It is difficult to imagine a world without consistent
metrological systems. Society’s basic structures, from economy
to law, require a uniform and accurate method for measuring time,
distances, weights, volumes, and so on. In today’s world,
technological advancements allow people to measure various aspects of
the universe with incredible accuracy—from nanometers to
light-years, milligrams to kilograms.
metrological systems employed in biblical times span the same
concepts as our own modern-day systems: weight, linear distance, and
volume or capacity. However, the systems of weights and measurements
employed during the span of biblical times were not nearly as
accurate or uniform as the modern units employed today. Preexisting
weight and measurement systems existed in the contextual surroundings
of both the OT and the NT authors and thus heavily influenced the
systems employed by the Israelite nation as well as the NT writers.
There was great variance between the different standards used
merchant to merchant (Gen. 23:16), city to city, region to region,
time period to time period, even despite the commands to use honest
scales and honest weights (Lev. 19:35–36; Deut. 25:13–15;
Prov. 11:1; 16:11; 20:23; Ezek. 45:10).
inconsistencies and contradictions exist within the written records
as well as between archaeological specimens. In addition, significant
differences are found between preexilic and postexilic measurements
in the biblical texts, and an attempt at merging dry capacity and
liquid volume measurements further complicated the issue. This is to
be expected, especially when we consider modern-day
inconsistencies—for example, 1 US liquid pint = 0.473
liters, while 1 US dry pint = 0.550 liters. Thus, all modern
equivalents given below are approximations, and even the best
estimates have a margin of error of + 5 percent or more.
in biblical times were carried in a bag or a satchel (Deut. 25:13;
Prov. 16:11; Mic. 6:11) and were stones, usually carved into various
animal shapes for easy identification. Their side or flat bottom was
inscribed with the associated weight and unit of measurement.
Thousands of historical artifacts, which differ by significant
amounts, have been discovered by archaeologists and thus have greatly
complicated the work of determining accurate modern-day equivalents.
Approximately 1⁄5 ounce, or 5.6 grams. Equivalent to 10 gerahs
or ½ the sanctuary shekel (Exod. 38:26). Used to measure
metals and goods such as gold (Gen. 24:22).
1⁄50 ounce, or 0.56 grams. Equivalent to 1⁄10 beka, 1⁄20
shekel (Exod. 30:13; Lev. 27:25).
Approximately 12 ounces, or 340 grams. A Roman measure of weight.
Used only twice in the NT (John 12:3; 19:39). The precursor to the
modern British pound.
Approximately 1¼ pounds, or 0.56 kilograms. Equivalent to 50
shekels. Used to weigh gold (1 Kings 10:17; Ezra 2:69), silver
(Neh. 7:71–72), and other goods. The prophet Ezekiel redefined
the proper weight: “The shekel is to consist of twenty
gerahs. Twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels
equal one mina” (Ezek. 45:12). Before this redefinition, there
were arguably 50 shekels per mina. In Jesus’ parable of the
servants, he describes the master entrusting to his three servants
varying amounts—10 minas, 5 minas, 1 mina—implying a
monetary value (Luke 19:11–24), probably of either silver or
gold. One mina was equivalent to approximately three months’
wages for a laborer.
Approximately 1⁄3 ounce, or 9.3 grams. Equivalent to 2⁄3
shekel. Referenced only once in the Scriptures (1 Sam. 13:21).
Approximately 2⁄5 ounce, or 11 grams. Equivalent to
approximately 2 bekas. The shekel is the basic unit of weight
measurement in Israelite history, though its actual weight varied
significantly at different historical points. Examples include the
“royal shekel” (2 Sam. 14:26), the “common
shekel” (2 Kings 7:1), and the “sanctuary shekel,”
which was equivalent to 20 gerahs (e.g., Exod. 30:13; Lev. 27:25;
Num. 3:47). Because it was used to weigh out silver or gold, the
shekel also functioned as a common monetary unit in the NT world.
Approximately 75 pounds, or 34 kilograms. Equivalent to approximately
60 minas. Various metals were weighed using talents: gold (Exod.
25:39; 37:24; 1 Chron. 20:2), silver (Exod. 38:27; 1 Kings
20:39; 2 Kings 5:22), and bronze (Exod. 38:29). This probably is
derived from the weight of a load that a man could carry.
