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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
Introduction.-Even a casual reader of the Bible is struck with the fact that in many cases-not altogether exclusive of those in which the desire to state facts accurately may be presumed-a preference is given to certain numbers. He will observe particularly the frequency of the Numbers 3, 7, 10, , 12, together with their multiples and even their fractions. In regard to 7, the ritual arrangements found in the Pentateuch would alone warrant the conclusion that this number was regarded as in some sense sacred. If we read that ‘God blessed the 7th day and sanctified it’ (Genesis 2:3), and find that peculiar religious observances or customs with a religious basis attach, not only to the 7th day, but to the 7th month, the 7th year, and the 7×7th year, [Note: Leviticus 23:24; Leviticus 25:3 ff., Leviticus 25:8.] we seem warranted in saying that, among the people of the Bible, 7 represents a mystic cycle of work and rest, within which God both accomplishes His purpose in the universe and co-operates with sanctified men. From the starting-point of such a preliminary observation, however, many questions arise, of which the principal are the following. (1) How far is the sanctity of particular numbers peculiar to the people of the Bible? Is its basis, so far as it may be traceable, to be found in nature or in religious theory or custom? If the latter, is the theory or custom borrowed from, or maintained in common with, other peoples (Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians) with whom the Jews came into contact? (2) For what other numbers besides those named may a more or less similar prominence be claimed? (3) How far is the usage as to numbers, which is found in the OT or kindred Jewish literature, found also in the NT? The present article must be concerned with (1) and (2) only in so far as the answer to them is involved in the answer to (3). There can hardly be, even in connexion with the Apocalypse of John, any idea of the NT writers borrowing directly from Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, or, even in this reference, from Greeks or Romans. If such foreign influences are found in the NT, they have come through the medium of the OT or kindred Jewish writings. The Apostolic Age is cosmopolitan in spirit, yet the ancestry which it owns is strictly Jewish. Among its writers are masters of Greek style like St. Luke and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, yet all the writers are men whose Bible was the OT.
It is, however, the cosmopolitanism of the first Christian age and not its Jewish origin that lends interest to its practice as regards the symbolism of numbers. The degree in which this symbolism has passed into the age that begins with our Lord and His apostles offers an obvious standard for measuring its worth.
Before proceeding to particulars, a general statement may be offered of the position of matters which they seem to indicate: the NT practice stands to that of the OT as the latter does to its basis in Babylon, Egypt, or Persia, except for what disturbance of the proportion may arise from the fact that a degree of affinity, both racial and religious, exists between the people of the OT and that of the NT such as does not obtain between the Jews and the heathen neighbours or masters who most influenced them. The practice of employing a particular number, where it is, by presumption, at least approximately correct, or of choosing it, where the question of accuracy as to matter of fact does not arise, is taken over; but, except-and even here the exception is partial-in a book like the Apocalypse of John, the practice is unconscious. It may be true, e.g., that when a thoughtful mystic of the Apostolic Age used the number 3, he involuntarily thought of the Divine Being or Trinity; it may be probable that when he used the number 4, he thought of the 4 directions and, therefore, of the world. But to say that 3 was to the average Christian the number for God, or 4 the number for the world, or that even one in a hundred Christians thought, in connexion with 3, of Babylonian or Egyptian triad-divinities [Note: Kautzsch denies the affinity in the case of the Babylonian and Greek trinities on the ground that these trinities arise from a division of territory among 3 originally independent divinities (PRE3 xxi.  598 ff.).] or of the alleged fact that every Babylonian divinity had its appropriate number, is to say what cannot be proved and is highly improbable.
I. The numbers employed in the Apocalypse of John
1. Three.-The natural importance of this number is obvious. It is the lowest number to express several, or to denote something that has a beginning, middle, and end. It is the common number of a small deputation. It is the number of the possible dimensions of space, of the natural divisions of the physical cosmos (heaven, earth, and sea), of the day (morning, noon, and evening), of time generally (past, present, and future), and of the human person (body, soul, and spirit).
