Sacred Numbers in the New Testament

by Margaret L. Starbird


The authors of the Gospels and other texts of the canonical New Testament wrote in Greek, but they also employed in their writings a system called gematria, a method encoding significant phrases in their work by means of symbolic numbers. The numerical system of gematria, widely practiced in the ancient world is evident in sacred texts written in both Greek and Hebrew. Since no special characters were available to represent numbers, writers of these languages used alphabet letters to express numerical values, and each number carried symbolic meaning based on the canon of sacred geometry and the cosmology derived by the mathematicians and philosophers of antiquity. Each written word could be interpreted as a number and its sum calculated from the value of the individual letters in a given word or phrase. The system was employed by Plato, most significantly in his Republic, Timaeus, and Laws, treatises in which he hints at the sacred code of numbers underlying the cosmos which he had learned under an oath of secrecy and could therefore not reveal outright in his works. The same system and was widely used for centuries thereafter and is practiced still by rabbis of the Jewish faith in their interpretation of Scripture and even in their own sermons.

The gematria in the New Testament texts was understood by early exegetes but was later vilified by Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, Church fathers who wrote polemic against its use in order to undercut and discredit the number theology being taught by Gnostic Christian sects. These scholars understood that certain passages and phrases of the New Testament could be enhanced when interpreted by analysis of their mathematical sums, yet they chose to ridicule and eradicate the practice within orthodox Christianity. The question is why? Why were they so adamant that the numbers be nullified?

Several recent works in English are available for the study of the cosmology of the early Christians and their use of gematria. Most valuable is John Michell's work The Dimensions of Paradise, a further development of his earlier work entitled The City of Revelation. Michell's erudite disciple David Fideler has further elaborated these studies in Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. Their lucid discussion of the system of sacred numbers of the ancients was of immeasurable assistance in the development of my own work which is focused on the gematria of the New Testament specifically as it relates to restoring the Sacred Feminine to a place of honor our consciousness.

For in studying the Gnostic tradition recorded in their sacred books, one important motive for undercutting their credibility becomes clear. The Gnostic Christians honored the "Sophia" (Wisdom) and they honored illumination received through direct personal experience of the Divine rather than through the established doctrines, creeds and sacraments of the institutional Church and its "fathers." The faith of the Gnostics was "anti-establishment" even before the dogmas of that establishment was sealed in stone by the architects of "Peter's Church." Peter's name, after all, means "rock." But in the Coptic texts found in clay jars at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, it is Mary Magdalene rather than Peter who is the acknowledged favorite of Jesus and it is she who receives direct revelation from the Lord, causing Peter and several of the other apostles to be jealous of her pre-eminent role. In undercutting the Gnostics, the early fathers of orthodoxy were writing the importance of Mary Magdalene and the Sacred Feminine out of the Christian story.

What do the numbers encoded in the Greek texts of the New Testament tell us about the status of the feminine in early Christianity? Why did Ireneaus and his friends so adamantly repudiate the use of the encoded numbers for interpreting the Scriptures? What secret hidden in the numbers did they find so threatening? I suggest that the numbers encoded in the Gospels prove that an intimate partnership of male and female was at the heart of Christianity and that the "sacred marriage"--the hieros gamos--was indigenous to the infant Church, tragically lost in later generations of the Diaspora that followed the fall of Jerusalem in C.E. 70. I suggest further that Christ and Mary Magdalene were understood to be partners in the archetypal paradigm of the Sacred Union and that this knowledge was deliberately obscured and repudiated by the Christian faction that used its power to suppress the number codes. The proof lies in the Gospel texts themselves.

The following is a list of numerical values for letters in the Greek Alphabet:

The actual Greek letter symbols are written here in their lower case. The ones in parenthesis were used only as numbers in New Testament times.

The Greek alphabet letters were divided into three tiers, and included three symbols that were used only as numbers: digamma (6), koppa (90), and sampi (900). The digamma occurs in the New Testament in the Revelation 13:18: "666" --the famed "number of the beast."

The letters in the first tier are: The second tier included iota - pi: The third tier:


The most widely discussed number found in the New Testament is 666, characterized in the Book of Revelation as the "number of the Beast." In the ancient cosmology, 666 represented the masculine principle, "Yang" in Oriental philosophy: "banners waving in the sun." The number is derived from the Pythagorean "magic square of the sun," a diagram of thirty-six squares organized so that the sum of each row adds up to 111, while the total sum of 1-36 is 666. In the Hebrew Bible, the tribute paid to King Solomon (2 Chr. 9:13) was "666 golden talents," fitting tribute for a powerful "solar" king. The number represents positively charged "solar" or left-brain, right-hand orientation: law, order, righteousness, reason and victory and represents raw, unadulterated power. Not accidentally, Egypt's Pharaohs were anointed with crocodile oil, for the crocodile, all mouth and tail, is the obvious totem for 666. What does he have for dinner? Anything he wants! Rome's Caesars embody this principle as do twentieth century dictators, modern hedonists and power mongers. The solar orientation of 666 causes a wasteland and ultimately, holocaust. "When the sun always shines, there's a desert below."

To be continued...


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