What The Number 4 Really Means In The Bible

As with many books rooted in oral tradition, written down thousands years ago, the Bible is full of symbolism. An effective way to deliver a message to a mostly illiterate population, symbolism gives additional meaning using ordinary objects and ideas. According to Literary Devices, many ideas and concepts throughout the Bible actually have deeper meanings. Phrases like "honey and curd" (depending on your translation) used throughout Scripture actually symbolize prosperity, while olive branches represent peace and hope. Complicating matters is that an object or word has additional symbolism based on various cultural understandings, and so part of the challenge of Biblical scholarship is understanding the original cultural context of the writings.

It's not just words that can have deeper meanings. Numbers, too, have been used by the writers of the Bible as symbols encapsulating wider meanings. While numbers were used to count and keep track of things in the Bible, they were also used by the scribes to represent other ideals. Most folks might recognize the number 666 as the sign of evil in the Book of Revelation; Compelling Truth identifies the number 666 as the Unholy Trinity of Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet; other scholars say that number represented the Roman Emperor Nero, as explained by Detroit Catholic. Other numbers, meanwhile, take on a more positive connotation, like the number 1 representing the one, true God (via Listverse).

The Four Horsemen

Then there's the number 4. Most often symbolizing fulfillment or completion in the Bible, according to 15 Degrees NE, the word "completion" can also be defined as "perfection." The first appearance of the number 4 in the Bible occurs in its first chapter, the Book of Genesis (via 15 Degrees NE). On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, moon and the stars. The number 4 is also referenced by the elements (earth, wind, fire, and air), the four directions the world is ruled by (north, south, east and west), and how humanity is broken up (nation, tribe, language and people). The number four also points the way to salvation through the cross's four points (top, bottom, left and right). There are four Gospels and four seasons of the year.

The most ominous use of the number 4 in the Bible, however? The four horsemen of the apocalypse. Symbolizing the costs of war, the four horsemen represent (via Britannica) conquest, pestilence, famine and death. A precursor to the end days, the four horseman appear as the first sign of the apocalypse or, as Got Questions frames it, the 4 horsemen are the first of seven seals that will lead to the end of days.