Faith by Numbers

Eric EichingerBy Eric EichingerOctober 17, 20229 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Faith by Numbers: Deciphering Doctrine with Biblical Numerology by Eric T. Eichinger

Introduction

“And the LORD took him outside and said, ‘Now look to the heavens and count the stars, if you are able.’ Then He told him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5–6).

God used the concept of counting the number of stars to teach Abram how many descendants would come after him in the faith—and Abram’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. The power of numbers is exponential, particularly when God uses them to teach. God’s Word did not return void. Abram’s descendants in the faith have multiplied and expanded, grafting in gentile believers, including Christians of all stripes.

The Bible is a bottomless well of knowledge. While our minds are finite, God’s mind is infinite. His endless truth is ever before us, embedded in the Word of His Scriptures, but it can appear daunting to investigate. Consequently, many passages of the Scriptures are not frequently read, or properly understood. Yet, countless realizations are waiting to be discovered, every day.

For instance, there are several reoccurring themes God uses throughout the Bible, that are fascinating when examined in depth. One of these themes is how God seemingly attaches meaning to numbers—specific numbers. How those numbers are used in context subtly accentuate some of God’s major teachings throughout the entirety of the Scriptures. The intention of this book is to reinforce the foundational bedrock of our Christian faith by exploring some of the beautiful Biblical theology woven within the usage of numbers, and the often-unrecognized meanings behind them. Martin Luther, and his catechetical zeal for teaching the family, will occasionally serve as luminary escort as well as some of our Early Church Fathers.

It should be noted that our early Christian Church Fathers rejected the Gnostic (secret knowledge) concepts of understanding numbers mystically, as to possess a metaphysical importance in and of themselves. Irenaeus once said:

“[The Gnostics] endeavor to bring forward proof [of their system] through means of numbers, and the syllables of names, sometimes also through the letters of syllables, and yet again through those numbers, which are according to the practice followed by the Greeks, contained in different letters: this, I say, demonstrates in the clearest manner of their overthrow and confusion, as well as the untenable and perverse character of their professed knowledge. However, some believed certain numbers in the Bible could be understood symbolically, pointing to higher truths.”¹

While St. Irenaeus remained a harsh critic of the Gnostic system of mystical numerology, he did not conclude that their numerological analysis is a fallacious thing in itself. Justin Martyr once even went so far as to quote Pythagoras when he defended the belief in monotheism. Many of the Church Fathers recognized symbollic value of Biblical numbers, and that occasionally they can indeed point toward higher truths.

Certainly, attempting to connect Biblical numerology to specific doctrinal tenets exudes more than a whiff of skepticism for any good Christian scholar. This book is not about indiscriminately using random numbers in attempts to produce some type of Bible code pathway to secret enlightenment. Nor does it invent Sunday school parlor games utilizing chapter and verse numbers to satisfy its theological exploits. Rather, this book explores well-acquainted truths of God’s word, within prominent passages as well as less familiar numeric text references, and practically associates them to our well-known teachings of the Christian faith. The aftermath will expand our biblical appreciation of catechesis, entrenched in the Scriptures, and ideally help the reader commit them deeper into memory.

There are several numbers in the Bible that recur with great significance. New and seasoned readers of the Bible do not always recognize all of these instances, or their underlying meaning. More often than not there is a richer second-level textual reading attached to these numbers. Numbers referenced in the Bible do not always carry a secondary or tertiary theological relevance in their respective contexts, yet when and where those numbers are recorded, we owe ourselves as faithful Christian scholars to at least ask the question, “Is there something more going on here than the first layer of the text?”

Six of the most common numbers that stand out are: 3, 7, 8, 10, 12, and 40. Each of these numbers specifically and consistently convey profound meaning as they are frequently referenced throughout the Scriptures. When these numbers and thems are cross-referenced with some of our rich Christian dogma, a helpful pattern emerges and can help reinforce our basic doctrinal confession of faith:

Three (Trinitarian) associates quite fittingly to the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

Seven (Perfection) conveniently connects to the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which the disciples asked that Christ teach them how to pray.

Eight (Promise/Covenant) connotes baptism and eighth day theology.

Ten (Completion/Judgment) readily links to the Ten Commandments.

Twelve (The Church) alludes to the Lord’s Supper, where, notably, the twelve were gathered when Christ instituted the meal for His Church

Forty (Testing and Hope) relates to confession and absolution, and the waiting/suffering the sinner agonizes through the process of confessing sin—ultimately leading to the sinner/saint, forgiven by Christ’s grace, the new hope of salvation, and an end to suffering.

These six numbers and their multiples pop up frequently, and often thematically, in their respective contexts to their doctrinal counterparts. Interpretation can at times play a controversial role in the realm of theology and Christian doctrine. Anytime particular biblical words, verses, or passages are translated there is potential for disagreement. Each word in the biblical text serves as a signifier, whereas the conceptual signified in each reader’s mind might vary, potentially leaving room for different opinions. It doesn’t take much for an opposing armchair theologian to offer a hot take interpretation, which invariably results in heated debate. Biblical number references, on the other hand, are also signifiers, yet the conceptual signifieds remain uniform by every reader. Numbers cannot be translated any other way and are the same in every tongue, tribe, and nation.

If the Tower of Babel taught humanity anything, it’s that multiple variant languages cause confusion. However, counting and number patterns cut through cultural and language barriers with ease. God created the concept of numbers and counting in the very first week of creation. Numbers are essentially the universal language. It would seem only fitting that God could also communicate to us, and even teach us, our faith by numbers.

¹ Saint Irenaeus, Against Heretic, Book II.

Order your copy of Faith by Numbers: Deciphering Doctrine with Biblical Numerology by Eric T. Eichinger