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?

  • 6
    Probably not with a calculator, given they didn't exist when the book was written...
    – Richard
    Nov 16, 2011 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, 2014 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, 2015 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. edgarcayce.org/ps2/mysticism_interpretating_revelation.html
    – johndpope
    Nov 30, 2015 at 5:13

7 Answers 7


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 BibleStudyTools.com interlinear - the one at scripture4all.org 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.

  • 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. Nov 17, 2011 at 0:09
  • 2
    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, 2011 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.) Nov 17, 2011 at 3:41
  • 1
    "δεκαέξι" is Modern Greek. The Ancient Greek would be [ἑξκαίδεκα](perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… ('hexkaideka', literally 'six and ten').
    – Muke Tever
    Nov 17, 2011 at 5:15
  • Interesting - TIL that Irenaeus received teaching from Polycarp, a disciple of John. This would definitely seem to give his insight additional weight into what John's intent might have been. Nov 17, 2011 at 12:26

How are we expected to "calculate the number"?

As someone has already noted, the dictionary meaning of ψηφίζω (psēphizō) is to count or add up. The word is related to the noun ψῆφος (psēphos), meaning pebble - a device commonly used for counting things. In this sense, psēphizō literally meant something like "to pebble" - though this form doesn't make sense to us in our time.

The indication here is, I think, not how we calculate the number itself, but rather how we add up the number to deduce or infer something.

Meaning of ψηφίζω

It's a very uncommon word in the Bible (New Testament and Greek Septuagint Old Testament), only occurring twice. Luke 14:28 is the other occurrence:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?1

In addition to count, the word can also mean to vote or decide by vote - because pebbles were also used as markers for votes as well as for counting things. An Example from Thucydides The Peloponnesian War (VII.48):

ὁ δὲ Νικίας ἐνόμιζε μὲν καὶ αὐτὸς πονηρά σφῶν τὰ πράγματα εἶναι, τῷ δὲ λόγῳ οὐκ ἐβούλετο αὐτὰ ἀσθενῆ ἀποδεικνύναι, οὐδ᾽ ἐμφανῶς σφᾶς ψηφιζομένους μετὰ πολλῶν τὴν ἀναχώρησιν τοῖς πολεμίοις καταγγέλτους γίγνεσθαι

Nicias, though he also thought their estate bad, yet was unwilling to have their weakness discovered, and, by decreeing of their departure openly with the votes of many, to make known the same to the enemy.2

A better translation than "calculate" here might be "reckon". "Reckon" can to mean to "count" (though it is not that common in modern English), but it can also mean something like to think things through and come to some sort of conclusion, or to come to some sort of judgment. It is used in something like this sense in Demosthenes Against Macartatus (XLIII.6):

ἐχούσης δὲ τῆς μητρὸς τοῦ παιδὸς τουτουὶ τὸν κλῆρον, ἐπειδὴ ἐνίκησεν ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ ἅπαντας τοὺς ἀμφισβητήσαντας ἑαυτῇ, οὕτως εἰσὶν μιαροὶ οὗτοι, καὶ οὐκ οἴονται δεῖν οὔτε τοῖς νόμοις τοῖς ὑμετέροις πείθεσθαι οὔτε τοῖς γνωσθεῖσιν ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ, ἀλλὰ πάντα τρόπον ἐπιχειροῦντες ἀφελέσθαι πάλιν τὴν γυναῖκα τὸν κλῆρον ὃν ὑμεῖς αὐτῇ ἐψηφίσασθε

But, although the mother of this boy here became possessed of the inheritance, since she had prevailed in the suit over all those who disputed her claim, these men are abominable, as you see, and imagine that they need obey neither your laws nor the decisions of your courts, but they are trying by fair means or foul once more to take away from the lady the inheritance which you awarded to her.3

The oldest complete commentary on Revelation was written in the late 6th or early 7th century by Andrew of Caesarea, a late Greek Church Father. He comments:

Here is wisdom: let him who has a mind reckon the number of the beast, for it is the number of a human. And his number is six hundred and sixty-six

The exact sense of the numerical cipher, as well as the rest of the things written regarding this, time and experience will reveal to those who live soberly. Divine grace was not well pleased to set down the name of the destroyer in the divine book.4

So, according to Andrew, the number is arrived at not through cold logical deduction, but will reveal itself in time to those who live soberly.


