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This is perhaps the most famous prophesy in popular culture:

This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.1 —Revelation 13:18 (ESV)

The ESV footnote is:

Some manuscripts 616

Please note: The question is not about the significance of the number itself or what it might refer to in the past, present or future. Please avoid any speculation, doctrinally-specific interpretations, and wild tangents.

My question is:

  1. How are we expected to "calculate the number"? and
  2. If this is so important, how did some copyists get the number wrong?

Does reading in the original Greek shed any light on the problem?

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Probably not with a calculator, given they didn't exist when the book was written... – Richard Nov 16 '11 at 21:41
The whole Bible is a one big calculator, it's filled with lots of numbers, codes and equations. People calculates a lot of things from it, e.g. The Ezekielean Timeline of Thuban for the Endtimes 2009-2017, etc. Maya civilization maybe didn't have transistor-based calculators, but had other devices which keep astonishing our scientists. – kenorb Aug 11 '14 at 8:22
It just mean that, using well known methods (of old days or future I don't know) the name of the antichrist will give 666. It's not a way to predict who he is. When the Bible wants to be that precise it even gives the same (see Cyrus), otherwise it just provides a mean to identify the person, or event, "at moment" (see John the Baptist, Jesus) so as to prove that it's the will of God. – algiogia Feb 6 at 17:36
Mark of the Beast: This strange mark, 666, represents vows and obligations we have made to the work of the Beast and how we condemn rather than help any effort to overcome the Beast’s influence. The Beast is like our ego & egocentric interests. It represents the work of self alone, without God’s influence. The mark is erased when the work of our hands & thoughts of our minds are cooperating with God. It's our most selfish, self-centered, self-gratifying, self-glorifying lower nature. Therefore, it's a long contemplation. – johndpope 4 hours ago

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

ψηφίζω (Strongs G5585) - to count with pebbles, to compute, calculate, reckon; to give one's vote by casting a pebble into the urn; to decide by voting. This is the same word used in Luke 14:28 in which the builder of a tower will "count the cost" to ensure he has enough to complete it.

As for its usage in this passage, J. Hampton Keathley, III, the author of The Beast and the False Prophet proposes two possible intents:

  1. Gematria - the number represents the sum of the letters in a name, if the letters were converted to their corresponding ordinal position in that alphabet.
  2. Symbolism - the number or its digits represent something symbolic.

The number itself also seems to be spelled out in Greek. εξακοσιοι εξηκοντα εξ (six hundred sixty six) This was in both the NET Bible and the interlinear - the one at had it in a numeric shorthand form, though meaning the same thing. This is also where the word hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (fear of the number 666) comes from, as it's the concatenation of the transliterated Greek words above. So I'm not sure where the alternate reading in the footnote comes from. According to the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, sixteen would be ἑξκαίδεκα.

As Soldarnal mentioned, the NET translation notes include some comments on manuscripts that include "616" or other numbers here. What is apparently interesting about 616 in particular is that Nero's name, in Latin, works out to 616 using gematria. However, this seems to be one of the major reasons that Irenaeus rejects this reading.

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The article by J. Hampton Keathley, III is quite enlightening. It also makes me want to read Irenaeus, who seems a very level-headed character. – Jon Ericson Nov 17 '11 at 0:09
Speaking of Irenaeus, check out the NET translation notes if you want to expand your answer to address Jon's second question. – Soldarnal Nov 17 '11 at 2:26
I'll insert it, though it doesn't really answer the question "where does it come from?" so much as "why does Irenaeus reject it?" (with the implication that the translators do too.) – GalacticCowboy Nov 17 '11 at 3:41
"δεκαέξι" is Modern Greek. The Ancient Greek would be [ἑξκαίδεκα](… ('hexkaideka', literally 'six and ten'). – Muke Tever Nov 17 '11 at 5:15
Thanks, @MukeTever - updated. – GalacticCowboy Nov 17 '11 at 12:15

As already noted by other contributors to this question, the Greek word means to figure up (to tally) or to figure out (to resolve). In colloquial English, we can say "to add up", which captures the full nuance of the meaning in Greek.

When we "add up" the Old Covenant, we see that the law is written on the mind and heart. The phylacteries (containing Torah) were placed on the forehead and the right hand (compare Ex 13:16 with both Deut 6:6, Deut 6:8, and Deut 11:18), because in the Hebrew Bible it was the right hand that was an extension of the human heart (Is 44:20). Identification with this Covenant therefore was a condition of participation in the visible theocratic kingdom of God. When we "add up" the New Covenant, we see that the law is written on the mind and heart (Heb 8:8-12). Identification with this Covenant therefore is a condition of participation in the invisible kingdom of Christ. When we "add up" the covenant of the beast (pseudo Moses/Messiah), we see that the law is written on the forehead and right hand (Rev 13:16-17). Identification with this Covenant will therefore be a condition of participation in the kingdom of the beast ("to buy and to sell") -- it will be "the law" as such.

