The Christian Use Of Jewish Numerology -- By: William C. Varner

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 08:1 (Spring 1997)
Article: The Christian Use Of Jewish Numerology
Author: William C. Varner


The Christian Use Of Jewish Numerology

William C. Varner

Professor of Old Testament and Director of IBEX Program
The Master’s College

A book called the Zohar emerged during the Middle Ages, giving rise to a Jewish form of mystical speculation known as the “Cabala” and creating strong interest in the system’s mystical teachings in both Jewish and Christian circles. During the Renaissance, Pico, Reuchlin, and Ricci led in applying the Zohar’s mystical teachings to the OT in defense of Christian doctrines such at that of the Trinity. The Cabalistic doctrine of emanations provided a solution to the tension between the doctrines of God’s transcendence and His immanence. Another exegetical method of the Cabalists was gematria, a system for discovering secret truths from the OT through various techniques of assigning numerical value to letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Christians should resist the temptation of using Cabalistic means for discovering truth from the Bible, because it deviates so widely from the grammatical-historical method of exegesis.

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Around A.D. 1300, a Hebrew book entitled the Zohar began circulating in Spain and its adjoining countries. The Zohar, a Hebrew term for “brilliance,” was basically a mystical commentary on the Torah attributed to the second-century rabbi, Shimon bar Yochai. Late research has demonstrated conclusively that the real author was a contemporary Spanish rabbi named Moses de Leon.1 The philosophical theology of the Zohar constituted a decisive stage in the development of the Jewish form of mystical speculation known as the “Cabala.”

From the emergence of the Zohar to the rise of the “Haskala” (the

Jewish Enlightenment) over four hundred years later, the Cabala2 was the most influential molder of Jewish thought. Although never espoused by all and always opposed by some, this mystical theosophy in attempting to explain the true relationship between God and creation influenced the mind of every Jewish person. It is safe to say that during the period following the Spanish expulsion in 1492, the Zohar ranked next to the Bible and the Talmud in spiritual authority for the Jewish community.

Furthermore, Jewish mystical writings did not escape the notice of non-Jewish thinkers. Many Christian theologians ridiculed the Cabala as occultic and fanciful. At the end of the fifteenth century, however, a movement began to develop in certain Renaissance “Christian” circles that sought to harmonize the doctrines of the Cabala with ...

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