Many times in the Bible (the Word of God) you will come across numbers. (I am not talking here about chapter numbers or verse numbers, as these are not part of the inspired Word of God. I am talking about numbers in the text of the Word of God.) Oftentimes these numbers are rounded.

It should always be assumed in the Word of God that when you come across a number, that you are dealing with a rounded number, unless it is specifically clear from the text that it is an exact number.

(However, when the Bible speaks of the ages of people, the numbers are never rounded, but are exact.)

For example, in the first four chapters of the book of Numbers we see that the children of Israel were “numbered.” This means that they were “counted.”

But in every case, the number of people that were counted was a number that ended in one or more “0s” (zeros). What are the chances of that?! Clearly, these are rounded numbers.

If you remember your rounding principles from school, you will remember that there are three types of rounding: rounding up, rounding down, and rounding off.

Rounding “up” is when you make the last digit or digits in a number a zero or zeros by “raising” the number “up” to the “next” ten or hundred or thousand or to whatever digit you are rounding the number “up” to.

(We are only talking about whole numbers here. We are not talking about fractions or decimals.)

For example, 921 rounded “up” to the next ten would be 930. 1,676 rounded “up” to the next hundred would be 1,700. And 54,245 rounded “up” to the next thousand would be 55,000.

Rounding “down” is when you make the last digit or digits in a number a zero or zeros by “lowering” the number “down” to the “next” ten or hundred or thousand or to whatever digit you are rounding the number “down” to.

For example, 747 rounded “down” to the next ten would be 740. 2,981 rounded “down” to the next hundred would be 2,900. And 33,865 rounded “down” to the next thousand would be 33,000.

Rounding “off” is when you make the last digit or digits in a number a zero or zeros by “raising” or “lowering” the number “up” or “down” to the “nearest” ten or hundred or thousand or to whatever digit you are rounding the number “off” to.

For example, 422 rounded “off” to the nearest ten would be 420. 7,568 rounded “off” to the nearest hundred would be 7,600. And 29,445 rounded “off” to the nearest thousand would be 29,000.

However, when using rounding “off,” sometimes the number that you want to round “off” is halfway between the digit that you want to round “off” to.

For example, if you wanted to round 35 “off” to the nearest ten, 35 is halfway between 30 and 40. If you wanted to round 9,850 “off” to the nearest hundred, 9,850 is halfway between 9,800 and 9,900. Or if you wanted to round 12,500 “off” to the nearest thousand, 12,500 is halfway between 12,000 and 13,000.

So, if you are rounding “off,” do you round these numbers “up” or do you round these numbers “down”?

If you are rounding “off” a group of numbers that you want to add together, and you want to get the most accurate total rounded-off number, you would want to round about half of the numbers that are halfway between the digit that you want to round “off” to, “up,” and about half of the numbers that are halfway between the digit that you want to round “off” to, “down.”

One of the reasons why we use rounded numbers is because they are easier to work with than exact numbers.

It is also easier to work with even numbers than odd numbers.

So, when rounding “off,” if the number that you want to round “off” is halfway between the digit that you want to round “off” to, you want the digit that you want to round “off” to, to end up being “even.”

Therefore, 35 rounded “off” to the nearest ten would round “up” to 40 (because 4 is an even number). 9,850 rounded “off” to the nearest hundred would round “down” to 9,800 (because 8 is an even number). And 12,500 rounded “off” to the nearest thousand would round “down” to 12,000 (because 2 is an even number).

(But 9,851 rounded “off” to the nearest hundred would round “up” to 9,900 because 9,851 is not halfway between 9,800 and 9,900, but is nearer to 9,900 than 9,800.)

This way, approximately half of the numbers that are halfway between the digit that you are rounding “off” to will be rounded “up,” and approximately half of the numbers that are halfway between the digit that you are rounding “off” to will be rounded “down.”

