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People always make jokes about the number 666, or how it's evil, etc. What is the basis of this, and is it really something that Christians should be concerned with?

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You added this question only so that the site would not have 666 questions anymore, didn't you? –  Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 13 '11 at 18:35
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@paulo i think he was trying to get #666 –  DTest Sep 13 '11 at 18:36
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@Paulo: He was actually trying to get this to be 666th question, but another user posted shortly before he did. :P –  El'endia Starman Sep 13 '11 at 18:48
    
I was positive this question had been asked before, but I couldn't find it. –  JustinY Sep 13 '11 at 20:20
    
Or perhaps, seeing that the site had 666 questions made him think about why that number is....unique. –  John Sep 13 '11 at 22:09
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7 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is the number of the Beast in Revelation:

Revelation 13:18 (ESV)
18 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.

Its significance is often claimed to be that the Emperor Nero, during whose reign Revelation was written, has a name with the numerical value 666. Citing Wikipedia:

The Greek spelling, "Nerōn Kaisar", transliterates into Aramaic as "נרון קסר", nrwn qsr. The Aramaic spelling is attested in a scroll from Murabba'at dated to "the second year of emperor Nero." Adding the corresponding values yields 666.

Personally, I'm not really satisfied with this explanation at all and am waiting for other answers.

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In Revelation 13:18, as cited by Dancek, it is the number of "the Beast".

The verse indicates that is the number of man as well. A possible reason for this is that mankind was created on the 6th day, so 666 is a three-fold repetition of that. I understand in Hebrew that repetition signifies degree, so God is called "holy, holy, holy" in Isaiah 6.

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666 has several possible meanings. The most prominent answer is that, as it is the "number of a name" that it would be Nero. Since there are early manuscripts which have the number as 616 instead and this also can reference Nero (I believe it is in Aramaic as opposed to the Greek).

There are others who have stated that it has to do with the fact that it is DCLXVI in Roman numerals, something which is supposed to have been of special note in ancient Rome.

Personally, I find the Nero answer the most convincing with a caveat -- it is the symbolic future Nero. Most Biblical numerology, in my reading, is similarly future driven (and ALL Apacolyptic literature of that era -- Daniel, Revelation, Enoch, Hermas) -- it has a historical meaning, with an implication for the future.

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I'm sorry I can't provide sources, but it seems that no one else has either.

I've always heard that:

  • 3 & 7 are numbers of completion.
  • 6 is the number of incompletion.

Hence, the number of God, 777, would stand for complete completion. Completely perfect.
The number of Satan, 666, would stand for complete incompletion. Completely imperfect.

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-1 AFAICT 777 only exists in the Bible in Genesis 5:31, which is irrelevant. I don't think it's biblical to say that 777 is the number of God. 666 isn't the number of Satan either, but the number of the Beast and a number of man (according to Revelation 13:18) –  dancek Sep 14 '11 at 12:31
    
+1 : I think there could be a little more explanation here... 7, being the number of completion, 3 being the number of the trinity. 777, is therefore the number of God, while 666 is the number of incompletion. That being said, the scripture is pretty vague on numerology in general. –  David Morton Apr 12 '12 at 19:55
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Understanding this number is deeply rooted into how one understands Revelation. I understand it as speaking of a near prophecy of the Roman Empires attack on the church, and in so doing, mirroring a continuous and distant prophecy of the churches existence in the world until the final judgment, with some things principally intending their final fulfilment. In this contact 666 probably meant something very specific to the readers at the time (which they could decode) as well as being symbolic of something for all time and which at the end of the world may also take on renewed and final significance. History in the Bible is treated as a kind of prophecy so the meaning of 666 may be fulfilled more than once.

The initial meaning has been proposed by those who have studied gematria. Gematria was a popular practice at that time which corresponds letters to numbers, so that summing up a name gives a final number. This was practiced by Jewish mystics. For example, it has been argued by scholars that when the name "Nero Caesar" is spelled with Hebrew letters as נרון קסר (NRWN QSR) — Hebrew is written without vowels — the following addition is made from left to right: 50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200 = 666.

Emperor Nero may very well have been the initial meaning to the readers. Although our certainty about this is scanty for it seems no standard traditional view developed in subsequent church history, it nevertheless points to the intended meaning. There is little question in my own mind that the beast which is represented by the number was Rome. Rome especially as it represented Emperor Worship, making it difficult for Christians to engage in trade, without somehow paying homage to the idolatry of Rome, was ‘the beast’ opposing the church. Not only so but this political system that opposed Christ and enforced idolatry was soon to breakout into full undisciplined persecution against the church, which John wanted to prepare them for.

This naturally leads to a higher symbolic meaning of the number of 666. For it is more than coincidental that the Emperor’s, who represented the fullness of the ‘sinful nature’ in a political system opposed to God, should have a name that is also equivalent to the plain biblical meaning of man-man-man. As man was made on the sixth day, this number is connected to him from the earliest scriptural history. Furthermore as seven represented perfection and holiness, being that this day was made holy, with the opposing facts that man fell and became unholy, he fell short of holiness. Therefore the number means ‘unholy-unholy-unholy’ or ‘fallen short-fallen-short-fallen short’. Three, is often meant to mean perfection in the Bible so this ‘sinful nature’ described by six, is said to be a perfectly sinful nature by identifying its fallen state three times.

We are now is apposition to see the meaning of 666 in its wider sense. The Roman Empire was a beast, the first beast that came out of the sea (Rev 13:1). The second beast that came from the earth was the religion of Rome in its emperor worship, having ‘all the authority of the first beast ‘ and made ‘the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast’(Rev 13:12). By enforcing idolatry among the various professional guilds and trades in the empire it became more and more impossible for Christians to earn a living without worship the beast. They must be prepared to be martyred according to the prophecy.

Those who fell into the idolatry of Rome and denied their faith had the mark of the beast on their head, or hand. (Rev 13:16). This implies that if a Christian lived a wicked life, denying Christ and falling under the power of wicked Rome they were effective publishing their sins in an obvious way, on their foreheads, or in a more secret manner on their hands. Another view may be that their minds and actions were rules by the sinful nature.

As history progressed the world has continued to persecute the church with the same pressures of idolatry, whether the pressure to worship sex, career, religion, etc. Also at certain points Rome itself has been interpreted by many Protestant theologians as taken a heightened biblical role again. According to these view, Roman history shows a kind of re-fulfilling of its original role, making people worship saints and other idolatries, even killing Christians in the same manner as the original fulfilment. It makes one wonder whether Rome might not have some direct relationship to the events marking in the end of the world as well. However, regardless of one’s view this can’t be limited to any one government but represent all secular governments and all the idolatrous nature of man.

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Maybe nothing.

As anybody who has regularly watched QI will tell you, the number of the beast might well not be 666, but instead 616. Indeed, as Wikipedia attests, "Papyrus 115" -- the current oldest dated fragment of Revelation at about 1700 years old -- was discovered in 2005 with the number 616. There is corroboration from the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, another notable biblical manuscript from the 5th century, which has the number spelled out as six hundred and sixteen.

This means that the Russian bus line who renumbered from 666 to 616 because of 'bad luck' might not have been the best renumbering ever.

Anyway, whether it's 666 or 616, it's the number associated with the Beast of Revelation (commonly assumed to be Satan) in the book of Revelation itself.

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Mike talked about this, but let me clarify a little:

In Greek and Hebrew, they use the same symbols for numbers that they use for letters. Basically, they use the first nine letters of the alphabet for the numbers 1 to 9, the next line letters for 10 to 90, and nine more letters for 100 to 900. As neither Greek nor Hebrew has 27 letters in their alphabet, they used alternate forms of letters or extra symbols to pad it out. See, for example, http://www.i18nguy.com/unicode/hebrew-numbers.html for how it's done in Hebrew. Then for the number, say, 123, they would use the symbols/letters for 100, 20, and 3.

It would be like in English if we used A=1, B=2, C=3, ... I=9, J=10, K=20, ... R=90, S=100, T=200, ... Z=800, and we'd have to make something up for 900. So the number 123 would be written SKC.

Note that this wasn't some little side game people played now and then. This was how they always wrote numbers. So any number you wrote could look like a word, and any word could look like a number. You had to tell which it was from context.

Also note that unlike Hindu-Arabic numbers, where the order is significant so 19 is a very different number from 91, in Greek and Hebrew the order doesn't matter. The Jews normally wrote with the symbol for the biggest number first, but it wasn't essential. (I'm not sure about the Greeks.)

So they couldn't help but see numbers in every word they wrote. So let me go back to my comparative English example. (As neither I nor, I suspect, many others on this site know Greek or Hebrew.) So for example if you saw the word GUN, you would naturally think 7+300+50=357. You couldn't help but think of 357 as the "number of the gun". It would be inevitable that you'd have cases like, you'd tell a friend that you got paid $357 and he'd joke, "What, do you have a job shooting people now?" And you'd both laugh because you'd both quickly get the joke. Etc.

Of course many words wouldn't be the natural way to write numbers. Like you would normally write 123 as 100+20+3, SKC. But if you saw SKAB, i.e. 100+20+1+2, you would still add it up to 123. So any word could be read as a number, even if it wasn't how you would naturally write that number.

So when John talked about "the number of his name" being 666, this would be instantly understood by any Greek or Hebrew person as meaning that if you add up the values of the letters in his name, it will total 666.

Yes, the Hebrew version of Nero's name adds up to 666. At least, people give a Hebrew version that adds up. I freely admit that I don't know if this is the way people routinely wrote his name in Hebrew or if it is contrived. Anyway, maybe that means he's the Beast that John was talking about, maybe that's just coincidence, I don't know. I've heard so many conflicting theories about Revelation that I reserve judgement.

Let me add that there's a game that's played now and then of taking some public figure that you consider very evil and dangerous and showing that his name adds up to 666. Well, it stands to reason that most names would add up to something less then a few thousand. So one out of every few thousand names likely adds up to 666 by coincidence. With 6 billion people in the world today, if we translated all their names to Greek or Hebrew, there should be a million or so who add up to 666. Given that there are often multiple ways to translate a name between languages, and that you can plausibly choose either Greek or Hebrew, and that you could pick first name or last name or both or use initials or middle names or other variations, you probably have at least a 2 or 3% chance that any given name will come out to 666 without any stretching. Then toss in all the games that people DO play, like casually saying "... and if we double the 'r' ..." or "... and add 32 because he became a senator when he was 32 years old ...", or simply making up their own system of assinging values to letters with no reference to how the Greeks or Hebrews did it, and I'm sure you could get anyone you wanted to add up to 666.

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