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What is the significance to the number 3 in the Bible? There is already a question about the number seven, but no one said anything about 3.

Here are a few 3's I came up with:

  • The Trinity (Godhead) is 3 in one
  • Peter denies knowing Jesus 3 times and later says he loves him 3 times
  • Jesus rose on the 3rd day
  • Both 777 and 666 consist of 3 digits
  • "holy, holy, holy" is the Lord God Almighty (Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8)

There are probably more that I can't think of right now. I just looked up 777 and it's not even in the Bible, so I don't know where that came from but I heard it somehow represents God.

So what is the significance to the number 3?

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I heard a sermon on this recently. I didn't actually agree with much of what the sermon said, so I won't provide an actual answer based on it :) However, the speaker did make the point that three is the smallest number of repetitions necessary to form a pattern. This is why so many jokes have "three blondes.." "three lawyers...", etc... –  Flimzy Sep 16 '11 at 22:45
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Yes. Smaller numbers occur more often than higher numbers, and two repetitions might be random, or be used, if somebody does not understand - it is repeated - once. 3 statements, one original with 2 repetitions are a ritual, but 3 repetitions start to be annoying and boring. In (1,2,3)(2,4,6)(1,4,9) you may find a pattern - in (1,4) - what pattern is it? But did you count the occurences of 2 (2 Emaus followers, 2 animals in Bethlehem, 2 criminals on other crosses) and 4 and 5, to compare them to 3? Maybe No. 3 is not so special? –  user unknown Sep 17 '11 at 3:37
    
Technically, 777 can be found in Genesis 5:31! –  dancek Sep 17 '11 at 22:38
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@danek: I don't think an age is significant, but technically, you're right. –  styfle Sep 18 '11 at 3:51
    
I might be showing my age, but this question makes me think of Schoolhouse Rock. –  Bruce Alderman Apr 3 '13 at 14:16
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6 Answers

I can answer one:

  • "holy, holy, holy" is the Lord God Almighty (Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8)

In ancient Greek and Aramaic, to repeat a word multiple times is to emphasis it. For instance, Jesus would often times say "verily verily i say unto you". He repeated 'verily' twice for emphases. In English we are more inclined to use adjectives (like very or super, etc.) to emphasis a word.

To say it three times is simply to emphasis 'holy' great deal. Though, IMHO, there is no meaning to '3' beyond that.

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That answers more than one. I think it answers the "Peter denies knowing Jesus 3 times and later says he loves him 3 times" since repetition implies importance. –  styfle Sep 17 '11 at 22:00
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I always understood the number three to have a connection with divinity (in Jewish culture). Wikipedia confirms my impression:

The number three was the symbol of holiness. The Holy of Holies occupied one-third, and the Holy Place two-thirds, of the entire Temple. The tapestries were ten times three ells in length, and there were three vessels each for the altar of burnt offering, the altar of incense, and the Ark. The candlestick had twice three arms (besides the shaft, which also held a lamp), and each arm had three knobs. The blessing of the priest consisted of three sections, and in the invocation of God the word "holy" was repeated thrice.

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Three is the number of perfection, or completion. This number is repeated throughout the Bible as a symbol of completeness.

God's attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.

Time is divided in three: past, present and future.

Three is the first of four perfect numbers...

Three denotes divine perfection; Seven denotes spiritual perfection; Ten denotes ordinal perfection; and Twelve denotes governmental perfection.

Abraham offered three measures of meal to his guest(s), showing the perfection of God's divine nature. In Numbers 15:9, the instructions to offer with a burn offering read, "Then shall he bring with the bullock a meal offering of THREE tenth deals of flour.", as were the instructions for the cleansing of a leper in Lev 14:10.

The third book in the Bible, where we learn about true worship, is Leviticus.

During His ministry Jesus raised three persons from the dead.

On the third day, the earth rose from the water, symbolic of resurrection life. He was crucified at the third hour, was on the cross from 3 hours, rose from the grave on the third day.

The inscription above His cross, in three languages, showed the completeness of His rejection by man.

