Who or What is the Whore of Babylon? #Revelation #Endtimes #LastDays


Hello everybody and happy Monday to you all, or y’all as they say in my home state of Dixie. Today’s Bible readings are Deuteronomy 20, Psalms 107, Isaiah 47 and Revelation 17, which is our focus passage. Yay! Back to all end-times, all the time…maybe. I feel like we need Captain America here today to rebuke me a little bit for my ‘language,’ use in the title. That will be my only use – I think – of the ‘WH’ word. That is the wording used by the King James Bible, but most modern translations go with the prostitute of Babylon, and we will stick with that for most of the episode. The reason why I used that word in the title is because that is how most people in theological circles talk about the entity we are discussing today. As noted yesterday, we are now in the deeper and more obscure waters of Revelation – the parts that are less clear and more symbolic than the earlier and latter portions of the book. Let’s begin by reading chapter 17, and as we do, make a mental note that this chapter begins a pretty significant discussion of the prostitute of Babylon that will unfold over the next three chapters.

So – this entity, the prostitute of Babylon, is an important figure in the book of Revelation, and like the other important characters, her identity is highly debated. I am referring to her as an entity simply because there exists the strong possibility that ‘she’ is not a person. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to solve the mystery of the identity of the P.O.B. today, but I do believe that we can find some significant clues in the Bible’s text, and we can discuss the major theories. First things first: The word that is often translated as prostitute (or the ‘wh’ word, or the ‘h’ word, to invoke our current vernacular), is the Greek word, ‘πόρνη pórnē, por’-nay’ and is itself derived from a Greek word that means fornicator, and it is derived from a word that means to sell. Our modern word ‘pornography’ is also derived from these words. The King James version usually translates the word as ‘harlot,’ as in the well known Old Testament figure (who was saved), Rahab the harlot.

Second, we need to consider the location of Babylon. It must be remembered that the Jewish people of the first century had no love lost for Babylon, as this was a kingdom that had sacked Judah and carried away many of their people into captivity around 550-600 years before the birth of Jesus. However, most scholars don’t believe that the prostitute of Babylon is literally from the city of Babylon, primarily because of passages like this:

Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.

Revelation 11:8

That passage is obviously NOT talking about Sodom, or Egypt, but is all about Jerusalem, and John is using figurative language. Likely, he is using figurative language in this instance too, but the geographic location being referred to is more difficult to determine. The most popular interpretation of Babylon has been that it referred to Rome. This view dates back at least to the Slovenian bishop Victorinus who wrote in the 200s AD. Many of the early Protestants (Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, etc) also held to this view, associating the prostitute of Babylon with the Roman Catholic church. Our old friend Charles Spurgeon is a good representative of this view:

There never was a wrong done to one of God’s people that God did not avenge; there has never been an ill deed done towards them yet but he hath punished the doer of it. Though he suffered Assyria to break Israel in pieces, yet let Assyria speak, when she riseth from her tomb, and tell how terribly God hath shivered her with a rod of iron, because she vaunted herself against the people of the Most High. Let old Rome testify that on her still rests the blood of the martyrs. Behold, our God hath broken her empire in pieces; the Roman emperor has ceased to exist, and his gaudy pomp is gone; ay, and modern Rome, too, hath an awful doom yet to come; she, above all other cities, hath a fearful future before her; she, that is wrapt in scarlet, and sitteth on the seven hills, the whore of Babylon, drunk with the blood of the saints, shall yet meet the doom foretold in the Revelation. Lo! God hath said it; she shall be rent in pieces, she shall be burnt with, fire and utterly consumed

C. H. Spurgeon, “Our Heavenly Father’s Pity,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 45 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1899), 438–439.

The imminent church historian Eusebius, writing in the 300s AD, agrees with Rome being Babylon, and offers an interesting argument, “And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: «The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so does Marcus my son.»(1 Peter 5:13)”

The Greek Bishop Oecumenius, writing in the 500s-600s, also held the view that Rome was the Babylon of Revelation, and thought it self evident, because no other city that he was aware of sat on seven hills:

“The seven heads are seven mountains,” it says, “on which the woman is seated.” From this it is clearly evident that the passage refers to Rome, for it and no other city is reported to be on seven hills.

