Why Is the Number Three So Important in the Bible?
As a person journeys through the Bible, there are some patterns and repeated ideas that emerge. Numbers often repeat throughout both the Old and New Testaments, whether directly, or sometimes as a coefficient. Some of these numbers include seven, twelve, and forty. Another important number is “three”. It is a small number with powerful symbolism.
While some people look to the repeated numbers in the Bible and try to decipher secret codes, hidden messages, and a mysterious hidden meaning, God’s Word is straight-forward. There is no codex to these numbers; they are numbers God chooses to use to communicate to His people. The number three tells us about Him. It is a holy number that relates to harmony and new life, as well as the triune nature of God.
Where Do We See the Number 3 in the Bible?
The use of the number three begins early in the Old Testament, showing up in the earliest accounts of recorded history. It appears 467 times in the Bible. To list the number of times the number appears in the Bible by itself, not including numbers that are multiples of 3, would take up a great deal of time.
A few key examples of where the number three appears include, but are not limited to:
- The Three persons of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Noah had three sons
- There were three fathers of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- The Ark of the Covenant had three objects: gold jar of manna, Aaron’s budded staff, the tablets with the Commandments
- Daniel prayer three times a day
- Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days
- According to the Law, men had to present themselves at the Temple three times a year at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles
- Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness
- Peter denied Jesus three times
- Jesus was in the grave three days
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Why Is This Number So Important?
When studying the Word, the number three directly relates to the nature of God. It is a complex nature that is hard for people with limited, mortal understanding of the universe to comprehend. It begins with the origins of all things, with the very nature of God, the being, “...who is and who was and who is to come…” (Revelation 1:4). In His form before the world began, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirited coexisted, three-in-one, in perfect harmony and love with one another.
When John baptized Jesus, the Trinity manifested on earth: “...and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him [Jesus]; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16b-17). Jesus affirmed the Triune nature of God in the Great Commission, telling believers to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
Because His very nature is Triune, in many of the moments where He wants to communicate something about Himself, He works in threes. For example, the patriarchs of Israel have moments that foreshadow Jesus’ death. Abraham, the father, was willing to sacrifice His son in obedience to God, but God stopped him and provided a ram. This act foreshadowed God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son to pay for the sins of the world and Jesus’ willingness to be the sacrifice. Jacob, the third patriarch, came after Abraham and Isaac to be the progenitor of the nation of Israel, like the Spirit came after Jesus’ ascension to help spread the Gospel to the whole world.
When God wanted to emphasize something, He often said it three times. One of his most important prophets was Samuel, who anointed the first king of Israel, Saul, and its most important - David. When Samuel was young, living and working in the temple, God called out to the young boy three times. Every time, Samuel said, “Here I am!” Samuel showed his readiness to serve God by responding positively each time.
Sometimes God tests the resolve of his servants in order to prepare them for service. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times, submitting to the will of the Father each time. Again, the importance of Jesus’ obedience was highlighted. Peter denied Christ three times the night of the Lord’s trial, and to reinforce Peter’s need for repentance and submission, Jesus asked him three times, “do you love me?” after the Resurrection.
What Other Numbers Are Significant in the Bible?
The number three carries so much weight and value in the Bible and in God’s great design. He uses other numbers to communicate with His people.
These numbers include, but are not limited to:
A number symbolizing integrity. Jesus’ lineage went back to the fourth tribe Judah, four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel), four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and four Gospels
A number of perfection. In Revelation it says the Lord has seven spirits and lamp stands, 777 is seen as the representing the Trinity
A number symbolizing totality. There are twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve gates in the New Heaven, and there will be 144,000 sealed individuals from Israel during the Tribulation who are safe from judgment and the Antichrist to evangelize during this time
A number of completion, it is used 146 times in the Bible. Moses stayed on Mr. Sinai for forty days, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and Jesus spent forty days in the desert before being tempted by Satan.
It can be difficult to say why God chose to use certain numbers more than others. Why twelve? Why seven? Humans can only make informed assumptions and hypothesize on this side of Heaven. Part of it is certainly that God is the first Scientist, the first Builder, and the first Architect. He is a God of logic, building a universe of certain rules and principles that allow its systems to work. These systems are both physical, what can be measured by science, and metaphysical, more philosophical and abstract.
An architectural use of the numbers will be in the New Jerusalem, where the walls of the city will be 144.000 cubits thick, or twelve cubits by twelve cubits. The more abstract rules may be related to why He worked through history in certain numerical patterns.
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God Does Not Hide His Plans Behind Numbers
God’s ways are not our ways; they are higher, and beyond the comprehension of the mortal mind. One of His great mysteries is His triune nature. How can there be three unique identities, yet it is still one person, one true God? Yet it is true. Not only is it true, but it is so important to His character that He works in threes throughout history, and will do so in the future.
Seeking to understand where this number appears, and how it appears in the Biblical record, can reveal something new to the person who chooses to study it, even if its full significance may not be realized until the believer is standing in the presence of Jesus. Putting too much emphasis on deciphering the numerical patterns can become a problem, as some people have fallen into heresy because they thought they contained secret messages. God does not hide His plans for humanity, salvation and redemption. Learning about the importance of the number three can glorify God, as long as it does not become an idol.
Davis, John J. Biblical Numerology. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 1968.
Masner, Martin. Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Themes. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008.
Sproul, R.C. What is the Trinity? Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019.
Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.