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In Rev. 5:6 "... a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth" and also 4:5 and 3:1 Bible speaks about "seven spirits of God".

At the time of writing Apocalypse, was "seven spirits of God" interpreted literally or numerogically (that is substituting numerogical meaning (as "completeness", "perfectness") for "seven") and so considering that the spirit of God is singular (not literally seven spirits)?

Generally, was numerology strongly incorporated in early Christianity?

(This question was "extracted" from Holy Spirit vs Spirit of God in context of Rev. 5:6 by advice of Steve Taylor.)

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  • The number 7 is certainly used a lot in the revelation and certainly provides literary effect.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 11, 2018 at 6:13
  • At the time of writing a literal interpretation, i.e. seven distinct spiritual beings would seem rather out of place since the entire book Revelation is saturated with symbolism. The angels of the seven churches provide a clue. May 18 at 21:34

4 Answers 4

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Zechariah 3:9 KJV

For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.

Revelation 5:6 KJV

And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Zechariah 4:2 KJV

And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:

Revelation 1:16 KJV

And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

Revelation 1:20 KJV

The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

It's difficult to know the exact meaning of 'Seven spirits of God'.

What we know:

-7 stars are 7 angels of the 7 churches.

-7 candlesticks are the 7 churches.

-7 eyes on the Lamb are the 7 spirits of God gone into all the earth.

Revelation 5:6

Καὶ εἶδον ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων καὶ ἐν μέσῳ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἀρνίον ἑστηκὸς ὡς ἐσφαγμένον ἔχων κέρατα ἑπτὰ καὶ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑπτά οἵ εἰσιν τὰ [ἑπτὰ] πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεσταλμένοι εἰς πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν

The Greek words we're dealing with here are: [ἑπτὰ] πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ Seven spirits of the God

So clarity within scripture is not available. Whether these 7 spirits are God, proceeding from God, created by God, etc the exact nature of these 7 spirits are undefined. Any further definition than what is found in scripture is speculation.

Charles H. Spurgeon famously preached in his 'The Lamb In Glory' sermon:

The Lamb also works to perfection in nature and in Providence. For with Him are "the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." This refers not merely to the saving power of the Spirit which is sent forth unto the elect, but to those powers and forces which operate upon all the earth. The power of gravitation, the energy of life, the mystic force of electricity and the like, are all forms of the power of God. A Law of nature is nothing but our observation of the usual way in which God operates in the world. A Law in itself has no power—Law is but the usual course of God's action. All the Godhead's omnipotence dwells in the Lamb—He is the Lord God Almighty. We cannot put the atonement into a secondary place. For our atoning Sacrifice has all the seven Spirits of God. He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. Let us come to God by Him. He has power to cope with the future, whatever it may be. Let us secure our souls against all dangers, committing ourselves to His keeping.


Greek resources:

Scriveners Textus Receptus 1894

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London

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  • Thank you, N.Ish! Wouldn't it be fascinating to have a book titled, "Revelation in Parallel," referencing the most obvious parallels in the Tanakh side-by-side to each passage in Revelation?
    – Dieter
    Sep 10, 2022 at 18:32
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At the time of writing Apocalypse, was "seven spirits of God" interpreted literally or symbolically? Generally, was the symbolic meaning of numbers strongly incorporated in early Christianity?

PURPOSE

There are some strange numbers in Revelation. For example:

  • The seven Spirits of God (Rev 4:5);
  • Exactly 12,000 are sealed from each of the 12 tribes of Jerusalem (Rev 7:4).
  • The blood flows out of the wine press for a distance of 1600 furlongs (Rev 14:20 - YLT).
  • The wall of the New Jerusalem is 144 cubits high (Rev 21:17 - NIV).
  • The New Jerusalem itself is a square – 12,000 furlongs in length and in width (Rev 21:16 YLT).

The purpose of this article is to show that all numbers in Revelation are symbols. In other words, for example, that God’s Spirit is said to be seven in numbers says something qualitatively about God’s Spirit. In the same way, God’s end-time people are not literally 144,000 in number. That numbers say something qualitatively about the remnant.

Even some of the most learned people do not understand this principle. For example, the NASB converts the 12,000 furlongs into 1500 miles. This destroys the symbolism, which is dangerous, for John has warned, “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life” (Rev 22:19).

