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Revelation 13

v. 1: John says, “then” the dragon stood on the seashore, which means that the rising of Beast I from the sea is not a separate vision but rather a continuation of the same one begun in chapter 12.  Thus, the events of chapter 12 and 13 form a continuous narrative.

There are many beasts from here on, so I will pause to identify each of them.

The Dragon:

  • He is Satan (12:9).
  • He is great and red,
  • has 7 heads,
  • 10 horns,
  • and 7 crowns on his heads (12:3).
  • He empowers Beast I (13:2).

Beast I [1]:

  • It rises from the sea,
  • has 10 horns,
  • 10 crowns,
  • and 7 heads (13:1).
  • On the heads are blasphemous names (13:1).
  • It is like a leopard
  • with a bear’s feet
  • and a lion’s mouth (13:2).
  • 1 head is fatally wounded by a sword (13:14),
  • but the head is then healed,
  • which inspires the world to follow it (13:3)
  • “The number of its name” is 666 (13:17-18).

Beast II:

  • It rises from the earth,
  • has 2 horns like a lamb,
  • and speaks like a dragon (13:11).
  • It performs miraculous signs, (13:13)
  • and uses the authority of Beast I
  • to inspire the world to worship Beast I, (13:12)
  • and to build an idol of Beast I (13:14)
  • to which it (Beast II) gives breath
  • so that it can speak and
  • order the death of all who do not worship the idol (13:15).
  • It marks the followers of Beast I with 666 (13:18).

Harlot’s Beast

  • It is scarlet
  • full of blasphemous names,
  • has 7 heads,
  • And 10 horns (17:3)

I believe that Beast I is synonymous with the Harlot’s Beast[2]; therefore, I believe that the angel’s interpretation of the Harlot’s Beast (chapter 17) applies also to Beast I.

John sees Beast I rise out of the sea.  The event that this rising symbolizes is the resurrection of an evil king[3] from the dead, an event which is in the future relative to John.  Notice in 17:8 that the angel says the Harlot’s Beast (i.e., Beast I) “was, and is not [relative to John at the time he receives the Revelation], and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit….”[4]

Notice also that Beast I has been raised from the dead and his kingdom established before the pouring of the 1st bowl (16:2).  If the bowls and the trumpets really do parallel one another, then I suppose his kingdom is also established before the blowing of the first trumpet.

v. 18: 666 is the number of Beast I.  I say this because all the work of Beast II is aimed at honoring Beast I.  It seems likely, since Beast II makes an idol of Beast I (rather than of itself), that the mark of “the beast,” which indicates ownership by “the beast,” would be the mark of Beast I.  Besides, the simple title of “the beast” seems usually to be that of Beast I by default.  Compare this passage with 19:20 where Beast I is called “the beast” and Beast II is called “the false prophet.”

It is clear to me that one should interpret the number according to the ancient method of gematria, in which (according to the Oxford commentary) “the numerical equivalents of the letters of the Hebrew or Greek alphabets were added together, and the resulting sum was seen as giving a clue to the nature of the name.”  Each letter of Greek and Hebrew has a phonetic value (for writing words) as well as a numerical value, just as in Latin the letter C can be used as a letter in a word and as the number 100.  I think it is more likely that John used the Greek system than the Hebrew one because he was writing for Christians in general rather than specifically Jewish Christians. [5] This is probably why he chose to write the book in Greek to begin with.  Greek was a lingua franca of the time; therefore, I believe it is more reasonable to believe that the number should be calculated using the Greek alphabet.  Below is the Greek alphabet and the numerical values of its letters.[6]

α=1

β=2
γ=3
δ=4
ε=5
=6
ζ=7
η=8
θ=9

ι=10
κ=20
λ=30
μ=40
ν=50
ξ=60
ο=70
π=80
=90

ρ=100
ς=200
τ=300
υ=400
φ=500
χ=600
ψ=700
ω=800

=900

According to Strong’s Concordance, the actual text looks like this: “χ ξ [stigma]”[7] chi xi stigma (entry 5516), so John wrote this number as a number rather than as a word.[8] Had he written it as a word it would have looked like this: exakosioi  hexakosioi (six-hundred) exhkonta hexEkonta (sixty) ex hex (six). This is similar to Latin, where one may write the number 100 as a word (centum) or as a number using the Latin letter C.  But perhaps an example using English would be clearer.

Pretend that, instead of using Arabic numerals (1,2,3…) for writing numbers we use the letters of our own alphabet.  Below is a system that corresponds roughly to the Greek one except that it only goes to 800 since our alphabet only has 26 letters.

A=1

B=2
C=3
D=4
E=5
F=6
G=7
H=8
I=9
J=10
K=20
L=30
M=40
N=50
O=60
P=70
Q=80
R=90
S=100
T=200
U=300
V=400
W=500
X=600
Y=700
Z=800

Thus, the number of a word like “tea” is  200(T)+5(E)+1(A)=206

This word could be written using our alphabet: TEA

And the number of this word could be written as a word using our alphabet: TWO HUNDRED AND SIX

And the number of this word could be written as a number using our alphabet: TF

So if John were speaking of the number of “tea” as he speaks of the number of Beast I he would have said that tea’s number is TF rather than TWO HUNDRED AND SIX.

