An essential key to understanding the Word of GOD and its design also involves understanding the meaning of the numbers in the Bible, which are often understood metaphorically and symbolically. In the past these numbers have often been interpreted through suppositions and conjectures, but in most cases they are misleading and too complex. In this article, instead, a small explanation of the more generic and basic numerology will be given, without deducing that their understanding can reveal GOD’s work, but it helps to interpret more clearly some biblical passages.
While the structure of some is quite obvious, others require a deeper study of the Bible, discovering that each of these numbers has a particular symbolism.
In this article we will omit gematry, a much more complex subject, that research that investigates the patterns in some words and phrases in the original language that would reveal a hidden meaning behind the biblical text, offering further proof that GOD, the CREATOR has inspired every single word used in the Book thus announcing His will.
Biblical numerology is the use of numbers for their symbolic value and for what they represent in biblical texts. The first example that we find in the Holy Scriptures are the seven days of creation in Genesis in Chapter 1, which should be understood more as a ratio (6 days of creation/work and 1 day of rest) than as a number in itself. Numerical interpretations of events, words and names were contained in many ancient languages, religions and philosophies, but Greek and Oriental ideas on numerology do not seem to have permeated Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs.
One – 1
The number one represents the unity of the whole and the beginning, as for example in the first Book of Genesis. The number 1 is divisible only by itself and independent of any other number, but it dials them all. It symbolizes in the Bible the unity and primacy, the unity of the Divinity. What is known as Shema (or Shema Yisrael), a quotation from verse four of Deuteronomy 6, 4 which is often used in Jewish prayer services, attests to this fact.
The number 1 also represents the unity between GOD the Father and his Son Jesus (John 10, 30). Jesus, by his singular sacrifice, made possible the forgiveness of sins, Mediator and Pastor (1 Timothy 2, 5 ; John 10, 16) in the life of every Christian.
Two – 2
Twos are associated with valid testimony.
To authenticate a testimony, two witnesses are needed (Deuteronomy 19:15; cf. Numbers 35, 30; Deuteronomy 17, 6; Matthew 18, 16; John 8, 17; Hebrews 10, 28).
In Revelation 11, the two witnesses represent the church in its multiplicity of faithful who play the specific role of witnesses of the Messiah.
Three – 3
The implication of three indicates “perfection”, “fullness” or “holiness” in the context of the concept of Trinitarian interpretation (for example in Mt 12:40). Often the three have a superlative force with the last in the series emphasizing determination. For example, three are the temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11) and the three are the denials of Peter (John 18:13-27).
- Three major feasts we find in the Jewish tradition (Exodus 23, 14-19)
- The prayer is indicated to be done three times a day (see Daniel 6, 10 and Psalm 55, 17).
- Three-year-old animals have been rewarded for making special sacrifices (Genesis 15, 9)
- There are three great celebrations in the Easter Triduum (the holiest part of Holy Week, the holiest week of most Christianity), which lasts about three days (Holy Thursday, and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday).
- According to Orthodox Christianity: the concept of the Trinity
- In the Book of Revelation, the four living beings use the three to exalt the attributes of GOD: “Holy, holy, the LORD GOD Almighty, who was and always will be in the coming” (Revelation 4:8). In this case, the three have a superlative power, emphasizing the infinite holiness of GOD.
Four – 4
Four is the number that refers to the creation. The fourth day of the so-called “week of creation” DIO has in fact completed the material universe. On this day he gave birth to the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1, 14-19). Their purpose was not only to emit light, but also to divide the day from the night on earth, thus becoming a fundamental demarcation of time. They were also made to be a necessary indicator for the days, years and seasons.
- Around the throne there are four living creatures, representing all of creation (Rev 4, 6 and 8 ; 5,6 , 8 and 14).
- Humanity is divided into four parts, representing the whole creation: “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5, 9 ; see also 7, 9 ; 10, 11 ; 11, 9 ; 13, 7 ; 14, 6; 17, 15).
- The 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).
- The construction of the altar: four corners, four pillars, etc. (see Exodus 27, 1-8 and Exodus 27, 16).
