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The Number of the Beast

There has been a flurry of interest in the number of the Beast in Canadian and American newspapers of late. The reason for the interest is that the Beast’s number might not be 666.

A few years ago, a papyrus of Revelation was discovered. It was badly damaged, having only about twenty fragments that spanned nine chapters. One fragment, in particular, is of interest. About the size of a postage stamp, it includes part of Revelation 13.18. There we read, “This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is man’s number, and his number is 666” (NET Bible). But the papyrus (known as P115) has a different number here: 616.

I saw the fragment four years ago at the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University. It was published over six years ago; just now it is making its way into popular literature as though it were a new discovery. When I looked at the fragment, the curator had to slice open its case because the verse in question was on the backside. He told me that no one had asked to see the fragment since it had been published. I looked at it under a microscope to make sure that the wording had not been tampered with. But even with the naked eye, it was quite legible. I am inclined to the view that the original wording here was 616, but a lot of work is needed to determine this. Although this is the earliest fragment for this portion of Revelation (third or fourth century), the fragment’s textual affinities and general reliability still need to be examined fully.

Further, the number 616 was known in antiquity and was discarded in the second century. Irenaeus, the patristsic commentator, wrote a chapter on the number of the beast, arguing that in the better manuscripts of Revelation that he had seen the number was 666 instead of 616. To be sure, his perspective was theologically motivated (he gave the interpretation of 666 as striving for perfection [represented by the number 7] but never able to achieve it). But the fact that he was writing in the second century tells us that BOTH numbers existed at that time. It may well have been Irenaeus’ input that caused scribes to alter the text to 666 if 616 was in the exemplar that they used.

Indeed, we know of one other manuscript (Codex C, from the fifth century) that has 616, and two others used to exist (codices 5 and 11) that had this number. But the point here is that one cannot simply appeal to the earliest manuscript and assume that the case is settled. Textual criticism is not done in such a simplistic manner. Date is indeed important, but there are several other factors involved. The Center for the Study of New TestamentManuscripts has begun to investigate whether this is the authentic number of Revelation. It will take scores of hours of research, and the results will not be certain. But if 616 is indeed the number of the beast, it will certainly have interesting implications. In the least, it will send seven tons of popular Christian literature to the flames!

Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.
Executive Director,
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

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28 Responses to “The Number of the Beast”

  1. Wow.

    Dan I have such a strong desire to better understand the process of textual criticism. It would be great if you could teach an elective online that covers how one goes about this process.

    Did I mention how handsome you are? Oh and have I told you what a snappy dresser you are? What about your flawless taste in computers…. ok you are Mac man…now you know I am just flattering you in hopes to convince you to teach a class for TTP :-).

    Anyway, thank you for such an insightful post. This is a truly exciting topic. I look forward to more updates on this as you progress in your research.

    Blessings,

    Carrie

  2. I have read that much of what is in Revelation was referring to what was going on at that present time and that 666 was referring to Nero. It will be interesting to see if the “most expert of experts” agrees that 616 is what was intended. Then the writers who say it referred to Nero will have to rethink who it referred to if it was referring to someone at that time.

  3. Well, I was just doing an internet search on Nero and 666 and came across the wikipedia entry and you can tell from the discussion page attached to that article (there’s a tab on top to get to that page) that there have been a lot of people adding to and deleting from that article. The most interesting writing about the 666 and 616 “discrepancy” that I found on the discussion page is found at:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Number_of_the_Beast

    and says, “It can be both. Kenneth Gentry in his book “He Shall Have Dominion” shows how Nero’s name in Hebrew was valued at 666. His Latin name in cryptic Numerology was calculated as 616. That is why different sources of Scripture have the different numbers. It depended on who translated the scripts. Apparently there was little doubt in the time period that John was warning Jerusalem about it’s destruction in 69 AD and wrote so cryptically to protect himself and the bearers of the letters (not to mention the intended recipients. Nero was so terrible to Christians. This is the only theory that works for both 616 and 666. This does presuppose that Revalation was written well before 90 AD and more like in the 50’s.”

  4. Most would regard 616 as better representing Nero since it works in Latin. What I’ve been wrestling with is whether a scribe in the second century would change this to 616 to conform to Nero’s name. At this stage, it seems unlikely because he had been dead since AD 68. So, this would mean that 616 may well be the original number. However, Kenneth Gentry I think errs in arguing that Revelation had to be written before 90 since the number of the beast obviously referred to him, presupposing that he was still alive. There was a myth, one that lasted for several decades, called Nero Redivivus. It was the belief (or fear!) that Nero would rise from the dead and come back to haunt Rome and the Roman empire. Kind of like the fear in the 50s and 60s by some groups that Hitler had not really died in April 1945 since the Russians got to Berlin first.

