My post yesterday about manuscripts that give the number of the beast in Rev. 13 as 616 instead of 666 prompted a number of queries.  I’ll answer a couple of them directly in my next post; but some people emailed me asking me what the number is all about in the first place.   I discussed the issue a few years ago on the blog.  Here is what I said.


This post will be the culmination of my thread that deals with ancient numerology, especially as it is based on the fact that ancient languages used letters of the alphabets for their numbers, making it possible to add up the numerical equivalent of any word.   In this post I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666.

Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion, and I’d suggest reading it first to make sense of what I’ll say here.  I also need to point out that this kind of numerological investigation was turned into a major interpretive method in Hebrew-speaking and –reading circles, since the inspired words of Scripture each had numerical equivalents, and one can always play with numbers.  The ancient interpreters who did such things were not “playing” of course.  It was a very serious and complex business.  This use of the numerical value of words in Hebrew, to help fathom the (very) deep meaning of texts, was called gematria.

And so, now I turn to 666.  The following is drawn from my discussion of the book of Revelation in my New Testament textbook.


The Number of the Beast, 666. Somewhat earlier in the book of Revelation (i.e., before ch. 17, which I discussed yesterday) we are given a description of another beast, one which in fact bears a remarkable resemblance to the one we have just observed. According to chap. 13, this other beast arises from the sea and has ten horns and many heads.  One of its heads receives a mortal wound that is then healed.  The entire world follows this beast, which is empowered by the dragon (i.e., the Devil, 12:9).  The beast makes war on the saints and conquers them (13:7).  It has power over all the nations of earth (13:7-8), exploiting the nations of the world economically (13:17) and demanding to be worshipped (13:15).  The author concludes his description of this mortal enemy of God with a final identifying mark, given for those “with understanding.”  The number of the beast is 666 (13:18).

Interpreters have offered numerous conjectures over the years to explain this number (probably more than six hundred and sixty-six of them)….

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