It is a usual number to express the frequency that makes an action effective, and is a common number of members in a rhythmical sentence, or in a list of adjectives. Such uses are abundantly illustrated in the Bible as in other literature. The number is, moreover, of undoubted frequency in religious connexions: 3-fold invocation (Jeremiah 22:29, Isaiah 6:3), blessing (Numbers 6:24 ff.); 3 great Feasts (Exodus 23:14 ff.); 3 days, months, or years of waiting and preparation for an important event or action (Genesis 40:12, Exodus 2:2, Galatians 1:18); 3 times of prayer or repetitions of the same prayer (Daniel 6:10; Daniel 6:13, Matthew 26:44 ||, 2 Corinthians 12:8). This prominence of 3 in other parts of the Bible makes its comparative infrequency in the Apocalypse the more remarkable. Even where there is a clear indication of the Divine Trinity (Revelation 1:4) or of the 3-fold time-manifestation of the Creator-God (Revelation 1:8) the numeral is not named. The fraction of the numeral, and 3 as a fraction of 12, are of more frequent occurrence than the numeral itself. [Note: Revelation 8:7-12; Revelation 9:18, where the fraction occurs eight times. Take these passages along with Revelation 16:19 and Revelation 21:13 where 3 as a fraction of 12 occurs five times, and compare with Revelation 6:6, Revelation 8:13, Revelation 9:18, Revelation 16:13, showing four instances of the independent use of the number.] Comparing this state of the case with the frequency of 7 and even of 12 (see below) in the Apocalypse, we seem warranted in doubting whether any kind of sacred significance necessarily attached to the number 3 even in the mind of the symbolists of the Bible.
2. Seven.-Examples: 7 churches, spirits (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:11, Revelation 3:1), stars (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:20), candlesticks (Revelation 1:13), lamps (Revelation 4:5), seals (Revelation 5:1, Revelation 8:1), horns and eyes (Revelation 5:6), trumpets (Revelation 8:2), angels (Revelation 8:2), thunders (Revelation 10:3 f.), heads (Revelation 12:3, Revelation 17:3), angels with plagues (Revelation 15:1), vials full of the wrath of God (Revelation 15:7), kings (Revelation 17:10). In view of this pervasiveness of the 7 one need hardly refer to the 7 ‘spirits of God’ which invest Christ (Revelation 3:1) or to the 7 ‘heads of blasphemy’ on the Beast that is Antichrist (Revelation 13:1) in proof of the fact that 7 is pre-eminently the number of perfection or completeness whether on the side of good or evil. The cogency of proof is augmented by the significance undoubtedly attached to the numeral next mentioned.
3. Three and a half.-The actual numeral occurs only twice-‘3½ days’ (Revelation 11:9; Revelation 11:11). But in Revelation 12:14 we have the ‘time and times and half a time’ as in Daniel 12:7, [Note: How entirely an apocalyptic symbolist might be governed by the idea of 3½ or the number appropriate to a period of disciplinary tribulation appears particularly in ‘Daniel’s’ manipulation of the 70 years of servitude in Babylon prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11) in Daniel 9:26 ff. The 70 years=70 weeks of years, and the 70 is divided into 7+62+1, in order that the one week of years may be halved so as to give 3½ years as the period of the tribulation under Antiochus.] and in Revelation 11:2 f., Revelation 12:6, Revelation 13:5 the same period-3½ years-appears as 42 months, or (multiplying by 30) 1,260 days. The use of the number both in Daniel (see footnote) and the Apocalypse proves that by a convention, certainly older, probably much older, than the Book of Daniel, and one in all likelihood not peculiar to the Jews, the number indicated a period of stress and tribulation that would be balanced by a period, of at least equal duration, of comfort and prosperity. if 7 represents the perfect work of God in mercy and judgment in relation to men (as well as the total work of creation) and, on the human side, the life of godliness with its twin ingredients of joy and sorrow, the fraction 3½ fitly stands for the factor of the total that signifies God’s broken covenant and man’s broken hope (see Psalms 90:15, and, for its equivalent in the nobler apostolic faith, Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:12).
