Why Is the Number of the Beast 666?

| February 11, 2015

Editors' note: This series analyzes perplexing passages of the Bible. Previously:

This is a slightly revised excerpt from the recently published popular commentary by G. K. Beale (with D. H. Campbell), Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014). Register for The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference to hear from Beale, Lane Tipton, and Jeffrey Jue on “The Gospel & Eschatology: Why Heaven Matters Now.”

Revelation 13:18 says, “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is 666.”

This is one of the most debated verses in the entire Book of Revelation because of widespread disagreement over the identification and meaning of the number 666. The most common line of interpretation is that of gematria: in the ancient world, letters of the alphabet often substituted for numerals (our numerical system derives from the later Arabic mathematicians). Hence, each letter stood for a number.

Assessing the Options

The problem is that no clear…

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