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Insight #158 — The Numbers Game

What is the hidden, mystical, symbolic, or spiritual meaning of 3, of 7, of 13? Can we learn more from God’s Word if we examine the meaning behind numbers? Does the use of 10 in any context have a significance beyond the number 10 itself? Does 12 mean more than 12, or is it just a number?

It is true that the Bible is filled with symbols. The Bible itself says so. Here are a few out of multitudes of examples.
Allegory: “Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia” (Gal. 4:25).
Parable: “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).
Prophetic dream: “The seven good ears are seven years” (Gen. 41:26).
Prophetic vision: “The rough goat is the king of Greece” (Dan. 8:21).
Prophecy fulfilled: “John… is Elijah” (Matt. 11:13-14).
Shadow: “the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Heb. 10:20).
Vision: “Seven candlesticks… are the seven churches” (Rev. 1:20)

“This is…” “That is…” “Those are…” Repeatedly, the Bible interprets its symbols. But where does the Bible ever interpret a number, giving it a symbolic, mystical, or spiritual meaning? Where does the Bible say, “ten is…,” “seven is…”? Throughout much of history, people have assigned meanings to numbers. Babylonians and Hindus did it. Gnostics and Jewish allegorists did it. Pythagoras and Augustine did it. Many Christians today do it. But where does the Bible do it? What Scripture gives a non-numerical meaning to any number? What verse says “three means…”?

People today tell us that “7” represents completeness, fullness, divine perfection, and spiritual perfection, and that it is a sacred number, God’s number, representing God at work, or God at rest. Would someone please give me the Scripture verse that clarifies which of these multiple concepts is correct. In addition to this confusion, there are many other numbers besides 7 that people claim to have the meaning of completeness: 3, 4, 5, 10, 12, 13, and multiples of 7. Did I leave any out?

Can any reader identify any Bible verse that is better understood by applying a symbolic meaning to a number? I know of none. I do know, however, of verses in the Bible that are misunderstood (if not perverted) by applying a symbolic meaning to a number. The best-known example would be 666.

We are told that 6 is incomplete, representing imperfect man and evil (or bad luck like 13). We are told that three sixes is man at his worst. All such ideas contradict the Bible. Rev. 13:17-18 says: “the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.” Did you notice the word “count”? Some versions translate “calculate.” Yes, 666 is a puzzle for those with understanding. However, it is not a mystical puzzle. It is a mathematical puzzle. “Count” or “calculate” “the number of his name.” To further explore this math puzzle, visit Insight #307.

“Jesus loves me; This I know; For the Bible tells me so.” Until the Bible tells me that a number is more than a number, I will continue to accept numbers as numbers, nothing more. And you?