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 276.

I should note, however, that there are other cities of antiquity associated with 7 hills. Istanbul is one, in Turkey, and Toledo, Spain is another. That said, Primasius, a Northern Africa bishop in the 500s, also viewed Babylon as Rome:

The prophecy of holy Daniel says that as the final persecution approaches, there will be ten kings.23 This book often symbolizes them in the seven heads and ten horns of the beast, as it does here. Earlier it is said that diadems are worn by them, for when all the kingdoms have been overthrown, they only will reign in the whole world. Indeed, the diadems are signs of the conquered kingdoms, which are displayed as trophies upon the arrogant heads [of these kings]. Therefore, through a mind of wisdom [this book] also says that the seven heads must be understood to be seven hills, so that it might signify Rome, which sits upon seven hills

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 268.

Writing around the same time, Andrew of Caesarea disagreed, however, noting that Rome was no longer the world power that it once was, which doesn’t seem to fit the other descriptions of Babylon in Revelation:

Or perhaps the seven mountains are those most excellent and powerful kingdoms that have succeeded themselves from the Assyrians in Nineveh to the royal power of new Rome, which is favorable to Christ…

Since what is to be interpreted is spiritual, there is need, it says, for a spiritual wisdom, not a worldly wisdom to understand what is being said.… We believe that the seven heads and the seven mountains are to be interpreted as seven places that excel the rest in excellence and worldly power….

Some consider this harlot to be old Rome, since she sits on seven hills, and the seven heads of the beast that carries [the harlot] to be the more ungodly kings from Domitian to Diocletian who persecuted the church. However, we are guided as much as possible by the sequence of events and think that she is either the earthly kingdom generally, depicted as in one body, or that city that is ruled until the arrival of the antichrist. For old Rome lost the power of dominion a long time ago, and we do not suppose that the ancient status will again return to it. But should we grant this, the power that governs today will have been destroyed beforehand. For the Revelation says, “The woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 276.

As for me, much as I love Spurgeon and respect the early opinion of Eusebius and the others, I am unconvinced that the prostitute of Babylon represents Rome and the Roman Catholic church. Yes, the Roman Catholic church has perpetuated great evil and corruption in the earth at times. Yes, the Roman Catholic church has persecuted and killed reformers and others who called on the name of Jesus. Yes, I disagree strongly with Roman Catholic theology. That said, I do not believe that the Roman Catholic church of today kills and persecutes the people of God nearly the way that Revelation 17-19 portrays the prostitute of Babylon doing, nor does the R.C. church have that kind of influence – the kind of influence that is referred to in Revelation 18:

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Revelation 18:2-3

As such, I believe that the prostitute of Babylon likely refers to a future nation/organization/network/coalition that will have extreme power, will be a perversion of the church and have some form of religiosity attached to it, and will persecute and kill true Christians. I simply do not see such an organization active on the earth at the current time, so I assume that such an organization will become prominent in the future. In this, I agree with the conclusions of Michael Houdmann at Gotquestions:

The fact that the whore of Babylon is referred to as a mystery means that we cannot be completely certain as to her identity. The passage does give us some clues, however. Revelation 17:9 explains, “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.” Many commentators link this passage with the Roman Catholic Church because in ancient times, the city of Rome was known as “the city on seven hills” because there are seven prominent hills that surround the city. However, verse 10 goes on to explain that the seven hills represent 7 kings or kingdoms, five of which have fallen, one that is and one that is to come. Therefore, the “whore of Babylon” cannot refer exclusively to Rome. Revelation 17:15 tells us, “Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.’ ” The whore of Babylon will have great worldwide influence over people and nations. Verses 10–14 describe a series of eight and then ten kings who affiliate with the beast. The whore of Babylon will at one time have control over these kings (Revelation 17:18), but at some point the kings will turn on her and destroy her (Revelation 17:16).

So, can the mystery of the whore of Babylon be solved? Yes, at least partially. The whore of Babylon is an evil world system, controlled by the Antichrist, during the last days before Jesus’ return. The whore of Babylon also has religious connotations—spiritual adultery with the beast being the focus of an ungodly, end-times religious system.

Got Questions Ministries, Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2002–2013).


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