Number of the beast

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The Romantic Artist William Blake's painting The number of the beast is 666. The painting is currently in the collection Rosenbach Museum.[1]

The number of the beast (Greek: Ἀριθμὸς τοῦ θηρίου, Arithmos tou Thēriou) is a term used in the Book of Revelation 13:17-18 using gematria to identify the beast from the sea,[2] the "first beast" of chapter 13.[3] In most New Testament manuscripts, the number is rendered as 666, but the variant 616 is found in critical editions of the Greek text, such as the Novum Testamentum Graece.[4] In the 19th century, James Austin Bastow identified the number as having symbolic correlation to the Emperor Nero, whose Greek name transliterated into Hebrew has the numeric/gematria value of 666, whereas his Latin name written into Hebrew is 616.[5] The "mark of the beast" is used to identify the beast's acolytes. It is widely thought among dispensationalists that the mark will take the form of a number or symbol that will be revealed only during the End Times. The "number of his name" is also mentioned in Revelation 15:2 distinctly from his mark.

Numbers of the beast[edit]

This fragment from Papyrus 115 (P115) of Revelation in the 66th vol. of the Oxyrhynchus series (P. Oxy. 4499)[6] has the number of the beast as 616.

666 and 616[edit]

New Testament manuscripts that use the term 666 in Revelation 13:18, render the Greek numerical form as χ ξ ϛ,[7] or sometimes literally as ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ, or hexakósioi hexēkonta héx, meaning "six hundred and sixty-six".[8][9] Examples are the Textus Receptus, derived from Byzantine text-type manuscripts, where the number 666 is represented by the final three letters χξς. The Novum Testamentum Graece spells out each number as: ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ for "six hundred sixty-six".

For the same verse, other manuscripts, such as Papyrus 115 and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C; Paris, one of the four great uncial codices), reads the number of the beast as 616. P115 (P. Oxy. 4499), located at Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum, dates to around 300 AD. The manuscript is one of the oldest fragments of Revelation[10][11] containing Chapters 2–15. It agrees with both Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, two of the best-known witnesses to Revelation.[12] However, only Codex Ephraemi agrees with the number 616, which is argued to be the original reading of the Greek text,[13][14][15] written out as: ἑξακόσιοι δέκα ἕξ, hexakosioi deka hex (lit. "six hundred and sixteen").[16]

Although Irenaeus (2nd century AD) affirmed the number to be 666 and reported several scribal errors of the number, he knew about the 616 reading but did not adopt it.[17] However, several centuries later, correcting the existing Latin version of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the Vetus Latina, St. Jerome left 616 in.[18] "The number 666 has been substituted for 616 either by analogy with 888, the [Greek] number of Jesus (Deissmann), or because it is a triangular number, the sum of the first 36 numbers (1+2+3+4+5+6+...+36 = 666)".[19]

The number 616 can still be found in the Latin version of Tyconius[20] and an ancient Armenian version.[21]

Gematria / Isopsephy[edit]

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Numbers were represented by letters in Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew (and Ancient Arabic. The practice of converting Greek letters into Greek numerals is known as isopsephy. In Hebrew (and English), the practice is known as gematria, where every letter corresponds to a number. The sum of these numbers gives a numeric value to a word or name.[2] Interpreting the identity and the number of the beast usually falls into three categories:[22]

  1. Using gematria to calculate the number of a world leader's name, in order to match it with the number of the Beast.
  2. Associating the number of the beast to the duration of the beast's reign, in order to compare the length of reign to an entity, such as: a heathen state, Islam, or the Papacy.
  3. Corresponding symbolism for the Antichrist and antichristian power.

