Questions & Answers

Why wasn't Nero considered an option in antiquity?

Dr. Gentry:

Why wasn't Nero considered an option in antiquity. This seems to undermine your identification of 666. If you (and other moderns) could figure it out, why couldn't the early Christians? After all, Revelation is the most frequently cited NT text in Christian writings of the 2nd century but, to my knowledge, none of these postulate Nero of as being signified by 666. Thank you, P.T., Las Vegas, NV

Dr. Gentry's response:

It is true that Nero doesn't arise much in the ancient documents we have. However we should note the following in this regard:

  • 666 must have meant something when John wrote it, but as we can see by the time of Irenaeus the meaning was already lost. Ireneaus offers three suggestions. Thus, all this problem does is tell us the meaning was lost, not that the Nero meaning is erroneous.
  • The very nature of apocalyptic is such that it baffles and challenges the reader. John himself had to have an interpreting angel explain some of the matters in his own vision (e.g., Rev 7:13-14; 17:9-10). We should not be surprised that without John present and apart from an interpreting angel the meaning could have been lost. And this is especially so in light of my next observation.
  • It is the tendency of human nature and the evident temptation of the early church for one's own situation to serve as an interpretive lens. In light of the later Roman persecution of the church, the temptation to adapt Revelation to the church's own predicament would have been great. The church's circumstances and temptations could easily explain the arising of new interpretations for purposes of "relevance."

We see this tendency even in the Historicist school of interpretation: this approach generally views Revelation's events as beginning to unfold in the first century and leading up to the interpreter's present time, almost invariably with the expectation that Revelation's climax is being reached.

But as to whether there were any Christian beliefs about Nero being connected to 666. How about Victorinus commentary on Revelation? While he indicates the Apocalypse was written during the Domitian reign, he nevertheless states this;

"And one of the heads was slain to death, and his death-stroke was healed: speaks of Nero. For it is certain that when he was followed by the cavalry sent by the Senate, he cut through his own throat. This one raised, therefore, God is to send as a worthy king to those worthy, to the Jews and to the persecutors of Christ, a Christ of such a kind the persecutors and Jews have deserved. And because he will be bearing another name, and also beginning another life, so thus the same will be taken for Christ. For Daniel says: He will not be acquainted with the desire of women, in this he will be very impure, and with no God of their fathers will he be familiar. For he will not be able to seduce the people of the circumcision unless he becomes a defender of the Law. Finally he will compel the saints to no other thing except to receiving circumcision, if he will be able to seduce them. Thus, he will make the faith of the people to him, so that by them he will be called Christ. For he has risen up from hell, as we also spoke of above in the words of Isaiah: Water, he says, nourishes him, and the abyss enlarges him. He who must change his name and not change his name when he comes, the Holy Spirit says: His number is 666 (DCLXVI); this number is to be completed by Greek letters".

I hope this helps resolve some of the problems you see in the Nero identification.