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.

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Published by

Kenneth Gentry

Married (1971) with three children and six grandchildren (three of them left-handed!). Author of about thirty books, mostly on eschatology. Retired Presbyterian pastor, having served for 37 years in three conservative denominations. Director of GoodBirth Ministries, a Christian educational ministry.

One thought on “Why wasn’t Nero considered an option in antiquity?”

  1. Dr. Gentry,

    As usual for you, I believe that you have hit the nail right on the head! By our own experiences living as 21st century modern, scientific, rational people, your response is very astute and poignant and it should be pretty obvious to anyone who is really conscientiously aware of all of the traditions and assumptions that we all have; no one does NOT have these things since we all attempt to understand our world by placing everything we experience, think about and know (or think we know!) into an overarching framework of reference. This framework acts like the borders of our own individual ‘puzzle’ so that we can piece together everything we encounter and put it in its proper place in the puzzle. This is what makes up our individual ‘Worldview” which is at the very least usually made up of the edge pieces and the corner pieces so that we can then start fitting all of the other pieces in and find the correct ‘fit’ in their various places as we work our own way through our own unique reality puzzle joining pieces together and trying to fill in the gaps as we gather new information. No two puzzles are EVER alike although many are very similar in numerous ways providing the common points of agreement between us all which enables meaningful and coherent communication. We have a very unfortunate post-modern tendency to read into the Biblical text our own frame of reference, familiarity and experiences which constitute the enormous variety of flavors of the modern worldviews. And rather than diligently studying to try to discover the worldviews of the Biblical writers and their intended audience AT THE TIME WHEN THEY ORIGINALLY WROTE THEIR TEXTS and trying to understand the Scriptures as if we were one of the readers at that time and place in history with THEIR perspective, we transport ourselves back in time but bring our modern bias along for the ride still caught up in the net of our own limitations and knowledge of their world. The other option is that we bring them forward into our world and try to make sense of the ancient text by interpreting it through our 21st century lens. Neither of these approaches are in ANY WAY appropriate. We seriously need to first recognize our tendency to do this and at the very least be aware of this bias in our own thinking and do our best to approach the Bible on its own terms. We have been very blessed to have so many wonderful men and women who have done the difficult work of uncovering and in many successful ways recovering the thought, belief and practices of the ancients that we all so desperately need today to really have a solid, accurate understanding of so many of the things we find contained in God’s Word. The Scriptures were given to all of us through the Lord’s providence according to His own timeline. They came into existence over a time period in excess of 2,000 years (and almost all of that time is B.C.) from the oldest record of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament written in the 1st century A.D. I would hope that ANYONE would recognize the the ancient worldview of the Biblical authors was VERY DIFFERENT than our current perspectives, assumptions and beliefs. If we are to be faithful to the Word of God, we must acquiesce to it on its own terms and let it be what it truly is. Thank you so much Ken and keep up the incredibly valuable work of Kingdom building on Earth through faithfully educating the people of God. I love you my Brother!!

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