Numbers in the Bible

In Biblical “mathematics” the following can be proved: 2=3 and 70=72. Today I’d like to show how 70=72. It is relevant for Luke 10:1 and 10:17 where most manuscripts read 70, but some read 72. Sometimes the symbolic meaning of numbers in the Bible is more important than the exact numerical value. In this case, both 70 and 72 have the same symbolic significance, namely pointing to the Gentile nations as opposed to the people of God who are symbolized by the number 12.

The following is a brief introduction to the meaning of numbers in the Bible.

The number 1:

Number one stands for unity, not necessarily one person. God is one, although in three persons. Man and wife become one in the marriage contract, although they continue to be two people.

The number 3:

The number 3 in the Bible has the symbolic meaning of divine or supernatural.  It is especially prominent in connection with the Trinity, but there are also many examples of how the number three symbolizes a waiting for divine intervention (Genesis 40:10-17, Exodus 10:22, 19:16, 23:17, 25:32f, Judges 7:7, Jonah 1:17, Matthew 12:48, 26:44, Acts 9:9, 10:16, 2 Corinthians 12:8).

The number 4:

While the number three symbolizes the divine, the number four symbolizes the human. The symbolic meaning is very common in prophetic-apocalyptic books like Daniel and Revelation. Examples are: the four corners of the world, the four winds, the four angles holding back the winds, the four beasts and four kingdoms. (Dan 7:2,3,6,17, 8:8,22, Rev 4:6-9, 7,1 etc.)

The number 6:

The symbolic meaning of six is derived from the meaning of seven. While the number seven stands for the perfect and complete and often connected with what God has created, the number six stands for the exact opposite, the imperfect and incomplete, often connected with what comes from the Devil or human sinful desires. It may symbolize something which pretends to be perfect, but in fact is a satanic deceit. The strongest characteristic of the Devil is that he likes to pretend to be an “angel of light”. He is always deceitful trying to make people believe that he is the one who brings the perfect solution, help and even salvation. Everyone knows the number for the Devil in Rev 13:18 (666).

However, the number six does not always stand for the negative. When the Seraphs and Cherubim have six wings, this simply reflects that wings come in pairs, so that they have three (supernatural number) pairs of wings.

The number 7:

From the first page of the Bible it is clear that the number seven stands for the completed and perfect. When God rested on the seventh day, the week was established. It is no coincidence that the first sentence in the Bible contains seven words, that the second sentence contains 2 x 7 words and that the first paragraph contains 3 x 7 words.

As can be expected the number seven is common in Revelation: Seven letters to seven churches, seven spirits, seven lamp stands, seven stars, seven angels, seven seals, seven thunders, seven trumpets, etc. When the Israelites were told to march round Jericho for seven days and seven times on the seventh days, it also refers to what is complete.

It is interesting that seven is the sum of three (divine) and four (human). When the divine and human is united in the right way, the perfect results.

The number 10:

This signifies rulership and authority. The ten commandments were given to be an authoritative guide to rule the behaviour of Israel. In the Old Testament, a leader was put over ten people and a new leader above ten leaders. (Ex 18:21,25, Deut 1:15). Boaz called ten leaders in the city to make a legal decision (Ruth 4:2, cf. Eccl. 7:19). The ten people from all nations in Zech 8:23 represent people who want to be ruled by the king of Israel. The number ten is often combined with a horn, which has the symbolic meaning of strength, so the combined meaning is mighty kings (Dan 7:24, Rev 12:3, 13:1, 17:3,12,16).

The number 12:

Since three is the number for God and four is the number for people, 3 x 4 is the number for God’s people (Matthew 19:28). First, Israel with its twelve clans are the people of God, but with Christ a new people of God emerged, since the Jews (as a people) rejected their Messiah. However, in Revelation we see the two different peoples of God being united to one people. That is why we see 2 x 12 elders there (Rev 4:4,10, 5:8, 11:16, 14:3, 19:4). The elders represent the leaders for the two peoples. The 144,000 (12 x 12 thousands) represent the large number of people who will eventually belong to the people of God. (It is possible that the first occurrence of 144,000 in Rev refers to God’s old people, the Jews, and the second occurrence to the redeemed people, the Christians. But this belongs to the realm of interpretation, not translation.) The number is not to be taken literally in a book like Revelation where symbolism is in the forefront.