Six – 6
Six indicates “imperfection”, “man”, or “evil”. For Christianity this is attested preeminently in the Book of Revelation.
- Six is the number associated with the creation of humanity in Genesis 1, 26-31.
- Six hundred and sixty-six (666) is the number of the beast, it has the distinctive signs of the perfect seven, but it is not. It is not the last (i.e. seven) but only the penultimate, the beast has “most of the signs of truth, and therefore close to it in order to be easily deceived”. For example, the beast has seven heads (Rev 13,1), the perfect number, and a mortal wound that has been healed (Rev 13,3). The mortal wound that is healed is a parody of the Lamb killed and yet risen in Revelation 5, 6 the beast is the false demonic Messiah, who appears benign, but his true nature is not messianic, but satanic.
Seven – 7
Seven means “sacredness par excellence” and “totality of perfection”.
- Jesus Christ was crucified on the sixth day, spent the seventh day in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and appeared to Mary Magdalene on the eighth day.
- There are seven sacraments in Western Catholicism, Eastern Catholicism, Anglo-Catholic rites and the Orthodox Church.
- There are seven days in a week and seven days of creation, apparently related to the four primary phases of the moon, which are about 7 days each.
- In the Book of Revelation, there are several examples, including: seven churches (Revelation 2, 1 – 3, 22), seven bowls (Revelation 15, 5 – 16, 21), seven seals (Revelation 5, 1 – 8, 1), seven trumpets (Revelation 8, 2 – 11, 18), seven thunder (Revelation 10, 3-4), seven spirits (Revelation 1, 4), seven stars (Revelation 1, 20) and seven lamps (Revelation 1, 20).
- The lamb has seven eyes and seven horns (Revelation 5, 6). The dragon has seven heads and seven diadems (Revelation 12, 3), and the beast of the sea has seven heads (Revelation 13, 1 ; 17, 3).
- There are seven theological virtues to compensate for seven mortal sins.
- The seven are used in the rhetorical sequences of Revelation. For example, “the Lamb is worthy… to receive power and wealth and wisdom and power and power and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12).
- There are seven arms and lamps on the Menorah (Exodus 25, 31-40)
Eight – 8
Eight represents “new life” or “resurrection”, a new beginning.
- There were eight people on Noah’s Ark (see Gen 7, 7 and 2 Peter 2, 5).
- Circumcision is performed on the eighth day after the birth of the child (Gen 17, 12).
- Jesus was crucified on the sixth day, rested in the tomb on the seventh, and rose from the dead on the eighth day.
- The eighth day of the week marks a new day or a new beginning (cf. 2Enoch 33, 1).
Ten – 10
In the Bible, the number 10 is used 242 times, while the definition “10” is used 79 times. The number 10 is also considered a number of completeness and perfection, but to indicate more earthly things, i.e. less Sacred-Divine. It is composed of 4, the number of physical creation, and 6, the number of man, and according to this interpretation, 10 represents the testimony, law, responsibility and completeness of order.
- In Genesis 1 we find the phrase “GOD said” 10 times, which is a testimony of his creative power.
- GOD gave the 10 Commandments to man. Ten therefore represents the responsibility of man to observe the commandments.
- Tithing is one tenth of our gain and is a testimony of our faith in the Lord.
- The Easter lamb was chosen on the 10th day of the first month (Exodus 12, 3), like Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 12, 28-29 ; 1 Corinthians 5, 7).
- The 10th day of the 7th month is also the holy day known as the day of Atonement. This unique day of fasting imagines the removal of Satan, the author of sin, before the beginning of the millennial Messianic reign (Revelation 20, 1 – 2).
Eleven – 11
The number 11 may symbolize disorder, chaos and judgment. In the Bible, the number 11 is used twenty-four times and “eleventh” is found as many as 19 times. Coming after 10 (which represents law and responsibility), the number eleven represents the opposite, which is the irresponsibility of breaking the law, which brings disorder and judgment.
- In Genesis 11, men rebelled against GOD and built the tower of Babel. He judged them by confusing their language, causing chaos.
