PMT 2014-032 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The preterist perspective on Revelation generally interprets the 666 of Rev 13:18 as presenting the name of Nero Caesar as a cryptogram. The usefulness of this number for John’s readers derives from the fact that in antiquity alphabets serve dual purposes. Letters function, of course, as phonetic symbols for building words in written communication. As such, they serve just as our modern alphabet does. But in ancient times letters also function as numerals, in that the Arabic numbering system is a later development of history.
In the Greek and Hebrew the values of letters follow the order of the alphabet. The first nine letters represent the values of 1-9; the tenth through nineteenth letters are used for tens (10, 20, 30, etc.); the remaining letters represented values of hundreds (100, 200, 300, etc.). Interestingly, several scholars in the nineteenth-century almost simultaneously stumbled independently upon the name “Nero Caesar” as the answer to the cryptogram: Fritzsche, Holtzmann, Benary, Hitzig and Reuss. They saw that if you spell his name in Hebrew, it adds up to the value of 666.
This interpretation, however, is rejected by a number of scholars, particularly those from within dispensational circles. Two big reasons they reject this are:
(1) This interpretation requires our holding that John is presenting Nero’s name based on Hebrew. Yet he is writing to churches in Greek-speaking Asia Minor, far away from Israel.
(2) The Hebrew spelling necessary for this calculation is not the normal spelling found in most ancient Hebrew documents. It requires a defective spelling of Nero’s name in Hebrew.
How can so many scholars accept this interpretation in light of these problems? And how can a preterist make the case for this interpretation. This is important not only for Revelation studies themselves, but especially Revelation studies from a postmillennial perspective. This is because Revelation is though to undermine the postmillennial hope in light of John’s glood–and-doom analysis of future history.
So then, how does the evangelical postmillennial preterist respond to such weighty objections?
The first problem is vigorously asserted by Bleek (87): “That is, a priori, improbable in a book written in the Greek language, and in which we have no reason for supposing that it is a mere translation from a Hebrew or Aramaic original, and which is addressed chiefly to Christian churches in proconsular Asia, where Greek was the only prevailing tongue even among the Jew there.” But this supposed problem resolves itself on further reflection:
Nevertheless, this can be sufficiently answered. Consider the following arguments (which will be continued in later blog articles).
First, John’s ethnicity
John himself — the very author of Rev — is a Hebrew Christian. His native language was Hebrew (or Aramaic) and his thought patterns were Hebraic. We see the strong Hebraic character of the author in his grammar. For instance, in his scholarly commentary R. H. Charles (Revelation, cxvii, cxlii) includes a major introductory section titled “A Short Grammar of the Apocalypse.” Section 10 of this “Grammar” is entitled “The Hebraic Style of the Apocalypse.”
There Charles (cxliii) well notes of John’s unusual syntax: “The reason clearly is that, while he writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew.” David Aune (clx–ccxi) agrees with Charles. As J. P. M. Sweet (16) puts it: “The probability is that the writer, thinking in Hebrew or Aramaic, consciously or unconsciously carried over Semitic idioms into his Greek, and that his ‘howlers’ are deliberate attempts to reproduce the grammar of classical Hebrew at certain points.” Beale virtually lifts Sweet’s text into his own, when he writes: “It seems that his grammatical ‘howlers’ are deliberate attempts to express Semitisms and Septuagintalisms in his Greek” (Beale, Revelation, 96).
Indeed, the Hebraic character of the prophecy is so pronounced that some scholars have even suggested that John originally wrote it in Aramaic, a cognate language to Hebrew (Torrey, The Apocalypse, 27–58). Though this view has not been adopted by the majority of scholars, it does underscore the very Hebraic character of Revelation. Thus, we are must understand that Gentile readers are always confronted with Hebraic difficulties in Rev. Hebrew is the very atmosphere of John’s presentation.
Second, John’s backcloth
Although John writes in Greek (Hebraicized Greek) and to Gentiles, scholars have long recognized Rev as the most “Jewish” book in the New Testament, surpassing both Matthew and Hebrews. As Beale (Revelation, 77) notes, John makes innumerable allusions to the OT: “The Apocalypse contains more OT references than any other NT book.”
Sometimes John even alludes to very obscure OT passages. But in all cases the OT forms the backcloth of the work. For instance, in the letter to the church at Pergamum, he refers to Balaam and Balak. John is not accidentally using the OT, but using it for dramatic purposes. His Gentile readers would have to secure a clear knowledge of the OT Scriptures. The “problem” of the Hebraic spelling of “Nero Kaiser” is simply one part of the problem facing Gentile readers.
Thus, these first two responses to the problem should quickly undermine the weight of the supposed objection to Revelation employing a Hebrew cryptogram. But there is more! I will continue this study in my next blog article.
“The Beast is an Eighth” (1 CD)
In Rev 17:11 we read: “And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven.” Since Otho Caesar is actually the eighth emperor of Rome, how can preterists argue that Vespasian is meant here? This lecture explains the problem.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com