12. Biblical Weights and Measures and Their Modern Equivalents:
– 10 geraahs; ½ shekel = 1/5 ounce = 5.6 grams
– 1/10 beka; 1/20 shekel = 1/50 ounce = 0.56 grams
– 12 ounces = 340 grams
– 50 shekels = 1 ¼ pounds = 0.56 kilograms
– 2/3 shekel = 1/3 ounce = 9.3 grams
– 2 bekas; 20 gerahs = 2/5 ounce = 11 grams
– 60 minas = 75 pounds = 34 kilograms
– 6 handbreadths = 18 inches = 45.7 centimeters
journey = 20-25 miles = 32-40 kilometerse
– ¼ handbreadth = ¾ inch = 1.9 centimeterse
– 1/6 cubit = 3 inches = 7.6 centimeters
– 1 mile = 1.6 kilometers
– 1/100 stadion = 5 feet 11 inches = 1.8 meters
– 108 inches = 274 centimeters
day’s journey – 2,000 cubits = ¾ mile = 1.2
– 3 handbreadths = 9 inches = 22.8 centimeters
– 100 orguiai = 607 feet = 185 meters
– 1 omer = ½ gallon = 1.9 liters
– ¼ gallon = 0.9 liters
– 1 homer; 10 ephahs = 6 bushels; 48.4 gallons = 183 liters
– 10 omers; 1/10 homer = 3/5 bushel; 6 gallons = 22.7 liters
– 10 ephahs; 1 cor = 6 bushels; 48.4 gallons = 183 liters
– 10 bushels; 95 gallons – 360 liters
– 1/10 ephah; 1/100 homer = 2 quarts = 1.9 liters
– 1 seah = 7 quarts = 6.6 liters
– 1/3 ephah; 1 saton = 7 quarts = 6.6 liters
– 1 ephah = 6 gallons = 22.7 liters
– 8 gallons = 30.3 liters
– 1/6 bath; 12 logs = 1 gallon; 4 quarts = 3.8 liters
– 1/72 bath; 1/12 hin = 1/3 quart = 0.3 liters
– 10 gallons = 37.8 literes
measurements were based upon readily available natural measurements
such as the distance between the elbow and the hand or between the
thumb and the little finger. While convenient, this method of
measurement gave rise to significant inconsistencies.
Approximately 18 inches, or 45.7 centimeters. Equivalent to 6
handbreadths. The standard biblical measure of linear distance, as
the shekel is the standard measurement of weight. The distance from
the elbow to the outstretched fingertip. Used to describe height,
width, length (Exod. 25:10), distance (John 21:8), and depth (Gen.
7:20). Use of the cubit is ancient. For simple and approximate
conversion into modern units, divide the number of cubits in half for
meters, then multiply the number of meters by 3 to arrive at feet.
cubit = 2 spans = 6 handbreadths = 24 fingerbreadths
An approximate measure of distance equivalent to about 20–25
miles, or 32–40 kilometers. Several passages reference a single
or multiple days’ journey as a description of the distance
traveled or the distance between two points: “a day’s
journey” (Num. 11:31; 1 Kings 19:4), “a three-day
journey” (Gen. 30:36; Exod. 3:18; 8:27; Jon. 3:3), “seven
days” (Gen. 31:23), and “eleven days” (Deut. 1:2).
After visiting Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus’ parents journeyed
for a day (Luke 2:44) before realizing that he was not with them.
The width of the finger, or ¼ of a handbreadth, approximately
¾ inch, or 1.9 centimeters. The fingerbreadth was the
beginning building block of the biblical metrological system for
linear measurements. Used only once in the Scriptures, to describe
the bronze pillars (Jer. 52:21).
Approximately 3 inches, or 7.6 centimeters. Equivalent to 1/6 cubit,
or four fingerbreadths. Probably the width at the base of the four
fingers. A short measure of length, thus compared to a human’s
brief life (Ps. 39:5). Also the width of the rim on the bread table
(Exod. 25:25) and the thickness of the bronze Sea (1 Kings
Translated “mile” in Matt. 5:41. Greek transliteration of
Roman measurement mille passuum, “a thousand paces.”
Approximately 5 feet 11 inches, or 1.8 meters. Also translated as
“fathom.” A Greek unit of measurement. Probably the
distance between outstretched fingertip to fingertip. Used to measure
the depth of water (Acts 27:28).
Approximately 108 inches, or 274 centimeters. This is also a general
term for a measuring device rather than a specific linear distance
(Ezek. 40:3, 5; 42:16–19; Rev. 11:1; 21:15).
