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CHAPTER 18

The Image Beast and 666

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Section Titles
The Image Beast and 666
Protestant Sects and 666
Conclusions We May Draw
What James White's Statement Reveals
Two Mistaken Ideas Corrected
That Parenthetical Number, 666
Large Chance of Copyists' Errors



Charge: When Mrs. White had a vision in 1847 she believed, and thus wrote, that the image beast of Revelation 13 had a number, and that the number was made up at that time. She thus reflected the current view of the Seventh-day Adventists, who held that the image beast was apostate Protestantism, and that the “666” represented the total number of sects that constituted Protestantism. When she reprinted this vision in 1851, in Experience and Views, she struck out the passage from her vision that discussed the image beast and his number. This was because she had then abandoned her earlier view —presumably because others had abandoned it.

The vision was first printed April 7, 1847,* and the laterdeleted passage reads as follows:

“I saw all that ‘would not receive the mark of the Beast, and of his Image, in their foreheads or in their hands,’ could not buy or sell. I saw that the number (666) of the Image Beast was made up; and that it was the beast that changed the Sabbath, and the Image Beast had followed on after, and kept the Pope's, and not God's Sabbath. And all we were required to do, was to give up God's Sabbath, and keep the Pope's and then we should have the mark of the Beast, and of his Image.”

In the charge before us we have the same line of reasoning that is found in the charges on the shut door and suppression: Mrs. White is alleged to have taught certain views because they were currently held, and then to have abandoned them when those about her changed their theology. We have discovered how untenable is this charge and its supporting arguments when applied to the doctrines of the shut-door and the seven-year theory. Let us examine the charge in its present application.

The first fact to keep in mind is that there was no such thing as a clearly defined Seventh-day Adventist theology in the years immediately following 1844. Because one of the Sabbathkeeping


* See Appendix D, p. 578, for the text of this vision.


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pioneers believed thus and so on a particular scripture or prophecy, does not warrant the conclusion that that was the view held by all. Even though these pioneers had increasing fellowship on the broad outlines of such doctrines as the Sabbath, the Second Advent, and the sanctuary, and often spoke highly of the published views of each other, they did not therefore endorse each others' views on every detail. Each man wrote as he saw fit.

As regards the two beasts of Revelation 13, very vague ideas were held at the outset by most of the pioneers. The second beast is described by James White and certain others as the “Image Beast,” because it enforces the worship of the image to the first beast. He and others also thought for a short time that the number 666 applied to the “Image Beast.”*

Protestant Sects and 666

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There is also certain evidence that some of the pioneers thought that the 666 was constituted of that many Protestant sects. Early in 1851 Otis Nichols published a prophetic chart for the pioneer Sabbathkeeping ministers to use. Under the pictorial representation of the “Image of Papacy” is found the view that the Protestant churches number 666.

In May, 1851, we find J. N. Andrews writing thus:

“An image to the beast then must be another church clothed with civil power and authority to put the saints of God to death. This can be nothing


* See A Word to the “Little Flock,” pp. 9, 10; also George Holt in Present Truth, March, 1850, p. 64.

The chart was 29 inches wide by 44 inches long. In the upper right hand corner is the title: A Pictorial Illustration of the Visions of Daniel & John and Their Chronology. Published by O. Nichols, Dorchester, Mass. Under the heading, “Image of Papacy,” the first paragraph reads: “The two lamb like horns, Republicanism & Protestantism, whose names number 666, become united in action, speak like a Dragon, and controll the civil legislature, and cause it to make the Church the Image of papacy which received a deadly wound and was healed.” (Emphasis his.)

However, a small part of this text matter consists of a correction that was firmly pasted down over the original text. This was done, apparently, soon after the charts were made, because the whole looks very ancient. The original text—which can now be seen on one copy of the chart, because the pasted on portion has largely flaked off—reads thus: “The two lamb like horns, the papist and protestant, whose names number 666, become united in action, speak like a Dragon, and controll the civil legislature, and cause it to make themselves the IMAGE of papacy which received a deadly wound and was healed.” (Emphasis his.) The difference in text does not appear to change the sense materially, or affect the point in which we are here interested, the relation of 666 to the total of Protestant churches.

