Conservative scholars remain cautious about assigning too much importance to numbers in the Bible, as this has lead some groups to mystical and theological extremes, believing numbers can reveal the future, or uncover hidden information. This, of course, delves into the dangerous realm of divination.
Certain prophetic books of the Bible, such as Daniel and Revelation, introduce a complex, interrelated system of numerology which exhibits definite patterns. Given the elaborate nature of prophetic numerology, this study will deal only with the meaning of individual numbers in the Bible.
Meaning of Numbers in the BibleTraditionally, most Bible scholars agree that the following numbers possess some symbolic or literal significance.
- One - Denotes absolute singleness.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (ESV)
- Two - Symbolizes witness and support.
- There were two great lights of creation (Genesis 1:16).
- Two cherubim guarded the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:22).
- Two witnesses establish truth (Matthew 26:60).
- The disciples were sent two by two (Luke 10:1).
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. (ESV)
- Three - Signifies completion or perfection, and unity. Three is the number of Persons in the Trinity.
- Many significant events in the Bible happened "on the third day" (Hosea 6:2).
- Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Matthew 12:40).
- Jesus' earthly ministry lasted three years (Luke 13:7).
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (ESV)
- Four - Relates to the earth.
- Earth has four seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall.
- There are four primary directions: north, south, east, west.
- Four earthly kingdoms (Daniel 7:3).
- Parable with four types of soil (Matthew 13).
He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (ESV)
- Five - A number associated with grace.
- Five Levitical offerings (Leviticus 1-5).
- Jesus multiplied five loaves of barely to feed 5,000 (Matthew 14:17).
Portions were taken to them from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him. (ESV)
- Six - The number of man.
"The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee ..." (ESV)
- Seven - Refers to the number of God, divine perfection or completeness.
- On the seventh day God rested after completing the creation (Genesis 2:2).
- God's Word is pure, like silver purified seven times in the fire (Psalm 12:6).
- Jesus taught Peter to forgive 70 times seven (Matthew 18:22).
- Seven demons went out from Mary Magdalene, symbolizing total deliverance (Luke 8:2).
When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. (ESV)
- Eight - May signify new beginnings, although many scholars don't attribute any symbolic meaning to this number.
- Eight people survived the flood (Genesis 7:13, 23).
- Circumcision took place on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12).
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." (ESV)
- Nine - May mean fullness of blessing, although many scholars don't assign any special meaning to this number either.
- There are nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (ESV)
- Ten - Relates to human governments and law.
- The Ten Commandments were the Tablets of the Law (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
- Ten tribes made up the northern kingdom (1 Kings 11:31-35).
And he [Boaz] took ten men of the elders of the city [as judges] and said, "Sit down here." So they sat down. (ESV)
- Twelve - Relates to divine government.
- The 12 tribes of Israel (Revelation 7).
- The 12 apostles (Matthew 10:2-4).
It [the New Jerusalem] had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (ESV)
- Thirty - A time associated with mourning and sorrow.
- Aaron's death was mourned for 30 days (Numbers 20:29).
- Moses' death was mourned for 30 days (Deuteronomy 34:8).
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (ESV)
- Forty - A number associated with testing and trials.
- During the flood it rained 40 days (Genesis 7:4).
- Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14:33).
- Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days before being tempted (Matthew 4:2).
Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain [Sinai]. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (ESV)
- Fifty - Significance in feasts, celebrations, and ceremonies.
- The Feast of Pentecost was celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover (Leviticus 23:15-16).
- 50 days after Jesus Christ's resurrection the Holy Spirit filled believers on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. (ESV)
- Seventy - Possible association with judgment and human delegations.
- 70 elders were appointed by Moses (Numbers 11:16).
- Israel spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10).
And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. (ESV)
- 666 - The number of the beast.