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What Is the Number 72 Meaning in the Bible?

What Is the Number 72 Meaning in the Bible?

The number 72 appears several times in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. But what is the deeper spiritual meaning and significance behind this number?

In the Bible, numbers often have symbolic meanings that enrich our understanding of God’s word. The number 72 is no exception, as it connects to themes of unity, redemption, gospel spreading, and spiritual leadership.

Mentions of 72 in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses appoints 72 elders to help him lead the Israelites (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25). This group of 72 forms a ruling council that shares the burden of judging and leading God’s people.

Later in Numbers, the number 72 surfaces again. As the Israelites prepare to enter the promised land, Moses sends 12 men – one from each tribe – to spy out the land of Canaan. They return with a cluster of grapes so large it takes two men to carry it on a pole between them (Numbers 13:23).

Symbolism of 12 and 72

The number 12 often symbolizes governmental perfection or rule in the Bible. This connects to the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles appointed by Jesus. The number 72 derives from 6 x 12, so it carries a related meaning of expanded or enhanced governance, rule, or administration.

So when Moses appoints 72 elders and then 12 spies, the text seems to communicate God supplementing the 12 tribes and their rulers with 72 assistants. This allows greater coverage in judging disputes and assessment of the promised land.

In a sense, God provides enough governance and administration for the demanding task at hand. Just as the 12 need help ruling and leading, the 12 spies need multiple men to lug the huge grape cluster.

72 in the New Testament

The number 72 surfaces in the New Testament when Jesus sends out disciples to preach, teach, and heal. After appointed 12 primary apostles, Jesus expands this group:

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1)

This passage directly parallels Moses commissioning 72 elders to help lead in Numbers 11. Just as the 12 tribes and Moses needed governing assistance, Jesus’ 12 apostles require preaching help before his arrival.

The 12 apostles symbolize the 12 tribes and the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12). But the 72 others resemble the 72 elders – they spread the gospel and make way for Jesus in the towns and villages.

Why 72 Specifically?

Why does Jesus send out 72 specifically? While we can’t know for certain his reasoning, a few theories carry biblical connections:

First, in Genesis 10, the Table of Nations lists 72 “sons” or family groups descended from Noah’s three sons. So the 72 disciples evangelize and represent the 72 nations scattered after the flood. Just as Peter later ministers to the Roman centurion Cornelius, a God-fearer (Acts 10), Jesus sends the 72 to minister to Gentiles.

Second, certain early texts record 70 or 72 languages originating from the “confusion of tongues” event in Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). So it fits symbolically for Jesus to send out 72 followers to preach in every existing language, reversing the divisions from Babel.

Finally, Jewish tradition held that Moses’ council of 70 elders received and spoke God’s word by his Spirit. Jesus sending out 72 speaks to a related but expanded commissioning, from law and judgment towards grace and gospel.

5 Key Takeaways on 72 in Scripture

In reviewing the Bible’s use of 72, several key themes emerge:

1. Leadership and Governance

Starting in Numbers 11, the 72 form a governing council to help judge disputes and guide the community. The number supplements and expands the tribes’ 12-man rule. This theme continues in Luke 10, as the 72 extend leadership before Jesus arrives.

2. Preparing the Way

In Numbers 13, the 12 spies prepare the way ahead of the Israelite’s conquest and occupation of Canaan. Similarly, Jesus sends out 72 disciples to every town he plans to visit, readying people to receive his teaching.

3. Representation and Diversity

The 72 elders represent more voices and diversity among the 12 tribes. This foreshadows the 72 disciples ministering across nations, tribes, and tongues based on possible connections to Genesis 10 and Babel.

4. Biblical Consistency and Continuity

The fact Jesus’ commission of the 72 directly parallels Moses’ council of 72 elders shows meaningful consistency across Scripture. God continues using this special number across biblical history.

5. Outreach and Engagement

Both groups of 72 play outgoing, engaging roles in God’s plan. Rather than cloistered rule, they judge, preach, teach, and represent God’s people spread across many lands. This reach-out purpose fits the gospel.

Why is 72 Relevant Today?

For modern believers, the symbolic number 72 continues to bear relevance in the Church’s global mission. Jesus commands his disciples then and now to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Just as the 12 apostles and 72 disciples mirrored the 12 tribes and 72 elders, the structure holds for Christian outreach today. Local church leadership guides global evangelism efforts, while missionaries and evangelists take the gospel abroad much like the 72 did.

These messengers prepare those who have never heard just as the 72 made ready the towns for Jesus’ coming. The numerical connection reminds us effective kingdom work requires diversity, representation from all tribes and tongues.

So while the figure has symbolic meaning, the 72 also model hands-on evangelism for present ministry. By continuing their Spirit-led gospel legwork across all peoples, we participate in this biblical legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the number of elders/disciples differ between 70 and 72?

In a few ancient translations of Luke 10:1 and Numbers 11:16, the number is written as 70 rather than 72. Textual analysis reveals 72 has greater manuscript support. But the close figures connect symbolically, likening Jesus’ ministry to Israel’s wilderness journeys.

Are there other key numbers with significance in the Bible?

Yes, numbers like 3, 7, 10, 12, 40 and others carry special meaning in Scripture far surpassing the base mathematical value. Much has been written explaining number patterns and symbolism throughout the biblical text.

Does 72 relate to time durations as well as leaders and groups?

Potentially – Jesus’ urgency around the 72 disciples’ quick return hints time limitations (Luke 10:4). And in some translations, 72 years passes between temple destructions (Jeremiah 52:30). But the leadership theme seems strongest.


While a seemingly obscure figure, the number 72 arises from both Old and New Testaments as more than coincidence. In the text it connects with leadership expansion, gospel proclamation, and bridging diversity across tribes and nations.

Both practically and symbolically, the 72 elders and 72 disciples play crucial roles in God’s redemptive plan. They assist, lead, and represent in seasons of change and growth.

For today’s Church the legacy continues, as local bodies and global agencies take up the mantle of preparatory work and borderless evangelism modeled by the early 72. In this small number we find great biblical significance along with modern relevance.

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