Beliefnet
Deeply seated in Christian thinking, and in Western culture generally, is the notion that the Bible warns us that someone called the Antichrist will bring evil and religious corruption to the world. Martin Luther and John Calvin called the papacy the throne of the Antichrist; Jerry Falwell has said the Antichrist is alive right now and is "a male Jew"; Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University, calls Pope John Paul II the Antichrist; a key plot element of the best-selling Left Behind novels is that a seemingly benevolent global leader is actually the Antichrist. George W. Bush hasn't yet called Osama bin Laden the Antichrist, but that seems only a matter of time.

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There's a small, nagging problem with the notion of the Antichrist as the ultimate threat to humanity--wherever this idea originated, it sure didn't come from Scripture. The Holy Bible barely mentions the Antichrist, while making no apocalyptic predictions about this personage.

Many notions of theology don't come directly from Scripture, of course, originating instead in commentary, social history, or elsewhere. But with the concept of the Antichrist, the disjunct is unusually sharp between what most people assume Scripture says and what's actually there.

Let's start with that capital A. The oldest extant manuscripts of the Bible--the "autographs"--contain no case distinction of any kind. No He or Him for the divine, no Holy Ghost, no Antichrist, no caps--lowercase, period. Theological capitalization is a phenomenon of the late Middle Ages, first encountered by most English-language readers in the King James Bible, published in 1611.

But even the florid King James translation doesn't capitalize Antichrist; it says "antichrist," in lowercase. The King James translators seemed to consider the antichrist a minor concept at best. That's certainly the way the original authors of Scripture treated the idea.

In all generally accepted translations, such as the King James, New Revised Standard, and Jerusalem Bibles, the term "antichrist" occurs four times, all four in the New Testament letters called First and Second John--moral sermons that were circulated among early followers of Christ. The unknown author of

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First and Second John dwells on the threat to the young church from those who claimed Christ was not divine. But none of the four verses in First and Second John make any prediction that there will be an antichrist who is one specific historical figure or who has diabolical power.

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