The number fifty: the traditional number in a jubilee period. It is the atomic number of tin. There are fifty states in the United States of America, Hawaii being the fiftieth to join. In years of marriage, fifty is the golden anniversary. When written as 50%, it is equivalent to one half. The moon is fifty times smaller than the Earth.
In Kabbalah, a discipline taught in Judaism, there are fifty Gates of Wisdom and fifty Gates of Impurity. In classical mythology, Hercules is believed to have had fifty sons.
Some say that the number fifty in the Bible represents joy and the feast, by which they mean Pentecost, a feast that occurs fifty days after Passover. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek for fiftieth and has come to replace the original name of the festival “Feast of Weeks” or “Shavuot”. Whilst originally a Jewish feast, the day has become important to the Christian faith. As recorded in Acts 2:1-31, the disciples and other followers of Christ were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks when a mighty rushing wind started blowing and tongues of fire appeared. The disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4 ESV) It is this event that we celebrate every year in the Christian calendar.
It is thought there are around seventy-seven mentions of the number fifty in the Bible. It is never actually mentioned in the Pentecost reading from Acts, so I have looked at a few of the other examples to determine whether the number holds any importance elsewhere.
The Feasts of Weeks is first mentioned in Leviticus 23:16: Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. (NIV)
Noah’s ark was fifty cubits wide as commanded by God. “This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.” (Genesis 6:15 NIV)
In Leviticus 25, the term “Jubilee” is explained. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.” (Leviticus 25:10-12 NIV)
Other examples include:
Genesis, the first book of the Bible is fifty chapters long, making it the fourth longest book.
The visions of Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (1602-1665) claim that it took the Holy Family fifty days to flee to Egypt after the angel warned Joseph about King Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents.
In the writings of the Roman Catholic Franciscan tertiary Maria Valtorta (1897-1961), she claims fifty guards were stationed around the summit of Golgotha after Jesus’ crucifixion.
As with the number forty, fifty may have been used as way of saying “a lot” or “umpteen”, however, as you can see from the above examples, the number fifty is most often used in relation to measurements or amounts. This suggests the number may have had a stronger significance, which may or may not be linked to Pentecost. Some theologians say the number fifty is connected to the life of man but there are also other interpretations.
René Allendy (1888-1942) said that fifty symbolises the universe, also stating, “it is a favourable number marking a grace, a kindness, a regeneration.” On the other hand, Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803), a devout Catholic, claimed the number fifty represented “the spiritual ascension to the intuition, the number of the illumination.”
Whatever the interpretation, there is no doubt that the number fifty has most strongly become associated with Pentecost. So, to finish, I leave you with a fun fact: the word “soldier” appears in the Bible fifty times.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon