Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Whore of Babylon

The Whore of Babylon is one of several mysterious Christian allegorical figures of evil who appears in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. She is associated with the figures of the Antichrist and the Beast of Revelations.

She makes her appearance in Chapter 17 of Revelations, in which she is described as:

the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. (Rev. 17:1-2 KJV)

She moreover bears the title, "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH," and is furthermore described as being "drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." (Rev. 17:5-6) Her apocalyptic downfall is prophesied in Chapter 18.

The Whore of Babylon rides the seven-headed Beast.
This vivid rhetoric is of little use to modern readers in determining the meaning of this figure. Almost all Bible scholars agree that Babylon in her title is meant as an allegory of Rome in some sense. Elsewhere in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 4:12, "Babylon" is used to refer to Rome. This is bolstered by the remark in Rev. 17:9 that she sits on "seven mountains," which are the proverbial seven hills of Rome. But which Rome? and when?

Perhaps the simplest and most parsimonious explanation is that the Whore of Babylon represents the Roman Empire in its violent persecution of Christians. This would make sense of the imagery that makes Babylon drunk with the blood of martyrs.

A long tradition of polemic, however, by some pre-Reformation writers and most of the Reformers themselves, from Martin Luther and John Calvin down through the Scofield Reference Bible and Jack Chick, identifies the Whore of Babylon with the Roman Catholic Church. This opinion influenced several generations in England and Scotland when it was put into the 1599 edition of the Geneva Bible. The drunkenness with the blood of saints and martyrs, by this interpretation, refers to the veneration of saints and relics , which is viewed by the Reformers as idolatry and apostasy. Those who follow this tradition frequently use the phrase "Whore of Babylon" to refer to the Roman Catholic Church.

This tradition has been increasingly rejected in recent years as contrary to evangelical methods and goals and socially unconstructive, and so the tradition is kept only internally if it is kept at all. The rise of dispensationalism as a school of interpretation of the end times has also caused many Protestants to revise their interpretation of these passages in a way that diminishes the certainty of their identification of the Whore of Babylon with any present religion.

In Mormon Doctrine (an unofficial predecesor to The Encyclopedia of Mormonism) published by Bruce R. McKonkie, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in 197[?], the Roman Catholic Church was also identified as the Whore of Babylon. Other apostles in the Church at the time urged McKonkie not to identify the Roman Catholic Church as such, but the initial publications went out unchanged as Mckonkie intended. Later editions removed the reference. In current Mormon theology, the Whore of Babylon is not the same as the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church, of course, denies that it is the being referred to by the Book of Revelations as the Whore of Babylon.

See also: Great Apostasy; Antichrist; Beast; end times

The Whore of Babylon was also a title bestowed by the magician Aleister Crowley on a number of his female companions and partners in magical rites, most notably Leilah Waddell.