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"666" in the book of Revelation

Source and interpretation of "666"

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The source of the number 666:

The "number of the beast," 666, is derived from the book of Revelation -- the last book in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament):

Revelation 13:11-18: And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six." (King James Version)

It is worth noting that the number 666 may well be an error. The earliest manuscript of Revelation is from the Oxyrhynchus site. Papyrus 115 shows the number as 616. It is likely that the number 666 was either:

  • An manuscript copyist's accidental substitution of 666 for the original correct number of 616, or
  • An alteration of the original 616 intentionally made for some purpose.

Many Christians, and others, are absolutely certain that they know the identity of the beast whose name is related to the number 666, and whom they identify as the Antichrist, or of a being controlled by the Antichrist. Unfortunately, they interpret the book of Revelation in many different ways:

  • Literally;
  • Figuratively;
  • As referring to events that happened during the first century CE;
  • As referring to momentous happenings in our future
  • As meaningless material generated during the author's hallucination.

They have come up with a wide range of identities for the Beast, including the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian, Pope Leo X, Saladin, Napoleon, Hitler, Bill Gates, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Barak Obama, etc. A Google search for the search string "Barak Obama" antichrist returned about 674,000 hits in early 2008-DEC. Obviously, all or almost all are/were wrong.

Others have determined that the important verse in the above passage is the reference to "a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads." They have concluded that the mark is:

  • A national ID card,
  • Social Security Number
  • An implantable microchip,
  • Related to the abandonment of cash and adoption of "smart cards." etc. 1

One visitor to this essay supplied an interpretation as to why a mark would be made to a hand or forehead. She suggested that the hand represents action -- the the object that a person acts with; the forehead is associated with a person's thinking process or attitude.

"666" refers to beasts elsewhere in Revelation:

Phillips Stevens Jr., an anthropologist at the University at Buffalo, suggests that the association of "666" with disasters, evil, doomsday scenarios, and the devil are based on a "widespread misinterpretation" of Revelation 13.

Professor Stevens said:

"Like most superstitions, the avoidance of the numbers 13 and 666 are examples of magical thinking. People everywhere believe that things associated with other things, through actual contact or just some similarity, have causal relationships even over space and time. Things associated with good events or great people can bring good fortune; things associated with failure, disastrous events or evil people carry some of that negativity with them."

He suggests that the "number of the beast" in Revelation 13 does not refer to Satan, but to one of many beasts mentioned in that passage. He said:

" 'Revelation' is a complex and confusing book, and is rarely read closely by lay people. Biblical scholars have pointed out that there are several 'beasts' in Chapter 13 and elsewhere, and they all refer variously to Rome, Roman emperors and Roman cults of god- and emperor-worship....many of the strange elements in 'Revelation' signify events, people or institutions familiar to first-century Christians.

"The mark of the beast, 666, signifies those in thrall to the emperor and thus opposed to Christianity, and is most probably the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters for Nero."

Stevens notes that the first and second Letters of John use the term "Antichrist" to denote lapsed Christians. Over subsequent centuries, the legend developed that the "end times" would be foreshadowed by the arrival of The Antichrist, a profoundly evil figure commissioned by Satan to prepare the world for his coming.

He continues:

"Many perceived enemies of Christianity have been labeled the Antichrist, and Nero was one of the first...[followed by] a long string of mostly historical figures -- Saladin was on the list, as was Hitler and Saddam Hussein. The list varies according to who compiles it. Early Reformation-era Protestants had some popes on their list."