4. Twelve and its multiples.-However natural it may seem to think of the 12 signs of the Zodiac [Note: In his very instructive article ‘Siebenzahl,’ in PRE3 xviii. 310 ff., Zöckler quotes the passage (BJ V. v. 5) in which Josephus asserts that the 7 lamps of the sacred candlestick indicate the 7 planets, and the 12 loaves of shewbread the circle of the Zodiac. He argues conclusively that the use of 7 by the Babylonians is older than their astrology of the planets and rests on the division of the lunar month into 4 periods of 7 corresponding to the 4 phases of the moon. Josephus’ casual theories he characterizes as ‘shallow interpretations,’ which are to be repudiated as ‘idle Phantasieprodukte, without historical foundation.’ Yet these stray remarks of the Jewish historian are interesting as an indication that the questions of modern anthropology in relation to religion could arise even in a mind of the first Christian century.] as the basis of the usage which gives prominence to this number in the Bible, it may fairly be doubted whether even such symbolists as the authors of Daniel and the Apocalypse ever had such a reference in their minds. Yet an indication of something of the kind has been found by Gunkel and others in the 24 elders of 4:4, whose origin might be a primitive astronomical conception, presumably Babylonian, according to which the sun was surrounded by a circle of light each half of which contained 12 luminaries. Apart from the likelihood that any such association would have seemed to the prophet of the Apocalypse so much sanction given to idolatry, we have surely a hint of the true origin of the 24, so far as he is concerned, in Revelation 15:3, where the victors over the Beast and his image sing ‘the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb.’ These victors and redeemed ones are those who are true to the religion of both the covenants. A symbolist would naturally reckon their representatives in the immediate presence of God as 12 + 12, i.e., the 12 patriarchs or heads of the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 apostles or heads of the Church. He expresses the same idea when he writes of 12 gates with the names of the ‘12 tribes of the children of Israel,’ and of 12 foundations of the wall in which were ‘the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14).
Further examples: 144,000 (or 12,000 for each tribe) are sealed as the ‘servants of our God’ (Revelation 7:4 ff., Revelation 14:1). The number 12, with multiples and fractions, is used exclusively in the delineation of the Celestial City: 12 gates, angels; a cube of 12,000 furlongs; 12 foundations, precious stones, pearls (Revelation 21:12 ff.).
5. Ten.-A natural importance attaches to this number. It is the number of fingers (5 + 5) on the two hands-the natural means of reckoning between two traders who speak different languages. It closes the series of units and is the dominating number of the most natural system of reckoning. It is the number naturally chosen to designate a considerable number of persons or a short but not inconsiderable period of time: e.g., 10 days’ tribulation for the faithful Church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:10); 10,000 × 10,000 and 1,000 × 1,000 are the number of the angels round about the throne (Revelation 5:11). Men without the seal of God are tormented by locusts for 5 months (Revelation 9:5). The dragon has 10 horns, the Beast rising out of the sea has 10 horns and 10 crowns (Revelation 12:3, Revelation 13:1). Similarly the woman on the scarlet Beast has ‘10 horns’ (Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7), which are explained to be ‘10 kings’ (Revelation 17:12). The devil is bound for 1,000 years, while the martyrs of Jesus reign on the earth (Revelation 20:2; Revelation 20:4). On the 1,000 years see article Apocalypse, p. 78, note. The fraction 1/10 occurs only in Revelation 11:13. Its use in this passage suggests the negative side of the significance of the tithe-offering-viz. the part representing the whole. The 10th part of the city-7 out of 70 thousand inhabitants-perish, but the remnant ‘were affrighted and gave glory to God.’ [Note: It is curious that the multiple 40, so common in the number-schematism of Scripture to denote a period of disciplinary affliction or penitential exercise (e.g. Psalms 95:10, Ezekiel 4:6; Ezekiel 29:11-13; Ezekiel 29 :1 Samuel 17:16, Jonah 3:4, Exodus 24:18), does not occur independently in the Apocalypse. The nearest approach to a reference is the ‘42 months’ (instead of 3½ years) of 11:2 and 13:5.]
6. Six.-Apart from the notorious three 6’s of the Beast in Revelation 13:18; Revelation 13:6 occurs only once in the Apocalypse. In Revelation 4:8 the 4 Beasts, copied doubtless from Ezekiel 1:8 ff., have 6 wings like the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2, and not 4 only as in Ezekiel. In connexion with Revelation 13:18 the suggestion has been made (see article Apocalypse) that to a Jewish symbolist 6, as = 7-1, might very well have the significance of that which resembles the Divine perfection but fails just when it seemed likely to succeed. The Beast, to which the Dragon gives its throne (Revelation 13:2), and which therefore represents the rival of the Supreme God, has 7 heads, like the 7 spirits of God, which belong to Jesus Christ (Revelation 3:1), but on the heads are ‘names of blasphemy.’ The Beast has the trappings of divinity; only the reality fails.