This chart is undoubtedly the one referred to by James White in the Review and Herald, January, 1851, no. 4, p. 31. He says there: “The Chart.—It is now ready. We think the brethren will be much pleased with it, and that it will be a great help in defining our present position.”


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else but the corrupt and fallen Protestant church…. The Protestant church may, if taken as a whole, be considered as a unit; but how near its different sects number six hundred three score and six, may be a matter of interest to determine.”—Review and Herald, May 19, 1851, pp. 84, 85.

Even as late as 1860 we find Andrews writing thus on the subject of the two-horned beast:

“The image it appears is made up by legalizing the various classes that will acknowledge the blasphemous claims of the beast, by taking his mark. Every class that will therefore acknowledge the authority of the beast may be legalized and form a part of this image; but when this is accomplished, woe to all dissenters. It is thus that we understand the number of the beast as six hundred three-score and six. The mark will determine to which class each individual belongs.”—J. N. Andrews, The Three Messages of Revelation XIV, 6-12. Particularly the Third Angel's Message, and Two-horned Beast (1860 ed.), p. 103.

Conclusions We May Draw

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Now let us see what conclusions follow from the evidence revealed in these various quotations. First, we may conclude that in 1851—the crucial date in the charge—and before and after that date, there was held by various Sabbathkeeping spokesmen the idea that the number 666 applied to the second beast of Revelation 13, and that the 666 represented that number of churches. We cannot say to what extent the view was held before 1851. But this much we can say, that there is no evidence to support the idea that the view had suffered any eclipse or abandonment in 1851. The prophetic chart would strongly suggest the contrary.

But the charge against Mrs. White depends for its weight on the claim that she suppressed the passage under discussion because she had abandoned the view by 1851. And of course the implication is that she abandoned the view to avoid the embarrassment of holding to a view that others had abandoned.

Mrs. White need not have been embarrassed to publish that passage in Experience and Views in 1851, even if it taught what it is alleged to have taught. With that fact established, we need hardly go farther, for we have removed the primary basis for the charge. If the deletion cannot be explained on evil, deceptive grounds, then we are here confronted only with one more of a


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long list of deletions that we have found may be explained on perfectly honorable grounds.

But let us look a little further into the evidence to discover, if possible, whether there is reason to believe that Mrs. White ever held that the number 666 applied to 666 sects of Protestantism. In 1860 a correspondent who was troubled over the propriety of creating an organization for the legal holding of church property wrote the following question to James White:

“If this government is the two-horned beast, can we be recognized and protected by it without becoming one of the number of his name?”

It is clear that the questioner believed that the number 666 belonged to the “image” of “the beast,” and referred to church organizations.

In his reply Elder White pointed out logically that the “number” should be associated with the first beast of Revelation 13 rather than with the two-horned beast, and then continued:

“‘Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast,’ &c. Here is a call for wisdom. Let him that hath understanding come forward, We confess our lack of wisdom, and decline attempting an exposition to the matter. But let them that have wisdom come forward and ‘count the number of the beast.’

“Fifteen years since some declared the number 666 to be full—that there was that number of legally organized bodies. Since that time there have been almost numberless divisions, and new associations, and still the number is just 666!”—Review and Herald, April 26, 1860, p. 182.

What James White's Statement Reveals

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This statement by James White supports the conclusion we have already reached, that there were those, beginning with 1845, who held the view that Mrs. White is alleged to have held up to the year 1851. But his statement also reveals that he did not share this view. And the very way he expresses himself indicates that he had thus far not ventured an explanation of the 666. He was not the kind of man to conceal the fact that he had formerly held a wrong view.* No, James White, up to 1860, evidently had not


* Note his recital, years afterward, of his once-held shut-door views, as quoted in chapter 13.


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reached any conclusion as to how to understand the 666. But he goes still further and gently ridicules the view that the number 666 applies to a list of “organized bodies.”

