Irenaeus, who probably wrote his Against Heresies between A. D. 180-185,[i] while discussing the reading “666” concerning the mark of the beast and the presence of a variant reading of “616,”[ii] stated:
1. Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end), — I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.][iii] Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number. Now, as regards those who have done this in simplicity, and without evil intent, we are at liberty to assume that pardon will be granted them by God. But as for those who, for the sake of vainglory, lay it down for certain that names containing the spurious number are to be accepted, and affirm that this name, hit upon by themselves, is that of him who is to come; such persons shall not come forth without loss, because they have led into error both themselves and those who confided in them. Now, in the first place, it is loss to wander from the truth, and to imagine that as being the case which is not; then again, as there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture, under that such a person must necessarily fall. Moreover, another danger, by no means trifling, shall overtake those who falsely presume that they know the name of Antichrist. For if these men assume one [number], when this [Antichrist] shall come having another, they will be easily led away by him, as supposing him not to be the expected one, who must be guarded against.
2. These men, therefore, ought to learn [what really is the state of the case], and go back to the true number of the name, that they be not reckoned among false prophets. But, knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is, six hundred sixty and six, let them await[.][iv]
A footnote in the Ante-Nicene Fathers text to the “in all the most approved and ancient copies” clause in this quotation reads, en pasi toiß spoudaioiß kai arcaioiß antigrafoiß. This passage is interesting, as showing how very soon the autographs of the New Testament must have perished, and various readings crept into the mss. of the canonical books.”[v] Does this clause indicate indeed that the autographs were already gone? A number of factors suggest otherwise. First, the conclusion is entirely an argument from silence. That the autographa are not specifically mentioned does not necessitate their nonexistence. Second, Irenaeus wonders that anyone receives the corrupt reading 616—after all, the correct number is in “all the most approved and ancient copies.” As the autograph of the Revelation, by definition, was only in one place, but a great number of copies had been made from it (a definite implication from Irenaeus’ declaration, and one in favor of a correct textual transmission), his statement apparently relates to the ease of access to one of these “approved” and “ancient” copies, which would have corrected misunderstanding concerning the apocalyptic number for those who were proclaiming 616. An indirect indication of the loss of the less easily accessible original was not in view. Third, what surely made these copies “approved” was the certainty of their identity with the autograph, which would certainly have been much easier to establish if it was still extant, rather than lost. The word antigrafoß was used for a “certified copy of an official document”[vi]; these copies could have been made directly from the original penned by John the apostle, or at least had a verifiable and short genealogy to the autograph. It is noteworthy that “all” of these approved copies, not “most” or “almost all,” read 666; this also suggests their common recent derivation from the original. Fourth, Irenaeus had absolute certainty concerning the correct text; 666 was “the true number . . . the sure number,” and partisans for the alternative were worthy of “no light punishment” who will “necessarily fall” as “false prophets” for adding or taking away from Scripture (Revelation 22:18-19). Even those who unknowingly advocate the wrong number require “pardon.”[vii] His certainty concerning the correct text is consistent with yet extant autographs. Fifth, “those men who saw John face to face” were still a controlling factor limiting textual alteration; they apparently were able to verify the correct text and were interested in doing so. Irenaeus’ statement concerning the existence and distribution of authoritative “approved and ancient copies,” which he knew with certainty reflected the Johannine autograph, does not demonstrate the early loss of the original and the rapidity of universal textual deterioration—it rather testifies to the opposite.
