The Symbolism of Numbers in the Bible
compiled by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

In many ancient cultures, including Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, numbers were not used as precisely as we might presuppose today. Thus, numbers in the Old Testament and New Testament books are often meant symbolically, not literally. For example:

Consider the symbolism of other numbers used in biblical texts:

1 singularity; God in monotheism (Deut 6:4); unity for humans (John 10:16; Eph 4:4)
2 duality: contrary (light/dark, good/evil) or complimentary (material/spiritual; human/divine)
3 God's actions: 3 "visitors" (Gen 18:2); "third day" (Exod 19:11); later "Trinity" (Matt 28:19)
half of seven; thus things in process, still incomplete
4 earth, directions, winds, empires; later the four Gospels or four Evangelists
6 human work/effort (Luke 13:14);  incompleteness, imperfection, lack (not yet 7)
7 days in a week, sabbath rest (Gen 2:1-3); thus natural & divine completeness/perfection
8 Jewish day of Circumcision (Exod 22:30); Christian day of Resurrection (John 20:26)
10 completion; basis of many number systems (# digits on fingers/toes!)
11 incompletion; only eleven apostles remain after Judas' death
12 months per year, tribes of Israel, apostles of Jesus; human completion
[13] [used in later superstition; based on Judas, but not used in Bible itself]
14 value of the name "David" in Hebrew gematria (a type of numerology popular in ancient Judaism)
obtained by summing the value of its three consonants (dalet=4, vav=6; thus D+V+D = 4+6+4)
24 Christian number for completion/restoration:  OT tribes + NT apostles
30 days in month in ancient lunar calendars
40 very long time: years of Israel's Exodus, days of Jesus’ temptation
42 number of months in 3½ years (half of seven years; see also 1260 days)
100 = 10x10
144 = 12x12, thus perfect completion
360 number of days in a lunar year
365 number of days in a solar year (cf. Gen 5:23)
666 number of the beast  (Rev 13:18 only; variant reading is 616)
1000 = 10x10x10
1260 number of days in 3½ years (thus incompletion)
10,000 “myriad”; highest ancient number with its own name

Larger numbers in the Bible are often multiples of these basic numbers, thus combining their significance:


Specific Analyses for Particular Numbers or Biblical Books:


Electronic New Testament Educational Resources

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