How I responded when someone asked if the vaccine is the mark of the beast: A pastoral letter

Last week, someone I know from Grace Seal Beach sent me a text asking if I’ve heard of people claiming the vaccine for COVID-19 is the biblical mark of the Beast. He forwarded me some sermons from a speaker at a Calvary Chapel church in HI and asked if I would be willing to respond, since this speaker’s claims were causing his mother to not want to get the vaccine.

Anticipating that he’s not the only one who might be exposed to this incorrect interpretation of Revelation, I’ve included my response here, with names changed.

Hi Darius, 

Thanks for your patience. I listened to Mr Farag’s 1/10 “Bible Prophecy Update” in its entirety, as well as sections of other weeks before writing this response. But I haven’t listened to all of them so I suppose that it’s possible that some of the things I bring up here are better addressed by other messages of his. 

First off, let me say that it is out of my affection for you and Charissa, and through you for your mother, that I write this response. I appreciate your desire to honor her well and point her to trustworthy resources. If this speaker’s (I’m sorry, I can’t call him a pastor based on what he said here) comments were true about the vaccine being a damnable offense before God, I would be truly taken aback from taking the vaccine, too. 

I do my best to find common ground with speakers I disagree with because people usually have good reasons for what they say and believe even if they are wrong. And there probably are good reasons for Mr. Farag’s emotional response to the vaccine, though I do not think that he is reading the Bible accurately. He indicated toward the end of the 1/10 message that someone in his family suffered a vaccine injury; maybe that is the source of his animus toward them, I don’t know. 

Also, the segment of churches he’s associated with (Calvary Chapel, a denomination that I was a part of when I was a missionary in Rome and who my college roommate was a pastor’s kid of, so I do know it fairly well), makes end times prophecy a foundational part of their ministry. That is, since Calvary Chapel started in the late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s, one of the defining qualities of Calvary Chapel churches is an interest in identifying and naming end time events. Of course, over the last fifty years or so all of those “predictions” have been proven incorrect – Gorbachev was not the antichrist despite the mark on his head; apache helicopters were not the flying beasts from Revelation; and on and on. But when you have a weekly “Bible Prophecy Update” message to give each week, you always need to come up with something to say. This can lead to finding things in the news that sound like prophecy but are not.

In spite of those common points, I think there are very good reasons for rejecting Mr Farag’s conclusions. 

  1. His understanding of the mark of the Beast is wildly speculative while also ignoring huge segments of Revelation. 

He attempts to use etymology (that is, where words come from) to prove connections between words in Revelation and their application today. This is a blustering way to impress people in sermons, but it’s a terrible way to interpret the Bible. In fact, we’re actively warned against it in seminary. Just because a word sounds like something in English today, or the root of a Greek word became used for a different English word 2000 years later, that has no impact on what the original writer intended to convey to the original reader. 

One of the principles that should guide someone’s reading of the Bible is: “Would this have made sense to the author of the book?” That is, if you could ask the Apostle John (who wrote Revelation), “Is the mark of the beast meant to be a vaccine about changing DNA?”, his response would have been “What are you talking about? I don’t know about DNA or vaccines!” How could John have written about vaccines when he didn’t know about them? The response to this is usually some form of, “God is the inspiration of Scripture – he probably meant for there to be a double meaning that John didn’t understand.” This is possible, I suppose, but I do not know of any evidence that something in the New Testament was fulfilled in a way that would have been nonsense to the original writer. 

That said, even if you leave those things aside, there are wild problems with Mr. Farag’s view: 

  1. The mark of the Beast is a statement of affiliation with the Beast. If the vaccine is the mark of the Beast, who is the beast? Similarly, who is the antichrist (who is coordinating with the Beast in Revelation) in this scenario? Is it President Trump (the country’s leader during the development of the vaccine)? Is it President Biden (the country’s leader now)? There doesn’t seem like a logical connection between taking the vaccine and pledging fidelity to any one person. 
  1. The mark of the Beast is a connection with the number 666, which the Bible says is a name (that ties into how Greek letters represented names. In this case, 666 stands for the letters NERO – the name of the Roman emperor who persecuted Christians). What on earth would the vaccine have to do with NERO? 
  1. In Revelation, the choice to take the mark is an active choice to rebel against God and choose the Beast. How would choosing to take the vaccine be an act of rebellion against God? There is nothing in Scripture forbidding vaccines (they were unknown at the time – his attempts to connect them to sorcery are… foolish). So, why would taking the vaccine be an act of rebellion against God? 
  1. His understanding of what the vaccine does and how it works is just fundamentally wrong. 

