Have you ever stopped to consider that many of the common phrases you hear in your daily walk of life originate from the Bible?
- By the skin of your teeth …
- A wolf in sheep’s clothing …
- Can a leopard change its spots …
The same could be said for numbers. Did you realize the number 3 is considered to be a number of completeness? Or, the number 1 is only divisible by itself. Taking that a step further, its meaning in the Bible centers on the unity of the family being one. Or how about the number 12? It’s mentioned 187 different times in Scripture. Why? Because it symbolizes God’s power and authority, not to mention the 12 Tribes of Israel or the 12 Disciples.
In his latest book, Faith by Numbers: Deciphering Doctrine with Biblical Numerology, author Eric Eichinger takes his readers on a deep dive into Biblical numerology, sharing the hope of Christian faith through the vantage point of God’s recurring use of specific numbers throughout the pages of Scripture.
I recently sat down with Eichinger to discuss why the Bible is rife with numbers that hold such spiritual significance, the most common number used in the Scripture that has symbolic meaning, and what God is revealing about Himself through them.
As a kid, I would hear pastors from time to time talk about numbers and it was very intriguing because I grew up in the church. I grew up in Christian schools and you learn the Bible stories. And then when you get older, you start learning doctrine, and then you start seeing some deeper meaning behind the doctrine, and some of the stories that you’ve known along the way. Then with the numbers you realize seven means perfection and, and eight means covenant, and 10 means completion. But l would hear pastors kind of talk about this in passing, or almost in whispers. This is because it’s not explicitly in the text. And so, there’s this other tertiary meaning underneath what’s going on. So when you start to dive into that, it was really like uncovering a small mystery. That’s what people always enjoy. I always find if it’s preaching or writing a book, it’s just a different type of a pulpit and getting the message of Jesus out there. I just find that if I get excited about something, then I’ve got to find a way to get other people excited.
What was the inspiration or the catalyst for writing Faith by Numbers?
I teach catechism and so Martin Luther was a big thing with every Christian. Parents need to be teaching their kids about fate. There’s basically six things that Luther called the Six Chief Parts. Those things are what every Christian should recognize and endorse. They are the Trinity, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, baptism, and The 10 Commandments. Then you have holy communion, confession, absolution and such. So, I started realizing after teaching those over the years to my sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and adults that some of them were fascinated by studying the numbers. At this point, I realized a lot of the numbers correlate to those particular Christian themes.
I started to look at finding a new and fun way to teach the catechism in a way that would help kids and adults remember them. So, I connected three with the Trinity and that there’s three articles of the Apostles’ Creed. And then, seven is the number of perfection. And the Disciples ask Jesus, “What’s the best way to pray?” That would be the Lord’s Prayer. People don’t realize there’s seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer that we’re actually asking, seven different things of God when we say this perfect prayer that Jesus taught his Disciples to pray. The number eight is one of my favorites because there’s this whole eighth faith theology. It’s being brought into this covenant of faith. And so the Israelite infant boy was circumcised on the eighth day, and Paul in Colossians 2 connects circumcision and that covenant with the covenant of baptism in the New Testament. And then, you even have expressions like ‘on the eighth day’. That comes up quite frequently. One of the more famous ones is when Doubting Thomas confronts Jesus eight days after the Resurrection. That’s when Jesus is appearing to him and touching his side and his hands so that he will believe and come to faith. The number 10 readily connects to the 10 Commandments. And then, the number 12 always relates to God’s people. And I just love the image that’s iconic with DaVinci’s painting, “The Last Supper”. You’ve got the 12 and He’s feeding them, but that’s just a great pivot point from Old Testament to New Testament and the 12 tribes, the 12 sons, and the 12 spies.
And then, why is it that when Judas died, they had to get the 12th one, Matthias, before they went out because that number 12 is important. When you look at some of these numbers, it’s fun. And then, I love the number 40 because If you add up 3, 7, 8, 10, and 12, it equals 40. And so, I kind of made that as a confession and absolution. Forty is the Bible’s lock and step for suffering and hope, or waiting and turning into joy. This confession and people struggling to admit their sin, but then when they do, and that word of Gospel, grace and forgiveness that comes back, and just that new life sensation and joy that they are forgiven, and realizing they do live under grace. There are people who can learn phone numbers or social security numbers. So, if they can remember 3, 7, 8, 10, 12, and 40, they can remember the whole catechism and start to articulate.
