Nero and 666: A Historicist’s Critique

“Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.” – Revelation 13:18 (NKJV)

Following a previous blog post on the differences between partial preterism and historicism, I thought it would be interesting to deal with the mysterious number, 666. There have been many interpretations of this verse but I want to focus on two major views within postmillennialism. The partial preterist view is that 666 is the calculation of Emperor Nero’s name in Hebrew (Nrwn Qsr). Each Hebrew letter has a number associated with it and when added up it equals the number of the beast. The other view is the historicist interpretation, which I will explain after critiquing the partial preterist view.

In ancient cultures the letters of the alphabet often served as numerals, so that every name would have its numerical equivalent. We read graffiti from Pompeii that says I love her whose name is 545. That is a way of declaring your love, but then you had to figure out whose name adds up to 545. So we know what this is all about. If you use your mind, if you have wisdom, you can tell who John is talking about. His name equals 666. In the Talmud and in the Aramaic document that has been unearthed at Murabba’at, we know that the Jews referred to Nero as Neron Kaisar. If you add up the numerical equivalent of the name the Jews used for Nero it is 666.”

– Greg Bahnsen, Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism, 16

5 Reasons Why “Neron Kaiser” is Not the Calculation of 666

1. The Name is calculated from Hebrew instead of Greek.

The book of Revelation was written by the apostle John in the common language used by the seven churches. There are many Jewish themes and even a few Hebrew words in the book of Revelation but the original audience were more familiar with the Greek language. Nrwn Qsr is the Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name but it is not natural to jump to a whole different language to try to calculate the number of the beast. The warning of this is beast was not just a warning to the Jews and those who spoke Hebrew, it is a warning to all Christians. Therefore, it is more natural to calculate the name in the common tongue known to the original audience and in the language that they received it.

One might protest against the arbitrariness of searching for the number 666 in the numerical value of Hebrew letters in a book written in Greek. Also, since Nero did not return, and, consequently, the deadly wound was not healed, do they mean to tell us that the writer of the Apocalypse was a false prophet? But such questions would not trouble the critics of this school; for they can sit loose to such niceties.

 – David Brown, The Apocalypse: Its Structure and Primary Predictions (1891)

2. The calculation of the 666 is not for a specific individual. 

Ken Gentry makes the case that 666 is a number of an individual. It’s the name of a specific person who the original audience would know.

The name-number 666 must be “that of a man” (Rev. 13:18b). This excludes any interpretation that would involve demonic beings, philosophical ideas, political movements, or anything other than an individual human person.

 – Ken Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, 10

 Revelation 13:18 says, “…Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man…”  John is not saying that it is a number of a specific person. He is saying that this number is calculated by the numbers used by man. This is pretty easy to understand when compared to another place in Revelation. Revelation 21:17 says, “And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.” It would be awkward if we took that verse to say the “measure of a man” means the measurement of a specific human being since there has never been a person that measured 216 feet. What is being communicated is the measurement of the wall in the way humans measure. Concerning Revelation 21:17,  Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown understand this as “The ordinary measure used by men is the measure here used by the angel.” In the same way, “the number of a man” is the calculation in the way humans do math.

 the number of a man—that is, counted as men generally count. So the phrase is used in Rev 21:17…

– Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871), Volume 2, 585

Since the number is “the number of the beast,” it is not inappropriate to attribute this to a specific individual. The name must be connected to the entire beast itself and not only one of the seven heads of the beast.

3. “Nrwn Qsr” is not the common Hebrew spelling for Nero’s name. 

If  we are to count the number of the beast correctly, it would make sense to use the common spelling of the name. Instead, Nrwn Qsr, an uncommon spelling of Nero’s name is used. Why would God tell the church to calculate the number using a rare spelling? Ken Gentry explains how this spelling was discovered.

Interestingly, several scholars of the last century – Fritzsche, Holtzmann, Berm-y, Hitzig and Reuss – each stumbled independently upon the name Nero Caesar almost simultaneously. We have seen that the Greek spelling of Nero’s name has the value 1005. A Hebrew spelling of his name was Nrwn Qsr (pronounced: Neron Kaiser). It has been documented by archaeological finds that a first century Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name provides us with precisely the value of 666. Jastrow’s lexicon of the Talmud contains this very spelling.

