fours and sevens

Sticking with the apocalyptic theme for one more post...

As various scholars like to remind us, in the Book of Revelation 'numbers are symbols, not statistics'. So, for example, the number 4 is a symbol which represents everything, all of something. A bit like the way the four winds, or the four corners, is a way of representing all there is of the earth. And then the number 7 is a symbol for completion, or perfection.

Let's say we are speaking of cups. If 4 is associated with cups, then it means all possible cups are included. If the number 7 is in there somewhere, then the symbolism suggests that each of those cups is filled to the full.
Or take, the koru - that exquisite tree fern which we have here in New Zealand. If 4 is associated with koru, then it means that all possible koru are represented. If a 7 is in there as well, then this symbolism suggest that each koru is fully extended, approaching perfection.

Coming back to Revelation, look at the way the church is described. In 5.9 you get a phrase like 'every tribe and language and people and nation'. There are four descriptors here and this suggests that it is the entire church, all the church from all around the world, that is being described.

Read on in Revelation and this collection of four descriptors keeps repeating, even if the individual words change a little bit:
7.9: 'from every nation, tribe, people and language'
10.11: 'many peoples, nations, languages and kings'
11.9: 'from every race, tribe, language and nation'
13.7: 'every tribe, people, language and nation'
14.6: 'to every nation, tribe, language and people'
17.15: 'peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages'

That is a lot of collections of four descriptions, isn't it?
How many exactly?  Count them up!

In Revelation there are seven times when this fourfold description of the church is used...
Does that ring any bells?

Might it be that one of the messages of Revelation is that it speaks of a time when the church will be drawn from all peoples and be perfectly mature?

bring it on - nice chatting



Andrew said…
Great stuff :) I like Barr's phrase: numbers in Revelation are about qualities not quantities.

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