By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Numbers have extreme symbolic purposes in the Bible, and number three stands out as one of the most prominent numbers featured in Scripture. It tends to symbolize harmony and wholeness, as we will explore.
This article will dive into the significance of numbers in the Bible, what the number three means, how often we see the number three in the Bible, and what this means for us today.
What Significance Do Numbers Have in the Bible?
Most numbers carry a symbolic purpose in the Bible.
Seven, for instance, also means completeness; as does number 3. God created the earth (including the day he rested) in seven days (Genesis 1-2).
However, not all numbers signify something good. Six, for instance, tends to symbolize incompleteness or weakness, as indicated here. We can see a trinity of satanic incompleteness and weakness in the devil’s number: 666 (Revelation 13:18).
In the Bible, numbers can have a many purposes, such as conveying something significant in the narrative: prophetically, spiritually, or symbolically.
When Elisha brings a boy back to life and he sneezes seven times, he may not have literally sneezed seven times (2 Kings 4:35). Even if he had sneezed literally seven times, readers or listeners would’ve picked up on the fact about the importance of the number seven, meaning completeness. He was completely healed.
What Does the Number 3 Mean in the Bible?
Before we dive into the number three, we have to explore the meaning of the number in Hebrew. Many numbers in the Hebrew language tend to have a deeper meaning.
Three, shelosh[f.], sheloshah [m.] means harmony, new life, and completeness.
The number three appears in the Bible 467 times, fewer than the number seven, but more than most of the other symbolically important numbers.
Sometimes three is used as an emphatic Semitic triplet to describe the intensity of something. It’s not just holy. It’s holy, holy, holy.
However, typically, three means something complete and good. Satan does often like to take something good from God and corrupt it, much like the number three and the concept of the Trinity.
8 Ways the Number 3 is Significant in the Bible:
Although we don’t have time to dive into all 467 refences to the number three, let's explore a handful.
1. God says something 3 times: We see God repeating a phrase three times in several places in Scripture. Jesus goes back to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane three times (Matthew 26:4). God calls the prophet Samuel thrice (1 Samuel 3:8). Jesus repeats the phrase “feed my sheep” to Peter three times (John 21:15-17).
2. Three of the same words: We see several instances of three of the same words in a row. Woe (three of them) are called out by an eagle in revelation, foreshadowing terrible judgment (Revelation 8:13), Jeremiah repeats the word “land” thrice (Jeremiah 22:29), and we hear the triplet of holy in Isaiah (Isaiah 6:3).
3. The third day: We can’t talk three without talking about how Jesus rose after three days (1 Corinthians 15:4). In Jewish culture, three days past the time of death indicated they were truly dead. Therefore, Jesus truly conquered death by not rising until the third day.
4. Three patriarchs: In Scripture, we have three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 22:32). These were the fathers of the Israelite nation, God’s people.
6. Three gifts: The Magi present to Jesus three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh in Matthew 2.
7. Three angels: In Revelation 14:6-16, we encounter three angels. The first, tells all the earth to worship God. The second, declares the fall of Babylon. And the third, declares that anyone who receives the Mark of the Beast will receive God’s wrath.
8. The Trinity: Of course, we can’t look at the number three without looking at the Trinity: God is three in one: the Father (1 Corinthians 8:6), the Son (Colossians 2:9), and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17).
What Should Christians Remember about the Number 3?
Even numbers aren’t outside of God’s grasp. God has ordered the world to follow mathematical and numerical patterns. We can see his design in how numbers operate even in nature, knowing that everything on earth points back to the fact that God exists, so we have no excuse not to praise him.
Also, three is important in terms of the Trinity. If God was one in one, he would either be dependent on humans to satisfy his loneliness (which would make him limited in his power), or worse, created humans to appease any of his needs. In essence, in that model, humans would be slaves to God, like the Canaanite gods of old, such as Moloch.
God doesn’t need us. He has love in his very essence. The dance of the Trinity, allows for God not to be dependent on our existence, but for every part of his being to be so, so full of love, each person of the Trinity giving of himself to the other members. Therefore, he created us as an act of love, not dependence.
Three carries an extreme significance throughout Scripture in prophetic fulfilment to the nature of our prayers. As Christians, we should remember to keep an eye out for any instance we see something thrice in Scripture. It’s either emphatically pointing to the essence of something, or showing the completeness of something.
Numbers are important in the Bible. We can often overlook these because our culture doesn’t have the same emphasis on number symbolism that the original audience had. But by looking at Scripture in context, we can dive even more into the richness of God’s word.
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 450 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel “Den” for July 2020. Find out more about her here.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Aphiwat