7. The number of the Beast.-The passage, Revelation 13:18, is a Scripture instance of what is known in later Rabbinism as Gemaṭria, or the mystic art of attaching values to names according to the numbers represented by the letters composing them. As both in Hebrew and Greek the letters of the alphabet were used to indicate numbers, the art could be pursued both by Hellenic and Palestinian or Babylonian Jews. For the various views regarding the name (Greek or Hebrew) corresponding to 666, see article Apocalypse. For a fuller account see G. A. Barton’s article ‘Number’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica iii. 3434 ff.
The calculation which gives the name ‘Nero Caesar,’ גרון קסד (Neron Ḳesar), is as follows: נ=50; ד=200; ו=6; ג=50; ק=100; ם=60; ר=200-total, 666. In regard to the Hebrew notation it may be mentioned that the letters א to ט=the units; י to צ=the tens; ק to ת=the first four hundreds. ת compounded=other hundreds. Thus ת״ק=500; ת״ר=600; ת״ש=700; ת״ת=800; תח״ק=900. The thousands are expressed by the letters for the units with two points placed above: א̈=1,000; ט̈=9,000; י̈=10,000. [Note: On this and the very similar system of Greek notation see especially art. ‘Zahlen’ and kindred articles in E. C. A. Riehm’s Handwörterbuch des biblischen Altertums, 1884.]
8. Four.-This number is naturally associated with the 4 directions of space. The 4 living creatures (ζῷα) ‘round about the throne’ in Revelation 4:6 are adopted from Ezekiel 1:5 ff. The principal difference is that the 4 faces (man, lion, calf, [Note: Ezekiel 1:10 LXX gives μόσχος as in Revelation 4:7. The translators use μόσχος for no fewer than four Hebrew words: ôÇø = ‘a bull,’ áÌÈÈø = ‘cattle,’ ùÑåÉø = ‘an ox or cow’ (the word in Ezekiel 1:10), òÇðÈi = ‘a calf’ (see Grimm-Thayer, s.v.).] eagle) are distributed among the 4 ζῷα, instead of, as in Ezekiel, belonging to each. The reason seems to be that to the apocalyptist the main attribute of these ministers of the Divine presence is not, as with Ezekiel, their ubiquitousness, but rather their omniscience. Their place is round about a stationary throne, but they are ‘full of eyes before and behind.’
It may fairly be doubted whether the apocalyptist attached any significance to the number 4 in this reference or to the variety of faces. Perhaps as in other places (see article Apocalypse) he borrowed more than he used. The other instances of 4 in the Apocalypse are: 4 angels standing at the 4 corners of the earth holding 4 winds (Revelation 7:1; cf. Revelation 20:8), ‘4 horns of the golden altar which is before God’ (Revelation 9:13), 4 ‘angels bound on the river Euphrates,’ corresponding to 4 terms of destructive operation (hour, day, month, year) (Revelation 9:14 f.), ‘the city lieth τετράγωνος’ (Revelation 21:18). It is perhaps only in the last instance that we are warranted in supposing that the apocalyptist attached any significance of faith to the numeral 4. It seems to be associated in his mind, if it does not actually express it, with the inconceivable magnitude, yet perfect symmetry, of the City of the Redeemed.
9. Eight.-The significance of this number in the Apocalypse does not arise from its being a multiple of 4. It occurs twice in the ordinal form (Revelation 17:11, Revelation 21:20). The former passage-‘the 8th’ that is ‘of the 7’-is interesting. Adopting the view that the person intended is Domitian, we see that the author or the final editor is governed by the idea that 7-the number of the ‘heads’ of the woman on the scarlet Beast (Revelation 17:3)-ought to represent the number of genuine Roman Emperors, [Note: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius are excluded, and the 10 horns are not Emperors but kings, or kinglets, who receive power for one hour along with the Beast (Revelation 17:12).] who are allowed to maintain for a time a blasphemous rivalry to the King of kings. The 8th is a difficulty. The apocalyptist gets over the difficulty by thinking of him as Nero Redivivus. He is the 8th, yet still of the appointed 7, and he ‘goeth to destruction.’ This elongation of 7 so as to absorb 8 is not unnatural in a Jewish writer. One may compare the 8th day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which had come in practice to be the most important day, and is recognized even in the rubrics which make it clear that the legal Feast ended on the 7th day (Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:36).
