On today’s podcast, Gary answers a listener question about the manuscript differences in Revelation 13 and the “number of the beast."

The number 666 has long fascinated theologians and mathematicians. Maybe the interest in the number has something to do with the attainment of wisdom and understanding since to “calculate the number of the beast” will reward the diligent (Rev. 13:18). The significance of 666 is found in the Bible, not in television or newspapers.

Like much of Revelation, its familiar symbols are meant to represent familiar concepts. This is why Revelation must be read against the backdrop of the Old Testament. As Ferrel Jenkins writes: “The book of Revelation is the most thoroughly Jewish in its language and imagery of any New Testament book. This book speaks not the language of Paul, but of the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.”[1] The beasts, both sea and land, the mark on the hand or head, and the number 666 should be interpreted in light of the Old Testament, similar to the way Sodom (11:8), Egypt (11:8), Jezebel (2:20), Balaam (2:14), and Babylon (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21) are interpreted. Understanding the way the Old Testament uses and applies marks, it is not that difficult to determine what John is describing in Revelation 13. Whoever carried the mark of the beast would be protected by Satan, and whoever carried the mark of the Lamb would be protected by God. Those who identified with Rome against Jesus Christ died in the destruction of Jerusalem when Titus and his army swept in to destroy the temple and the city.

But there is a curious variation on 666. Some manuscripts read 616. Why would a copyist make such a number change? “Perhaps the change was intentional, seeing that the Greek form Neron Caesar written in Hebrew characters (nrwn qsr) is equivalent to 666, whereas the Latin form Nero Caesar (nrw qsr) is equivalent to 616.” [2] Keep in mind that there were no copy machines in the first century. If you wanted a copy of a book, you had to make a copy by hand. No matter how carefully a scribe worked, mistakes were inevitable. Some mistakes occurred when a scribe was making a copy of a known copy. He might have thought the copy was mistaken and that it was up to him to correct it. A Greek or Latin copyist might have thought that 666 was an error because Nero Caesar did not add up to 666 when transliterated into Latin. He then changed 666 to 616 to conform to the Latin rendering since it was generally accepted that Nero was the Beast. In either case, a Hebrew transliteration nets 666, while a Latin spelling nets 616. Nero was the “man” and 666 was his number.

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On today’s podcast, Gary answers a listener question about the manuscript differences in Revelation 13 and the “number of the beast.” Why does it appear as 616 in some and 666 in others? Does this refer to Nero Caesar, or is it some other cryptic message about someone in our present or future?

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[1] Ferrel Jenkins, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 22.

[2] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Societies, 1971), 751–752.