"So, although 'the beast' is not Satan, in Christian tradition 'the mark of the beast' was authorized by Satan. And so, like that other Christian superstition, Friday the 13th from the Last Supper, where there were 13 people at the table, and the crucifixion occurred the next day, 666 has become a strong taboo, avoided because of its negative association." 2

"666" refers to Roman Emperors:

According to Wikipedia, many:

"... scholars who believe that the Book of Revelation refers to historical people and events argue that the number represents [the Roman Emperor] Nero. In Hebrew gematria, every letter has a corresponding number. Summing these numbers gives a numeric value to a word or name. In Hebrew, "Nero Caesar" is spelled "נרון קסר", pronounced "Neron Qe[i]sar". Adding the corresponding values yields 666, as shown:

Resh Samekh Qoph Nun Vav Resh Nun
200 60 100 50 6 200 50

Removing the terminal נ (written as ן) makes the name "Nero" rather than "Neron", and makes the numeric value 616, which may explain that variation. The hypothesis that 666 is a code for a Roman emperor seems to have historical support. The emperors were noted for their oppression of both Jews and Christians. Both communities were known to use numerology, codes and symbols (such as the Ichthys) when living under Roman rule to avoid persecution.

The German protestant theologian Ethelbert Stauffer, arguing that gematria had been the most popular form of numerology among Jews but also in the rest of the Graeco-Roman world. He developed a Greek gematrical procedure to explain the number 666. Judging from the precise information that the Book of Revelation gives about the person behind the number 666, Stauffer concluded that the "beast" can only refer to a Roman emperor. Stauffer argued that this Emperor must be Domitian, because he had reigned during the proposed time of the writing of the Apocalypse and supposedly was called "The Beast" as a "secret derisive nickname" by Romans, Greek, Christians and Jews. Stauffer computed the Number of the Beast using the short form of Domitian's five titles and names -- A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE -- as derived from the abbreviations on coins and inscriptions. 3

Anti-Roman Catholic interpretations of 666:

Some creative figuring can extract the number 666 from almost any person's name, title, etc. Many Protestants and Protestant groups have attempted to link "666" to the Roman Catholic Church. Since the peak of anti-Catholic hatred in 19th century America, such attempts have faded. A few are still around:

  • Past writings by followers of the Seventh Day Adventists and other Protestant groups have associated the pope with the number 666. One argument for this correspondence came from the Donation of Constantine -- a fraudulent document written in the 8th century. It refers to the pope as "Vicarius Filii Dei" or "Vicar of the Son of God." They claim that this title also appears on the pope's miter. Taking the letters in the Latin version that refer to Roman numerals, the total is 666. Unfortunately, the link is not convincing:
    • The Donation of Constantine was a forged document, not an authoritative church statement.
    • The title "Vicar of the Son of God" is not a title of the pope.
    • That title does not appear on the pope's miter.  4,5
  • Perhaps in response to the above claim, the Catholic Defenders of the Faith have mathematically derived 666, both from the name of Ellen Gould White, the foundress of Seventh Day Adventism, and from the "Voice of God" one of her titles. 4
  • "addvantage666@prodigy.net" has produced an innovative calculation linking the names of the most recent popes to the number 666. The web site prophesizes:

"So long as the antipope Benedict XVI remains in office, the Antichrist is held back, for it is the office that he holds that the Antichrist must have. Thus, when the Antichrist comes, Benedict XVI will be removed." 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jason Hommel, "Bible Quotes and Web Links on 666 The Mark of the Beast 666," at: http://bibleprophesy.org/ He has a list of 44 links to other, mostly conservative Christian, web sites with various beliefs about the mark and 666.
  2. Mary Cochrane, "June 6 Focuses Attention on "666" Superstitions," University at Buffalo Reporter, 2006-JUN-01, at: http://www.buffalo.edu/
  3. "Number of the Beast," Wikipedia, 2007-AUG-23, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. "Sevent Day Adventists and 666," Catholic Defenders of the Faith, at: http://www.geocities.com/
  5. "Vicarius Filii Dei," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  6. "Everything You Need To Know About The Number 666," at: http://www.666beast.net/

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 Home page > Christianity > Christian Scriptures > Revelation > 666 > here

Copyright © 2006 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-06 (06/06/06)
Latest update and review: 2012-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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