By Rev. Fr. Petros Mwale (Mzuzu Diocese – MALAWI)
“Dear Rev. Fr. Petros, what is the meaning of 666, as per the biblical Book of Revelation? Some people argue that the Beast mentioned in Rev. 13:17-18 is the Pope and the Mark of that Beast is ‘Vicarius Filii Dei’ = 666. Is the Pope Satanic?” Please help Bernard (DMI University, Mangochi).
1. Brief History of the Book
Dear Bernard, the Book of Revelation (also called Apocalypse) was written in Greek around 95 AD, by John the Apostle. At that time the first Christians were persecuted for their faith.
John himself was in exile on the island of Patmos. The book was written to warn followers of Jesus, who had experienced persecution under a Roman Emperor Nero (Reign: 54-68 AD), that persecution would resume under the current emperor, Domitian (81-96 AD). So they needed to be faithful unto death in order to win the crown of life. When the book is understood this way, its figure of the Beast is recognized to be Domitian as if he were Nero come back to life, as he continued the persecutions of Nero. The book was written during the reign of Domitian.
2. The Mark of the Beast
For the word mark (of the beast) from Revelation 13:17 the original text uses the Greek word charagma (χάραγμα). This word designated the Roman imperial seal with which the official documents were approved in the first two centuries. In the year 66 AD, when Nero became Roman emperor, the Jews rebelled and created their own currency. In reaction, Nero established a rule through which no man could buy or sell unless he had a Roman certification. This was a method of economic control and was continued until the middle of the 3rd century. At the time of Emperor Domitian no one could make trade unless he had a libellus the proof that he had performed pagan Roman sacrifices.
3. 666 exposed
The Hebrew language used alphabetic letters to note numbers; like Latin and Greek. This aspect favored the spread of “isopsephy” (the practice of deriving names from numbers).
The Greek title Neron Kaisar (Νερων Καισαρ – “Nero Emperor”) transliterated in Hebrew is NRWN QSR (נרון קסר), and its Latin numerical value is: 50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200 = 666. The custom of transliteration from one language to another was widespread at the time of the apostles; John 19:19-20 shows that Pilate put the inscription Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews above the head of Jesus in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Therefore, although Revelation was written in Greek, the number 666 was a Hebrew code for Nero.
IS THE POPE SATANIC?
Dear Bernard, the Pope is called the Vicar of Christ here on earth (John 21:16-17, Mathew 16:18-19 and Pope Gelasius, I, Ep.Vi). Those who argue that the pope is Satanic say: on the Miter (chisoti) of the Pope these Latin words are written Vicarius Filii Dei the Vicar of the Son of God. And the Numerical value are as follows: V=5, I=1, C=100, A=no value, R=no value, I=1, U=5, S=no value, and F=no value, I=1, L=50, I=1, I=1 and D=500, E=no value, I=1. If you add the figures you come up with 666. Therefore, the accusers erroneously say the Pope is the beast mentioned in Rev. 13:17-18.
2. Response to the accusations
The fact is, we have ever washed movies, heard or read some anti-Catholic propaganda published by certain hyper-fundamentalist protestant groups. But their arguments are erroneous and misleading. Check this!
✔ The title of Pope is not ‘Vicarius Filii Dei’ (The Vicar of the Son of God). The phrase is not and never has been the title of the Pope. His title is ‘Vicarius Christi’ (The Vicar of Christ) this title is more expressive of his supreme headship of the Church on earth, which he bears in virtue of the commission of Christ and with vicarial power derived from Him (John 21:15-17).
✔ Why other letters have no numerical value? e.g A, R, S, F, and E. This makes the above accusation porous.
✔ The accusation given above cannot marry the Roman historical setting of 66-96 AD.
✔ The beast is a political figure (Nero) and persecutor of Christians while the Pope is a Religious leader and has never persecuted Christians in history.
✔ Using human wisdom we can argue this way: If the Pope is Satanic, and he is the head of the Church here on earth, all the members of this Church are Satanic (followfollowfollow the leader- hope you remember this primary school song). The Bishops, Priests, Sisters, Nuns, Catechists, all Chairpersons of different groups and the rest of the Christians are Satanic. Bernard, you are a member of the Church, are you SATANIC? The one reading this, are you SATANIC?
So the meaning of the number of the beast, 666, has a unique solution based on the conventions of apocalypses and the facts of history (referring to the reign of the two Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian). The main purpose of the book of Revelation was to strengthen followers of Jesus who were being pressured by the emperor cult.
Beale, Gregory K. “The Book of Revelation: a Commentary on the Greek Text,” Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing, 1999.
Watts Peter, Grime James, “666 – The Number of the Beast,” Numberphile: Brandy Haran, 2013.