on Revelation 13 :18
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 - In this verse we have the very name of the beast given under the symbol of the number 666. Before the invention of figures by the Arabs, in the tenth century, letters of the alphabet were used for numbers. The Greeks in the time of Homer, or soon after, are thought by some to have assigned to their letters a numerical value corresponding to their order in the alphabet: thus, α was 1, because the first letter; and ω 24, being the last. It is in this manner that the books of the Iliad and Odyssey are numbered, which have been thus marked by Homer himself, or by some person who lived near his time. A system of representing numbers of great antiquity was used by the Greeks, very much resembling that afterwards adopted by the Romans. This consisted in assigning to the initial letter of the name of the number a value equal to the number. Thus Χ, the initial of χιλια, stood for a thousand; Δ, the initial of δεκα, for ten; Π, the initial of πεντε, for five, etc. Herodotus, the grammarian, is the only writer of antiquity who has noticed this system, and the chronological table of remarkable events on the Arundelian marbles the only work extant in which this method of representing numbers is exhibited. The system now in use cannot be traced to any very ancient source. What can be proved is, that it was in use before the commencement of the Christian era. Numerical letters, denoting the year of the Roman emperor's reign, exist on great numbers of the Egyptian coins, from the time of Augustus Caesar through the succeeding reigns. See Numi Egyptii Imperatorii, a Geo. Zoega, edit. Romans 1787. There are coins extant marked of the 2d, 3d, 14th, 30th, 35th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st, and 42d years of Augustus Caesar, with the numerical letters preceded by L or Λ for λυκαβας , year, thus: LΒ, LΓ, LΙΔ, LΛ, LΑΕ, LΛΗ, LΛΘ, LΜ, LΜΑ, and LΜΒ. The following is the Greek alphabet, with the numerical value of each letter affixed, according to the generally received system: -
α - 1 ι - 10 ρ - 100 β - 2 κ - 20 σ - 200 γ - 3 λ - 30 τ - 300 δ - 4 μ - 40 υ - 400 ε - 5 ν - 50 φ - 500 ζ - 7 ξ - 60 χ - 600 η - 8 ο - 70 ψ - 700 θ - 9 π - 80 ω - 80
The method just described of representing numbers or letters of the alphabet, gave rise to a practice among the ancients of representing names also by numbers. Examples of this kind abound in the writings of heathens, Jews, and Christians. Where the practice of counting the number in names or phrases began first to be used, cannot be ascertained; it is sufficient for the illustration of the passage under consideration, if it can be shown to have been in existence in the apostolic age. Seneca, who was contemporary with St. Paul, informs us, in his eighty-eighth epistle, that Apion, the grammarian, maintained Homer to have been the author of the division of his poems of the Iliad and Odyssey into forty-eight books; for a proof of which Apion produces the following argument: that the poet commenced his Iliad with the word μηνιν, that the two first letters, whose sum is 48, might indicate such division. Leonidas of Alexandria, who flourished in the reigns of Nero, Vespasian, etc., carried the practice of computing the number in words so far as to construct equinumeral distichs; that is, epigrams of four lines, whose first hexameter and pentameter contain the same number with the other two. We will only notice two examples; the first is addressed to one of the emperors, the other to Poppaea, the wife of Nero.
Θυει σοι τοδε γραμμα γενεθλιακαισιν εν ὡραις,
Καισαρ, Νειλαιη Μουσα Λεωνιδεω.
Καλλιοπης γαρ ακαπνον αει θυος· εις δε νεωτα
Ην εθελῃς, θυσει τουδε περισσοτερα.
"The muse of Leonidas of the Nile offers up to thee, O Caesar, this writing, at the time of thy nativity; for the sacrifice of Calliope is always without smoke: but in the ensuing year he will offer up, if thou wilt, better things than this."
From the numerical table already given, the preceding epigram may be shown to contain equinumeral distichs, as follows: θυει 424, i.e., θ 9, υ 400, ε 5, ι 10; in all 424: σοι contains 280, i.e., σ 200, ο 70, ι 10. In like manner τοδε will be found to contain 379, γραμμα 185, γενεθλιακαισιν 404, εν 55, ὡραις 1111, Καισαρ 332, Νειλαιη 114, Μουσα 711, Λεωνιδεω 1704. The sum of all these is 5699, the number in the first distich. In the second distich, Καλλιοπης contains 449, γαρ 104, ακαπνον 272, αει 16, θυος 679, εις 215, δε 9, νεωτα 1156, Ην 58, εθελῃς 267, (the subscribed iota being taken into the account), θυσει 624, τουδε 779, περισσοτερα 1071. The sum of all 5699, which is precisely the same with that contained in the first distich.
Ουρανιον μειμημα γενεθλιακαισιν εν ὡραις
Τουτ' απο Νειλογενους δεξο Λεωνιδεω,
Ποππαια, Διος ευνι, Σεβαστιας· ευαδε γαρ σοι
Δωρα, τα και λεκτρων αξια και σοφιης.