    In the late second century, Irenaeus wrote a whole chapter (though very short) on why the number of the Beast had to be 666. His argument was that this referred to man’s striving for perfection. Thus, he gave the text a spiritual interpretation and he had a huge influence. Irenaeus also said that the oldest manuscripts had 666.

    It’s difficult to know how to put all this evidence together. But by Irenaeus’s day the Nero Redivivus myth seems to have been a distant memory (since he doesn’t even mention it), suggesting that 666 would have been used for other reasons besides identifying Nero. On the one hand, that could mean that 666 was a double entendre–referring to Nero and to man at his best sans Christ–or it could mean that 666 as an identification for Nero was so subtle that John didn’t even intend it.

    At this stage, I’m inclined to think that 616 may well be authentic and that through the influence of Irenaeus the text was altered to 666 for most manuscripts. But this in no way means that Nero was still alive of course, just that the spirit of Nero and/or the Nero Redivivus myth would still be going strong when John penned the Apocalypse. After all, doesn’t this Beast virtually rise from the dead? Rev 13.3 seems to suggest this. And that would best fit a scenario after Nero had died. But this means that John is not really referring to Nero (as Gentry argues), but is referring to one who could come in his spirit, one who would rule the Roman empire, and who would wreak havoc on the true believers.

  5. Dan,

    Will you be publishing your findings? Also, there’s a high and low resolution color photo of this manuscript available at the Oxyrhynchus website.

  6. Peter, I hope we can come to some conclusion after about 200 hours of research on this problem. It should take a couple of years, given our other duties. Right now, CSNTM is mostly involved in photographing manuscripts and putting the images on line. See http://www.csntm.org or details.

  7. James Snapp Jr 2007-05-01 at 7:21 pm

    Dear Dr. Wallace:

    Let me make sure I understand what you are saying:

    Irenaeus, writing “Against Heresies” Book Five, ch. 30, in about A.D. 184,
    stated that “666” was the reading in the most approved and ancient copies.
    Irenaeus also stated that “666” was the reading supported by men who
    saw John face to face. Figuring that Irenaeus was writing in 184, a copy that
    Irenaeus considered old would probably be at least as old as P52. P-115,
    a.k.a. P.Oxy. LVI 4499, adds something to the text-critical equation by
    showing that the reading “616” was known in Egypt c. A.D. 300.

    You looked at that evidence and said, “I am inclined to the view that the
    original wording here was 616, but a lot of work is needed to determine this.”

    Irenaeus referred to 666 as the reading in the oldest MSS, and as the
    reading supported by men who had seen John face to face. That — not any
    theological interpretation of 666 as striving for perfection — is the primary
    reason he gives for accepting “666” as the correct variant. Also, inasmuch
    as Irenaeus proceeds to mention a few names (Euanqas, Lateinos, Teitan)
    with the gematria-total of 666, it seems abundantly clear that Irenaeus fully
    understood that the number-of-the-name business was not a spiritualized
    striving-for-perfection thing, but a prophecy that he expected would someday
    be literally fulfilled. (I’m not sure where you got the idea of striving-for-
    perfection. Irenaeus said — in Book 5, ch. 30 —
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vii.xxxi.html
    that the 6-hundreds-and-6-tens-and-6-ones indicate “the recapitulations of
    that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning,
    during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end.”
    Where’s the striving-for-perfection stuff?

    If it is “theologically motivated” to cite the oldest and best witnesses, and to
    appeal to early patristic testimony (which is essentially how Irenaeus
    defended the reading “666”), what sort of statement could qualify as *not*
    something theologically motivated?

    As someone else has mentioned, there’s a good photo of P-115 at
    http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/beast616.htm .
    (The “6” is not written as digamma but as a stigma, which seemed mildly
    interesting to me because it makes the number “616” look sort of like a “X”
    followed by the nomen sacrum _IC_., which brought to mind Barnabas’
    reference to Abraham’s 318 warriors and his proposal that they represent
    Christ (IH) on the cross (T). This is just coincidence, though.)

    It’s not likely that iota and chi could be confused accidentally. A simple
    theory about how “616” originated is proposed at
    http://www.americanvision.org/articlearchive/05-10-05.asp .
    (The archaeological finds referred to there = a scroll, Murabbaat 18, which
    mentions the second year of “Nero Caesar.”) It seems likely to me that a
    bilingual Greek/Latin copyist was unaware of the parallel, in Greek, between
    “666” and “888” (the gematria-value of IHSOUS), but was aware of
    speculations, in Latin, identifying “Nero” as the name in question. To this
    scribe, a shift from “666” to “616” was merely a matter of making more plain
    what he thought was the text’s intent — that is, by dropping the final “N” and
    its 50-value, the identification became more obvious, in Latin (but in the
    process the symbolic parallel to 888 was detroyed).

