Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Mark of the Beast is Islam? Walid Shoebat and 666

Walid Shoebat, a prophecy speaker, was in Hawaii last week teaching at a few churches. He made some interesting claims (found in this video) about the meaning of the "number of the beast" in Rev 13:18. A few people asked me to comment on the validity of this claim.

Here's Walid's basic claim: When John wrote about the famous "number of the beast" in Rev 13:18, he actually wrote in a Muslim symbol and an Arabic phrase, not a Greek number. Walid said he discovered this by looking at the symbol for 666 in the 4th-century manuscript Vaticanus. When he turned the letters sideways, he saw the crossed swords of Islam and the Arabic phrase bismillah, meaning "in the name of Allah."

There are multiple problems with this claim.

1) It is yet one more example of our obsession with 666. Every few years, some radio prophecy teacher makes another claim that they have identified who the Antichrist is - Ronald Reagan, the Pope, Prince Charles, Barack Obama. Frank Fasi is my favorite candidate (initials FFF, and F is the 6th letter of the alphabet). It is difficult to take these claims seriously, especially when they are not based on the way numbers worked in the first century.



2) John tells us four times that he is referring to a number: "the number of his name... calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man, and his number is 666." We need to listen to the author: if he says that 666 is a number, then we should agree that it is a number, not an Arabic phrase.

3) Walid says that he found the symbols in the 4th century manuscript Codex Vaticanus. This is incorrect. Codex Vaticanus is from the 4th century, but it is missing the book of Revelation and several other books due to damage. A 15th century manuscript was added in to the end of Vaticanus to replace the missing material. This is very important, because it means that the supposed Arabic phrase is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Revelation, but only one late medieval manuscript.

4) Anyone who spends much time reading Greek manuscripts can recognize that the symbol in the picture is indeed the Greek number 666. Greek did not have symbols for numbers, so it used letters. In this case, χξς (chi xi stigma) is the normal way to write 666 (chi = 600, xi = 60, stigma = 6).

5) The scribe who wrote this particular manuscript followed a pattern that proves that he was writing a number. Like other scribes, he put a bar above the letters to indicate that they were functioning as numbers. He also switched his "font" - he wrote all of his normal text in the more ancient majuscule font (all caps, essentially), and all his numbers in the later minuscule font (lower-case, kind of like cursive). This miniscule script was not even used until the 5th century, so there is no way that John would have used it in his original. In the script used in the first century, John would have written it something like this:




or perhaps like this:




which does not work at all for Walid's claim.

6) In order for his theory to work, each letter has to be turned sideways, and the bar that symbolizes "number" also has to be turned sideways and read as an Arabic letter. The bar also has to be arbitrarily placed third from left, since it is actually a bar above all three letters. It is almost impossible to believe that John wrote intentionally in Arabic in a Greek manuscript, then turned each letter sideways, moved one letter above the other three, altered each to look more like Greek letters in a script that would not yet exist for four centuries, called them numbers, then expected people to figure it out. Even if it were possible, Walid has only given us evidence (sort of) that a 15th-century scribe did this, not that John did it.

7) All early interpreters of Revelation thought it was a number. Some scribes wrote out the whole number (ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ, hexakosioi hexekonta hex, six hundred sixty six), and others commented on the symbolic nature of the number.

8) Most scholars of Revelation (i.e. professors and authors of scholarly books on Revelation) believe that 666 is an example of gematria, the ancient system of calculating the numerical value of a person's name. Walid opposes the gematriacal interpretation because gematria was used in witchcraft. But this is not a good reason to reject gematria in the Bible. Although gematria was used at times in magical incantations, so have many other things, such as the name of God, Jesus, and the angels of the Old Testament.

Walid also opposes using gematria because, he says, "God is not the author of mysteries." This is also not a good objection. Revelation is filled with mysterious symbols, and it uses the word mystery four times. Walid's interpretation is much more mysterious than many others! And actually, gematria was not that mysterious. Since every Greek and Hebrew letter was equivalent to a number, any one who spoke those languages in the ancient world could calculate "the number of their name" (gematria) without effort.

The standard ancient interpretation still holds up well: 666 is the number of Nero's name. Other details in Revelation also point to Nero. John is thus saying that the final evil leader will be someone much like Nero (who was already dead when John wrote). This evil leader will persecute Christians, conquer nations, call for worship of himself, and not follow even his own ancestral religion.

