Now, I should make it clear that I am not in favour of extrapolating anything from the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Below I return to why that is. I see this specific case however as a good example of why this is so appealing to many.
Since there are no numbers in Hebrew the letters of the alphabet have been used to express numerical value. Although modern Hebrew uses the western adaption of the Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3 etc), the Hebrew alphabet is still used in religious contexts as giving numerical value. In one edition of the Hebrew bible in my possession, the chapter and verse numbers are indicated with Hebrew letters.
According to this system alef א is is use for 1, beth ב is 2, gimmel ג is 3 and so on until the tenth letter. The numeral 11 is then formed by compounding 1 and 10: the letter for 10 yod י is joined with alef א for 1. The actual eleventh letter kaf כ is used for 20, the following lamed ל is used for 30 and so on until 100.
As we have previously seen, the name of God YHWH is in Hebrew names sometimes abbreviated to yo such as in Joel, Jonathan and John. Since it is Jewish practice not to read out the name of God, a problem arises when yod for 10 is to be written with heh which stands for 5. Joining yod and heh would be like writing the divine name in abbreviated form: YH. A similar problem is considered to arise when attempting to write 16: yod combined with waw also looks too much like the divine name: YW.
The solution to this is not symbolic representation but mathematics. The yod (10) is simply replaced with the value for 9, tet ט. To this then is added the corresponding letter to fill up to 15 and 16 respectively: 9+6=15, 9+7=16.
The system of representing the numerals with letters of the Hebrew alphabet dates back to Hellenistic Judaism in the 2nd century BC under the influence of Greek practice (after the Hebrew Bible was written). Although the text of the Hebrew Bible naturally contains verses (= sentences) and sections, the custom of numbering verses and chapters is medieval in origin. Consequently we should not seek to find hidden messages in these numbers.
So, what of the number of the beast? The answer is embedded above… The Hebrew numeral representing 6 is waw ו. The English phonetic equivalent would be w. By the way of Hebrew, the interpretation suggested to me was thus 666=www, the World Wide Web (the Internet). The problem with this interpretation is of course (among other things) that it involves a leap between languages. Similarly a Swedish preacher once suggested that 666 stood for “sex, sex, sex”, as both the numeral 6 and the word “sex” are written and pronounced the same in Swedish.
Although no doubt food for thought, the Internet is probably over all as much a blessing as it is a curse. As long as it can be a powerful vehicle for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, its days, I hope, are not numbered…