If there's anything that will make any poorly-informed Catholic's skin crawl, it's the anti-Catholic's accusation that the Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon". A lot of Catholics, unfortunately, do not take the time to study scripture In this blog entry I'll be giving 10 reasons why the Catholic Church is not the "Whore of Babylon" (the "whore" of Revelation 17), but some background information first.
What's the "Whore of Babylon"? Well, the "whore" is the figurative character in the book of Revelation, chapter 17. Before the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD, John (said to be "John the Apostle", the last of the 12) while held prisoner on the Isle of Patmos had visions of a great tribulation occurring in the near future (near future for him anyway). John's Revelation is written using imagery, symbolic writing, and a literary form and delivery that was intended for a 1st century Christian audience, namely people that came from the Jewish and the Gentile cultures.
What anti-Catholics focus entirely on when making their accusation against the Catholic Church, and I might add this is their only argument, as mentioned earlier, is the symbology and imagery used in Revelation 17. Let's take a look at what it says:
"And there came one of the seven angels, who had the seven vials, and spoke with me, saying: Come, I will shew thee the condemnation of the great harlot, who sitteth upon many waters, With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication; and they who inhabit the earth, have been made drunk with the wine of her whoredom. And he took me away in spirit into the desert. And I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was clothed round about with purple and scarlet, and gilt with gold, and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of the abomination and filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: A mystery; Babylon the great, the mother of the fornications, and the abominations of the earth.
And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And I wondered, when I had seen her, with great admiration. And the angel said to me: Why dost thou wonder? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast which carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which thou sawest, was, and is not, and shall come up out of the bottomless pit, and go into destruction: and the inhabitants on the earth (whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world) shall wonder, seeing the beast that was, and is not. And here is the understanding that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, upon which the woman sitteth, and they are seven kings: Five are fallen, one is, and the other is not yet come: and when he is come, he must remain a short time.
And the beast which was, and is not: the same also is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into destruction. And the ten horns which thou sawest, are ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but shall receive power as kings one hour after the beast. These have one design: and their strength and power they shall deliver to the beast. These shall fight with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, because he is Lord of lords, and King of kings, and they that are with him are called, and elect, and faithful. And he said to me: The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and nations, and tongues.
And the ten horns which thou sawest in the beast: these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire. For God hath given into their hearts to do that which pleaseth him: that they give their kingdom to the beast, till the words of God be fulfilled. And the woman which thou sawest, is the great city, which hath kingdom over the kings of the earth." - Revelation 17:1-18 (D-R)
Okay, we've had a look at the chapter, and now why the Catholic Church is not the "Whore of Babylon", and in no particular order (some of these points are at some length and some are succinct, but don't expect a thesis; I'm sure you've got the means to review the issue further):
1.) What is most important to consider when reading Revelations 17, is that you don't read Rev. 17 as if it were the only chapter or entry of the book of Revelation; it has to be read in context with the ENTIRETY of Revelation. A lot of anti-Catholics make this mistake and thus scripture can be twisted (2 Peter 3:16) to create an entirely different meaning. When reading all scripture, for that matter, it's important to ensure that you're trying to read it through the eyes of the person that wrote it (i.e. what was the political and social climate of the time? What was going on in history? To whom was the book/letter/vision written for, etc.).
What also needs to be considered when reading Revelation 17 (and all of Revelation for that matter), is why John chose to use symbols and imagery in his writings. The early Christians were being persecuted: the Jews still didn't like them, and the Roman Empire was in league with the pharisees to hunt, arrest and execute "troublesome" Christians. John's Revelation was a WARNING to all who followed Christ of things to come. He spoke in symbols and imagery that 1st century Jew and Gentile converts to Christianity would understand. It had to be difficult for those not in the know to understand so that any plans to escape the city of Jerusalem would be thwarted by the authorities. John's Revelation, because of its codes, symbols and imagery, enabled many Christians to flee Jerusalem before the great tribulation; before the Holy Temple was destroyed in 70AD.
2.) The great whore in Revelation 17:1-6 is a symbol of pagan Rome, not Christian Rome. There is a big difference. Christian Rome did not exist in John's day, and throughout this passage the whore is spoken of in present tense, which means she existed at the time John penned the Apocalypse. The Roman Empire is also known as "the beast" in Revelation 17 because of the spread and strength of the Roman Empire of the time. Any reference John made to Rome in Revelations referred to pagan/pre-Christian Rome.
3.) The "great city" of Revelation 17 is how 1st century Jews referred to the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 22:4-8 for example), not Rome. "The great city" is a pseudonym for Jerusalem and is used throughout the Old and New Testaments. For kicks, let's have a read of Jeremiah 22:4-8 anyway:
"For if you will do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house, kings of the race of David sitting upon his throne, and riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants, and their people. But if you will not hearken to these words: I swear by myself, saith the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.