    (Yes, Nero had been dead for decades, but the scribe might not have seen
    that as a problem; Nero’s reappearance could be assumed by him to be just
    one more apocalyptic demonic wonder.)

  8. James, thanks for the post. I believe that Dan referred primarily to internal evidence to suggest that 616 was intentionally altered. That would be a major point of further investigation.

    Thanks for the post.

  9. James, thanks for the input. I appreciate your perspective and eye to detail. I think you are right about some things but not about others.

    First, you said, “Figuring that Irenaeus was writing in 184, a copy that Irenaeus considered old would probably be at least as old as P52.” That’s a little ambiguous because the date of P52 has been disputed recently as you know. My thinking is that Irenaeus knew of manuscripts that were worn, and surmised from that that they were old. Or else he had seen some that had been in existence many years earlier. But I rather doubt that he had much facility to determine the age of a manuscript. Indeed, a key proof for old age would have been if the manuscript were on a scroll, since the codex was not invented until the end of the first century. But Irenaeus says none of this. What, then, is the basis for his determination? We simply don’t know. We also know that Irenaeus had an agenda on some things (e.g., his dating of Matthew prior to Mark by shifting Mark’s gospel to after the death of Peter, contradicting what Papias had earlier said). How much credence, then, can we give to his opinion? Also, when he speaks of the manuscripts that had been approved, this presumably means that they were used and thus worn. But wouldn’t that mean that they would thus look older? Further, what region is he talking about? Is he aware of the manuscripts in Asia Minor? The cryptic reference, though important, does not fully solve the issue in the direction of 666, though it certainly gives me pause!

    Irenaeus also spoke of 666 as the number of the Beast according to folks who knew John. Again, this is a serious consideration that must be given due weight. But he doesn’t mention who these folks are. I don’t mean to be critical of Irenaeus’s accuracy; and I won’t bring up his alleged statement that Jesus may have been 50 when he died (Against Heresies, 2.22), since that is open to different interpretations. But as for dates of things, Irenaeus is not always the most reliable guide.

    You mentioned that Irenaeus does not speak about 666 as having a spiritual meaning related to striving for perfection. It is true that he does not specifically say that here, and for that I appreciate the correction.

    In Against Heresies 1.15, he speaks against one called Sige regarding the gematria of Jesus as being 888. He says, “But Jesus, he [Sige] affirms, has the following unspeakable origin. From the mother of all things, that is, the first Tetrad, there came forth the second Tetrad, after the manner of a daughter; and thus an Ogdoad was formed, from which, again, a Decad proceeded: thus was produced a Decad and an Ogdoad. The Decad, then, being joined with the Ogdoad, and multiplying it ten times, gave rise to the number eighty; and, again, multiplying eighty ten times, produced the number eight hundred. Thus, then, the whole number of the letters proceeding from the Ogdoad [multiplied] into the Decad, is eight hundred and eighty-eight. This is the name of Jesus; for this name, if you reckon up the numerical value of the letters, amounts to eight hundred and eighty-eight. Thus, then, you have a clear statement of their opinion as to the origin of the supercelestial Jesus.”

    In his chapter on the number of the Beast, he says, “the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end).” This is indeed a spiritual interpretation, but it is not clearly speaking about man’s striving for perfection. Thanks for the correction. Nevertheless, Irenaeus says that 666 is a number that has meaning that goes beyond the individual in view, for he goes on to note that “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 decads they will have it that there is but one.” In other words, to him 666 has value that goes beyond the gematria of a man’s name. Though he links it to his view of recapitulation, he clearly notes that 616 is the harder reading. And the harder reading, unless there is reason to suspect unintentional alteration, is normally to be preferred. You yourself admitted that unintentional alteration is not likely. Thus, if 616 is the harder reading, then there is strong internal evidence that it is authentic. Further, 616 has no spiritual significance according to Irenaeus; only 666 does.

    In light of the fact that some early Christian writers spoke of Sunday as the eighth day and of Jesus’ gematria as 888 (e.g., Christian Sibylline 1.324ff.) to the effect that his number went beyond perfection, one could easily extrapolate that 666 would be the number that comes up short of perfection. But again, you are quite right: Irenaeus does not say this. Nevertheless, as I noted above, he does give a spiritual interpretation to 666 and that is what may have been followed by others who considered Rev 13.18 in light of Jesus’ gematria.

