Who is the AntiChrist? Post Reformed orthodoxy’s Answer and Other Traditions

Eschatology in the realm of systematic theology often means something different from eschatology within a biblical exegetical frame of things. Maybe it isn’t that it means something different, per se, but its focus is broader and more hermeneutical; i.e. it doesn’t necessarily get into the nitty gritty exegetical minutiae of trying to figure out what millennial scheme we should hold (i.e.
leoxpremillennial, postmillennial, amillennial, etc.), or who the anti-Christ might be, so on and so forth. Richard Bauckham summarizes this different emphasis well when he writes:

Traditionally, eschatology comprised the ‘four last things’ that Christian faith expects to be the destiny of humans at the end of time: resurrection, last judgement, heaven, and hell. They formed the last section of a dogmatics or a systematic theology, a position they still usually occupy. But in the twentieth century, eschatology ceased to be merely one doctrinal topic among others to be treated after the others; it became something more like a dimension of the whole subject matter of theology. Karl Barth famously claimed in 1921, ‘If Christianity be not altogether thoroughgoing eschatology, there remains in it no relationship whatever with Christ’ (Barth 1968: 314; cf 1957: 634-5). While the content given to the term ‘eschatology’ has varied considerably over the subsequent period, in which Barth’s claim has become a favourite quotation in discussions of eschatology (e.g., Moltmann 1967:39; Pannenberg 1991-8: iii. 532), the indispensable role it attributes to eschatology has been widely endorsed. Moltmann writes, ‘From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology…. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day’ (Moltmann 1967:16).[1]

I largely subscribe to Barth’s view that Christianity is eschatology through and through. I subscribe to the cosmic nature of Christianity, of the reality that all of creation has its telos from, in, and for Christ. I affirm the reality that this world is God’s world, and this world is the theater wherein God breaks into it through the Son, Jesus Christ, and sets to right all things according to the order of His Kingdom come.

But because I am an evangelical I have grown up in a Christian sub-culture that has given (and continues to give, in some sectors) an inordinate amount of focus to working meticulously through the details of the books of the Bible such as Revelation, I&II Thessalonians, and other prophetic books with a gaze towards answering all of the various “bible prophecy” questions (you know what I mean). This exegetical approach, funded in many instances by an overly wooden-literalistic engagement with the text, has attempted to provide exegetical conclusion to a variety of interpretive questions in regard to such things as: the millennium, who the anti-Christ is, if there is such a thing as the rapture (within the dispensational approach), how current events relate to biblical prophecy and its fulfillment (within the dispensational approach), and many other like foci. To be honest, as much as I have moved away from much of that, it still interests me at some level; even if that interest, at points, is at the level of social-curiosity.

Given my curiosity, I found it very interesting to run across how Richard Muller defines what the Latin language for anti-Christ, antichristus, entailed in the Post Reformation Reformed orthodox period (i.e. 16th and 17th centuries). Muller writes at length:

antichristus (from the Greek, ντίχριστος): antichrist; scriptural use of the word is confined to the Joannine Epistles (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7) where a distinction is made between (1) the many antichrists now in the world, who work to deceive the godly and who do not confess Christ, and (2) the Antichrist who is to come who will deny Christ and, in so doing, deny both the Father and the Son. John also speaks (1 John 4:3) of the “spirit … of the antichrist” which “even now … is in the world.” Following the fathers, the medieval doctors, and the Reformers, the Protestant orthodox identify the final Antichrist of the Johannine passages with the “man of sin” or “son of perdition who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God” foretold by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:3-4. The orthodox can therefore distinguish between (1) the antichrist considered generally (generaliter), as indicated by the plural use of the word in 1 John and by the “spirit of antichrist” now in the world, and (2) the Antichrist considered specially (specialiter et kat’ exochen), as indicated by singular usage. The former term indicates all heretics and vicious opponents of the doctrine of Christ; the latter, the great adversary of Christ who will appear in the last days. Of the latter, the Antichristus properly so called, the orthodox note several characteristics. (1) He arises from within the church and sets himself against the church and its doctrine, since his sin is described as apostasia (q.v.), or falling away. (2) He will sit in temple Dei, in the temple of God, which is to say, in the church. (3) He will rule as the head of the church. (4) From his seat in templo Dei and his position as caput ecclesiae, he will exalt himself above the true God and identify himself as God. (5) He will cause a great defection from the truth so that many will join him in his apostasy. (6) He will exhibit great power and cause many “lying wonders,” founded upon the power of Satan, in a rule that will endure until the end of time. On the basis of these characteristics the orthodox generally identify the Antichrist as the papacy, the pontifex Romanus. Some attempted to argue a distinction between an Antichristus orientalis and an Antichristus occidentalis, an Eastern and a Western Antichrist, the former title belonging to Muhammad, the latter to the papacy; but the difficulty in viewing Islam, or any form of paganism, as an apostasy, strictly so-called, led the orthodox to identify Rome alone as Antichrist. They also reject the identification of Antichrist with the imperium Romanum, the Roman Empire, on the ground that the Antichrist is not a secular power or a result of pagan history. Finally, they also reject the identification of any single pope as Antichrist on the ground that Antichrist’s rule and power extend farther and endure longer than the rule and power of any one man. Thus, Antichrist is the institution of the papacy which has arisen within the church and which assumes religious supremacy over all Christians, seats itself in the temple of God, and builds its power on lies, wonders, and apostasy.[2]