For thus saith the Lord to the house of the king of Juda: Thou art to me Galaad the head of Libanus: yet surely I will make thee a wilderness, and cities not habitable. And I will prepare against thee the destroyer and his weapons: and they shall cut down thy chosen cedars, and shall cast them headlong into the fire. And many nations shall pass by this city: and they shall say every man to his neighbour: Why hath the Lord done so to this great city?"
Compare that to what is said in Revelation 18:10...
"Standing afar off for fear of her torments, saying: Alas! alas! that great city Babylon, that mighty city: for in one hour is thy judgment come."
The Latin word through which "mighty" and "great" is dervied, which is the word you'd find in the Latin Vulgate to describe this city in Revelation 17, is the word "magnus" ("magni" or "manga" when used as an adjective), which means the following: "large; great; powerful; big". Personally I'm quite fond of the word as I have named it in the title of my blog ("The Spirit Magnus"), so I'm pretty sure I know of its meaning and the context it's being used in Revelation 17 (and 18:10). Rome, in the context of the book of Revelation or all of scripture for that matter, is never referred to as "the great" or "the mighty" city; Jerusalem is.
4.) Pay close attention to the wording of verses nine and 10 of Revelation 17:
"And here is the understanding that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, upon which the woman sitteth, and they are seven kings: Five are fallen, one is, and the other is not yet come: and when he is come, he must remain a short time."
While the city of Rome is built around seven hills (Aventinus, Caelius, Capitolinus, Esquilinus, Palatinus, Quirinalis, and Viminalis; and note that these are hills, not mountains), is does not sit upon seven hills like Revelation 17:8-9 describe. Anti-Catholics also seem to forget that the Vatican - Catholicism's headquarters, if you will - sits only on one hill, Vatican Hill. Even if Vatican Hill was to be included as one of Rome's, Rome would then sit on eight hills and render the argument completely void. But since the anti-Catholic is willing to pin anything to the Catholic Church being where "the woman sitteth", if we applied their logic, then one could argue that these cities could also be the "Whore of Babylon" since they are also built on seven hills:
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Moscow, Russia
- Seattle, USA
- Tirupati, India
- Western Sydney, Australia
- Abergavenny, south Wales
- Ibadan, Nigeria
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Providence, Rhode Island
- Sheffield, England
What's interesting to note is that the city of Jerusalem is also a city that is built on seven hills, but I'll explain the significance of that later.
5.) The term "anti-Christ" and "666" ("mark of the beast") refers to Emperor Nero, as he was the first and most infamous persecutor of Christians. Again, referring to the wording of verses nine and 10 of Revelation 17:
"And here is the understanding that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, upon which the woman sitteth, and they are seven kings: Five are fallen, one is, and the other is not yet come: and when he is come, he must remain a short time."
The "seven mountains" referred to here are very explicitly identified as "seven kings", and note how they are listed:
- Five are "fallen"
- One "is"
- The Other is "not yet come"
This refers to the seven Emperors (or "kings") of Rome, as follows (first, the "fallen" or "dead" and their period of reign):
i. Julius Caesar (49-44 BC), the First "Emperor" or "King"
ii. Augustus Caesar (31 BC-14 AD)
iii. Tiberius Caesar (14-37 AD)
iv. Caligula Caesar (37-41 AD)
v. Claudius Caesar (41-54 AD)
The "One" that "is" of course refers to Nero (Nero was the first Roman Emperor to "make war with the saints"; Rev. 13:7), emperor between 54 and 68AD, which fits perfectly with John's prophetic vision of the tribulation: the destruction of the Holy Temple in around 70AD. John spoke with great immediacy, as indicated in the very first chapter and verse of the book of Revelation:
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to make known to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass: and signified, sending by his angel to his servant John,"
It doesn't make sense that John could have been speaking about the Catholic Church due to the longevity and growth of Catholicism to the present day. Why speak with such urgency about something that hasn't happened yet (2000 years and still waiting) or about something that has not (and by the grace of Jesus Christ will not) faced a tribulation? This is not to say that the end times and the Second Coming will not occur, but as it says concerning the Catholic Church:
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
The emperor or "king" that is "not yet come" would logically refer to the emperor that succeeded Nero, Galba Caesar, who of course reigned for a short period of time just as Revelation 17:9-10 prophecised. Emperor Galba's reign only last seven months ("and when he is come, he must remain a short time"; Galba was murdered in 69AD.
