Can we attach any significance to certain numbers in the Bible?


Even though one has to avoid the “temptation” to attach a symbolic meaning to just about every number or combination of numbers, as used in the Holy Scriptures, there can be no doubt that a particular significance exists in regard to certain numbers or numerical combinations. This concept is known as biblical Numerology. The Bible itself makes this clear when it talks about the famous figure “666” (as will be discussed below)—the number of the end-time beast in the book of Revelation—or when it refers to certain numbers in the book of Daniel (for instance, 1260 days, 1290 days, and 1335 days).

In this series, we will discuss obvious significance associated with certain numbers, and we will see that the biblical choice of those numbers in a particular context is by no means “accidental.” The lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but might be used as a guideline or a basis for the review of other instances where these numbers are mentioned in the Bible. We will also see that some ascribe “significance” or “interpretation” to certain numbers, where they do not exist.

One of the more obvious numbers which can lead to a wrong interpretation, is number 1.

Some point at the number 1 as always describing unity or singularity. They are wrong on both counts.

We read that God is one in the sense that the Father is one Being, but that does not exclude the fact that God is a Family, and that the God Family consists today of TWO Beings (see below), and that it is the potential of man to enter the God Family or the Kingdom of God. It is also true that the number 1 may describe unity between two members, but also between many members. God is one in the sense that the Father and the Son are completely unified, and God’s disciples are to become one or unified as well (John 17:11; compare Galatians 3:28). We read of one baptism (Ephesians 4:5)—again, describing unity—as there are many who have been baptized over the years, being baptized in the one Body of Christ—a spiritual organism consisting of many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

We read about one Spirit, because it is unified. The Holy Spirit is not a person, but the power and mind of God, emanating from both the Father and the Son (Romans 8:9), and it dwells in all of God’s true disciples. By forgiving their sins, Christ has made “one new man from the two”; that is, from Gentiles and Israelites (Ephesians 2:15-16). Unity is also expressed by the fact that a man and a woman, when they get married, become “one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-6; compare Ephesians 5:31-32, showing that in a spiritual sense, Christ and His church become one spirit, note 1 Corinthians 6:17). A man who has sexual intercourse with a prostitute becomes “one” with her (1 Corinthians 6:16)—the wrong kind of “unity.”

So we see that the number 1 can, at times, refer to more than one person, describing unity. On the other hand, there are countless examples in the Bible when “one” person or concept or event is described, without referring to unity or unification. So, to always ascribe singularity or unity to the number 1 would be misleading.

Number 2 is sometimes associated with union, but also with division. It signifies duality as well as contrast.

In many cases, biblical prophecies have dual meaning—they might find a prior, preliminary fulfillment, as well as a climatic end-time fulfillment. Christ spoke of developments at the time of His First Coming or even prior to that, but in the same context, He pointed out that a major fulfillment should be expected in the latter days. He compared the times of Noah with the end-time; He spoke of the destruction of the Second Temple at around 70 A.D., but also explained that apparently, another destruction of a rebuilt temple would occur during the time of the Great Tribulation. He prophesied that the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, would occur, as a forerunner, in the first century, but more importantly, that it would occur again in the end time (Matthew 24:15-21). In addition, He explained that as ancient Israel was defeated in war in Old Testament times, so it would happen again for modern Israel just prior to His Second Coming.

Specifically focusing on the number 2, we should note the following by the way of contrast or opposites:

We read about light and darkness (Genesis 1:18; compare Ephesians 5:8), as well as the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These two contrasts are highlighted by the fact that we either build our lives on the foundation of Christ—the house built on a rock—or on another foundation—the house built on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). In other words, if we build our lives on any other foundation than on Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11), we have built on sand.  There are only two ways—the way which leads to death, and the way which leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). It is either God’s Way (Acts 18:26) or the way of Cain (Jude 11), and so we read about two brothers—righteous Abel and unrighteous Cain. We read that two cannot walk together, unless they are agreed (Amos 3:3), and that righteousness has no fellowship and communion with lawlessness (2 Corinthians 6:14). In this context, we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24)—if we don’t serve God, we are serving something or someone else, summarized as “mammon.” We read about two goats during the ancient Atonement ceremony—the one (“to the LORD”) symbolizes Jesus Christ; the other—Azazel—symbolizes Satan the Devil (Leviticus 16:7-8).

A slightly different way—that of contrast—is depicted in the following examples, but even though they do not necessarily represent opposites, they are still expressing different thoughts or concepts.