Nonetheless, as Andrew himeslf notes, "many names are to be found contained in this number."5 The method of equating names to numbers is called gematria, explained by Lawrence Farley in his book, The Apocalypse of Saint John: A Revelation of Love and Power:

The method of using numbers to indicate a name is called gematria, and it was quite common in the ancient world. (Indeed, in the graffiti found in Pompeii, archaeologists have uncovered one saying, “I love her whose number is 545.”) It is here used because it was too dangerous to name the emperor himself, clearly and plainly, as the beast and enemy of God.

In like manner, St. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, shrinks from clearly saying, “The emperor and his empire is that which hinders the final revelation of the man of lawlessness. The emperor must be removed before this can happen.” To write so clearly about the “removal” of the emperor would be to risk a charge of treason. Instead, he says in a roundabout way, “Do you not remember that while I was yet with you, I said these things to you? You know what holds [the Antichrist] back now [viz. the Roman Empire]. . . . He who presently holds him back [viz. the presence of the emperor] will do so until he is taken out of the way” (2 Thess. 2: 5– 7). Paul writes in such an elusive way so as to be understood by the faithful, but not by others.

It is the same here. The practice of gematria (whereby one adds up the numerical equivalents of a word and substitutes the number for the name) serves as a cover for the faithful. The Church is meant to understand the riddle, whereas the hostile pagan world will not.

One application of gematria here actually yields an abbreviation found on coins issued during the rule of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who was the Emperor responsible for exiling John to Patmos:


which abbreviates


Using the numerical equivalents for the Greek letters, the abbreviated form adds to 666:

A = 1
K = 20
A = 1
I = 10
D = 4
O = 70
M = 40
E = 5
T = 300
S = 200
E = 5
B = 2
G = 3
E = 5

Clearly this is not a unique solution, but the example does illustrate - with your question in mind - exactly how one might reckon the name from the number.

How did some copyists get the number wrong?

As I wrote above, I don't think the verse is referring to "calculating" the number itself, but deals rather with what we infer or deduce from the number.

Nonetheless, your point is well taken.

As early as the 2nd century, it was known that there were variants in the extant manuscripts. Irenaeus (130-202) wrote:

I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one [i.e. 616 instead of 666]. (I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.)6 Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decade; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number. Now, as regards those who have done this in simplicity, and without evil intent, we are at liberty to assume that pardon will be granted them by God. But as for those who, for the sake of vainglory, lay it down for certain that names containing the spurious number are to be accepted, and affirm that this name, hit upon by themselves, is that of him who is to come; such persons shall not come forth without loss, because they have led into error both themselves and those who confided in them. Now, in the first place, it is loss to wander from the truth, and to imagine that as being the case which is not; then again, as there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture.7

The most important manuscript containing 616 instead of 666 is the Codex Ephraemi, which dates from the 5th century. From Irenaeus' testimony (above), we know that there must have been some manuscripts circulating in the 2nd century that also contained this reading, but they are now lost.

Metzger's Textual Commentary on the New Testament gives some additional background on the variant readings:

Instead of ἑξήκοντα, which is strongly supported by 𝔓47 א A P 046 051 all extant minuscules itgig vg syrph, h copsa, bo arm al, δέκα is read by C some manuscripts known to Irenaeus (who, however, says that 666 is found “in all good and ancient copies,” and is “attested by those who had themselves seen John face to face”) and Tyconiuspt. According to Tischendorf’s 8th ed., the numeral 616 was also read by two minuscule manuscripts that unfortunately are no longer extant (nos. 5 and 11; cf. C. R. Gregory, Prolegomena, p. 676).2 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 Latin form Nero Caesar (‮נרו קסר‬) is equivalent to 616.

