Can God measure?

God measures pi perhaps Atheists claim that a figure in the Bible shows the Bible to be inaccurate. Closer examination of the Hebrew shows the text to be extraordinarily accurate.

The ‘sea of metal’ to be placed in Solomon’s temple is described in 1 Kings 7:23. Its diameter is given as 10 cubits and it is stated to be 30 cubits in terms of a line around it: a ratio of 3 to 1 between the circumference (the line around) and the diameter. However, the ratio between the two is always given mathematically by the constant pi which is 3.1415926535897…… (its sequence of numbers is never ending).

So, if the diameter of the metal sea was 10 cubits, the figure of 30 cubits for its circumference is very approximate only. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that, but critics argue that the Bible normally gives quite detailed figures. In this case, they say, the Bible implies that pi is 3, rather than 3.14159…. and this is wrong

However, the Hebrew text yields a remarkably exact figure for the period it was written.

Hebrew uses the letters of the alphabet as its numbers, so aleph is 1, beth is 2 and so on. It follows that every word has a numerical value given by its letters. This has led to some fascination with numbers in Scripture. Whatever the merits and problems with that, in the case of the measurement of Solomon’s metal sea, it is reasonable to look to the numerical value of letters to discover if they can help.

In Hebrew, the word used for the line around the metal sea which gives its circumference is qav made up of the letters kof-vav. In 1 Kings the word is spelled with an extra letter: kof-vav-hey. Such variances in spelling are not unusual in Biblical Hebrew, and the rabbis maintain that each one give us a hint to look deeper.

The numerical value of kof-vav is 106 and that of kof-vav-hey is 111. Following the hint to go deeper, if we adjust the stated circumference of 30 cubits by 111 / 106 we arrive at the figure 31.415094336962 cubits.* This is very close to the figure given by applying pi to the diameter of 10 cubits: 31.415926535897……

In fact this Bible figure is much closer to the true value of pi than the calculations used by the ancient Bablyonians or Egyptians or Aristotle. Only the Greek Ptolemy (2nd C CE) got closer in the ancient world.

OK – but couldn’t God have got it even closer? No, not by using a two letter Hebrew word with an added letter. The fraction 111 / 106 is the closest to pi possible by this approach.

This result shows that we do well to question what Scripture seems to say, but if we do, then we must be prepared to do our homework. As we test Scripture, it tests us.

*The Vilna Gaon (18thC) may have been the first to have applied this approach.

3 Responses to “Can God measure?”

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