An Obligation Declined
Those who believe the Bible has an essential message to tell will know something of the problems posed by its final Book, Revelation. Our purpose here is to focus on what many will consider to be the most intriguing of these, viz the 'riddle' of 13:18. However, before setting off along this track it is appropriate that we remind ourselves of the provenance of this Book, and of the wider context in which the riddle appears:
[In respect of the last, it would appear that those Christians who simply ignore it, in whole or in part, may well be deemed to have subtracted from it!]
In themselves, these appear to be strong enough reasons why 13:18 needs to be approached seriously and with great care. Here is how the KJV translators render the Greek :
"Here is wisdom. 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."
Observe the use of the imperative mood here. Those who possess 'understanding' are required to proceed, as directed! As to what constitutes 'understanding' in the context of this verse will be made clear as we develop our theme.
[In our analysis of this short passage we might well be tempted to think it borders on the occult - and use this as an excuse for quickly passing it by! However, since its words derive directly from the Lord, we have little option but to proceed in faith, and prayerfully wait for the promised prize, wisdom]
It is proposed to read the verse first as,
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count ... 666." ------------------------------ (1)
and again as,
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number ... of a man; ..." ------------ (2)
Matters arising from reading (1)
The Scriptures contain three more references to 666 - two occurring in parallel passages; significantly, these serve to further raise the profile of this number. For example, in 1Kings 10:14 and 2Chronicles 9:13 we read of the annual tribute of gold received by King Solomon; the specific figure, 666 talents, is quoted - yet we are also given to understand that this represented just part of the total. Why this sum should be singled out for special mention is not made clear. Again, in Ezra 2:13 we learn that, following the Babylonian exile, 666 males of the sub-clan of Adonikam returned safely to Israel. But in a parallel passage (Nehemiah 7:18) the figure is given as 667! The discrepancy in book-keeping - though minor - seems designed to further engage our attention. And strangest of all, what are we to make of the oblique reference to 666 in Revelation 15:2 where we read of those whose ultimate victory over the beast includes victory over his number!?
Taken together with Rev.13:18, these features should convince us that 666 as a number per se must possess attributes of rare significance. That this is indeed the case is readily demonstrated.
The following has become a familiar sight on our TV screens:
It depicts the arrangement of the 15 'reds' with which every game of snooker begins and informs us that 15 is a triangular number - specifically, the 5th of an infinite series of numbers each - represented in this manner - taking the form of an equilateral triangle. Observe the orderliness of this structure: its 5 rows comprise 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 balls, respectively; its value, the sum of these. Clearly, this triangle may be extended, without limit, by adding a 6th row of 6, a 7th row of 7, and so on.
The snooker table having performed its (true?) function, we now seek to generalise our approach by resorting to the use of uniform circular counters (typically, coins of the same denomination) as building blocks. In particular, we find that 666 pennies may be laid out in close formation on a flat surface to form the 36th numerical triangle. While, in general, triangular numbers are comparatively rare, 666 is unique - its uniqueness resting on the fact that all its numerical attributes are themselves triangles! This is made clear in the next diagram.
To further emphasise the remarkable singularity of this number, we observe,
(1) the sum of these attributes, 3+6+36+66+105 = 216, or 6x6x6!
(2) the highest prime factor of 666 is 37 - this being the only number whose counters may be arranged symmetrically on a flat surface in more than two distinct ways, thus:
Observe here that, (a) for convenience, uniform square counters are used in the first of the structures depicted, (b) 73 (digit reverse of 37) is closely involved with both 37-as-hexagon and 37-as-hexagram and, (c) the latter are themselves amalgamations of numerical triangles
(3) that 666 may therefore be expressed as 18 x 37, or (6+6+6) x 37!
(4) the incidence of three sixes in the digits of the angular dimensions of all equilateral triangles, thus:
Clearly, the 'understanding' required of the investigator under this heading involves nothing more than a modicum of numeracy combined with a rudimentary appreciation of pattern, symmetry and coincidence, and must begin with due appreciation of the fact that the Lord, in making this choice, has presented us with a unique and tangible object for further, and closer, inspection. Observe, again, that He requires (for the mood is surely the imperative) those who possess such 'understanding' to follow the course outlined, and assures them that this will make them wise.
