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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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Re-edited the question. Let me know if that helps. –  kenorb Jul 3 at 9:06
    
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 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 at 17:03
    
@lasersauce This is a good question, and I will be happy to respond. –  user2479 Jul 4 at 0:57
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 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 there 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" 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 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 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. –  user2479 Jul 5 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. –  user2479 Jul 5 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. –  user2479 Jul 5 at 18:40
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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. –  user2479 Jul 4 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! –  user2479 Jul 4 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 at 13:32
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This question can be answered in two ways.This comment from @lasersauce must not be overlooked.

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.

If you are asking from a "believers view" then the scripture that is relevant to your question is Revelation 1:3 (NIV),

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

If you are asking from a atheist view, then the scripture that is relevant to your question is Revelation 22:18-19,

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

In the book of Revelation we also have this number-777- which speaks of judgement.

Rev 6: 7 seals.

Rev 15: 7 plagues.

Rev 16: 7 bowls of God's wrath.

777 is greater than 666.Therefore,

The original number of the beast is 666

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How does your answer address the textual variants that exist and determining which is correct (which is the main point of the question)? Using your logic (which I don't agree with putting 777 together as you have, but I'll go with it for sake of argument), 777 > 616 also. Why should 777 (a number not found explicitly in the text) point to the correct reading being 666 rather than 616 (or other variants). I'm not seeing the reasoning for that in your answer. –  ScottS Jul 4 at 13:39
    
@ScottS- I always see "seven" as being greater than "six" in the book of Revelation.My interpretation of 777,in my view,illuminates 666 and not 616. –  Bagpipes Jul 4 at 13:58
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