6.) References to the "harlot" refer to the city of Jerusalem as the Jewish state - before the destruction of the temple - made "unholy alliances" with Roman officials to hunt, persecute and murder Christians. Remember this is what Saul/Paul did before his conversion. Agents of Rome worked closely with Jewish pharicees and high priests to capture Christians because the Jewish state was threatened by the early Christians. Christ, through his death and resurrection, had given his people hope and were now not afraid to speak up to authority. The "harlot" (a term used to describe something, be it a person or city, that has committed detestable deeds) is another name for the city of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16:1-3, 26; Jeremiah 2:17-20; Isaiah 1:1, 21; just to name a few).
7.) Regressing somewhat to point number four, the city of Jerusalem is another city that sits on seven hills, much like the woman described in verse nine of Revelation 17. The seven hills of Jerusalem are as follows:
- Mount Gared
- Mount Goath
- Mount Acra
- Mount Bezetha
- Mount Moriah
- Mount Ophel
- Mount Zion
But ignore the references to hills or mountains for the time being; what this means is that a bride, Jerusalem, once pure, has committed atrocities by aligning itself with a corrupt power: the Roman Empire (pagan/pre-Christian Rome in the case of Revelation 17) and thus has become a "harlot". This is not the first time this has happened:
"You played the harlot with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, so many times that I was provoked to anger." - Ezekiel 16:26
"Has not the forsaking of the LORD, your God, done this to you ? And now, why go to Egypt, to drink the waters of the Nile? Why go to Assyria, to drink the waters of the Euphrates ? Your own wickedness chastises you, your own infidelities punish you. Know then, and see, how evil and bitter is your forsaking the LORD, your God, And showing no fear of me, says the Lord, the GOD of hosts. Long ago you broke your yoke, you tore off your bonds. ‘I will not serve,’ you said. On every high hill, under every green tree, you gave yourself to harlotry." - Jeremiah 2:17-20
"The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah… How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers." - Isaiah 1:1, 21
"The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: ‘Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the harlot ? And I thought, "After she has done all this she will return to me;" but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the harlot.'" - Jeremiah 3:6-8
Jerusalem, the City of God, once pure like the bride in Solomon's Song of Songs (Solomon spoke of the nation of Israel, but Jerusalem, it's great city, is explicitly mentioned several times), had become corrupt and like the harlot due to its unholy alliances. The Jewish state had whored itself out to the Roman Empire and had within it the spirit of Babylon; a spirit of apostasy and corruption from within: gleaming with righteousness on the exterior, but of a blackened soul and blood drunk. John knew this, and knew the pharisees within the Holy Temple were working with the Roman Empire to oust the Christians once and for all.
To put it into context, the Jews despised the Romans and had it not been for the financial and political benefits of Rome occupying the city of Jerusalem, the armies of Israel itself would not have tolerated the Roman Empire's presence. Think about it: Why would the pharisees say to Pontius Pilate when he wanted to release Jesus, "If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend. For whosoever maketh himself a king, speaketh against Caesar" (John 19:12). The pharisees were trying to blackmail Pilate and knew that he would not risk the outbreak of rioting and socio-political uprising (Matthew 26:24).
The relationship the Jewish state had with the Roman Empire at the time was co-mutual: the Jewish state was able to subdue its people and those opposing the institutional oppression with the help of the Romans, and the Roman Empire was able to expand its empire by laying claim on the city of Jerusalem and other parts of Israel; this gave them port to the east. Jerusalem had sold out! There's no denying that!
8.) "Babylon" is destroyed by fire (Revelation 18:8, 17). We know that Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned (this is what he is pop-culturally famous for, apparently), but was Rome destroyed by the fires? No, it wasn't! Rome was only partially burned. Jerusalem, on the other hand, was completely consumed by fire as the Holy Temple was destroyed in 70AD.
God had promised blessings to the Jews if they obeyed (Deuteronomy 28:8) and seven curses if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 28:15-20). God’s Covenant is effected by His Oath. The word "oath" is based on the word "seven." And so the number "seven" represents the Covenant. In Leviticus he threatens to punish the Jews with fire if they break the Covenant:
"…if you reject my precepts and spurn my decrees, refusing to obey all my commandments and breaking my covenant, then I…
... if, despite all this, you still persist in disobeying and defying me, I, also, will meet you with fiery defiance and will chastise you with sevenfold fiercer punishment for your sins…" - Leviticus 26:15-16, 27- 28
It also had been prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed by fire:
"Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations. Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem … Therefore, harlot, hear the word of the LORD! …
... I will inflict on you the sentence of adulteresses and murderesses; I will wreak fury and jealousy upon you.
… They shall burn your apartments with fire and inflict punishments on you while many women look on. Thus I will put an end to your harlotry, and you shall never again give payment." - Ezekiel 16:2-3, 35, 38, 41
The burning of Jerusalem by fire also had theological significance. The city of Jerusalem is often referred to as a daughter:
" … They hiss and wag their heads over daughter Jerusalem:
‘Is this the all-beautiful city, the joy of the whole earth?’
…The LORD has done as he decreed: he has fulfilled the threat...
... He set forth from days of old; he has destroyed and had no pity,
…Cry out to the Lord; moan, O daughter Zion!" - Lamentations 2:15-18
Unfaithfulness to God is frequently compared to sexual immorality. The penalty for fornication by the daughter of the priest called for a special punishment. It was to be burned to death.
"A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death." - Leviticus 21:9
So, when Jerusalem was offered the grace to accept Christ, but instead rejected Him, she is referred to as the "Whore of Babylon" who is subsequently burnt to death.
9.) The Catholic Church does not have sovereignty over nations like the "Whore of Babylon" does as Revelation 17:18 indicates:
"The woman whom you saw represents the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth."
Again this is a reference to pagan/pre-Christian Rome or apostate Jerusalem . Jerusalem, who had the role to bring God’s law to the rest of the nations, had a spiritual sovereignty over all the nations. In the case of the former, the dominion would be political; in the case of the latter, it could be a number of things: It could be spiritual dominion in that Jerusalem held the religion of the true God. It could be a reference to the manipulation by certain Jews and Jewish leaders of gentiles into persecuting Christians.
While the Catholic Church does its best to influence nations (i.e. governments) in matters of social justice, morality in legislation and so forth, it has no power over them! How often do we see lobbyists, pro-choice activists, social and political commentators telling the Pope and the Catholic Church to back off, to keep Church and State separate?
Anti-Catholics will lay claim that the Pope visiting world leaders and meeting with them, etc., is evidence enough to suggest that the Catholic Church has such sovereignty. Why isn't then the same argument then made about the Dalai Lama or any other single leader of government (the President of the USA, the Prime Minister of Australia, etc.)? The argument is self-defeating in its implicit double standard. It's clear that Revelation 17:18 is speaking of apostate Jerusalem or pagan/pre-Christian Rome.
10.) I'm going to stray from Revelation 17 for this one, mainly because I think a lot of anti-Catholics consciously miss this verse of scripture in Revelation and due to its poignancy.
One verse in particular stands out as the identity of the "Whore of Babylon"/"the great city":
"And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." - Revelations 11:8
Rome was never referred to (or "spiritually called") Sodom and Egypt; Jerusalem was, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that the Catholic Church was ever referred to as "Sodom and Egypt"; no basis can be given to such a claim.
Also consider the part to Revelation 11:8, "where also our Lord was crucified". Any historian can tell you that Christ was crucified at Golgotha (outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem), not the city of Rome. Rome was merely the home of the Roman Empire. To 1st century Jews, Jerusalem was the "City of God/YHWH"; the "great" city. Rome may be a "great city", but it is not THE "great city".
Was the Catholic Church responsible for the crucifixion and execution of Jesus Christ? No! Of course it wasn't! The Catholic Church bases itself on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ!
Again, Jerusalem had sold out by persecuting and putting to death its own prophecised Messiah, and was punished greatly with consuming fire for its years of harlotry in the years between the death of Jesus Christ and 70AD. When masses of Jews were slaughtered in Jerusalem in 70AD, none of the Christians that had lived there were killed. They had escaped by leaving Jerusalem before the Romans came; they had been forewarned in the John's prophetic visions to get out of there.
* * * * * *
So where does all of this leave us? Will these 10 reasons change anyone's mind on the matter of the "Whore of Babylon"? No, probably not, but hopefully what I have emphasised is the importance of a few things:
a) Read the Bible in context and always consider the social and political climate of the time, the intended audience of the reader, the intended message and its delivery (literary form), all of which having an influence on contemporary readings of scripture and no exceptions should be made when reading be it a single verse, chapter or book of scripture;
b) In a world today where Christian denominations are [sadly] fighting among each other to get bums on seats, things will get ugly and mud will be slung much like in an election campaign. The best way to discredit an "opponent" is to sling mud, concoct and create half-truths, or simply make denigrating claims against them. This is not what Christ wanted; Christ wants his Church to be One (John 17:21);
c) Anti-Catholics want to be right as opposed to actually being right. We all know a liar will begin to believe their own lies the more they propagate them; they become accustomed to the lie and have to follow through with it (i.e. maintain the lie) in order for it to reach any degree of credibility. This requires a couple of things: good acting; and a complete and conscious disregard or denial of absolute truth. Anti-Catholics are good at both and foolishly reject scripture that justifies the Catholic Church as the church that Christ himself founded!
For my fellow Catholics out there, take solace in the words that Christ himself gave us if you yourself are victim to these fallacious anti-Catholic claims:
"If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also." - John 15:18-20
Continue praying for Christian unity, for understanding between Christians, for Israel and that our Jewish brothers and sisters may come to know Jesus Christ!
Book of Revelations and Catholic Mass