10. Two and one.-Apart from association with other numbers (as in Revelation 9:16 and Revelation 11:2) and from the ‘2 woes more’ (Revelation 9:12), 2 occurs only in Revelation 11:3-4; Revelation 11:10, each time in connexion with the ‘2 witnesses,’ the unnamed Moses and Elijah (Revelation 11:6) of chapter 11. The witnesses are, therefore, Law and Prophecy. The author seems to use the numeral to convey the idea that, though God’s witnesses may be the least possible number (Numbers 35:30), their testimony will yet prevail to secure the destruction of blasphemers and murderers of the servants of God.
The numeral 1 occurs in a significant sense chiefly in the ‘1 hour,’ signifying a very short time, which occurs five times (Revelation 17:12, Revelation 18:8; Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:17; Revelation 18:19).
Result.-Our survey of the Apocalypse would seem to show that, except in the cases of 7, 3½, and 12, no consciousness of their being specially sacred underlies the usage of the writers in regard to numbers. The usage in reference to these numbers is, however, sufficient to show that the men of the Apostolic Age found nothing alien to their new faith in the mystic symbolism of numbers which they inherited from their Jewish ancestors and especially from the apocalyptic writers. From the fact, however, that this symbolism appears with definite intent only in one book of the NT, and even there but sparingly, we may fairly infer that no great currency was given to it in the Apostolic Church, and the apocalyptic books, other than the Apocalypse of John, which contain it, while undoubtedly much read (see article Apocalypse), were not considered of supreme worth or authority. The authoritative writers might take over the symbolism to a certain extent, but they did so almost unconsciously. Those who went further and made much of it might be then, as in subsequent ages of the Church down to our own day, interesting and edifying writers, but they did not rank with the authorities.
This state of the case may best be illustrated by a survey of the practice, in this reference, of the other NT writers.
II. Numbers in the other NT Books.-The examples given below are intended to represent cases in which the selection of the particular number or the mention of the particular number, presumably in accordance with fact, may reasonably be supposed to rest on ancient symbolical usage.
i. The Gospels
1. Seven.-The genealogies in Matthew 1:1 ff., Luke 3:23 ff. are a clear instance of symmetrical arrangement on the basis of the number 7. To St. Matthew it seems important that the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham includes 3 × 14 generations (Matthew 1:17). In the part of St. Luke’s genealogy which is comparable with St. Matthew’s neither names nor numbers agree; but the list from Adam to Abraham gives, inclusive of Abraham, 21 names. The total, inclusive of the termini (God and Jesus) is 77. The phrases ‘7 other spirits worse than himself’ (Matthew 12:45 ff. ||), the ‘7 demons’ that ‘came out’ of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2 f. ||), the ‘7 times’ and ‘70 × 7 times’ of Matthew 18:21 ff. show that the use of 7 to express a totality of good or evil (even though it might be, as in Matthew 18:21 ff., immeasurable) was not confined to the symbolists of the first Christian age. [Note: Instances in which, apart from mention of the numeral, a preference for it may be fairly considered implicit are the 7 petitions in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9 ff.), the 7 parables of Matthew 13, the 7+1 woes of Matthew 23:13 ff.] There is no likelihood that either our Lord or the Evangelists thought of the planet-divinities of Babylon, or of the 7 Amshaspands of good spirits of Persia, opposed to 7 spirits of evil, yet the number comes to lip and pen involuntarily through a usage that may have its basis or confirmation there. [Note: Proof that the sacredness of 7 was a subject of speculation among Jews of the 1st cent. may be found in Slav. En. XXX. 3. See also Josephus, Ant. III. vi. 7, along with the parallel passage in BJ V. v. 5, cited above under I. 4, note.] Again, in considering the accounts of the two miraculous feedings in Mark, chs. 6 and 7 ||, it is difficult to exclude the idea that the numbers employed, especially 7, 5 + 2, and 12, [Note: Other instances of 12, worth mentioning, are ‘the 12 legions of angels’ (Matthew 26:55), and the age of the child Jesus when He was found in the Temple (Luke 2:42). In regard to the latter, Josephus (Ant. V. x. 4) gives Samuel the same age when the Lord called him (1 Samuel 3:8 ff.), and pseudo-Ignatius (ad Magn. 3) makes Solomon 12 when he delivered the famous judgment (1 Kings 3:16 ff.).] may have to the writers a certain sacred and sacramental significance. The sacramental association-apart from the numbers-is obvious in the narrative of the Fourth Evangelist (John 6), but is it not suggested even in the Synoptic account? The Divine supply is perfect (5 + 2 or 7). What is left of it may be as great as or even greater than what is taken (7 to 7, or 12 to 7). And where the company is largest most may be left. See especially the commentary on the double incident in Mark 7:14-21 (cf. Matthew 16:5-12). Acts 1:23 ff. (filling of the vacancy in the apostolate), and 1 Corinthians 15:5, [Note: Taylor Smith notices that ‘the 12’ occurs twenty-two times in the Gospels (art. ‘Numbers’ in DCG).] where ‘the 12’ is used of the company that was only 11, seem to imply that to the mind both of our Lord and the apostles the number 12 signified His intention and ability to recover completely what was lost (Luke 19:10; cf. with Matthew 15:24. See also John 10:28 f., John 17:12, Acts 26:7 [‘our 12 tribes’]).
2. Three.-The chief instance of this numeral in a suggestion of sense other than strictly literal is that of the resurrection of our Lord on the 3rd day (Mark 10:34, etc.||; cf. Acts 10:40, 1 Corinthians 15:4). There is no reason to doubt either the definite prophecy or the definite fulfilment. It is not so easy to state precisely the reason of the choice of the number. It has been customary to refer, for a proximate reason, to the influence of Hosea 6:2, [Note: Taken as an expression of real faith, not of delusive hope (see the Commentaries). The prophet’s faith for the holy nation, the Servant of God, decided, it might be supposed, the terms of our Lord’s faith for Himself as One ‘torn’ and ‘smitten’ for their sins.] and, for one more remote, to the ancient idea that the spirit hovered beside the body it had inhabited for 3 days, departing on the 3rd day because in the decaying flesh it no longer recognized its own likeness. Perhaps only the former of these associations is worth more than mention. It may fairly be argued that St. Luke, St. John, and St. Paul thought of Hosea 6:2 when they referred to the Resurrection on the 3rd day as taking place according to the Scriptures (Luke 24:46, Acts 10:40, John 2:22, 1 Corinthians 15:4), as this is the only passage discoverable where the collocation of ‘revival from the dead’ and ‘the 3rd day’ occurs. [Note: See E. A. Abbot’s Message of the Son of Man, London, 1909, ch. ix. There is also a reference in his The Son of Man, Cambridge, 1910, p. 200 (Addendum on ‘The Third Day’).] It is another thing, however, to ascribe such definiteness of emphasis upon the 3rd day to our Lord. Even if He thought of the passage in Hosea, He may have regarded the Numbers 2, 3 simply as the natural equivalent for a very short time that was yet a real interval. If one reckons in days, there can hardly be a shorter interval than one day. It is not surprising that after the event of the Resurrection the more definite emphasis upon the numeral 3 or 3rd became common. [Note: The strongest argument, perhaps, in favour of distinguishing, in reference to the ‘3rd day,’ between Jesus and His reporters, is that supplied by Matthew 12:40. This verse is an obvious gloss on the part of the Evangelist, who thinks that the ‘sign’ referred to is the death and resurrection of Jesus, and naturally finds the point of comparison between Him and Jonah in the ‘3 days.’ He is not disturbed by the fact that in Jonah’s case there are ‘3 nights’ as well (Jonah 1:17). The sign intended by our Lord is that explained in v. 41.] Other instances in the Gospels in which some kind of symbolical meaning may lurk in the fact or mention of the number 3 are: ‘3 measures of meal’ (Matthew 13:33), ‘these 3’ (Luke 10:36), ‘these 3 years’ (Luke 13:7), ‘3 temptations’ (Matthew 4:1 ff.), 3 agonized prayers (Matthew 26:37 ff., Matthew 26:42; Matthew 26:44 ||; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:8), 3 denials and charges of Simon Peter (Matthew 26:69 ff. || John 21:15 ff.). Of these perhaps the most relevant are the 3 temptations of Jesus and the 3 years of patience with the barren fig-tree. In both instances the number may be suggested by 3½ as the common apocalyptic number for a period of trial or probation. In regard to the 153 of John 21:11 Calvin has perhaps said the last word: ‘Quantum ad piscium numerum spectat non est sublime aliquid in eo quaerendum mysterium’ (Com. ad loc.). ‘Peter never landed a haul of fish without counting them’ (M. Dods, in Expositor’s Greek Testament , London, 1897, ad loc.).