Alternatively, verse 18 has also been interpreted without the use of gematria. In consideration of the phrase, "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast",KJV the Greek word ψηφισάτω (psēphisatō) not only translates "to count", but also "to reckon", "to vote" or "to decide".[23]


Victorinus of Pettau (d. c. 303) gives the names Teitan, Antemos ("opponent"), Diclux ("double dealer") and Genserikos; the last he calls Gothic. As it is plainly Genseric, the Vandal king, who captured Rome in 455 AD, the passage as a whole can not go back to Victorinus, who belonged to the third century. It is not, however, surprising that the commentary should be brought up to date, after Genseric became notorious through the sack of Carthage and of Rome. Of the other names in Victorinus, only Diclux needs mention. It is said to be the Latin counterpart of Teitan, and by reckoning each letter at its value in Roman numerals, the total of 666 is again given.[24]

Beatus of Liébana (c. 730 – c. 800), a Spanish monk, gives eight names among which are Damnatus ("damned"), Antichristus ("Antichrist"), and Acxyme ("for aichime or achine=666"). The numerical interpretation of Antichristus is based on the order of letters in the Latin alphabet, a = 1 to x = 30, but the accusative must be taken and spelled Antechristum.[24]

Arethas of Caesarea (b. c. 860) in his Commentary on Revelation gives seven names: Lampetis (the lustrous one), o Niketes (victor), Teitan, Palai baskanos (ancient sorcerer), Kakos Odegos (bad guide), Alethes Blaberos (really harmful), and Amnos Adikos (unjust lamb) each of which gives a total of 666. Most of these names are repeated by Arethas of Caesarea, who in his Commentary adds Teitan from Irenaeus and o Niketes (the winner).[24]

Neron Caesar[edit]

Bust of Nero at Musei Capitolini, Rome

It is widely accepted by many scholars that Roman Emperor Nero (ruling 54–68) is the first Beast of Revelation 13. This interpretation was received by enumerating his name and title Neron Caesar[25] to the Number of the Beast.[5][26][27] An Aramaic scroll from Murabba'at, dated to "the second year of Emperor Nero", refers to him by his name and title[28] where in Hebrew it is Nron Qsr (pronounced "Nerōn Kaisar"), and in Latin it is Nro Qsr (pronounced "Nerō Kaisar").[29]

Nron Qsr

The Greek version of the name and title transliterates into Hebrew as נרון קסר, and yields a numerical value of 666:[5][28]

Resh (ר)Samekh (ס)Qoph (ק)Nun (נ)Vav (ו)Resh (ר)Nun (נ)Sum
Nro Qsr

The Latin version of the name drops the second Nun (נ), so that it appears as Nro and transliterates into Hebrew as נרו קסר, yielding 616:[5]

Resh (ר)Samekh (ס)Qoph (ק)Vav (ו)Resh (ר)Nun (נ)Sum

In the Nero Redivivus legend, a belief that Nero returns to life is noted that "After Nero's suicide in AD 68, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead and somehow would return (Suetonius, LVII; Tacitus, Histories II.8; Dio, LXVI.19.3). Suetonius (XL) relates how court astrologers had predicted Nero's fall but that he would have power in the east. At least three false claimants did present themselves as Nero redivivus (resurrected)."[30] It has also been suggested that Nero's return to power[31] would be through emperor Domitian,[32][33] whose style of rulership resembled that of Nero and who put the people of Asia (Lydia) under heavy taxation.[34]

Mark of the beast[edit]

Imperial seal[edit]

The mark A. Gk., charagma, χάραγμα, in Revelation 13:16 had been attributed to the imperial seal of the Roman Empire that was used on official documents during the first and second centuries.[35] In the reign of Emperor Decius (249–251 AD), those who did not possess the certificate of sacrifice (libellus) to Caesar could not pursue trades, a prohibition that conceivably goes back to Nero. The significance of this imperial seal had been paralleled to verse seventeen.[36]


In 66, when Nero was emperor, about the time some scholars say Revelation was written, the Jews revolted against Rome and coined their own money. The Greek word translated as mark (of the beast), χάραγμα, also means stamped money, coin or the impress on the coin hence, "no one buys or sells without the money of the beast."[37]

New Testament scholar Craig C. Hill suggests that the mark symbolized the all-embracing economic power of Rome, whose very coinage bore the emperor's image and conveyed his claims to divinity (e.g., by including the sun's rays in the ruler's portrait).[38] Zealot Christians from the 1st century refused to carry, look at, or manufacture coins bearing any sort of idolatrous image.[39] Thus it had become increasingly difficult for Christians to function in a world in which public life, including the economic life of the trade guilds, required participation in idolatry.[38] Adela Yarbro Collins further denotes that the refusal to use Roman coins resulted in the condition where "no man might buy or sell" (Rev.13:17).[40]

