Threefold Authority

This post is brought to you by the number three.

I mentioned in a previous post that the number three is very significant in scripture. The problem is, though, that it is significant for more than one thing.

Three days is a prophetic time in scripture that points forwards to Christ's death and resurrection. Examples are Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish, and Moses' declaration that the people should take a three day journey into the wilderness in order to offer sacrifices. (Mt 12:40, Ex 5:3)

Three is also significant in that is one of the numbers of established witness: by the testimony of two or three witnesses a thing is firmly established. An example would be Abraham's three visitors who testified against Sodom. Most other examples of witnesses tend to be twos rather than threes: Joshua and Caleb who gave a good witness after spying out the land, Moses and Elijah who witnessed Christ's transfiguration, and the two witnesses in Revelation. But it is still worth bearing in mind that three can be used in this way too. (Dt 19:15, Mt 18:15)

But the threes that have been jumping out at me lately are the threes of God's delegated authority. Within the Godhead of course we have Father, Son and Spirit who set the example for all the others. In the heavens God established Sun, Moon and Stars. In the created order he established Man, Woman and all the animals. In the family his order is husband, wife, children. And in the church we have the pattern of Apostles, Elders, and all God's people.

It is interesting to speculate about a possible link between the final two uses of three. Three is the number of the community of God. Two is the number of the community of man (husband and wife). Either of these two numbers can be used to establish something, which reflects the fact that God has delegated his governmental authority to man.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc 4:12)


Anna Sacha said...

hey chris! the delegated authority portion was really helpful. i am going to touch on that in my essay so thank you!! umm! just from the top of my head do you think the inner circle of disciples, Peter, John and James, again three is of significance or is just a number?

Kev C said...

This is interesting Chris, three seems a number that is often on my mind too thru a whole lot of differing situations. It brings to mind your study of Joel 2 and Acts 2... blood, fire and billows of smoke. Also the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost... the roaring of a mighty windstorm... flames or tongues of fire... speaking in other tongues (Acts 2:2-4). And how about baptism with water, Holy Spirit and fire (Mt3:11). All perhaps a little tenuous but it is clearly a good number nonetheless if only because it represents the most perfect combination of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Chris HH said...

Anna: Good example. It's definitely significant. The Apostles were those who were sent out with Jesus' authority to be his witnesses. So it fits on two levels.

Other good threes:
The baker and cup bearer's 3 days before restoration / execution - prophetic again of Christ's three days between death and resurrection.

Saul was blind for three days after his Damascus road experience.

Moses, Aaron, Miriam - threefold authority.

David's three mighty men. Similar to Jesus' inner circle.

Three wise men - witnessed Christ's birth.

Chris HH said...

Kev: That's interesting that you should remind me of blood, fire and billows of smoke. I had wondered about that too.

There are other trilogies of symbols: grain(bread), wine, and oil. Spirit, water, blood (1Jn 5:8)... and probably more.

It's one of those details. Once you have spotted the significance. You see it repeated all over the place!

Matthew said...

Chris - your knowledge of subatomic physics will mean that you are familiar with the way that just about wverything at that level is arranged in 3s too.

Perhaps I'll leave any elaboration to you though!

[Were there 3 wise men?...]

Chris HH said...

Matthew: Re. The threeness of elementary particles. I must confess that hadn't occurred to me, but now you mention it, it is fascinating how at the very smallest level, everything in the atom is made up of indivisible threes.

[As an aside this is another great "proof" for the existence of God. The charge of a proton and an electron must be *exactly* opposite. Due to the incredible strength of the electric force, any imbalance would cause the universe to collapse to the size of a pea! You might think they are complimentary particles and so must have this correspondence, but although an electrode is an elementary particle a proton is not; it is made up of three charged quarks whose combined electric charge "just happens" to be exactly opposite to that of an electrode. Quite incredible (if you are an atheist!) Imagine if the entire existence of the universe rested on the area of the UK being exactly 2/3 that of France. It's mind blowing.]

Re. the wise men! You got me there! Why do we assume there were three? The scriptures just say Magi from the east. I had never realised that before. Kind of scary what you see when you come to the scriptures with preconceptions!

Matthew said...

3 wise men I think comes from the 3 gifts which are mentioned in Scripture. I had this debate with Noah the other day, he is Casper in the school play, one of the 3 wise-guys!

Chris HH said...

I hope everyone spotted the deliberate mistake in my last comment. Of course if there is an imbalance in the charges of protons and electrons the result will be each atom has a like charge; since like charges repel the universe would tear itself apart not implode. Same effect though. Just hope none of my old physics tutors see how rusty I've become! ;-)

[btw. this comment is also an excuse to see if my mugshot will appear next to my comments]