Millions of people who have never read the Bible know that 666 is the mark of the beast—the number associated with the antichrist in New Testament teaching (Rev 13:8). The notion that there is an Islamic explanation for this number has circulated widely on the internet. Specifically, the idea is put forth that the shape of the letters that spell out “666” can be immediately recognized as an Arabic phrase (bismillah) that means “in the name of Allah.” Is this factually correct?
666 The Mark of the Beast: Arabic Letters?
The heart of this claim is that the number 666 in ancient Greek manuscript writing corresponds to Arabic letters. The image in Figure 1 is the way 666 appears in the ancient Greek manuscript named Vaticanus, which dates to the 4th century AD. These three letters are then visually compared to this Arabic phrase in Figure 2:
Reading right-to-left, the three characters are Arabic letters. They form the word “Allah.” From this perspective, one can see that there are significant differences between the Greek manuscript number and the Arabic. If the famous crossed swords of Islam are added at the end (reading right-to-left), and Arabic for “in the name of” is added to the front, the result appears in Figure 3, with the Greek letters positioned in Figure 4 for comparison:
The Arabic phrase on the left reads “in the name of Allah.” One can see some visual similarity, but the second-to-last consonant has the wrong orientation. And we must consider how we achieved any visual similarity: we had to add lettering to the front and a non-letter to the end. The case for 666 pointing to an Arabic phrase—thus suggesting a Muslim antichrist—is quite weak from the beginning. It’s an example of pareidolia, “a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists” (Wikipedia). But the flaws behind the claim are actually more severe.
666 The Mark of the Beast: Seeing Isn’t Believing
There are more fundamental problems with the 666=Arabic assertion. First, a related assumption would be that God inspired the writer of Revelation (the apostle John) to write the letters the way they appear in the image above—so as to telegraph the fact that the antichrist would be a follower of Allah. But the Greek manuscript example above is notthe paleography (handwriting style) used in first century AD manuscripts—the time at which the book of Revelation was written—and later manuscripts into the 5th century AD. First-century manuscripts were written on papyri in what is called uncialscript—all capital letters. As anyone who knows the Greek alphabet will agree, the letters in the image above are not capital Greek letters. The manuscript from which the image is taken is Vaticanus. One of the odd characteristics of Vaticanus is that most of the manuscript is written in uncial capital letters, but from Hebrews 9:3 onward it is not—it is written in the later cursive handwriting called minusculescript. The book of Revelation occurs after the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, and so it is written in minuscule (cursive) script, not uncial. The reason, of course, is that the manuscript was produced centuries after John lived.
The end result of the handwriting data is that God could not have directed the apostle John to write the number 666 so that it would point to a Muslim antichrist by means of the letter shapes, because the type of Greek handwriting that creates the visual impression of Arabic didn’t exist in the first century when John was alive.
To make matters worse, the Arabic scriptwith which the Arabic comparative phrase is written also did not exist until the 7th century AD, 600 years after John lived. The first attestation of the Arabic script as illustrated (and as we know it today) is from a manuscript in the 7th century named PERF 558. It was found in Egypt.
The bottom line is that neitherwriting example existed at the time John wrote. The idea that 666 points to a Muslim antichrist because of a visual similarity to an Arabic phrase that includes the name of Allah is a modern myth.
Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Paleography (Oxford University Press, 1981)
Philip Wesley Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2005)
T.C. Skeat, “The Codex Vaticanus in the Fifteenth Century,” Journal of Theological Studies 35 (1984):454-465
J. Keith Elliott, "TC Skeat on the Dating and Origin of Codex Vaticanus," in New Testament Textual Criticism: The Application of Thoroughgoing Principles: Essays on Manuscripts and Textual Variation (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2010), 65-78
Alan Jones, “The Dotting Of A Script And The Dating Of An Era: The Strange Neglect Of PERF 558,” Islamic Culture72:4 (1998): 95-103
Beatrice Gruendler, The Development of the Arabic Scripts: From the Nabatean Era to the First Islamic Century According to Dated Texts (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993)