On May 8, 2005, World Net Daily, posted an article titled: “Testing the Faith: 666 wrong number of prophetic beast? Newly examined Scripture fragment lends credence to argument it’s 616."
Apparently ignorant of the history of the number 616, World Net Daily seems to be touting the new number as the correct version of the biblical text in Apocalypse 13:18, which has traditionally been rendered as 666. World Net Daily cites Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, and David Parker, professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham in England, as its authority on the subject. Aitken goes so far as to say that 616 is the correct number, while Parker attempts to give the reason why. Both are incorrect assessments of the evidence, as we shall see.
Below, I will quote the article from World Net Daily in full, and then add my comments (Robert Sungenis) at the end.
© 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
For centuries, people have been intrigued by the number 666, the "number of the beast" from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Not only is it mentioned in the Bible, it has been associated with the Satanism, universal price codes and the game of roulette, as the numbers on the wheel add up to 666. Now, the legendary number is getting a fresh look, as researchers are re-examining evidence the number may actually be 616.
NB: Fragment [not depicted here] from Book of Revelation mentions 616 in the third line – chi, iota, sigma (courtesy Egypt Exploration Society).
In the King James Version of the Bible, the well-known verse of Revelation 13:18 reads: “Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six." While many Bible have footnotes saying the number translated from the original Greek could be 616, experts say new photographic evidence of an ancient fragment of papyrus from Revelation indeed indicates the number is indeed 616, instead of 666.
Scholars in England have been using modern technology to scour some 400,000 bits of papyri which were originally discovered in 1895 at a dump outside the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. Many of the sections have been damaged and discolored, but an imaging process is shedding new light on the sacred text, believed to have originally been penned by John, one of Jesus' 12 apostles.
"This is a very nice piece to find," Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, told Canada's National Post. "Scholars have argued for a long time over this, and it now seems that 616 was the original number of the beast."
The papyrus in the spotlight is believed to be from about 300 A.D. "This is very early confirmation of that number, earlier than any other text we've found of that passage," Aitken said. "It's probably about 100 years before any other version." The main researcher promoting the 616 claim is David Parker, professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham in England. "This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numerical values of letters in people's names," Parker told the UK's Independent. "Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula."
Many commentators have gone with later copies of text which assign the number 666 to "the beast," believed by some to be the End-time world power. Some have also linked 666 with Nero, the ancient Roman emperor known for persecuting Christians. Parker points out the possibility of 616 was considered by the second century church father Irenaeus, who rejected it. Regarding this new text, Parker told Britain's Church Times, "This adds weight to those who believe that it is a reference to Caligula's attempt to desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem, by having his statue erected there as part of the cult of emperor worship. "There may be a reference to it in Mark [13:14], where he refers to the 'the abomination of desolation.' But this was overlaid by the Neronian persecutions. People believed that you could get from '666' to Nero because in Greek he is the emperor Neron Caesar. And 666 is one number less than the perfect 777. The text [showing 616] is quite legible to the naked eye. It was published in 1999, but it has taken people time to catch up."
The National Post quotes Elijah Dan, professor of philosophy and religion at the University of Toronto, as saying the new number won't likely have an impact in the popularity of 666. "Otherwise, a lot of sermons would have to be changed and a lot of movies rewritten," he said with a laugh. "There's always someone with an active imagination who can put another interpretation on it. It just shows you that when you study something as cryptic and mystic as the Book of Revelation there's an almost unlimited number of interpretations."
Comments by Robert Sungenis:
Although it is true that a “616” textual variant for Apocalypse 13:18 exists, this has been known for quite some time. In fact, it has been known by modern exegetes for at least two hundred years, since the art of textual criticism came into vogue. The truth is, the evidence for 616 is negligible, even with the additional papyri evidence touted by David Parker and Ellen Aitken.
