By Stephen P. Bohr
Speaker / Director of Secret's Unsealed
For as long as I can remember, Seventh-day Adventist evangelists have applied the number 666 to one of the Latin titles of the pope, namely,
Vicarius Filii Dei
, meaning “
vicar of the Son of God
.” They have claimed that this title is one of the official titles that has traditionally been used by the popes. Some of our evangelists have also affirmed that the title is, or has been, inscribed on the pope’s tiara or on his miter. Have our evangelists been correct in their assessment? Is this really one of the official titles that has been traditionally claimed by a succession of
? Was this title really on the papal tiara or miter in times past? Recently several of our ablest scholars have answered no to these questions. A new view has appeared on the horizon with defenders of the caliber of Dr. William G. Johnsson, Dr. Beatrice Neall, Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Dr. Jon Paulien, Dr. Ranko Stefanovic, and Dr. Ángel M. Rodríguez. These theologians have challenged the traditional view and have proposed a new one.
The traditional view is very specific. It applies the name and number of the beast directly to a succession of
popes. The new view has removed this specific meaning from the Roman Catholic
and has applied it in general terms to an end-time alienation of man from God.
Several years ago Dr. Beatrice Neall articulated the new view:
Six is legitimate when it leads to seven; it represents man on the first evening of his existence entering into the celebration of God’s creative power. The glory of the creature is right if it leads to the glory of God.
Six hundred sixty-six, however, represents the refusal of man to proceed to seven, to give glory to God as Creator and Redeemer. It represents man’s fixation with himself, man seeking glory in himself and his own creations. It speaks of the fullness of creation and all creative powers without God—the practice of the absence of God. It demonstrates that unregenerate man is persistently evil. (Beatrice Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse with Implications for Character Education, 153–155)
This rather philosophical, conjectural, if not speculative definition of the number six has been picked up and simplified by Dr. Ángel M. Rodríguez:
Greek phrase translated “it is a man’s number” (Revelation 13:18) could be also rendered “it is the number of humanity.” In that case, it is not referring to a particular person but to a characteristic of humanity separated from God. Since God created humans during the sixth day, it could stand as a symbol of humanity, but a humanity not yet at rest with God and without the joy of a harmonious relationship with
God during the
seventh day. The number reveals the rebellious nature of the enemies of God and His remnant. That seems to be the best available interpretation. (Ángel M. Rodríguez, Future Glory, 122, emphasis supplied)
This change has upset some in the church who feel that the traditional view is more than adequate to explain the mystery of the number 666. Many feel that the new view has taken what is definite and clear, making it indefinite and fuzzy. Others have gone so far as to believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been infiltrated by Jesuits who have the hidden agenda of destroying our distinctive prophetic roots with a view to ultimately destroy the Seventh-day Adventist Church itself.
This later fear has been fed in recent years by Adventist college teachers who have stated that we should build bridges of understanding with
rather than criticizing her. The conspiracy flames have been further fanned when a medal was given to the pope by the
Department of the General Conference, and also when the flag of the Holy See was paraded on stage at the 2005 General Conference Session in St. Louis during the March of Nations.
In this booklet I would like to take a closer look at the number 666 as it relates to the name of
. As we begin, there are several biblical facts
that will help us understand this enigmatic number and the system to which it applies.
First, a very important fact that has been overlooked more frequently than not is that the name of the beast is a blasphemous name. This is stated explicitly in
13:1: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name
Now that we know that the name, whose number is
, is blasphemous, we must discover the biblical definition
of blasphemy. Is there such a definition? The answer is an emphatic yes!
clearly define blasphemy as man’s attempt to occupy the place of God and as such to exercise the power and prerogatives of God. When
affirmed: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), the Jews went ballistic. They picked up stones to execute the death penalty required by the Law (Leviticus 24:16). When Jesus asked them what evil work He had done to merit stoning, they responded, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man
, make Yourself God
” (John 10:33, emphasis supplied). The terminology of the accusation is significant. Jesus was reprimanded for blasphemy because He, being a man
, made himself God
. In fact, Jesus not only claimed to be God
, He also claimed to work the works of God
! (John 10:28, 37, 38).
Interestingly, in the thinking of the Jewish leaders, Jesus was guilty of blasphemy when He claimed to be the Son of God (Matthew 26:64; 10:36, 37; John 19:7). All the Jews claimed to be sons of God in a general sense; however, it is clear that Jesus did not claim to be a Son of God in a general sense but in the strictest sense of being the representative of God on earth! He was the spokesman for God on earth—His vicar, if you please! This is the reason why Jesus could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus undoubtedly claimed to be Vicarius Filii Dei, and rightfully so.
