Have you ever had trouble giving a Bible study on the mark of the beast using a modern Bible translation? The Revised Standard Version, for example, renders Revelation 13:18 "This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six." The New International Version calls 666 "man's number" instead of "the number of a man," as preachers reared on the King James Version are accustomed to reading.
The basis of these renderings is the fact that anthropos here is anarthrous—that is, it has no definite article. Anarthrous Greek nouns can be translated into English either with an indefinite article or with no article at all, in which case the qualitative nature of the anarthrous Greek noun comes through.
The NIV and RSV convey this qualitative sense in their rendering, leaving the reader with the impression that the number 666 does not refer to any specific individual, but rather to the quality of being human.
Personally I like their rendering and find it a help rather than a hindrance in explaining the meaning of this passage. I haven't let Vicarius Filii Dei off the hook entirely, because of its prophetic significance and because it illustrates the larger significance of 666. But as George Salmon noted, with a little effort you can get 666 out of any name you wish: "First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; second, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; third, do not be too particular about the spelling."1
The larger significance of 666 is, I think, found in the qualitative rendering of anthropos. Six truly is humankind's number. It was on the sixth day of Creation week that God made us. Six is also one short of 7, the number that signifies completion, or perfection, and so it implies imperfection.
Adam and Eve were created perfect on the sixth day, but could remain perfect only by maintaining their contact with God. The seventh-day Sabbath was set aside by God specifically for the purpose of keeping that perfecting contact strong.
The number 6 repeated thrice speaks of our continually failing attempts at achieving perfection apart from a relationship with God.
In these last days we can see men and women all around us, inside and outside the church, who are emblazoning on their own hands and foreheads the number of godless humanity. Perhaps we can even find faint traces of the number 6 on our own hands and minds.
I was once challenged by the question What have you accomplished in your ministry, or in your church, that you could not have accomplished if the Holy Spirit were not working with you?
The thing that challenged me about that question was that it made me think of how much human effort I was putting into my plans and activities in hopes that doing all the right things at the right times would yield success. It reminded me of my own tendency to fit the pattern of the worker who "cannot gain success" because he "hurries through his prayers and rushes away to look after something that he fears may be neglected or forgotten." 2
The number 666 is the number of our incompleteness apart from God. It is the number of rebellion, of trying to make it on our own. God wants us to come up to the number 7, the number of restored relationship with Him. In this sense, 666 applies directly to the concept expressed in the title Vicar of the Son of God, for that title typifies one human institution's attempt to enforce human reliance on other humans instead of on God. It also applies directly to the abolition of seventh-day Sabbath worship, because it typifies mankind's persistent longing to break free from the dependent relation ship that the Sabbath stands as a constant reminder of. But it can apply just as well to good Bible-toting Seventh-day Adventists who are trying, through their own efforts or good works, to save them selves. Or who, in their struggle to achieve or just to survive, neglect the relationship typified by the number 7.
Anyone can get stuck on the number 6. It's the most natural thing a human being can do. But Seventh-day Adventist ministers are called to proclaim that God has made provision in the Sabbath for bringing us back to walking with Him toward the perfection represented by the next number: 7.—Kenneth R. Wade
1 Introduction to the New Testament, 1889, p.
253. Cited in F. F. Bruce, ed, The International Bible
Commentary, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Pub. House, 1986), pp. 1616, 1617.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1948), vol. 7, p. 243.