    James, I think your question, “If it is ‘theologically motivated’ to cite the oldest and best witnesses, and to appeal to early patristic testimony (which is essentially how Irenaeus defended the reading ‘666’), what sort of statement could qualify as *not* something theologically motivated?” is not very fair. It was really a bait and switch. I was arguing about one thing, but you turned the referent into something different. I argued that Irenaeus’s argument was theologically motivated, and I think I demonstrated that in my quotation from him above. And later scribes, influenced by him—especially since he spent a whole (albeit short) chapter on the number of the beast—would be easily tempted to go with 666. But as I mentioned above and in my first blog, Irenaeus’s statement about earlier manuscripts and John’s friends needs to be weighed seriously. But it does not settle the issue by any means.

    But there’s more to the theological motivation for having 666. Irenaeus follows up his condemnation of 616 by stating that anyone who willfully wrote 616 would receive “no light punishment” and would be “reckoned among the false prophets”! One would think that such a condemnation of this scribal alteration would be incentive enough for scribes to pay particular attention to this text and make sure to get the number right—viz., 666! After Irenaeus’s day, this one text would become a major focus of careful copying for the Apocalypse. What scribe would want to be charged with intentionally altering the scriptures, thereby incurring the wrath of God and being considered a false prophet! Yet, the fact that at least four Greek manuscripts survived (two though now having disappeared) with the number 616 seems to me to be significant. One might say that the scribes of these manuscripts were either unaware of Irenaeus’s strongly stated view of this text, were careless in their copying of the Apocalypse, or followed a transmissional tradition that had 616 in it—and one which went back to very ancient times. Since all these manuscripts come after Irenaeus’s time by a century (P115) or more (Codex C and the two minuscules), and since—as you noted—unintentional alteration is unlikely here,we are left with the likelihood that these scribes had good reason to write 616 instead of 666. I am inclined to think that they were aware of Irenaeus’s invoking of the curse of Rev 22.18-19 for this particular text, yet they must have had an even stronger reason for going against his stern warning. In other words, we cannot simply dismiss 616 as being due to preference for the Nero Redivivus myth, but as having a very ancient pedigree. That Codex C is one of these manuscripts—and is generally regarded to be one of the two or three most valuable witnesses to the Apocalypse—adds significantly to this point. My argument about P115 was that here is an earlier witness whose textual consanguinity may well help it to establish the reading at a much earlier period in the transmissional history.

    In sum, I am still not decided about this textual variant. Irenaeus’s opinion is important, but so is P115 and C. And the fact that Irenaeus can’t come up with a good reason for why a scribe would write 616 but had his own theological reasons for why 666 must be the right number shows that 666 is a motivated reading for many later scribes. In my judgment, I would urge a more cautious approach to this text, especially when there are several variables involved in the matter. Dogma is out of place here, in spite of Irenaeus’s fallible opinion.

  10. James Snapp Jr 2007-05-03 at 9:43 pm

    Dear Dr. Wallace,

    Thanks for replying.

    First, setting aside the fuzzy dating of P52, copies considered old by Irenaeus would probably be about 50 years old, which would imply that they were removed from the original by no more than 30-50 years. One can always raise questions about the reasons why Irenaeus considered some MSS old, but since, as you said, we simply don’t know, the suggestion that Irenaeus figured that worn copies must be old has no more to commend it than an alternative suggestion that, say, Irenaeus referred to them as old because he had acquired them in his youth from someone who had claimed that they had been written decades before that.

    You asked, “How much credence, then, can we give to his opinion?” Strictly speaking, Irenaeus is not offering an opinion, but an observation: the observation that “666” is in the ancient copies and is supported by men who were face to face with John.

    Irenaeus doesn’t answer all the questions we would like him to — “Irenaeus, you seem to be referring to men in Asia; are you referring to Asian copies, as well? What makes you think those copies are old?” — but if we are going to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to Irenaeus, we ought to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to the hermeneutic of suspicion as well: when a bishop who walked the streets of Asia, Rome, and Gaul, and who was removed by one generation from the apostles, informs us about the reading of old, approved copies (and by “approved” I think he simply means that they had been handed down from within the church), and informs us that men who were face to face with John supported the same reading, what grounds do we have for concluding (rather than suspecting) that his observation is unreliable?

    (And regarding Irenaeus’ alleged statement that Jesus may have been 50 when he died: I won’t bring it up either, except to note that Irenaeus’ problematic explanation of John 8:57 does not affect his ability to read manuscripts or recollect the testimony of John’s contemporaries.)