You could also decide to round “off” to the nearest fifty. This would be less accurate than rounding to the nearest ten, but more accurate than rounding to the nearest hundred. So 135 would round “off” to 150 (because 135 is closer to 150 than 100). 274 would round “off” to 250 (because 274 is closer to 250 than 300). 2,969 would round “off” to 2,950 (because 2,969 is closer to 2,950 than 3,000). And 71,819 would round “off” to 71,800 (because 71,819 is closer to 71,800 than 71,850).

There are different reasons why you would want to use “rounding up” or “rounding down” or “rounding off.”

For instance, if you were planning on building a house or starting a business and you wanted to estimate what the cost would be, you would probably want to use “rounding up,” because you would want to make absolutely sure that you had enough money before you started.

But if you were estimating how much income your business was going to bring in, you may want to use “rounding down,” because you would not want to overestimate the amount of money that would be coming in.

You would want to use “rounding off” if you were trying to come up with an estimate for something that was as accurate as possible—but by still using “rounded” numbers.

The Bible, however, uses “rounding off.” So in the first chapter of the book of Numbers, we see that the Lord told Moses and Aaron to “number” (count) all the men in Israel that were “able to go forth to war” (Numbers 1:1–3). This included the men in eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel. (The men in the tribe of Levi were not “able to go forth to war” because they were exempt from being in the military because they had the charge of the tabernacle and all the things that pertained to it (Numbers 1:47–53).)

Notice here that the males had to be 20 years of age or older to be in the military. In other words, they had to be adults. (see When Does a Person Become an Adult?) According to the Word of God, NOBODY is supposed to be in the military unless they are an adult (at least 20 years old).

The numbers of men were:

Tribe | Number of Men | Reference |
---|---|---|

Reuben, Israel's firstborn son | 46,500 | Numbers 1:21 |

Simeon, Israel's secondborn son | 59,300 | Numbers 1:23 |

Levi, Israel's thirdborn son | EXEMPT | Numbers 1:47–53 |

Judah, Israel's fourthborn son | 74,600 | Numbers 1:27 |

Dan, Israel's fifthborn son | 62,700 | Numbers 1:39 |

Naphtali, Israel's sixthborn son | 53,400 | Numbers 1:43 |

Gad, Israel's seventhborn son | 45,650 | Numbers 1:24 |

Asher, Israel's eigthborn son | 41,500 | Numbers 1:41 |

Issachar, Israel's ninthborn son | 54,400 | Numbers 1:29 |

Zebulun, Israel's tenthborn son | 57,400 | Numbers 1:31 |

Joseph, Israel's eleventhborn son | ||

Manasseh, Joseph's firstborn son | 32,200 | Numbers 1:35 |

Ephraim, Joseph's secondborn son | 40,500 | Numbers 1:33 |

Benjamin, Israel's twelfthborn son | 35,400 | Numbers 1:37 |

Total | 603,550 | Numbers 1:46 |

We see here that all of these numbers—with the exception of the 45,650 for the tribe of Gad—are rounded off to the nearest hundred. (The tribe of Gad is most likely rounded off to the nearest ten, though it could be rounded off to the nearest fifty. Or it could be exact.)

Though it is possible that any of these numbers could be exact, we don't know that unless we have some proof in Scripture that says that one or more of these numbers are exact.

For example, the Scripture says that the children of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). Because this number ends in a zero, we would assume that 430 is a rounded off number, rounded to the nearest ten.

But since Exodus 12:41 says that the children of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years, *to the day*, we know that 430 is an exact number, and not a rounded number.

In the book of Matthew it talks about Jesus feeding the 5,000 men, besides women and children (Matthew 14:21). This story is also in Mark, chapter 6, Luke, chapter 9, and John, chapter 6.

The book of Matthew also talks about Jesus feeding the 4,000 men, besides women and children (Matthew 15:38). This story is also in Mark, chapter 8.

These numbers (5,000 and 4,000) are clearly rounded numbers, rounded off to the nearest thousand.

However, in these two cases (the feeding of the 5,000 men and the feeding of the 4,000 men), we have Scriptures that specifically tell us that these are rounded numbers. Matthew 14:21 says that there were “about 5,000” and Mark 8:9 says that there were “about 4,000.”

This page last updated September 25, 2023.