The number 14:

Since 14 is two times seven, it may stand for two cycles of something complete. Jacob had to work for Lea for seven years, and then for Rachel for another seven years.

However, the number fourteen is also King David’s number. In Hebrew, the name David is spelled with the three letters d,v,d. In Hebrew (and Greek) the letters were also used as number signs, so that the first letter of the alphabet stood for 1, the second letter for 2, etc. d is the fourth letter and v is the sixth. David’s number is then 4+6+4=14.

The symbolic meaning of 14 is prominent in Matthew 1:1-17. Matthew has divided the generations into three groups of fourteen each (v. 17). We must remember that Matthew was writing for the Jews who would be looking out for number symbolism in any text and who knew that David’s number was 14 and the divine number three. As a result, Matthew is communicating by this special arrangement of the generations (fathers) that Jesus was the divine king who was to take the place of King David as the greatest king of the Jews. The term Son of David also signifies a king who was to overshadow King David. Matthew didn’t hesitate to leave out some of the fathers in order to get to the number 3 x 14. The symbolic meaning of the genealogy is more important than the actual names of the fathers through the generations.

The number 40:

This number is four (humanity) times ten (rulership/authority). It stands for the question: Who is in authority, man or God? It is therefore the symbolic number for testing. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tested.

The number 70:

This number has two different meanings. Because it is 7 times 10, it can stand for a complete/perfect number of rulers. God told Moses to choose seventy elders as rulers over the people (Numbers 11:16). See also Exodus 24:1, Judges 9:2, Ezekiel 8:11). The Jewish Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, had 70 members plus the High Priest as chairman and ex-officio member.

It also has the meaning of being in exile among a Gentile nation or more generally it refers to the Gentile nations. This seems to go back to the time when Jacob went to settle in Egypt with his family of 70 people (Genesis 46:27). Sometimes the number 12 which stands for the Jewish nation, and the number 70 which stands for the other nations, occur together. In Exodus 15:27 (and Numbers 33:9) the 12 springs point to the promised land which the people were heading for and which was established from the 12 sons of Jacob, while the 70 palm trees point back to the land of Egypt which the Israelites had now left. The time in Babylonian exile (or more specifically, the time Jerusalem would be in ruins) was also 70 years (2 Chron. 36:21, Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10, Daniel 9:2, Zechariah 1:12, 7:4). (See also Isaiah 23:17).

When Jesus sent out the disciples as a trial before Pentecost, he first sent 12 disciples, symbolising that the Gospel was first to be preached to the Jewish nation (Matthew 10:5, Mark 6:7, Luke 6:13, Luke 9:1). Then he sent out 70 disciples (Luke 10:1,17) to symbolise that later the Gospel should reach to all the Gentile nations.

The number 72:

This number had no significance in the Old Testament, but around the time of Jesus or before, there was a move to change the number for the Gentiles to 72 from 70, because the number 70 had a positive meaning to the Jews as the number of rulers. They suggested to give the number 6 times 6 times 2 to the Gentiles. Gradually the number for the Gentile nations changed from 70 to 72. Another possible reason for the number 72 is that the Letter of Aristeas suggests that there were 72 elders doing the translation of the OT for the Jews living in Gentile lands (6 from each of the 12 tribes). Whatever the reason, both numbers symbolize the Gentiles or Gentile nations.

This is why the Greek manuscripts do not agree whether it was 70 or 72 disciples Jesus sent out in Luke 10:17. It probably was 70 disciples, but in any case, it refers to the future preaching to the Gentiles.

29 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    In this case, both 70 and 72 have the same symbolic significance, namely pointing to the Gentile nations as opposed to the people of God who are symbolized by the number 12.