The number 666 also has papyri evidence to back up its superiority. It comes from the famous Chester Beatty collection, Papyrus 47, which dates from the second century A.D. Its papyri pedigree is thus older than 616, since 616's evidence originates from the third or fourth century papyri, also known as Oxyrhynchus Papyri, specifically, Papyrus 115 for the Apocalypse. As such, Papyrus 115 does not add much to the issue, except to confirm the existence of 616 as a variant text. Irenaeus, who died just a few years after the second century, rejected 616 as a scribal error (See Against Heresies 5, 30, 1).
The Greek reading for 666, “exakosioi exekonta ex” (600 + 60 + 6), not only has the oldest pedigree but also has the most prominent and numerous textual evidences and witnesses. Papyrus 47, Codices Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus (fourth-fifth century), as well as P, 046, 051, 1, 94, 1006 (and 13 other minuscules); with witness such as Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Origen, Victorinus-Pettau, Gregory-Elvira, Primasius, Andrew and Arethas, all follow the reading “666.”
Only Codex C (fifth century) and one unknown manuscript from Irenaeus and Tyconius have “616,” as translated from the Greek “exakosioi deka ex” (600 + 10 + 6). Hence, 616 has hardly any convincing evidence to its reliability.
Unusual Transcription of Papyrus 115
It should also be noted that Papyrus 115's rendering of Apocalypse 13:18 has a rather strange rendering of 616. It contains just three Greek letters (chi, iota, sigma). This is not what Codex C contains (noted above). The reader will notice that Codex C contains the complete spelling-out of the Greek words for 616, “exakosioi deka ex,” not chi, iota, sigma.
This discrepancy not only puts into question the validity of Papyrus 115's rendering, it also makes the translation “616" depend upon the unproven art of gematria, which, for all intents and purposes, is quite inexact. The Greek words appearing in Codex C (“exakosioi deka ex ”) do not require gematria, since the number 616 is spelled-out as it would appear in normally written Greek. We do the same in English. For example, if we write 616 in English longhand, it is: “six hundred and sixteen.” If 616 is written out in Greek (as Codex C does) there is no need for gematria in order to know that the number is 616. Not so with Papyrus 115. It stands alone among Greek manuscripts for its peculiar designation.
Gematria requires assigning a numerical equivalent to each Greek letter. Parker states that Papyrus 115 contains “chi, iota, sigma” for the number appearing in Apocalypse 13:18. Thus, chi must equal 600; iota must equal 10, and sigma must equal 6, in order to arrive at a sum of 616.
But while it is commonly accepted that chi = 600 and iota = 6; no Greek gematria table with which I am aware assigns the value of 6 to the Greek sigma. Sigma almost always represents the number 200. If, as Parker states, Papyrus 115 contains “chi, iota, sigma,” then the value of the number in Papyrus 115 is 810, not 616.
Of course, this raises another textual question, for the papyri that Parker possesses (and its copy produced by World Net Daily), contains an unclosed circle with its ends pointing to the right (similar to the English C). This unusual form is what Parker interprets as a Greek sigma. But the Greek sigma is a closed circle, with a small tail on the top of the circle, not an unclosed circle. Thus, Parker is assuming the third letter is a Greek sigma, but this is not likely at all.
In fact, in order for the number 616 to be the result of a triplet of Greek letters beginning with chi and iota, it must contain the ancient Greek letter digamma as the third letter, but which letter was not used in the Koine Greek of the New Testament, and thus would not appear in Apocalypse 13:18. Even at that, the digamma was equivalent to our letter F, both in its square form and its labial pronunciation, and thus would not be similar to the third letter of Apocalypse 13:18 in Papyrus 115.
Conclusion: Parker’s and Aitken’s evidence is more hype than substance.
Who is “666”?