THE NUMBER 4

We read:

“I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth” (Rev 7:1).

During the 1000 years, “Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (Rev 20:7-8).

The earth does not literally have 4 corners and there are not literally 4 winds. The number 4 signifies THE WHOLE WORLD.

ALL PEOPLE

The number 4 is often hidden in phrases that use four related words to describe ALL the people of the world. For example, Revelation 5:9 could have read:

“You have … purchased for God with Your blood men from every NATION.”

But it reads:

“You have … purchased for God with Your blood men from every TRIBE and TONGUE and PEOPLE and NATION.”

The following are further examples:

  • “Every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev 7:9);
  • “Many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev 10:11);
  • “The peoples and tribes and tongues and nations” (Rev 11:9);
  • “Every tribe and people and tongue and nation” (Rev 13:7);
  • “Every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (Rev 14:6);
  • “Peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev 17:15);

These 8 examples use only the following five concepts but in different permutations:

  • Nations
  • Tribes
  • Peoples
  • Tongues • Kings

One word might have sufficed but the fact that all seven of these instances use exactly four words confirms the significance of the number four. And since all seven examples describe all the people of the world indicates that the number four signifies THE WHOLE WORLD.

ALL CREATION

The meaning of the number four can also be seen in that creation is sometimes described as consisting of four parts:

  1. “Worship Him who made the HEAVEN and the EARTH and SEA and springs of WATERS” (Rev 14:7).

  2. “Every created thing which is in HEAVEN and on the EARTH and UNDER THE EARTH and on the SEA” (Rev 5:13)

  3. The first four trumpets attack the four elements of creation as described in Revelation 14:7; the earth, the sea, the waters and the heavenly bodies (Rev 8:7-12). In other words, they attack the entire creation.

  4. The same applies to the first four plagues. They also attack the earth, the sea, the waters and the heavenly bodies (Rev 16:2-8).

CONCLUSIONS

Since the number four symbolizes the whole earth, and since the “four living creatures (are) full of eyes in front and behind” (Rev 4:6), they symbolize awareness of EVERYTHING that happens on earth.

  1. 1600 is equal to 4x4x100. In other words, it is the superlative form of 4, just like 144,000 (12x12x1000) is the superlative form of 12. Therefore, since the number 4 symbolizes the whole earth, that the blood will flow out of the wine press for a distance of 1600 furlongs (Rev 14:20 YLT) means that it will flow all over the world.

THE NUMBER 12

The number 12 appears more than a hundred times in the Scriptures and consistently represents the people of God. For example:

12 IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Since Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs (Acts 7:8), Israel consisted of twelve tribes (Gen 35:22; 49:28). The lists of the tribes in the Old Testament differ, but there are always 12 in the list. Since the number 12 was regarded as important, there were:

  • Twelve spies of Israel (Deut 1:23),
  • Twelve stones of the Jordan River (Josh 4:2-9),
  • Twelve cities of the Levites (Josh 21:40),
  • Twelve governors for Solomon (1 Kings 4:7),
  • Twelve bronze oxen held up the bronze sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:44; 2 Chr 4:2-4; Jer 52:20),
  • Twelve lions in front of Solomon’s throne (1 Kings 10:18-20; 2 Chr 9:17-19),
  • Elijah’s twelve stones (1 Kings 18:31), and the
  • Twenty-four courses of priests, each with twelve trained musicians (1 Chr 25:1-31).

12 IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Similarly, Jesus chose exactly 12 disciples; not 11 or 13.

Judas fell away, leaving only 11 disciples, but Revelation still refers to “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

12 IN REVELATION

The number 12 also symbolizes God’s people also in Revelation. For example:

  1. The pure woman has a crown of “twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). She first gave birth to Christ (Rev 12:5) but, after Christ ascended to heaven (Rev 12:5), she also had other “children” (Rev 12:17). She, therefore, represents God’s people both before and after Christ. For a further discussion, see - Who are the woman, the dragon, and the child?

  2. “The New Jerusalem,” which is another symbol for “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (Rev 21:12), meaning that only Israelites may enter. But it also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (Rev 21:14), meaning that this city is built on the foundation of the message of the New Testament.

