Lessons from Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers

“So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom, ” prays Moses as recorded in Psalm 90:12. Numbers are teachers. ‘Tis the season of counting, so 2017 seems to be. (By the way, we are home now after a 10 1/2 week trip to the midwest. Note postscript below.)

I’d like to consider the number one, after considering a few other numbers. Five hundred years have passed, as of this October 31, since Martin Luther (1483-1546) posted his 95 Theses (statements or declarations) on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This date is usually used as the historical marker for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, although history reveals birth pangs centuries earlier. For instance, note Peter Waldo and the Waldensians (twelfth century),  John Wycliffe called “the Morning Star of the Reformation” (1329-1384), and John Huss who was burned at the stake (1374-1415).

Via his 95 Theses, Luther intended to announce a public debate, hoping to clarify the University of Wittenberg’s position toward the sale of indulgences.

Have you read through the 95 Theses? Quite interesting. I have my father’s copy, and in this post you’ll find three photos I took of it. Ninety-five is an intimidating number. I’d prefer to examine the number one. You know, the number one can be overwhelming all by itself. One. Alone. Sola. Solo. Solus. Whole number. Not a fraction. Not plural. One. The integer.

What is an integer? You see, counting,  numbers, and specifically, the number one have much to teach us. 

The number one is an integer. An integer is a whole number, undivided. This mathematical concept provides the etymological and metaphorical base for many non-mathematical usages. From integer we derive the adjective, integral — “pertaining to a whole” (Oxford English Dictionary). We could say, “Grace is integral to salvation.” Integral: “necessary to the completeness of the whole,” as the OED explains.
Integrity is also from integer. The connection? Integrity, the OED says,  is the “condition of having no part or element wanting” (nothing lacking or missing). It is wholeness. Nothing broken. It is the unity of wholeness.
Regarding the character of a person, integrity is moral soundness and trueness. Moral integrity is a wholeness of character, the antithesis of duplicity or double-mindedness or hypocrisy. Integrity is a whole number. (A spiritual lesson? Our integrity is in Christ, not in ourselves.)

The first page of my dad’s copy of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses which begins with this introduction by E.G. Schwiebert.

From grade school math, do you remember cardinal and ordinal numbers? The easiest way to remember is that cardinal numbers count (one, two, three) and ordinal numbers order (first, second, third). One as a cardinal number is a whole number, not a fraction or a part. It is the whole thing. One is a cardinal number while first is an ordinal number. (Spiritual lesson? The ordinals, positioning our priorities, stem from our cardinals. If this seems fuzzy, it’s probably because the obvious is the most easy to overlook. Keep reading.)
Psalm 90:12 instructs us to count, to number. One, two, three. To account for our days in order to gain perspective, that is, wisdom. James 1:2 teaches us to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials. . . .” Counting is how life adds up, how things work together in the whole (Romans 8:28). Many passages speak of counting, numbering, or accounting, such as Genesis 15:6; Psalm 87:6; 139:18; Acts 20:24; Phil. 3:7-8,13; Rom. 4:3-5. (Here’s a good word/concept study for you to explore!)
This last reference, Romans 4:3-5 is core to the Reformation’s message.  “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
You will find the word translated as was/is counted to be quite interesting. It is a calculation, a putting something into someone’s account. You see, the accounting of Christ’s righteousness to us is a gift accounted to us through faith, not through our work, and this understanding is at the heart of the Reformation which began at least 500 years ago.

Integer by integer: 500 years, 95 Theses, 5 Solas, 1 Divine Authority.

We’ve counted 500 years since the 95 Theses. So what’s the connection with the number one?
One is a whole and a solo number. It is singular. The cry of the Reformation has been summarized by the Latin phrase, Sola Scriptura, meaning Scripture Alone.  One divine authority. Have you been hearing sermons about this theme? John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingly, John Calvin and many others  emphasized that the sole (lone, singular, one) authority for the Christian church is Scripture, not Scripture plus human tradition or church teachings.
From this Sola, this one, flows at least four other ones, four other singular and unique teachings of Scripture. Thus, we can examine Five Solas:

Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone

Sola Gratis – Grace Alone

Sola Fide – Faith Alone

Solus Christus – Christ Alone

Soli Deo Gloria – God’s Glory Alone


These phrases provide succinct handles for exploring the teachings born of the Protestant Reformation.

What do these mean? I hope you are or will explore these concepts and consider their impact upon your own faith. My purpose today is just to nudge you in that direction.


To check out these topics online, Gotquestions.org offers a place to start:






One. One foundation, the Word of God. One Savior and one grace driven faith for one glory. One is cardinal, and first is ordinal. The cardinal births my ordinals. May my one Lord have first place in my heart and life (Colossians 1:17-18).


Five hundred integers. Five hundred whole numbers of years since Martin Luther made public what his studies of the Scriptures in private taught him. His 95 statements. Integrity. Wholeness in which what is seen on the outside is congruent with that which is real on the inside. No duplicity or hypocrisy. Such integrity of heart motivated Luther to count the cost and to take his stand.


One is an integer. Integrity.

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. 

. . . to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.

God help me. Amen. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”

Martin Luther.


P.S. for those interested:

Our 10 1/2 week trip from Prescott Valley, Arizona to Indiana and Ohio to participate in a few activities, to see family and friends, to spend time with our grandsons . . . was rich! While it was exhausting and sometimes overwhelming, it was worth it, for many relationships were strengthened!  As our first big trip with our truck and travel trailer, it was also an education. The last two posts were written while traveling and address our experiences a bit. We took ten days to travel home (Sept. 27 – October 7); the first half was outstanding, but we became pretty sick on the latter end. We were so relieved and thankful to be home!

Home in sunny Arizona! Home on our own, stationary property! We have winterized our “home on wheels” and are now catching up on lots of yard work! Already, Paul has cut down another tree. This is the year of Paul cutting down trees! (He cut down several in Ohio and did lots of trimming.) I’m exciting about the autumn. Talk about numbers! On October 17, we’ll celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary! I mean that cardinally – 37 years have passed — 1, 2, 3. . .  — not ordinally, my 37th priority! Ordinally, we are near the top of each other’s lists. Praises to God for 37 years with such a good, good man!

Categories: Christian Reader, Travels | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Post navigation

4 thoughts on “Lessons from Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers

  1. Rick Shepherd..... Dayhikr

    Very interesting post, Karen!…..Thank You!…..Happy wonderful 37th Anniversary to you and Paul!…..Mary and I will be celebrating our 22nd Anniversary on October 28th!…..Glory To God

    • kltolsen

      Thanks, Rick! And a very Happy, wonderful 22nd anniversary to you and Mary!! GTG!

  2. Anonymous

    Hello my dear doctor friend! This was great encouragement today…. and so is the testimony of your 37 years with your good man! Love ya, Judi L.

    • kltolsen

      Thank you! It encourages me to know I’ve encouraged you! Gratitude to the God of all encouragement!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: