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Seems trivial question, because 666 had been widely accepted as the original. However if you investigate further different early versions of the Book of Revelation, they gave different Numbers of the Beast.

For example in 2005 a fragment of papyrus 115 was revealed, containing the earliest known version of that part of the Book of Revelation discussing the Number of the Beast. It gave the number as 616, suggesting that this may have been the original (note that 665 is also found).

According to Paul Lewes, "The number 666 has been substituted for 616 either by analogy with 888, the [Greek] number of Jesus (Gustav Adolf Deissmann), or because it is a triangular number, the sum of the first 36 numbers (1+2+3+4+5+6...+36 = 666 in base ten system)".

Related:

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I'm anticipating that with the edit this is going to get reopened. I did retag it, however, since "numbers" refers to the OT book of that name, and "translation-philosophy" and "contradiction" are not really the issue. Rather, your question is focused on a text-critical issue of which known variant is likely the correct reading. –  ScottS Jul 3 '14 at 15:14
    
I don't think that other then prophetic revelation, the significance, and the correctness of this scriptural point can ever be illuminated. I think it's fair to say, the beast does have a number, "this is the so-called number of the beast, which is stated to be the number of a man, which, if it could be identified, would show who was involved in the great deceptions imposed upon mankind." So without scriptural or prophetic guidance on the mechanism (an equation?) for making use of a number of the beast, the correctness of such a number has no value. –  lasersauce Jul 3 '14 at 17:03

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The number "666" or "616" is taken from the passage in Rev. 13:18,

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.

and has been arguably the most contested verse of the New Testament. The source of the problem is whether it is to be interpreted Literally or Figuratively, and if Figuratively, what meaning(gemmetria) are we to derive from the numbers?

Textual Consideration

Before we can evaluate it's meaning, we must begin with the issue of textual criticism(is the verse translated correctly). Here we have 2 choices,

Textus Receptus:

Ὧδε ἡ σοφία ἐστίν ὁ ἔχων τὸν νοῦν ψηφισάτω τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ θηρίου ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν καὶ ὁ ἀριθμὸς αὐτοῦ χξς

of which χξς is rendered "Six Hundred and Sixty-Six".

The main criticism of the Textus Receptus is that it contained numerous textual discrepancies from the Byzantine text it was derived from. However, Irenaeus quotes the recording of the same number, and this must be given careful consideration, since Ireaeus, who was a student of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John who wrote Revelations, wrote "Against Heresies" in 180AD, in which he quotes "666" and this work remains intact. Irenaeus introduced the 4 Gospels as being canonical, and recorded a list of bishops which proved apostolic succession, along with the primacy of the bishop of Rome. This is important for this era, for while persecutions broke out all through the Roman Empire(Irenaeus was eventually martyred in 202AD), numerous epistles and gospels claimed apostolic authority but in fact were heretical works by the Gnostics, of whom Irenaeus systematically refuted.(sources Wikipedia)

The fragment Papyrus 115 uses an "iota"(1) instead of sigma(6) in the fragment of Rev. 13:18. This fragment has been hailed as proving the authenticity of the Book of Revelations by critical scholars, yet it casts a shadow on the "Majority View" of what constitutes the NT.

What is important is that this 'fragment' uses an "Alexandrian type" rather than the Byzantine type used by the Majority View; and as such, are copies of the original. Since it was found in a dump(Oxyrhynchus), there was no effort on the author's part to preserve it; rather it was found along with unknown gospels, writings of the Epistles, Greek works, and other common writings of the day you would expect to see in the trash.

Evaluation of Divergent Text

In David Robert Palmer's New English Translation from the Greek", it cites these comments on Rev. 13:18,

"13:18d txt {A} ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ (666) ⁴⁷ A 1828 copsa RP NA27 {A} ‖ ἑξακόσιαι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ (666) א ‖ χξϛ (with 3 indivudual overlines) (666) 051 82 424 456 627 920 1852 1859 1862 1888 2019 2060 2074 2081 2138 2329 ‖ χξϛ (with one continuous overline) (666) 2020 2059 2814 TR ‖ χξσ (with one continuous overline) (666) 046? ‖ χξσ "666" (with circumflex above, plus one continous overline above that) ƒ052 35 94 175 469 1611 1678 2017 2042 2436 ‖ χξς (666) 757 ‖ χξϛ, (666) Steph 1550 TR ‖ ἑξακόσια ἑξήκοντα ἕξ (666) P 104 241 (792) 922 1006 1841 1854 2040 2053 2065 2073 ‖ sexcenti sexaginta sex (666) vg Beatus ps-Ambrose ‖ sexingenti sexaginta sex (666) itgig ‖ ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα πέντε (665) 2344 ‖ (646) itar ‖ ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἕξ (616) ¹¹⁵ C vgms mssacc. to Irenaeus; Caesarius Tyc2 arm4 ‖ hiat 1384 2050 2062 2186. Here is a link to the image of Papyrus 115: http://www.bibletranslation.ws/gfx/p115.jpg The "Η" letter is a whole Greek word that can mean "or." There is one theory that it read ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἕξ ἢ ΧΙC – “666 or 616.”) The "Η" letter can also be the feminine definite article. David Parker writes (in his NTS article): "There is too much space in the papyrus for what one would expect from other witnesses, suggesting that something extra has been written by mistake." He considers the "line written over letter" Eta as a correction sign. (If that is true, I think the most probably explanation is that it was a final N of the word ΕCΤΙΝ, and the scribe of the papyrus mistook it for ΕCΤΙ Η. Some form of the number 666 is supported by itgig vg syrph,h copsa,bo arm eth Irenaeus Hippolytus Andrew; Victorinus-Pettau Gregory-Elvira Primasius Beatus TR RP NA27. The UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament states on p. 49 that Irenaeus "says that 666 is found 'in all good and ancient copies,' and is 'attested by those who had themselves seen John face to face.' …When Greek letters are used as numerals the difference between 666 and 616 is merely a change from ξ to ι (666 = χξς and 616 = χις)(taken from here)

We can see from the analysis that some form of correction was in the fragment, as well as this fragment was never intended in itself to be the 'final authority'; rather, Irenaeus's comment substantially establishes that the "666" is authoritative, as opposed to the "616", found on a scrap of paper in a different text type than originally recorded, with "editing notation' contained in it.

Meaning of "666"

The reason for the divergent textual challenges, which tend to support those who challenge the authority of Scripture, is because there is such a wide diversity of opinion regarding what "666" means. Irenaeus himself concluded,

But knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is six hundred sixty and six, let them await, in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the kingdom for himself, and shall terrify those men of whom we have been speaking, have a name containing the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation.(taken from Against Heresies, Book V, Chapt. 30)

So he avers that such a person called the Antichrist, who's name can be determined by the number "666", exists sometime in the future. He speculated on what the "666" might mean, but makes it a case for "Future Interpretation", versus a "Preterist", or even "Idealist" interpretation. For the purposes of this discussion, I will use a "Historicist Interpretation", as the "Dispensationalist/Futurist" relies on the "literal"(historical/grammatical) method of which so much debate has been cast about; primarily due to the 'gemmetria' required to substantiate the claim. Since no one(to date) is attempting to rule the world with a "666", there are an endless supply of candidates who's names 'could' gemmetrically equal "666". And therein lies the confusion, and the claim by atheists and agnostics against the veracity of Scripture.

Perhaps the best explanation of the number comes in the previous phrase,

ψηφισάτω τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦ θηρίου ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν

which, in the Greek interlinear is translated,

"LET-PEBBLE THE NUMBER OF-THE WILD-BEAST NUMBER, for OF-human it IS"

I'm not a Greek scholar, but the Interlinear version suggests "man", and not "a man" can satisfy the meaning. Also, "let-pebble" is important, because the vast majority of the gemmetria sytems rely on a "base" number system which requires "calculating" rather than 'pebble by pebble' counting.

A source, and an argument I found compelling is taken from here,

What a revelation this was to me when I read it several years ago. Indeed, it helped me to see what the Book of Revelation was really out to show. It means that the number is associated with man—all mankind (and not a particular individual). Look at this for a moment.

He makes a further observation by saying,

People have assumed that the number 666 is a number of an individual man. Because of this, some scholars and theologians have gone wild over making identification of “the man” intended by the Book of Revelation

So, if "man", and not 'a man', is the meaning of the number, what are we to count?

Six + Six + Six = 18 You can 'let-pebble' 6, three times(think about counting pennies) and you arrive at 18.

What does that mean?

From a Preterist, Idealist, Futurist/Dispensationalist point of view, absolutely nothing; but from a Historicist view, 18 "centuries" is when Humanism, or Secular Humanism appeared on the scene, and has been the bane of mankind ever since. It's doctrine, law, philosophy, art, view "man"(or mankind) as "God", and it exalts itself and opposes anything related to the One True God. The French Revolution was the epitome of this, followed by all the other "revolutions". The American Revolution embraced it's principles, yet Godly men steered it's course away from the excesses of the French Revolution; although today, most of what those "Godly men" declared has been obliterated by Humanist Courts and government which exalts "man" as God.

As a final quote,

The number seems to be indelibly impressed on the whole structure of human society. And, as a last bequest to mankind, God will allow a worldwide kingdom to exist at the end of the age (just prior to the second advent of Christ) which will be the most glorious human kingdom ever to exist on earth.

This is the government "of the people, for the people, by the people" which exalts mankind at the expense of the Kingdom of God.

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Um... "666" in the Greek is not three Greek sixes. So, no, it's not 18. If you don't know Greek you shouldn't be answering questions about Greek text criticism. -1 –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '14 at 3:01
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In fairness, the first half of your answer was OK though. But I would delete the 2nd half. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '14 at 3:03
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@Jas3.1 The 1st part of the answer was specifically addressed at the OP's concern(666 or 616?); the last part of the answer addresses the 'why 666' which the OP suggests is 'meaningless' in his comments. Obviously, if one could intrinsically decipher '666' from purely textual criticism, then there would be no controversy, correct? This is what I believe the truth of the text says, the fact that I may be a minority doesn't phase me. I believe it is much more honest than all the gemmetrial systems that abound(Barak Obama is the Antichrist, for one); and the numbers DO make sense. –  Tau Jul 5 '14 at 10:43
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@Jas3.1 I realize that in Greek, six HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SIX is not the same as "18". But the passage requires you to use "wisdom" and not a calculator. –  Tau Jul 5 '14 at 10:48
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@Jas.1 I understand that, and I explained that in my comments. We are seeking "wisdom", and the "wisdom" tells us that six hundred and sixty-six doesn't mean anything, it's the 3 sixes that does. John probably spoke Aramaic, did God communicate it to him in classic Koine Greek? The truth has been hid from classic Greek scholars for centuries, and yet it can be known by children. A child can count to six, 3 times; whereas a classic Greek scholar only knows what to do with six hundred and sixty six. There is more to this than the number, but the number tells you it is 'man', rather than a man. –  Tau Jul 5 '14 at 18:40

From the NET footnotes:

55 tc A few MSS (𝔓115 C, along with a few MSS known to Irenaeus {and two minuscule MSS, 5 and 11, no longer extant}), read 616 here, and several other witnesses have other variations. Irenaeus’ mention of MSS that have 616 is balanced by his rejection of such witnesses in this case. As intriguing as the reading 616 is (since the conversion of Nero Caesar’s name in Latin by way of gematria would come out to 616), it must remain suspect because such a reading seems motivated in that it conforms more neatly to Nero’s gematria.

The Greek gematria value of Nero Caesar (Νέρων Καῖσαρ) would be 1,005, but the Grecized Hebrew (נרון קסר‬) value equates to 666 as indicated above. Metzger elaborates:

When Greek letters are used as numerals the difference between 666 and 616 is merely a change from ξ to ι (666 = χξς and 616 = χις). Perhaps the change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters (‮נרון קסר‬) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latinized Hebrew form Nero Caesar (‮נרו קסר‬) is equivalent to 616.1

But what of the other variants? It is true that MS 2344 has 665 and one old Latin text (codex ar, 9th century) even has 646, but these variant readings have so little support that they cannot even be considered alternatives to the 666 reading.

Given the few variant MSS and the fact that one of the earliest discrepancies conforms to the Latinized form of the most likely referent (by simply removing the ן), it is highly probable that 666 was the original number (as most modern translations render this passage).


1 Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 676.

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Rev.13:18 "Here is wisdom. He that has understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is 6-6-6".

Allowing scripture to interpret scripture it is not difficult to see that 6-6-6 refers to "man" in his three fold composition, namely, spirit = 6; soul = 6; body = 6. It is a given! 1 Thes.5:23 "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ".

John saw a beast coming up out of the "SEA". The "SEA" in scripture is a metaphor for Nations or Multitudes of people. So this beast originates from out of people (nations).

Other scriptures that prove that "SEA" represents nations or multitudes of people are listed below: Rev.21:1 "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and first earth are passed away and the "SEA" (nations) is no more..". Mark 2:13 "And Jesus went forth again by the "SEA" side; and all the "multitudes" resorted unto him...". Mark 3:7 "And Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the "SEA", and a great "multitude" from Galilee followed". Matt.4:18 "And walking by the sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the "SEA"; for they were fishers. And he said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men".

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+1 for your answer(I do agree, although I think you're mixing literal and figurative examples in your last paragraph. However, the OP's question was about the "Original Number" of Rev. 13:18(666 vs 616) and to that you offered no explanation. I would suggest you 'amend' it and keep your + votes from being overwhelmed by - ones. –  Tau Jul 4 '14 at 7:37
    
And BTW, welcome to BH! We're a little different here, be sure to read the guidelines (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour) before you ask or answer any questions-Thx! –  Tau Jul 4 '14 at 7:43
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I agree with @user2479 that the main point of the question is the textual variants that exist (and determining which is correct), which you do not address at all. –  ScottS Jul 4 '14 at 13:32

There is a completely different view that has not been mentioned. I'm merely pointing it out. Walid Shoebat has stated that he believes this was not originally Greek but that John had written what he had seen and in transcription the copyists went letter by letter not how those letters have looked.See the video

He puts forth the idea that it was actually the Bismallah and not a number as reckoned through gematria. Since no where else does the Bible use gematria but instead the proper words for numbers it seemed reasonable to him. Which is more pronounced in the Revelation contained in the Codex Vaticanus. When the copyists came across the strange looking characters they saw a close resemblance to the Greek letters they knew and put those down instead.
Illistration

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@MicahGatford While all in fairness, there is no one recognized definitive view, there is nothing to even remotely suggest Islam is the Antichrist. The simple rebuttal to this argument is found in Rev. 13:2, "And the beast that I saw was like unto a leopard... ". The "leopard" figuratively is represented by Greece, this is confirmed by Dan. 7:6 , and by the Prince of Grecia being mentioned by Gabriel(8:21) Alexander being the "great horn". In no way can Islam be inferred from Greece- they are diametrically opposed to each other. This is "fear of the week" interpretation. –  Tau Jun 18 at 7:59
    
Not fear of the week, maybe fear of the millennium. Many theologians over history have pointed to Islam as a place the antichrist will come from since nearly it's inception. I can list some if you'd like. Furthermore I don't know how you aren't grasping the point of Rev 13:2 Of course it's part of the former Grecian empire. Why didn't you quote the rest of the verse? "...its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. ..." This is the amalgamation of the first 3 beasts in Dan 7 - it is the fourth beast. Beasts are not some singular person or creature they are empires. –  Micah Gafford Jun 18 at 15:44
    
I'm also not trying to say that my answer is the best or founded with a whole lot of facts, it's conjecture that's interesting, and close enough to think about. @Tau I'd love to have a longer discussion with you about this because Islam is the only things that fits all the parameters. Islam conquered all of the prior empires and received a "fatal head wound" in early 1900s when it's empire fell. It now seems to be rebuilding and could be the beginning of a resurrected empire. - lots more but seriously I'd love to have a longer talk. I find eschatology fascinating. –  Micah Gafford Jun 18 at 16:00
    
Islam has seen itself as the offspring of Ishmael-who they interpret the promises of God(Allah) were given to. They see Abraham as their father; who worshipped the One True God, as opposed to a pantheon of idols, which typified the Greeks. Western Civilization is a continuation of the Classical Greek Civilization; Islam is offended and deeply opposed to Western/Greek Civilization-they are "at war" with it. Any comparison with "Antichrist" is contrived. I will set up a chat room for us if you are willing to continue the discussion. –  Tau Jun 19 at 1:41

The 9th century codex that cites 646 for revelation is the numerical value total for the expression "amil marduk" (man of marduk). 666 is the numerical value total for "nebekednesser" (e = eta). 6l6 is the numerical value total for the son and successor of nebekednesser, namely, "ewil marduk" (e = epsilon). 665 is an example of the kabalistic rule of colel which states essentially that the numerical value of a word/phrase may have one unit of its value either added to / subtracted without altering its meaning. [walter c. cambra] The jewish house of yeshua (translated in the Septuagint, ezra 2:36 as house of "jesus") was captive in nebekednesser's 6th century b.c. Imperial Babylon. The lst jewish temple was destroyed by the armies of Imperial Babylon. The 2nd jewish temple was destroyed by the armies of Imperial Rome in 70 a.d. Notice that the New Testament letter titled "First Peter" 5:l3 states "Greetings from her who dwells in Babylon"! The New Testament letter titled "ROMANS" l6:7 mentions the second captivity. Apparently, the lineage of the Jewish House of Yeshua/Jesus was in lst century a.d. Imperial Rome as their ancestors were in Babylon. (See solution for 666 by walter c. cambra on the Hermetic Library website.) [EWIL MARDUK is mentioned in the second book of kings 25:27, footnote "b". The New English Bible, l972. Cambridge, UK.] There are two spellings for Nebekednesser in Hebrew. The Greek SEPTUAGINT, EZRA 2:36, from the second half of the 2nd century b.c., renders it "NABOUKODONOSOR". My spelling for nebekednesser is one of nine components including balthasar and the seven headed sea beast of Rev. l3:l. Please view this complex mathematical puzzle on The Hermetic Library website!

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

    
The source you cited doesn't back up many of these claims, nor is it a proper reference that helps us find the specific source you are using. Please cite sources for your claims. We require this here and call it 'showing your work'. –  Dan Jun 18 at 19:49
    
RE: walter c. cambra / 6l6, 665, 646 -- 6l6 papyrus ll5; 665 ms. 2344; 646 latin text 9th century a.d. codex ar –  walter c. cambra Jun 18 at 22:03
    
passage of Sovereigny from Babylon to Persia mentioned in last chapter of two chronicles fulfilling the Lord's prophesy through Jeremiah that a remnant of Israel captive in Babylon would be saved/repatriated to their homeland. Cyrus of Persia is the Lord's Anointed (Isaiah 45:l; 44:28) –  walter c. cambra Jun 18 at 22:07
    
Please edit these into your answer. I'm also not so sure you're gematria is adding up, but that's another issue. –  Dan Jun 19 at 12:03

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