Insight #307 – 666 – the Puzzle (666 series, 1 of 3)

What number is more intriguing than 666? For those of us who enjoy mental puzzles, this is among the best. Yet, this is not a game. Neither is it a vain pursuit. The book of Revelation instructs us: “He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast” (13:18).

Sadly, when it comes to wild ideas, it may be difficult to surpass the absurdities foisted on the public as solutions to the enigma of 666. Popular ultra-modern views include concepts of a cashless society, the universal use of barcodes, and even implantation of biochips in everyone so the Antichrist can control all commerce.

At the other extreme, some commentaries say it is useless and foolish to try to discover a specific name that fulfills 666. They treat 666 and most items in Revelation as if they were parables devoid of specific predictions having historical significance.

It was no one less than Jesus Christ, the author of Revelation, who directed John to write: “He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast… His number is 666” (Rev. 13:18). We are commanded to “calculate” or “count,” as other versions translate it. It is a math problem. Seldom does Revelation directly tell us to apply understanding to grasp the meaning of a particular symbol. But it specifically tells us to calculate 666.

A Number Is a Number

From ancient to modern times, numbers have fascinated both believers and non-believers. Many people attribute mystical meanings and powers to numbers. Have you ever known people afraid of the number 13? Many people approach 666 with the same attitude – as if it were an unlucky or dangerous number. However, the Bible never gives mystical meanings or powers to numbers.

One of the earliest biblical prophetic interpretations was given by Joseph when he explained to Pharaoh, “The seven empty heads of grain… will be seven years of famine” (Gen. 41:27). Each empty head of grain represented a year of famine. What did seven represent? Seven! Daniel wrote: “These great animals, which are four, are four kings” (7:17). Beasts represented kings, but four is four. In the same chapter: “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise”(7:24). The horns represent kings – but ten is ten. A number is a number, even in symbolic prophecy!

Everyday English sometimes uses certain numbers in an indefinite way. For example, “I told you a dozen times.” We all know that simply means “lots of times.” In such cases, a dozen or a million are not precise. Nevertheless, they are still dealing with quantity. Sometimes there is a round number. “I lived there ten years,” when really, I only lived there a little over nine years. The round number is not precise, but it still is quantity.

The same is true in the Bible, which often uses seven in the same way we frequently use dozen. Proverbs 26:16 says a lazy man thinks he knows more than “seven men who answer with discretion.” Who would argue that the lazy man thinks he is better than seven men, but not better than eight? No one. It is just a graphic way of saying “a lot.” It still stands for quantity, even though indefinite.

There simply is no hidden spiritual meaning in biblical numbers either inside or outside of prophetic texts. Contrary to what is often taught and accepted without examination, numbers are numbers in the Bible. There is no biblical basis for seeking some mystical meaning to 666 or any other number. The Holy Spirit specifically commands us to calculate the number of the beast’s name. This is not a mystical enigma; it is a mathematical puzzle.

Seven and Six

A common belief is that seven is the number of completeness, perfection, holiness, and God. It doesn’t seem to disturb some people that the Bible nowhere says that. The usual “proof” offered is the way seven is frequently used. But wait a minute.

As for seven representing holiness and God, consider Revelation 12: 3 and 9, where Satan is presented as a dragon with seven heads and seven crowns. Then in Matthew 12:45 we read of “seven other spirits more evil than he is.” It simply is not true that seven signifies holiness and divinity.

As for seven representing completeness and perfection, the book of Revelation was written to “the seven churches that are in Asia.” Complete? No. The Asian church of Colossae is not named. Neither were each of the seven churches all that holy. Then there is Peter, who seemed to think seven was the complete and perfect number of times to forgive. But, in Matthew 18:22, Jesus told Peter he was 483 times short of complete forgiveness! 

For some who connect seven to God, the next step is to claim that six is the number of man; and since six is less than seven, it is less than perfect, less than divine – thus it is the number of imperfect man. It is said that since six is repeated three times in the number 666, it refers to man at his worst in opposition to God. Some think that six is the number of man because man was created on the sixth day of creation. And so were baboons, bears, skunks, cats, and cobras! Where does the Bible state that six is the number of man?

The Number of Man?

There is a view that Revelation 13:18 should not be translated “the number of a man,” but rather “the number of man” (without “a”). The reason given is that the indefinite article “a” is missing in the original. Of course it is missing; Greek has no indefinite articles. Therefore, we must examine every context to determine if the translation into English should include an indefinite article or not.

By translating the phrase “the number of man” (without “a”), the text is forced to say that 666 is the number of the human race. Well, if that is what the text is saying, we already have the mystical meaning and the command to count is meaningless. Furthermore, since the beast in chapter 13 fights against much of mankind, he cannot represent mankind in general.

In addition, if we were to accept a translation that says “the number of man,” would Revelation then be affirming that six is the number of mankind? Not at all! Revelation 13 is not talking about six. Revelation 13 is talking about 666. Six hundred and sixty-six is not six. It is not even three sixes. Three sixes are eighteen. In 666, the first six means 600, the second six means 60, and only the third six means 6.

Finally, not only is 666 called “the number of a man” (13:18), it is also “the number of his name” (13:17). The beast’s name has a number. We are commanded to calculate the number of the name of this specific enemy of mankind. So, how can we solve this puzzle? How do you calculate the number of his name? How can we calculate the number of any name? Tune in next time.

Others in series: (2 of 3) (3 of 3)