A similar view is offered by Craig R. Koester, "As sales were made, people used coins that bore the images of Rome's gods and emperors. Thus each transaction that used such coins was a reminder that people were advancing themselves economically by relying on political powers that did not recognize the true God."[41]


The passage is also seen as an antithetical parallelism to tefillin (small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah). Instead of binding their allegiance to God to their arm and head, the place is instead taken with people's allegiance to the beast.[42]

Belief systems[edit]


In the writings of the Bahá'í Faith, `Abdu'l-Bahá states that the numerical value given to the beast referred to the year[43] when the Umayyad ruler Muawiyah I, (who opposed the Imamate according to the beliefs of the Shi'ites) took office as Caliph in 661 AD. He continued to pay the tax required of nonbelievers who were excluded from government and the military, and thus bore a social "mark".[44] See also the scholarly accepted year of birth of Jesus about 666 years before.


Catholics have concluded through scholar interpretation that the Greek alphabet yielded unsatisfactory results in interpreting the meaning (e.g. Irenæus, Against Heresies V.33). A better understanding was obtained via the Hebrew alphabet. When Nero Caesar is spelled in Hebrew letters, it identifies the cipher 666, concluding that Nero is meant, and is not a prophesy for identifying a future Antichrist.[45]

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the beast for which 666 stands symbolizes many unified governments, harmonizing with the symbolic depiction of past governments (denoted as "kings") in the Book of Daniel as wild beasts. The beast is said to have "a human number" in that the governments that the beast symbolizes are all of a human origin, they aren't made up of spirit or demon entities. Furthermore, the number 666 "itself all point to one unmistakable conclusion— gross shortcoming and failure in the eyes of Jehovah," thus imperfection (seven is used by God in many ways to indicate perfection, such as days in the week, hence six is the number of imperfection, falling short of seven).[46]


In Kabbalistic Judaism, the number 666 represents the creation and perfection of the world. The world was created in six days, and there are six cardinal directions (north, south, east, west, up and down).[47]

