GALEN HOLLEY: Biblical numerology is a sucker’s bet

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. Sevens certainly abound. In the Book of Revelation, there are seven seals, seven angels and seven last plagues, just to name a few.
There is the whore, the dragon and the trumpet, all of which are tied in with numbers.
There are very specific numbers, like 200 million troops (Rev. 9:16), and vague, ambiguous numbers, like “a great multitude that no one could count (Rev. 7:9).”
There are four horsemen (Rev. 6: 1-8), three foul spirits like frogs (Rev. 16:13), two olive trees (Rev. 11: 4), and a partridge in a pear tree.
Perhaps most famously there is the beast, with the number nobody today wants for their address or telephone, 666.
Oh, and the 144,000, marked with the seal of God, are mentioned three times.
The Book of Revelation is swimming with numbers, and for centuries Christians have been trying to decode them.
Here’s another number, A.D. 81-96, the period during which John, who never claimed what later tradition assumed, that he was St. John the Apostle, wrote the Book of Revelation.
He wrote it on the island of Patmos, long considered Europe’s last island, along the Aegean’s Asian shore.
In the 1st century Patmos was used as a penal colony for the nearby Roman city of Ephesus, a fitting, end of the road place for the final chapters of the Christian Bible to be written.
John had supposedly been exiled for religious offenses.
There’s long been a tendency among some evangelicals, particularly those whose beliefs show the unmistakable influence of Pentecostalism, to try and decode the Book of Revelation. Some believers engage in gematria, the process of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase. Thus, some believe, the number 666 gives you “Nero,” somehow. That sort of thing.
Others, such as those who count the generations in the Book of Genesis, and arrive at the Young Earth Theory, simply try to add and subtract their way to some insight about the timeline scripture supposedly offers.
Whatever the approach, the attempt to suss out knowledge about biblical time has always smacked of esotericism, the belief that there is hidden knowledge that’s only accessible to those with enough intelligence or faith. It’s there, a believer in biblical numerology might say, you just have to know how to recognize it.
This seems to run counterintuitive to the basic thrust of a conservative, literal interpretation of the Bible, the “it’s as plain as the nose on your face approach,” if you will.
The same believer who might say that Jesus’ phrase “Call no man father,” is as clear and unambiguous as day, might, in the same breath, prescribe a hefty bit of ciphering, mathematically, linguistically and culturally, to figure out when Jesus is coming back.
That sounds like secret society stuff, Masonry, or the Illuminati of Dan Brown fame, that conservative Christians have always looked at askance.
Even among otherwise sane, well-meaning people, biblical numerology leads to the kind of lunacy that Harold Camping recently visited upon the world.
Apocalypse by the numbers is a sucker’s bet. I’ll stick with what Jesus said, that nobody knows the day or the hour.

Galen Holley is the Daily Journal’s religion editor. Contact him at or (662) 678-1510.

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