I have read that in biblical numerology the number 11 indicates a system or period given to chaos or disorganization, and a survey of the text seems to bear this out. See, for example: Meaning of Numbers in the Bible.

Are there any systems of Hermeneutics that believe this to be both meaningful and intentional?

  • 2
    I am uncomfortable with this question as it is stated. It seems to presume a conclusion (about biblical numerology in general) that has not been established. I believe most (evangelical) biblical scholars are skeptical about systems that purport to find great significance in individual numbers in Scripture. I personally am wary of numerology because it is so inconclusive -- there are few accepted rules defining it. (Examples give way to counter-examples and systems proliferate.) Perhaps this question could be re-written to ask about the hermeneutical principals of numerology in general.
    – kmote
    Jan 29, 2012 at 5:32
  • @kmote - good suggestion, are you willing to have re-write the question? IIUC the OP is no longer contributing to the site - J.T. please correct me if that is wrong... Jan 29, 2012 at 14:42
  • @kmote: I'm not sure what you think of my answer. 11 isn't exactly the richest vein to study numerology in the Bible as it turns out. Jan 30, 2012 at 22:49
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    In the Historical-Grammatical hermeneutic the number 11 means 11.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 2, 2014 at 17:05

4 Answers 4


A quick search of the world "eleven" reveals that most instances are of an incidental sort:

Deuteronomy 1:2 (ESV)
2 It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.

This is a statement of a fact that just happens to include the number eleven.

Other mentions of the number arise because eleven is one less than twelve:

Genesis 37:9 (ESV)
9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

In this case, Joseph's brothers (the eleven stars) are prophesied to be bowing down to him. Joseph had eleven brothers, so there are eleven stars. Twelve turns out to be really important because of Israel's twelve sons who become the twelve tribes. When you are counting to twelve (such as when the twelve tribes offer sacrifices one after another) you have to count "eleven" first.

The only example of "disorganization" (at least explicitly) I can see in the search results is:

Acts 1:24-26 (ESV)
24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

The number twelve, which is the number of disciples Jesus chose (most likely to reflect the tribes of Israel), turns out to be significant enough to the apostles that they made sure to pick one more person by lots. Being one short of twelve clearly was uncomfortable to those men. But it was less about the number eleven and more about twelve.

I looked over the list referenced in the question, I really don't think 11 is particularly significant. Anyone who reads the Bible will be familiar with the importance of numbers such as 3, 7, 12, and 40, but few would take the time to analyze 11. And that's for good reason: the conclusions you might reach from doing the work just isn't that interesting or useful for understanding the texts. Personally, I find no surprises in that list and none of the passages will undergo any radical new interpretation with a knowledge of the "significance" of 11 at hand.

  • Excellent observations, Jon. Particularly the keen insight that eleven often occurs due to it's relationship to 12.
    – kmote
    Jan 31, 2012 at 4:43
  • I don't think this is an actual answer to the question that was asked. However, I do think it is helpful in understanding the topic (i.e. useful information), so I am giving a +1.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 7, 2012 at 23:39
  • The Sumerians avoid the number seven and also the eleven, in addition to others, because these numbers not worked in the sexagesimal system, were numbers that represented the need for patience for "change", it was necessary to skip them, avoid them, to be able to work with a new situation
    – Betho's
    Aug 3, 2020 at 17:01

I think numbers in the Bible, like all things which have analogical significance there, may have more than one meaning depending upon the context in which the number is found, and certainly this applies to complex numbers. The meaning of a number is contingent upon the determination of whether or not the passage in which it is found is actually a figurative representation of a spiritual reality or is of merely historical, literal import. If it is of analogical significance, one must have a basic idea of the conceptual significance of the numbers 1 through 9 (our only differentiated number signs) according to their relation to the elements of reason (that is, their spiritual significance). Example: one = identity - the first object to be clarified in the spiritual process of reasoning. (but identity encompasses many subsidiary meanings like unity, etc.). Proceeding from this foundation, numbers are analogies like all other analogical images used in Sacred Scripture, and may have various meanings according to context, but always compatible to the Analogy of the Faith. Well, that is my take on it, and I would appreciate corrections.


In Sensus Plenior the meaning of numbers is derived the same way as the meaning of any metaphor and follows the same restrictive rules.

The meanings of many numbers turns out to be different than in other systems.

1 - God

2 - a different dualism of earthly and heavenly where both are good except when the earthly is placed pre-eminent.

3 - a reference to the Trinity in one it's aspects. The Father speaks, the Son works, the Holy Spirit gives the increase or the life. We hear the word, understand the works, or are walking the life. Or we are deaf, blind, and lame.

4 - the four voices of God's revelation (King, Judge, Prophet, Priest)

5 - the nature of man

6 - God's tri-fold revelation of Himself in heaven and on earth, 2*3

7 - Completeness. 6 + 1 the unity or completeness of God's revelation of himself in heaven and on earth. Think of the candle with 3 + 3 + 1.

8 - the word in four voices in heaven and on earth.

9 - 8+1 the completeness of the word in heaven and on earth, 3*3 Each person of the God head is the fullness of the Trinity. 7+2 Christ with 2 natures is complete, etc.

10 - the dual-natured man, Christ

100 - the church

1000 - king

I appreciate the question about 11 and Jon's answer concerning 12. They made me look at the details.