Although many people throughout history, especially in recent times, have sought to attach a specific person to the number 666 in Apocalypse 13:18, these are at best unproven speculations. As shown by various numerological enthusiasts, once given enough room for variant spellings, the names or titles of many people could equal 666 through the use of gematria (e.g., Nero, Hitler, Stalin, Kissinger, Nixon, the Pope, Mussolini, Mao Tse Tung, etc). These, however, are all unnecessary, and, in fact, quite wrong.
One of the reasons for the rise of such speculative interpretations of 666 is that most translations of Apocalypse 13:18 read: “the number is that of a man and his number is 666.” The actual Greek is “arithmos gar anthropou estin.” Depending on the meaning of the noun “anthropou,” it should be literally translated as “for it is number of mankind” or “for it is a human number,” and with the remote possibility of “it is the number of a man.”
The word “anthropos” is the usual word in Greek to speak of “mankind” or a man in the general sense of the word (e.g., Mark 1:17; 2:10; Apoc 4:7; 9:5), although in rare instances it is sometimes used for an individual man (Mark 14:71). Of the 25 instances of “anthropos” in the Apocalypse, all are general references to mankind or man in general. The Greek word “aner” is the usual word for an individual man or individual men (e.g., Mark 6:20, 44). The Apocalypse does not use “aner” except for Apoc 21:2.
Prior to the mentioning of “anthropos,” however, John says in Apoc 13:17 that the number he has in view is “the number of the Beast,” from the Greek “to arithmon tou theriou.” Here a Greek article appears before “Beast” (Greek: tou theriou), whereas there is no article before “man” or “mankind” (Greek: anthropou) in Apoc 13:18. Hence the designation of “the Beast” is specific, whereas “man” is generalized, that is, John is most likely referring to mankind, not a single man.
This is also suggested by the fact that if John had intended to designate an individual man he would have used the nominative case noun (anthropos) or a nominative predicate rather than the genitive anthropou. The use of the genitive points to the fact that John intended to use an adjective to modify the number, that is, he wanted to say the number refers to man or mankind, not a specific man.
John uses the same modifying genitive of “anthropou” in Apocalypse 21:17 when he says “the measure of man” (Greek: “metron anthropou”), which is then followed by “which is of an angel,” also without the article. This means that the “measure” is neither of an individual man nor individual angel, but a number that both men and angels use.
John also uses the Greek genitive “anthropou” in Apocalypse 1:13 and 14:14 in the phrase “Son of man,” which really means “Son of mankind.” Besides Apocalypse 13:18, these three are the only uses of the genitive “anthropou” in the Apocalypse, and it is apparent that each usage is of “mankind,” not an individual man.
Moreover, since John has already said that the number 666 is “the number of The Beast” (Apocalypse 13:17) then it could not be the number of an individual man, since John nowhere states that the Beast is an individual man. He has said, rather, that the Beast is a monster resembling a leopard, bear and lion with seven heads and ten horns (Apocalypse 13:1-4).
Interestingly enough, attempts made to assign 666 by use of Hebrew or Greek gematria to an individual man always met with great difficulty, since, without severe manipulation, no single evil candidate had his name add up to 666. Nero was a close candidate, but his name had to have an “n” attached to it to equal 666 (i.e., “Neron Caesar”).
Lastly, Parker’s attempt at making Caligula a candidate for the number 616 is also not as precise as he assumes it to be. It could only refer to Caligula’s if his name is rendered “Cajus Caesar” (Greek: “Gaios Kaisar”), and this is probably the reason why a scribe of the third or fourth century made a variant text containing 616. It was a tempting interpretation, since Caligula erected an image of himself in the temple at Jerusalem, and he reigned from March 37 AD to January 41 AD, which is 3 years and 10 months (or approximately three and a half years, which would seem to equate with a literal rendering of the 3.5 years of Daniel 9:24-27 and Apocalypse 12:14).
In conclusion, 666 does not refer to any one man in history and 616 is not the proper rendering of Apocalypse 13:18.
Robert A. Sungenis, M.A. (Ph.D. cd)
Catholic Apologetics International
May 9, 2005