Reading Hebrew words as numbers

A significant feature of the Christian scriptures - though hardly ever referred to by theologians - is that all translations rest upon Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek originals whose letters and words may also be fairly read as numbers. Evidences of these yesteryear alphabetic numbering systems confront us still - as, for example, on the dials of many townhall clocks and in the verse and chapter numberings of some of the older books on our shelves.

What distinguishes the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek systems from the Roman are, (a) all (not just the seven: I, V, X, L, C, D and M) alphabetic characters were requisitioned for use as numerals and, (b) the value represented by a string of letters was the simple sum of its constituent parts. Clearly, wherever found, the words of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek are thereby firmly (and unavoidably) linked with discrete numbers; and though such words may, from time to time, be "interpreted" so as to mean something different from what the author intended, it is clear that the number upon which each rests is an invariant.

Believing that the words of the Scriptures were authored by God himself, it is but a short step to believe also that the numbers we now find indelibly linked with these words were also contrived by him. It follows that Paul's Spirit-led teaching, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness..." (2Tm.3:16), must encompass these numbers, and any information they may be found to convey.

In the following sections the term characteristic value (CV) is used to describe the number obtained by summing the letter-values of a word or portion of text.


The Hebrew/Aramaic scheme of alphabetic numeration

This scheme dates from c200BC. Of the 22 letters, 5 are observed to have alternative end-forms. The first Bible verse to display a numerical structure of interest is Genesis 1:1 - comprising the first 7 of the Torah's 68,504 Hebrew words! Here are the details:

The numerical expression of Genesis 1:1

Reading from right to left we find the 28 individual letter-values inscribed above the words of the text, and their respective sums (the CVs) below. Observe that the untranslatable 4th word indicates that the following noun is the definite and direct object of the transitive verb. This appears again in the latter part of word 6. The verse total (sum of the 7 CVs) is 2701.


Vernon Jenkins MSc