3. Three and a half appears instructively in Luke 4:25 (cf. James 5:17). The addition of the ½ to the 3 of 1 Kings 18:1 is evidently due to apocalyptic tradition.
ii. The Acts of the Apostles.-Apart from the instances already referred to, the most relevant seem to be: 7 deacons (Acts 6:3), 7 ‘sons of one Sceva a Jew,’ using the name of Jesus (Acts 19:14), the 3 forties in the history of Moses and the Israelites (Acts 7:23; Acts 7:30; Acts 7:36), 3 days without sight and food (Acts 9:9), ‘4 corners of the earth’ (Acts 10:11).
iii. The Pauline Epistles
1. Oratorical rhythm.-It occurred to the present writer [Note: Unaware at the time that Zöckler had carried out the same idea in his art. ‘Siebenzahl’ in PRE3 xviii. 310 ff.] to study the rhetorical sentences of St. Paul with the view of discovering whether any sort of preference was given to particular numbers in lists of words, phrases, or sentences. The investigation seems to show that if a preference, instinctive or conscious, is given to any number above another, it is rather to 5, 3, or even 6, than to 7. Thus in Romans 8:29 f. there are 5 steps (including the terminus a quo) from ‘foreknowledge’ to ‘glory,’ in Romans 10:12-15 the number from ‘call’ to ‘sent’ is 5. St. Paul would rather speak ‘5 words with understanding than 10,000 in a tongue’ (1 Corinthians 14:19). The grace in which the Corinthians abound and the things they are to put up with are 5 (2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 11:20). There are 5 things to be mortified (Colossians 3:5), 5 things to be put off, and 5 to be put on (with love as 6th) (Colossians 3:8; Colossians 3:12), 5 good works of a widow (1 Timothy 5:10).
Instances of 3, single or multiple, are ‘faith, hope, love, these 3’ (1 Corinthians 13:13), the 9 fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22 f. The rhetorical questions at Galatians 6:15 f. are 3. In the remarkable passage 2 Corinthians 6:4 ff. the phrases beginning with ἐν are 18, those beginning with διά are 3, while the adversative phrases beginning with ὡς are 7.
In the passage in Romans already alluded to (Romans 8:28 ff.) the number from ‘tribulation’ to ‘sword’ (Romans 8:35) is 7, and at 2 Corinthians 7:11 there are 7 exhibitions of sorrow. But, on the other hand, the number is absent where we might most expect it. Thus the weapons of the spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:13 ff. are 6, and the things to be thought on in Philippians 4:8 are also 6 (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:11).
Rhetorical examples of 4 are: Ephesians 6:12 (4 powers to be resisted), Philippians 3:19 (4-fold description of the enemies of the Cross), 2 Timothy 3:16 (the profit of Scripture in 4 particulars), 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (a faithful saying in 4 conditional clauses), 2 Timothy 2:22 (4 things to follow after).
2. Symbolical suggestion.-Apart from rhetorical connexions it would appear that the Numbers 3, 4 occur most frequently, if also in part unconsciously, in a sacred connexion. In 2 Corinthians 13:14 we have the trinitarian benediction, and in the descriptions of God and the company in heaven a preference seems to be given to the number 3 (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 5:21). Along with the 3 graces (1 Corinthians 13:13) may be placed the 3 gifts (2 Timothy 1:7). On the other hand, in the usual form of greeting there is no reference to the Holy Spirit, but only to ‘God our Father’ and the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 1:7 and all the Epistles to Churches except Galatians). In all but the three Pastoral Epistles the ingredients of the blessing are 2 (grace and peace), in the Pastorals they are 3 (grace, mercy, and peace). The better text, however, in Titus 1:4 omits ἔλεος. The apocalyptic suggestions in the ‘3rd heaven’ of 2 Corinthians 12:2, and in the 4 dimensions of the immeasurable in Ephesians 3:18, should be noticed.