The numerical value of the name of the beast here is the reference to his kingdom. For example, in 1 Kings 18:31, the number twelve (12) is correlated to the name of Israel. Thus Elijah in this verse explicitly equated Jacob (the man) with the name of Israel (the nation), which "add up" to twelve (12). The twelve (12) is not parallel with the man, but "add up" to the tribes (nation) associated with the man.

In like manner, in the Revelation the "beast" refers to the kingdom of the beast (Rev 13:1-2) or to the individual (Rev 13:3-4), who is its leader. Therefore in the Revelation, the "mark" of the beast refers to either the name of the person of the beast (Rev 13:17) or to the number of his name that corresponds to his kingdom (Rev 13:18). In other words, the "666" does not have reference to the name of the individual, but to the number of his name, which is his kingdom. (Please see the previous paragraph as to why.) So people are in Covenant with the "beast" are either in league with his direct politico-military control (under his name) and/or in league with the wider economic control of his kingdom (the number of the name). In either case, residents of the entire earth must have the "mark" (which can be either his name or the number of his name) in order to buy and to sell, which will be "the law."

In summary, the Old Covenant was led by the mediator Moses, whose "mark" was the Law (Torah), which was placed on the head and right hand (phylacteries). The New Covenant is led by the mediator Jesus, whose "mark" is the Law of Christ written on our conscience/minds and hearts (Rom 2:13-16 compared to 2 Cor 3:3). And of course the psuedo Moses/Messiah will be the mediator of his own Covenant with the world. His "mark" will be his name, or the number of his name, placed on the forehead or right hand, which "mark" will be the Law of life and living on earth (thus one will not be able to buy or to sell otherwise).

Thus one can "add up" the meaning of the number of the name of the beast. Please note that per the original question, no discussion of the meaning of "666" (or "616") was part of this posting.

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Bible allusions are simpler than that. In my opinion, it is a simple reference to the numbers of bars of gold collected by Solomon in his first year, breaking one of the three Mosaic laws for Israelite kings (Deuteronomy 17) thus beginning Solomon's, and Israel's, downfall:

Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.—1 Kings 10:14-15 (ESV)

The word "wisdom" in Revelation plus the Old Covenant structure of the passage, points to Solomon, Herod, the Aaronic priesthood, and the temple. (I think "image of the beast" is a reference to the golden calf.)

The word "count" is also a reference to Israel. Throughout the Scriptures, it is only Israelites who are counted, and counted by God. David sinned when he counted the troops. In Revelation 7, the converted Jews are counted but the converted Gentiles are not. Counting is either sacrificial (head) or to do with plunder (body).

The reference to "man" is also Jewish. The Jews are the "Adams" who stand before God in the Sanctuary, representing the nations. Throughout the Revelation, "men" refers to Jews, and Gentiles are referred to with some variant of "tribes and peoples and languages." So the "man of sin," sitting in the Temple, claiming to be God, is a Herod (Acts 12:20-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:3).

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Thank you very much for this answer. I added a quote to Solomon's gold bars and links to the other passages you cited. To be honest, I did not understand the core of your answer the first time through because I hadn't searched for 666 in a long time. Now I understand your answer and, while I don't agree with all of what you say, it does have merit. +1. – Jon Ericson Mar 20 '13 at 23:06
Thanks Jon. Much appreciated. – Mike Bull Mar 20 '13 at 23:14

Short answer:

Bible describe that the Earth is round (Is. 40:22), floating in space (Job 26:7) and the Universe is expanding (Is. 40:22) with multitude of stars (Gen. 32:12). Therefore it could be no surprise that to calculate the number of a man (666) it could mean to perform electron counting of Carbon-12, the chemical code (DNA/RNA) of life which is composed of 6 protons, 6 electrons and 6 neutrons (666).

Longer answer:

In this verse the 666 number refers to a man.

Our physiological life form is carbon atom, which is composed of 6 protons, 6 electrons and 6 neutrons (666).

In the Periodic Table of the Elements, the atomic number for the Carbon element is six. Carbon is necessary to form all DNA and RNA, the chemical code of life as it currently exists. Carbon-12 is the most abundant of the two stable isotopes of the element carbon, accounting for 98.89% of carbon.

So it calls for wisdom to calculate (ψηφίζω) that number, as currently only our scientists can perform electron counting. This is the potential meaning.


For 616 question, please check: What is the original Number of the Beast?

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The OP wrote: "Please note: The question is not about the significance of the number itself or what it might refer to in the past, present or future. Please avoid any speculation, doctrinally-specific interpretations, and wild tangents." – Dan Aug 8 '14 at 19:55
He's also answering the meaning of "calculate" – algiogia Feb 6 at 15:26

protected by Dan Jun 16 '14 at 15:32

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