666 or 616?
May 10 05

This past week, it was announced that the "number of the beast" is not 666 but 616. It seems that some years ago an ancient fragment of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ was found among other fragments in Egypt. It is believed that this fragment, written in Greek, dates to the 3rd century. In this fragment, it would appear that the number of the beast as described in Revelation 13:18 is 616.

Dr. Daniel Wallace of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts saw and briefly examined that fragment at Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University two years ago. According to Wallace, the number 616 was known at least as far back as the second century. Wallace cites the writings of Irenaeus, who disputed the 616 that was known at the time in favor of the now popular 666. If Irenaeus, who was writing in the second century, knew about 616, then we know that both 616 and 666 were both in existence in the second century.

If this fragment is as old as it is thought, and if it indeed indicates the number to be 616, why would Irenaeus contend in his writings that the number is actually 666? Irenaeus apparently thought that 666 made more sense if he ascribed the number 7 as the number of perfection, thereby making 666 just short of perfection.

Certainly, today we know that many people believe that 666 stands for the "evil trinity" -- Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet. If the number 6 stands for "man," as many people believe, then 666 would be the number of a human trinity trying to achieve perfection.

As people have studied the number of the beast, they have jumped to the conclusion that the sixes must stand for not only the number of man but the name of an individual man who would be the antichrist. This is called "gematria," where a number is based on the letters of one's name. Each letter of the alphabet would be assigned a number. You would spell out your name, mark the number that corresponds to each letter in your name, and add up the numbers. If you get 666, then you're a candidate to be the antichrist! People have been doing that for centuries and have found that Hitler and Nero, among hundreds of other "bad characters," were 666s.

Gematria has been around since at least the 8th century BC and is still used today, especially by the Kabbalists. Jews have assigned numbers to the Hebrew alphabet so that they can find words with the same number total. Those words or phrases are then associated. The Gnostics applied gematria, as well. Even early Christians used it and some still use it today. But is it what God asks us to do? Is it equivalent to astrology, which God forbids? Well, at any rate, many people have at least had fun with the number of the beast. Now, those 666 antichrist candidates may all have to be tossed aside as people look for names that add up to 616.

But what if the number of the beast isn't even 616? What if the Greek characters on this manuscript are not numbers at all, but pictures that we have interpreted as letters? Dr. Walid Shoebat, a Jordanian Muslim who converted to Christianity, says that as a Muslim, he read the Bible and saw that this number of the beast is not a number at all. When he reads Revelation 13:18 in the Greek, he sees a picture of the Muslim crescent moon and two swords crossing. The Greek letters should not be interpreted as standing for numbers, but, rather, should be seen as some sort of drawing resembling the Islamic symbols.

Shoebat makes a convincing case. He knows Islam and he knows Christianity. He has studied both the Koran and the Bible. What if Shoebat is right about Revelation 13:18? Is the antichrist a Muslim? Or does it mean that the antichrist is not a person at all, but the entity of Islam? Personally, I believe the antichrist will be a man, an individual, just as Christ came as a man, an individual. So if the number of the beast is not really a number as we know it but is, instead, a symbol of Islam, can you look around the world today and see where we are? As the Church and as Pope Benedict and the Catholics reach out to join hands with Muslims, can you see that a Muslim antichrist is not unreasonable?

I have no idea who the antichrist will be. I don't think it is all that important for Christians to spend time looking for a certain man in the world who could be the antichrist. I do think it is important, however, for Christians to be aware of what is going on in the world. We don't need to know who the antichrist will be, but we do need to be aware of the time of the end. We do need to be aware of ecumenism that would pervert the true Gospel in an attempt to meld Christianity with other religions, especially Islam. After all, President Bush stated that Christians and Muslims have the same god. What is scary is that most Christians didn't even bat an eye when he said it. Ah, that's because their eyes are closed. Is it too late to open them?

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