Biblical Math

1-Based Counting

Neither the original Hebrew nor Aramaic nor later Greek nor Roman counting systems have a digit for zero. Nothing was written nor counted using zero "0" in the Bible. The first item in lists of items is item number 1. Obvious? Yes, but modern people don't always count this way. Using zero based counting as an interpretive grid of time references in the Bible is a source of major errors.

The topic of a Biblical chronology eventually reveals interpretive issues surrounding the problem of pure biblical mathematics. The Bible was written before most of the modern mathematical principles were widely adopted. This means that the Bible is built using techniques that will "trip up" a modern reader if that reader is not very careful. Any attempt to understand the text of the Bible, requires careful attention to the value "0" and any accidental use by readers of the value zero.

Examples of "zero" in the bible: (emphasis mine)

Exodus 10:19 19And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt.

Job 14:4 4Who can bring a clean [thing] out of an unclean? not one.

Psalm 106:11 11And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left.

John 1:3 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Acts 3:6 6Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

Example: Enoch, the 7th from Adam

The simplest place to see the way the writers of the Bible counted things is to look at a reference found in the Book of Jude: Jude :14 14And Enoch, the 7th from Adam, also prophesied of these saying, Look, Master comes with 10,000s of his saints,

Genesis Supplied Name Jude's Count Modern Count
Adam 1 0
Seth 2 1
Enosh 3 2
Kenan 4 3
Mahalalel 5 4
Jared 6 5
Enoch 7 6

Example: Days of Creation and the 7 Day Week

When God created the heavens and earth and established the 7 day week, He didn't count the first day as day 0 (zero), it was counted as 1: "And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen 1:5). After 6 days of work, God "rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made"(Gen 2:2), not after the seventh day, thus a week is 7 days (inclusive) counting both the first and last days.

Day Reference Creative Work Day Number as Written in the Bible
1 Gen 1:1-5 Heaven, earth, waters, light "And the evening and the morning were the first day." (Gen 1:5b)
2 Gen 1:6-8 Firmament "And the evening and the morning were the second day." (Gen 1:8b)
3 Gen 1:9-13 Land, trees and plants "And the evening and the morning were the third day." (Gen 1:13)
4 Gen 1:14-19 Sun, moon, stars "And the evening and the morning were the fourth day." (Gen 1:19)
5 Gen 1:20-23 Water life, birds "And the evening and the morning were the fifth day." (Gen 1:23)
6 Gen 1:24-31 Land creatures, insects, man "And the evening and the morning were the sixth day." (Gen 1:31b)
7 Gen 2:1-3 God rested "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made." (Gen 2:2)

Example: Genealogy of Christ

Matthew chapter 1 provides an example of 1-based counting. In that chapter, the Book of Matthew recounts the genealogies of the time from Abraham to Jesus.

When finished, Matthew summarizes his list and says that there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Exile to Babylon and 14 from the Exile to the Christ.[1]

Using modern math we would quickly "count" and incorrectly expect 3 * 14 = 42 names in Matthew’s genealogy. Instead what we find is 41 names. Considering that Joseph, the man at the tail end of Matthew’s Genealogy was not the biological father of Jesus, the list only has 40 names that properly make up the genealogy from Abraham forward to Joseph. Jesus was not Joseph’s seed, as all the other names given in the list were.

It appears that Matthew is using the same counting system as Jude, where the first item in a list is counted from 1, not zero. Since Matthew is providing 3 separate lists of 14, the two transition points are double counted, 14th in the list before and 1st in the list that follows. When taken this way, Matthew’s list works perfectly. The following table shows how the counts work out this way.

Name Rank First 14 Counts Second 14 Counts Third 14 Counts
Abraham 1 1    
Isaac 2 2
Jacob 3 3
Judah 4 4
Perez 5 5
Hezron 6 6
Ram 7 7
Amminadab 8 8
Nahshon 9 9
Salmon 10 10
Boaz 11 11
Obed 12 12
Jesse 13 13
King David 14 14 1
Solomon 15   2
Rehoboam 16 3
Abijah 17 4
Asa 18 5
Jehoshaphat 19 6
Jehoram 20 7
Uzziah 21 8
Jotham 22 9
Ahaz 23 10
Hezekiah 24 11
Manasseh 25 12
Amon 26 13
Josiah 27 14 1
Jeconiah 28   2
Shealtiel 29 3
Zerubbabel 30 4
Abiud 31 5
Eliakim 32 6
Azor 33 7
Zadok 34 8
Akim 35 9
Eliud 36 10
Eleazar 37 11
Matthan 38 12
Jacob 39 13
Joseph 40 14
Jesus 41  

As a check on the math: 14 * 3 = 42 expected names. Since 2 names, David and Josiah, are counted 2 times, the total number of names in the list is 42 - 2 = 40 names. This, of course, is what this list shows.

Special Thanks

Many thanks to the following sources which I have used in compiling this page: