This one’s going to put me on the map! Time to finally go viral! It’s been a long enough wait, I can assure you.
As a time capsule, then, I want to finally make written record of my interpretation of the book of Revelation’s most infamous passage. I’ll be bypassing, for the reader’s sake, all discussion of the nature of prophecy and all survey of historical interpretations. In the place of these things I will attempt to simply and eloquently write my own thoughts. Let the reader be my judge.
The passage in question:
“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 six hundred and sixty-six.”
Revelation 13:18 NASB1995
My interpretation hinges on the fact that there is no indication whatsoever, anywhere, that the inspired authors of Scripture, while inspired, could do math. Accordingly, the use of the word “number” in the passage calls to mind the wrong idea. Instead, the word should be “total”. With this change, the passage reads:
“Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the total of the beast, for the total is that of a man; and his total is six hundred and sixty-six.”
What’s the difference between “number” and “total”? Ready? Here it is. Number is six. (Period.) Total is six cows. Or again, number is 70 million. (Full stop.) Total is 70 million people. With me? Okay, one more, then I’m moving on. Number is nine. (That’s all she wrote.) Total is nine ball players.
In my experience, some humans cannot see the distinction. For my own mind, I have not concluded yet whether I find this ability to see the distinction to be the result of nature or nurture. All I know is some people can’t see it. If this is you, if you can’t see the distinction between number and total, then this post, no matter how appealing, is not for you. Bye bye.
If, on the other hand, you see the distinction, then here’s the theological point. Contextually, the passage is clearly a warning. Lucky for us (lucky for Christians, that is), Jesus wins. So accurate interpretation of the warning is not consequential. (But we knew this already because John wrote that only some folks have understanding. I just want to record my own interpretation, because I’ve never read it anywhere and because I think the other interpretations of this passage are so moronic and childlike that they ought be cast into the lake of fire with all the other hell-born.)
The passage is a warning. And it warns of a method. How does it warn of a method? The only way possible—giving the result. This is a sticky assertion, I know. Hold on tight. And remember, it’s for fun. The interpretation does not matter.
Theologians and scholars agree that early written math in all cultures began by associating numbers to the letters of the alphabet, which otherwise recorded sounds. Roman Numerals are a slightly evolved remnant of this. To be clear, in English we might designate that the letter “A” equals a value of one, “B” , a value of two, and so on. This made for very difficult written calculations. But they were still much more efficient than having to laboriously write, “one plus one equals two.” (Easier version: A + A = B)
Our four-eyed ancestors saw something more though. They saw that a code could be developed, here, too.
Words could contain a meaning hidden to all but the intended, the “read in”, recipient. Love letters, and other private communiques could be communicated in broad daylight.
One such phrase, in Koine Greek (though not in the Bible) is, “the great beast”. Guess what its letters add up to? A value of six hundred sixty-six. But don’t miss the point. Plenty of words and phrases do, too. Quite literally, innumerable words and phrase add up to six hundred sixty-six.
But that phrase does, too. “The great beast.”
The passage’s warning is not of some creature, but of some creation—some total. What total? The total of a man. Which man? Which human? Could be me, could be you.
In other words, I believe that John told us that the beast meritorious of warning is when we mortals leave what is known as “concrete” reality (which does include the spiritual) and move to “abstract” reality (which does include “lies, damned lies, and statistics”, as Twain put it)—assuming we then base our actions on the abstract reality, to the detriment of the concrete reality.
This, of course, has never been done.
There it is. Now you know. Discuss amongst yourselves.