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Q229 : Ante-Nicene Fathers on the Number of the Beast

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Q229 : Ante-Nicene Fathers on the Number of the Beast

Do any Ante-Nicene Fathers1 mention the number 666?


Endnotes:

1.The phrase Ante-Nicene Fathers refers to significant leaders of the early church who lived and wrote prior to the First Council of Niceaa convened by Constantine in 325 A.D. From Ante (meaning “prior to”) and Nicea (a town in what is now northwestern Turkey).


A229 : by Tony Garland

In my limited study, I have encountered the following passages in which early Church Fathers explicitly mention the number of the beasta (Rev. 13:18).

Irenaeus of Lyons1

Irenaeus suggests the value 6, repeated within 666, relates to the period on the earth during which apostasy is allowed to prevail.2

And we must not be surprised if, since the demons and apostate spirits are at his service, he through their means performs wonders, by which he leads the inhabitants of the earth astray. John says further: “And he shall order an image of the beast to be made, and he shall give breath to the image, so that the image shall speak; and he shall cause those to be slain who will not adore it.” He says also: “And he will cause a mark [to be put] in the forehead and in the right hand, that no one may be able to buy or sell, unless he who has the mark of the name of the beast or the number of his name; and the number is six hundred and sixty-six,” that is, six times a hundred, six times ten, and six units. [He gives this] as a summing up of the whole of that apostasy which has taken place during six thousand years. — Against Heresies3

And he [the Antichrist] will cause a mark [to be put] in the forehead and in the right hand, that no one may be able to buy or sell, unless he who has the mark of the name of the beast or the number of his name; and the number is six hundred and sixty-six, that is, six times a hundred, six times ten, and six units. [He gives this] as a summing up of the whole of that apostasy which has taken place during six thousand years. For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. — Against Heresies4

He understood the dimensions of the image set up by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3b as prefiguring the number of the Antichrist who was yet to come:

And there is therefore in this beast, when he comes, a recapitulation made of all sorts of iniquity and of every deceit, in order that all apostate power, flowing into and being shut up in him, may be sent into the furnace of fire. Fittingly, therefore, shall his name possess the number six hundred and sixty-six, since he sums up in his own person all the commixture of wickedness which took place previous to the deluge, due to the apostasy of the angels. For Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge came upon the earth, sweeping away the rebellious world, for the sake of that most infamous generation which lived in the times of Noah. And [Antichrist] also sums up every error of devised idols since the flood, together with the slaying of the prophets and the cutting off of the just. For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; on account of which Ananias, Azarias, and Misaël, when they did not worship it, were cast into a furnace of fire, pointing out prophetically, by what happened to them, the wrath against the righteous which shall arise towards the [time of the] end. For that image, taken as a whole, was a prefiguring of this man’s coming, decreeing that he should undoubtedly himself alone be worshipped by all men. — Against Heresies5

Irenaeus favored the number 666 (represented by the majority of manuscripts) rather than 616 as the correct number of the beast;

this number [666] being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end),—I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.] — Against Heresies6

Irenaeus hazarded some guesses as to the identity of the name, such as Lateinos (the Roman Empire) and Teitan (the ancient name of royal dignity belonging to a tyrant). Even so, He cautioned against placing too much stock in these suggestions since John had not revealed the name.

It is therefore more certain, and less hazardous, to await the fulfilment of the prophecy, than to be making surmises, and casting about for any names that may present themselves, inasmuch as many names can be found possessing the number mentioned; and the same question will, after all, remain unsolved. For if there are many names found possessing this number, it will be asked which among them shall the coming man bear. It is not through a want of names containing the number of that name that I say this, but on account of the fear of God, and zeal for the truth: for the name Evanthas (ΕΥΑΝΘΑΣ [EUANTHAS]) contains the required number, but I make no allegation regarding it. Then also Lateinos (ΛΑΤΕΙΝΟΣ [LATEINOS]) has the number six hundred and sixty-six; and it is a very probable [solution], this being the name of the last kingdom [of the four seen by Daniel]. For the Latins are they who at present bear rule: I will not, however, make any boast over this [coincidence]. Teitan too, ΤΕΙΤΑΝ [TEITAN], the first syllable being written with the two Greek vowels (ε and ι), among all the names which are found among us, is rather worthy of credit. For it has in itself the predicted number, and is composed of six letters, each syllable containing three letters; and [the word itself] is ancient, and removed from ordinary use; for among our kings we find none bearing this name Titan, nor have any of the idols which are worshipped in public among the Greeks and barbarians this appellation. Among many persons, too, this name is accounted divine, so that even the sun is termed “Titan” by those who do now possess [the rule]. This word, too, contains a certain outward appearance of vengeance, and of one inflicting merited punishment because he (Antichrist) pretends that he vindicates the oppressed. And besides this, it is an ancient name, one worthy of credit, of royal dignity, and still further, a name belonging to a tyrant. Inasmuch, then, as this name “Titan” has so much to recommend it, there is a strong degree of probability, that from among the many [names suggested], we infer, that perchance he who is to come shall be called “Titan.” We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.Against Heresies7

