Minutes With Messiah Logo

DCLXVI

by Tim O'Hearn

I stand behind a woman in a checkout line at a convenience store. When the clerk rings up her purchases the total is $6.66. The woman reaches for a pack of chewing gum that she clearly did not want just to bring the total to a different amount. Another person refuses to call a phone number like 555-6665, because it has three sixes in a row. Later this year, on the anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France, many people will have fearful reactions, and some may stay home from work, because the date could be written as 6/6/6 (June 6, 2006). Bizarre reactions to a number? Indeed. Justifiable? Not at all.

The fear of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia. Who knows what to call the fear of the number sequence 666? One thing you can call it is “uninformed.”

Revelation 13:18, in English, is the basis for this phobia. “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” (New International Version) A more proper reading would be the King James Version: “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.” That would show the error in the examples above. People fear the number sequence 666 in all its forms, even though the form may not be the number mentioned in Revelation 13. For instance, the woman who did not want a particular purchase total should only fear $666.00. That would equal the number in the Revelation, whereas $6.66 is six hundred fifty-three dollars and thirty-four cents short of the number. It is 6 and a fraction, not 666. Phone numbers and dates are not really numbers in the sense John used the word. Therefore they could never represent “the number of the beast.”

The problem is that most people who fear that number think in English and base 10 (a positional number system based on ten items per position). Instead of 666, the original would have said, as the King James Version translated it, 600 + 60 + 6 (either spelling it out or using different letters for each digit). If you read the Bible in Latin, instead of 666 the number of the beast would be DCLXVI (hence the title of this article). A computer programmer might recognize the number as 1010011010. In base six it would be written 3030. (Does that mean that anyone who goes hunting with a 30/30 rifle is the beast instead of what he is hunting being a beast?) Anyone who fears that number should rightly fear all forms of the number, including 3030, 102015, and 666.

On the other side of the coin, some people have equated “the beast” to the head of the Roman Catholic Church because the Pope supposedly wears a crown bearing the words “Vicarius Filii Domine” (Vicar of the Son of God). If the letters not used in Roman numerals (counting u as v) are eliminated, the remaining letters add up to 666 if taken individually. The problem with this argument is that using the rules of Roman numerals (combining two or more letters to equal one number) you can get a number from 660 to 666. Since the first word contains VIC and IV, that could equal 112 (V + I + C + I + V) or 110 (VI + C + IV), or even 108 (V=5 + IC=99 + IV=4). While this theory at least recognizes that the number is not a numeral sequence, it ignores the rules of the number system it claims to use.

That just points up the lengths to which people go to try to identify who the beast is. More importantly, it shows the contortions people have to go through to fit their pet theory to the facts. Even the most reasonable theory—that the beast was Nero Caesar, whose name in Hebrew letters adds up to 666—is just a guess. Because we weren’t the original readers of the book we just don’t know.

Some would say this fear is ridiculous. In fact, it is pitiable. It is pitiable that men who author books based on the number of the beast think it is a number sequence. It is pitiable that people care more about what the preacher says the Bible says than what the Bible really says. Pity such people. But challenge them as well. That is our job as Christians.