"[T]here are significant variants among the earliest surviving manuscripts of Revelation. Although most manuscripts say that the infamous "mark of the beast" is 666, for example, the earliest known copy, which dates to the late third or early fourth century, has 616. Another has 665." (p. 107, The Rise and Fall of the Bible)
While working the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant during a summer home from college, I gave a customer her total, $6.66. Being in the buckle of the Bible belt, the lady was certainly aware of this symbol from the book of Revelation, and she didn't like the fact that the amount due for her fast food bill somehow meant...well...I'm not sure what she thought it meant.
The customer I dealt with was concerned about paying this amount of $6.66, and wanted to change it. So she made me ring up a small order of fries. Oh, and there was a long line of cars behind her...
The point is, this number of 666, the "mark of the beast," means a lot to some people, because one book in the Bible has apparently assigned it this meaning. Therefore, because the infallible, inerrant, God-breathed Holy Bible finds the number 666 important, so too must good, Bible-believing Christians.
In chapter 5 of The Rise and Fall of the Bible, author Timothy Beal discusses the idea of a closed canon and the "inspired" nature of the Bible. To early Christians, there was no concept of a closed canon. Rather, scrolls and letters were passed around and copied, from community to community.
So what does it mean, then, when II Timothy 3:16 says that "all Scripture is inspired by God"? Which Scripture? Beal points out that Paul was probably referring solely to the Jewish Scriptures, as there was no such thing as "the Bible" at this time. In fact, the earliest of the Gospel accounts wasn't even written until long after Paul's death.
Another reference in the Bible to (what we think is) the Bible itself is found in Revelation 22:18-19, which gives a warning to those who add to the "words of the prophecy of this book." Beal points out that the Greek word biblion also means "scroll." It should mean "scroll" in this context. He explains:
This passage is often used to argue that the Bible claims its own authority, that its perfect inerrancy is built in, and that messing with even one jot or tittle of it is grounds for damnation. But just because this writing, originally a scroll [...], eventually ended up as the last book of the New Testament and thus the Christian Bible doesn't mean that its warning here refers to the whole Bible. "This scroll" (a more accurate and less misleading translation) circulated independently for hundreds of years before it was bound together in a big book along with what eventually became the Christian canon of Scripture. (p. 107).
Beal makes another interesting point about the inclusion of Revelation in the official canon. "[It] was a matter of dispute among many Christian leaders well into the fourth century. And its author could never have even imagined such a thing as the Bible. Not even in his wildest dreams." (p. 107).
Beal's exploration of the very verses that give the Bible its own authority is a reminder that the world, Christianity, and church that gave us the New Testament are probably not what we imagine. Perhaps we should be careful, then, not to assign meaning to the text that isn't supposed to be there.