  3. In the original language, the height of the walls of the city is 144 = 12 x 12 cubits (Rev 21:17 YLT).

  4. There are 24 elders in Revelation (e.g., Rev 4:4) and 24 is equal to 12 + 12; similar to the 24 names written on the New Jerusalem.

In conclusion, in both the Old and New Testaments, the number 12 symbolizes God’s people.

THE 144,000 JEWS

Since the number 144,000 is equal to 12x12x1000, it is derived from the number 12. Since 12 symbolizes God’s people, the number 144,000 symbolizes something more specific about God’s people.

Another article (See – Who are the 144000?) shows that the 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel (144,000 in total) are using Old Testament military language as a symbol. In other words, the doubling of 12 (12x12) in the number 144,000 symbolizes the perfection of the end-time remnant of God’s people; prepared for spiritual battle.

"No lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless" (Rev 14:5).

They "have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste" (Rev 14:4), meaning that they were not defiled by Babylon, the mother of harlots, or by her harlot daughters (Rev 17:5). They will be pure in their worship of God and Christ.

THE WALL

The other symbol in Revelation that includes the number 144 is the wall of the New Jerusalem, which “was 144 cubits thick” (Rev 21:17; NIV or YLT). In ancient times, the wall of a city was the most important defense for the people of that city. Both this huge wall and the 144,000 sons of Israel in Revelation 7 use military strength as a symbol. The 144,000 Israelites symbolize that God’s end-time army will not surrender. They will be willing to die for their testimony (Rev 12:11). The huge wall of the New Jerusalem symbolizes the spiritual strength of God’s eternal people: Never again will anybody be able to tempt them to sin.

THE 24 ELDERS

Since the number 24 is equal to 12 + 12, the root number for the 24 elders (e.g., Rev 4:4) is 12. And since the number 12 symbolizes the PEOPLE OF GOD, the 24 symbolizes some aspect of God’s people.

The number 24 could be drawn from the fact that the Old Testament priests were organized into 24 divisions, each of which served consecutively in the temple for a week at a time (1 Chr 24:1-19). In Revelation 5:8, “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding … golden bowls full of incense.” The incense seems to imply that they function as priests. So, associating the elders with the 24 divisions of the Israelite priesthood is certainly possible.

But another article has concluded that the 24 elders are human representatives of God’s people in God’s throne room. Since they sit on thrones, they rule under “Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 4:9). it is more likely that the number 24 arises from a doubling of the number 12, which is the number symbolizing God’s people.

THE NUMBER 7

Seven is the most prominent number in Revelation (e.g., seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven heads of the beast, etc.). This number is mentioned 56 times in Revelation.

The number seven is derived from the seven days of the week. Similar to the days of the week, many of the sevens in Revelation imply a sequence of events, namely, the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh being the last or the end (e.g., the seven seals). In that respect, the number seven in Revelation is different from the other numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10, and 12.

The number seven, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as the completion or perfection of time. Just like the number 4 means EVERYWHERE, the number 7 means ALWAYS.

SEVEN SPIRITS

One of the sevens in Revelation is God’s seven Spirits (Rev 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). This number must be interpreted symbolically. God does not literally have seven Spirits.

For this reason, and due to the connection between the Spirits and the seven lamps in the temple (Rev 4:5) that were ALWAYS burning, the seven Spirits of God can be understood to mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS with us.

SEVEN HEADS

Similarly, the seven heads of the beast are the seven phases of the beast, covering all time.

THE NUMBER 2

Similar to the number 4, the number 2 is often hidden in phrases that mention two related things, for example:

  • “John, who testified to the WORD OF GOD and to the TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST, even to all that he saw” (Rev 1:1).
  • “The WORD OF GOD and … the TESTIMONY OF JESUS” (Rev 1:2);
  • “I, John … was on the island called Patmos because of the WORD OF GOD and the TESTIMONY OF JESUS” (Rev 1:9).
  • “Those who had been slain because of the WORD OF GOD, and because of the TESTIMONY which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9).
  • “Her children, who keep the COMMANDMENTS OF GOD and ... the TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST” (Rev 12:17);
  • “The saints who keep the COMMANDMENTS OF GOD and their FAITH IN JESUS” (Rev 14:12);
  • “Those who had been beheaded because of their TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST and … the WORD OF GOD” (Rev 20:4).

