Bible Truth Versus SDA Truth: 666 and the Pope
SDA "Truth" about 666 and the Pope
Seventh-day Adventists identify the Leopard-like beast of Revelation 13 as the Papacy. Below are the main SDA proofs:
1. 666 = Pope. Uriah Smith and other early Adventists connected the number 666 of Rev. 13:18 with the pope. While some modern SDA scholars reject that notion, it continues to be preached by some SDA evangelists and appears in various publications and web sites operated by Seventh-day Adventists.
Uriah Smith wrote:
"The most plausible expression we have seen suggested as containing the number of the beast, is one of the titles applied to the pope of Rome. That title is this: Vicarius Filii Dei, 'Vicegerent of the Son of God.' It is worthy of note that the Douay Version of the Bible has the following comment on Revelation 13:18: 'The numeral letters of his name shall make up this number.' Taking the letters out of this title which are used as Roman numerals, we have V, 5; I, 1; C, 100; I, 1; U (formerly the same as V), 5; I, 1; L, 50; I, 1; I, 1; D, 500; I, 1. Adding these numbers together we have 666."1
Revelation Seminars claim the title "Vicarius Filii Dei" is a "chief title of the Roman Bishop." In their seminar they provide a calculation to conncet the Papacy with the number 666:2
V = 5
I = 1
C = 100
A = 0
R = 0
I = 1
U = 5 (supposedly U is the same value as a V)
S = 0
112 ===================> 112
F = 0
I = 1
L = 50
I = 1
I = 1
--- ===================> 53
D = 500
E = 0
I = 1
2. Additional Proofs. While the number 666 is the primary method of identifying the papacy as the beast of Revelation 13, Revelation Seminars also provides eight other points of proof:3
- "Receives power, seat and authority from the Dragon" (Rev. 13:12)
- "Comes up shortly after pagan Rome falls" (Dan. 7:24)
- "Becomes a worldwide power" (Rev. 13:3,7)
- "Rules 42 prophetic months - 1260 years" (Rev. 13:5)
- "Is guilty of blasphemies" (Rev. 13:5,6)
- "Receives a deadly wound which heals" (Rev. 13:3) - SDAs interpret this to be the setback the Papacy was dealt in 1798, when French general Berthier took the Pope captive. SDAs assert this wound was healed in 1929 when Italian dictator Mussolini signed a concordat called the Lateran Treaty in which he recognized the Vatican as an independent state.
- "Receives worship - a religious power" (Rev. 13:4,8)
- "Persecutes God's saints" (Rev. 13:7)
Problems with SDA "Truth" about 666 and the Pope
1. Does 666 refer to the Pope? Since John wrote Revelation in Greek, it seems most reasonable that numerals from the languages of Scripture (Hebrew or Greek rather than Roman) would be used to decipher the meaning of the number. There are many Greek and Hebrew names that add up to 666. In fact, there are names in numerous languages that add up to 666. Even Ellen Gould White adds up to 666 when using Roman numerals. So how did 666 come to be associated with the papacy?
The first known person to calculate 666 from the title "Vicarius Filii Dei" was Andreas Helwig in 1612. Helwig found the title "Vicarius Filii Dei" in a document called the Donation of Constantine. Although Helwig never connected this title to the Pope, some later Protestants did so, even claiming the words appeared on the papal tiara or mitre.4
Uriah Smith, J.N. Andrews and other early Adventists adopted the teaching and used it in their evangelistic efforts. The main weakness of the SDA position is that the title "Vicarius Filii Dei" was never officially used by the Catholic Church as a title for the Pope. In fact, the one document in which it appears, the Donation of Constantine, is widely recognized as a forgery. Some have claimed the title appeared on the papal tiara or mitre, but of the thousands of images painted and photographed over more than 1,000 years of Catholic history, the title does not appear on any image. No evidence has ever been produced by Seventh-day Adventists to substantiate the claim that the title "Vicarius Filii Dei" is used to designate the Pope.
Since real evidence was lacking, some Adventists resorted to fraud and trickery to substantiate their groundless claim about "Vicarius Filii Dei" being the title of the pope:
To promote the claim in the mid 20th century, one Adventist book included a doctored photograph of a papal tiara with the words "Vicarius Filii Dei" added by an artist. The book was a republished edition of Uriah Smith's Daniel and Revelation, by the Southern Publishing Association (now merged with Review and Herald). The original photograph was taken by English evangelist C. T. Everson at the Vatican Museums, on assignment from W. W. Prescott. However Prescott, the leading opponent of the interpretation in his day, was shocked when he saw the modified photograph in the book. The General Conference gave orders to cease the book's printing until the photograph be removed.5
In conclusion, Seventh-day Adventists are unable to substantiate the claim that the number 666 can be connected to the papacy, and in recent years SDA scholars have abandoned that view, while at the same time, others in the sect continue to foist the fraudulent teaching upon unsuspecting people.