I've highlighted a portion from the passage above which is of particular interest. Contrary to the attempts by preterists to cast doubt on his meaningc, Irenaeus indicates that John's vision (the book of Revelation)—not John himself—was seen towards the end of Domitian's reign. A plain reading of this statement by Irenaeus opposes the notion that Nero was the intended fulfillment of the predicted Antichrist. Besides, both Irenaeus and Hippolytus, living nearer to the time of Nero, expected a future Antichrist figure. Unlike many of today's preterists, they did not take Nero as the fulfillment.

Hippolytus of Rome8

Hippolytus, following in the footsteps of his teacher, Irenaeus, understands the dimensions of the image set up by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3d as prefiguring the number of the Antichrist and associates the number of the name with the age of Noah at the flood.

And there is therefore in this beast, when he comes, a recapitulation made of all sorts of iniquity and of every deceit, in order that all apostate power, flowing into and being shut up in him, may be sent into the furnace of fire. Fittingly, therefore, shall his name possess the number six hundred and sixty-six, since he sums up in his own person all the commixture of wickedness which took place previous to the deluge, due to the apostasy of the angels. For Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge came upon the earth, sweeping away the rebellious world, for the sake of that most infamous generation which lived in the times of Noah. And [Antichrist] also sums up every error of devised idols since the flood, together with the slaying of the prophets and the cutting off of the just. For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; on account of which Ananias, Azarias, and Misaël, when they did not worship it, were cast into a furnace of fire, pointing out prophetically, by what happened to them, the wrath against the righteous which shall arise towards the [time of the] end. For that image, taken as a whole, was a prefiguring of this man’s coming, decreeing that he should undoubtedly himself alone be worshipped by all men.9

Like Irenaeus before him, Hippolytus believed that the Antichrist would arise from the tribe of Dan.10

it is proper that we take the Holy Scriptures themselves in hand, and find out from them what, and of what manner, the coming of Antichrist is; on what occasion and at what time that impious one shall be revealed; and whence and from what tribe (he shall come); and what his name is, which is indicated by the number in the Scripture; and how he shall work error among the people, gathering them from the ends of the earth; and (how) he shall stir up tribulation and persecution against the saints; and how he shall glorify himself as God; and what his end shall be; . . . For Moses speaks thus: “Dan is a lion’s whelp, and he shall leap from Bashan.” But that no one may err by supposing that this is said of the Saviour, let him attend carefully to the matter. “Dan,” he says, “is a lion’s whelp;” and in naming the tribe of Dan, he declared clearly the tribe from which Antichrist is destined to spring. For as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan. — Treatise on Christ and Antichrist11

In concert with most interpreters throughout church history, Hippolytus understands the fourth kingdom of Daniele as Rome.

And he caused all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their forehead; and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 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.” By the beast, then, coming up out of the earth, he means the kingdom of Antichrist; and by the two horns he means him and the false prophet after him. And in speaking of “the horns being like a lamb,” he means that he will make himself like the Son of God, and set himself forward as king. And the terms, “he spake like a dragon,” mean that he is a deceiver, and not truthful. And the words, “he exercised all the power of the first beast before him, and caused the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed,” signify that, after the manner of the law of Augustus, by whom the empire of Rome was established, he too will rule and govern, sanctioning everything by it, and taking greater glory to himself. For this is the fourth beast, whose head was wounded and healed again, in its being broken up or even dishonoured, and partitioned into four crowns; and he then (Antichrist) shall with knavish skill heal it, as it were, and restore it. — Treatise on Christ and Antichrist12

Pseudo-Hippolytus13 gives his uncertain opinion that the name may also denote the Antichrist's denial of God.