These seven verses, therefore, refer to four related concepts:

  • The word of God,
  • The testimony of Jesus,
  • The commandments of God, and
  • Faith in Jesus.

These seven verses combine these four concepts differently but always list only two of the four concepts, indicating the significance of the number two. Since these seven verses always describe God’s people, the number 2 symbolizes God’s people. This symbolism is probably based on the Old Testament principle that at least two witnesses are required to confirm evidence (e.g., 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19).

The following are other examples of the number 2:

The two witnesses (Rev 11:3); who also are the two feet of the strong angel (Rev 10:2).

Revelation 13 mentions the dragon, the beast, and the beast from the earth (Rev 13:1-2, 11) but later Revelation identifies the beast from the earth as the “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The beast from the earth has “two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11). This implies that it pretends to be a Christian organization. But “he spoke as a dragon” (Rev 13:11). Therefore, it is “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13).

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  • Very nicely researched and summarized, Andries. Revelation seems to be full of references to the Tanakh. That symbolism applies does not necessarily mean that there weren't really seven churches critiqued by Jesus, that the Exodus wasn't actually 40 years long, or any of the other "symbolic" numbers weren't real. The measurement of a cubic New Jerusalem turns out to be nearly the same size as the moon (sticking out 116 miles at each corner), while the NJ in a geosychronous orbit around the earth would appear in size as 7 full moons x 7 full moons). Is this significant? Maybe, but probably not.
    – Dieter
    Sep 10, 2022 at 18:25
  • If we exclude Panama and Suez canals, the continents have 4 edges. So four winds possibly refer to munsons at 4 edges of the Earth.
    – porton
    Sep 10, 2022 at 18:55
  • Somewhere (can't remember where) I read that chapter 8 of Rev. is figurative, because it's impossible that a mountain falls from the heaven. Read my book where I explain that Rev. 8 is a literal description of a falling comet. You just don't want to believe.
    – porton
    Sep 10, 2022 at 18:58
  • To have a book but to interpret it in any way you wish is equivalent not to have a book. I will downvote your answer, but not because I strongly disagree with you but because you didn't answered my question what ancients thought about it.
    – porton
    Sep 10, 2022 at 18:59
  • St. Ambrose (339-397 CE) commented about the days of creation and the Sabbath: "The number seven is good, but we do not explain it after the doctrine of Pythagoras and the other philosophers, but rather according to the manifestation and division of the grace of the Spirit; for the prophet Isaias has enumerated the principal gifts of the Holy Spirit as seven" (Letter to Horontianus). Does that begin to answer your question?
    – Dieter
    Sep 10, 2022 at 20:19
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"And from the seven spirits who are before His throne."

There is no justification for the capitalization of "spirits" here. This is not a description of the nature of God. This statement cannot be understood apart from 4:5 which reads

"And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;" The seven spirits which are the seven lamps of fire that burn before to throne are the seven churches to whom this revelation is sent (verse 20), "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."

Their position is "before" the throne. The significance of "before the throne" could be for the purpose of judgment, particularly in light of the judgment of the seven churches who are weighed in the balances in chapters two and three. Since this is found in the body of the salutation, "before the throne" could also simply represent the position that the church holds as those who belong to God hence the expression "which are the seven spirits of God;" ('Which are' - ἃ - nominative neuter plural).

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Numerology refers to a broad number of ways that numbers have sacred, symbolic or mystical significance. It is also a handy number for organization purposes.

Genesis tells us that God made the world in seven days through seven commands. He rested on the seventh day and blessed the day. The tabernacle was dedicated by a series of seven speeches. And on it goes. There is no explicit statement with scripture about the significance of seven that I'm aware of, other than its frequent usage, including "seventy times seven".

Every seventh year was also a sabbath year. And after seven sabbath years came the Jubilee. In the intertestamental period, a scroll called "Jubilees" was written which organized history into these cycles of seven and probably inspired the structure of the Revelation, which features seven bowls, seven trumpets, etc.

After so many of the Jews became immersed in Greek culture after Alexander the Great's conquest they became exposed to the numerology of Pythagoras, whose favorite number was seven.

The immediate background of John's reference to seven pneumati would be the OT references.

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