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:
Of the eight proofs, less than half have any credible fulfillment in Roman Catholicism. This casts considerable doubt on the Adventist interpretation. In the next section we will identify a power that meets all the markers of Revelation 13.
- "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 Adventists 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 your definition of "power". Since they have no miliary 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". 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.
- "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.