We read about two covenants—the old covenant and the new covenant. We also read about Jesus Christ, the last or second Adam and the second Man (1 Corinthians 15:45-47). The Bible reports about Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom), as well as Isaac and Ishmael.

On the other hand, the number 2 also signifies complete harmony and necessary connection.

God consists of two Persons or Personages, and the whole law can be summarized in two commandments (Matthew 22:40). Also, the Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone. The testimony of two witnesses is true (John 8:17), and some words are repeated or mentioned twice to show their significance, such as, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” God’s Word is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12; compare Revelation 1:16; 2:12).

We also find that Christ sent out His disciples two by two (Mark 6:7); that Christ dealt at times with two brothers (Moses and Aaron; James and John); and that Joshua and Caleb were the only two persons who gave a good report of the Promised Land (Numbers 14:6-7).

We also read about the two witnesses and two persons (Moses and Elijah) who appeared in a vision to Christ and His three disciples on the Mount of Transformation (Matthew 17).

Further, on a human level, a person has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, and we read that a man and a woman (two persons) should marry and become one.

We even read that at the time of Noah’s ark, “Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two, they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah” (Genesis 7:8-9).

How are we to view number 3?

Many assign special godly significance to the number 3, claiming that it stands for perfection or completeness. There are occasions when the number 3 has such significance (compare 2 Corinthians 12:8; Deuteronomy 17:6; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 John 5:7-8, but note that in the last Scripture, the original does NOT contain the words: “in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one…” These words were added in later centuries to support the unbiblical teaching of the Trinity—“One God Person in three God Persons.”) Also, in Deuteronomy 16:16, we are told to appear “three times a year” before God to keep His annual Festivals. But it is interesting that this passage only refers to the three Holy Day seasons (Days of Unleavened Bread in the spring, Pentecost in early summer and the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day in the autumn), while all the individual Holy Days consist of seven days—the number of completeness (as we will discuss in a subsequent Q&A).

There are examples where the number 3 does not signify completeness (compare Luke 13:6-9, especially verses 7-8). The real basis for the claim that the number 3 always describes completeness or perfection lies in the erroneous thinking that God is perceived to be a Trinity. Some even try to support this false claim by referring to the angelic words of “holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah 6:3. This argument is to be rejected for the simple reason that angels say the same words to God the Father, while Jesus Christ, the Lamb, is present as well (Revelation 4:8; 5:6). The Bible teaches that God consists of TWO Persons or Personages or Spirit Beings—the Father and the Son—while, as mentioned, the Holy Spirit is NOT a person, but the power and mind emanating from both God Beings.

On the other hand, it is interesting that most deny the reality of a crucial aspect, which does include the number 3; namely, that Christ was three days and three nights in the grave, as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster (Matthew 12:40). Jesus did in fact fulfill this sign for His Messiahship, in that He was placed in the grave on Wednesday afternoon, just before sunset, and in that He left the grave on Saturday afternoon, just before sunset—after having been dead in the grave for exactly 72 hours. But those who believe in a Friday afternoon crucifixion and a Sunday morning resurrection say instead that Christ was only 1 ½ days in the grave.

Let us continue with number 4.

The number 4 is used many times to signify God’s revelation. God might reveal something about Himself, or about something or someone else.

The Bible contains four gospel records, in which the human life of Jesus Christ and His preexistence is revealed, and it is interesting that Christ was born in the year 4 B.C. The Holy Scriptures are helpful and profitable for four things, as 2 Timothy 3:16 explains, namely “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness.”

We read about four living creatures or angelic beings in Revelation 4:6, and about four cherubim in the book of Ezekiel (1:10-12; 10:20); and at the same time, we read about God’s revelation to Daniel that four great beasts would appear on the earth, representing human governments, but that Christ would return to make an end to human rule.

We find that God changed the names of four human beings: Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5); Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah (Genesis 17:15); Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28; 35:10); and Pashhur’s name was changed to Magor-Missabib (Jeremiah 20:3). [We also read that God will give all of His disciples a new name (Revelation 2:17), and that Jesus Christ was given a name that is “more excellent” than the name of any angel (Hebrews 1:4), and that only He knows His new name (Revelation 19:12; compare Revelation 3:12).]

In Old Testament times, God revealed His Will sometimes through His prophets, and it is remarkable that four Old Testament prophetesses are mentioned by name: Miriam (Exodus 15:20); Deborah (Judges 4:4); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14); and Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14) [There are of course other prophetesses mentioned in the Old Testament, such as the wife of Isaiah (8:3), but they are not identified by name. There is also a reference in the New Testament to the prophetess Anna, in Luke 2:36, but it is interesting that after the foundation of the New Testament Church, no more mention is made regarding a prophetess or the office of a prophetess.]

