HUNT-ING THE WHORE OF BABYLON
James Akin
PART I

Anti-Catholic writer Dave Hunt is at it again. Large portions of his previous books have been devoted to attacking the Catholic Church. Now he has written an entire book doing so.

In his advance publicity for <A Woman Rides the Beast: The Catholic Church in the Last Days>, Hunt proclaims that this book "is not one man's wild-eyed speculation.... This important book will eclipse <The Seduction of Christianity> [Hunt's previously most popular book] in its impact on the church."

Yet in the same issue of his newsletter that carried this publicity, T. A. McMahon, the executive director of Hunt's organization, conceded that there have been problems getting Evangelical book distributors to carry it. He states, "Dave's new book (to be published in August) is already meeting resistance from Christian bookstore buyers."

Hunt's thesis is that the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in Revelation 17-18. Readers of his newsletter, <The Berean Call>, were given a preview of why he says this. The July 1994 issue carried an article titled "A City on Seven Hills," a condensation of one of the book's key chapters. Hunt advanced nine arguments to show that the Catholic Church is the great whore.

Hills Or Mountains?

Hunt's first argument is that the whore "is a city built on seven hills." He identifies these as the seven hills of ancient Rome. This argument is based on Revelation 17:9, which states that the woman sits on seven mountains.

To get the passage to say that the woman sits on seven hills, Hunt inserts the words "or hills" into the King James Version (KJV) text from which he quotes. He cites Revelation 17:9 as follows: "And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains [or hills], on which the woman sitteth."

Hunt suggests that the Greek word <oros>, translated by the KJV as "mountain," should instead be translated "hill." Though this is a possible translation, it is unlikely on lexical grounds. Of the 65 occurrences of this word in the New Testament, only three are rendered "hill" by the KJV. The remaining 62 are translated as "mountain" or "mount." Modern Protestant Bible translations have similar ratios. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates <oros> as "hill" only twice, with the remainder as "mountain" or "mount." Given these numbers, the lexical evidence indicates an overwhelming probability that <oros> in Revelation 17:9 should be translated "mountain," just as the KJV has it.

This blows Hunt's interpretation of the passage wide open. He would have us believe that the "seven hills" refer to the seven hills on which the ancient city of Rome was built, but if the passage states that the whore sits on "seven mountains," the reference could be to anything.

The mountains do not even need to be literal, since mountains are common symbols in the Bible. A mountain may symbolize a kingdom. In Daniel 2:35 Christ's kingdom is seen as a mountain. In Psalm 68:15 the kingdom of Bashan is pictured as a mountain. In Obadiah 8-21 the kingdom of Edom is likened to a mountain. In Amos 4:1 and 6:1 the kingdom of Samaria is pictured as a mountain. The "seven mountains" of the whore might be seven kingdoms she reigns over or seven kingdoms with which she has something in common.

The number seven may be symbolic, since it often represents completeness in the Bible. If it is symbolic in Revelation 17:9, the seven mountains might symbolize that the whore reigns over all the kingdoms of the earth or (what amounts to the same thing) that she reigns over all the literal mountains of the earth.

Even if we grant that <oros> should be translated "hill" in this passage and that these are seven literal hills, this still does not narrow us down to Rome. Other cities have been built on seven hills, which Hunt admits, stating, "Some other cities are [built on seven hills], but only Rome meets all the criteria, including being known as Babylon." He concedes his argument based on seven hills is inconclusive, even given his unlikely translation.

There are further problems with Hunt's argument. Even if we grant that the reference is to Rome, which Rome are we talking about? Pagan Rome or Christian Rome? As we will see, pagan Rome fits Hunt's criteria better than does Christian Rome.

When we bring in the distinction between Vatican City—the city where the Catholic Church is headquartered—and the city of Rome, Hunt's postulate is even more unlikely, since Vatican City is not built on seven hills, but on only one: Vatican Hill. This hill is <not> one of the seven Rome was constructed upon. Those seven (the Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, Palatine, and Capitoline hills) are located on the east side of the Tiber River. Vatican Hill is located on the west side.

Known as Babylon

Hunt introduces his second argument in an off-hand manner even as he concedes that his first argument is inconclusive. He appeals to a second criterion to prop up his first, stating that the whore will be a city "known as Babylon." This is based on Revelation 17:5, which says the whore's name is "Babylon the Great."

(The city's name is not "Mystery Babylon," as some Fundamentalists claim. The word "mystery" indicates that the ascription "Babylon the Great" is a symbolic name, so it can't refer to the city of Babylon rebuilt in Iraq, as some Fundamentalists claimed it must during the Gulf War. The RSV renders the passage better: "and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations.'"

