RESPONDING TO SIMON KISTEMAKER’S – REVEALING CHAPTER ON REVELATION – #3
Don K. Preston (D. Div.)
THE NAME AND NUMBER OF THE BEAST IN REVELATION
This is article #3 in response to a chapter written by Simon Kistemaker, in a 2004 book edited and produced Keith Mathison entitled When Shall These Things Be? (The book is available on Amazon). That book was intended to be a definitive refutation of Full Preterism. The respected commentator Simon Kistemaker wrote a chapter in which he attempted to establish the late date of Revelation.
Edward Stevens asked me and some other authors to write chapters for a proposed book to respond to Mathison’s book. He even raised money to publish that work. Unfortunately, Stevens never published that book. Since Edwards never published the book I thought it would be good to go ahead and publish the chapter, after such a time, that I submitted to Stevens.
Kistemaker takes note of the fact that “numerous scholars” see the enigmatic number 666 as a reference to Nero. (When, 228). He rejects this designation however, because of the following objections,
1.) That Iranaeus did not make this connection,
2.) In order to get this number, “one has to add the name of Caesar.”
3.) Even when you add Caesar, you only get 616,
4.) You must then add an extra n to the name of Nero, resulting in Neron Caesar, to get 666,
5.) You must then resort to the Hebrew spelling of Neron Caesar for a total of 666.
Clearly, it would take a great deal of space to deal extensively with these objections. However, Gentry has done that in his tome, Before Jerusalem Fell, and his smaller work, The Beast. We can only offer here the brief summaries of Gentry’s excellent work.
As to Iranaeus, Gentry has effectively shown that Iranaeus’ testimony is, at best, questionable, and most assuredly contestably. (Before, 45+). Mathison concurs, citing Iranaeus’ eccentricies and unreliable nature. He says that the most that can be said for the testimony of Iranaeus is that it is “inconclusive.” (Hope, 143). Gentry concludes his extensive “expose” of the Iranaeus testimony by saying, “A careful scrutiny of the Iranaean evidence for a late date for Revelation tends to render any confident employment of him suspect. The difficulties with Iranaeus in this matter are many and varied, whether or not his witness is accepted as credible.” (Before, 67).
On the testimony of Iranaeaus, one certainly has a right to look with suspicion at his testimony. He was not writing from first hand knowledge. He was in fact writing many years after the fact. And to say the least, Iranaeus on many accounts was indeed, as Mathison notes, guilty of many eccentricities in his writings. It seems abundantly suspicious to me, personally, when the best evidence that Kistemaker can adduce is from a writer whose trustworthiness has been and continues to be challenged on so many fronts.
Kistemaker objects to the identification of Nero as the key to the number 666 because: In order to get this number, “one has to add the name of Caesar.”
2.) Even when you add Caesar, you only get 616,
3.) You must then add an extra n to the name of Nero, resulting in Neron Caesar, to get 666,
4.) You must then resort to the Hebrew spelling of Neron Caesar for a total of 666.
One cannot but wonder what went through Mathison’s mind as he read Kistemaker’s draft for this chapter. In Hope (145) Mathison says, “A strong case can be made that this number is a symbolic designation of Nero.” Does Mathison now believe the case is not that strong? Has he now accepted Kistemaker’s objections? We think not.
In Before Jerusalem Fell, (193+), Gentry takes note of almost all of Kistemaker’s objections.
First, Gentry shows that the number of the beast is the number of a man: not some vague, nebulous entity. Kistemaker wants to make 666 the number of man, not the number of “a man.” If, however, Gentry is right, this alone is harmful to Kistemaker’s posit.
Second, the objection that you must add “Caesar,” to Nero in order to get the number is specious at best. The most natural, and perfectly historical, references to Nero was Nero Caesar. ( Cf. for instance, Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars, (New York, Charles Scribner, 1975). Nero was after all, Caesar! What reason or evidence does Kistemaker give for not including the appellation of Caesar with Nero? He does not give any evidence at all. He simply says that to get the desired number you have to add Caesar to Nero. It is hardly a convincing argument against the preterist position to argue that one should not add the normal, official, regal title to Nero, and then give no evidence for your argument.
Third, Kistemaker says that even when you add Caesar to Nero, you only come up with 616. This sounds, on the surface, troublesome, until you consider, as Gentry shows, that, “there is an intriguing textual variant that appeared very early in Revelation’s manuscript history. That variant preserved the number of the Beast as ‘616.’” Thus, “we can fairly draw the conclusion that this variant points to Nero as well.” (Before, 201) Why did Kistemaker not reveal this evidence to the readers of When Shall These Things Be? Why ignore the obvious textual and historical answer to your objection, especially when the editor of the work you are contributing to, believes that response is valid?
Fourth, Kistemaker, expands on his objection by noting that even by adding Caesar to Nero, you must then add an “n” to Nero, and further, “But then, one has to resort to the Hebrew spelling of Neron Caesar.” He then asks, “Why would the author not use a Greek form instead of a Hebrew form?” (When, 228+)
Gentry supports the Hebrew form of Neron Caesar by noting that, “John and most first century Christians were Hebrew extraction.” (Before, 198). Furthermore, we would note that other than Hebrews, there is not a book in the Bible more “Hebraic” than Revelation. The Apocalypse is Hebraic in thought, expression and source, i.e. the Hebrew Old Covenant. Now, since John was told it took wisdom to understand the number of the man, there is nothing more natural than for his readers to refer to a Hebraic form, rather than Greek.
Furthermore, Gentry cites numerous authorities who prove that “in the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings, Nero was spelled thus.” (Before, 199), and, “there is ‘excellent authority’ for the precise spelling required.” So, the form and spelling of Neron Caesar, are shown to be perfectly natural, historical forms of reference to Nero.
So, Kistemaker lists several objections to the identification of Nero as the Beast of Revelation, yet, his objections are hardly tenable. In fact, as we noted earlier, Mathison himself says of the number 666: “A strong case can be made that this number is a symbolic designation of Nero.” After his extensive review of the evidence Gentry says, “A compelling case can be made that the referent of 666 is none other than the infamous tyrant Nero Caesar.” (Before, 198).
(On a final even divergent note, I would personally note that I am becoming increasingly drawn to the idea that the Beast of Revelation may in fact not be Nero but the Jewish High Priest. So many intriguing details and facts, in concert with Paul’s discourse in 2 Thessalonians 2, converge to point us in that direction. Nonetheless, the points above sufficiently refute Kistemaker. And if the case for the Beast being the High Priest can be fully established it would be an even stronger rejection of his claims as well as confirming the early dating of Revelation).
Stay tuned for our next installment.