By contrast, Eve is also mentioned four times in Scripture (Genesis 3:20; 4:1; 2 Corinthians 11:3; and 1 Timothy 2:13).

In the book of Zechariah, the number four figures prominently in the prophecies about the four horns (1:18), the four chariots with the four horses (6:1-2, 5); and the four craftsmen (1:20). We also know, of course, about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In addition, God has created everything, including the four regions (north, east, south and west). (In the Bible, there is no word for “north-east” or “south-west”; therefore, it may sometimes speak of “north and east,” meaning “north-east”; or it may just speak of “north” with the understanding that “east” is included).

God has also created the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter; compare Genesis 8:22). In this context, four angels standing at the four corners of the earth hold the four winds of the earth, until 144,000 Israelites are sealed to be protected from the wrath of the Lord (Revelation 7:1-3).

Focusing on number 5, there seems to be wide-spread recognition that it is many times used to describe God’s grace and power.

The Torah consists of five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

When Abram’s and Sarai’s names were changed to “Abraham” and “Sarah,” the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet was added in both cases to their new names (“h” in English).

In Old Testament times, five types of animals were sacrificed to God: goats, sheep, cattle, pigeons and doves. Animal sacrifices did not forgive sin, but they made it possible to restore a physical relationship with God.

Following the four worldly kingdoms described in the book of Daniel, the Kingdom of God – the fifth Kingdom – will be established on earth.

Christ used five loaves of bread to feed 5,000 men (Matthew 14:17, 21; 16:9).

Paul would rather speak five words with understanding, that he may teach others God’s Word, than ten thousand words in a tongue (a foreign language which the listeners could not understand) (1 Corinthians 14:19).

Some have raised other concepts which are supposed to show God’s grace in the number 5, but they are highly suspect or erroneous.

For example, one commentary claims that “Five Greek words form the acrostic phrase ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son Savior,’ taking the first letter in Greek from each word [which form] the Greek word for ‘fish’: Iota, Chi, Theta, Epsilon, Sigma = (ichthys) ‘FISH’, which became a symbol for Christ and a secret symbol for identifying Christians.” However, true Christians never identified themselves with the symbol of a fish, as pagans worshipped a fish god, Dagon, and true Christians would have been abhorred by the idea of applying such a heathen symbol to Christ or to themselves. In passing, they never used a cross for their worship. The cross was an abominable pagan symbol. True Christians never wore a cross or placed the symbol of a cross in their homes. In addition, it is highly unlikely that the Romans nailed Christ on the type of cross, which is being used today by nominal Christians in “remembrance” of Christ’s death. Please see our Q&A on that issue.

Let us now review number 6. It is the number of man who is far from God or alienated from Him; it can also refer to the fact that something is not perfect or needs to be completed.

The most famous combination of the number six is perhaps the number of the beast in the book of Revelation, namely 666. In the Greek, this number is written as 600 and 60 and 6. This number stands for total separation from God and the unconditional submission to Satan the Devil. Most people will be so deceived that they will worship Satan and his human instruments—the beast and the false prophet—, while rejecting the true God and His Law.

The sixth commandment forbids murder in all of its different forms (Exodus 20:13), but man, separated from God, thinks that some kinds of murder are permitted, such as killing in war. The descendants of unrighteous Cain, who slew his brother Abel, are only listed until the sixth generation.

God has allotted to man 6,000 years to rule himself, under the influence of Satan [which will be followed by God’s rule—the peaceful “rest” of the Millennium (Hebrews 4:1, 11), or the seventh “day” which consists of 1,000 years; compare 2 Peter 3:8].

Man was created on the sixth day (but the week was only completed and perfected with the creation of the Sabbath); and while man is to do his work on six days, he is to rest on the seventh day (Exodus 16:26; 20:9-11; 23:12; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Mark 2:23-28).  

God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to march around the wicked city of Jericho for six days (Joshua 6:3, 14), but it was on the seventh day, after having circled the city seven times, that it would be destroyed (verses 4, 16-17).

Old Testament Israel received six things from their lovers or political allies, namely bread and water, wool and linen, oil and drink (Hosea 2:5). In this, they became more and more alienated from God.

Jesus said six times to the Jews, “Have you not read?”

When Jesus was on the cross, darkness fell on the earth on the sixth hour (Matthew 27:45).

In the next installment, we will continue explaining the significance of additional numbers in the Bible.

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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