    Iver, Is there anything in history that ties this significance that you mention here with the legend of the 72 translators of the Hebrew scriptures in Alexandria, Egypt who completed the translation in 72 days? The Latin word “septuagint,” the name for the translation, of course, means 70. Were these numbers significant to Jews who might have been signaling that the Greek rendering was not of “the people of God” but was, rather, of “the nations,” the goyim, the ethnic gentiles?

  2. ElShaddai Edwards
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Regarding ‘666’, it may be worth thinking about that the only other occurrence of this sequence is in 1 Kings 10:14-15 (also 2 Chronicles 9:13-14), where it is used in reference to King Solomon. It seems likely that John was alluding to Solomon’s wisdom (“This calls for wisdom. Let those who have insight…”), or Solomon’s late life ‘human sinful desires’ in mind when describing the political effect of the beast in Revelation on the Jewish leadership in John’s time, or both.

  3. Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    And about 666, isn’t it also a possible reference to commerce, because it describes the gold brought in annually by the richest man in the world? Just proposing an alternative.

  4. Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Iver, are 70 and 72 close enough textually to be confused?

  5. Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t 70 just a rounded form of 72? (Precise to one significant digit…)

  6. Posted January 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Good overall, but I would dispute the meaning of the number six. First of all, 666 in Revelation is not “the Devil’s number,” but “the number of (a?) man.” Secondly, six seems more connected with humanity in general, probably stemming from the notion of the creation of humanity on the sixth day in the Gen 1 story. This also connects with Neo-Pythagorian number theory, which asserts that six is the number of the human soul.

    As such, I would suggest that six is not the number of the devil or “the exact opposite” of the number seven but in fact the number of human nature without divine completion.

  7. Kay
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t there some dispute about ‘666’? I’ve read that some ancient manuscripts show ‘616’ instead…just wondering??

  8. Posted January 16, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Yes, some manuscripts have 616, which most scholars see as evidence for early understanding of the number as a coded reference to Nero Caesar, which adds up to either 666 or 616, depending on how it was spelled.

  9. Posted January 17, 2010 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    A very good post, and I can see much sense in it. However, unless I missed its reference, there’s a crucial element missing on the number seventy. It first occurs in Genesis 10. Japheth’s legacy contains 14 names, Ham’s has 30, and Shem has 26. Just like the genealogies of 4-5, the line of the bad son (Cain; Ham) is the most industrious by worldly standards, and the bad son’s descendants descend into idolatry in a blatantly arrogant way that “advances civilization.”

    The significance of seventy in Genesis 10 is something worth contemplating as well. Thoughts?

  10. Posted January 17, 2010 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    This topic seems slightly kooky to me. Is this urban legend or is there real evidence that these numbers were used and interpreted this way?

  11. Dannii Willis
    Posted January 17, 2010 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    I agree David… there’s too much speculation here.

    I think some are very clear, like 12 symoblising the people of God, and 40 a time of testing. But sometimes numbers are just numbers.

  12. Posted January 17, 2010 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    David and Dannii,

    There is no doubt that numbers play, at least in some instances, a symbolic role. Take, for example, the fact that although there were what might have been counted as fourteen tribes in Israel, every list of the tribes found some way or other to make the total add up to twenty. Examples could be multiplied to show that numbers had a significance that often went beyond mere reporting of counts. So it’s certainly not an urban legend that numbers have significance in the Bible.

    However, there are disagreements as to the details of how it all works out, because there’s no “master list” or anything like that in the Bible. So while I would say this post is at least for the most part not based on speculation, there’s a number of teachers who are unreasonably dogmatic about numbers. Hope that helps.

