Recently I was asked how the Roman Catholic Church responds to the charge that the Roman papacy and church were predicted in Daniel 7, Revelation 13-18, and 2 Thessalonians 2.
A good source for answering this question would be a Roman Catholic Bible with footnotes. I have such a Bible: a 1992 edition of the “New American Bible.” The title page says it is approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; and it carries the two notices required to publish Catholic books: “Nihil Obstat” (nothing stands in the way) and “Imprimatur” (let it be printed).
In this Catholic Bible, the introduction to Daniel says that the book “takes its name, not from the author, who is actually unknown, but from its hero.” It further explains that, while Daniel lived in Babylon in the sixth century B.C., the book of Daniel “was composed during the bitter persecution carried on by Antiochus Epiphanes (167-164),” B.C. These statements already raise a red flag.
In Daniel 2 and 7, four world kingdoms are predicted. Daniel and secular history show that the four kingdoms were the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman. But the footnotes in this Catholic Bible claim that the four empires were the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Grecian, thus leaving out the Roman.
There are several problems with this view: for example, explaining the ten horns of the fourth beast in Daniel 7. This Catholic Bible says that the ten horns represent the kings of the Seleucid Empire (Syria). How can that be? The Syrian Empire had thirty rulers from 311 to 63 B.C. Ten horns fits nothing in that empire, whereas ten perfectly fits the breakup of the Roman Empire into ten parts after Rome fell in A.D. 476. Also, Syria was only one of four divisions of the Grecian Empire; so if the fourth beast is Greece, it should have four horns, not ten. In fact, it is the third beast that predicted this very truth: the leopard had four wings and four heads.
While this Catholic Bible, as we have seen, dismisses any reference to Rome in Daniel, it does recognize Rome as a subject of the book of Revelation. However, it limits the reference to the first century, with special emphasis on Nero. With that in mind, notice that Rev. 13:3 says that one of the heads of the beast survived a fatal wound. Verse 17:8 speaks of “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” The fulfillment of these predictions can easily be seen in the fall of the Roman Empire making way for the rise of the Roman papacy. Not so, of course, in this Catholic Bible.
Rather, this Catholic Bible says these expressions revolve around Nero. How? The footnotes of the two texts say, “13:3: This may be a reference to the popular legend that Nero would come back to life and rule again after his death.” “17:8: Allusion to the belief that the dead Nero would return to power.” “17:12-13: Ten kings… perhaps Parthian satraps who are to accompany the revived Nero (the beast) in his march on Rome to regain power.” What is going on here? This Catholic Bible is saying that these predictions are based on popular legend. In great contrast, the opening words of Revelation identify the book as “the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It seems that Irenaeus (A.D. 130 to 202) had a better grasp of these predictions, even before they were fulfilled. He gives no hint that these predictions in Daniel, Thessalonians, and Revelation were fulfilled in the first century. Rather, he saw the fulfillment as yet in his future. He believed that the Roman Empire then in power, as predicted by both Daniel and Revelation, would in his future be divided ten ways, and that out of that division would arise “the son of perdition.” History bears out that that is exactly what happened. In Insight #69, I present quotations of various ancient Christians who had the same view.
There certainly are other arguments that the Roman Church would use to deflect these powerful predictions away from themselves. But this sampling gives some idea of their response. It may not be “religiously correct,” in this relativistic age, to apply these predictions to a present-day church. Nonetheless, we must take seriously the warnings that Scripture gives us for our own salvation. That’s how I see it. How about you?