Revelation 13, The Number of the Beast, and Strange Muslim Claims
I received an email this morning from someone whom I do not know who was asking for help with a claim she heard about the number of the beast and Greek manuscripts. Most of us who are familiar with New Testament textual criticism are familiar with the rather famous textual problem in Rev 13:18. But then I was a little surprised when her question went another way. I have spent time with Muslims before and though sometimes they are quite sane, sometimes they come up with the oddest historical perspectives, which is a nice way of saying that they are frequently distorting the facts. This is definitely one of those instances.
The person saying this particular thing is supposedly a convert to Christianity from Islam, so I can’t see why he would be lying. But he is definitely a victim of misinformation.
Now, I have never heard this particular argument for Islam before. There may be something available in book for or on the web to refute it, but if there is I am unfamiliar with it. So if there isn’t, for the sake of the anyone interested, there will be one now.
I will quote portions of this person’s email, though I won’t identify them. Anything in a blockquote below is from the email.
I want to see the way, in particular, Rev. 13 was written. I tried looking through some of the pages marked by dates and since I don’t read anything but English, well its like a needle in a hay stack.
It is unfortunate, but yes, to get to the bottom of this issue you will need to know a little Greek, have some experience looking at manuscripts (or images of them), and a bit of background in textual criticism helps as well. However, I will tell you what I know.
I heard from a speaker that pointed out that a controversy with three symbols in verse 18, that people interpret as 666. He says is actually a totally different script than Greek. That this heavenly vision John received was actually Arabic. If Arabic wasn’t a language then one can only understand this to be a look into the future of a language of today seen way back then. He is a Christian convert from Islam. He said it, these three symbols written in a circular way. Best way to describe is like our coins with United States of America written around edge making some words sideways. So being John was shown these symbols like written on a badge. These symbols read from right to left, "in the name of", then, "Allah, the last one is the two swords", that previous ruler of Iraq displayed boldly on his street he paraded on with two giant hands with swords, built on I might add, on peoples bones of people he killed. Now I have bought several Eng/Grk interlinear books from various copyright dates that even vary on the way they show these verses so what is the truth? The supposed Greek for 666.
So the person who is telling you this is no longer Muslim but he must be bringing it over from his Muslim background. I cannot imagine anyone without that kind of background coming up with this kind of idea. As I mentioned before there is a great deal of misinformation among Muslims about the Christian faith, history, and manuscripts, so even though he may not be the one lying, someone down the line was. Maybe someone forged a manuscript that was in Greek and someone put the symbol in there. Or perhaps someone took an existing manuscript, erased the "666" and replaced it, or perhaps someone just made it up. Regardless, this claim is nothing but spurious. I’m not saying your friend is lying; I am saying he is certainly misinformed.
But how do we know? Well, here is what I will do. I am going to show you pictures of our oldest Greek manuscripts of Revelation in this verse. If there are older, I do not know of them.
Manuscript #1 - P47
The first manuscript is known as P47 (the "P" is for "papyrus"). It is a third century manuscript and contains a large portion of Revelation. Here is an image with Rev 13:18 in it (you can click on it for a larger version):
Let me explain a bit about what you see here. The number "666" in Greek is made up of the three letters underlined in red in the image. The word after it is και and is the first word of Rev 14, and is roughly equivalent to the word "and" in English. The letters on the line before it are εστιν δε, and would be rendered something like "now it is" or something like it. Even though those two words are not in all manuscripts, they are normal Greek words. They just introducing the number "666" that follow.
But aren’t those three letters, χξς, a little strange? No. You will see the first and last letters elsewhere on the image and they occur in normal, everyday words. The same is true for the middle letter...it just doesn’t occur in this image. It is like our letter "x". It is a normal letter, but is not one of the most common. But what about that line? Does that make it special? No, not really. What do we do in English when we abbreviate something? We put a period after it, like with "Mr.". Greek doesn’t put a period; it puts a horizontal line above the text it is abbreviating. You will see two more things abbreviated in the manuscript, another number from 14:1 (look two lines down below the other) as well as an abbreviation for the word πατρος, "father," in the bottom right-hand corner.
But what about the letters of the word itself? Well, that isn’t technically a word. That’s an abbreviation for the number 666. The first letter, χ, stands for 600, the second, ξ, stands for 60 and the third, ς stands for 6.
Manuscript #2 - P115
This next manuscript is known as P115. It is either a third or fourth century manuscript and is very fragmentary. But, it does contain the text in question. You can find the original image here on the Oxyrhynchus Papyri website.
I mentioned above that there was controversy around this number. It is true. This image shows you what it is. It isn’t a controversy about some text about Allah. The controversy surrounds whether or not the original number written by John was 666 or 616.
The number in this image has a red arrow pointing towards it. The letters in this case are χις. The first and last letters are the same as before. The middle letter (which was 60 above) is now 10, so the number here is 616.
So Is 666 An Arabic Symbol?
No, there is no Arabic here and these are the oldest manuscripts of the Greek text of Revelation in this portion of the text. If you were to look at the other later Greek manuscripts you would find the same thing. There is no special symbol here. This pro-Allah information is wrong.
Also this man said our translation of the mark on right hand or forehead should be arm and forehead. As you have seen on TV these Muslim wear these things on their forehead or around their arm showing their allegiance to Allah.
The Greek word used to translate "hand" in these instances is the word χειρ. As a general rule it means "hand", though hand for them would include the wrist (from what I hear). If it is used as a reference to the whole arm, that would be unlikely. Of course, even if it were, these images on TV would hardly be some prophetic fulfillment of this. This is a reference to the binding of the law to the head and hand in the OT, not a prophesy of later Muslims.
These ones doing these books could at least show the way its actually written. I was wondering if you could tell me the name of book that could show me this or send me a copy of this part, giving the page or location of where it came from. I would be so grateful. Like I said I can’t read it but I can compare with the books I have. I have a question also did John write it in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic? Thank you so much.
John wrote Revelation in Greek. As for a book about these things, well, I can’t recommend any. Commentaries and studies of Revelation don’t talk about these things because they aren’t real. Someone is making stuff up and your friend apparently believes them.
The Real Conclusion to This Matter
The reality is that Muslims can make up things all day long and Christians can refute them when they can. But, frankly, that would get old and is obviously not beneficial. And there is always the danger of validating someone by responding to their attacks. Trust me, these Muslim claims of the New Testament looking forward to Muhammad, Allah and whatnot are just fantasies and are not generally worth dwelling on and responding to. Whoever this is that is telling you this is clearly not very well informed. I don’t mean that in a mean-spirited manner. I would just encourage you to get your information somewhere else. If you want book recommendations on any particular topic I would be glad to recommend some if I know of any that would be of any use.
I am glad you asked me the question. However, I would recommend you find different intellectual company when it comes to understanding the Bible or Christianity.
[Update 7/23/2008 7:45 AM] I just got a comment by a Muslim (presumably) that was just a link to some odd Muslim interpretation on Rev 13 that really had nothing to do with this discussion. If you wish to say something about this feel free to do so. I will not, however, just post links to your own unrelated material.