  13. iverlarsen
    Posted January 17, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments. Let me respond briefly:
    1. Kurk: Yes, I think it is likely that the symbolic meaning of the number 72 may have originated with the spurious Letter of Aristeas, written by a Hellenistic Jew probably in the 2nd century B.C. He may be the one who came up with the notion that the LXX was translated by 6 Jewish scholars from the 12 tribes. This apparently has no historical truth in it, but it shows that the significance of 72 as referring to the “Gentile nations” (or “all nations”) was in vogue before the time of Christ.
    2. Gary. Yes, the so-called “table of nations” is another background for the symbolic sense of 70 referring to “all nations” (as opposed to the more restricted “people of God”).
    3. David. Some of the explanations for the symbolic meaning of the numbers may be kooky, but the symbolic meaning itself is fairly well established in Jewish tradition. And no, the Greek numbers 70 and 72 cannot be textually confused. It was apparently a deliberate change from 70 to 72 in the Alexandrian (Egyptian) tradition. (I first heard about this move to change the number from the Christian Jewish Scholar, Martin Goldsmith, many years ago.)
    4. Dannii. Sometimes numbers are just numbers, but those who do not recognize the symbolic references will miss part of the intended meaning in many places. You need to be guided by context. The number 666 occurs in Ezra 2:13, but it is just a number with no symbolism (and it should not have been included in the margin of the NA27). The 153 fish in John 21 is just a number. For numbers to have symbolic meaning, that same meaning must be seen in several contexts.
    5. Edwards. Yes, the number 666 in 1 Ki 10:14 and 2Ch 9:13 is likely to have a negative symbolic sense. Solomon’s wealth destroyed his wisdom. I don’t think Rev 13:18 is alluding to Solomon or his lack of wisdom, but rather that both intend to symbolize something that is the opposite of God’s will and wisdom. In our Danish Bible translation we added a footnote in 1 Ki 10:14 and 2 Ch. These symbolic meanings cannot be put in the text, but they may be given in footnotes.
    6. Kay. Yes, a single extant manuscript reads 616, but this is clearly not original. It is possible that the scribe who changed the text wanted to suggest a reference to Nero.
    7. Jason. It may well be that 6 in some Greek circles alludes to humanity, but I am talking about Jewish number symbolism, not Greek. Try to look at occurrences of 4 and 6 in the Bible, especially Revelation. In this book, 4 occurs 20 times, but apart from the 666, 6 only occurs once where it is really three pairs (the wings of the four living creatures). The beast in Rev 13 does refer to a human world ruler, but one who is controlled by Satan and one who is clearly evil and who performed supernatural signs. And this appears by coincidence in chapter 13 verse 13 (a negative number in Western tradition, isn’t it)
    Iver

  14. Posted January 17, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Iver, it’s your point #4 that I’m struggling with. Even with some sort of cross-reference I’m unconvinced that these numbers have any special meaning. You said that 666 in Ezra is just a number. But it’s another occurrence according to your standards and so should be taken as special.

  15. iverlarsen
    Posted January 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    David,
    Are you saying that none of these numbers have symbolic meaning? If this is news to you, I suggest you mull it over for a few years and look out for the significance. (As I said I first heard about it many years ago – 38 to be exact – and it has been in the back of my mind since.)
    It is important to keep a balance. Some people have gone overboard looking for symbolic meanings behind every number. Some are looking for hidden codes. I am not advocating anything like that. Maybe you have come across these excesses and are therefore extra sceptical?
    In the case of 666, it is clear that the reference in Revelation is intended to have a mening beyond the number. In Ezra, it is a number embedded in a huge amount of other numbers. The context makes it factual rather than symbolic. In the case of 1 Kings, I would say it is in the middle. The number may or may not have symbolic meaning. I believe you have clear cases and unclear cases. That’s life.

  16. Posted January 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    You wrote:
    “However, the number six does not always stand for the negative. When the Seraphs and Cherubim have six wings, this simply reflects that wings come in pairs, so that they have three (supernatural number) pairs of wings.”

    It’s that kind of arbitrary dismissal of counter-examples that causes me to think that Biblical numerology just doesn’t add up.

    I apologize for being contrary on this. I’m just testing your claims. I can’t think of explicit claims to any of the meanings of numbers being made in the Bible. I can imagine there’s a long-tradition of claims like these through history.

  17. Posted January 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid I’m going to add my voice to the sceptics. Numbers in the Bible are invariably prone to all manner of dubious claims, particularly their symbolic significance. There is a tendency to read into numbers theological ideas present in some places where the numbers appear without clear warrant. So while I agree with some of your claims, I find a number are unsubstantiated and somewhat dubious.