iv. The Epistle to the Hebrews.-The oratorical style of this book, where the clauses and phrases are more carefully balanced than in St. Paul’s writings, would lead us to expect a preference for the perfect number 7. But here, as in the Pauline Epistles, other numbers (e.g. 5 and 6) are just as frequent. Thus in Hebrews 11:32 there are 7 from ‘Gideon’ to ‘the prophets’; in Hebrews 12:18; Hebrews 12:7 things to which ‘ye have not come.’ But, on the other hand, in Hebrews 7:3 we have a 5-fold description of the King of Peace; in Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 7:5 adjectives describe the High Priest, Christ; in Hebrews 6:1 f. we have the ‘foundations’ of Christian faith in 6 particulars; in Hebrews 12:22, there are 8 or, reckoning ‘Mount Zion’ and the ‘city of the living God’ separately, 9 things to which ‘ye have come.’ This is the more remarkable that the author seems, pretty clearly, to associate a mystical significance with the number 7 (Hebrews 4:4).
v. The Epistle of James.-In James 3:17 there are 7 attributes of the wisdom that is from above; in James 5:17 we have, as in Luke 4:25; Luke 4:3½ for the 3 of 1 Kings 17:1.
vi. The Second Epistle of Peter.-In 2 Peter 1:5 ff., 2 Peter 1:7 virtues are evolved from faith; in 2 Peter 2:5, we have ‘Noah the 8th person’ (Authorized Version ). According to Genesis 5, however, Noah is the 9th or, according to the reckoning followed in Judges 1:14, the 10th from Adam. The supposition may be hazarded that 7 generations had come to be regarded as the measure of the world before the Flood. The ‘8th person’ begins the new world. In 2 Peter 3:8; 2 Peter 3:1 day is mentioned as the shortest period and 1,000 years as the longest (cf. Psalms 90:4).
vii. The First Epistle of John.-In the Johannine style the sentence of 3 clauses prevails: e.g. 1 John 1:6; 1 John 1:8 et passim. For examples of words and short phrases cf. 1 John 2:10, 1 John 3:18, and especially 1 John 5:8 (the ‘3 that bear witness on earth’).
viii. The Epistle of Jude.-In v. 14 we have ‘the 7th from Adam.’ The number is obtained by reckoning Adam one of the 7 (cf. Genesis 5:3-18).
Literature.-articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , and Encyclopaedia Biblica . Of similar work in German, E. C. A. Riehm’s article ‘Zahlen’ in Handwörterbuch des biblischen Altertums, 1884, and O. Zöckler’s article ‘Siebenzahl, heilige,’ in PRE [Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.] 3 xviii.  310 ff., will be found specially helpful. See the latter especially on the bibliography of the subject. Of monographs may be mentioned H. Gunkel, Zum relig.-geschichtl. Verständnis des NT, Göttingen, 1903 (e.g. on the number 4, p. 43f., and p. 81); T. K. Cheyne, Bible Problems and the New Material for their Solution, London, 1904; but especially A. Jeremias, Babylonisches im NT, Leipzig, 1905 (a sequel to Das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] im Lichte des alten Orients, do., 1904). Regarding this work Zöckler remarks that it is a good antidote to the extravagant Babylonism of Gunkel and Cheyne. Note, in Zöckler’s bibliography, especially the references to the works of F. von Andrian (‘Die Siebenzahl im Geistesleben der Völker,’ in Mitteil. der Anthropol. Gesellschaft in Wien, vol. xxxi.  pp. 225-274) and W. H. Roscher [Note: oscher Roscher’s Ausführliches Lexikon der griech. und röm. Mythologie.] (‘Die Bedeutung der Siebenzahl im Kultus und Mythus der Griechen,’ in Philologus, 1900, pp. 260-373). On the development of number-symbolism in the Church in connexion with its ethical teaching see Zöckler, Die Tugendlehre des Christentums geschichtlich dargestellt mit besonderer Rücksicht auf die Zahlensymbolische Einkleidung ihrer Lehrformen, Gütersloh, 1904.
L. A. Muirhead.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Numbers'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/n/numbers.html. 1906-1918.
the Fourth Week after Epiphany