It sounds like a Disney version of Chariots of Fire. Kentucky high school student Codie Thacker made waves this week by refusing to compete in a cross-country race with the assigned bib number 666. As religious devotees, horror movie buffs, and Iron Maiden fans know, that’s what the Biblical book of Revelation calls the “number of the Beast.” Her coach tried without success to secure another number for the 16-year-old, but in the end Thacker nobly withdrew on religious grounds because, as she puts it, “I didn’t want to risk my relationship with God.”
The odds of any of us receiving the 666 number are small. But for those who want to be in good physical and spiritual shape on Judgment Day, here’s a Biblical guide for runners:
This is where the controversy started. In an interview with WLEX-TV, Thacker explained her decision regarding the number: “it’s the mark of the Beast, that’s what the Bible says.” The LA Times, local NBC affiliate, and Fox news all agreed.
But ivory-towered elitists like me might protest that this isn’t actually what the Bible says. The number of the Beast and the mark of the Beast are different. Historians can be such pedants, but hear me out.
666, the number of the Beast referred to in Rev 13:17, is not an inappropriately large jersey number; it’s a clue. It’s the number of a person that we have to calculate by using gematria, a system in which letters have numerical value (Alpha=1, Beta=2, Gamma=3, etc). Add the value of the letters of the Beast’s name and you’ll get 666.
Depending on whether you use a Greek, Hebrew, or English number scheme, a lot of different names add up to the devilish number. Bible scholars have tended to identify the Beast with the Roman emperor Nero. But, according to this highly scientific gematria calculator, it turns out that “Justin Bieb” also adds up to 666. It’s not perfect, I admit, but the rest of the evidence is so compelling.
To make matters more complicated, a third-century fragment of papyrus found in ancient Egypt gives the number 616 instead of 666. The 616 version might even be older. Dr. Brent Nongbri, of Macquarrie University, and an expert in ancient Christian papyri, notes, “A good case can be made for the priority of both 666 and 616.” Adding another possible number of the Beast may seem of little importance, but I wouldn’t recommend living in Grand Rapids, Michigan just to be on the safe side.
So they’re both out. You may not be Satan, but you don’t want to wear his uniform, do you?
Those who are truly committed and willing to step up to the spiritual half-marathon will note that the real problem here isn’t with numbers but letters. If your name happens to add up to 666 you may want to think about legally changing it. Or just not be evil. Although I’m not sure how the latter will help you set a personal record.
If 666 isn’t the mark of the Beast, what is? The Bible doesn’t tell us. It might be the Beast’s name. After all, Jesus is scrawling the name of God all over the faithful in Rev 3:12. But it might also be a symbol, a barcode, or a red box containing the words “[Daily] Beast” in white lettering. We have no idea.
The Bible does tell us something about its location, though. According to Rev. 14:9 the mark of the Beast is received on the forehead or the hand. Not exactly the traditional location of the runner’s bib on the chest, but do you really want to take a chance?
I’d wager not. Especially considering that the punishment for those who are found bearing the mark is not just eternal destruction, but also “foul painful sores.” That really puts jock itch and blisters in the shade.
Hydration is a no-brainer here. Jesus may be the fountain of life, but water is the key to success on race day. 1 Timothy advises us to take a little wine for our stomachs and ailments, but unless you’re running the French Marathon du Medoc (during which wine accompanies the pit stops), it’s unlikely that refreshment centers will be adhering to Biblical law.
The real risk here—the proverbial and theological snake in the grass—is the pomegranate-flavored sports drink. Historians hypothesize that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate, not an apple. Not to get all pagan on you, but pomegranates are, according to Greek mythology, also responsible for winter. Persephone snacked on pomegranate seeds in Hades and now our gas bills rocket in January. Between helping to cause our eviction from the Garden of Eden and covering the roads in a slick of ice, this Mediterranean fruit is a runner’s worst enemy. Pomegranates: antioxidant rich, godliness light.
Listening to music is a controversial subject among both runners and some Christian groups. For one group it’s polluting something innocent and pure with technological indecency. For Christians it might be secular and damaging.
I’m going to get controversial for a moment and disagree.
In the Bible heaven is a place where music is almost always playing. Even if it’s the same refrain of ‘holy, holy, holy’ on repeat, God likes to rock out. So go for it, viva la iPod.
The Apostle Paul said that we should “run in such a way that [we] may win.” So if you dress like the beast you’d better run like hell.