It's important to remember that 1 John says that there are many antichrists (1 John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3): anyone who opposes the truth about Jesus is an antichrist. In that sense, many empires throughout history have been "antichrist" and Islam is sometimes "antichrist" when it suppresses the Christian message and persecutes Christians. But Rev 13:18 does not tell us that Islam is the antichrist.

18 comments:

  1. Do you believe that 666 also points to a fulfillment in an individual in the future called Antichrist?

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  2. Hi Caleb,

    Yes, that seems to be what John means, although he does not use the term antichrist. Although there have been past antichrist figures (such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero and Domitian), John describes one final such persecutor shortly before the return of Christ.

    As you probably know, preterist interpreters of Rev regard most elements, including the antichrist figure, as already fulfilled in either the first century or the first four centuries. Some of their arguments are quite persuasive, except that it doesn't appear to me that Christ has returned yet.

    I see you are also a Talbot grad! I attended there from 95-98, and taught there from 98-02.

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  3. Gary, once again thank you so much for your insight and wisdom. A desperately needed refreshment of truth in an otherwise parched environement! God help us without hearts and minds like yours!

    Sincerely,
    One of your favorite heretics:)

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  4. Thank you, Dr. Manning, for commenting on this. I pray that the initial inquiriries that prompted your excellent answer are soon addressed and resolved, for the sake of many.

    I also pray that God richly blesses your ministry and your students at Talbot. I am only sorry that I discovered you after you had left PacRim.

    Me ke aloha pu,
    Barbara Gum

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  5. Dominick KaaihueJuly 27, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    Can you explain your answer in english for me please? Nah!

    Dom

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  6. Thank you Dr. Manning for such a insightful blog!
    That was very helpful and I love how you "speak the truth in love" haha, just read your other blog entry!
    Blessings to your whole ohana in CA!

    Ju Lynn Seet

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  7. Additionally, and this may fall under your point 6, looking at the image your posted from the codex bismallah is not structured as it would be if you wrote it in Arabic. "bism" is horizontal from right to left while "allah" is vertical from bottom to top. In Arabic, it would just be straight from right to left.

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  8. I first heard Walid's ideas about the Greek manuscript a few days ago, and his diagrams seemed to make sense at that time, especially in light of all the Islamic trouble arould the world. After reading this article, though, I'm not so sure. Many, including me, have held that the antichrist will fome from the EU, but there is the possibility that he will come from the middle east. We cannot know for sure until he steps out on the Temple Mount and procialms he is God. But we must be prepared for whom ever it turns out to be. Entirely too many people are eager to accept Islam as a "peaceful" religion and it is not! Their idea of "peace" is "P-I-E-C-E", a PIECE here, a PIECE there, until they gobble up entire countries and instill Sharia law.

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  9. Scott - thanks for bringing your Arabic expertise!

    Anonymous - A "little piece" - did you ever see the Mel Brooks movie "To Be or Not to Be"? Hitler sings a song like that - always cracks me up.

    It seems to me that popular prophecy teachers make some strong assertions about the Antichrist without much evidence. Do we have much of anything in Rev that describes his origin? We have to remember how much metaphor there is in eschatological passages. John tells us that he is not using place names literally - see how he uses "Babylon" and "Sodom" and "Jerusalem" in Rev 11:8 , ch. 14, and 21:2.

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  10. "Walid opposes the gematriacal interpretation because gematria was used in witchcraft. But this is not a good reason to reject gematria in the Bible. Although gematria was used at times in magical incantations, "

    You convinced me that Walid is correct! thanks :)

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  11. Hi Lyndsey,

    You might have missed my point. Gematria was widely used for non-magical purposes, including several times in the Bible. At some point, gematria began to be used as part of some ancient magical incantations - but that does not make all gematria bad. Magical incantations also made use of names such as Yahweh, Jesus, Gabriel, Solomon, and other names of angels - but that doesn't mean those names are now permanently tainted. In the same way, gematria was morally neutral, but was picked up my magicians - but that doesn't mean that it was permanently tainted. The Bible regularly takes words and images from the surrounding culture and modifies them (or redeems them) to communicate its message.

