Do Numbers Matter? Is Biblical Numerology Legit?

The Bible contains a staggering amount of "unnecessary" detail: names, dates, places, genealogies, censuses, inventories, catalogs, building plans, procedural instructions, etc. Interestingly, most of these details involve numerical information. At some point, every serious reader of Scripture wrestles with questions such as, "Does all this really matter? How could this possible be useful?"

A robust doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture demands that we take numbers in the Bible seriously. All Scripture is breathed out by God. Man lives not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God doesn't waste His breath. Everything that's in the Bible is there for a reason. But could all those number really be useful?

As it turns out, Jesus thinks numbers are very significant. In fact, Jesus thinks that "extraneous" numerical details reveal important theological truths. In Mark 8, after Jesus fed the multitude consisting of 4,000 men, Jesus scolded his disciples for their lack of faith by drawing attention to the numerological details of the previous two feeding miracles. 

"And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, "Twelve." 20 "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" And they said to him, "Seven." 21 And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?" 

Apparently, Jesus thought it was very important that there were twelve baskets of leftovers the first time and seven baskets of leftovers the second time. Jesus acted like it couldn't be more obvious why those numbers were important: "Twelve baskets...? You mean you still don't get it?" 

We may struggle to understand the significance of every detail in Scripture, but we had better try. 

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