Approximately ¾ mile, or 1.2 kilometers (Acts 1:12). About
Approximately 9 inches, or 22.8 centimeters. Equivalent to three
handbreadths, and ½ cubit. The distance from outstretched
thumb tip to little-finger tip. The length and width of the priest’s
breastpiece (Exod. 28:16).
Approximately 607 feet, or 185 meters. Equivalent to 100 orguiai.
Used in the measurement of large distances (Matt. 14:24; Luke 24:13;
John 6:19; 11:18; Rev. 14:20; 21:16).
The size of a piece of land could also be measured on the basis of
how much seed was required to plant that field (Lev. 27:16; 1 Kings
Fields and lands were measured using logical, available means. In
biblical times, this meant the amount of land a pair of yoked animals
could plow in one day (1 Sam. 14:14; Isa. 5:10).
Approximately ½ gallon, or 1.9 liters. Equivalent to 1 omer.
Mentioned only once in the Scriptures, during the siege of Samaria
(2 Kings 6:25).
Approximately ¼ gallon, or 0.9 liters. A Greek measurement,
mentioned only once in Scripture (Rev. 6:6).
Approximately 6 bushels (48.4 gallons, or 183 liters). Equal to the
homer, and to 10 ephahs. Used for measuring dry volumes, particularly
of flour and grains (1 Kings 4:22; 1 Kings 5:11; 2 Chron.
2:10; 27:5; Ezra 7:22). In the LXX, cor is also a measure of liquid
volume, particularly oil (1 Kings 5:11; 2 Chron. 2:10; Ezra
Approximately 3⁄5 bushel (6 gallons, or 22.7 liters).
Equivalent to 10 omers, or 1⁄10 homer. Used for measuring flour
and grains (e.g., Exod. 29:40; Lev. 6:20). Isaiah prophesied a day of
reduced agricultural yield, when a homer of seed would produce only
an ephah of grain (Isa. 5:10). The ephah was equal in size to the
bath (Ezek. 45:11), which typically was used for liquid measurements.
Approximately 6 bushels (48.4 gallons, or 183 liters). Equivalent to
1 cor, or 10 ephahs. Used for measuring dry volumes, particularly of
various grains (Lev. 27:16; Isa. 5:10; Ezek. 45:11, 13–14; Hos.
3:2). This is probably a natural measure of the load that a donkey
can carry, in the range of 90 kilograms. There may have existed a
direct link between capacity and monetary value, given Lev. 27:16:
“fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed.” A
logical deduction of capacity and cost based on known equivalences
might look something like this:
homer = 1 mina; 1 ephah = 5 shekels; 1 omer = 1 beka
Approximately 10 bushels (95 gallons, or 360 liters). A Greek measure
of grain (Luke 16:7).
Approximately 2 quarts, or 1.9 liters. Equivalent to 1⁄10
ephah, 1⁄100 homer (Ezek. 45:11). Used by Israel in the
measurement and collection of manna in the wilderness (Exod.
16:16–36) and thus roughly equivalent to a person’s daily
Approximately 7 quarts, or 6.6 liters. Equivalent to 1 seah. The
measurement of flour in Jesus’ parable of the kingdom of heaven
(Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21).
Approximately 7 quarts, or 6.6 liters. Equivalent to 1⁄3 ephah,
or 1 saton. Used to measure flour, grain, seed, and other various dry
goods (e.g., 2 Kings 7:1; 1 Sam. 25:18).
Approximately 6 gallons, or 22.7 liters. Equivalent to 1 ephah, which
typically was used for measurements of dry capacity. Used in the
measurement of water (1 Kings 7:26), oil (1 Kings 5:11),
and wine (2 Chron. 2:10; Isa. 5:10).
Approximately 8 gallons, or 30.3 liters. A Greek transliteration of
the Hebrew word bath
(see above). A measure of oil (Luke 16:6).
Approximately 4 quarts (1 gallon, or 3.8 liters). Equivalent to
1⁄6 bath and 12 logs. Used in the measurement of water (Ezek.
4:11), oil (Ezek. 46:5), and wine (Num. 28:14).
Approximately 1⁄3 quart, or 0.3 liter. Equivalent to 1⁄72
bath and 1⁄12 hin. Mentioned five times in Scripture,
specifically used to measure oil (Lev. 14:10–24).
Approximately 10 gallons, or 37.8 liters. Used in the measurement of
water at the wedding feast (John 2:6).