The symbolic meaning of letters and alphabet in the Bible

Letters gain meaning when they form a word with other letters. A single letter often doesn’t say much, but sometimes it does. Examples of this can be found in the Bible. In the time of the Bible, letters were considered special. Most people at that time could not read or write. Magical powers were attributed to letters. Letters were of special symbolic value. The order of the letters of the alphabet was used to structure certain texts, for example Psalms. A special symbolic value can be attributed to the numerical value of letters. By calculating the numerical value of letters, words acquire a special meaning.

Jesus and the symbolic letters alpha and omega

The words ‘alpha and omega’ appear three times in the Christian Bible (Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, omega the last. Together these letters form the beginning and the end. For the writer of Revelation, John, these letters symbolize the presence of God. He is there from the beginning to the end. God encompasses time. With this letter symbolism, the author, Johannes, wants to encourage his readers. They faced persecution, but behind all the misery there is a certainty that offers comfort, namely that God is in control.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “I am the One who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)


The first and the last

The imagery that God is the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, goes back to what the prophet Isaiah writes in the Old Testament. For Isaiah too, God is the first and the last (Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). The Book of Revelation often uses images that also appear in the Old Testament.

Thus says the Lord, Israel’s king and deliverer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and the last; there is no god besides me. (Isaiah 44:6)


The letters of the alphabet are sacred

In the Biblical world, letters such as alpha and omega mean more than the letters a and z to us. In ancient times, the letters of the alphabet transcended their literal meaning. At that time, letters represent the divine world or they refer to that world. To the rabbis, the letters of the alphabet are sacred. If heaven was created by the word of God, then the letters of the alphabet must be holy (Psalm 33:6).

The meaning of the Hebrew letters at creation

The story of creation was originally written in the Hebrew language. According to the Jewish Bible scholars, the Rabbis, the letters in the story of creation have a symbolic meaning. The creation story begins with the words: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. In Hebrew, “in the beginning” is one word, “bereshit . ” The first letter of the creation story, the first letter of the Torah, is a ‘b’, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This second letter of the alphabet was deliberately chosen as the first letter of the Torah, because this letter is also the first letter of the word ‘bless’ ( barakh ). Creation includes the blessing of God from the beginning.

The shape of a letter gives meaning

The first letter of the creation story is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the ‘b’ ( bet ). According to the rabbis, the shape of this letter shows the path man has to take through life. The letter is closed on all sides except the front. This expresses that man must look forward, to the future, and focus on that.

The modesty of the first letter of the alphabet

The Torah begins with the second letter of the alphabet. The first letter is, as it were, skipped. The rabbis praise this letter for its modesty. The first letter has given up its first place in the Torah and he has not complained to God about the privileged place given to the second letter. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the aleph , is given first place in the Ten Commandments as a reward (Exodus 20:2).

The importance of the letters in the Torah

All letters in the Torah are important. Every letter matters. Not one can be missed. Against this background, Jesus says that one jot or one tittle will not pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). A jot and a tittle are small Hebrew script symbols. For example, the tittle is a small line or dot that is placed above a letter. An iota is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The tittle and the jot are therefore the smallest Hebrew script symbols. With this imagery, Jesus wants to make it clear that the words and letters of the law, the Torah, are unchangeable and permanent.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Truly I tell you, as long as heaven and earth remain, every jot and every tittle of the law will stand until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)


The meaning of the numerical value of the iota

The fact that Jesus mentions the iota and relates it to the continued existence of the law may also have additional meaning. The iota is the tenth letter of the Greek alphabet. The number ten has a symbolic meaning. It refers to completeness. If the numerical value ten is associated with the law, it can also refer to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Ten can also indicate the completeness of Jesus. The first letter of Jesus’ name is the iota. The conclusion is that the Ten Commandments, the laws of God, have been completely fulfilled in Jesus.

The numerical meaning of letters in the Bible

The Hebrew letters all have a numerical value. The Romans also used letters to express numerical values, such as the letters I, V, X, L, C and M. In the Hebrew language, all letters have a numerical value. By adding the value of the individual letters of a word, you get a numerical value of a word. This value is called the gematria of the word. One can analyze the Bible texts based on the numerical value of words or phrases. In this way, one could discover hidden messages. There are also critical voices against this method. The fact that God would not want to pass on hidden messages in the Bible is then cited as an argument against this exegesis method. “But keep away from foolish speculations,” says the letter of Titus (3:9). Yet the numerical method of reading can provide special insights.

The numerical value of the Name of God in the Hebrew Bible

For example, important numerical values of words in the Hebrew Bible are the numbers 17 and 26. These numbers would appear again and again in the Bible. These numbers are so special because they are the numerical value, the gematria, of the divine name YHWH. Calculation shows that the Hebrew word for glory ( kabod ) has a numerical value of 26. The clear connection between the name of God (YHWH) and his glory ( kabod ) is explicit in the story of Exodus 33:17-23. In that story, Moses asks God to show him His glory. YHWH then responds to this by having his Name, the Name of God, proclaimed. Both words have the same gematria. In the glory of God his name is manifested.

The meaning of the alphabetical order in the Bible

The rabbis see the alphabet as a symbol for the Torah. The Torah contains the first five books of the Bible. These books are attributed to Moses. According to the rabbis, the Torah is the core of the Hebrew Bible. If the alphabet symbolizes the Torah, it is not surprising that the rabbis give great weight to Bible texts whose verses are arranged alphabetically. Psalm 119, which focuses on the law, is a good example of this. Each verse of this Psalm, consisting of 8 lines, begins with a letter. Starting with the first letter, we work towards the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Other psalms with an alphabet structure are Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111 and 145. The alphabet structure can also be recognized in other books of the Bible, such as in Proverbs 31 and the Lamentations of Jeremiah, chapters 1-4.

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  • The symbolic meaning of letters in the Hebrew Bible
  • The symbolic meaning of numbers in the Bible
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