The Confessional Antichrist of the 1689 Baptist Confession – part 2

Historical Background

The 1689 is a robust confessional document standing firm in the doctrines of the reformed tradition which grew out of the soil of puritan England and it owes much to its confessional predecessors. The genealogy of the 1689 Baptist Confession includes the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) as its Grandmother and the Congregational Savoy Declaration (1658) as its Mother.[1] Because of these familial ties, all three confessions share much of the same wording.

Therefore it comes as little surprise, and is almost certainly known by anyone who has ever begun to look into the doctrine of the Papal Antichrist, that this doctrine is present in all three confessions of faith. This makes the task impossible for those who simply want to brush it off as a reformed Baptist error. What’s worse for that case, is that this doctrine has been constantly supported by such giants throughout Protestant history such as John Calvin[2]; Francis Turretin[3]; John Owen[4]; Thomas Manton[5]; John Bunyan[6]; John Gill[7] and C.H. Spurgeon[8] just to name a few. Calvin says in his commentary on 2 Thess. 2 “…observe what the Pope claims for himself — though he were but a boy of ten years of age — will have no great difficulty in recognizing Antichrist.”[9] Hanserd Knollys, a signatory of the Baptist Confession agreed and singled out the Pope in his work Mystical Babylon Unveiled written in 1679.[10] In fact on the official website of the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches in America) it states: “…Most of our readers are aware that the Protestant Reformers all regarded the Pope as Antichrist.”[11]

But how could such a notable line of otherwise renowned interpreters of Scripture all get it wrong when it comes to the identity of the Antichrist, the Man of Sin? Since the Westminster Confession of Faith precedes the 1689 perhaps the problem started there? For an excellent overview of the historical context of that generation look no further than J.V. Fesko’s chapter on eschatology in his excellent work The Theology of the Westminster Standards. There he writes: “…given the tumult of their period, many of the divines believed they were living in that terminal generation before the return of Christ.”[12]  He then goes on to catalogue various examples that testify to his thesis.

But what some readers may be surprised to discover is that belief in the Papal Antichrist predates that generation of Westminster divines—even the Protestant Reformation itself. The doctrine was promoted by Martin Luther;[13] John Wycliffe[14] and John Huss. And these faithful ministers of God’s Word were only continuing a warning that had already been clearly sounded centuries before by other minsters of the Word. Indeed, the charge that the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist was originally issued by leaders within the Roman Catholic Church itself! But as resound as these voices were, we would still be in error to conclude that the expectation of the Antichrist rising from within the Roman Catholic Church began with them. Here we must go all the way back to the first century…before the Roman Catholic Institution even began.


[1] Sam Waldron, ST14-Symbolics lecture 4 notes, Part 2, Section 2: The Historical Origin of the 1689 Baptist Confession (Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, 2019).

[2] See John Calvin’s commentary on 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2 and his classic work entitled Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[3] See Francis Turretin, 7th Disputation: Whether it can be proven that the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist. And his classic work entitled Institutes of Elenctic Theology.

[4] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 14 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2009), 547.

[5] See Thomas Manton, Eighteen Sermons on the Second Chapter of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, Containing the Description, Rise, Growth and Fall of the Antichrist, 1679

[6] See John Bunyan, Of Antichrist and His Ruin. 1692;

[7] See John Gill’s commentary on 2 Thess. 2.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Geese in their Hoods: Selected Writings on Roman Catholicism by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed. Timothy F. Kauffman (Huntsville: White Horse Publications,1997).

[9] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 1550; reprint, (Grand Rapids: Baker House Co., 1981).

[10] Hanserd Knollys, Mystical Babylon Unveiled. 1679; reprint, (Supralapsarian Press, 2015).

[11] http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/cr-news/item/867-is-the-pope-antichrist

[12] J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights, (Crossway: Wheaton, 2014), 363.

[13] See among other places the Smalcald Articles (1537)

[14] See his work The Mirror of the Antichrist and The Power of the Papacy (1379)

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