Is it reasonable to believe that he would have used ridicule in describing this view if his wife had believed it and written in support of it at any time? Evidently when he endorsed the prophetic chart in early 1851, which included a statement identifying the 666 with the Protestant churches, he must have been giving one of those general endorsements that did not indicate agreement with every detail. Good men often do that today when endorsing books—or other good men!

We may therefore reasonably conclude that whatever Mrs. White may have intended by her words in the deleted passage, she did not intend to teach that the “666” represented the total of Protestant churches. And with this further conclusion reached, we most surely are warranted in ending our examination of the charge, for the real basis on which it rests has disappeared.

Two Mistaken Ideas Corrected

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There is only one sentence in this mark-of-the-beast paragraph that seems not clear in terms of the interpretation now long held by Seventh-day Adventists; namely: “I saw that the number (666) of the Image Beast was made up.” Though we may not be sure just what Mrs. White meant by those words, we can, at least, free the sentence from two unwarranted conclusions drawn from the text itself.

1. The claim is that Mrs. White teaches in this particular sentence that the “number” was “made up” at the time she wrote, 1847, because she used the past tense, “was.”

But that does not necessarily follow. In fact the context disproves it. In the immediately preceding paragraph she describes what is patently a future event, but she uses the past tense, for which she had Bible precedent.* “The wicked thought that we had brought the judgments down on them. They rose up and took


* “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” Rev. 21:1.


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counsel to rid the earth of us, thinking that then the evil would be stayed.” Then comes the paragraph about the number of the beast, with its phrase, “was made up.” This is followed by a paragraph that opens thus, in description of a coming event: “In the time of trouble, we all fled from the cities and villages, but were pursued by the wicked, who entered the houses of the saints with the sword.” The paragraph continues on in the past tense. Yet it is very clear that she is speaking of a future and not a past event.

It is evident, that whatever Mrs. White may have meant in this key sentence in dispute, nothing can be made of the fact that, as it comes down to us, it reads in the past tense. Or perhaps we might say that, viewing this sentence in its context, the reasonable conclusion is that Mrs. White is really speaking of the future and not of the past. Which only further weakens whatever argument has been built on this sentence.

That Parenthetical Number, 666

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2. A point has also been made out of the “666” found in parentheses in the sentence. It is assumed that this number is part of the original manuscript written by Mrs. White. The following facts indicate, we believe, that this is an unwarranted assumption:

a. The use of parentheses, as in the case before us, is alien to the style of Mrs. White's writing. An examination of her handwritten manuscripts of the early years reveals that rarely if ever did she insert explanatory matter in parentheses.

b. As explained a little later in this chapter, Joseph Bates was the first publisher of this vision, which he brought out on a single sheet of paper, called a broadside. In this original printing the “(666)” is found. When next the vision was published, in A Word to the “Little Flock,” there is not only the parenthetical “(666)” but also parenthetical letters, for example, “(a),” “(b),” etc., which refer the reader to footnotes. Uriah Smith, writing in defense of the visions in 1866, declares that all of these parenthetical letters, and also the “(666),” were not inserted by Mrs. White, but by “the publisher,” and were “no part of the vision itself.”—


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Review and Herald, July 31, 1866, p. 65. Smith wrote this while all the parties concerned—Mrs. White, James White, and Joseph Bates—were living. Though it is true that Mrs. White rarely commented on explanations offered concerning her visions, it is hard to believe that if Smith had been in error in this statement, neither James White nor Joseph Bates would have corrected him. But when Smith republished the statement in a book in 1868, his words here quoted are unchanged. (See The Visions of Mrs. E. G. White, pp. 100, 101.)

c. If the parenthetical “(666)” was written by Mrs. White, then James White would have had much clearer light on this mystic number than he gives evidence of having. As late as 1860 he confessed to great ignorance on this matter, and stated that in contrast there were some who, “fifteen years” before, had “declared the number 666 to be full.” He evidently disagreed with their idea that the number 666 was “full,” as well as with the explanation offered as to the manner in which it was full. But if Mrs. White had written that parenthetical “(666)” in her vision, would he have commented quite as he did in 1860?

