There’s a growing popular view among Adventist scholars that disowns the traditional Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of the Roman Catholic Pope being the 666 described in Revelation 13. One of them is Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Retired Professor of Theology and Church History, Andrews University.
(Of course, as expected, the “new interpretation” did not depart from the Sabbath being the center of the “Great Controversy”. Note to my readers: I do not support even this “new interpretation”)
So, for the sake of those who still thinks and holds to the traditional “Vicarius Filli Dei” interpretation of 666, listen to your own. Here’s Dr. Bac’s 20 points why the Adventist traditional interpretation of 666 is incorrect as originally printed in his newsletter.
1) The Adventist pioneers early identified the Mark of the Beast with the enforcement of Sunday observance, but they were uncertain regarding the meaning of the Number of the Beast (666).
2) Initially, some Adventist pioneers, including J. N. Andrews, believed that the number 666 of the Beast was made up of approximately 666 Protestant sects who had accepted the authority and teachings of the Catholic Church.
3) Uriah Smith appears to have been the first Adventist leader to mention Vicarius Filii Dei as a possible interpretation of the number 666. His proposal first appears in an editorial published in The Review and Herald issue of November 20, 1866.
4) Eventually Uriah Smith’s interpretation became widely accepted due to the influence of his books Daniel and the Revelation and The United States in the Light of Prophecy.
5) The sources cited by Uriah Smith to support his identification of the number 666 with the pope’s title Vicarius Filii Dei, are the accounts of two eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen the inscription on the pope’s tiara while in Rome. One claimed to have seen the inscribed papal tiara in the Vatican Museum and the other witness during an Easter Mass celebrations. Both accounts are discredited by the fact that papal tiaras are not displayed in the Vatican Museum, nor does the pope wear the tiara for Mass celebrations. The three crowns gold Tiara has been used primarily for the coronation of the pope—a practice that has been discontinued by the latest three popes, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
6) A significant search for inscribed papal tiara was conducted in 1905 by Chas T. Everson, an Adventist missionary serving in Italy. At the request of several church leaders, especially Prof. William Prescott, a leading Adventist educator, Everson conducted a thorough investigation that providentially led him into the very dressing room of the pope, where some tiaras are kept.
In spite of his unique opportunity to view several tiaras at close range, Everson was disappointed in not finding the inscription Vicarius Filii Dei on any of them. He wrote: “But while we were pleased to see brilliant crowns, yet we were disappointed in not finding the object of our search; for the inscription Vicarius Filii Dei was nowhere to be found inscribed upon the tiara, as the accompanying photographs show very plainly.” He concludes his report, saying: “to be perfectly correct in our statements, we cannot say that there is an inscription of this nature on the tiara at present” (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 27, 1905, p. 10).
7) One of the stunning pictures of the papal tiara sent by Everson to the General conference, was modified by an Adventist artist who added the words Vicarius Filii Dei to the golden tiara. The Southern Publishing Association used this “doctored” picture of the tiara in the revised edition of Uriah Smith’s Daniel and the Revelation. When confronted with the incriminating evidence, the General Conference gave immediate orders to stop the printing any further copies of the book, until the fraudulent pictures were removed.
8) Prescott requested an opportunity to make a presentation to the General Conference officers. Some of the officers were convinced by Prescott’s arguments, but others thought that the issue needed further study. At any rate, they all agreed that in the meantime “the interpretation should not be repeated.”
9) This episode was soon forgotten. Vicarius Filii Dei was a too neat fit to Revelation 13:18 to be easily abandoned, so it continued to be a popular interpretation, in spite of the action taken by the General Conference.
10) In 1935 Francis Nichols, editor of Present Truth, published an article alleging that Vicarius Filii Dei was the pope’s official title, inscribed in the papal tiara. As soon as the artitle appeared, the popular Catholic magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, challenged Nichols to produce the evidence or to stop using biased and dishonest anti-Catholic sources to make such claim. Nichols asked Prof. Prescott for help to justify the claim, but the professor responded that there was none.
11) Eventually a special study group was set up by the General Conference chaired by Elder Howell, hoping that some more reliable information might be found on the use of the pope’s title Vicarius Filii Dei. LeRoy Edwin Froom was sent on a special research assignment to the Vatican to seek information on the pope’s title Vicarius Filii Dei, but he found nothing of significance.