Clearly, for the Post Reformed orthodox, the papacy as an institution represents the office of the eschatological Antichrist. I would imagine that this still holds true today, particularly for Orthodox Presbyterians, and maybe the Presbyterian Church of America; i.e. that the papal seat and Vatican city, and what they represent, serve as emblematic and as the embodiment of the personal Antichrist. It isn’t just the Post Reformed orthodox, and the Reformed in general who held, and may continue to hold this view; we once attended a Lutheran church (Wisconsin synod) that made a point to emphasize that they see the Roman See as the embodiment of Antichrist. More sensationalistic than this, evangelicals, of the dispensational sort (like Dave Hunt, Chick tracts, etc.), have also seen the papacy as a potential candidate for fulfilling the role of the Antichrist.

Attempting to answer this question, of the identity of the Antichrist, is not a bad thing in my view; it reflects a people who take the Bible and its various teachings seriously. I may have given the impression, earlier, that I find such things pedantic; I don’t. What I do find pedantic is when people become consumed by the sensationalistic aspects of all of this, and fail to miss the bigger picture of eschatology, theologically and hermeneutically, and what that is all about. It is about God’s Kingdom, come, and coming every day. We live in a world that needs to hear and know that good news. Within that framework, we can attempt to work through the exegetical questions and various biblical foci; but never losing sight that we ought to be living as those who are simply looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Richard Bauckham, “Eschatology,” in John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance eds., The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 306.

[2] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 39-40.

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10 Responses to Who is the AntiChrist? Post Reformed orthodoxy’s Answer and Other Traditions

  1. Pingback: Who is the AntiChrist? Post Reformed orthodoxy’s Answer and Other Traditions — The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

  2. Nathanael Johnston says:

    “I would imagine that this still holds true today, particularly for Orthodox Presbyterians, and maybe the Presbyterian Church of America.” You would imagine incorrectly. While there are some individuals who think the Pope is the Antichrist in OPC and PCA circles they are a small minority. The original Westminster Confession identifies the Pope as the Antichrist but that reference was removed along with the call for magistrates to establish true religion in the American version of the WCF. I know Wisconsin Synod Lutherans hold fast to the Antichrist identification of the Book of Concord but they are unusual in that. In all my years as a Presbyterian I have never met a Presbyterian who seriously identified the Pope as the Antichrist. I know they exist but I have yet to meet one (as far as I know).

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  3. Nathanael Johnston says:

    It is my understanding that histirically, becoming co-belligerents with Roman Catholics in the pro-life movement really put a damper on anti-Catholic sentiments within Evangelical and Reformed circles. I checked Charles Hodge and he still identifies the Pope, or rather the Papacy, as the Antichrist. What does Barth say on the subject?

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  4. Nathanael Johnston says:

    Also, I can’t help wondering to what extent the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran emphasis on the Pope as Antichrist is a reaction to recent Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical efforts like the Joint Statement on Justification.

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  5. Bobby Grow says:

    I don’t think Barth says much if anything on the antiChrist other than the analogia is antichrist in the first sense of the definition provided by Muller.

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  6. Bobby Grow says:

    No, I don’t think it’s a recent reaction at all. But I’m not an expert on the genesis of the Wisconsin synod; although I do know they are a reaction to the liberalizing trends within parts of Lutheranism. So it would make sense if they were trying to hearken back to an old orthodoxy in order to make that stance clear.

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  7. Nathanael Johnston says:

    So, I did some looking around and it appears that there was a scuffle in the early 20th century among American Lutherans about the status of the statement in the Book of Concord that the Pope is the Antichrist. The Missouri Synod went soft on the issue in the early ’50s so the Wisconsin Synod adopted a statement reaffirming the doctrine in late 1958.

    http://wels.net/about-wels/what-we-believe/doctrinal-statements/antichrist/

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  8. Bobby Grow says:

    Yeah, as I recall, when we were thinking about attending there (Lutheran Wisconsin — our daughter did attend their Christian school for 2 years of early elementary) I looked a bit into that. I do recall now how they came to their position relative to Missouri. Interestingly, within Luthernaism, both are the evangelical synods. Although I have heard of some Missouri’s being on the “liberal” side.

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  9. Bobby Grow says:

    I actually think I read what you have linked to in the past. I went to their site to see what they taught specifically on that because the local Lutheran church referenced it.

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  10. Pingback: How Do We Know God? The Analogy of Being Strained Through David Bentley Hart and Karl Barth | The Evangelical Calvinist

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