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Numbers have meaning beyond mathematics, both in the Bible and in other Christian contexts.
Here is a basic list of the most common numbers used in Christianity and their particular symbolism.
One refers to unity, often connected to the oneness of the Trinitarian God.
Two is used in many instances, such as the two Testaments of the Bible or the two natures of Christ.
Three is a popular number of the ancient world, and the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (known for his “Pythagorean theorem”) saw three as a number of completion. It is found throughout the Bible, such as the Trinity, the number of apostles who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, the three hours of darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion, and the three days Jesus spent in the tomb.
Four is a symbol of the earth (four corners of the world) and the four evangelists.
Five is often seen as symbolic of God’s grace and refers to the five wounds of Christ, from which all grace flows.
Six is a symbol of humanity and human weakness. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of creation. Six also represents evil and a trio of six is the number of the Beast in the book of Revelation.
Seven, similar to the number three, is often used to represent completion or perfection. There are countless examples in the Bible, such as the seven days of creation, and many others throughout Christian teaching (seven joys and seven sorrows of Mary, seven deadly sins, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc.).
Eight is most closely associated with the Resurrection and the new creation. Jesus rose on the eighth day. Jewish boys were circumcised on the eighth day and St. Paul explained to his communities how “True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart” (Romans 2:28-29). Baptismal fonts are often designed in an octagonal shape to represent this new life and “circumcision of the heart.”
Nine is usually seen as an angelic number as the Bible mentions the nine choirs of angels.
Ten is also seen as a perfect number, usually referring to the Ten Commandments.
Twelve is a common number in Christianity and the Bible and often refers to a foundation. Israel is composed of 12 tribes and Jesus chose 12 apostles. The New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation has 12 gates.
Thirteen, similar to the number six, represents betrayal and rebellion. This is most clearly seen at the Last Supper where the 13th person at the table, Judas, left and betrayed Jesus.
Forty another popular number, is symbolic of testing and trial. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert and Moses stayed on Mount Sinai for 40 days. The rain of the great flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus was led into the wilderness for 40 days before starting his public ministry. Lent is a period of 40 days.
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