Episco-Fact #44
April 30, 2017

Lent was forty days and the Easter is fifty days, what is it with numerology and the Bible?

It is clear, that humans are fascinated by numbers. Something in our DNA compels us to look for patterns and as our cognitive skills developed, humans saw patterns of numbers in the world around them. One of the most familiar instances of mathematical patterns in the world is the manifestations of Fibonacci sequences (i.e. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, . . .) in nature: such as branching in trees,arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruitlets of a pineapple, the flowering of artichokes, an uncurling fern, the arrangement of a pinecone, and the family tree of honeybees. What these natural patterns mean is another story and beyond Episco-facts, but they point to the human fascination and need for seeing patterns.

Our character as pattern and meaning seekers is evident in the Bible. The story of God's interaction with humanity is about ultimate direction and trajectory of the human enterprise. We are not here in time to experience endless cycles of birth and death without end. Instead, we are here to reflect God's glory and to love one another.

In God's interaction with the children of Israel, descending from Abraham and on through Moses, God was trying to realign us to the mark he intended in the Garden of Eden: to be fully human by being image bearers of the creator. In the history that evolved from this story certain numbers came to have important meaning and are played out again and again in the recounting of God's saving acts.

Forty is one such number. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years because they rebelled against God after he led them to freedom from Egypt. Gospelists pick up both themes, the wilderness and forty, when Jesus fasts after his baptism in the Jordan by John. The church believes that the resurrected Jesus is in the world for forty days before his ascension, and adopts a fast of forty days in preparation for Easter. It is not a determined number, but it is a number with deep meaning for our story, which does not mean it is not a true number.

Pentecost is an easier answer. Our Pentecost matches up with a Jewish agricultural festival that was fifty days after the Passover. Our story, i.e. the Christian story is that Jews were celebrating this feast in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit was lavishly released into the world.

Other important numbers in the church include twelve, the number of the tribes of Israel, Disciples, and Apostles, and seven, the number of days in creation. We see these numbers are referenced again and again in the stories of God's people because they are resonant with numbers important in the ancient stories of God working in the world.

The Rev. David Lucey