What do we know about the number eight? An eight-sided shape is an octagon; eight is the atomic number of Oxygen; there are now eight planets in our solar system (sorry Pluto); spiders have eight legs, as does an octopus; there are eight notes in a musical scale (octave); there are eight pawns of each colour in a game of chess; and for the nuclear physicists amongst us, eight is apparently a “magic number”.
In Asian cultures, the number eight is considered lucky because it sounds similar to their word for wealth. The number is taken very seriously in China where a number plate containing the number eight sold for $640,000 in Hong Kong. Also, did you know, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing was held on 8thAugust (8.8.08) and started at 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8pm?
So, if the number eight is so imperative in the Eastern world, does it hold importance in the Bible? It is believed by some that the number eight represents a new beginning or a new order. In Judaism, the religious rite of brit milah(circumcision) is held eight days after the birth of a baby boy.
Although Pentecost is now celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter, it is also the beginning of the eighth week after the spring harvest. Also, the Jewish Festival of the Tabernacles, known as Sukkot, ends on the eighth day, called the Last Great Day.
It is thought that forty different people wrote the Bible and forty is a number composed of five (representing God’s grace) times eight (representing new beginnings), which to some is representative of the promisethat by God’s grace we will be given a chance for a new beginning.
There are not so many instances of the number eight in the Bible compared to the previous numbers I have looked at. The most obvious example I have found is the number of Beatitudes, the eight blessings Jesus spoke of during the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew:
³“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
⁴Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
⁵Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
⁶Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
⁷Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
⁸Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
⁹Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
¹⁰Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
¹¹“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
¹²Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
(Matthew 5:3-12 NIV)
Here are a few more examples of the number eight I have found in the Bible:
After Jesus’ resurrection, it is recorded that he showed himself alive eight times before ascending to heaven. The first was his appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden as recorded in Mark 16:9-11 (although the earliest Biblical manuscripts do not contain these verses). This was followed by showing himself to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) and then appearing to all the disciples bar one in John 20:19-24. The Apostle Thomas was not at this last meeting; therefore, a week later, Jesus appeared to them once again, casting away Thomas’ doubts about his resurrection (John 20:26-29). The fifth appearance was to over five hundred people, as recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:4-7, which was followed by meeting his disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) and at the Sea of Galilee where they caught 153 fish (John 21:1-24). The eighth and final meeting was on the Mount of Olives shortly before Jesus was taken up to heaven, as recorded in Acts 1.
My final reference to the number eight is in relation to gematria, an alphanumeric code of assigning a numerical value to a name, word or phrase based on its letters. Although this practice is now mistrusted, advocates of the theory believe each letter of the Hebrew and Greek alphabet has a specific number attached to it. According to gematria, the value of the Greek word for Jesus, or more specifically “Christ the Redeemer” is 888.
What do you think? Is there real significance in the use of the number eight in scripture or is this something we have added later in a desperate attempt to find meaning?
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon