NASHVILLE — The apocalyptic "mark of the beast" prophecy in the Bible makes some wary of a Wisconsin company's recent decision to embed microchips into the hands of willing employees.
The end times account in the New Testament's Book of Revelation warns believers about being marked on the right hand and the forehead by the Antichrist.
But inserting rice-sized microchips under the skin of Three Square Market employees does not fulfill the prophecy, said Chris Vlachos, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College in Chicago.
"I think that this is more of a fulfillment of end times novels and movies than the Book of Revelation itself," Vlachos said.
Earlier this week Three Square Market, the Wisconsin firm that makes cafeteria kiosks to replace vending machines, brought in a tattoo artist to embed microchips into the 40 employees that volunteered.
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The chips, which are not equipped with GPS tracking abilities, replace access cards and the need to log on to corporate computers. The company sees them as a way to increase convenience, and would like to see payments go cashless.
Globalism as well as advancements in technologies, like bar codes and credit cards, periodically trigger "mark of the beast" concerns for those who take seriously the prophecy, which talks of a one government world and a cashless society.
Randall Balmer, the chair of the religion department at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said the Book of Revelation presents a real challenge for those like evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously and often try to interpret it literally.
"A lot of evangelicals certainly take the Book of Revelation seriously. They try to understand it," said Balmer, who is an Episcopal priest but grew up in an evangelical Christian family. "This is a source of real fascination for a lot of people, but it's also kind of a parlor game."
Vlachos said popular media often drives people's views.
"The majority of people are getting their notions on this issue from movies and novels rather than the Book of Revelation and apocalyptic genre material in the Old and New Testament," Vlachos said.
Reading the Book of Revelation is complex, said Vlachos, who teaches a class on it. The first chapter points out that some of it is meant to be taken symbolically.
But even if a believer interprets the entire text literally, Vlachos said the "mark of the beast" verses specifically mention two key details.
"Taking the mark goes hand in hand with the conscience decision of publicly pledging ones allegiance or loyalty to the beast and worshiping his image," Vlachos said.
The mark is not a random number either. It always names the Antichrist, either numerically or alphabetically.
"I often say to my students, 'No name, no worries,'" Vlachos said.
While he doesn't think technologies like microchipping are a sign of end times, Vlachos doesn't rule out that they could be one of the precursors, like birth pangs, preceding the end that Jesus talked about with his disciples. It's fine to put them on the back burner and focus on clear issues like an allegiance to Jesus.
"I call it like an apocalyptic inoculation," Vlachos said. "The more Christ-like, the less we'll be duped by Antichrist."
Balmer can see why people connect mircochipping and the prophecy.
"It may not be the 'mark of the beast,' but it certainly is a slippery slope," Balmer said. "I think we should be cautious about allowing that measure of control or surveillance into our lives."
Concerns about the "mark of the beast" in the workplace have made their way into the U.S. court system, too.
A West Virginia coal miner's belief in the "mark of the beast" won him more than half a million dollars in a workplace discrimination case. An appeals court recently affirmed the federal court's 2015 decision.
Beverly R. Butcher Jr., an evangelical Christian and minister, worked for decades in a mine owned by Consol Energy but was forced to retire when the company refused to accommodate his religious objection to its newly implemented biometric hand scanner, court documents say.
The scanner tracked employee attendance and hours worked by assigning a number to an image of a worker's hand. Citing the Book of Revelation, Butcher feared the could link him to the Antichrist.
Other "mark of the beast" cases have made there way into the court system, but they're not common, said Howard Friedman, who writes the Religion Clause blog about church and state legal issues. Religious workplace cases more often focus on employee clothing and work schedule accommodations.
Friedman, who also is an emeritus law professor at the University of Toledo, doesn't anticipate the Wisconsin company's microchipping effort will end up before a judge.
"As long as they continue to make this voluntary, there isn’t going to be much of a legal confrontation," Friedman said.
Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer