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Seven in the Church

It's interesting that Christians revere the Cross and consider Fingers Crossed to be superstitious nonsense (even though it has Christian origins), yet the number seven plays an important part of their religion (even though the number is deeply associated with ancient Paganism).

So why do Christians use the number seven so much?

Sevens in the Church

The earliest recorded ordination in the Church of Antioch was of seven deacons, each of whom had seven subdeacons. (Acts 6:1–7).

Seven has been a significant part of the Church since its inception, and continues today, especially in Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Churches.

Seven Deadly Sins
(also known as the Seven Cardinal Sins)

In the 6th century Pope Gregory the Great defined a set of seven negative attributes that must be avoided:

  • Pride- leading to a conceited opinion of oneself
    (related Proverbs)
  • Envy- a desire for the status, abilities or possessions of others, leading to resentment of others
    (related Proverbs)
  • Gluttony- a desire to eat or consume more than is needed, thereby wasting food or drink, ergo denying sustenance to others
    (related Proverbs)
  • Lust- a craving for sex, power or riches
    (related Proverbs)
  • Anger- a loss of rational self-control, leading to hatred and a desire to harm others
    (related Proverbs)
  • Greed- a desire for material wealth or gain
    (related Proverbs)
  • Sloth- a laziness and the avoidance of work
    (related Proverbs)

Seven Heavenly Virtues

The pope instructed the best way to avoid these sins was to adopt seven positive attributes to counter the seven negative attributes. The three Theological Virtues defined by St. Paul (faith, hope and love) added to the four Cardinal Virtues (prudence, temperance, courage and justice) give us the Seven Heavenly Virtues:

  • Faith- a belief in the right things
    (related Proverbs)
  • Hope- taking a positive view that good will prevail
    (related Proverbs)
  • Charity- love and concern for others and actively helping others
    (related Proverbs)
  • Fortitude- never giving up
    (related Proverbs)
  • Justice- being fair and equitable with others
    (related Proverbs)
  • Prudence- care of and moderation with money
    (related Proverbs)
  • Temperance- moderation of things needed and abstinence from things not needed (smoking, for example)
    (related Proverbs)

Seven Contrary Virtues

For the Seven Deadly Sins (see list above), there are Seven Contrary Virtues:

Seven Corporal Works of Mercy

The medieval instructions for helping others, give us the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy:

Seven Sacraments

Originally there were seven Stations of the Cross and there are Seven Sacraments:

Seven signs attesting the Divinity of Jesus

Seven I Am's

Many times people asked Jesus who He was, and in reply, Jesus compared Himself to different things to help us understand. The Gospel of John records seven of these:

  • I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry (John 6:35)
  • I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness (John 8:12)
  • I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9)
  • I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:10)
  • I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies (John 11:25)
  • I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)
  • I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener (John 15:1)

Other Sevens in the Bible

Seven appears in the Bible significantly more frequently than adjacent numbers.

six/sixth/sixty 199 times
seven/seventh/seventy 320 times
eight/eighth/eighty 117 times

Let's look at a few examples:

Prov. 6:17-19 lists seven things that are an abomination to God, the first being 'Pride'. Pride might be acceptable in today's society, but God never changes; He still hates it. Pride was, as Isa. 14:12-15 tells us, the reason Lucifer fell from grace.

God hates not only these seven sins; God hates all sin.

Menorah
Menorah

The Menorah was used with the tabernacle and its seven-branch design was dictated by God to Moses (Exod. 25:31-40). There are lots of sevens in the story of the Fall of Jericho (Josh. 6) and seven is particularly popular in these chapters of the final book of the Bible.

In Revelation we read of seven:

angels 8 10 11 15 16 17 21 mountains 17
beasts 17 plagues 15 21
candlesticks1 2 sardius 21 (a precious stone)
churches 1 seals 5 8
crowns 12 spirits 1 3 4 5
eyes 5 stars 1 2 3
horns 5 thousands 11
heads 12 13 17 thunders 10
kings 17 trumpets 8
lamps 4 vials 15 15 21

In Lev. 25:3-4 we read that fields should lie fallow on the seventh year. And of course, the seventh day is an important day in the Bible. Exod. 20:8-11 says:

Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath-day, and hallowed it.

The seventh day is the Sabbath and the premise is given in Gen. 2:1-3. In total the seventh day is mentioned 50 times, including: Exod. 16, 31, 35, Isa. 58, Mark 2, Luke 4, Acts 13, 17, 18, & Num. 15.

But why seven? Why not six? Or eight?

See our main seven page for the simple answer.

These included gluttony and greed; two quite similar vices which could easily be lumped together.
But then there would only be six deadly sins.

Dilbert, on patience

Dilbert, on 'patience' (click image to enlarge) © www.dilbert.com.
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See further references to Sabbath and Sunday

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