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Atlanta, 1 May 2016

Aloha! We're back from Hawaii. What a terrific trip! Here are a few photos (R: with Jon Toda in Hailuku; bottom: sunset at our hotel, followed by a rainbow the next morning). We enjoyed the quiet, with lots of time to read, snorkel, and explore the beautiful island of Maui.

It's always nice to be home in Georgia -- with our family of seven. The kids have been gone for years, but two great Christian sisters live with us: an Egyptian-American undergrad and a Chinese professional / grad student. And then there are the animals: cat, dog, and puppy. The puppy is like a young Christian, zealous and giving and indefatigable. The older dog (12) is the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (grumpy and jealous). The cat (13) -- well, I don't think much of her spirituality. (Unforgiving, self-centered, aloof -- isn't this typical, fellow cat-lovers?)

Culture, Quiz, 77

Every culture has its own take on numbers, and understanding them is rarely a matter of mere mathematics. In western culture, 13 is considered unlucky. American hotels "skip" the 13th floor. In eastern culture, in places like China, 4 is unlucky (it sounds like "death"), while 8 means prosperity. (My Chinese friends love my telephone number, part of which is 888.) When we speak of the 4 corners of the earth or the 7 seas, we don't expect to be taken literally -- and yet that fact doesn't impede understanding. If anything, it enhances it. Yet how easily would outsiders to our culture grasp our way of thinking?

All to say that we need to learn how to approach numbers as the original Bible hearers would have understood them, not through the filter of our own culture. Numerical meanings aren't always obvious. Of course some are straightforward and literal: 4 men carried the paralytic to Jesus, and it's doubtful that 4 has any deeper meaning. Others are symbolic, like 666. And still others are both, like the number of the apostles, 12. Before we go any further, and to get into the swing of things, let's take a short quiz.


  1. How many patriarchs and (original) apostles were there?
  2. In Revelation 2-3, how many churches received letters?
  3. How many different "I am statements," confessions of faith, and miraculous signs are there in the gospel of John?
  4. How many times did Jesus say we should forgive our brother?
  5. Noah's Ark: how many people were saved in it?
  6. Exactly how many people were baptized on the day of Pentecost?
  7. Extra credit: We are familiar with the N.T. Decapolis (region of 10 cities), which was the home of "Legion." In the O.T. there are two instances of a pentapolis (5 cities): one in Philistine territory (1 Sam 6:18) and also the alliance of Sodom (Gen 14:2). Can you name the 5 cities of either pentapolis?
  1. The answer is 12, an exact number. What do you imagine Jesus was thinking when he designated twelve apostles?
  2. The answer is 7, all churches in western Anatolia (modern Turkey). Yet there were at least 10 churches in the region, including biblical cities like Hierapolis, Colossae, and Miletus. So why only 7?
  3. There are 7 of each -- the Johannine triple-7.
  4. Some Bibles say 77 times, others 490. (Will settle this in a moment.) This is a clear instance of a figurative number; it might as well be 1000 times.
  5. In all, only 8.
  6. 3000 isn't an incorrect answer, but neither is it an exact number. It's a round figure, an approximation -- and excludes women (as in 4:4), as is normal in biblical censuses, genealogies, and other lists of persons.
  7. Philistine Decapolis: Gath Gaza Ekron Ashdod Ashkelon. Sodomite Decapolis: Sodom Gomorra Zeboim Zoar Admah. Give yourself 2 points if you got all 10 cities!
          Scoring:   3-4 = Fair     5 = Good     6 = Great     7-8 = Excellent


Hopefully you enjoyed the quiz, and are ready for the number of the week: 77. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus tells his astounded apostles to forgive not 7 times, but 77 times. Some English Bibles have 70x7, instead of 70x. So which is it?

Jesus is teaching mercy (the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant immediately follows). The Lord forbids personal vengeance, which began with the descendants of Cain. In Gen 4:23-24 we read,

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
    wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
    then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

The thirst for revenge blows things out of proportion. Lamech is not entitled to kill the youth who hurt him. At most (by O.T. law), the judges would allow a similar wound, but not death! (In fact, in the O.T. "eye for eye" was more a forensic concept than an actual practice; nearly all lawsuits were resolved monetarily.) Personal vengeance blinds our minds. Jesus is countering the distorted and ungodly attitude of Lamech. Now of course if Jesus did mean 490, instead of 77, his point would stand. Yet this is unnecessary; 77 is better. His point is strengthened by its linkage to Gen 4:24.

Next week
Next week we'll navigate the nuances of the number 1000, and continue in the third installment with a discussion of the Millennium (is this for real, or merely a symbol for something else)? In the meantime, if you want to learn more, take check out this book on numerology.


Finally, we covet your prayers in two areas. First, pray for us to travel safely and wisely, walking with the Lord. This weekend my wife heads to England to see family. A few days later, I fly to Turkey. Second, pray for the financial underpinning of the ministry, esp. for funds so that I may train more up-and-coming teachers. And thanks for our partnership. -- DAJ
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