What Does 666 Really Mean in the Bible?

What Does 666 Really Mean in the Bible? February 1, 2021

The Devil’s Number. The Mark of the Beast. But what does the number ‘666’ REALLY mean?

Research suggests that it is actually a secret code.  The number ‘666’ is originates in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, known for its dramatic and apocalyptic imagery. The number comes up in the context of a beast who rises up and distributes ‘the mark of the beast’ and whose number is named as 666.

Here are the verses in the King James Bible:

Revelation Chapter 13: 11, 16-18

11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.. 16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: 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 six hundred threescore and six (666)

But what does this passage actually mean? From a historical viewpoint, scholars have posited that the beast is this image could be a reference to the Roman Empire, with 666 a subtle code name for the emperor himself, Nero. In many early Christian texts, Nero is a particularly hated figure, considered the arch-enemy of Christians and likely associated with mass persecutions of Christians. He was often personified as evil itself.

The reference to him here through the number 666 may seem odd, but its not as confusing as we might think. Jews and Greeks in the first century relied on a common practice of coding that worked by supplying letters with numerical values, using a system known as gematria. This system was common throughout the ancient world. In this system of coding, the letter’s of Nero’s name would have been given a numerical value based on their placement in the alphabet (in English, this would mean that A = 1, B = 2, etc, so that the band ABBA, for example, would have a coded numerical value of 6). Nero’s name in Hebrew, based on the spelling, would have the numerical value of 666.

This might seem like a coincidence, but there is more evidence that it might not be. Two early manuscripts write 616, instead of 666, which would align with alternative spellings of Nero’s name.

Watch the video to learn more!

Religion For Breakfast launched as a video series in 2014, and now has over 200,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 7 million views. It is commonly used as an education tool in the classroom. Written and produced by religion scholar Andrew Henry, Religion For Breakfast covers a wide range of introductory videos on religion and religious practices around the world, from the rise of Christianity to the role of Japanese religion in the development of Pokemon, to the world of myth and apocryphal literature.

About Andrew Henry
Andrew M. Henry has a PhD from the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University specializing in Ancient Christianity. Andrew’s research focuses on magical ritual in the late antique Mediterranean with a particular interest in the material evidence of these practices such as ritual space, “magical” artifact assemblages, amulets, and apotropaic inscriptions. You can read more about the author here.

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77 responses to “What Does 666 Really Mean in the Bible?”

  1. I used to read the Bible when I was a boy. My aunt and uncle would read to me various chapters and scriptures. There were various references to Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, etc. I found the stories fascinating, but I had my questions, my doubts, etc. I was like “Really?” and “How?”

  2. Interesting article, thanks! And thanks for including that the earliest manuscripts used 616 and not 666.
    I think the Deist Thomas Jefferson was correct in his opinion of the Book of Revelation. Jefferson wrote in a letter to General Smyth, January 17, 1825, regarding Revelation that he “considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” And, “I do not consider them as revelations of the Supreme Being, whom I would not so far blaspheme as to impute to Him a pretension of revelation, couched at the same time in terms which, He would know, were never to be understood by those whom they were addressed.” ( https://www.deism.com/jeffersonversusrobertson.htm )

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