JOHN’S USE OF HEBREW FOR 666

PMT 2014-033 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In my previous blog (PMT 2014-032) I began considering an objection to the postmillennial, preterist’s 666 flamesunderstanding of 666. We believe it has John using a Hebrew spelling of “Nero Caesar” for understanding his meaning. Some reject this analysis because Revelation was written to Asia Minor and not to Israel.

I offered two replies to this objection in my last blog. Below I will continue responding to it, continuing the enumeration began previously.

Third, the local population
This objection against our analysis of 666 overlooks the social context of the Asian churches. Asia Minor was heavily populated by diaspora Jews. The Jewish population in the empire was between six and seven million, with the “largest concentrations of Jewish settlements” in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor (John’s direct audience) (Mayo, Those Who Call Themselves Jews [2006: 30, 62]). [1] Another scholar notes that “by the time of Christ, Jews were widely dispersed throughout the cities and countryside of the Empire and beyond. . . . The regions of Mesopotamia, Syria , Asia Minor and Egypt each had more than 1 million Jewish residents. . . . There was a substantial Jewish population in virtually every town of any decent size in the Mediterranean region.” [2]


Interpreting Revelation (5 CDs)
by Ken Gentry
Lectures on Revelation discussing its date of writing, preterist interpretation, and leading features. Very helpful, basic introduction to Revelation. Question and answer sessions.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


According to G. Alon: “the use of Hebrew and Aramaic by Jews in other lands of the Hellenistic Diaspora, such as Syria and Asia Minor, is well documented.” [3] The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo observes regarding his native race that “ten thousand of them are in every region of the habitable world, in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa, on the continent, in the islands, on the coasts, and in the inland parts” (Embassy 36:283).

This is why we see Jews from Asia in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:9) and why we hear of Asian Jews in the NT (Acts 6:9; 21:27; 24:18). We also know from Paul’s practice that he often founds churches in the context of Christian outreach to the Jews in the synagogues. Interestingly, one of the seven churches in Rev is Ephesus (1:11; 2:1) where Paul reasons with the Jews in their synagogue (Acts 18:19; see also Acts 20:17–18) and where Jewish converts eventually begin teaching false doctrine that Paul has to warn against (1Tim 1:3–7).

In Acts 19:10 we read: “this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). We should expect that John would employ a similar method in the churches of Asia Minor to whom he addresses his book, especially since the gospel is to the “Jew first” (Ro 1:16).

Consequently, the churches in Asia Minor would have a significant concentration of Hebrew Christians in them. In fact, one of John’s sub-purposes parallels that of the author of Hebrews: to warn Jewish converts to Christ against falling back into Judaism. After all, he twice warns that Christians are the true Jews, whereas racial Jews just “say they are Jews” (2:9; 3:9). Thus, the gematric designation of Nero in Hebrew would not miss his target audience.

Fourth, the method of reception

John would not send multiple copies of Rev en masse to each of the individuals in each of the seven churches. Rather he sends it only to the leaders of the churches, the “angels” of the church (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). These would undoubtedly be leaders who were well-schooled interpreters. The book was written with a view to being publicly read before the churches: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). The public readers would certainly explain what they were reading.

For instance, when Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the synagogue’s scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-18). After Jesus read the text from Isaiah, he interpreted it for the hearers (Luke 4:20-22). Again, unlike today, not everyone had personal Bibles, because books (scrolls) were expensive (in that they were hand-written). The Jews depended upon hearing God’s word through public readings at the local synagogue (cf. Acts 13:15, 27; 15:21; 2 Cor. 3:14-15). And Christians received the NT epistles in the same manner (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). The leaders of the NT churches would read and explain Scriptures: “until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).

This method of the public lector reading and explaining the OT Scriptures and NT letters would surely be the practice in the seven churches, as we expect from Rev 1:3. So then, Rev would be read and explained in public settings. The well-schooled public reader would explain the difficulty of the Hebraic allusion to Nero Caesar’s name to any confused gentiles in the congregation.

Fifth, the nature of the book

Besides all of this, we must recognize the book is difficult to understand even apart from this Hebrew understanding of the number of the beast. Who among us would say that Rev is an easy read? Why should we be surprised if there is a difficulty such as this Hebrew reading at Rev 13:18? Is not Rev a book replete with various difficulties? Even John himself is confused on occasion. In fact, on one of those issues an interpreting angel explains the matter to him: In Rev 7:13 the angel asks John the meaning of those dressed in white robes. John has to ask the angel to tell him (Rev. 7:14).

In Rev 17:6 John sees the drunken harlot and he “wondered greatly.” In the next verse we read: “And the angel said to me, ‘Why do you wonder? I shall tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.’” Thus, the John does not understand, but the angel comes to explain. We could expect that the local “angel” (leader) to the each of the seven churches might do the same regarding Rev 13:18!

To be continued!

Notes

1. See also: Lambrecht (“Jewish Slander: A Note on Revelation 2, 9–10,” 1999: 427); Mireille Hadas-Lebel (1993: 53); Mary Smallwood (Flavius Josephus, 2001: ch 6); Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, 288. The Roman Empire contains seven to eight million Jews in the first century, with the Jewish population levels in the eastern provinces as high as 20% (Faulkner, Apocalypse, 38). Roland Worth (The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse and Roman Culture [1999a, 72]) agrees, noting that “it has been estimated that the total number of Jews in the entire Asia Minor region numbered about one million and represented about 20 percent of the local population.”

2. James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the
Background of Early Christianity (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity, 1999), 213. See also: H. B. Swete, Revelation, lxvi.

3. Gedeliah Alon, The Jews in their Land in the Talmudic Age (1980: 339).


Four Views on the Book of Revelation (ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com

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