The Number 1000 in Scripture

The Number 1000 in Scripture

Source: Aaron Lee on Unsplash

There’s something to know about the interesting number, one thousand in the Bible.

In the Koine Greek language the word used is χιλιάς (kilias) which is where we get the word ‘kilo’ in English, as used in kilometre (a thousand metres) or kilogram. (a thousand grams)  And, in the Hebrew language, which is written mostly using the Aramaic square script, the word for thousand is אֶלֶף (elep).

The word for thousand can be used either literally or figuratively, and is used both ways in both languages in both the Old and the New Testament.  

For example, here is the word a thousand used specifically in the Old Testament, and specifically (that is literally) in the New Testament:

“To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver.” (Gen 20:16)  Literal – Old Testament Hebrew.

“Those who ate were about five thousand men, in addition to women and children.” (Matt 14:21)  Literal – New Testament Greek.

When we read passages like these, the number a ‘thousand’ reads normally.  However at other times the word is non-literal and comes to represent something else, such as in these examples from both the Old and New Testaments.

“For every animal of the forest is mine, and the livestock on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10)  Non-Literal – Old Testament Hebrew.  


“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10)  Non-Literal – Old Testament Hebrew.

To read the above two Psalms literally would mean that God only owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but the parallelism of the verse shows us that God is using the word “thousand’ to refer to “everything.”  So he owns the cattle not just on a thousand hills, but on all of the hills.  And in the second psalm, a day in the Lord’s courts is better than all of the days of time anywhere else.  

So when we encounter the word ‘thousand’ in scripture, how do we know if it is literal or non-literal in its usage.  The passage is often the clue.  For example the psalms are poetry, and thus we have poetic language, including the use of many non-literal terms.  Other passages in the Bible like the story of Isaac obtaining a wife in Genesis 20 are narrative, so we have a story with the actual price paid for his wife’s dowry, being a thousand pieces of silver.  

How about the millennium passages from Revelation twenty?

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (Rev 20:1-2) 

Many people have interpreted the word thousand here literally, but there is a clue that it is in fact non-literal.  Consider the other things in this verse:

  • The Abyss is not a literal abyss.
  • The chain is not a literal chain… 
  • The dragon is not a literal dragon.

If the other elements in these two verses are non-literal, what about the word thousand?  I suggest the word thousand is also non-literal.  

When the book of Revelation says that Christ is going to reign for a thousand years, and the devil is going to be bound for a thousand years, perhaps that is a non-literal expression for a very very long time.  In other words, the Lord will be King of the Earth, not just for a thousand years, but…