2. Does the Papacy fit any other proof of Revelation 13? Let us examine each of the other "proofs" and see if the beast of Revelation 13 can be identified as the Roman Catholic Church:
- "Receives power, seat and authority from the Dragon" (Rev. 13:12) - The SDA claim is that the Catholic Church receives its power and authority from the dragon, which SDAs interpret to be Satan. While the Catholic Church certainly has its faults, one must also consider all the good it has done over the centuries, helping the poor and needy, and standing up for the plight of unborn children whom the SDA Church allows to be slain in its medical institutions. One could probably point to any denomination and find fault, so one must ask whether the charge of Satan giving power to the Catholic Church is founded upon fact or prejudice?
- "Comes up shortly after pagan Rome falls" (Dan. 7:24) - As discussed in the lesson on the little horn of Daniel 7, there is no Biblical justification for interpretting the little horn as the papacy.
- "Becomes a worldwide power" (Rev. 13:3,7) - Whether or not Catholics truly qualify as a "worldwide power" depends upon one's definition of "power." Since they have no military force, their "power" is based upon their number of adherants and the ability of those adherants to influence government policy in the countries where they live. While the Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination, many of its adherants are found in Europe where many Catholics are such in name only, and have little interest in the doctrines or practices of the church. Other religions, such as Islam, not only have more worldwide adherants, but have more dedicated followers. If Catholicism qualifies as a "worldwide power" because they have missionary outreaches all over the earth, then so do Muslims, Baptists, Lutherans, and Methodists. In fact, the SDA Church claims to have missionary outreaches in over 200 countries, so in this sense, it too would qualify as a "worldwide power."
- "Rules 42 prophetic months - 1260 years" (Rev. 13:5) - Adventists interpret this period as beginning in 538 AD and ending in 1798 AD, but as discussed in the lesson on the little horn of Daniel 7, there is no historical justification for picking these dates at the exclusion of other dates, and there is no reason to suppose the 1260 days are in fact "years." While the Catholic Church was the spiritual leader of Europe for perhaps a millennium, and was able to exert a degree of influence upon goverments in Western Europe, there is no historical evidence that Catholicism ruled the "world" or even ruled "Europe." For much of the time between 538 and 1798, large parts of Europe were under the rule of non-Catholics. Southern and Eastern Europe was under the rule of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires during much of Rome's supposed "rule" over the world. Much of the Mediterranean region, including parts of Spain, was under the control of Moslems during this period. After 1600, Protestants gained the upper hand in Northern Europe and North America. It is a gross exaggeration to claim that Rome "ruled" the world for 1260 years.
- "Is guilty of blasphemies" (Rev. 13:5,6) - It is true the Catholic Church has made some arrogant claims.
- "Receives a deadly wound which heals" (Rev. 13:3) - First, the "deadly" wound of 1798 was not very deadly, as the Catholic Church continued to function without a pope. This was not the first time in history that a pope had been taken captive. Second, the whole world has not wondered after Catholicism since the wound was supposedly healed in 1929. Over the last century the papacy has continued to decline and lose influence around the world. Europe has become predominantly post-Christian and Moslems will soon outnumber Christians in many European countries. Catholicism is rapidly losing ground in Central and South America, where Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelicals, and other religions are rapidly supplanting Catholicism as the leading religion in those countries. Catholicism has been on a gradual decline for centuries with no end in sight.
- "Receives worship - a religious power" (Rev. 13:4,8) - There is no reason to interpret the fact that the beast receives worship as evidence it is a religious entity. Throughout history many leaders of governments have accepted the worship and adoration of their subjects, including communist (atheist) governments.
- "Persecutes God's saints" (Rev. 13:7) - It is true that the Catholic Church persecuted its enemies, although that practice ceased by the mid-nineteenth century.
Of the eight proofs, less than half have any credible fulfillment in Roman Catholicism. This casts considerable doubt on the SDA interpretation. In the next section we will identify a power that meets all the markers of Revelation 13.
Bible Truth about 666 and the Pope
The beast of Revelation 13 arises from the sea with ten horns and seven heads. This is the same beast that is found in Daniel 7 and Revelation 17. In our study on the little horn of Dan. 7 we learned that the ten horns are the ten Caesars of Rome that ruled up to the destruction of Jerusalem. From Revelation 17 we learn that "the seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth." (Rev. 17:9) First century readers of Revelation would immediately recognize this as Rome, that infamous city that sitteth upon seven hills. There can therefore be no doubt this beast is the pagan Roman empire.
Who is the man whose number is 666?
Our first test about whether pagan Rome fits the identity of the beast of Revelation 13 is whether or not the number 666 can be connected to Rome. As a matter of fact, the numerical values of the Hebrew letters in Neron Kesar (Nero Caesar) add up to 666.6 Interestingly enough, many scholars believe the book of Revelation was written and sent out to the seven churches during the actual reign of Nero. The readers of Revelation who knew Hebrew would be able to decypher the meaning of 666 as being an allusion to Nero Caesar, the current leader of the Roman Empire. This is not meant to imply that the beast was Nero himself; rather, it implies that the beast power could be identified through its current leader, Nero. This interpretation would have been easily understood by the first century readers for whom the book of Revelation was written about events "which must shortly come to pass." (Rev. 1:3)
Does Pagan Rome fit the other requirements of Rev. 13?
