“Then, it makes all – the small ones and the great ones, and the wealthy ones and the impoverished ones, and the freeborn ones, and the enslaved ones – that they might give to them a stamp or etching upon their right hand and/or upon their forehead, so that one would not be able to buy or to sell if that one does not have the mark or etching, the name of the creature, or the number of its name.
“In this place is wisdom—the one who has understanding calculate the number of the creature, because it is a number of a person, and the number of that one: six-hundred sixty six.”Revelation 13:16-18
I spent some time just sitting with this, because it is such a famous couple of lines. The Mark of the Beast! Does it not conjure up story after story of those who have tried to imagine what this would be like?
Mark or Etching
χάραγμα | charagma is a scratch or an etching, an imprint or a brand, a stamp, such as a stamp on a coin. To say “mark” might give the wrong impression. This is not like a stamp a person gets when they enter an amusement park or dance hall.
This is an indelible imprint of some kind, with the impression of changing what it stamps, such as the tattoo needle pricking the skin, or a branding iron searing the skin. Whatever type of “mark” it is, it is meant to be immediately recognizable and permanently applied.
ἤ | ē is a fascinating little word. As you can see from the image below, it has three columns’ worth of meanings as a “disjunctive particle,” a “marker of alternative,” such as “or” (the first meaning offered).
It appears often in koine Greek texts, though it is sometimes left untranslated in English versions of the Bible. For instance, ἤ is the first word in 1 Corinthians 14:36, in the Greek text, but I have only seen it translated in one English version of the Bible, The Source.
In the case of Paul’s first letter to the assemblies in Corinth, as the Abbott-Smith lexicon explains, when ἤ comes before a sentence, it expresses “a variation, denial, or refutation of a previous statement.” In other words, it means “bah!” or “the opposite!” or something like that, meaning, by comparison, what has come just before this word is going to be turned on its head by what is coming after.
But, ἤ can also mean “and” in a comparative sense, so I chose to translate this teensy word as “and/or,” allowing for some ambiguity in where this etched mark is to be placed.
Number is the Name
This is where all the excitement is.
What does the number mean? Is it really “666,” or is it actually “616,” as translators give us a footnote stating that number could also be read as “six hundred sixteen”?
Why would there be such a seemingly huge difference in how to even, literally, read those numbers? (Some manuscripts say “616,” But most say “666.”)
It all boils down to Gematria, assigning numerical values to either words or phrases by adding together the values of each of the letters. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets all did double duty as numbers, and it was a common – greatly enjoyed and appreciated – device to use Gematria embedded in a text for riddles, jokes, games, and symbolism.
Jesus is 888
For example, some Christians in antiquity found it significant that the Greek letters of Jesus’s name, Ἰησοῦς, add up to 888. Eight surpasses seven, and three times eight (think “Holy, Holy, Holy”) would be supremely supreme. To these ancient believers, the Gematria of Jesus’s name signified Jesus was bringing in the new creation, the new world that would surpass the one God created in seven days.
Who is 666?
There are three basic approaches, though in the next post I will stick with the same four perspectives, as preterist and historicist scholars stand at different vantage points when applying the historical hermeneutic.
So then, with the use of Gematria in a historical perspective, we would look for someone who had the dangerous animal’s basic traits and power and whose name could add up to either 666 or 616, and most historicist expositors do not have to search long before they find him—Nero! Written in Hebrew, his name comes to 666 if “Neron Caesar,” as it was sometimes written, or 616 as “Nero Caesar.”
From the idealist’s point of view, this becomes the number of supreme evil. If seven is perfection, and eight surpasses perfection, then six would represent imperfection, or impurity. Three times imperfection would be supremely bad.
However, the futurist would presume the Gematria value as a code for someone who will be the predicted Beast, then sift through the data (beginning with the names) of those who already, at least in part, seem to be candidates.
In antiquity, for thousands of years, the gate of the city was the central public meeting ground. The elders “sat in the gate” to assess comers and goers, to adjudicate conflicts, and to make legal decisions concerning contracts. Kiosks lined the main street, and also occupied stalls along or beside the city gate. Travelers would find food, drink, and trinkets available for purchase, as well as inns for overnight stays. Locals also vended their wares in the plaza just inside the gate, and all left an offering at the cult stand placed prominently amidst all this activity.
The first century Roman empire was no different, although one cult stand would have been invariably dedicated to the emperor, besides whatever local gods represented the people, and whatever god or goddess had been adopted as that city’s patron deity.
But the Jewish people remained fiercely monotheistic, loyal to the death to the one true and living Almighty God. So, when Rome conquered Judea in 63 BCE, the Jewish people were exempted from having to show homage to the Roman pantheon or emperors.
Christians, however, were shown no such leniency.
In the first decades of the Jesus movement, Rome considered Christians as part of a Jewish sect, and were given the same immunity. But, by the writing of John’s Revelation, Christianity had been rejected by Judaism as heretical, and rejected by Rome as atheist (because Christians appeared to worship a human being and appeared to repudiate all recognized deities).
Also, after 70 CE, with the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Rome undertook a program of active persecution against both the Jewish and Christian faiths. A steady expulsion of Jewish people from various parts of the empire began, in order to prevent further uprisings. Christians found themselves forced underground to survive.
Here is wisdom, John wrote, anyone who has understanding will know exactly who I mean when I say “666.” That person is the dangerous animal who is doing all the things I have been describing.