Blasphemy is also defined as when a mere man claims to have the power to forgive sins. This means that any man who claims to have the right to exercise the prerogatives of God is guilty of blasphemy. When Jesus told the paralytic of Capernaum: “Your sins are forgiven,” the religious leaders murmured saying: “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7, emphasis supplied). The religious leaders were actually thinking: if this man claims to have the right to forgive sins, then He must claim to be God because only God can forgive sins.
Second Thessalonians 2:3, 4 has similar terminology. Here we are told that the man of sin sits in the temple of God (the church), proclaiming himself to be God. Once again we notice that this power is human, and yet it seeks to occupy the place of God. Later on in the passage we are told that this power also claims to perform the works that Jesus Himself performed while He was on earth (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Acts 2:22). Second Thessalonians 2:3, 4 actually paraphrases the language from Daniel 11:36, where we are told that the king of the north “shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods.” It will be noticed that the exaltation of the king of the north to the level of God is linked with the great words that He speaks against the God of gods. The use of the word “man” in these verses does not require that we find one particular person as the fulfillment. Adventists have understood the word “man” in this passage to refer, not to an individual, but rather to a succession of persons, namely, the popes of Rome.
In this context it is worthy of note that the little horn of Daniel 7 (which symbolizes the same power as the beast of Revelation 13:1–10, and the man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2) has a mouth that speaks “pompous words against the Most High” (
:25). These great words are identified as blasphemies
in Revelation 13:5, where we are told that the beast was given a mouth that speaks “great things and blasphemies.” This little horn/beast not only claims to be God but also claims to have the power to exercise the prerogatives of God even to the point of changing God’s prophetic times and His Law (Daniel 7:25)! Thus, in a very specific sense, the little horn (or the beast) claims the right to occupy the place of God
and to exercise the power and prerogatives of God
In what sense does this little horn/beast speak blasphemies against God? Daniel 8 provides the indisputable answer. In Daniel 8 (in distinction to Daniel 7), we are not told that the little horn speaks blasphemies against the Most High. Rather, we are told that the
attempted to supplant
or take the place
of the Prince of the host by taking away the daily ministration from Him (Daniel 8:11). Thus, the little horn’s blasphemy consists of trying to supplant or take the place
of the Prince of the host and to carry on His work
. In the light of this overwhelming biblical evidence, it would seem that the blasphemous name of the beast must be linked with his attempt to supplant or occupy the place of God
and to exercise the power and prerogatives of God
There can be no doubt that the power represented by the little horn, the beast, and the man of sin is the Roman Catholic papacy. The little horn (or the beast) does not appear in a vacuum. There is a clear sequence of powers that precedes the horn’s arrival on the scene. The kingdoms of
, Rome, and divided Rome must rule before the little horn comes on the scene.
Numerous quotations could be provided from Roman Catholic writers to the effect that the pope claims to occupy the place of God on earth. Space limitations will allow for only a few examples.
- “The pope can modify divine law, since his power if not of man, but of God, and he acts in the place of God upon earth, with the fullest power of binding and losing his sheep” (Lucius Ferraris, Prompta Bibliotheca, vol. 2, article “Papa,” emphasis [bold] supplied).
- Pope Nicholas I (who ruled from AD 858–867) once said, “It is evident that the popes can neither be bound nor unbound by any earthly power, nor even by that of the apostle [Peter], if he should return upon the earth; since
Constantine the Great has recognized that the pontiffs held the place of God upon earth, divinity not being able to be judged by any living man. We are, then, infallible, and whatever may be our acts, we are not accountable for them but to ourselves” (Cormenin, History of the Popes, 243, as cited in R. W. Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power, 248, emphasis supplied).
- Pope Leo XIII, in an encyclical letter entitled “On the Chief Duties of Christians as Citizens” dated January 10, 1890, affirmed: “But the supreme teacher in the Church is the
Roman Pontiff. Union of minds, therefore, requires, together with a perfect accord in the one faith, complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself” (The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, 193, emphasis supplied).
- Leo XIII in an encyclical letter dated June 20, 1894, stated: “We hold upon this earth the place of
God Almighty” (Ibid., 304, emphasis supplied).