    The number “1” can certainly represent unity, but that is not all it represents, nor is that what it always (or even usually) represents. In some instances it emphasises loneliness or isolation (e.g. 1Kings 19:5). In Genesis 2:24 the man and woman do not become “one,” they become “one flesh.” There is a significant difference.

    I don’t know that your claims about “3” can easily be born out. There are too many instances where the number appears without any such implication. In the passages you do cite it is also not clear to me that “3” functions in the way you suggest. The danger here is that, noting the presence of “3,” we read into the text ideas that are not present.

    The connection of “4” and “human” seems also to miss some of the significance. The association with four cardinal directions rather more commonly emphasises the entirety (e.g. Gen 2:10–14 where the river’s division into four implies that it waters the entire land). This notion can also be seen in most of the passages you identify.

    I also find your claims about “6” dubious — it simply does not carry the significance of “the exact opposite” of seven in most places. The significance of the number “666” is, of course, widely debated, but it may either be a reference to Solomon (as noted by ElShaddai Edwards and Mitchell Powell above) or an instance of gematria which is significant in an entirely different manner from that which you suggest (whereas you imply a significance just by the appearance of the number, gematria sees the number as a cryptic representation of some other word).

    I’m also unconvinced about “10” since it appears far too frequently in contexts wherein no discernible notion of “rulership” is present (e.g. Luke 17:12 among many others). Just because it appears in some contexts where leadership is present does not warrant assigning this symbolic meaning to the number.

    In the case of “14” and David, it is worth noting that “David” is frequently written דויד in Hebrew with a numerical value of 24. If there were any symbolic significance associated with the numerical value of David’s name it would seem odd that the biblical authors would not be more consistent in their spelling.

    There are a few numbers which do have clear symbolic significance (7, 12). For other numbers the associations are not so clear. It is not enough that a number appears a few times in a context where some particular idea is present for that idea to be read into all or even most other passages containing that number. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish texts by genre — apocalyptic literature and, to a lesser extent, prophetic literature may indeed invest symbolic significance in various things including numbers, but that does not warrant claiming that these items always convey such significances.

  18. Posted January 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Dannii. Sometimes numbers are just numbers, but those who do not recognize the symbolic references will miss part of the intended meaning in many places. You need to be guided by context.

    Growing up in Vietnam, I remember how the American GIs and the Vietnamese trying to speak with them would use numbers as superlatives, as the ultimate ranking or labeling of something: “You’re number 1″ meant something like “You’re the best.” And “number 10″ referred to “the worst.” Only these two numbers were used this way — in other words, there was no such ambiguous significance for, say, “number 4.” We all do things like this with language, I think. How to track down the significances in history and/ or in lore (i.e., the Letter of Aristeas) is the trick for Hebrew (and Greek) readers. And if we ever do track down the old meaningfulness of a number used in a particular context only presents the further difficulty of deciding whether the translation best brings that across into a language (i.e., the L2) where the number has absolutely no ambiguous significance.

  19. iverlarsen
    Posted January 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Martin,
    It is good to be sceptical and check things out. I also checked the spelling of David. It is correct that the name is at times spelled with a yod. To be exact, 248 of the 1075 times the name occurs in the Hebrew Bible, it is written with a yod. However, this spelling is found almost exclusively in 1 and 2 Chron, Ezra and Nehemiah. It suggests that these books may have been written by the same person who for some reason had his own idiosyncratic and abnormal spelling. Or it may indicate a rather late spelling. Many of the NT references come from the Book of Psalms and in that book, the spelling with yod only occurs once out of 88 times. The normal spelling for most wroiters and readers of the OT in Hebrew would be DVD.
    I also agree that the genre is important as well as the context. I never meant to suggest that EVERY time you find a specific number, it has a symbolic meaning, but the Hebrew reader would be familiar with the tradition of assigning symbolic meaning to certain numbers just as they put a lot of weight upon the meaning of names. I am not suggesting that this should be dogmatic, only an interesting undercurrent and a part of the intended meaning that readers from a different culture often miss out on.

  20. Posted January 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    The symbolic meaning of six is derived from the meaning of seven.

