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What Is the Number 616 Meaning in the Bible?

What Is the Number 616 Meaning in the Bible

The number 616 appears in some early biblical manuscripts as an alternative number to the more common 666, the Number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation. There has been much debate over the significance and meaning of both 666 and 616 in Scripture.

Discovery of 616 in Ancient Biblical Manuscripts

The number 666 as the Number of the Beast comes from Revelation 13:18, which in most Bible translations reads: “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”

However, in 2005, scholars discovered an ancient fragment of the earliest known version of Revelation that gave the number of the beast as 616 instead of 666. This previously unknown variant of Revelation was found on a fifth-century Greek manuscript, making it the oldest surviving copy of this passage with the alternative number 616.

Theories on the Meaning of 616

This discovery sparked debate about whether 616 should be considered the original Number of the Beast. There are a few theories about why the number appears as 616 in some ancient biblical texts:

Gematria: In the ancient world, letters and numbers were closely intertwined. The study of gematria, or assigning numerical value to words, was common. Some scholars believe 616 and 666 came from converting “Nero Caesar” and “Neron Caesar” into Hebrew letters which add up to the values 616 and 666. If this theory is correct, both numbers could reference the infamously cruel Roman Emperor Nero.

Textual Corruption: A scribe may have accidentally changed 666 to 616 by accident when hand-copying manuscripts before the printing press was invented. This is a known issue with ancient manuscripts, resulting in textual variants between copies. The majority of texts use 666, so 616 could easily be explained as an unintentional copying error that was propagated to a small subset of manuscripts.

Intentional Alteration: Some argue that 616 isn’t an error, but rather an intentional change to alter the meaning or impact of the Number of the Beast. Differences between extant manuscripts provide evidence that numerological meanings were important, so some scholars believe clever scribes preserved 616 as an alternative.

Irrelevant Variants: Many experts on biblical manuscript traditions argue that the difference between 666 and 616 is meaningless. They point out that spelling and numerological differences commonly occur across ancient manuscripts. As the passage conveys the same meaning with either number, they conclude that the variant is trivial and not theologically significant.

The Significance of 666 vs. 616

Whatever its origin, the discovery of 616 reopened debates on the meaning of the Number of the Beast and which numerological variant should be considered most authoritative. There are a few key arguments around 666 versus 616:

Which Number Did John Write? As the author of Revelation, did John intend 666 or 616 when he composed this apocalyptic text? Unfortunately, there are no known manuscripts of Revelation dated within John’s lifetime, so there is no definitive way to establish which number he used originally.

Which Reading Makes More Sense? Some argue 666 has more symbolic meaning, as it invokes the number three, which represents the Holy Trinity in Christian theology. Repeating it to get 666 seems spiritually relevant. By contrast, 616 has no clear numerological meaning, so 666 could make more sense in the passage.

Which Number Has Greater Diffusion? While 616 appears in a few isolated manuscripts, 666 predominates by a wide margin, appearing in the vast majority of Revelation manuscript traditions across languages, locations, and time periods. This suggests 666 was potentially more widespread much earlier and better preserved through copying.

Does the Difference Matter? Given that both numbers convey that a profoundly evil ruler will emerge in the end times, some scholars argue that the exact number itself is not fundamentally important to the overall meaning of the passage. The text clearly associates the number with an antagonistic leader, regardless of the precise digit.

What 666 Means in Revelation

Most biblical scholars hold that the Number of the Beast, whether 666 or 616, points symbolically towards key attributes:

Human: The passage clearly states the number represents “man.” Considering it a numerological referent to a specific individual, the infamous Emperor Nero remains one of the most popular interpretations.

Incomplete: Falling short of the number seven, which signifies fullness and perfection, emphasizes the imperfection and incompletion of earthly powers that oppose God’s kingdom.

Failure: Though the beast seems powerful, positioning its number against divine sevens exposes that the beast and all kingdoms opposing God’s reign will ultimately fail. God’s eternal victory is assured regardless of seeming earthly losses along the way.

Deception: Since seven connotes divinity in Revelation, using its numeric sequence as the basis for the beast’s number hints at deceptive, counterfeit claims to divine honors. This critiques ungodly rulers who blasphemously demand worship.

So while scholars debate the origins and proper digit, the symbolic meanings of the Number of the Beast retain relevance regardless of the variant. The passage assures suffering believers that God will decisively triumph over all evil earthly powers.

Frequently Asked Questions about 616 and 666

There are a variety of common questions that arise regarding the textual variants 666 and 616 as the Number of the Beast in Revelation:

Q: Which number did early Christians consider original?

A: The number 666 predominates in most early biblical manuscripts. Aside from a single 5th century Greek fragment, there is little early evidence for 616 over 666, suggesting the latter was the mainstream view of the original reading.

Q: Does the emergence of 616 discredit the Bible?

A: Numerous textual variants occur across ancient manuscripts of all classical texts. The discovery of 616 does not undermine the integrity or inspiration of Scripture any more than other such manuscript differences inherently do.

Q: Is 616 less evil than 666?

A: The symbolic meaning seems to be the same either way: both point to an archetypal figure who embodies human imperfection and opposition to God’s kingdom. There is little basis for viewing one variant as less foreboding than the other.

Q: Could 616 refer to another evil ruler instead of Nero?

A: Possibly, but Nero remains the predominant candidate as the referent behind both numbers if they are gematria for convertible Latin names. Other proposed figures tend to lack textual support compared to Nero and other 1st century Roman emperors who aligned with attributes of the beast.


While scholars still debate the original meaning behind the textual variants 666 versus 616, overwhelming evidence favors 666 as the original reading in Revelation regarding the Number of the Beast. Nonetheless, the discovery of 616 in a few ancient biblical manuscripts proves interesting and highlights the reality of scribal errors even with sacred texts. Regardless of the variants, the numerological symbolism points to the archetypal beast representing human imperfection and blasphemous claims to divine honor, though ultimately falling short and failing against the assurance of God’s final victory against all evil, injustice, and oppression.

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