Seventh-day Adventists

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the mark of the beast (but not the number 666) refers to a future, universal, legally enforced Sunday-worship. "Those who reject God's memorial of creatorship—the Bible Sabbath—choosing to worship and honor Sunday in the full knowledge that it is not God's appointed day of worship, will receive the 'mark of the beast.'"[48] "The Sunday Sabbath is purely a child of the Papacy. It is the mark of the beast."[49]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi (ed.). "The Number of the Beast is 666, object 1 (Butlin 522) "The Number of the Beast is 666"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Garrow 1997, p. 86.
  3. ^ Beale 1999, p. 718: "the number is that of the first beast who is described in 13:1-8, not of the second beast described in vv 11-16".
  4. ^ Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle and Aland, 1991, footnote to verse 13:18 of Revelation, page 659: "-σιοι δέκα ἕξ" as found in C [C=Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus]; for English see Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, note on verse 13:18 of Revelation, page 750: "the numeral 616 was also read ..."
  5. ^ a b c d Cory 2006, p. 61.
  6. ^ Parker 2009, p. 73
  7. ^ "Revelation 13:18". Stephanus New Testament. Bible Gateway. Retrieved 22 June 2006. 
  8. ^ "Revelation 13:18". Westcott-Hort New Testament. Bible Gateway. Retrieved 22 June 2006. 
  9. ^ "Revelation 13:18" (JPEG). Codex Alexandrinus. Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Archived from the original on 23 March 2006. Retrieved 22 June 2006. 
  10. ^ Stewart 2011, pp. 40–41.
  11. ^ "Papyrus Reveals New Clues to Ancient World". Archived from the original on 25 April 2005. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  12. ^ Comfort 2000, p. 66.
  13. ^ Schnabel 2012, p. 187.
  14. ^ Philip W Comfort and David P Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Incorporated, 2001)
  15. ^ Anderson, Tom (1 May 2005). "Revelation! 666 is not the number of the beast (it's a devilish 616)". The Independent (London). Retrieved 1 March 2009. 
  16. ^ Hoskier, Herman C. (1929). Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse: A complete conspectus of all authorities (vol. 2 ed.). p. 364. 
  17. ^ Against Heresies, Book 5, 28, 2
  18. ^ De Monogramm., ed. Dom G Morin in the Rev. Benedictine, 1903
  19. ^ Paul Lewes, A Key to Christian Origins (Watts & Co., London, 1932, p. 140
  20. ^ (DCXVI, ed. Souter in the Journal of Theology, SE, April 1913)
  21. ^ (ed. Conybaere, 1907)
  22. ^ Beale 1999, p. 718.
  23. ^ Samuel Fuller, The Revelation of St. John the Divine self-interpreted, page 226
  24. ^ a b c Henry A. Sanders (1918) "The Number of the Beast in Revelation", Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 37, No. 1/2. (1918), pp. 95–99 (Subscription required for JSTOR link.)
  25. ^ Garrow 1997, p. 86: (Bauckham, 1993, p. 387).
  26. ^ Just, Felix (2 February 2002). "666: The Number of the Beast". Retrieved 6 June 2006. 
  27. ^ Some Recently Published NT Papyri from Oxyrhynchus: An Overview and Preliminary Assessment by Peter M. Head, Tyndale Bulletin 51 (2000), pp. 1–16
  28. ^ a b Hillers, D. R. (1963). Revelation 13:18 and A Scroll from Murabba'at. BASOR, 170. p. 65. 
  29. ^ Hillers, D.R. (1963). "Revelation 13:18 and a Scroll from Murabba'at". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 170 (170): 65 es. doi:10.2307/1355990. JSTOR 1355990.  Note: website requires subscription. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990. 1009
  30. ^
  31. ^ Harpers Bible Commentary, ed. James L. Mays (Harper Collins: San Francisco:1988), 1300
  32. ^ An introduction to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity by Delbert Royce Burkett, p.510
  33. ^ Encyclopedia of Prophecy by Geoffrey Ashe, p.204
  34. ^ From every people and nation: the book of Revelation in intercultural perspective, p.193
  35. ^ Elwell 1996, p. 462
  36. ^ Haines 1995, pp. 41–2
  37. ^ Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1940.
  38. ^ a b Craig C. Hill (2002), In God's Time: The Bible and the Future, Eerdmans; p. 124
  39. ^ Adela Yarbro Collins (1984), Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse, Westminster John Knox Press, p.126
  40. ^ "Collins, 1984, p. 126: Adela Yarbro Collins writes, "The juxtaposition of buying and selling with the mark of the beast refers to the fact that Roman coins normally bore the image and name of the current emperor. "The inability to buy or sell would then be the result of the refusal to use Roman coins."
  41. ^ Craig R. Koester (2001), Revelation and the End of All Things, Eerdmans; p. 132
  42. ^ Paul Spilsbury (2002), The Throne, the Lamb and the Dragon: A Reader's Guide to the Book of Revelation, InterVarsity Press; p. 99
  43. ^ Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (7 January 1986). "Interpretation of Biblical Verses". Bahá'í Library. Retrieved 16 May 2007. 
  44. ^ "Student Resources, Chapter 12: The First Global Civilization: The Rise and Spread of Islam, The Arab Empire of the Umayyads – Converts and "People of the Book"". Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  45. ^ New Advent-Catholic Encyclopedia: Apocalypse; Interpretation, 6th paragraph New Advent-Catholic Encyclopedia: Apocalypse; Interpretation, 6th paragraph.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  46. ^ "Identifying the Wild Beast and Its Mark". The Watchtower. 1 April 2004. Retrieved 29 June 2006 es. 
  47. ^ "Six Six Six "Ask The Rabbi" Ohr Somayach". Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  48. ^ Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2nd ed). Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. 2005. p. 196. 
  49. ^ Advent Review, Vol. I, No. 2, August, 1850.


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