He fulfilled the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King (Deut 177:15, 18:3-5, and 18:15).

For more on the number three, please reference EW Bullinger's excellent book Number in Scripture.

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Jesus raised more than three people from the dead - we only have recorded 3 instances –  warren Apr 3 '13 at 14:20
    
The three languages also indicate the language of the State (Latin), the people (Greek), and the locals (Aramaic). –  warren Apr 3 '13 at 14:20
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Have I not written to thee three times with counsels and knowledge? (Pro 22:20 YLT)

Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, (Pro 22:20 KJV)

I have written you worthwhile things full of good counsel and knowledge, (Pro 22:20 CJB)

I believe that God a lot of times communicates to us in groups of three things with one thing in common: growth. It's interesting that the word Young translates "three times" in other translations is rendered "excellent things". A few examples:

  • The good, acceptable, perfect (Rom 12:2)
  • Nepios (toddler), Teknon (technically a son), Huios (a mature son) (Gal 4)
  • Child, Youngster, Father (1Jo 2:12-14)
  • Outer Court, Holy Place, Holy of Holies
  • Water Baptism, Baptism in the Spirit, Baptism by Fire
  • Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23)
  • 30, 60, 100-fold

God himself is triune, just like man (body, soul, and spirit).

Peter denying Christ 3 times shows his growth into deception, while being restored through being asked 3 times and expressing his love 3 times his growth back into perfection (in the sense of the Bible: maturity).

As a footnote, 7 represents the perfection of God. And 6, the number of man (created on the 6th day, can be repeated as many times as you want, it never becomes seven. 7 is the addition of 3 (the perfect triune God) and 4 (the 4 corners of the earth) and therefore encompasses everything. It is also 6 (man) plus 1 (the one or united God Deu 6:4), the only way that 6 can become 7 - in relationship with God.

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the three times Jesus asked of Peter loves Him (agape and phileo are used therein, which we don't carry into English well at all) directly match the number of denials (which Christ had also predicted to Peter just hours before he did it) –  warren Apr 3 '13 at 14:22
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It seems to be a universal principle that a creation bears the image of its creator. A work of art reflects the thoughts, ideas and imagination of the artist. A symphony represents the expression of the composer.

God's very essence is that of a Trinity or Tri-Unity. He is Three in One: Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, His creation reflects this in quite a few ways.

  • The Physical Universe consists of three things: 1) Time, 2) Space, and 3) Matter
  • Time is divided in three different parts: 1) Past, 2) Present, and 3) Future
  • Space is three dimensional: 1) Length, 2) Width, and 3) Height
  • Matter coexists in three states: 1) Solid, 2) Liquid, and 3) Gas
  • People consists of three distinct parts: 1) Body, 2) Soul, and 3) Spirit.
  • Creation was initially unformed and unfilled. God takes three days to form and three days to fill.
  • Water consists of three elements: 2 Hydrogen and 1 Oxygen
  • Paul was caught up to the third heaven, which are divided into the sky, space, and the dwelling place of God.
  • A cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes)
  • God's will is 1) good, 2) pleasing, and 3) perfect.
  • The Old Testament consists of 1) the Law, 2) the Prophets, and 3) the Writings.
  • Jesus is 1) Prophet, 2) Priest, and 3) King.
  • The Patriarchs are 1) Abraham, 2) Isaac, and 3) Jacob
  • Jesus' ministry on earth was probably 3 years.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times and then was reinstated by professing love for Him three times (as you noted).

It seems that the number three pervades many other things as well. When writing, describing something with three adjectives always seems to be good, appropriate, and right. There are many other things as well, too numerous to mention.

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The number 3 pervades Christianity. 3 kings, 3 shepherds, 3 in the holy family at Bethlehem, there were 3 temptations, he raised 3 people from the dead, he had 3 friends (Mary, Martha and Lazarus), his ministry was 3 years, he was betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver, and betrayed by Peter when the cock had crowed 3 times, he was on the cross for 3 hours, there were 3 crosses, he rose on the 3rd day, his age at crucifixion was 33, his ministry was 3 years. This cannot be coincidence.

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