When I was a new Christian in the 80’s, there was a lot of talk about the end-times and the anti-christ. And it was here that the Bible was very clear, we could identify him by “the number of the beast” – 666.
People found the number 666 everywhere, I remember my cell-group leader showing us a credit-card and saying “look if they just add 2 numbers it will have 3 groups of 6 digits.” It was said that all bar-codes on products in the supermarket had the number 666 in them, because the code for 6 was 2 thin-lines || and this was in all bar-codes at the ends and middle.
Here are the hidden numbers – yikes 666 !!!
But what we never heard in the 80’s was that some texts were ambiguous – many had 616 as the number of the beast. And in 2005 the earliest text we have of Revelation was analysed with computer imaging and found that it had the number 616.
So which number should we look out for in order to know whether we are living in the last days? Which number should we refuse to put on our hand and forehead, 666 or 616 ? If the real number was 616 many sermons, books, videos etc would have to be changed, not to mention bad heavy-metal albums by Iron-Maiden.
Later I read more widely and found that many scholars believe that Revelation was also commenting in code on events of its own day. In that culture readers were used to rulers and people being referred to in code, often with numbers from numerological codes of their names. They were referred to in that way because powerful rulers would persecute them if they used the real name. So the number 616 could have been referring to the Emporer Nero or a number of other leaders of the day.
So what does this mean for our interpretation of Scripture on other matters? If something as straight-forward as the number of the beast could be debatable and controversial, what about other matters? Should we go back and check the translations of words that may be in question? Should we check the manuscripts and see if some have different words? And should we try to understand the culture of the day – what could the writers have been referring to that might be different in their day than ours?