The phrase "Babylon the great" (Greek, <Babulon a megala>) occurs five times in Revelation (14:8, 16:9, 17:5,18:2, and 18:21). Light is shed on its meaning when one notices that Babylon is referred to as "the great city" seven times in the book (16:19, 17:18, 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). Other than these, there is only one reference to "the great city," (11:8), which states that the bodies of God's two witnesses "will lie in the street of the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified."

This verse tells us that "the great city" is <symbolically> called Sodom. This refers to Jerusalem, which is called "Sodom" in Isaiah 1:10 and Ezekiel 16:1-3, 46-56. (Jerusalem is <compared> to Sodom in other verses). We know Jerusalem is the "the great city" of Revelation 11:8 because the verse says that city was "where [the] Lord was crucified." Jesus, of course, was crucified at Jerusalem.

Revelation consistently speaks as if there were only one "great city" ("<the> great city"), suggesting that the great city of 11:8 is the same as the great city mentioned in the other seven texts—Babylon (= Jerusalem). This suggests that Babylon the Great may not be Rome, but Jerusalem. In fact, Hunt admits that Jerusalem fits one of his other criteria (see below). There have been commentators, both Protestant and Catholic, who have adopted this interpretation. One school of Protestant Bible interpreters (the followers of David Chilton) has made this crucial to its interpretation of Revelation, which is viewed as a covenant lawsuit against apostate Jerusalem for its persecution of Christians.

Among the Church Fathers it was common to refer to Rome as "Babylon," but even here Hunt has problems because all those references were to pagan Rome, which martyred Christians, rather than to Christian Rome. There also would be the problem that Vatican City did not exist in the days of the Fathers.

The Whore's Fornications

In his third argument Hunt states, "The woman is called a 'whore' (v. 1), with whom earthly kings 'have committed fornication' (v. 2). Against only two cities could such a charge be made: Jerusalem and Rome. Jerusalem was indicted for spiritual fornication by numerous prophets (Is. 1:21, etc.), but does not meet the other criteria." Hunt admits that the prophets frequently referred to Jerusalem as a spiritual whore. This suggests that the whore of Babylon might be apostate Jerusalem. Because of this Hunt again concedes that his argument is not conclusive; he appeals to "the other criteria" to prop it up.

To identify the whore with Vatican City, Hunt interprets the fornication as "unholy alliances" forged between Vatican City and other nations, but he fails to cite any reasons why the Vatican's diplomatic relations with other nations are "unholy." (The United States has diplomatic relations with those same countries—does that mean those relations are "unholy"?) Hunt neglects the fact that pagan Rome had "unholy alliances" with the kingdoms it governed (unholy because they were built on paganism and emperor worship).

Now in Technicolor

For his fourth argument, Hunt states, "She [the whore] is clothed in 'purple and scarlet' (v. 4), the colors of the Catholic clergy." He cites the <Catholic Encyclopedia> to show that bishops wear purple and cardinals wear scarlet (red). This line of reasoning has problems.

Rather than assigning the whore's colors their symbolic meaning (purple for royalty, red for the blood of martyrs), Hunt is suddenly, joltingly literal in his interpretation. He caught on well enough that the woman <symbolizes> a city and that the fornication <symbolizes> something other than a sexual act, but now he wants to assign colors a purely literal fulfillment in the clothing of Catholic ecclesiastics.

Besides, purple and red are not the dominant colors of clerical clothing. Black and white are. Consider the average priest's "clericals" (black suit with white Roman collar); priests' clerical garb is never purple or red, and for only a short time during the liturgical year do they wear chasubles with purple or red. But every priest wears a white alb at Mass. Even bishops and cardinals usually wear black (look at the bishop or cardinal who heads your diocese). And the pope, of course, always wears white.

The purple and scarlet of the whore are contrasts to the white worn by the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ (Rev. 19:8). This makes two more problems for Hunt: The clothing of the Bride is given a symbolic interpretation ("the righteous acts of the saints"; 19:8) implying that the clothing of the whore should also be given a symbolic meaning, and the identification of the Bride as <New> Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12. 21:2,10) suggests that the whore may be <old>, apostate Jerusalem—a contrast used elsewhere in Scripture (Gal. 4:25-26).

Another problem for Hunt is that he ignores the liturgical meaning of the colors purple and red. Purple symbolizes repentance, and red honors the blood of Christ and the Christian martyrs— both of these things being noble, whereas in Revelation these colors reveal how ignoble the whore is.

It is entirely appropriate for Catholic clerics to wear purple and scarlet because these have been liturgical colors ever since ancient Israel. In fact, together with blue and white, they were the dominant colors of the Israelite liturgy. God commanded that the curtains which formed the walls of the Tabernacle be made with purple and scarlet yarn (Ex. 25:4, 26:1, 31, 36, 27:16, 36:8, 35, 37, 38:18, 39:34). He commanded the tabernacle to have a ceiling made of ram skins dyed red (Ex. 26:14, 36:19, 39:34). He commanded that when they were being moved the table of the bread of the presence be covered with a scarlet cloth (Num. 4:8) and the bronze altar with a purple cloth (Num. 4:13). He commanded that scarlet yarn and wool be used in liturgical ceremonies (Lev. 14:4, 6, 49-52, Num. 19:6). He commanded that the vestments for priests be made with purple and scarlet yarn (Ex. 28:4-8, 15, 33, 39:1-8, 24, 29). If there was nothing sinister about the Israelites using these God-commanded colors then, there is nothing sinister about the Catholic clergy using them now.