- Jehoiakim, one of the last kings of Judah, ruled for 11 years (from 609 to 598 BC). His successor, King Jehoiachin, ruled for only three months before the Babylonians took control of Jerusalem.
- After passing the city, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon established Zedekiah as a sovereign puppet of Judea. Zedekiah, however, soon rebelled against his masters. His reign ended in 586 B.C., after only eleven (11) years, when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem again, but this time he destroyed the city and the temple.
Twelve – 12
The twelve is associated with the people of GOD, and brings back to the 12 lunar (or solar) months, the time of a year marked for believers.
- The twelve tribes of Israel
- There are many examples in Ezekiel concerning the construction in the heavenly Jerusalem for the twelve tribes, including 12 gates (Ezekiel 48, 30-35).
- Twelve apostles and twelve angels (Revelation 21, 14).
- The new Jerusalem is an architectural marvel designed with the twelve. 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 walls have the twelve names of the apostles (Revelation 21, 14), and the wall is twelve squares, equal to 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 types of fruit (Revelation 22, 2).
- The new Jerusalem measures 12,000 stages per side (Revelation 21, 16), a cube and a perfect dwelling place for all of God’s people.
- Twelve is multiplied to 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1,000) in Revelation 7, 4 ; 14, 1, 3 and indicates the complete number of the Israel of GOD, the entire Christian community.
Forthy – 40
Quoted 146 times in Scripture, the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of time na not long, and often associated with a test, or a test.
- During the life of Moses he lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before GOD chose him to lead his people out of slavery.
- Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, on two separate occasions (Exodus 24, 18 ; 34, 1 – 28), receiving the Laws of GOD. He also sent spies, for forty days, to investigate the land that GOD had promised the Israelites as an inheritance (Numbers 13, 25 ; 14, 34).
- The prophet Jonah warned with insistence the ancient city of Nineveh, for forty days, about its imminent destruction that would occur because of its many sins.
- The prophet Ezekiel stood at His right hand for 40 days to symbolize the sins of Judah (Ezekiel 4, 6).
- Goliath defied the Israelites for 40 days before David killed him.
- King David ruled for 40 years.
- Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert for 40 days.
- Jesus remained in Jerusalem and Galilee for 40 days before his ascension.
Seventy – 70
Seventy (as well as the number 7) has a sacred meaning in the Bible. It consists of two perfect numbers, seven (perfection) and ten (representing the completeness and law of GOD), as such it symbolizes the perfect spiritual order.
- Seventy (70) elders were named by Moses (Numbers 11, 16). After reading the covenant that GOD had given him to read to the people, Moses took 70 elders, along with Aaron and his sons, to Mount Sinai for a special meal with
- GOD himself (Exodus 24, 9-11).
- Ancient Israel spent a total of 70 years in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29, 10).
- Seventy is also particularly attached to Jerusalem. The city has maintained 70 years of Saturdays while Judah was in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 25, 11). Seventy-seven years (490 years) were established on Jerusalem to complete its transgressions, to put an end to sins and to bring eternal justice into it (Daniel 9, 24).
Thousand – 1000
“Thousand” (1,000) means “immensity”, a “fullness of quantity”, and is often found in the Book of Revelation.
Samson, one of the judges of Israel and the first person that the Bible declares under the vow of Nazism from birth, was commissioned by GOD to free the Israelites from the brutal Philistines. One of the ways he did this was to use his miraculous strength and resistance, plus the jawbone of a donkey, to kill 1,000 men of the Philistine army.
And he (Samson) found a new jawbone of a donkey, and put forth his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it. And Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men”
(Judges 15, 15-16)
- “Number Symbolism,” by Jean-Pierre Brach, in Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, edited by Wouter Hanegraaff, Brill, 2006, p.874-883
- Adela Yarbo Collins, “Numerical Symbolism in Jewish and Early Christian Apocalyptic Literature,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 21.2:1221-87
- M.H. Pope, “Numbers, Numbering, Numbers,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 3:561-67
- Introduction to the Cabala, by Z’Ev Ben Shimon Halevi, Weiser Books, 1 Nov 1991, p.23