 – Ken Gentry, The Beast of Revelation,  34

This spelling exists but it was not common. It is even possible that these sources followed a misspelling of the name. It is true that spelling was not standardized during the first century but in this situation, it is important to have the spelling in order to calculate the number precisely. The common Hebrew spelling from Latin is Nrw Qsr. In both Hebrew and Latin, this name equals 616 and not 666. This leads me to the next objection.

4. “616” manuscript variant should be rejected.

There is a manuscript that contains the number 616 instead of 666. Partial preterists claim that this strengthens their view because of the alternate Latin spelling of Nero’s name.

John, a Jew, used a Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name in order to arrive at the figure 666. But when Revelation began circulating among those less acquainted with Hebrew, a well-meaning copyist who knew the meaning of 666 might have intended to make its deciphering easier by altering it to 616. It surely is no mere coincidence that 616 is the numerical value of ‘Nero Caesar,’ when spelled in Hebrew by transliterating it from its more common Latin spelling.

– Ken Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, 35

Gary DeMar explains how 616 instead of 666 ended up in that manuscript.

  A Latin copyist might have thought that 666 was an error because Nero Caesar did not add up to 666 when transliterated into Latin. He then changed 666 to 616 to conform to the Latin rendering since it was generally accepted that Nero was the Beast.

– Gary DeMar, The Mark of the Beast – 666 or 616? (https://americanvision.org/1746/mark-of-beast-or/)

 This actually does not strengthen the partial preterist view, but weakens it. How does Gary DeMar know this copyist was thinking of the Latin name of Nero? And why is it OK to intentionally change what he was copying?  These are not facts, only speculation. God promises to preserve his word and has committed to the church the oracles of God (Gal. 3:2).  No one has the right to alter God’s word. Later in Revelation, we find out the deadly consequences of changing God’s word. If the copyist intentionally changed God’s word then that variant and his interpretation should be rejected (if he really interpreted the number of the beast in that way).

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

– Revelation 22:18–19

The church never accepted the 616 variant; 666 is the authoritative reading. Irenaeus knew about his variant and recognized it as a copyist error.

I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.] Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number. Now, as regards those who have done this in simplicity, and without evil intent, we are at liberty to assume that pardon will be granted them by God. But as for those who, for the sake of vainglory, lay it down for certain that names containing the spurious number are to be accepted, and affirm that this name, hit upon by themselves, is that of him who is to come; such persons shall not come forth without loss, because they have led into error both themselves and those who confided in them.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 50.30.1 (brackets are original)

5. There are no early church interpretations that fit the Neron Kaiser interpretation. 

Ken Gentry says that the copyist “knew the meaning of 666.” How does he know the thoughts of the copyist? Gary DeMar says that “it was generally accepted that Nero was the Beast.” How does he know what was generally accepted during that time? The fact is that there is no historical evidence that the early church interpreted 666 as the calculation of Nero’s name. Gentry knows that as well. He says concerning this historical objection, “In fact, it is the strongest argument against it.” (The Beast of Revelation, pg. 36)

As reformed Christians, we hold to Sola Scriptura. That is, Scripture alone is the final authority. This does not mean it is our only authority. God has blessed the church with teachers and many gifted theologians to help us understand the difficult parts of Scripture. If an interpretation of Scripture did not exist in church history for a long time, there is a good chance that the new view is wrong. What church history has said is very important because “…no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Many anti-dispensational theologians reject the pre-tribulational rapture because of how new that interpretation is. This rapture view was first invented around 1830 and popularized by John Darby. This view of Nero and 666 was never heard of before 1831.

 The solution to the riddle of 666 which has been most widely accepted since it was first suggested in 1831 is that 666 is the sum of the letters of Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters as נרון קסר (נ = 50 + ר = 200 + ו = 6 + ן = 50 + ק = 100 + ס = 60 + ר = 200). Few of the many other solutions by gematria which have been proposed offer a name, which the phrase ‘the number of his name’ (Rev. 13:17; 15:2) requires, and of those few which do this seems eminently the most preferable.

– Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (1993) , 387

The Historicist View

The historical and reformed view is that the office of papacy is the Antichrist, Man of Sin, and second Beast of Revelation. I will not argue for this view here since there a 3 part series on this topic. The historicist view is that 666 is the calculation of the Greek word, LATEINOS (the Latin one). The earliest record of this interpretation is found in Irenaeus’ book, Against Heresies (180 AD). I will let Rev. Wilhelmus à Brakel explain the reason for this understanding.

The Greeks calculated with their alphabet. Their letters were also numbers. That means that one word can represent a certain matter, place, or person, as well as a number. This was the number 666. The Greek letters, which were used for this number, were also a number of man, spelling a human name. Shortly after the time of the apostles the number 666 translated to the name LATEINOZ, the first king of the region where Rome is located. The land was called Latium after him. And the language they spoke was called the Latin language, as it is still called. And so this number 666, which spells Lateinoz, leads as by the hand to Rome and in Rome to the pope, who established himself within the church. Then it was referred to as the Latin Church, to make a distinction with the Eastern Church, which was referred to as the Greek Church. Until today the service is still executed in Latin. The pope is still writing his bulls and decrees in the Latin language. This name and his number clearly show that the pope is the Antichrist, which is described in great detail in PART 1, chapter 24, § 44 until § 51. This became clearer during the time of the Reformation.

– Rev. Wilhelmus à Brakel’s (1635 -1711), Not To Be Ignored: Commentary on Revelation

This view is historical, reformed, consistent with the original language of Revelation, and represents the antichristian papal beast. I will conclude this study with multiple quotes from the early church and reformed writers.

For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear. It is not through a want of names containing the number of that name that I say this, but on account of the fear of God, and zeal for the truth: for the name Evanthas (ΕΥΑΝΘΑΣ) contains the required number, but I make no allegation regarding it. Then also Lateinos (ΛΑΤΕΙΝΟΣ) has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom [of the four seen by Daniel]. For the Latins are they who at present bear rule: I will not, however, make any boast over this [coincidence].

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies (180AD), 5.30.3

 and has number] It is to be found in the numbers of the Greek letters of his general name: for men’s names in Greek, contained numbers in the letters.They had not other figures, as we have, but counted by letters.

Six hundred threescore and six] S. John would not plainly set down the name, lest he should make the Roman Emperours offended with the Christians; as S.PauI doth not name him that letteth, 2 Thes. 2.6,7. Yet such plain tokens are set down by both, that he, and antichrist his upholder, might be known when he cometh. The truth is, this is the name of the beast, not of antichrist; and so a national name, describing that state where antichrist should rise and reign: and therefore though it is like to be comprehended in Greek letters, in which language John wrote; yet it is not likely to be Greek word originally. Ireneus, and the ancients, take it for the word Lateinos, which, in Greek letters, maketh six hundred sixty & six: showing, that antichrist should be a Roman, or one of the Latin Church. Others suppose his power should begin in the year of Christ six hundred sixty and six. Others, that it should last so many years in the height of it.

– Westminster Assembly, Annotations and Commentary on the Whole Bible (1657)

…the wound of the first beast was healed, and he (the second beast) was to make the image speak, that is to say, he should be powerful; and it is manifest to all that those who at present still hold the power are Latins. If, then, we take the name as the name of a single man, it becomes Latinus.