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  12. I can tell by the dates that I'm a little behind the times, but I wanted to ask you three questions. I do not mean to attack, only to add a little perspective.
    1) I can tell by the point of view you used when describing these points that you took the academic & scientific point of view. But I saw no hint of a spiritual point of view. Taking that into account, it is widely held and even written that God is omniscient - that He knows all, past present and future. Would it not stand to reason that God knew that Gamatria, or numerology, would be used in Witchcraft, therefore He chose to stay away from it from the dawn of time?
    2) Another perspective is that, some would claim that the symbols were added at a later date, as you described. But what if it were a simple case of recopying that portion before it was lost to decay?
    3) It's common knowledge that, if God can use a donkey, why couldn't he use an apostate, idolatrous Catholic too? After all, God can use anyone He wants to, can He not? There are many cases where God even uses non-believers to accomplish His designs. Why not here too, in an effort to restore that which could have been lost?

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  13. Hi DreadStorm,

    Thanks for the comments.
    1) Something to consider: what does it mean to approach the Bible "spiritually"? I think a significant part of reading spiritually is coming to it with a desire to understand what the author meant, and submit to it. So I believe that bringing good interpreatational skills to the text, with the right motives, is spiritual reading.

    Certainly, God could have done such a thing as you suggest - the question is whether he did. The evidence is against it, since there are all sorts of things that are in the Bible that were later misused - why did God allow them, if his policy is to not use anything in the Bible that will later be misused? Second, many readers here somehow believe that gematria is somehow horribly evil. But in fact, gematria was mainly a word game for centuries, and was only used later for some mystical uses. The later use in magic is actually quite rare. The church fathers regularly talked about gematria in certain passages of the Bible, and didn't have any problem with gematria.

    2) Yes, that's a good question to ask - does this go back to the earliest manuscripts? The problem is, all the evidence is against it. There are about 1000 significant ancient manuscripts of the NT, and our Bibles are based on those early manuscripts. None of the early manuscripts has the style of writing seen in the picture. And in fact, no one used that style of writing until the 5th century.
    The problem, ultimately, is that Shoebat's proposal is built on too many "maybes" and "what ifs", and has too many holes in it.

    When we weigh different possible interpretations, we need to do it based on the best possible evidence, not just what sounds cool or mysterious. Shoebat just has not given good evidence for his view.

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  14. I greatly appreciate this piece and discussion.

    I saw Mr. Shobat's video yesterday and was intrigued by it. I have often considered that once our light is removed, islam would have free reign...as a result of this somewhat reasonable assumption, I pay attention whenever islam and the end times are discussed.

    I would sincerely appreciate your reaction to a book I have found intriguing. Joel Richardson work titled "Will islam Be Our Future? A Study of Biblical and islamic Eschatology" I have provided a link to the entire book...the link falls on chapter 10...

    http://answering-islam.org/Authors/JR/Future/ch10_the_revived_islamic_empire.htm

    ...I will standby for your reply. -Brian

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  15. Thank you for all your good references to the fact that in other scripture 666 was refered to as a number several times. I was checking on Wallid's claim but went to the Codex Sinaticus instead of the Codex Vaticanus and then after further research found your blog which illuminated the fact that Revelation was not in the Codex Vaticanus from the 4th Century but only added later as the transcript from the 15th Century became available. What would we do without scholars like you????

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  16. Hello! I am very grateful to have come across this site, and although I am asking this rather late in the conversation, I am wondering if I can jump in with a question. Your second point above notes that John uses the word "arithmos" to indicate a specific number, but don't we see this same word used to address a group as opposed to a specific number? Rev 20:8 does that, using the same word--it may be translated as "multitude" as well as "number" in that passage. The same could be said for Acts 11:21, Act 16:5--couldn't John be speaking of a multitude. So the Rev 13:18 verse could mean that "the multitude of the beast is the multitude of a man, and the multitude is 666." Thanks for any light you could shed--cynmoe

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  17. Hi Cynthia,

    When translating any word, the context always determines the meaning. In this context, the translation "multitude" for arithmos would be nonsensical, and the translation "number" makes good sense. Multitude is also a rare meaning of arithmos, and almost never necessary in the NT. Note the examples you give translate better with "number" than with "multitude."

    An English example might help. One of the rare meanings of "head" is "bathroom," and another rare meaning is "froth" (usually on beer). But in the sentence "Let's head for home," no English speaker would ever assume that beer or bathrooms are involved. Context determines that "head" means "start traveling."

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  18. No further comments being taken on this post. It's now over two years old, and I only accept comments on recent posts.

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