Symbols in Christianity
Christianity has always incorporated symbols - that is, visual representations and signs - into its practice, as valuable expressions of truth. The depiction of an important element of the faith, by means of an animal or color, for instance, can be powerful and encouraging. What words cannot say, sometimes symbols can. While Christians are known for being people of faith, the religion has produced some of the most beautiful art in history. Whether they be carved on first-century tombs or tattooed on twenty-first century bodies, symbols matter in the Christian religion.
Christians believe that God created human senses - sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. Of course faith is of utmost importance in Christianity, but the physical abilities God gave people aren't unimportant. It is helpful to understand that the Christian worldview doesn't teach that immaterial and the material are in competition with each other or opposed to each other. in fact, faith experiences can be supported by a sensory experience such as when the Apostle Paul laid hands on people when he prayed for them (Acts 19:4-6).
Number imagery in Christianity
Numbers are used frequently in the Bible (especially in prophetic and apocalyptic works) and in Christian pictorial symbols to signify various theological concepts. Following are the most commonly accepted interpretations of numerical symbols.
One signifies unity; both the unity of God and the unity of members of the Church.
The number two represents duality. Specifically, it can symbolize the divine and human natures of Christ or the material and the spiritual.
The number three represents the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
Four can represent the Four Evangelists (authors of the Gospels), the four corners of the earth, or the four seasons. Its association with the latter sometimes make it the number of earth.
Five symbolizes the five wounds Christ suffered on the cross (hands, feet, and side), and by extension represents sacrifice.
Six represents creation, because God created in six days, or imperfection, because it falls short of the perfect number seven.
Seven is the number of perfection. God rested on the seventh day, Paul lists seven gifts of the Spirit and Jesus spoke seven utterances from the cross. The number seven is especially prominent in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation, in which there are seven seals, seven churches and many other things numbering seven.
Eight represents regeneration or resurrection. Thus many baptismal fonts are eight-sided, as is the baptismal cross.
Nine is the number of mystery or angels, since there are nine choirs of angels.
Ten symbolizes completion, since there are Ten Commandments, Ten Plagues, etc.
Twelve is often used to signify the whole church, since there were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles.
Thirteen represents betrayal since there were 13 people at the Last Supper.
Forty symbolizes trial or testing, since Noah's flood, Israel's wandering in the wilderness, Moses' stay on Mt. Sinai, and Jesus' temptation in the wilderness all lasted forty days. The Lenten Season is forty days in duration for this reason.
One hundred usually denotes completeness or plenitude, since it is ten times ten.
One thousand represents a very large number, infinity or eternity.References
- Carolle E. Whittenmore, ed., Symbols of the Church.
- W.E. Post, Saints, Signs, and Symbols.
- George Wells Ferguson, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art.
- Frederick Rest, Our Christian Symbols.