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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
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 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.
    – skrap3e
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 17:03

6 Answers 6

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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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 10:48
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    You're not understanding what I'm saying. In English the number is written by writing three consecutive sixes, and so your "18 theory" appears viable. In Greek, though, the number is not written as three consecutive Greek sixes, and so your "18 theory" isn't even possible.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 16:00
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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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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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  • While helpful to discussion, the image in this answer is misleading for a few reasons; it is not an image from the actual Vaticanus, nor was the Book of Revelation even in the original manuscript. I've put a capture of the image and elaboration in another answer here.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 13 at 23:21
  • Comments have been moved to chat.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 13 at 23:21
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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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  • 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
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 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 Commented Jun 18, 2015 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) Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 22:07
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    Please edit these into your answer. I'm also not so sure you're gematria is adding up, but that's another issue.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 12:03
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Origin of 666 Has anyone noticed that since the Early Christian Church was enmeshed in the Roman (Latin) culture, and since Revelation deals with numbers, the Latin form of numbering just might be a clue to understanding what John (the angel) is trying to communicate.

Therefore consider what numerical value the Latin letters stand for:
I = 1
V = 5
X = 10
L = 50
C = 100
D = 500

Add these together and we get a total of 666! Does this gematria indicate that no matter who is intended, it is the adversarial Roman empire that underlies this mystery? Certainly, this rules out all the speculation that prognosticators have engaged in throughout the millennia, who look for a sinister dude in other countries besides Rome.

Even though within the Roman Empire, there were plenty of emperors who qualified for this adversary of Christianity. Some persecuted Jews, some attacked both Jew and Christian religionists, and one banned the Bible wholesale (Decius, 301-304). One Apostate emperor leveled and destroyed all the pilgrimage sites in the "Holy Land" in an effort to erase Christianity and set up his own religion.

Some scholars might contend that enough ambiguity is intentionally portrayed in Revelation so Christians of every era can stay alert to external dangers posed by cultures of man, yet be encouraged in the struggle of extending the Kingdom of Christ. To this, I would concur.

Considerations Although most readers use Revelation 13 as a jumping-off place in search of a man, it should be noted that "beasts" in the Bible represent empires or nations and not a single person! (horns represent specific individuals). The first beast mentioned here is pictured as having the same animal characteristics of the four beasts in Daniel's prophecies---and it was "nations" that was intended to be interpreted.

Also, note that there is no definite article before "man" in this verse. The translation is merely "man" (mankind). Hence, the NIV translated, " for it is man's number". The translation should/could also read its, and not his...etc. (autou Gk.).

These considerations point to 666 (the addition of the six Roman numerals) as a reference to the dominant Roman empire of man at the time of the writing of this book of Revelation. The Roman Empire of Man certainly had all the dictatorial powers mentioned here.

-1

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
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 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
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 13:32

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