Thus, there seem to be no final conclusions as to why some copyists "got it wrong", but the above provides a number of different plausible explanations.

1. KJV
2. Hobbes translation
3. From Perseus
4. E. Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea and the apocalypse in the ancient church of the East: Studies and Translation. PhD thesis, Quebec: Université Laval (2008), p.146
5. Ibid.
6. 666 is represented numerically by the letters χξς; 616 is represented by χις. The difference is in substituting ι ("iota") for ξ ("xi").
7. Against Heresies V.30.1


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.


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).

  • 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. Mar 20, 2013 at 23:06
  • The number 666 can also be found in Ezra 2:13. Ad(d)okinam and those belonging to him constituted this number of people when returning back to Jerusalem from Babylon. Dec 24, 2017 at 23:45

What is the meaning of “calculate” in Revelation 13:18?


A collins dictionary gave "Work Out" as one of the definitions of the word "calculate". The prophet Daniel had a similar problem, for He wrote:

Daniel 9:2 (NASB)

" In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolation s of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years."

Daniel observed that is he discerned from the books (scrolls) available to him, this indicates that Daniel scrutinized the scrolls regarding the completion of the desolation s of Jerusalem.

How are we expected to "calculate the number "666"?

Numerals are frequently used in the scriptures, especially in the book of Revelation, usually the numbers are symbolic, and sometimes literal, which one applies, we have to read in context to reveal its use.

For the calculation of the number "666" you will need to see the usage in the scriptures of the numbers "three", "six" and possibly "seven".

For the number "three" for example ,the word "Holy, holy,holy" is repeated three times. (Revelation 4:8) Jesus repeated the word "Woe" in three consecutive verses, Matthew 23:13,15 and 16 (Verse 14 is omitted in most translations) .The figure 666 for example, is 6 repeated three times. Why? To give emphasis, intensity , stress.

For the other numbers , I suggest you do a key word search on a literal translation like YTL or NASB to help you understand the symbolic meaning of the numbers.

Since God will do away with the beast , the kings of the earth, and those that worship his image, it is important to know the meaning and so avoid having the fatal number placed on you. (Revelation 19:19-20)

With regards to the second question, the most ancient Greek scriptures have the the numerals written out "ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ."(SBLGNT) (Six hundred and sixty six) which gives a high degree of accuracy and I cannot see how the mistake could have happened.


Thayer's Greek Lexicon adds the note: "(Polybius, Plutarch, Palaeph., Anthol.; commonly and indeed chiefly in the middle in the Greek writings to give one's vote by casting a pebble into the urn; to decide by voting.)"

The Apostolic Bible Polyglot translates the word literally as "tally." The ABP Lexical Concordance adds, "To tally lots or beads on a Graeco-Roman abacus; to tally votes."

Thus, the words count and tally are likely closer to the original meaning than the words calculate or compute.

  • Don't post a repeated answer when the same is already posted. Only post when you have a different or new information to add.
    – Michael16
    Sep 13, 2022 at 6:35
  • Removed the first sentence. I apologize for repeating something someone else said before. I believe the quotations from Thayer's is new information as is the definition from the Apostolic Polyglot Lexical Concordance.
    – Dieter
    Sep 13, 2022 at 15:22

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?

  • 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, 2014 at 19:55
  • 1
    He's also answering the meaning of "calculate"
    – algiogia
    Feb 6, 2015 at 15:26
  • There is a very big difference between: "6,6,6" and "six hundred threescore and six". If actually, "6,6,6" as you say, then "www. ...com" would validly fulfill the prophecy as each "w" = 6 according to this numerology method. Aug 28, 2017 at 4:58

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.