Seventeens in Scripture (4)

This is the set of seventeens that started my investigations into its meaning as a metaphor in Scripture. I was reading Joost Smit Sibinga who happened to mention there are 17 instances of the use of ‘Father’ in Matthew’s narration of The Sermon on the Mount. He pointed out they are distributed so that the Lord’s Prayer divides them in the golden ratio. Sibinga was puzzled by the use of 17: was it, he wondered, something to do with the fact the Pythagoreans didn’t use it?

  1. Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
  2. Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
  3. Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  4. Matthew 6:1 ‘Be careful not to do your “acts of righteousness” before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.’
  5. Matthew 6:4 Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  6. Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
  7. Matthew 6:6 Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  8. Matthew 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
  9. Matthew 6:9 ‘This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
  10. Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
  11. Matthew 6:15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
  12. Matthew 6:18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen…
  13. Matthew 6:18  …and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  14. Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
  15. Matthew 6:32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
  16. Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
  17. Matthew 7: 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Smit Sibinga overlooked one question. How many references to God as Father are there in Matthew’s gospel? There are 44.

17 is one of the golden ratios of 44. Thus the Lord’s Prayer is positioned within the Gospel so that its references to God as Abba fall at the golden ratio of a block already encoding a golden ratio. (This reflects the arithmetic structure of Genesis 1:1) This is what is meant by numerical literary design: embedded structure that points back to the nature of God.

For more on the poetry of fatherhood, I can recommend no better start than Andrew Lansdown’s Gestures of Love.



  1. My mind is boggling at this!

    • It’s so cool, isn’t it?

      It wasn’t until Smit Sibinga pointed this out that I actually started to look at the long lists in Scripture and count them. I was amazed too!

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