Repeatedly Roman Catholic sources refer to the popes as vicars of Christ, vice-regents of Christ, representatives of Christ, and, yes, vicars of the Son of God (proof to be provided later in this booklet).
Furthermore, the popes have claimed the right to exercise the power and prerogatives that belong only to God. They claim to have the right to forgive sins (cf. Mark 2:7), to set up and remove kings (cf.
2:21), to be bowed down to (cf. Revelation 19:10), to be called Holy Father (cf. Matthew 23:9), to execute the death penalty upon dissenters (cf. Daniel 7:21), to change
(cf. Daniel 2:21; 7:25), to change God’s prophetic calendar (cf. Daniel 7:25), to be the supreme judges of heaven, earth, and hell whose decision cannot be appealed (cf. John 5:22, 27), and to be infallible expositors in matters of faith and morals (cf. James 1:17).
Second, besides the name of the beast being blasphemous, the name also has a number (Revelation 13:17). The critical question at this point is this: how do we get a number from a name? The answer lies in the fact that in ancient times numbers were written with the letters of the alphabet. This practice, referred to as gematria, was used in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. This means that when the letters of the beast’s blasphemous name are given their respective numerical value the total will be 666.
The Living Bible captures well the meaning of Revelation 13:18: “Here is a puzzle that calls for careful thought to solve it. Let those who are able, interpret this code: the numerical values of the letters in his name add to 666!” The New English Bible renders Revelation 13:18 in similar fashion: “The number represents a man’s name, and the numerical value of its letters is six hundred and sixty-six.” Even the Roman Catholic
Version adds a footnote to Revelation 13:18 that states: “The numeral letters of his name shall make up this number.”
Dr. Bacchiocchi once argued that the text of Revelation 13:18 required a name rather than a title. After all, the text says that 666 is the number of the beast’s name and not the number of his title. Dr. Bacchiocchi, therefore, stated that Vicarius Filii Dei, being a title rather than a name could not fulfill the specifications of the text (“The Saga of the Adventist Papal Tiara,” part 2, Endtime Issues, online newsletter).
This argument is superficial and can be disposed of quite readily by noting that in Revelation 19:16, Jesus is described as one who has a name written on his vesture and on his thigh. However, the name is not a personal name but rather a title: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” So the word “name” can refer to a title rather than to a proper name.
Third, we are told in Revelation 13:18 that number 666 is the number of a man. It is important to realize that the noun “man” has no definite article. This means that qualitatively the beast is a system that is centered in man. It is noteworthy that the little horn has eyes like a man, the apostate one of 2 Thessalonians 2 is called the man of sin, and here the beast has the number of a man. This is certainly a system that is based on the power and prowess of man.
Some of our scholars have recently attempted to say that the expression “the number of a man” should really be translated “the number of humanity.” But the book of Revelation does not use the word anthropos in this sense. To translate the word anthropos in this manner denotes the art of interpretation rather than of translation. I checked several of the better known versions of the Bible (New International, Jerusalem, New English, New American Standard,
, New King James, New American, Weymouth, Phillips, Revised Standard) to ascertain how they translate the expression: “arithmós gár anthroópou estín
” (“it is the number of a man”). Interestingly, only the Revised Standard Version, with its liberal gender inclusive slant, translates it this way: “It is a human
number.” Not one of the major versions translates “for it is the number of humanity.
Is the text of Revelation 13:18 really telling us that the number 666 applies to humanity in general rather than to the beast specifically? A careful study of Revelation 13:1–10 (and also of Daniel 7 and 2 Thessalonians 2) reveals unmistakably that the beast represents the Roman Catholic papacy as a system, not humanity in general. If the number is the number of the beast, and the beast is a symbol of the papacy, then the number cannot apply to humanity in general but rather specifically to the papacy.
A parallel text would be 2 Thessalonians 2 where the same system is referred to as the man of sin. The word “man” here is not referring to a specific individual but rather to a succession of rulers who make man the measure of all things rather than God. Would any serious biblical scholar say that the expression “man [anthropos] of sin” should be translated “the humanity of sin”? Would it be proper to translate the “eyes of a man” in Daniel 7:8 as “the eyes of humanity”? This would be absurd. The simple fact is that the system represented by the little horn/man of sin/beast is based on the wisdom and prowess of man while claiming to have the right to exercise the power and prerogatives of God. In other words it is a system that is man-centered rather than God-centered. In this sense there is a grain of truth in the idea that the number six represents a system, which is centered in man while the number seven represents a system that is based on God.
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