When Jacob wrestled with God he represents Christ at Gethsemane and on the cross. He sent his 11 sons away (Benjamin was not born yet). Jesus only had 11 disciples. Judas was not one of them. And they left him.

There were only 12 at the last supper for the 'Lord's supper', 11 disciples and Jesus. Jesus himself is one of the 12, just as Jacob wrestling with God as the Christ type is one of the twelve within the scope of that picture.

Benjamin was born 'out of season' killing his mother in the process. Paul (from the tribe of Benjamin) was born out of season. He was not there for Gethsemane and the cross with the other 11, and he was killing his mother (the church) when he was born again.

Joseph, the Christ type had eleven stars make obeisance to him in his dream. Once again Christ and the eleven make 12. Ge 37.9

There are 11 curtains of goat's hair covering (surrounding) the tabernacle. (Ex 26.8) Just as there were 11 disciples who surrounded Jesus.

11 bullocks are offered on the third day of dedicating the tabernacle because they were being made to Jesus, the 12th as in Joseph's dream.

11 isn't 12 missing 1. 11 plus Jesus makes 12. He is one of us. He is the Lion of Judah. He is the chief cornerstone, building with us.

In SP even the 'incidental' occurrences must have the same meaning, so I will go back and flush some of them out. This answer just picks the low hanging fruit.

------- addition

It is said that the eleven day journey to Kadeshbarnea was one day short of entering the promised land (I have not verified this). If this is so it is a foreshadow that the 11 disciples 'didn't get it'.

Nu 14:11 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?

Mt 17:17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.

Mr 9:19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.

So here the eleven without Christ still represents the 11 disciples. With Christ they would have been in the promised land, the building would have been built. Jon's 'one short' answer is correct IF the one short is Christ, not Judas.

(This part of the answer is given based on unverified facts concerning the location.)

------ addition 2

Jehoiakim and Zedekiah ruled 11 years. This means that the king as a type of Christ refers to Jesus prior to the cross. The unfolding stories of their reigns should confirm this.

----- addition 3 In answer to the direct question "Are there any systems of Hermeneutics that believe this to be both meaningful and intentional?"

By the numbers

Hebrew letters have numeric values. There is no letter for eleven, the numbers jumping from 10 to 20 in the sequence.

10 + 1 are the letters Yod and aleph spelling Yah (or God).

This may imply that God is hidden in the 11 disciples, the eleven tribes, etc. in the same manner that Light and Life are hidden in Elohim.

Yes. Numbers in sensus plenior have metaphoric meaning derived from a strict set of rules which were put there by God as part of the shadows of Christ. Other systems of numerology may have meanings that are close or quite distant from those found in SP.

In Kabalah

Though it is often said that there are ten sefirot or channels of Divine energy, there are actually eleven, but the sefirah of keter and da'at are actually one, representing differing dimensions of a single force. There are eleven names of Godwhich are associated each with a particular channel of energy.

Ginsberg explains that eleven is related to "wits" , or that which is uncountable.

  • Can you cite a source that lays out those numerological characterizations? I don't see a strong scholastic foundation for this answer. I'm not necessarily saying you are wrong, there are just no sources cited.
    – blundin
    May 30, 2012 at 14:34
  • Thanks for asking. I added a link to another question explaining the rules referred to. Rule 4 is important to understand which is the most restrictive of any hermeneutic rule in any system. Methods are defined in any of the formal Midrash systems. I use the 32 rules of Rabbi Eliezer and apply them to the New and Old Testaments together. The list of numbers should be considered 'penciled in' until every occurrence is validated as with all sensus plenior solutions.
    – Bob Jones
    May 31, 2012 at 2:57
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    I am confused about why this answer has been down-voted. The question was "Do any Hermeneutical approaches have a specific meaning for the number 11?" Jon's post doesn't actually answer the question, but people agree, so it is voted up. This post answers the question with the affirmative, but people (presumably) disagree, so it is down-voted. The vote is supposed to be on whether the post is helpful in answering the question (or understanding the topic). I think either Bob's answer alone should be voted up, or both should be.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 7, 2012 at 23:37
  • Hi Bob, I've removed the broken link from 'Ginsberg' - feel free to fix this if you know where to find the material you had linked to.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 10, 2023 at 15:14

Eleven (11) in scripture represents "incompleteness". It is an "incomplete" position of something that has fallen short of God's ordained order for it. Here are some illustrations taken from scripture: God's instruction to Joshua was to take possession of ALL the land. He fails to do so, and dies at a hundred and ten (110) years. We must bear in mind that God's ordained age for man was one hundred and twenty (120) years. Caleb, of the tribe of Judah, had to "complete", what Joshua failed to complete (Judg.1:1) The number twelve (12) in scripture represents "divine governmental order". The twelve Apostles (sent ones) carried this divine governmental authority just as Christ did (Isa.9:6 & Luk.4:19). When Judas fell away, their number was reduced to eleven (11), but was completed again, when the lot fell on Matthias. There are many more such examples in scripture, concerning the number eleven (11), but time and space does not permit me to share it right now. Laurie, RSA

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    Can you cite some sources regarding the claim 'Eleven (11) in scripture represents "incompleteness"'?
    – user2910
    Jul 2, 2014 at 5:38

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