    I’m not sure how you went from Irenaeus’ comment that he does not know how some people have erroneously deduced 50 from 666 to the claim that Irenaeus “clearly notes that 616 is the harder reading.” Saying, “I don’t know why someone changed “666” into “616”” is not the same as saying that “616” is the harder reading. Though it didn’t occur to Irenaeus, I think it is easy to see why a Greek/Latin copyist who understood “666” as a reference to Nero would write “616”: to make the riddle a little /easier/ by dropping the value of the final “N” (50).

    When determining the difficulty-levels of rival readings, we need to consider not only the difficulty met by scribes, but also by authors. It’s easy to see why John would write “666” ~ it symbolized a counterfeit Jesus in Greek gematria. The Greek-speaking, Greek-reading Asians would grasp the parallel. Why would John, writing in Greek, allude to a Latin gematria? Irenaeus, writing at least 80 years later, still doesn’t consider Latin gematria, but Greek, when proposing possible names that add up to 666. Framed this way, “616” is the easier reading for a Greek/Latin scribe to invent (to make the riddle easier, without materially affecting what he thought was the sense of the passage), and the harder reading for John to write.

    Regarding the “bait-and-switch” business: you were arguing that Irenaeus’ statement was theologically motivated, but the quotation you provided does /not/ establish that. Irenaeus’ approach to the 666-vs-616 variant is not like Origen’s approach to the Bethabara-vs-Bethany variant in Jn 1:28; Origen preferred a reading because he liked the allegorical picture it facilitated. But Origen’s allegorical picture is a simple etymological one (I think). Irenaeus’ theological explanation of “666” is not simple. It’s complicated: in Book Five, ch. 29, Irenaeus says that the 600 represents the evil rebellion in the days of Noah, which reached its height in the 600th year of Noah’s life. The 60 represents the height of Nebuchadnezzar’s image (in Daniel 3:1), and the 6 represents the width of the image.

    Nobody would read “616” and think, “Obviously the copyist made a mistake, because the ten’s-unit does not parallel the image of Nebuchadnezzar.” If Irenaeus had claimed such a thing, /then/ we could say that he is making a theologically motivated argument for the “666” reading. But he doesn’t do that. Irenaeus’ figurative interpretation of “666” is the sort of thing that springs from the combination of a text and a determined interpreter; it’s not the sort of thing that provokes textual change.

    Since Irenaeus’ theological point flows from the establishment of the “666” reading, not vice versa, his argument for the “666” variant cannot validly be called a theologically motivated argument. He has a theological view, but it’s not among his reasons why “666” is the authentic reading.

    Also: while Irenaeus stated that anyone who willfully wrote 616 would receive “no light punishment,” Rev. 22:18-19 was much more available to scribes, and much more certain to be known to those who copied the book of Revelation. If anything spurred scribes to write “666,” the exemplars themselves would exercise more influence than Irenaeus’ writings. They had an 80-year head start. If we knew of copies in which “616” was crossed out and replaced with “616,” we might suppose that a change was made because of Irenaeus’ influence, but as things stand, there’s nothing that suggests that “666” was adopted due to Irenaeus’ influence rather than the natural influence of exemplars.

    Also, Irenaeus did not claim that anyone who wrote “616” would be reckoned among the false prophets. That’s an overextension of his statement. What he wrote was that those who, for the sake of vainglory, adopt the “616” reading, /and/ identify a particular individual as the man whose number it is, /and/ say that this is certain, /and/ teach this to others, need to back up to the true number of the name in order to not be reckoned among false prophets.

    We should dismiss the “616” variant as being due to preference for the Nero Redivivus myth /and/ affirm that it has a very ancient pedigree. A second-century transmission stream was very capable of being influenced by the interpretation that the Antichrist would be Nero Redivivus, and by a copyist’s desire to make (what he thought was) the correct interpretation easier for Latin-using readers by rendering the number-value as 616 (with “Nero Caesar”) rather than 666 (with “Neron Caesar”), as Metzger suggested (in TCGNT, p. 750).

  11. James, I won’t belabor this point any longer, except to say this: I don’t think you’re seeing my view very well, and you consistently hold to a dogmatic position. We could go on and on about Irenaeus’s credibility as a reliable guide to what the original NT said, and I suspect you would agree with me that he would not show too well overall. Or we could talk about manuscripts and the relative weight that they have, and I believe you would agree with me that manuscripts generally speaking are more important than patristic evidence. We could talk about how Rev 22.18-19 is not singling out the number of the beast while Irenaeus is, which is why scribes would be more prone to be concerned about getting Rev 13.18 right than any other portion of the book.