Obviously, if one starts with a name, the number of that name is easy to find, but it is not so easy to begin with the number and find the name.  According to the Oxford commentary, the explanations of what the number 666 signifies are countless.  I can see why John says that understanding the number “calls for wisdom.”  Consider again the example of “tea.”  206 is the number of the word tea, but it is also the number of “eat” 5(E)+1(A)+200(T), and “ate” 1(A)+ 200(T)+5(E), and any other word whose letters add up to 206.  Thus, the number of the word “seas” 100(S)+5(E)+1(A)+100(S) is also 206.  With enough motivation and patience, I’m sure I could come up with many others, but I think this is enough to demonstrate the point.

To further complicate the issue, consider the fact that in order to test this number against a name one has to know how John would have spelled that particular name in Greek.  This is more difficult than it may seem since name spelling (and spelling in general) is not always uniform.  Furthermore, one must account for the inflectional endings which Greek used.  And if the name of the Beast is not Greek, then one must try to predict how John might have spelled the name using the Greek alphabet and the Greek inflectional system.  For instance, what if the name of the Beast is Latin, like that of one of the emperors?  In that case, an emperor whose name is spelled “Trajan” in English would have been spelled  “Traianus” in Latin and “Traianos” in Greek.[9] And what if the name of the person who is Beast I has a vowel or consonant that Greek did not have?  In such a scenario, one must simply guess what Greek letter John might have used to represent that vowel or consonant.

All of this convinces me that one cannot figure out who Beast I is by starting with the number 666.  One must first use other parts of the Revelation (such as the angel’s interpretation of the Harlot’s Beast in chapter 17) to narrow the search.  One might hope that the statement “it is the number of a person” would mean that Beast I is a human being, thus narrowing the search somewhat (however slightly), but according to the Oxford commentary, the statement may mean that the number “can be understood either as a number that stands for a specific person, or as a number that can be calculated by human beings, not a hidden number known only to God.”[10]

Some people believe that the fact that 666 is made up of three sixes in our (the Arabic) number system is significant because the numbers three and six are important to Biblical numerology, but I am skeptical.  This only works in our system of counting because we use various combinations of the numbers 0 through 9 to write all numbers.  In our system, 666 is three sixes; one six holds the hundreds place, another the tens place, and another the ones place, but in Greek this is not the case.  Rather than having 10 symbols to count with they have 27, so, while the number 666 in Greek is made up of three symbols, those symbols do not designate the same number holding different places, but rather different numbers altogether.  Thus, (using the English alphabetic counting system I give above) 666 is XOF, not FFF.

___________________________________________________________________

FOOTNOTES

[1] I call it Beast I because it is called “the first beast” in 13:12.

[2] See note on 17:8.

[3] See note on 17:8.

[4] Although I believe that the Harlot’s Beast and Beast I are the same, I also believe that the Dragon, Beast I, and Beast II are separate beings.  See notes on Revelation 20:10.

[5] Note in 16:16 that he feels the need to explain to his readers that the word “Armageddon” is Hebrew.

[6] The Greek alphabet that John was using had only 24 letters, but in order to count using the above system, one needs 27 to form the three sets of 9 symbols.  To solve this problem, the Greeks revived some archaic letters.  Stigma, digamma, or vau were used for 6, koppa for 90, and sampi for 900.  (I cannot figure out how to get the computer to make their symbols.)  These letters were useful for counting, but since they were no longer used to spell words, they could not be used for gematria.  Thus, one could write the number of a person’s name using these archaic letters, but one could not write the name itself using them.

[7] I do not have the font for stigma on the computer.

[8] This fact makes me even more inclined to believe that the number of the name should be calculated using the Greek system of gematria.  Some online Greek texts that I have looked at have the number as a word.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps different manuscripts render it as a word.

[9] Using the Greek alphabet, of course.

[10] See 21:17.

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12 Responses to “Revelation 13”

  1. […] puts his seal on the foreheads of all his people who are destined for martyrdom during the reign of Beast I (7:1-3, 14:1-5) and tells the martyrs already in heaven that their blood will be avenged (in other […]

  2. […] puts his seal on the foreheads of all his people who are destined for martyrdom during the reign of Beast I (7:1-3, 14:1-5) and tells the martyrs already in heaven that their blood will be avenged (in other […]

  3. […] I think there is only one group: the Christians who will be martyred under the reign of Beast I.  Their number is […]

  4. […] I think there is only one group: the Christians who will be martyred under the reign of Beast I.  Their number is […]

  5. […] 3: The seal is the name of God and of Christ (14:1) and is in contrast to the seal of Beast I, which is his name, signified by the number 666 (13:16-18).  I wonder if the names of God and […]

  6. […] 3: The seal is the name of God and of Christ (14:1) and is in contrast to the seal of Beast I, which is his name, signified by the number 666 (13:16-18).  I wonder if the names of God and […]

  7. […] and in the context of Revelation, this seems like a reference to the 3 ½ years during which Beast I “is allowed to make war on the saints” (13:7).  As for the white robes, it is true that all […]

  8. […] and in the context of Revelation, this seems like a reference to the 3 ½ years during which Beast I “is allowed to make war on the saints” (13:7).  As for the white robes, it is true that all […]

  9. […] of his people who are still living on earth and destined to become martyrs under the reign of Beast I (7:1-3).  The symbolic number of those sealed is 144,000 (7:4-8).  The angel with the golden […]

  10. […] of his people who are still living on earth and destined to become martyrs under the reign of Beast I (7:1-3).  The symbolic number of those sealed is 144,000 (7:4-8).  The angel with the golden […]

  11. […] that he was given the key to the bottomless pit, without which he would not have been able to raise Beast I from the dead (13:1,3; 11:7, and […]

  12. […] that he was given the key to the bottomless pit, without which he would not have been able to raise Beast I from the dead (13:1,3; 11:7, and […]

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