Matters arising from reading (2)
The question that arises here is this: How are we to assign a number to a man? Clearly, every man has a name, and the 'understanding' required of the investigator under this heading must therefore have something to do with the historically attested schemes of alphabetic numeration adopted by both Hebrew and Greek. In other words, at the time this Book was written (c.95 AD) people would have readily understood that texts written in Hebrew or Greek might also be read as sets of numbers! Thus, at that time (and, quite automatically!), scriptural names were also numbers. As a prime example of this phenomenon we have 'Jesus' (= 888 = 24x37), 'Christ' (= 1480 = 40x37) and 'Jesus Christ' (= 2368 = 64x37 = 4x4x4x37).
It may therefore be inferred that the Lord sanctions - indeed, encourages - the conversion of the original Hebrew and Greek names/words of the scriptural text into numbers. But why would He regard that as being a wise thing to do? And where would 666 figure in the process? A suggested answer to these questions is offered in the next section. However, one further point needs to be made under this heading, viz Does Rev.13:18 require us to identify 'the beast'? Apparently (and sensibly) not, for apart from any other consideration, there may be many candidates in the frame. But knowing man's nature, the Lord will have anticipated that he (man) might well regard this as the sole purpose of the verse (and we have to agree that this certainly functions as 'a carrot' to encourage him to read words as numbers!). In this connection, observe that the Hebrew and Greek are the only 'natural' schemes of alphabetic numeration that need be considered. The many other arbitrary schemes that appear from time to time lack authority and must be completely irrelevant to the fulfilment of the Lord's purposes concerning this verse!
Further to the matter of 'understanding'
It has already been made clear that few Christians can claim immunity from the imperative "... Let him that hath understanding count ...". Certainly, no church leader can be exempt! [Though it must be admitted that these matters - so far removed from the Gospel message - are hardly suitable for proclamation from the pulpit!] But one has to ask why so few obey the command; why so many find the task unnecessary - even repugnant! Clearly, these are questions that must be faced and answered by all who claim to be 'obedient servants of Christ'.
The Bible as a self-authenticating text
We are now in a position to synthesise the information extracted from Revelation 13:18. Here it is in diagrammatic form:
We are here alerted to the possibility that God's Word, the Bible, is a self-authenticating text. For consider, if it can be shown that one or more of its prominent features - as expressed in the original tongue(s) and read numerically - coincide(s) with a numero-geometrical structure that incorporates the unique objects 666 and 37, then the exceedingly low probability of such an event (or events) happening by chance must be widely accepted as significant, and must require a supernatural explanation.
It transpires that a numerical reading of the Hebrew of the Bible's first verse not only reveals an integrated triangular structure which incorporates both 666 and 37 but, in addition, powerful links with the Creator's name, Jesus Christ! And these are accompanied by a host of other remarkable features. Details of these may be found in the page The Beginning of Wonders.
Appendix: On the correct reading of Rev.13:18
Doubts continue to be expressed in some quarters concerning our proper understanding of the 'number of the beast'. Is it 666 or 616? Apparently both appear as possible candidates in the early Greek manuscripts. However, I suggest there are a number of good reasons why we should accept 666 as the God-ordained number, viz
(a) generations of scholars involved in the study and translation of the Greek originals have clearly understood the true value to be 666 - otherwise why would this number unfailingly appear in the text proper and 616, if at all, in a footnote?
(b) the evaluation of 'Jesus', the Christ, from the Greek (nominative case) is 888; hence, that of the Antichrist is more likely to be the counterfeit lookalike, 666, than 616;
(c) 666 is the epitome of numerical geometry; as 'triangle of triangles' it features in the geometrical representation of Genesis 1:1; on the other hand, 616 is devoid of any such properties.
(d) 666 as triangle is linked to two other dimensionless NT numbers, 153 and 276 - both of which are also triangular - by the theme "out of the sea'; details are provided in the page 666 - and All That!
Vernon Jenkins MSc
"And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
"And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
"Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest."
Revelation 15: 2- 4