    But my point is that the issue is not cut and dried; your point seems to be that it is and that 616 is obviously a spurious reading. My question for you, then, is: What would it take to convince you that 616 was even possibly the original reading? A patristic comment that contradicted Irenaeus’s statement? Five second-century manuscript with 616? 100 second-century manuscripts with 616? From the way you’ve presented things, it seems that none of these would suffice. All I’m saying is that 666 may be the wrong reading, and I’m inclined now to think that it is wrong. (My views have changed in the last two or three years on this, but I’m very much open to listening to both sides of the argument. And again, I appreciate your input, but I must admit that it’s getting both wearying and, frankly, causing me to become even more inclined to the 616 reading.) But I am by no means dogmatic about this because much more research needs to be done–such as concerning the Nero Redivivus myth (how far it spread, in what languages, when), and the textual fidelity of P115. So again, I ask you to temper your comments and be a bit more open and charitable concerning others’ viewpoints.

  12. James Snapp Jr 2007-05-04 at 8:35 am

    Dear Dr. Wallace,

    Perhaps my approach seems dogmatic to you, but to me, your approach seems dogmatically undogmatic; it’s as if you don’t think we have sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion about how these rival readings originated. Irenaeus provides us with a clear citation of extremely early evidence supporting the “666” reading, and an impetus for alteration to “616” presents itself in a proposed gematria-related connection between the number and Nero. When these two factors, plus the range of the external evidence for the rival readings, are taken into consideration, the scales plainly tilt in favor of the “666” variant.

    You asked, “What would it take to convince you that 616 was even possibly the original reading? A patristic comment that contradicted Irenaeus’s statement? Five second-century manuscript with 616? 100 second-century manuscripts with 616?” If we had different material to put on the scales, I would read the scales differently. (And when P115 is on the scales, it makes a difference. But it doesn’t tip the scales.) An early patristic comment that contradicted Irenaeus’ statement, and five second-century copies from five diverse locales would have a huge impact. But we must work with the evidence we have.

    I sense that even though you asked a question, this brief discussion is drawing to a close. I want to say something about being charitable toward the views of others. In textual criticism, a view is a path, and if I think, after studying the various paths, that the path that a person is taking will lead him astray — i.e., lead him somewhere that the original text would not take him — then the charitable thing to do is to try to keep the person from going down that path. This might not be very charitable toward the view, but it is, I think, charitable to the person, and that is more important.

  13. James, I’m delighted to hear you say, P115 “makes a difference”! Obviously, not enough of a difference for you to seriously consider it, however. But I refuse to be so prejudiced about the evidence that P115 provides that I discount it before hearing its voice. I am not being dogmatically undogmatic, as you say; I am still searching for the answers. As I’ve said repeatedly, much more research needs to be done on this problem before any kind of settled opinion can be reached. It seems that you are not interested in any more research but feel that Irenaeus’s opinion (and, yes, it is an opinion even though part of it is based on fact) suffices completely. Thanks for attempting to keep me from going astray. I’m not sure what I’m in danger of losing by thinking out loud about these issues and questioning Irenaeus’s accuracy, though. But in the least I refuse to be paralyzed by a kind of theological agenda that tries to put an end to wrestling with this intriguing (though ultimately insignificant) textual problem by appealing to overly facile solutions with too many loose ends. If you have real evidence that the Nero Redivivus myth was well known to Christians and spoken of by them in the second and/or third century, that would be helpful for this discussion. Without it, we are left with some nagging questions about what motivated Irenaeus to pronounce a curse on those who altered the text toward 616. Again, he argues (just as you have) that 666 has a symbolic meaning. And I have to wonder whether that is driving his conclusions.

  14. James Snapp Jr 2007-05-05 at 5:41 pm

    Dear Dr. Wallace,

    I’m not sure how you got the impression that I didn’t think that P115 makes a difference or that I don’t seriously take it into consideration. The “666” team still wins, but the score is closer with P115 in the game.

    I disagree with the idea that “much more research needs to be done on this problem before any kind of settled opinion can be reached.” The existing witness and existing research already point to a clear solution: “666” is the original reading and “616” is an alteration created by a copyist who understood the number as a reference to Nero, in order (he thought) to make the verse’s meaning more perspicuous for Latin-speaking readers.

    You mentioned that evidence that second- and third-century Christians knew and referred to the Nero Redivivus myth would be helpful. as well known to Christians and spoken of by them in the second and/or third century, would be helpful for this discussion. An article here is a good data-mine for such evidence; passages in “Ascension of Isaiah/Testament of Hezekiah” and in the Sibylline Oracles are reviewed; they both show an obvious utilization of the Nero Redivivus concept. Some of the same evidence is mentioned in an entertaining article at http://www.merriampark.com/numbeast.htm .

