Voices of Faith: Is ‘3’ something of a holy number in Christianity?

08/29/2014 7:00 AM

08/29/2014 12:00 PM

The Rev. Penny Ellwood, Blue Springs campus pastor, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection: We have a human habit of looking for patterns of three. You hear people say all the time expressions like “three’s company” or conversely, “three’s a crowd” or “the third time’s the charm,” or “bad news always comes in threes.”

I’m not sure where our habit of thinking in three’s originated, but when one goes looking for “threes” you can certainly find them in Christianity as well.

The use of the number three is abundant in the Bible. Noah had three sons (Gen. 6:10). Three visitors appeared to Abraham (Genesis 18:2). Jonah was inside the belly of the fish three days and nights (Jonah 1:17).

Jesus answered Satan’s threefold temptations with three scriptural references (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. Peter denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62), and three times Jesus affirmed his love (John 21:15-17).

There are many references to the number 3 but nothing quite as important as the climax of our faith and Jesus’ redemptive work, his resurrection on the third day (Luke 24:7).

No doubt the biblical authors often employed the number or wrote in patterns of three to provide a special emphasis or a clue that there was more than meets the eye in the events recorded.

Christians also see three as symbolic of the Trinity, the triune nature of God: as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons who share one divine nature and have existed eternally in community with one another. This threefold relationship forms the basis of the community and relationship we are called to live as Christians. Our task as Christians is to express, transform and extend our world, in accordance with the pattern revealed in the mystery of the Trinity.

In our church, we believe this happens in another threefold — the use of our head, heart and hands. We study and learn to know who God is with our heads. We engage in relationships of love with our hearts, and we serve with our hands to reshape and build God’s kingdom with the hope of complete and full restoration someday.

These are but a few of the threes found in our faith. So I guess you might say that 3 is something of a “holy number.”

The Rev. Jeff Palmer, music pastor, Crossroads Christian Church, Shawnee: The quantity of three does hold significant value in the Christian faith, particularly in the context of the Bible narrative.

Just to name a few of many examples: There are three persons in the trinity of God — the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. There were three main patriarchs in the Old Testament — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus’ ministry on earth lasted three years. The apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus three times following the evening of his arrest. Jesus was resurrected from the grave three days after his death and burial.

So why is the quantity of 3 significant? The number 3 biblically represents divine wholeness, completeness and perfection. If there ever was a desire to highlight an idea, thought, event or noteworthy figure in the Bible for their prominence, the number 3 was used to put a divine stamp of completion or fulfillment on the subject.

Although there is great biblical meaning to the use of the number within its context, we should avoid applying the same biblical application of the number outside of the text. For example, observing that “bad things in life always happen in threes” is merely an observation of coincidence, not a reflection of completeness as noted in the Bible.

Furthermore, the number 3 should merely be held as a significant number within the Christian faith rather than a holy number. An item that is deemed holy is something dedicated or set apart for God. The number 3 does not fit the category of holiness, but neither should it be overlooked in its biblical importance.

To contact or ask questions of The Star’s Voices writers, send email to faith@kcstar.com.

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