Church of God, New World Ministries

Bible Q & A

Q. Would you explain the number 666 of Revelation 13?
A. Revelation 13:17-18 tells us that 666 is the number of the beast’s name and the number of a man, or as the RSV says, “A human number.” This name and number refer back to the first beast mentioned in the chapter (Rev. 13:1); this beast, as other scriptures make clear, represents the Roman Empire.

We are told to “calculate” the number, that is, to add up the numerical values of the individual letters in the name. Most of us are familiar with Roman numerals; some of the letters of the Roman or Latin alphabet have numerical values. The same is true of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets, except that in Hebrew and Greek every letter has a number value.

Irenaeus, a “Church father” who lived at the end of the 2nd century, recorded that 666 was derived from the Greek word Lateino, understood to represent the founder of the Latin race, the original people of Rome. Lateinos’ name, the name of a man, also became the name of the people Latin and a synonym for Roman, The Greek expression referring to “the Latin kingdom” likewise equals 666, as does Romiith in Hebrew.

Many would-be interpreters have tried to apply the number to some individual human leader (often dubbed the “Antichrist”), Roman emperors being the earliest favorites. The names of at least two early Roman emperors can be made to add up to 666: Nero, who died before John wrote the book of Revelation, and Trajan, who began to reign shortly after John’s death.

But the real significance of the name and number lies in the prophecy of a time now shortly ahead of us when anyone without the beast’s mark, name or number will be unable to buy or to sell. Thus the name and number must apply, by extension, not just to one man, but to the entire people of a world-ruling empire.
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