When writing to Timothy, Paul noted that all scripture was God-breathed profitable for truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living in accordance with (2 Tim 3:16). Jesus also said that not even one jot or one title of God’s word will fail (Mathew 5:18). These two references underscore the importance of every bit of the scripture – including numbers.
So what do numbers mean in the Bible?
Numbers are typically used as measurements of quantities. However, they signify much more than that. In Greek and Hebrew (the original language of the Bible), every letter was assigned a numerical value because the languages didn’t have a different numbering system. This means that the words used in scripture have special numerical meanings and significance.
The Genesis of Numbers
Numbers are used as symbols of quantities. So to understand the origin and meaning of numbers, we must start by understanding the origin of qualities. The Bible makes it clear that God is the origin of everything on earth (including quantities)
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17).
All things – numbers included – were created by and for God. In fact, God used numbers to measure, weigh, and balance creation. We can see this in various passages but here is one prolific reference to the fact;
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:12)
The fact that God, who created everything, measured the heavens and waters using numbers is a testament to the importance of numbers in his word. God is capable of counting the grains of sand in the sea (Psalms 139:17-18), the stars in the sky (Genesis 26:4), as well as the number the hairs on your head (Matthew 10:26).
The first hint of the use of numbers in the Bible is in the Genesis account of creation. God separates his work of creation into 6 creation days. The table below summarises the 6 days of creation with the symbolism of the numbers as inferred from the respective context.
|Light cannot be subdivided and so number 1 represents unity.
|Separation of firmament (heavens) from waters
|The separation of the heavens denotes division so the number 2 represents division. It also represents a double portion because it is double of 1.
|Gathering waters, dry land appearing, plant life created
|3 represents the life-giving power of the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit)
|Stars, moon, stars, and other planets
|The creation of the entire solar system means number 4 represents universal nature.
|God provides and takes care of all the animals even though they do not work for it. As such, number 5 represents God’s grace (unmerited favor)
|6 is therefore the number of man
|God had finished creation, and by resting, he instituted the 7 as a symbol of completion, perfection, and rest.
Understanding Biblical Numbers
The main goal of God’s word is to communicate spiritual truths in a manner that will result in meaningful transformation of the readers/hearers. As such, merely translating Bible words and phrases into numbers without understanding their spiritual significance will be fruitless. However, when you comprehend the spiritual meaning of a number, you will get the prophetic significance which will help you to know the hidden meaning of the word/number. When done right, biblical numerology can be a source of truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living in accordance with (2 Timothy 3:16).
When studying numbers in the Bible, it is important to pay attention to the original language of the text (Greek and Hebrew). The ancient Hebrew and Greek alphabets do not have numbers and they instead used letters for numbers. Each of the Hebrew/Greek letters had a numerical value. This means that when several letters are combined to form a word, the word also has a numerical value and meaning.
The using of letters as numbers was pretty common in most ancient civilizations. Even though we have a numerical system in English, we still borrow from this age-old practice in a small way. For instance, zero and the letter O are written in almost the same way. The letters I and L may also be said to resemble the number 1. While English has only these two examples, all Greek and Hebrew letters correspond to numerical values. The authors of the Bible understood this and so they chose each word meticulously to ensure the numerical meaning was encoded in the words they were writing. For instance, the word Jesus is spelled as Lesous in Greek. Here is the numerical breakdown of the word
Adding up the numerical values above gives a total of 888 (10+8+200+70+400+200). The number 888 is a unique number that represents Jesus Christ. A closer look at the other name of Jesus reveals that they are all factors of the number 8. Messiah (656 or 8 times 82), Lord (800 or 8 times 100), Christ (1480 or 8 times 185), etc.
To sum it up, numbers have a lot of significance in the Bible. Some numbers are mentioned explicitly in the Bible (e.g. the numbers used in the creation account) while others are implied from the numerical value of the words (e.g. Jesus). Whichever the case may be, all the numbers in the Bible have important significance and meaning.