Sacred Scripture uses ordinary objects and events to represent characteristics of God. Among the more obvious objects used are numbers. We note how the number seven keeps popping up and we've previously noted how it symbolizes the covenant nature of our relationship with God. We noted how the number six means not-the-covenant. We can also note how the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, how it rained for forty days in Noah’s day and how Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days. We read that there were twelve tribes of Israel and twelve Apostles. We read that Jonah was in the whale for three days, as Jesus rose on the third day; and perhaps this has to do with God being a Trinity of Persons.
One number that goes a bit unnoticed is the number eight. It's a very important number for Christians: as the number seven represents the covenant, the number eight represents the New Covenant in particular. We understand this from Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week: He not only established a new covenant, but a new order of creation as well. As the first day of the week represents the first day of creation, this new first day of the week – consecrated by the Resurrection – represents the new creation. So, we distinguish it by giving it a new name: the eight day.
Before I give examples of the number eight, I’d like to point out an important text related to this new creation. In the OT, we see the familiar text:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gn 1:1-5)
Now let’s compare with the prologue of John’s Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (Jn 1:1-14)
For millennia, Christians have recognized the parallels between John’s prologue and the first day of creation (light/darkness). We believe St. John did this on purpose, to remind us that the Gospel tells the story of a new creation, a new world. Interestingly, as St. John begins his Gospel with these images of creation, he will also end it, in chapter 20, with similar images of evening/darkness dispelled by the light of the Risen Lord, of the Spirit of God moving upon the Apostles, and of a doubting Apostle recreated into a child of God who believed in his name.
Let’s return to the number eight. The first example is from the story of Noah.
On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind, and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. (Gn 7:13-14)
St. Peter noted that eight people entered the ark.
…when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (1 Pet 3:20)
…if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly. (2 Pt 2:5)
(The above translation of 2 Pt 2:5 is not precise; the original Hebrew literally said “…but preserved Noah, the eighth person, a herald of righteousness, when he…”) Eight people came out of the ark and entered a new world, a new creation – the old creation having been destroyed by the Flood. Even the language of this new world is similar to the old. Compare this text with Gn 1:28.
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. (Gen 9:1)
Alone among the OT covenants, the story of Noah involves a new creation; the number eight is part of that story.
The next example involves the covenant with Abraham, where circumcision on the eighth day becomes the sign of the covenant.
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. (Gn 17:10-12)
As explained elsewhere, this particular narrative in the Abraham cycle prophecies the future lineage and dynasty of King David, culminating in the son of David, Jesus Christ. Alone among the OT covenants, this narrative points directly to the future New Covenant; it is not surprising that the number eight is central.
Next we turn to Leviticus. On Mt. Sinai, when Yahweh gave the Law to Moses, He declared that Aaron and his sons would be the priests for Israel. Lv 8 & 9 describe the rather elaborate ordination ceremony. The ceremony is eight days long and great things happen on the eighth day.
And you shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for it will take seven days to ordain you. As has been done today, the LORD has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. At the door of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the LORD has charged, lest you die; for so I am commanded." And Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD commanded by Moses. On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; and he said to Aaron, "Take a bull calf for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD. And say to the people of Israel, 'Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a cereal offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD will appear to you.'" (Lv 8:33-9:4)
Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting; and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces. (Lv 9:22-24)
The ordination to the priesthood occurred “on the eighth day.” The previous seven day ritual was but a preparation for this great day; in similar manner, the OT covenants were but a preparation for the final covenant of Christ. And what was special about this ordination of the priests of Israel? God Himself appeared to the Israelites. The “glory of the Lord” was the visible manifestation of Yahweh, the Glory Cloud that remained hidden within the Tabernacle, seated upon the Ark of the Covenant. For this special occasion, the Lord was visible to all. Likewise, in the new covenant, the Lord made Himself visible in His manifestation as the man, Jesus.
Our next example has similarities the previous one from Leviticus. Turning to the NT, we read of Jesus’ transfiguration.
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (Lk 9:28-35)
There’s a lot going on in this story and it deserves its own essay. However note that it is prefaced by a time stamp: “about eight days after…” Here the three privileged Apostles see Jesus in His glory as God. Compare this event with that from Leviticus, where the Israelites saw God in His glory; even the Glory Cloud is mentioned. This eighth day event ties the NT Church, represented by these Apostles, through the divinity of Jesus, to the OT Law and Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah. The new covenant is here seen as the true fulfillment of the old.
Another NT example is from John’s Gospel. After Jesus appeared to the Apostles on Easter evening, breathing on them and granting them the power to forgive sins, John notes that Thomas was not among them.
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." (Jn 20:24-29)
On this eighth day after the cosmic Eighth Day of the Resurrection, doubting Thomas becomes a believer; he was recreated. And then Jesus spoke those words so soothing to our ears: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” He speaks of you and me! We enter into the mystical power of the Eighth Day, the new creation.
This unnoticed number in Scripture reminds us of the unnoticed doctrine, that Jesus’ redemption goes beyond righting what was wrong; rather, He established a new order of creation and one greater than the old. Instead of our “head” being the first man, Adam, our Head is the Lord Himself. With Him we are united, through Him we receive our Life. This is the Christian doctrine signified by the number eight.