Afghanistan and Haiti rightly dominate the news cycle and global prayer concerns right now. But turning momentarily to a problem in the U.S. (and some other countries), I tweeted about a week ago what should be fairly noncontroversial:
“To Christians who promote every conspiracy theory (QAnon, mark of beast in vaccines, etc.): you are actually part of a grander, demonic conspiracy: so that after you have cried wolf too often, no one will believe you when REAL trouble comes.”
Not too many defended QAnon, but some vociferously defended the vaccine-antichrist connection.
One person responded to the tweet this way: “This Killer Shot, with a Spike Protein as described by its Inventor, is part of the Beasts Plan to prep the World for the Mark/Chip & the Great Delusion.” Another warned: “And when the vaccine ID “markers” are implemented…who of the vaxxed can say they are strong enough (spiritually speaking) to resist?” Another: “This vaccine is an absolute precursor to the Mark.” Apparently even some officials (a very small minority) have called the COVID vaccine the mark of the beast.
One sympathetic response to my tweet lamented “the people that tell my vaccinated kids that the vaccine is the mark.”
I usually try to stick with just posting Bible studies, but: enough is enough. (I planned to publish this response immediately but my posting was delayed until today by factors beyond my control.)
Caveat emptor: just a Bible professor
Usually when I write a fresh piece for the website (rather than it being a friend posting excerpts from my books) I am just expounding a Bible passage or treating a theme. That is my expertise, so when I ever step outside it, I myself usually take my thoughts with a grain of salt. (If your doctor advises you to avoid salt, then, you might want to skip the first half of this post.)
Sometimes, however, I need to address what people are claiming on the basis of their reading of the Bible, even if the current events to which they relate it are strictly outside both our areas of expertise—but the information on which to evaluate the claims are in the common domain. These are outside my sphere of expertise, but I am citing stats circulated by those who do have the most expertise (versus a random voice here or there). Even if all my public sources for statistics are wrong, unless you believe they are all extremely wrong, they paint a fairly consistent picture.
To affirm that they are extremely wrong, one must assert a conspiracy in which almost all public health officials have conspired to deceive the public, even though the strong majority of workers in health care in the US claim to be Christians. The conspirators would also have to be fairly stupid, since they would have conspired against themselves. More than 96 percent of US doctors are said to be fully vaccinated: https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/press-releases/ama-survey-shows-over-96-doctors-fully-vaccinated-against-covid-19.
This is not the first vaccine that people have protested in history. In 1885, mandatory smallpox vaccinations led to a riot in Montreal, where many French-speakers believed that the program was a conspiracy by the English-speaking government. Polio persists today only in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where some Islamic militants, including in the Taliban, have in the past viewed it as a Western conspiracy. (In the last decade, the militants killed more than 100 polio workers and supporters there for such a vaccination “conspiracy.”)
Before I get to antichrist antivax claims, I digress here to cite some other, more reasonable concerns. First, some people are medically advised not to take vaccines, especially those prone to allergic reactions. I am not talking about these cases. Since these people cannot get vaccinated, they are depending on the rest of us to produce herd immunity, so it would be ideal for the rest of us to get vaccinated, as an act of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31; Rom 13:9-10), so they don’t have to worry.
Second, this post is not promoting forcing people to get vaccinated the way sometimes kids have to be held down to get a shot or a blood test. Trying to persuade someone what is good for them (say, not smoking) or good for others (say, cover your mouth when you cough) is not the same as forcing someone. This post is more about: Why wouldn’t you want the vaccine? (Unless, and this motivation would be very altruistic and noble of you: you want to do without so many more vaccines will be shipped to countries in the Majority World with less health care resources. But your own vaccination will probably not affect that outcome.)
Third, some have ethical concerns about the use of fetal tissue. Neither of the dominant vaccines in the US, by Pfizer or Moderna, used fetal tissue in their development and production of the vaccines, though after being developed they were tested on fetal lines (as well as also eventually on live adults). I’m a Protestant, but I believe that the Vatican statement offers a reasonable response to the concerns, allowing the vaccines. Nevertheless, I don’t want to dishonor someone else’s ethical convictions in such cases.
