Perfect Numbers

I took a number of books on holiday to read. Apart from the Bible I took a book on Church history that I still have to finish, a collection of early Christian writings, and a good paperback novel which I bought in the airport.

The paperback I bought this time was "Fermat's Last theorem" by Simon Singh. I had already read his follow up book "The Code Book" and found it fascinating. Despite this book being about mathematics, I found it a rivetting read.

As part of the background to the theorem, Singh provides some background to some mathematical theories in the dramatic historical context in which they were first formulated. One such concept that particularly caught my imagination was the idea of "Perfect Numbers"

Every number has a set of divisors: numbers that can divide the original number into another whole number. If the only whole number (apart from itself) that can be a divisor is 1, then the number is said to be "Prime". Examples of prime numbers are: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 etc. If the sum of the divisors is more than the number itself, that number is said to be "excessive". If the sum of the divisors is less than the number it is "deficient". But if the sum of the divisors is exactly equal to the number itself then it is said to be a "perfect" number. The first 2 perfect numbers are 6 (1 + 2 + 3) and 28 (1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14).

Why this caught my interest is that some early Christian writers, like Augustine, noticed a link between these perfect numbers and the numbers involved with God's creation: God created the world in 6 days, and the moon which was created to mark the months has a 28 day cycle. This, they say, points to the initial perfection in all God made.

Now, I'm still unconvinced on the merits of this link. One has to be very wary of imposing modern scientific understanding upon the text of the scriptures, which neither knows, nor cares about such ways of viewing the world. The language of Genesis is one of description, not mechanics, and it holds true regardless of what the current scientific theories might be (I don't include Darwinism as a scientific theory!). Also the term "perfect" is a happy accident; if Pythagoras had named them "balanced" numbers instead, I wonder if the connection would have been so apparent. Finally the third "perfect" number is 496 which has no scriptural references whatsoever.

Never the less, I can't help but like elegant connections and details like this. God's creation was indeed perfect in every way before sin marred it. Who knows if God chose these numbers to reveal this perfection or not? One thing that I particularly like is the restoration of the number 6. This number has often been associated with evil or demons, but even Revelation 13 is very clear: it is man's number. Man was the pinnacle of God's perfect creation, created on the sixth day. To me the fact that 6 is a perfect number is a fitting reminder that man was created perfect, and is destined to return to perfection. Man does not belong to the devil nor to demons, but to his perfect Creator.


anna said...

thats right! chris. studying numbers in the Bible is very interesting and how they form patterns is amazing. one cant help but affirm that all scripture is God breathed. and yeah! if ur interested in the Fermat's theorm, BBC had a whole documentary on it sometime ago. it was quite interesting. u might get hold of it somehow.

Ian said...

Ever seen the film Pi? From the sounds of it, you'd probably really enjoy it. It's quite a weird, twisted film but very cleverly done. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0138704/

Matthew said...

496 is the "number" of the Hebrew word Malkuth - Kingdom, using the device known as gematria where every letter has a number value

The Bible itself uses this device in relation to the number of the beast, Rev 13:18, "Let him who has undersatnding calculate the number of the beast."

For an online gematria calculator vsit www.mysticalinternet.com/gematria/index.php

Chris HH said...

Ian: Yes, I have seen Pi and thought it was a fantastic film. Pi itself fascinates me: how something so infinite and complex can be contained within the simplest of geometric shapes. God's creation is full of mysteries and wonders even in the simplest of things.

Matthew: Fascinating and profound! Creation regains its perfection with the fullness of the Kingdom! (Ro 8:20-21)