Biblical numerology – What is it?

Biblical numerology is the study of numbers within the Bible. A wide variety of studies exist with interpretations focusing on the most commonly used numbers. Among those who study biblical numerology, the most common numbers investigated include 3, 7, 12, and 40 due to their frequent use in significant accounts.

The number seven is found through the early portions of Genesis. There are seven days of creation, for example; and the seventh day called the Sabbath is considered holy. The sevenfold spirit of God is mentioned in the Bible, likely in reference to completion in connection with the completed days of creation. Seven is also a common literary device in Revelation, the Bible's final book, where we find seven letters to seven churches, and seven years of Tribulation, among other occurrences.

The number three is also significant in a number of passages. Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days just as Jesus was dead for three days prior to His resurrection. The use of three of the same words or variations of three is also common, such as faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13. The Transfiguration of Jesus also includes three people—Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Jesus had three inner circle disciples—Peter, James, and John. Jesus also experienced three temptations from Satan in the wilderness.

The number twelve is also often used. There were twelve sons of Jacob who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus would later have twelve disciples. The Book of Revelation includes twenty-four elders (12 x 2) that some interpret as representing Israel and the Church.

The number forty is significant in Scripture. The Flood during Noah's time lasted forty days. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus fasted for forty days (as did Moses—twice—and Elijah).

Other numbers could also be mentioned. For example, the number ten is frequent, especially in the ten plagues of Egypt during the time of Moses. Multiples of seven are fairly common, such as the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8–17) or Daniel's seventy weeks (Daniel 9:24–27). Multiples of twelve are also fairly common, such as the 144,000 Jewish witnesses in Revelation (Revelation 7:1–8) and in the measurements of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:16–17). We see pairings, such as the two named trees in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9), the pairs of animals on Noah's ark (Genesis 7:2–3), Jesus sending disciples out in pairs (Luke 10:1), and the two witnesses in Revelation (Revelation 11:1–14). Revelation also mentions a number related to the beast—666 (Revelation 13:18).

While the intentional use of some of these numbers as a literary device is undeniable, not all agree on the purpose of the numerical patterns. Conservative scholars note that extra-biblical literature also uses many similar numbers for literary purposes, indicating that much care should be used in determining the particular reason a number is used. The Scripture is clear, however, that God's Word does not intend to communicate secret messages but is designed to instruct, inform, and to equip people to live for Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Ephesians 4:11-12).

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