The foregoing would seem to make wholly implausible the assumption that Mrs. White wrote the “(666)” that appears in the printed form of the vision. The reasonable conclusion is that Joseph Bates inserted it to clarify the passage in terms of his own interpretation of her words. This is a practice often followed by good men when they deal with difficult or obscure texts in the Bible. There was no special reason why James White, when republishing the vision a month later, should remove the “(666).” He confessed he did not know; why not permit his loyal colaborer, Bates, to offer his parenthetical comment!

Large Chance of Copyists' Errors

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When we think of the way in which the early writing and printing of our Seventh-day Adventist pioneers was done we marvel at the degree of mechanical accuracy and the literary quality of their writings. In the particular instance before us, there was a writing, a rewriting, and possible further writing of the vision.


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Mrs. White first wrote out the vision. Then James White evidently copied it and sent the copy to Elder Bates by mail. We have neither of these copies. Bates much valued the visions, and it is quite possible that he did not send to the printer the copy James White sent him, but rather made another copy and sent that out to the typesetter. Then the printer provided Bates with the broadsides ordered. We have copies of that broadside, which is the first printing of the vision. James White presumably used one of these broadsides as copy for the printer when he prepared A Word to the “Little Flock,” which is the second printing of this vision.*

If copyists' or printers' errors crept into the text of this vision as it appeared in print, it would not be strange. That is the only conclusion to which a person acquainted with the printing business could come. Even with the most careful system for checking and double checking in modern, efficient publishing houses, the strangest kinds of errors constantly creep onto the printed page, sometimes to the great embarrassment of the printer, the writer, and those written about. Copyists' errors have even crept into Bible manuscripts.

James White states that he was responsible for one error that appeared in the vision as printed in Bates's broadside. He explains that this resulted from his “hastily copying the vision to send to brother Bates.” (See A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 22.) This error was very conspicuous because of the common knowledge of the Biblical account of the location of the sanctuary furniture. However, it does not necessarily follow that he went through the entire document checking it word by word with the original, and that because he caught one error he would be sure to catch all


* There are two reasons for thus concluding: 1. It would be much easier to give the printer a copy of a printed broadside than to go through the laborious process of copying out the vision by hand, to say nothing of the fact that such printed copy would be much more acceptable to the printer. 2. The whole content of the broadside was reprinted by White, with the “Remarks” by Bates as well as the vision by Mrs. White. This would raise the strong presumption that he sent the Broadside as copy to the printer.

However such errors have generally been minor and have not prevented us from learning the way of salvation clearly. As one authoritative writer has well said:

“No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant references to mistakes and divergences of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, might give rise to the doubt whether the substances, as well as the language, of the Bible is not open to question. It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain…. The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hestitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”—Sir Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p. 23.


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others. The fact that modern editors and proofreaders catch most errors does not warrant us in believing that they catch all the errors!

We believe that it is altogether reasonable to conclude that some copyist's or printer's error explains whatever obscurity the sentence holds. It may be contended that Mrs. White should have noted any such error. But the facts are that Mrs. White was, throughout those years, often gravely ill. If the Lord did not see fit to protect the text of Holy Writ from minor copyists' errors, who shall boldly say just what the great God of heaven should have done in behalf of Mrs. White and her writings?

The vision containing this disputed passage was next published four years later in the Review and Herald Extra, July 21, 1851. It was in this printing of the vision that the deletion was made—right at the time when the prophetic interpretation that it was alleged to endorse had probably its greatest vogue! Note again the expositions of the image beast as set forth by Otis Nichols on his chart and by Elder Andrews in the Review, both early in 1851. Whatever may have been Mrs. White's reason for deleting the passage in question it certainly was not to conceal a view generally abandoned.

We think that the unprejudiced reader will conclude that this mark-of-the-beast paragraph was dropped out, not with evil intent to conceal, but simply to save space or to avoid repetition or perhaps to avoid ambiguity until a more comprehensive statement might be made.

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