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NUMBERS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE

In the Scriptures, a number is used not so much for its numerical value...


In many cases in the Scriptures, a number is used not so much for its numerical value (literally), but because of its symbolic meaning and the associations it has (figuratively). Sometimes the use of a number serves both purposes. Any number squared emphasizes its significance. Three, five, and nine have been called the mystical numbers. 

One

One is for unity. One refers to God.

Three

The numerical signature of the Trinity leads to the celebrated "three symbolism," which reflects the old adage, Omne trinum est perfectum (Everything in threes is perfect). It's represented in a person's three elements (body, soul, spirit), theological virtues, elements of faith, evangelical counsels, notable duties, sons of Noah, angels who visited Abraham, branches of the vine in the butler's dream, baskets in the baker's dream, cities, witnesses, companies of soldiers, arrows, darts, sons, years, days, months, rows of stones, pillars, cubits, prayers, Hebrew children, days of Jonah in fish's belly, days of Jesus in tomb, times which God's voice was heard acknowledging his Son, three-fold punishments, blessings, denials, Peter's confessions, persons at the Transfiguration, favored disciples, days of Saul's blindness, temptation of Jesus, and men who came seeking Peter. And that's only for starters!

Four

Four is the numerical signature of nature (the four seasons) and creation (the four corners of the earth). It's the number of the evangelists, Latin/Greek fathers, rivers of paradise (Pison, Gihon, Tigris, Euphrates), beasts of the Apocalypse, living creatures of Ezekiel, horsemen of the Apocalypse (conquest, war, pestilence, death), cardinal virtues, last things, Gospel versions, winds of heaven, soldiers at foot of cross, and virgin daughters of St. Philip, for example.

Six

Seven minus one is the imperfect number, being one short of seven.

Seven

The perfect number, three plus four, the signature of totality, is the first of the symbolic numbers. Every seventh day is a Sabbath, every seventh year a sabbatical year, every seventh sabbatical year is followed by a jubilee year. There are seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost; the Passover and Tabernacle feasts last seven days, during which time twice seven lambs were offered daily. It's noticed also in the days of creation, days of the week, patriarchs, Jacob's years of service, ears of corn and oxen in pharaoh's dream, trumpets of Jericho, baths of Naaman, penitential psalms, Jewish festivals, gifts of the Holy Spirit, works of mercy, joys and sorrows of Mary, last words on the cross, deacons in the apostolic Church, Churches of Asia Minor, lamps, spirits before the throne of God, candlesticks and stars and trumpets of Revelation, seals on the Book of Life, sacraments, great councils of the early Church, champions of Christendom, deadly sins, Christian virtues, seas, ages of man, and the stars in the Pleiades (supposed by the ancients to be heaven), for example.

Eight

The number of regeneration, Baptism, and completion is found in the octagonal baptismal font. It's the number of people saved in the ark, the Beatitudes, the day of circumcision, and the sons of Jesse, for example.

Nine

The numbers of mystery, the trinity of trinities, the perfect plural (thrice three, which is the perfect unity) is the number of choirs of angels, and there are the nine crosses, for example.

Ten

The complete number, signifying order and worldly power, is the number of the Commandments, plagues of Egypt, faithful disciples, wicked brothers of Joseph, sons of Haman, servants of Joshua, virgins, lepers, and pieces of silver, for example. Any number multiplied by ten or tens signifies the highest possible, as in the 144,000 in the New Jerusalem (see below).

Twelve

Three times four is the universal number, the signature of God's people. Twelve symbolizes maturity and totality. The Book of Revelation has much imagery built around this number. It is the number of the sons of Jacob, tribes of Israel, apostles, stones of the altar, pillars, months, signs of the zodiac, minor prophets, sibyls, gates of Jerusalem, fruits of the tree of life (Revelation 22:2), men and stones of Joshua, oxen - bullocks - lambs - goats of the sacrifice, cities, princes of Israel, baskets of bread at the feast of the five thousand, thrones, legions of angels, stars in the woman's crown, and foundation of the Holy City, for example.

Fifteen

Fifteen signifies ascent and progression, as seen in the number of steps of the temple, the gradual psalms, and the mysteries of the Rosary, for example.

Forty

This well-known symbolic number indicates one generation, as well as a great many or a long time. This biblical number is for trial, testing, and waiting represents the Church militant. Forty is the number of days of the flood, years of Israel's wandering, days of Moses on Mt. Sinai, days of Elijah's fasting, days of Nineveh's probation, days of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, and days of Jesus' post-resurrection ministry, for example.

Fifty

Seven times seven plus one equals fifty. Pentecost is the fiftieth day, Easter's jubilee. Fifty represents the fulfillment of divine promise.

One Hundred

Alone or as a multiple, one hundred symbolizes plentitude, as when Jesus spoke of a hundredfold harvest, and a hundredfold reward.

666

Perfect imperfection is symbolized by 666, falling three times short of seven. In Revelation 13:18 the number is called a person (a beast), meaning possibly a set of people, or an institution headed by a person or a group of people. It seems to mean a name, the letters of which, when regarded as numerals, total 666. In both Hebrew and Greek, letters are used for numbers, the value corresponding to the place in the alphabet; by adding up the number values in a word, a name or word may be obtained. St. Irenaeus interpreted 666 to mean Lateinos. Others have interpreted it to mean popes (like Leo X), emperors, generals (like Napoleon), religious reformers (like Knox or Luther), and of course Hitler. The most common interpretation is Nero Caesar, determined by using the Hebrew consonants for that name along with their tradition number values.

One Thousand

This definitely large number symbolizes an indefinitely large number, too large to be counted, even symbolizes eternity ("with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day" 2 Peter 3:8).

144,000

This is the population of the Church militant, according to the Book of Revelation (7:4, 14:1). This number in the Church (the New Israel, the first fruits of the gospel) at any given moment represents a totality. The number is derived by adding up the traditional twelve tribes of Israel, with each digit magnified one thousand times (or similarly 12 x 12 x1000).

 

 
 

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"A Collage of Catholic Information"

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