"O Poppaea, wife of Jupiter (Nero) Augusta, receive from Leonidas of the Nile a celestial globe on the day of thy nativity; for gifts please thee which are suited to thy imperial dignity and wisdom."
on Revelation 13 :18
Here is wisdom - That is, in what is stated respecting the name and the number of the name of the beast. The idea is, either that there would be need of special sagacity in determining what the "number" of the "beast" or of his "name" was, or that special "wisdom" was shown by the fact that the number could be thus expressed. The language used in the verse would lead the reader to suppose that the attempt to make out the "number" was not absolutely hopeless, but that the number was so far enigmatical as to require much skill in determining its meaning. It may also be implied that, for some reason, there was true "wisdom" in designating the name by this number, either because a more direct and explicit statement might expose him who made it to persecution, and it showed practical wisdom thus to guard against this danger; or because there was "wisdom" or skill shown in the fact that a number could be found which would thus correspond with the name. On either of these suppositions, special wisdom would be required in deciphering its meaning.
Let him that hath understanding - Implying:
(a) that it was practicable to "count the number of the name"; and,
(b) that it would require uncommon skill to do it.
It could not be successfully attempted by all; but still there were those who might do it. This is such language as would be used respecting some difficult matter, but where there was hope that, by diligent application of the mind, and by the exercise of a sound understanding, there would be a prospect of success.
Count the number of the beast - In Revelation 13:16 it is "the number of his name." The word rendered here "count" - ψηφισάτω psēphisatō - means, properly, to count or reckon with pebbles, or counters; then to reckon, to estimate. The word here means "compute"; that is, ascertain the exact import of the number, so as to identify the beast. The "number" is what is immediately specified, "six hundred threescore and six" - 666. The phrase "the number of the beast" means, that somehow this number was so connected with the beast, or would so represent its name or character, that the "beast" would be identified by its proper application. The mention in Revelation 13:17 of "the name of the beast," and "the number of his name," shows that this "number" was somehow connected with his proper designation, so that by this he would be identified. The plain meaning is, that the number 666 would be so connected with his name, or with what would properly designate him, that it could be determined who was meant by finding that number in his name or in his proper designation. This is the exercise of the skill or wisdom to which the writer here refers: substantially that which is required in the solution of a riddle or a conundrum. If it should be said here that this is undignified and unworthy of an inspired book, it may be replied:
(a) that there might be some important reason why the name or designation should not be more plainly made;
(b) that it was important, nevertheless, that it should be so made that it would be possible to ascertain who was referred to;
(c) that this should be done only in some way which would involve the principle of the enigma - "where a known thing was concealed under obscure language" (Webster's Dictionary);
(d) that the use of symbols, emblems, hieroglyphics, and riddles was common in the early periods of the world; and,
(e) that it was no uncommon thing in ancient times, as it is in modern, to test the capacity and skill of people by their ability to unfold the meaning of proverbs, riddles, and dark sayings. Compare the riddle of Samson, Judges 14:12 ff. See also Psalm 49:4; Psalm 78:2; Ezekiel 17:2-8; Proverbs 1:2-6; Daniel 8:23.
It would be a sufficient vindication of the method adopted here if it was certain or probable that a direct and explicit statement of what was meant would have been attended with immediate danger, and if the object could be secured by an enigmatical form.
For it is the number of a man - Various interpretations of this have been proposed. Clericus renders it, "The number is small, or not such as cannot be estimated by a man." Rosenmuller, "The number indicates a man, or a certain race of men." Prof. Stuart, "The number is to be computed more humano, not wore angelico"; "it is a man's number." DeWette, "It is such a number as is commonly reckoned or designated by men." Other interpretations may be seen in Poole's Synopsis. That which is proposed by Rosenmuller, however, meets all the circumstances of the case. The idea is, evidently, that the number indicates or refers to a certain man, or order of people. It does not pertain to a brute, or to angelic beings. Thus it would be understood by one merely interpreting the language, and thus the connection demands.
And his number is six hundred threescore and six - The number of his name, Revelation 13:17. This cannot be supposed to mean that his name would be composed of six hundred and sixty-six letters; and it must, therefore, mean that somehow the number 666 would be expressed by his name in some well-understood method of computation. The number here - six hundred and sixty-six - is, in Walton's Polyglott, written out in full: Ἑξακόσιοι ἑξάκοντα ἕξ Hexakosioi hexakonta hex. In Wetstein, Griesbach, Hahn, Tittmann, and the common Greek text, it is expressed by the characters χξς equals 666. There can be no doubt that this is the correct number, though, in the time of Irenaeus, there was in some copies another reading - χις equals 616. This reading was adopted by the expositor Tychonius; but against this Irenaeus inveighs (Liv. v. 100:30). There can be no doubt that the number 666 is the correct reading, though it would seem that this was sometimes expressed in letters, and sometimes written in full. Wetstein supposes that both methods were used by John; that in the first copy of his book he used the letters, and in a subsequent copy wrote it in full. This inquiry is not of material consequence.
on Revelation 13 :18