12) In 1948, LeRoy Froom, Editor of Ministry, issued a strong warning against the use of fraudulent tiaras in evangelistic meetings. He wrote: “In the name of truth and honesty this journal protests any such use by any member of the Ministerial Association of Seventh-day Adventist denomination (our worker body), of which The Ministry is the official organ. Truth does not need fabrication to aid or suppress it. Its very nature precludes any manipulation or duplicity. We cannot afford to be party to any fraud.” (The Ministry, November 1948, p. 35).
13) The warnings given by the General Conference and by Ministry did not stop the preaching and the writings on the pope’s title Vicarius Filii Dei, allegedly inscribed in the pope’s tiara. The reason was mentioned earlier. Legends that capture popular imagination, never seem to die, no matter how incredible they might be. This gives me reason to believe that no amount of compelling research done by competent and dedicated Adventist scholars, will ever succeed to suppress what has become an Adventist popular interpretation.
14) Recent Adventist studies on the book of Revelation have concluded that the traditional numeric interpretation of the number 666 of the Beast, lacks both exegetically and historical support. Thus, they have proposed a symbolic interpretation of the number 666 on the basis of exegetical and historical considerations.
15) The Seventh-day Adventist Church at large was informed about the new symbolic interpretation of the Number 666 of the Beast by the Sabbath School Lesson of June 1-7, 2002. The lesson dealt specifically with The Mark and Number of the Beast (Rev 13:16-18; 14:1). The principal author of the Sabbath School Quarterly is Angel Rodriguez, Ph. D. He has been serving for several years as the Director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.
16) Regarding the Number of the Beast, Dr. Rodriguez writes: “The Number of the Beast. The mark, the name, and the number of the beast are closely related (Rev. 13:17). Many suggestions have been made to explain the meaning of 666. Here we must be very careful. The Bible does not say that the number is the added numerical value of the letters of a name. . . . Some see in the meaning of 666 a symbol of humanity separated from God. Humans were created on the sixth day, and the number can stand as a symbol for humanity without divine rest (the seventh day).”
Dr. Rodriguez concludes, saying: “At the present time, the symbolism of intensified rebellion, six used three times, and total independence from God seem to be the best option. Time will reveal the full meaning of the symbol” (Thursday, June 6, 2002).
17). Dr. Rodriguez continues giving three reasons for rejecting the traditional Vicarius Filii Dei interpretation. He writes: “First, it is not clear that this title is an official one.” My research has shown that Vicarius Filii Dei has been used as one of the papal title, but it is not the official title. The reason is that the pope has many titles, not ONE official title. The most common title is Vicarius Christi, which is similar to Vicarius Filii Dei.
18) The second reason Dr. Rodriguez gives is that the phrase “it is a human number” (v. 18), suggests that the number represents “humans separated from God.” This is an important point, ignored by most people, because the KJV inaccurately reads “it is the number of a man” (Rev 13:18). The key phrase in Greek reads “arithmos anthropou” (Rev 13:18), means “human number.” The phrase suggests that it is not the number of a name, but the number representing a human condition of rebellion against God. The triple six suggests a determined effort of the beast to promote the worship of himself, rather than of God.
19) The third reason given by Dr. Rodriguez for rejecting the Vicarius Filii Dei interpretation is that the text does not specify in which language is the numerical value of letters to be counted. He writes: “Third, those who insist in counting the numerical value of letters confront the problem of deciding which language will be used. Because the text does not identify any language, the selection of a particular one will be somewhat arbitrary.” (Friday, June 7, 2002).
This is a decisive observation. It is absurd to assume that the original recipients of Revelation could identify the number 666 with the pope’s title Vicarius Filii Dei. Why? For two reasons. First, this title was unknown in John’s day as it was coined eight centuries later in the forged Donation of Constantine. Second, the Latin language also was largely unknown to John and his Greek-speaking readers. His call for wisdom to understand the number 666 would have been senseless, if the information needed to understand the number was still eight centuries in the future, and if the language of the title was foreign to the recipients of the Revelation.
20) My personal reasons for accepting the symbolic interpretation of the number 666 presented by Dr. Rodriguez in the Sabbath School Lesson, are based on four major considerations:
1. John’s use of numbers in Revelation. This is the key to understand the meaning of numbers in Revelation. Very little attention has been paid in Adventist studies to the symbolic use of numbers, especially in the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation.
2. The importance of the number 666 in the pagan worship of Babylon and ancient Rome.
3. The symbolic meanings of 666 in the Bible.
4. The relationship between the mark of the beast and the number of the beast.