associated with the people of God.[23]

Examples include:
  • The twelve tribes of Israel
    • There are multiple examples in Ezekiel regarding construction in the heavenly Jerusalem for the twelve tribes, including 12 gates (Ezek. 48:30-35).
  • Twelve Apostles and twelve angels (Revelation 21:14).
  • The woman’s crown has twelve stars (Revelation 12:1).
  • The new Jerusalem is an architectural marvel designed with twelves. There are twelve angels at the twelve gates, and the names of the twelve tribes are inscribed on the gates (Revelation 21:12). The twelve foundations of the city wall have the twelve names of the apostles (Revelation 21:14), and the wall is twelve squared, equaling 144 cubits (Revelation 21:17). Twelve jewels adorn the foundations; the twelve gates are made of a single pearl (Revelation 21:19-21). The tree of life has twelve kinds of fruit (Revelation 22:2).
  • The new Jerusalem measures twelve thousand stadia on each side (Revelation 21:16), a cube and perfect dwelling place for all of God’s people.
  • Twelve is lengthened to 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1,000) in Revelation 7:4; 14:1, 3 and indicates the complete number of God’s Israel, the whole Christian community.[24]

1,000[edit]

"One thousand" (1,000) signifies "immensity" or "fullness of quantity", preeminently in the Book of Revelation.[12]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ James L. Resseguie, Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 162, 187; John P. Sweet, Revelation, International New Testament Commentaries (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990), 215; Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 707; Martin Kiddle, The Revelation of St. John, Moffat New Testament Commentary (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1940), 255.
  2. ^ Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Yale Bible 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), 497.
  3. ^ a b c d Berlin, Adele; Brettler, Marc Zvi; Fishbane, Michael, eds. (2004). The Jewish Study Bible. New York City: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195297515.
  4. ^ a b "Catholic Bible 101". Catholic Bible 101. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  5. ^ James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 28.
  6. ^ Craig R. Koester, Revelation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 364; Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 237; James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 28; Ronald L. Farmer, Revelation (St. Louis: Chalice, 2005), 60.
  7. ^ J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, AB 38 (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 170.
  8. ^ James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 30-31; Craig R. Koester¸ Revelation, AB 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 498.
  9. ^ James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 29. See also Donald Senior, Mary Ann Getty, and Carroll Stuhlmueller, The Catholic Study Bible (New York:Oxford University Press, 1990), 398-9.
  10. ^ Christopher C. Rowland, "Book of Revelation, Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections," in The New Interpreter's Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 659.
  11. ^ Craig R. Koester, Revelation, AB 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 570.
  12. ^ a b Senior, Donald; Mary Ann Getty; Carroll Stuhlmueller (1990). The Catholic Study Bible. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 398, 399. ISBN 978-0-19-528391-4.
  13. ^ St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 65, 1.
  14. ^ James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 29-30.
  15. ^ Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Yale Bible 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 390.
  16. ^ "What is the significance of numbers in Scripture? - Bible.org". bible.org. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  17. ^ Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A commentary on the Greek text, NIGNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 875; Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 620-21; David C. Aune, Revelation 17-22, WBC 52C (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 950; Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 158.
  18. ^ M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (Louisville: John Knox, 1988), 183; see also David L. Barr, Tales of the End: A narrative commentary on the Book of Revelation (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 1998), 134.
  19. ^ James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 31-32.
  20. ^ Craig R. Koester, Revelation, AB 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014), 773.
  21. ^ Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Minneapolis: MN, Fortress Press, 1991), 91.
  22. ^ Becchio, Bruno; Schadé, Johannes P. (14 June 2019). "Encyclopedia of World Religions". Foreign Media Group. Retrieved 14 June 2019 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Resseguie, The Revelation of John, 32.
  24. ^ Resseguie, Revelation of John, 32; Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Yale Bible 38A (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), 607.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]