Further, no one claims that COVID vaccines confer permanent immunity or that one cannot get COVID after being vaccinated. The research data instead say that the vaccine significantly increases immunity and significantly decreases serious illness and death for the duration of the vaccine’s effectiveness. (The same is true for the annual flu shot.)
Finally, I’m not denying that people can become sick from the vaccine. In January, the CDC published its initial information regarding adverse effects (0.2 percent), including allergic reactions, the worst being anaphylaxis (at least 0.0000111 percent), with no deaths. As of June 2021, with more than 339 million doses of vaccine administered to more than 187 million people in the US, three deaths were apparently linked to the vaccine (all to the Johnson and Johnson version), a total death rate of about 1 out of every 100 million doses. Even if one counted all the people known to have died within a few months after being vaccinated (whether they died from cancer or automobile accidents), the death rate would still be 0.0018 percent).
Safer than unvaxed fevers
This is not the only vaccine, of course, that has reactions. A small minority of people, including some close to me, have had allergic reactions to flu vaccines, or contract a mild case of the flu. Because my Dad died of flu complications, though, I’d rather risk the shot.
An older friend of mine went into potentially fatal anaphylactic shock from penicillin in the 1950s, and would have died apart from a direct divine intervention (she had a vision of Jesus and was restored). But overall, penicillin has saved an estimated 200 million lives.
In 1758, Jonathan Edwards, a leader in the First Great Awakening, got vaccinated against smallpox. It wasn’t as safe as it became a few decades later, and Edwards died. Nevertheless, the calculated risk he took at that point makes good sense: while some died from the vaccine, smallpox itself killed far more, an estimated one-third of those infected. By the end of the eighteenth century, smallpox vaccines became much safer. The vaccine continued to have side effects, but overall it was many times safer than the side effects of smallpox. In the twentieth century alone smallpox itself killed an estimated 300 million people globally—that would be the equivalent of 91.4 percent of the current US population. Through the vaccine, smallpox was eradicated globally by 1980.
The risk of side effects for the COVID vaccine is substantially lower than vaccination side effects when Edwards was inoculated in the mid-eighteenth century. By contrast, compare an estimated 1.7 deaths per 100 COVID cases in the US. That is, the risk of dying from COVID if one catches it is at least eight times higher than any side effects from the vaccine; risk of dying from the vaccine in the US currently is almost zero. (Some of these figures might need to be updated in light of more current material, such as one report from Aug. 13, 2021. But they should fit the general order of magnitude.)
Polio reached epidemic levels in the West in the early twentieth century. Only a small proportion of people infected became paralyzed, but this was a massive number of individuals. In the 1930s, the patients whose respiratory systems were damaged were encased in “iron lungs,” sometimes for years, with many dying from their condition. In 1952, more than 3000 people in the US died and more than 20,000 were partly or fully paralyzed. Mass immunizations in the 1950s greatly reduced the virus, and the US has not seen cases since 1979. (The initial cell line was obtained from discarded cancer tissue without informed consent of the patient, a practice that was consistent with practice at the time but not consistent with current medical ethics.) Polio is now largely eradicated globally except in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, as already noted.
To date, some 625,000 people have died from COVID in the US. That is close to the number of deaths in the US Civil War. It is greater than the US deaths in World Wars I and II combined; or more than six times the number of US deaths in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. It is about 200 times the fatalities from the World Trade Center bombing. The estimated US deaths from the infamous 1918-1920 flu pandemic has been estimated at 675,000, a figure that COVID deaths in the US are approaching.
Mark of the beast
Moving now from where my knowledge is secondhand to where my knowledge is personal, I have real problems with those who want to associate the vaccine with the antichrist and the mark of the beast.
But looking directly at the biblical text and its context, one can notice the contrast between the name/number of the beast (Revelation 13:17-18) and those who bear the name of the lamb (14:1). The beast demands worship for his image and wars against Jesus’s followers (13:7). The beast withholds access to necessities for those who won’t take the mark (13:16-17)—a mark that in every successive reference is connected with worshiping the beast (14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). It has to do with worshiping a false lord.
