Last Wednesday I attended the first session of Paul Anderson’s series at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. It was quite an enjoyable session and I came away with some interesting insights.

Anderson opened with a brief bio and then posed the questions of who and what the Antichrist and the Beast were. The audience was invited to participate and they gave a variety of answers ranging from the Roman Papacy to technology. Anderson then went through the many historical speculations on the Antichrist, the Beast, 666, and the End Times. I must admit that some of these speculations were pretty clever (for example, Ronald W. Reagan, a politician with three names and six letters to each name).

After the speculation, we went into looking at some of the key biblical texts: Revelation 13, 1 John 2, 1 John 4, and 2 John. Anderson noted a few things about these texts in relation to the Antichrist, the Beast, and 666. First, the term “Antichrist” is not found in Revelation; it is found only in 1 John 2 and 4 the Johannine epistles (particularly 1 and 2 John). Second, the term is applied to groups, one in particular having gone out from the Christian community. (At this point, Anderson used an analogy of people going out of the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to the Presbyterian church in town, and this analogy was met by a man in the back who hurrah’ed and clapped his hands. His actions certainly made for a good laugh.) It is likely that this group was a Jewish group that sought to return to the synagogues; the author of 1 John is warning them that if they seek to return to the synagogues to maintain monotheism (as opposed to the ditheism that Christians were being accused of) then by denying the Son they will also lose the Father, the very one they are trying to retain. Anderson sees that there is another group of those who are antichrist. This second group is a group that denies the true humanity of Christ (1 John 4) and is bringing this teaching into the churches (2 John).

Lastly, Anderson’s stance was that the imagery in Revelation was something that made sense to both its author and its recipients. The Beast and 666 is often believed to refer to Nero. What is interesting (and a mystery to me at the moment) is why some manuscripts have 616 instead.

I noted the emphasis Anderson had on taking the Bible literally. His contention (and I agree with it) was that the Bible could only be taken literally if one understood the historical and cultural contexts as well as literary considerations. The many groups who have prided themselves on a literal hermeneutic and that have speculated on the Antichrist, the Beast, and 666 often have not kept these considerations in mind; their conjectures have amounted to what are essentially non-literal interpretations. Furthermore, while I admire the canonical approach that seeks to deal solely with the text, this approach often neglects or minimizes these considerations, and I think that can be a hinderance to careful Bible interpretation. Keeping to a hermenutic that considers the various background contexts does not keep the text there; Anderson holds that the biblical texts are applicable to every generation.

Tomorrow is the second session and I am looking forward to learning more.