    Finally, regarding Irenaeus’ motivations: it looks to me like his motive for protecting and promoting the “666” reading emanated naturally from his desire that Christians possess the original text. While he argues that 666 has a symbolic meaning, his argument is not, as I mentioned earlier, the sort of thing that provokes textual change. To put it another way: if a copyist with a blank-slate mind encountered an exemplar of Revelation with “616,” it would never occur to him that “666” is more suitable on the grounds that it includes the age of Noah at the flood and the height and width, in cubits, of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. And Irenaeus does not promote the “666” reading on those grounds, either; he appeals to older copies and older men’s testimony — excellent evidence which, combined with the other witnesses for the “666” variant, P115 and its allies have no chance of outweighing or overturning.

  15. James, I really appreciate the first article you mentioned–very helpful! That’s the kind of evidence that can, indeed, sway me to the other side. I will have to digest the primary data that are mentioned in there, but I am not prepared to make any kind of verdict on it yet. It seems, however, that our exchanges are probably not very fruitful or illuminating to other readers. And I want to be sensitive to them. If I can conclude with this comment, I would say that where you and I differ is in how open we are to various kinds of evidence and how much tension we can live with before we feel the need to come down to one position or another.

    You mentioned earlier in your latest post that “I’m not sure how you got the impression that I didn’t think that P115 makes a difference or that I don’t seriously take it into consideration. The ‘666’ team still wins, but the score is closer with P115 in the game.”

    If I may, allow me to quote the end of your same blog which seems to illustrate that you are not really giving P115 much weight at all: “[Irenaeus] appeals to older copies and older men’s testimony — excellent evidence which, combined with the other witnesses for the ‘666’ variant, P115 and its allies have no chance of outweighing or overturning.” The way you’ve stated this, the argument seems to be over before even getting outside of Irenaeus’s statement. As much as I respect patristic evidence, I have to balance it off against all sorts of other evidence. I do not think it is helpful to close the door on what an apparently important papyrus says when the matter has not been fully investigated. This is where we seem to disagree.

  16. James Snapp Jr 2007-05-07 at 9:31 am

    Dear Dr. Wallace,

    I too will wrap up here, unless someone else chimes in. I think this has been fruitful or at least nourishing. Regarding the idea that a statement of mine makes it appear that “the argument seems to be over before even getting outside of Irenaeus’s statement,” — a careful reading of my statement should show otherwise; I explicitly included evidence other than Irenaeus’s statement (“combined with the other witnesses for the ‘666’ variant”) as factors leading to adoption of the “666” reading.

    Thank you for the amicable discussion.

  17. Well, I sure don’t understand all of what you both have been discussing here, nor do I have any critical thought to add to the conversation.

    However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it hasnt been fruitful for the observers: I’ve learned a good bit about the # of the beast, textual criticism, Nero Redivivus, and how to have some respectful and yet critical conversation.

    If all of this was done offline or at the water cooler than what hope do us amateurs (as in not professional theologians/academics) have in gaining from the discourse? ;^) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and research here.

    -steve

  18. Point well taken, Steve. I guess my sensitivity is to the issue that you are peering in at a conversation in which you have only partial knowledge. As James and I exchanged ideas, I kept wondering how many others had read Irenaeus’s chapter on the number of the beast, how many understood Irenaeus’s normal textual affinities, how many were even aware of the larger issues of external vs. internal evidence, how to weigh manuscripts, the nature of the early versions (translations into other languages) and the fact that all patristic writings need to be reconstructed since we don’t have the originals. In other words, the reason I felt this discussion was not as helpful to most readers of RMM is that there was too much preunderstanding that they were missing. It would be like walking into a third-year language class when you were a beginning. Thus, Carrie has a point: perhaps a basic course on textual criticism is called for…

  19. Dr Wallace,

    You’re absolutely correct that I missed every one of the items you enumerated. But, gives me something to go and learn about too… whet’s the proverbial appetite. ;^)

    A class on TC would be great, so I’ll second Carrie’s request.

    thanks,

    -steve

  20. James Snapp Jr 2007-05-07 at 10:01 pm

    Greetings Steve Moore,

    I’m glad to read that your appetite for New Testament textual criticism is whetted.
    Allow me to put my brief introduction to the subject on the menu:
    http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/TCGoals.html .

    And for dessert, a summary of my approach to the textual criticism of the Gospels at
    http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/TextHistory.html .

    At http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/BasicTC.html you can find a variety of
    links related to NT textual criticism. Chew thoroughly before swallowing anything.

  21. Thanks James… I’ll snack on them as I am able.

    -steve

  22. Hello Dan,

    Glad to see your blog. We have a common friend via the internet in Maestroh,
    Jay Barker, or whatever handle he uses here. He has spoken most highly of
    you. Because of his influence, I purchased your Text Book on Greek.
    It may be a while before I get in to it since I am still going through Mounce’s
    book.

