Thomas Schirrmacher with Thomas K. Johnson
While I am representing the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican synod and shake hands with the Pope daily, the Vatican Files state as “Evangelical Theological Perspectives” that the Pope is the “Antichrist” and references 1 John 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7 and the Beast of Revelation 13:17-18. It quotes historic persons such as Martin Luther, historic confessions such as the Westminster Confession, and especially explains the views of Francis Turretin (1623-1687), who is often seen as the master of classical Protestant theology.
I am very grateful for the references to Reformation and early Reformed sources. There is much that we modern Evangelicals can learn from these sources that will strengthen the work of the gospel today. I have written about Reformation theology and have translated Reformation texts into modern language, as have some of my closest colleagues. But for Evangelicals, sola scriptura counts. The Bible stands as an authority even over our own traditions. So I wished that the blog would have given convincing exegetical arguments why the texts in 1 and 2 John and Revelation 13:17-18 relate to the Pope. The antichrist is the one who “denies that Jesus is the Christ” and denies “that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.” Is this an honest description of the current Pope or the papacy in general? I think not. Pope Benedict wrote three volumes on Jesus, the Christ, God incarnate. The central descriptions of the antichrist in all the texts by John are the opposite of what the Pope stands for. Indeed, it is 1 John 4:2,3 that makes me think we have to talk with the Pope and most Roman Catholic leaders in a very friendly manner, expecting that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives, even if we disagree with very important and well-known themes in their teaching.
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
The Vatican Files mention but then put aside the fact that there are numerous opinions in the Evangelical world how to understand the New Testament texts about the Antichrist, and the view that the Antichrist is or was the Pope is a minority position even among Evangelicals. But if Evangelicals are far from agreeing on the meaning of the texts about the Antichrist, how can such a hard judgement about the Pope be built on them and stand as the standard Evangelical perspective?
As far as I can see, none of the present day Evangelical exegetical commentaries on 1 John and Revelation find the Pope or the Catholic Church in those texts. This should be, I believe, the end of debate. If we cannot prove an opinion by exegesis of Holy Scripture, history gives us no authority to make this harsh judgement. Even Luther did not exegete the texts in John to prove that the Pope is the antichrist; he just used the term against the Pope. Let’s follow Luther and the Reformation in using the principle of sola scriptura, even if that means disagreeing with some opinions of those Reformers.
My blog of 12 October 2015 “Is The Pope the Antichrist? Not according to sola scriptura!” has been placed under the original article I reacted to, on the website of the World Reformed Fellowship. Because of the strong personal reaction of the other author, I added the following paragraphs:
Appendix added on October 15, 2015, at the request of Thomas Schirrmacher:
- Of course I have read Turretin, yet, he supposes a whole eschatological system, which goes far beyond what the short verses on the antichrist state. I do not find his arguments convincing as good exegesis of the Greek text of those verses. He also argues, “that the Antichrist will not openly deny Christ as a professed enemy but as a professed friend of Christ who praises Him with their words, yet fights Him with his actions.” But where does any NT verse say something like this? And if the Antichrist openly confesses Christ, how can you know, who else professing Christ beyond the Pope could be the Antichrist. John does not say, that the Antichrist secretly in his heart denies Christ, but with his mouth preaches him, he says: “This is the Antichrist, that denies …”.
- Turretin argues, that Islam cannot be meant. But he wrote in a time, when information about Islam still were not very in-depth. I am very careful in giving a final opinion on eschatological things happening before Christ’s return. But if I would look for an anti-Christian institution denying Christ in the way, John defines it, Islam would be my first choice. Of course they do not deny it only in their heart, as Turretin thought, but very openly. Yet, if I have to choose between the Papacy and Islam, only the latter would fit the description.
- One could say, that by saying, that Papacy is the antichrist, one does not say that Pope Francis is the Antichrist. But Luther, Wesley and Spurgeon and others also included the living Pope’s and attacked them as antichrist. Turettin meant successive Popes, but that clearly included the one living at his time. And the blog discussed, says “that the Pope is the Antichrist.” Yes, this means every Pope, but of course it also means the present Pope. So of course one may ask, whether the present Pope really is, what comes to your mind, when you read Scripture.
- To say that Papacy is the antichrist is part of a whole complicated eschatological system, and you have to take the whole system or leave it, you cannot single out the one idea that papacy is the antichrist. What Turretin wrote in the 17th century seems to argue with a different world from ours today, many developments took a different road than he thought.