Let us examine each of the other eight "proofs" used by Adventists to identify the beast as Catholicism and determine if they more aptly fit pagan Rome:
- "Receives power, seat and authority from the Dragon" (Rev. 13:12) - It is beyond controversy that Rome received its seat and authority from Satan, the "prince of this world" (John 12:31). In Daniel 7:7 this beast is described as "dreadful and terrifying"--an apt portrayal of pagan Rome.
- "Comes up shortly after pagan Rome falls" (Dan. 7:24) - This "proof" is an SDA misapplication of Bible prophecy. There is nothing in either Daniel or Revelation about a fifth power that arrives after Rome falls. Rome is the last worldwide empire described in Bible prophecy.
- "Becomes a worldwide power" (Rev. 13:3,7) - The Roman Empire was the greatest empire of the world. It was truly a worldwide power, both militarily and economically, holding vast regions of territory on three continents for nearly a millennium. For those who quibble about the meaning of "worldwide," let it be remembered that for the first century reader, the "world" was the Roman Empire. Many times in the New Testament the word "world" is used to describe the territory of the Roman Empire (Acts 11:28, 17:6, 24:5). Rome dominated the civilized world in the first century when Revelation was written.
- "Rules 42 prophetic months - 1260 years" (Rev. 13:5) - This passage is very clear that the beast was given "authority to make war for forty-two months" against the saints. There is nothing in this passage that says these are "prophetic" months. It simply says the beast was authorized to make war for 42 months or 1260 days. Verse 7 clarifies that the beast was authorized "to make war with the saints..of every tribe and people and tongue..." History records that Rome did launch a war against Christians of every tribe and people and language in its vast empire. As David Chilton observes, "it is interesting that Nero's persecution of the Church did in fact last a full 42 months, from the middle of November 64 to the beginning of June 68."7
- "Is guilty of blasphemies" (Rev. 13:5,6) - "According to the Roman imperial theology, the Caesars were gods. Each emporer was called Augustus or Sebastos, meaning One to be worshipped; they also took on the name divus (god) and even Deus and Theos (God)."8
- "Receives a deadly wound which heals" (Rev. 13:3) - When Christ established His Kingdom upon this earth, the Holy Spirit came with power and the gospel spread like wild fire. Within a single generation Paul could say that the gospel had been "preached to every creature which is under heaven" (Col 1:23) Paul nearly persuaded King Agrippa to become a Christian (Acts 26:28), and even members of Caesar's own household had become believers (Phil. 4:22) "In fact, Tiberius Caesar even formally requested that the Roman Senate officially acknowledge Christ's divinity."9 For a while it appeared as if the beast had been mortally wounded. But then Nero launched his vicious persecution, and many Christians were killed and their churches were stamped out of existence "and the whole land wondered after the beast."
- "Receives worship - a religious power" (Rev. 13:4,8) - As noted above, the emporers were called Sebastos meaning, "One to be worshipped." Temples were erected in honor of the Caesars throughout the empire. Nero went so far as to erect an 120-foot image of himself.10
- "Persecutes God's saints" (Rev. 13:7) - As noted above, Nero unleashed one of the most horrific and violent persecutions ever witnessed upon this earth:
"The Emperor of Rome took pleasure in other people's pain; he delighted in the idea of wiping the Christians from the face of the Earth. ...ultimately they were hated because they refused to worship the Emperor, and refused the traditions, and gods of the Roman people... We have no idea how many Christians lost their life under the Neronian persecution, but Historian Harold Mattingly tells us that Nero's persecution 'lasted several years, was not confined to Rome but was practiced throughout the Empire, and cost the lives of a very large number [of Christians].' ...Peter was crucified in Rome by Nero; also Paul...was beheaded by Nero. ... Although Nero's persecution may not have killed as many people as Hitler did, or as many people as died in the crusades, or in the Spanish Inquisition - the sheer brutality made this a true disaster of the worst kind."11
Further evidence could be given, but enough has been presented to illustrate that pagan Rome is a much better fit for the beast of Revelation 13 than the Pope or the Catholic Church.
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1. Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation, p. 619.
2. Revelation Seminar, lesson #19, "The Mark of the Beast".
4. Wikipedia, "Vicarius Filii Dei", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicarius_Filii_Dei, extracted Aug. 28, 2009.
6. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, pp. 350-351.
7. Ibid., p. 333.
8. Ibid., pp. 327-328.
9. Ibid., p. 330.
10. Ibid., p. 328.
11. Anonymous, "Neromania: An Ancient Persecution", Boise State University web site, http://www.boisestate.edu/history/ncasner/hy210/nero.htm, extracted Aug. 28, 2009.