    I have been on a quest to better understand eschatology. And, of course,
    I have read numerous authors from all sides of the issue.

    At this point, I have ruled out Dispensationalism completely. I know that is
    nearly anathema to the ears of many Professors at DTS and students too.
    Having said that, I would like your take on the so-called internal evidences
    for the pre 70 a.d. dating of the Book of Revelation. I believe whenever
    the tribulation happens, past or future, the Church will be there.

    As far as the 666 and 616, this seems to be huge evidence that is was
    speaking of Nero. I think Demar, Gentry, and Sproul make some good points.

    Blessings

    YP

  23. Anthony Forsyth 2007-07-21 at 8:09 pm

    I was with Dan in Oxford when we viewed this manuscript.

    As a pastor, I have less time to pursue my interest in TC than I would like as I consider it a lesser priority. My knowledge is woeful. Yet that day remains a highlight of my life and I ‘m not sure I fully comprehend why.

    I’m not sure I’m particularly fussed whether 616 or 666 is the original reading, nor was I at the time. Yet to be there was a moment that deeply affected me.

    Amongst those Christians I regularly fellowship with, the concept of “Christian experience” is one that might not be so broad as to immediately bring to mind that which I experienced this particular day, yet it was a sobering experience that had huge impact on my life. And again, I’m not sure I fully understand why.

    No assistance to this discussion, I am aware of that. Just a few rambling thoughts as I found this blog.

  24. Great to hear from you, Anthony! Yeah, that was a great day. And by the way, thanks so much for putting up the CSNTM team on their way out of that unnamed eastern European country recently! They thoroughly enjoyed the time with you!

  25. The number of the beast is the number of a man. This means that the beast’s number is calculated as is a man’s number. A man’s number consists of three digits; the first is the number of the letters in his name added together and the digits added together until arriving at a single digit. The other two numbers are his date of birth reduced to a single digit, and the day of the week of his birthday.

    The beast is not a man. The beast is a symbol of a country imposing tyranny through war over the whole world, or nearly the whole world. Seven countries have done that throughout history since Daniel. These were Babylon, Persia, Media, Greece, Egypt/Syria, Rome, and Germany. Each of the seven heads represents one of these countries. An angel said to John in Apocalypse 17, 10 that five had fallen, one is and the other had not yet come. The one that existed at the time was Rome. The one to come was Germany. This was the head that had the wound of the sword and was killed but rose again with its deadly wound healed.

    Germany started World War 1 on August 1, 1914. On this date Germany became the beast. The digits of this date add up to 6 and it was a Saturday, the 6th day. The official name of Germany in German was ‘Deutsches Reich’ from 1871-1945. The letters of this name, using the 30-letter German alphabet, add up to 6. ‘Deutsches Reich’ is therefore the name of the beast, ‘born’ on August 1, 1914. This is the answer to the riddle of the 666.

    Germany rose again restored and re-armed to launch World War 2. This beast made everyone worship the first beast, the glorious military heritage of the Fatherland. This nationalism was perhaps more effective motivation than the personalities of the Kaiser or Hitler, but swearing allegiance to either Germany or Hitler was to put it or him before God. This is what is meant by the mark of the beast in Apocalypse 13, 16,17. The forehead represents the mind, or belief; the right hand represents the will or the choice,…

  26. …the authority of a man. If Hitler couldn’t make everyone believe in his fascism then he could still make them obey.

    In Apocalypse 13, 15 it says that it was permitted that life should be given to the image of the beast that it could both speak and cause for people to be killed who wouldn’t worship the beast. This was the advent of motion pictures and the Nazi propaganda films. People went along with it all, and anyone who wouldn’t was an enemy of the state. The things that the Nazis did should make it obvious that this was the beast’s dark kingdom.

    Apocalypse 12, 7-9 tells of a great battle in heaven between Michael and his angels, which represent the USAAF, and the dragon and his angels: the Luftwaffe. The dragon symbolizes the army of the beast, which gives the beast its own authority. That means that the army supported the fascist state and made possible its evil rule. Without it the beast would have had no power.

    The events depicted in Revelations, when one understands the meaning of the various symbols, corresponds to the first and second world wars, the restoration of Israel, the cold war, and apparently the second coming of Christ is still to come..

  27. I believe 616 could be describing hexadecimal code. 6 hexa would identify the code and 16 would be the numbering system. Rev. 13:18 “for it is the number of a man” could also be translated as the number of mankind. There is a revised metric system called hexadecimal metric system abbreviated internationally SMH for: “système métrique hexadécimal”. SMH could be used to change our whole measurement system. http://hexadecimal.florencetime.net/Hexadecimal_metric_system.htm#Links

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