    I’ve always thought it was at least in part the other way around.

    Most of the round numbers in the Bible come from the Babylonian system of mathematics. The Babylonians could multiply small numbers — 2×3, 3×4, 4×5, etc. — but not large ones. The products of the small numbers were round numbers as much as 10, 100, or 1,000.

    So there are 2×3 days in a workweek, 2×5 commandments, and 3×4 tribes; there are 2x4x5 days of the flood, days Moses spent on Mt. Sinai, and years the Israelites wandered in the desert; 3x4x5 is the cut-off for being a senior citizen in Leviticus, the number of animals sacrificed in Numbers 7:88, among the possibilites of a seed’s power (Mark and Matthew), and — to this day — the number of seconds in a minute and minutes in a hour; 2x3x4x5 is a long but realistic life span (Genesis 6:3, e.g., or Moses).

    It seems that there were 6 days in a week, and then the Sabbath. Only once the Sabbath became part of the week did the count change to 7. It’s also interesting to observe that of the day, week, month, and year, only the week has no representation in nature. It looks like the point of the week was to have a weekend.

  21. Posted January 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Good comment, Joel.

  22. iverlarsen
    Posted January 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Joel,

    I am afraid I do not understand what you are trying to say. I am looking at the symbolic usage of numbers in the Bible, and I cannot see how this ties in with Babylonian mathematics.
    The numbers 5 and 10 are common basic numbers for counting in many languages, simply because it is easy to count on fingers.
    I am not aware of any symbolic meaning to the number 60, but 12 is well established. Nor is it common to attach a symbolic sense to 6, apart from contexts where it is one less than 7. It mainly comes out in the 666 in Revelation.
    From the first pages of the Bible, 7 is seen as a number for completeness, and the week had 7 days from the start. According to Hebrew thinking, the Sabbath is not an afterthought, and I don’t see where you get your 2×3 working days from.

  23. Posted January 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Iver, your objections to both me and Joel strike me as arising from the same thing: we are pointing to the context in which the Bible was written, while you seem to want to ignore that context.

    With respect to your response to my point, I’m not sure how you are arguing for some sort of specialized “Jewish number symbolism” in Revelation when 1) Revelation was written in Greek and 2) Revelation clearly interacts with pagan mythologies, astrology, and Graeco-Roman religious concepts. Are you really arguing that Revelation has its own special number-theory that would have been different from that current in the surrounding context? It seems as though a modern theological interpretation of 666 is impacting your analysis here.

    As far as no ties to Babylonian number theory or mathematics, how would that have had no impact on Hebrew thinking? Biblical concepts did not emerge in a vacuum. It’s also interesting that you point to the first chapter of Genesis for your point about 7, but you ignore the meaning of the 6th day in that story, which points to what I argued at the beginning: 6 is the number of human beings, as it is the day on which they were created in that story.

    Finally, when you say, “Nor is it common to attach a symbolic sense to 6, apart from contexts where it is one less than 7. It mainly comes out in the 666 in Revelation,” you are killing your own case. 666 is a different number than 6. So you are arguing that 6 has no symbolic meaning of its own but 666 has a symbolic meaning (but only in one case in the history of ancient literature)? Wouldn’t that just mean that neither has a symbolic meaning but that Revelation simply used a number and attached a meaning to it on its own?

    Again, I would assert that it is important to consider the context of the biblical world and the number theory of surrounding cultures, especially where it appears that these ideas would have impacted the biblical use of symbolism.

  24. Posted January 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    This has got me thinking about some other numerical systems: the English words for days and months. In the distant past they were associated with emperors and pagan gods etc. but now are just words.

    No one today thinks about Thor on Thursday (Well, I do but I’m weird). Thursday is just a word. And even if it had a special meaning it no longer does. Same thing for the numerical values “found” in the Bible. It is possible that they were vaguely symbolic but whether they retained a strong association with concepts of perfection of Gentiles throughout the assembly of the canon seems doubtful.

  25. Posted January 17, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve generally just understood 70 to mean “a lot.” It’s a nice, round number.

