Is “Rome” the Antichrist?

Joe Heschmeyer, on his blog Shameless Popery, had a very interesting post about the Roman Church.  Below is the second section that dealt with whether Rome is the Anti-Christ, a popular claim among many non-Catholics.  I hope he doesn’t mind me “re-posting” his work.

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II. Is “Rome” the Antichrist?

We’ve just seen Saint Jerome claim that those who break from the pope are siding with division and the Antichrist rather than unity and Christ. But what to make of the Reformation, in which Martin Luther taught that the pope was the Antichrist? Should that view be taken seriously?

While it’s no longer a common belief within Protestantism, this view was once widespread. It’s still held by some Protestants: for example, Michele Bachmann found herself in the midst of a mini-scandal when it was revealed that her denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, still claims this, and you can also find it within some Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles.

Near the heart of this claim is a bit of very important exegesis. As GotQuestions points out, the theory that the pope is the Antichrist turns largely on Revelation 17:9:

The speculation about the Pope possibly being the Antichrist revolves primarily around Revelation 17:9. Describing the evil end-times system symbolized by a woman riding a beast, Revelation 17:9 declares, “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.” In ancient times, the city of Rome was known as “the city on seven hills” because there are seven prominent hills that surround the city. So, the thinking goes, we can know that it is somehow connected with Rome. So, if the evil end-times system is somehow associated with Rome – it does not take much thought to see a potential connection with the Roman Catholic Church, which is centered in Rome. Numerous passages in the Bible describe an “Antichrist” who will lead the anti-Christ movement in the end times (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:5-8). So, if the end-times evil world system is centered in Rome and led by an individual – the Pope is a likely candidate.

While GotQuestions finds it “hard to believe that Pope Francis I is the Antichrist,” evangelicals like Dave Hunt (author of the aptly-named A Woman Rides the Beastwant to believe. Hunt goes from (a) saying that Revelation 17:9 proves that “Babylon” is Rome, to (b) concluding that Vatican City is Mystery Babylon (and the pope is the Antichrist):

Furthermore, she is a city built on seven hills. That specification eliminates ancient Babylon. Only one city has for more than 2000 years been known as the city on seven hills. That city is Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is within the city of Rome, called the city of seven hills, that the entire area of Vatican State proper is now confined.”1

There are, of course, other cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, that were also built on seven hills. Therefore, John provides at least seven more characteristics to limit the identification to Rome alone. We will examine each one in detail in subsequent chapters. However, as a preview of where we are going, we will list them now and discuss each one briefly. As we shall see, there is only one city on the earth which, in both historical and contemporary perspectives, passes every test John gives, including its identification as Mystery Babylon. That city is Rome, and more specifically, Vatican City.

Hunt is making a huge jump here: going from the Book of Revelation’s apparent condemnation of Imperial Rome, to saying that this “more specifically” means Vatican City… even though Vatican City (1) didn’t exist at the time Revelation was written, (2) isn’t the same city… or country, and (3) isn’t built on seven hills.

Hunt tries to bridge this gap by quoting a Catholic Encyclopedia entry for “Rome” saying that Vatican City exists within the ancient city of seven hills. It’s an incredibly convenient quotation, so much so that I looked it up, and found that it was entirely made up. Go read the encyclopedia entry for yourself: it’s available online. Here’s where he says it’s supposed to be.

Besides the fact that Hunt’s evidence is forged, there’s a deeper problem: it’s obviously false. You don’t need to take my word, or Hunt’s, or the Catholic Encyclopedia. You can just look at a map:

Seven_Hills_of_Rome

This map shows the seven hills of ancient Rome: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal. The city’s ancient limits, the Roman Walls, are shown in red. Outside of the ancient city, across the Tiber, is Vatican Hill. It’s not one of the seven hills.

For Hunt to make his “Rome = Antichrist” exegesis work, he has to add an eighth hill, and then say that this is the hill that Rev. 17:9 really means. In light of this, his statement that Revelation 17:9’s city of seven hills refers to “Rome, and more specifically, Vatican City” would be like me saying that “the Fab Four” refers to the Beatles, and “more specifically,” Mick Jagger. This is why he needs to rely on made-up evidence, because the actual evidence discredits his exegesis.

At the heart of this, and many of the “papal Antichrist” claims, there’s a categorical error. “Rome” is used to describe at least six distinct entities: the local Diocese of Rome (the cathedral of which is St. John Lateran’s, outside of the Vatican), the Latin Church (the Western half of the Catholic Church, as distinct from Eastern Catholicism), the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City / the Holy See (technically a separate country from Italy), the City of Rome, and the ancient Roman Empire. The pope is the head of the first four of these, and for about a thousand years, also was in charge of the fifth.

Aurea Luce, the hymn I quoted earlier, reminds us that the Christians of Rome were largely killed by Roman authorities. Shortening that to say that “Rome” was persecuted by “Rome” renders the statement incoherent. But that’s just what Hunt has done: throwing all six of these entities together under the label “Rome,” so that Revelation 17:9’s condemnation of the Roman Empire gets treated as a condemnation of the Church of Rome, the very Church that Scripture praises (see Part I). That’s sloppy, conspiratorial exegesis.