And his seal upon the forehead and upon the right hand is the number, “Six hundred threescore and six.” And I have an opinion as to this number, though I do not know the matter for certain; for many names have been found in this number when it is expressed in writing. Still we say that perhaps the scription of this same seal will give us the word I deny. For even in recent days, by means of his ministers—that is to say, the idolaters—that bitter adversary took up the word deny, when the lawless pressed upon the witnesses of Christ, with the adjuration, “Deny thy God, the crucified One.” Of such kind, in the time of that hater of all good, will be the seal, the tenor of which will be this: I deny the Maker of heaven and earth, I deny the baptism, I deny my (former) service, and attach myself to thee, and I believe in thee. For this is what the prophets Enoch and Elias will preach: Believe not the enemy who is to come and be seen; for he is an adversary and corrupter and son of perdition, and deceives you . . . — Pseudo-Hippolytus, A Discourse by the Most Blessed Hippolytus, Bishop and Martyr, on the End of the World, and on Antichrist, and on the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. — A Discourse by the Most Blessed Hippolytus, Bishop and Martyr, on the End of the World, and on Antichrist, and on the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ14

Victorinus of Pettau15

Victorinus associates the number with Phoebus, also known as Apollo, one of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology. “In Hellenistic times, especially during the 3rd century BCE, as Apollo Helios he became identified among Greeks with Helios, Titan god of the sun.”16 Like Irenaeus, he also suggests the name Teiten, but adds two other possibilities, which he neglects to elaborate upon: Antemos, and Genserikos.

His number is the name of a man, and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”] As they have it reckoned from the Greek characters, they thus find it among many to be τειταν [teitan], for τειταν [teitan] has this number, which the Gentiles call Sol and Phoebus; and it is reckoned in Greek thus: τ three hundred, ε five, ι ten, τ three hundred, α one, ν fifty,—which taken together become six hundred and sixty-six. For as far as belongs to the Greek letters, they fill up this number and name; which name if you wish to turn into Latin, it is understood by the antiphrase DICLUX, which letters are reckoned in this manner: since D figures five hundred, I one, C a hundred, L fifty, V five, X ten,—which by the reckoning up of the letters makes similarly six hundred and sixty-six, that is, what in Greek gives τειταν [teitan], to wit, what in Latin is called DICLUX; by which name, expressed by anti-phrases, we understand Antichrist, who, although he be cut off from the supernal light, and deprived thereof, yet transforms himself into an angel of light, daring to call himself light. Moreover, we find in a certain Greek codex αντεμος [antemos], which letters being reckoned up, you will find to give the number as above: α one, ν fifty, τ three hundred, ε five, μ forty, ο seventy, ς two hundred,—which together makes six hundred and sixty-six, according to the Greeks. Moreover, there is another name in Gothic of him, which will be evident of itself, that is, γενσήρικος [gensērikos], which in the same way you will reckon in Greek letters: γ three, ε five, ν fifty, σ two hundred, η eight, ρ a hundred, ι ten, κ twenty, ο seventy, ς also two hundred, which, as has been said above, make six hundred and sixty-six. — Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John17

Summary

These passages from the Church Fathers give some of their thoughts concerning the number of the name associated with the beast. Other portions of their writings have much more to say concerning the Antichrist and his relationship to various biblical passages. Interestingly, their views on the Antichrist are very similar to those of dispensational (futurist) interpreters in our day. For additional background concerning their views, consult the works cited in this article.

It seems the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers provide little help in understanding the number of the beast. However, their comments regarding other aspects of the beast remain instructive:

  • The Fathers offer little insight as to the identity of the name. This should serve as a warning not to place much stock in suggestions by sensational speculators of our day.
  • The Fathers lived much closer to the time of Nero, but did not accept Nero as the predicted beast of Revelation.
  • Like futurist interpretersf today, the Fathers understood the Antichrist to be an individual, rather than an institution or spiritual principle, whose climactic reign at the end of history will conclude with the return of Jesus.

Endnotes:

1.Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 200) wrote his most famous work Against Heresies in opposition to Gnosticism, a major theological threat to the Church in the second century. His writings against the Gnostics are among the earliest which appeal to the New Testament as having apostolic authority. He was appointed bishop of Lyons, France in A.D. 177-178. Crutchfield gives the following dates for Irenaeus: 120-202.
2.For more on the biblical symbolism of the number six, see Six: Man’s Incompleteness, Human Willg.
3.Ref-0537, 557
4.Ref-0537, 557
5.Ref-0537, 558
6.Ref-0537, 558
7.Ref-0537, 559-560
8.Hippolytus (c. 170 - c. 236 A.D.), was a disciple of Irenaeus and the most significant theologian in Rome during the third century, producing books, commentaries, and topical treatises.
9.Ref-0543, 558
10.I believe Scripture indicates the Antichrist will be of Gentile origin.h (Dan. 9:26-27).
11.Ref-0541, 205,207
12.Ref-0541, 214
13.The title given to the author of various writings of the 3rd and 4th century which are thought to have been incorrectly ascribed to Hippolytus of Rome.
14.Ref-0541, 249-250
15.Victorinus died circa 303 A.D.
16.Wikipediai.
17.Ref-0543, 356


Sources:

Ref-0537The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885).
Ref-0541The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, 218 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886).
Ref-0543Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VII : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885).


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