    But three definitely plays a role for Matthew. Chapter 13 has a triad of parables, the genealogy has three sections, several episodes have a triple-occurrence of a word or phrase… three meant something to him. What, exactly, I have no idea. “Something greater than Jonah/Solomon/the temple is here!”

    The examples are legion. [here's a chance for the next commenter to take up the idea of legion; or "myriads of myriads" in Rev]

  26. iverlarsen
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Jason,

    As you can imagine, I do not agree with you. It seems to me that you are the one ignoring the context. Revelation is very much a Hebrew and Jewish book, writen in Hebraic Greek by a Jewish thinker. I won’t go into the issue of inspiration here, that is, how much is the writer’s own thoughts and how much is revelation from God. I agree that it is important to consider the context of the Biblical world, but you are looking far beyond that.

    I accept that the symbolic meaning of some of these numbers is more disputed than others. The number 6 is one of the more disputed ones. This morning I realized that Bullinger has written a whole book about numbers in the Bible. What I wrote was not based on anything others have written, but only on decades of interaction with the bible itself.

    Bullinger notes that the serpent was created on the sixth day, just as was humans. http://philologos.org/__eb-nis/six.htm
    I would not go as far as Bullinger and many others in assigning a symbolic meaning to every number, and I would not endorse most of his book. However, for the number six I agree with him that it essentially signifies “what is not of God”, but that includes “what is opposed to God” and “what falls short of the glory of God”. It would include both what Paul calls SARX (the flesh) and sin in general. He has a spelling section about “six and seven together” which is helpful.

  27. Posted January 18, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Iver, the last forty years or so of scholarship on early Judaism has essentially destroyed the notion of first century Judaism untouched by Graeco-Roman influence. If Revelation is Jewish, then it is also influenced by Graeco-Roman thought, as the Judaism of that day was most certainly not any sort of “pure Hebraic” strand of thought. So if you’re going to consider the context, you have to consider the context of Judaism in a Hellenized world.

  28. Dannii Willis
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Bullinger notes that the serpent was created on the sixth day, just as was humans. http://philologos.org/__eb-nis/six.htm
    I would not go as far as Bullinger and many others in assigning a symbolic meaning to every number, and I would not endorse most of his book. However, for the number six I agree with him that it essentially signifies “what is not of God”, but that includes “what is opposed to God” and “what falls short of the glory of God”. It would include both what Paul calls SARX (the flesh) and sin in general. He has a spelling section about “six and seven together” which is helpful.

    The sixth day was also when God breathed and inspired his spirit into those humans, and it was the day that was declared “very good”. It was the day when God appointed humanity as his image-bearing representatives on earth. That time was one of the most glorifying to God, ever! It was when God’s purposes in setting up his earth were complete. I think the only thing we can say about the number 6 is that the sixth day was busy!

  29. iverlarsen
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Dannie,

    I agree, I only mentioned Bullinger’s sixth day notion to balance a previous comment on the sixth day. I don’t think a symbolic meaning of the number six can be extracted from what was created on the sixth day, nor for that matter can what happened on the fourth day tell us anything about the symbolic meaning attached to 4, etc. What I connect with six is based on other ideas. By the way, the Greek word for six (hEKS) is the word for a witch in Danish, but there is no connection whatsoever. It is just funny.


3 Trackbacks

  1. By Numbers in the Bible | TimothyArcher.com/Kitchen on January 25, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    [...] thought-provoking material. Iver Larsen has written a couple of interesting articles recently on numbers in the Bible. The first post offered a brief introduction, which I want to make briefer here. Go back to the [...]

  2. By Numbers in the Bible « Theological Reflections on February 2, 2010 at 9:13 am

    [...] 02/02/2010 · Leave a Comment Good article taken from http://betterbibles.com/2010/01/16/numbers-in-the-bible/. [...]

  3. By Numbers in the Bible « St. Francis Church on February 2, 2010 at 9:17 am

    [...] 02/02/2010 by sjs889 Good article taken from http://betterbibles.com/2010/01/16/numbers-in-the-bible/. [...]

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