Did the Temple of Solomon Define Pi in the Bible?

Circumference, diameter, and radius of a circle. Image by VLN

In mathematics, the number pi, or π, is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The value is approximately 3.14159265…, with infinitely more digits to follow.

Does the Bible define π as exactly 3 when it describes one feature of King Solomon’s temple?

Mathematics and Geometry Introduce Pi

One equation from geometry states that c = 2 * π * r = π * d, where:

• ‘c’ is the circumference of a circle, or the distance around the circle.
• ‘r’ is the radius from the center of a circle to any point on the circle.
• ‘d’ is the diameter across the center of a circle, or exactly twice the radius.

A circle’s circumference is c = π * d. We can solve for π = c / d if we have accurate measurements of ‘c’ and ‘d’.

The Biblical Measure of Solomon’s Bronze Sea

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the book of First Kings includes a description of the temple that Solomon built. In I Kings 7: 23, “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about” (KJV).

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The King James Version (KJV) has been considered to be authoritative by many, but some modern translations are simpler. The New International Version (NIV) reads, “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it“. Footnotes for this verse indicate the length of a “cubit” to be about 1.5 feet.

A cubit is the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, although that definition begs the question of “whose forearm will we use?”

So the Bible states that this circular cast-metal (or “molten”) basin (or “sea”) had a diameter of 10 cubits and circumference of 30 cubits.

Click to Read Page Two: Calculating Pi from Solomon’s Temple

1. Dan Brooks says

The Bible does not say or imply that pi is three.

2 Chronicles 4

2. Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

5. And the thickness of it was an handbreadth, and the brim of it like the work of the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies; and it received and held three thousand baths.

The diameter was measured from brim to brim, not from edge to edge, so the circumference would be slightly longer at the brim than the circumference of the actual sea. All you would need is to have each brim being about 4 inches wide (which is quite reasonable for a sea of 10 cubits in diameter) and the math would work out perfectly. 30 cubits divided by pi is approximately 9.55 cubits, so the total width of the two brims added together would be about .45 cubits. .45 cubits would be approximately 8 inches (with a cubit being 18 inches). So that would make the width of each brim about 4 inches. So if you subtract the widths of the two brims, you have the sea itself being about 9.55 cubits in diameter, which, multiplied by pi would give you 30 cubits.

The fact that the sea was measured from brim to brim is quite often overlooked, which is what makes the math look wrong. But when they are added to the equation (or rather, subtracted from it), it makes the math exactly right.

2. Moishe says

The Vilna Gaon enlightens us to the fact that the value of “pi,” 3.1415, is hinted in this verse. In Hebrew, each letter has a number associated with it. In the above verse, the word “circumference”(kav) is written one way “kuf vav heh” which equals 111 but it is pronounced a slightly different way “kuf vav” which equals 106. (That is, there is a stated value and an actual value.) The ratio of these two numbers equals the ratio of 3 (“pi” as stated by the verse) 3.1415 (the actual value of “pi” to the 10,000th). [ie. (111 / 106) x 3 = 3.1415]