Caius, who apparently flourished in Rome at the beginning of the third century,[viii] in a work against the heresy of Artemon, stated:
The sacred Scriptures [the followers of Artemon] have boldly falsified, and the canons of the ancient faith they have rejected, and Christ they have ignored, not inquiring what the sacred Scriptures say, but laboriously seeking to discover what form of syllogism might be contrived to establish their impiety. And should any one lay before them a word of divine Scripture, they examine whether it will make a connected or disjoined form of syllogism; and leaving the Holy Scriptures of God, they study geometry, as men who are of the earth, and speak of the earth, and are ignorant of Him who cometh from above. Euclid, indeed, is laboriously measured by some of them. And Aristotle and Theophrastus are admired; and Galen, forsooth, is perhaps even worshipped by some of them. But as to those men who abuse the arts of the unbelievers to establish their own heretical doctrine, and by the craft of the impious adulterate the simple faith of the divine Scriptures, what need is there to say that these are not near the faith? For this reason is it they have boldly laid their hands upon the divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them. And that I do not state this against them falsely, any one who pleases may ascertain. For if any one should choose to collect and compare all their copies together, he would find many discrepancies among them. The copies of Asclepiades, at any rate, will be found at variance with those of Theodotus. And many such copies are to be had, because their disciples were very zealous in inserting the corrections, as they call them, i.e., the corruptions made by each of them. And again, the copies of Hermophilus do not agree with these; and as for those of Apollonius, they are not consistent even with themselves. For one may compare those which were formerly prepared by them with those which have been afterwards corrupted with a special object, and many discrepancies will be found. And as to the great audacity implied in this offence, it is not likely that even they themselves can be ignorant of that. For either they do not believe that the divine Scriptures were dictated by the Holy Spirit, and are thus infidels; or they think themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and what are they then but demoniacs? Nor can they deny that the crime is theirs, when the copies have been written with their own hand; nor did they receive such copies of the Scriptures from those by whom they were first instructed in the faith, and they cannot produce copies from which these were transcribed. And some of them did not even think it worthwhile to corrupt them; but simply denying the law and the prophets for the sake of their lawless and impious doctrine . . . they sunk down to the lowest abyss of perdition.[ix]
Caius assails his opponents for their corruption of Scripture, evidencing that such alteration of the words “dictated by the Holy Spirit” was considered a damnable crime. One of the ways he proves that his opponents, rather than his own party, were the corruptors of the text, is his statement that the heretics were not able to indicate the source of their own copies.[x] The allegation that the Artimonians “cannot produce copies from which [their own] were transcribed” would be empty if the orthodox were not themselves able to demonstrate that their copies matched the autographs. This suggests that the originals were still extant in Caius’ day.
[i] “Irenaeus,” pg. 520-521, A Dictionary of Christian Biography.
[ii] “666” is certainly the correct reading, as even CT advocates aver; it is “strongly supported by P47 a A P 046 051 all extant minuscules itgig vg syrph, h copsa, bo arm al” (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger (New York, NY: American Bible Society, 1994; 2nd ed.), note on Revelation 13:18). Nevertheless, the Revised Standard Version notes on Revelation 13:18 that “other ancient authorities read six hundred and sixteen,” while the New Revised Standard Version, New Living Translation, English Standard Version, and New American Standard Version, among others, reference this undoubted corruption as well. The Antichrist will doubtless appreciate these modern Bible versions for confusing the issue of the number of his name.
[iii] This bracketed sentence is followed by footnote #258 in AN, which reads, “That is, X into EI, according to Harvey, who considers the whole of this clause as an evident interpolation. It does not occur in the Greek here preserved by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., 5:8).” While it is true that this sentence is not in the section quoted by Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History 5:8 he quotes Irenaeus as follows: “Now since this is the number in all the good and ancient copies, and since those who have seen John face to face testify, and reason teaches us that the number of the name of the beast appears according to the numeration of the Greeks by the letters in it . . .” And going on later he says concerning the same point, “We therefore will not take the risk of making any positive statement concerning the name of the Antichrist [and he continues the quote]” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Kirsopp Lake). Eusebius leaves out much more than this one clause—he skips from the first part of book 5 chapter XXX:1 to near the end of XXX:3 (AN:XXX:7331-7333), with the evident intention of not quoting the entire passage. That a particular clause within the section skipped does not occur, because the entire section is missing, is a weak argument for an interpolation.
[v] Footnote #252, AN:Footnotes:7610.
[vi] Antigrafeia/oß, Greek-English Lexicon, H. G. Liddell & R. Scott, (9th ed. w/rev. supplement. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996). The word is also used in a more general sense. Among the apostolic “fathers,” the word appears in MPoly 22:2; 23:5; Pap 29:1. (cited from the Accordance module Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999); Module version 1.1.) Note also 1 Esdr 2:19; 6:7; 8:8; Esth 13:1; 3:14; 4:8; 16:1, 19; 8:13; 1 Mac 8:22; 11:31, 37; 12:5, 7, 19, 23; 14:20, 23, 27, 49; 15:24; and Bar 6:0 in the LXX. The word does not appear in the NT.
[vii] If Irenaeus were alive today, would he not consider the textual controversy a separating issue?
[viii] “Caius,” pg. 141-2, A Dictionary of Christian Biography.
[ix] The work is now lost; fragments have been preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 5:28. The text that follows comes from Fragments of Caius: Against the Heresy of Artemon, AN:III:48591.
[x] Requiring others to provide the sources of their copies was a test of accuracy employed by others as well. For example, Jerome, while arguing with Rufinus over falsifications in the latter’s translation of Origen’s Peri ÔArcwn, stated, “At all events, to cut short a long discussion, I can point out whence I received the Peri ÔArcwn, namely, from those who copied it from your manuscript. We want in like manner to know whence your copy of it came; for if you are unable to name any one else as the source from which it was derived, you will yourself be convicted of falsifying it” (Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus, book 2, NPN-2:23:20687).