Why do you think the Bible is so full of various numbers with symbolic meanings? Do you believe these numbers were put there intentionally to serve as a riddle for us to figure out?
I think God loves communicating to us in a variety of ways. He loves to be this million sided Rubik’s Cube for us to keep fussing and tinkering with, to be the center of attention. But I think exclusively with numbers, we’ll go back to the Tower of Babel where the language scrambling begins. We have so many issues that arise with translation from culture to culture. I’m going into this Chinese group now and it’s like, how will they deal? Do they want the white man preaching to them? Or, do we raise up someone indigenous to the culture and all of these issues that come through culture and come through language numbers? They cut through all of that. The number 3, 7, or 10 means the same amount. There’s no translational confusion from language to language.
Is there any particular number in the Bible that is the most common number that has symbolic meaning?
I would say either 3 or 7 because 3 is usually going to be linked to the Trinity. And then you have events happening on the third day. That happens a lot. Sometimes if something happens on the third day, God is behind it. And something big that is happening, usually happens in the morning, often on top of a mountain. You have the Resurrection tied into that with Christ. Then you have Jonah and the whale with Jesus referring to that sign of Jonah and the Resurrection. The other number is 7. With creation, God rests on the seventh day and then you’ve got the seven day week. And that just carries over into so many different things.
Do you think that these significant numbers and patterns that we find in the Bible reinforce the core beliefs of Christianity?
I do. We should probably correct something, too. That word “numerology” just really wigs out certain groups. What is this book about? Faith by Numbers is not about betting these particular numbers on a horse in the Kentucky Derby. God’s not speaking to you through the housing market or the stock market with the numbers. But looking specifically at numbers and how God’s uses them in context of the Scriptures, I do think it endorses and galvanizes our Christian faith, our doctrine and the main tenets that every Christian would sign off on.
Is there anything specific that God taught you through the writing of this book? Did He reveal anything to you that you can share?
That is a good question. One of those a-ha moments, I suppose, is when I was looking at the 12 spies going into the Holy Land. I was trying to connect that with holy communion a little bit. And so, I just found there’s a number of places where bread and wine show up with these vehicles that God delivers. Forgiveness through holy communion. So, the spies go into the holy land, and they bring back one thing, which is this huge husk of the fruit of the vine.. And then, the other thing is there’s a reference to bread. In that context, they’re freaking out about the size of the people that they’re going to fight.
I just thought, oh, that’s very interesting. There’s the 12 and there’s another reference to bread and wine. I preached on this and people really liked it. Also, you have Joseph sold into slavery by his older brothers. And so, he’s in prison at this point. And who does he interpret his dreams for? A baker of bread. Yes. And the cupbearer of wine for Pharaoh. It’s just things like that when I wasn’t looking for it. But when I started to look for that, of course he’s one of the 12 sons of Jacob.
And then eventually he gets out and the 12 brothers are finally assembled before Joseph. This is where he reveals his true identity to them. And it’s almost like this foreshadows the Lord’s Supper, where the 12 are eating and a Resurrection from the dead is about to occur because they think Joseph is dead and now he’s going to be appearing alive in front of them. I just love Old Testament typology foreshadowing the New Testament and how Christ fulfills that.
After people have read Faith by Numbers, what would you like to see people get out of the experience? What’s your greatest hope for the book?
Well, at the end of each chapter, I do a Bible study. It’s just a short one page thing, but I would love it if people tried to do a Bible study and bring small groups together. That would be one. And the other would be that I see so many kids that I will confirm and then you don’t see them around in the church again for a while. I see that in a lot of adults too. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I was confirmed 30 years ago. I’m a little rusty.’ So, just being able to get the numbers out there and that pattern and sequence in context, it’s just one more way to trigger memories. Being able to have that recall with these numbers is going to help create some pure Christian foundation.
P.S. The article you just read contains 1,927 words. What does this mean? I assure you it has nothing to do with Charles Lindbergh flying the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic non-stop!