No one in the West is demanding that Jesus’s followers renounce Jesus or worship a false god before we may take the vaccine. (In some parts of the world, hostile authorities do withhold from Christians the vaccine. But they also withhold food aid and other help. While those authorities oppose Christ, hence are anti-Christ, this makes neither the vaccine nor food help anti-Christian.)
No one has announced plans to mark whoever has had this or any other vaccine. If someone does, that mark might be a diabolical scheme, but that would not make the vaccine itself diabolic. Moreover, even then, it would be tantamount to denying the faith only if it did deny the faith, by worshiping a false god or denying Christ.
Revelation does depict believers being persecuted for refusing to compromise their faith. Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs document cases of this around the world. Offering someone a vaccine to provide immunity from a potentially deadly virus, however, is not a form of persecution. One helpful reply to my tweet observed: “No one is denying Christ and worshipping the beast by getting the vaccine. The beast hasn’t even been revealed yet, much less his mark. The mark of the beast will be obvious. No one will be scratching their heads wondering. We didn’t get the vaccine but still buy groceries.”
For those putting stock in current prophecies, I recount a dream. On March 17, 2020, I dreamed that COVID-19 was a new evil unleashed in the world, a sort of alien invasion. In the dream, Satan had adjusted by mutation an existing, relatively harmless virus to make it dangerous. It was kind of like throwing an existing martial anthem slightly off key. What we needed was to find its exact frequency so we could deactivate it, and those working to fight the virus that way were heroes with God’s blessing. After that dream I began praying for the work of the scientists who would be on the front lines of deciphering the genetic code of the virus so they could fight it.
Granted, not all scientists who worked on finding vaccines were Christians. But the Bible shows wise followers of God affirming some wisdom from outside or recent to their immediate circle (e.g., Exod 18:14-24; 2 Sam 5:11; Mark 12:32-34). Also granted, I am just a scholar and not a prophet, and while I listen for God’s voice, I know there are people who hear more clearly and specifically on details than I do. I usually keep my dreams to myself, knowing that some dreams are just dreams.
But some people spread misinformation in the name of the Lord. Out of deference to those who publicly vaunted their revelations in 2020 about the coming election, I remained silent even though I felt and dreamed that the outcome (at least for 2020) would be different. In view of the damage the public prophecies caused, I ended up regretting my wait-and-see approach (Nov. 11, 2020; Jan. 20, 2021). Various prophecies, such as that Trump would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021, proved false.
It’s a bad idea to take somebody else’s word for what God is saying when you have heard for yourself, even if they claim that an angel told them (1 Kgs 13:16-25). Some are claiming the Holy Spirit told them that the vaccine is evil; thus one well-meaning response to my tweet:
“Be careful with labelling revelation from the Holy Spirit demonic. Be very careful. QAnon are to be avoided, but this is the mark of the beast. Ask the LORD to open your eyes before it’s too late sir He loves you. Read my thread in my pinned tweet on the mark. This is it”
In the ensuing thread, he made claims about a Greek term that exposed that he knows no more Greek firsthand than did Charles Taze Russell, whose fallacious claims to understand Greek undergirded original Jehovah’s Witness teaching. I cannot speak as a virologist, but I certainly have considerable experience with NT Greek.
If someone objects, “How did the Spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?” (1 Kgs 13:24 NASB), I can only respond, “You’ll find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room” (13:25 NIV). “If you return in peace,” Micaiah declared, “the LORD has not spoken by me.” In other words: we shall see. Much remains unknown, but the vaccine is a good, and the claim that it is the mark of the beast is blatantly false.
Moreover, given the much higher mortality of the unvaccinated and the higher proportion of opposition to the vaccine among some conservative Christians, it appears to me that antivaccination propaganda is killing a disproportionate number of conservative Christians. For shepherds called to care for the welfare of their flock, that has to be a matter of grave concern.
Jesus went around healing the sick. He cared about people’s health. Those who are harming public health are not following Jesus’s example. In a sense, they are the ones working for the spirit of antichrist. If any of you are following them, I urge you: follow the Spirit of the real Jesus. Abandon the false prophets and those who are circulating their ideas.