Thursday, May 14, 2009


by Dr. Fred Kellogg

Let me ask you a mathematical question: if you were asked to identify the most important and distinctive number in the Christian faith, what would it be?
• 1: the unity of God is a very important theme for all monotheistic religions. However, 1 is probably emphasized more in Judaism than in Christianity.
• 4 gospels are certainly very important for the New Testament. However, few other aspects of Christianity fall into four categories.
• 7 is a key biblical number, especially in the book of Revelation, indicating completeness. John counts on his readers to be familiar with the symbolism of this number. But it too comes from Judaism.
• 12 is used throughout the Bible, especially because of the twelve tribes of Israel. It indicates completeness, often as a symbol of the Jewish people. But another number is even more significant in Christianity.
• 40 years were spent by the Hebrews in the Sinai wilderness, and 40 days were spent by Jesus in the Judean wilderness. Often in the Bible a period of forty years represents one generation; again, this is a Jewish concept rather than a distinctively Christian identification.
• 3: the Christian doctrine of the Trinity -- God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three in One -- is unique among the great religions of the world.
I'd like to note two central numbers for Muslims:
• 1: the unity of God is a key Islamic doctrine. Jesus is highly respected as a great prophet and teacher, born of a virgin, but in Muslim understanding he was not the Son of God. The declaration of God's oneness is the first in a series of "pillars of faith" which are central in Islam.
• 5: your textbook discusses various Islamic doctrines and acts of worship. But the most important grouping, which we've discussed in class in detail, is the traditional Five Pillars of Islam:
1. Shahada, bearing witness: la ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah, "there is no god but God, and Muhammad is God's Messenger."
2. Salat, worship five times a day, facing toward Mecca.
3. Zakat, almsgiving to the needy.
4. Sawm, fasting each year during the holy month of Ramadan, the month when the Qur'an was first revealed.
5. Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime.

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