The 72 Books of the Bible: A Mystical Interpretation

Famously, Protestants removed the seven so-called deuterocanonical books* from the Bible, as well as parts of Esther and Daniel. By the Protestants’ count, there are 66 books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. If you add the Deuterocanonical Books, you’d expect Catholics to have 73 books in the Bible. However, the number 72 has a tempting number of mystical resonances,* so there is a tradition among Catholic exegetes to treat Lamentations as an appendix to the Book of Jeremias (aka Jeremiah), thereby giving us 72 books as follows:

  • 45 books in the Old Testament
  • 27 books in the New Testament

Note the proportion of 45:27. Each number is divisible by nine, giving us the proportion 5:3. Is there any significance to the Old Testament claiming 5/8ths of the books in the Bible and the New Testament claiming 3/8ths?

The Five Ages of the World Before Christ

There is an ancient Christian tradition that likens the course of human history to a week of seven days, with an eighth day added on. Five ages of the world came before Christ:

  • Adam to Noe (Noah)
  • Noe to Abraham
  • Abraham to David
  • David to the Exile
  • The Exile to Christ

The current era, between the first and second comings of Christ, is the sixth age of the world. After that comes the eschatological Sabbath day, when the world at last rests, which stretches out into the eighth day of eternity.

The books of the Bible reflect the ages of the world. The 45 books of the Old Testament correspond to the five ages of the world before Christ (45/9=5). The 27 books of the New Testament correspond to the three eschatological ages initiated by Christ (27/9=3).

Creation Week and Holy Week

This schema recalls Creation Week and Holy Week as well:

  • In Creation Week, five days preceded the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall on the sixth day.
  • In Holy Week, five days (Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday) preceded Our Lord’s Passion on the sixth day (Good Friday). Our Lord lay in the Tomb on the Sabbath day (Holy Saturday), and He rose from the dead on the eighth day (Easter Sunday). This is the mystery of the eighth day as the Lord’s Day, the beginning of a new creation.

In both Creation Week and Holy Week, five days build up to the climactic sixth day. In Holy Week, this climax extends through a Triduum, yielding the proportion 5:3. This is the same proportion as in the Bible, where the 45 books of the Old Testament prepare us for the 27 books of the New Testament (45:27=5:3).

*Judith, Ecclesiasticus (aka Sirach), Baruch, I-II Maccabees, Tobias (aka Tobit), and Wisdom. Removing Wisdom from the Bible should have given the Protestants pause, but apparently they were as lacking in irony as they were in . . . wisdom.

**Seventy-two is divisible by the mystical number twelve. By some counts, Our Lord’s “70 Disciples” actually numbered 72. Similarly, some counts for the Table of Nations in the Book of Genesis yield 72 instead of 70 nations. Our Lord thus commissions the 70/72 disciples to convert the 70/72 nations of the world.

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