I’m hesitant to get too far into these critiques because none of us (him, me, or you) are microbiologists. But my college science classes are enough in the back of my mind still to identify that his claims about what DNA is, how it works, etc were rubbish. 

Even if this vaccine altered your DNA (which is not exactly how it works, but whatever), how does that make you “un-human”? There are people I meet all the time with slightly different DNA than me (in fact, every person I meet has slightly different DNA than me) – are they all “less human”? Do people with Down’s Syndrome or other developmental disabilities tied to genetic mutations (that is, DNA changes from “the norm”) make them un-human? Gosh, I hope not. 

Okay, and even if modifying DNA is an egregious sin against God (which I don’t think it is, but that’s my understanding of what he’s saying), why would this vaccine be a mark of the beast rather than the annual flu shot, the polio vaccine, etc. My guess is that he’d say that all vaccines are problematic, but (and I’m being a bit snarky here) you can’t say that they’re all “marks” of the beast – there’s only one “mark” in Revelation. 

  1. His view of being “pro-life” is unbalanced. 

By unbalanced, I mean out of proportion. Yes, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine (which is not currently on the market) used a derivation of cells derived from an aborted fetus from fifty years ago. To my knowledge, though, they are the only one. (If you’d like a source on this, you can consult the interview Russell Moore and Dr. Francis Collins, who is an evangelical Christian and the director of the NIH, which was responsible for developing the vaccine) did together.) 

Even Johnson and Johnson, though, are only using a line of cells that have their roots in an abortion from decades ago. They are not committing more abortions to populate the vaccine.  If it really bothers your conscience, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do not use this tissue derivation. 

As an analogy, you might consider the question: Would you drive a Volkswagen? After all, Volkswagen as a company was established and funded by the Nazis. Some people might hear that and say, “Well, I can’t in good conscience ride in a VW anymore.” Most of us, though, would say, “Well, that was almost 100 years ago. Whether I buy a VW now doesn’t change any of that.” 

More importantly, though, is the principle behind it: How being pro-life is affirmed by using the vaccine? If I believe in the sanctity of human life (and I do), I believe that every life is significant to God (and I do), and that questions of “viability” or “capacity” are irrelevant to whether those lives matter (which I agree with), why wouldn’t I take a vaccine that protects not just me but the elderly and infirmed? It would seem to be that the most “pro-life” thing I can do is to participate in a vaccine that helps preserve the lives of others. 

  1. (Most importantly) His teaching of the vaccine distorts the gospel message itself. 

It is a serious charge to say that someone is distorting the gospel and not one I make lightly. But Mr Farag has laid out a concept of salvation and damnation that is fundamentally at odds with the New Testament. 

I hope that I have misunderstood him, but here’s what I heard him saying: If you take the vaccine, you have disrupted your DNA. You are now less than human. You have received the mark of the beast and you will be destroyed. Any previous proclamation of faith in Christ you have made is violated by this action (regardless of what your motivations were in taking the vaccine). The vaccine itself is the agent of damnation. 

That is not the gospel. The gospel is the message that we have sinned against a holy God in what we have intentionally done, intentionally left undone, and intentionally worshiped in God’s place. And our salvation is not rooted in what we do (such as abstain from the vaccine) but rather than by grace alone through faith alone. To add any action to that is one of the chief problems Paul, Peter and John warn against in the New Testament (read Galatians, for example, and submit “refrain from the vaccine” for “circumcision” and you’ll see what I mean). 

I know that this message has become quite long, but I do really want to warn you against what he’s saying. I appreciate you wanting to know God’s Word and please Him, but this is not the way to do it. I would encourage you (and your mom) to delete his website from your rotation and not go back to it again. 

If you desire to please God, though, it is better to pursue God’s will for you: your sanctification (1 Thess 4:3). Instead of worrying about the vaccine, let’s focus on those core responsibilities God calls all believers to: 

  • Loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. 
  • Loving our neighbor as ourselves. 
  • Sharing the message of the gospel. 
  • Loving our family as Christ loves the church. 
  • Abstaining from immorality. 

If you have any questions about this or would like to talk more, feel free to reach out. 

  • Bob

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