Introduction to Studying Numbers
by Brad Stephenson
Why does God tell us that David picked up five stones when he went to fight Goliath? Why doesn’t the Bible simply say David picked up “some” stones? Every word in the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible was carefully selected by God so there must be a reason for God to include these numerical details.
As we study the Bible more and more we begin to realize that God doesn’t include irrelevant details just to spice up a story. Even if we can’t readily see it, there must always be a reason.
We might argue that the above reference doesn’t actually teach us that numbers convey anything more than just a historical fact. However, we must also consider God’s use of numbers in verses such as these:
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Revelation 5:11
Verses like these teach us that God does apply some kind of spiritual meaning to numbers. They would be entirely meaningless otherwise in these passages. Even before we recognize that numbers in the Bible hold spiritual significance we notice that God focuses on using specific numbers such as the numbers three and seven. Almost anyone who frequently reads the Bible senses that God intentionally uses these numbers more than others.
Admittedly, the first few times we look for the spiritual meaning of numbers in the Bible it is easy to write it off as mere coincidence. It is only as we look at more and more passages that we start to sense that these apparent consistences must not be by accident. Couple that with the realization that these numbers must be included in the Bible for a reason and we begin to feel more confident that we can define these numbers like we could define a word. In fact, most people recognize that the number seven holds spiritual significance in that it relates to perfection or completeness.
Doing a number study in the Bible is much like doing a word study. We must look at all the passages in which a number is located in order to determine what spiritual meaning, if any, God has assigned to it. Remember, numbers are words and can teach us just as well as non-numerical words.
We will look at what some of these numbers often signify spiritually when God uses them. As we study this keep in mind that the chapter and verse numbers were put there by man, not by God. Therefore, they do not have any spiritual significance whatsoever.
A Note About Numerology
In the broadest sense, numerology is typically defined as the application of meaning to numbers. However, there is a difference between traditional numerology and studying God’s use of numbers in His Word. Traditional numerology applies meaning to numbers for many different reasons. Sometimes the application of meaning is based on what is witnessed in the world in the form of patterns. Sometimes the meanings are just more-or-less randomly assigned, not based on previously observed patterns. Another form of traditional numerology called digit summing assigns numerical values to the letters of the alphabet (i.e. A=1, B=2, etc) and then looks for meaning in the sum of the values in a name or word.
When we study numbers in the Bible we aren’t looking for meaning in natural occurences of numbers. For example, the fact that a four-leaf clover has four pedals doesn’t hold any spiritual significance. It doesn’t have any application to our Bible study. The fact that a word has six letters doesn’t mean anything insofar as spiritual significance is concerned. We have to be careful not to let a meaningless practice such as traditional numerology scare us away from discovering real truth in the Bible through the study of numbers.