– Hippolytus (170 – 235 AD), Treatise on Christ and Antichrist

Therefore, we dismiss these opinions, while holding firmly to the popular and more commonly accepted view which maintains that the Pontiff, his rank and his rule, are correctly described by this prophecy. In fact, we may compute his name in either Greek or Hebrew, the two languages by which God gave his oracles and prophecies (shrouding them in mystery), yet the sum of their letters will yield the same result. For, if the computation be made in Greek, which is quite appropriate considering the Revelation was written in Greek to Greeks, no other suitable name occurs than the name Lateinos, Λατεινος, as Irenæus conjectured. And, if the name Romanus should be counted in the Hebrew characters, it will mean either Roman seat or Roman, as John Foxe determined. Moreover, the Hebrew term comprises the same meaning as that of the Greek term. For Romanus or Lateinos is the name of the aforementioned Beast and is that name which the Pope imposes on all his disciples. It is on this self-same Beast that all these and additional marks of Antichrist converge; i.e., such marks as causing the whole earth, which follows him, to wonder; his blaspheming the name of God; and the great power he holds over the heads of all peoples and tongues, etc. That this name contains the number 666 in both Greek and Hebrew is not a point of dispute:

Λ α τ ε ι ν ο ς
30 1 300 5 10 50 70 200 666

Thus, the Roman Pontiff and his Seat is undoubtedly indicated. For he is truly Latin who holds the remains of the Latin empire and the ancient seat. By no small coincidence, he does not allow public worship to be conducted in any other language than Latin; nor does he publish his official documents and decrees in any other language. Also, the Eastern Orthodox call the Roman Church by the name Latin Church, as seen in the general councils where this distinction was meticulously made between the western fathers or bishops, called Latins, while the rest were called Greeks. Therefore, the name Lateinos (in Greek) or Romanus (in Hebrew) is fully consistent with the fulfillment of this prophecy, in that it predicts the seat of the Beast to be Rome, where it remains to this day. The truth is out in the open.

Francis Turretin’s 7th Disputation, Whether it Can Be Proven The Pope of Rome is the Antichrist 

the number of a man—that is, counted as men generally count. So the phrase is used in Rev 21:17. The number is the number of a man, not of God; he shall extol himself above the power of the Godhead, as the man of sin [Aquinas]. Though it is an imitation of the divine name, it is only human.

six hundred threescore and six—A and Vulgate write the numbers in full in the Greek. But B writes merely the three Greek letters standing for numbers, Ch, X, St. “C reads” 616, but Irenaeus, 328, opposes this and maintains “666.” Irenaeus, in the second century, disciple of Polycarp, John’s disciple, explained this number as contained in the Greek letters of Lateinos (L being thirty; A, one; T, three hundred; E, five; I, ten; N, fifty; O, seventy; S, two hundred). The Latin is peculiarly the language of the Church of Rome in all her official acts; the forced unity of language in ritual being the counterfeit of the true unity; the premature and spurious anticipation of the real unity, only to be realized at Christ’s coming, when all the earth shall speak “one language” (Zep 3:9). The last Antichrist may have a close connection with Rome, and so the name Lateinos (666) may apply to him.”

– Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871), Volume 2, Page 585

 …but the name “Lateinos” bids as fair as any, which is mentioned by so ancient a writer as Irenaeus, who was a hearer of Polycarp, a disciple of John, the writer of this book; now the numeral value of the letters of this word makes up exactly 666, thus; λ 30. α1. τ 300. ε 5. ι 10. ν 50. ο 70. ς 200. in all 666; and it is well known that the church of Rome is called the Latin Church and the pope of Rome the head of the Latin church, and his seat is in the Latin empire, and the service of the beast is in the Latin tongue, and the Bible is kept in that language, from the reading of the common people…

 – John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

The number of the beast being 666, may hint that the pagan doctrines, laws, and offices have apparently a marvellous connection, but are no way founded on the doctrine of the twelve apostles. It is found in the Greek LATEINOS, and the Hebrew ROMIITH, and points to the Christian church, and the place of its peculiar residence. About A. D. 666, it is said that Vitalian marked his subjects with the use of the Latin or Roman tongue. From the time when John had his vision of a civil as well as an eclesiastical head, A.D. 756, or some years after, when he began to exercise his temporal jurisdiction, might be precisely 666 years.

– John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1831)

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  1. Nero is the beast, read what he did to many in his life. A murderer from the start, blamed Christians for the fire, murdered Apostles, and family members, the most Evil man in History. An arrogant man with no good values. It is the resurrection of this tyrant’s IMAGE, that will be brought to life. It’s that simple.

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