The number of the beast or 666 is associated with the Beast of Revelation in chapter 13, verse 18 of the Book of Revelation. In most manuscripts of the New Testament and in English translations of the Bible, the number of the beast is six hundred sixty-six. Papyrus 115 (which is the oldest preserved manuscript of the Revelation as of 2017), as well as other ancient sources like Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, give the number of the beast as 616.
In the Bible
The number of the beast is described in Revelation 13:15–18. Several translations have been interpreted for the meaning of the phrase "Here is Wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast..." where the peculiar Greek word psephisato is used. Possible translations include "to count", "to reckon" and also "to vote" or "to decide".
"17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 18 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 666."
Although Irenaeus (2nd century AD) affirmed the number to be 666 and reported several scribal errors of the number, theologians have doubts about the traditional reading because of the appearance of the figure 616 in the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus and the full number written out as "six hundred and sixteen."
A fragment from Papyrus 115 of Revelation in the 66th vol. of the Oxyrhynchus series (P. Oxy. 4499). Has the number of the beast as 616. Around 2005, a fragment from Papyrus 115, taken from the Oxyrhynchus site, was discovered at the University of Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. It gave the beast's number as 616. This fragment is the oldest manuscript (about 1,700 years old) of Revelation 13 found as of 2017.
According to Paul Louis, "The number 666 has been substituted for 616 either by analogy with 888, the [Greek] number of Jesus."
The beast's identity and the beast's number are usually interpreted by applying one of three methods:
- Using gematria to find the numbers that equate to the names of world leaders, to check for a match with the scriptural number.
- Treating the number of the beast as a duration of time.
- Linking the scriptural imagery and symbolism of the Antichrist with characteristics of world leaders who oppose Christianity.
A common preterist view of the Mark of the beast (focusing on the past) is the stamped image of the emperor's head on every coin of the Roman Empire: the stamp on the hand or in the mind of all, without which no one could buy or sell.
The idealist perspective on the number of the beast rejects gematria, envisioning the number not as a code to be broken, but a symbol to be understood. Idealists would contend that because there are so many names that can come to 666 and that most systems require converting names to other languages or adding titles when convenient, it has been impossible to come to a consensus.
Some fundamentalist Christian groups, as well as Christian writers, interpret the mark as a requirement for all commerce to mean that the mark might actually be an object in the right hand or forehead with the function of a credit card, such as RFID microchip implants. Some of these groups believe the implantation of chips may be the imprinting of the mark of the beast, prophesied to be a requirement for all trade and a precursor to God's wrath. Similar objections were raised about barcodes upon their introduction.
Occurrence in Western culture
In 2003, U.S. Route 666 in New Mexico was changed to U.S. Route 491. A New Mexico spokesperson stated, "The devil's out of here, and we say goodbye and good riddance."
The number has been a motif in various horror films such as The Omen and its 2006 remake (released on 6/6/06). 666 also appears in films such as The Ninth Gate, where it is the lead antagonist's passcode.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some groups associated COVID-19 vaccines and mask wearing with the mark of the beast, or that it was a microchip in the vaccine. A similar version was spread by Marjorie Taylor Greene, who referred to vaccine passports as being the mark of the beast.