At the risk of making the same point too often, it should be noted that the colors purple and scarlet, taken literally or symbolically, may stand for pagan Rome or apostate Jerusalem. Both were capital (royal) cities, and both shed the blood of Christian martyrs.

Gold And Precious Stones

Next Hunt states, "[The whore's] incredible wealth next caught John's eye. She was 'decked with gold and precious stones and pearls . . .' [7:4]." He cites the <Catholic Encyclopedia>, which states that the pectoral cross worn by bishops should be made of gold and decorated with gems.

Again Hunt shifts to an absurdly literal interpretation. He does not take the gold and jewels the whore was wearing to be symbols of the city's wealth, but actual articles of clothing worn by Catholic clergy (and only certain clergy; priests and deacons—the vast majority of Catholic clergy—do not wear a pectoral cross).

Nevertheless, it is appropriate for high-ranking clergy to wear such ornaments because such things have been part of the true religion's liturgical practice since ancient times. God commanded that the ephod and breast-piece worn by the high priest be made with gold, precious stones, and gems, including the ruby, sapphire, emerald, and amethyst (Ex. 25:7, 28:6-29, 35:9, 27, 39:3-21). He commanded that the high priest's turban have a sacred diadem (crown plate) made of pure gold (Ex. 29:6, 39:30, Lev. 8:9). Gold was to be used in the priestly garments in general (Ex. 28:4-5). The purpose of these vestments and decorations was to give the high priest and the priests "dignity and honor" or "glory and beauty" (Ex. 28:40). Catholic clergy conform to the Bible in using these materials to honor God and his holy ministry.

Still, Hunt's problem remains his naive literalism on this point. The gold and gems which the whore is wearing do not symbolize actual articles of clothing but the great wealth of the city—a wealth more in character with pagan Rome or apostate Jerusalem than with the modern Vatican, which actually runs a budget <deficit> each year and which has a total budget about the size of that of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

A Golden Cup

Hunt notes that the whore "has 'a golden cup [chalice] in her hand, full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.'" This is another reference to Revelation 17:4. Hunt again cites the <Catholic Encyclopedia>, this passage describing the Eucharistic chalice as "the most important of the sacred vessels." He says that the "Church is known for its many thousands of gold chalices around the world," and he gives a long quotation about a church in Lourdes, France having a valuable collection of gold chalices. But Hunt's argument is riddled with holes.

To make the whore's gold cup suggestive of the Eucharistic chalice, he inserts the word "chalice" in square brackets, though the Greek word here is the ordinary word for cup (<poterion>), which appears 33 times in the New Testament and is always translated "cup."

Hunt ignores that the chalice is used in the celebration of the Lord's Supper—a ritual commanded by Christ himself (Luke 22:19-20,1 Cor. 11:24-25)—and he ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Eucharistic chalices Catholics use are <not> made out of gold, but of other materials, such as brass, silver, glass, and even earthenware (though the interior of the chalice is usually finished with a thin layer of gold—but so, perhaps, is the wristwatch that Hunt wears).

Hunt seems unaware that in the Old Testament it was commanded that gold liturgical vessels and utensils be used (Ex. 25:38-40, 37:23-24, Num. 31:50-51, 2 Chron. 24:14), and he again uses an absurdly literal interpretation, according to which the cup of the whore is not a symbol applying to the single city of Rome, but a collection of thousands of actual cups used in thousands of cities throughout the world.

Not surprisingly, Hunt does not attempt to interpret the cup's contents ("abominations and filthiness of her fornication"). The abominations and fornications the whore committed are either spiritual adultery (to which Hunt has already alluded), unholy political alliances (ditto), or the persecution of Christian martyrs (see 17:6, 18:6). They have nothing to do with the wine (and later the blood of Christ) found in Catholic chalices.

Finally, Hunt does not even use the rest of the book of Revelation to help him interpret the whore's cup. Elsewhere we are told that it is the cup of God's wrath (Rev. 14:10, 16:9). God mixes his wrath in the whore's cup, "mix[ing] a double draught for her in the cup she mixed" (Rev. 18:6). Again, this has nothing to do with Eucharistic chalices, and when interpreted in context fits either pagan Rome or apostate Jerusalem.

Perhaps for good measure, Hunt devotes a few words to the Church's supposed wealth, which he claims to have been "acquired by confiscating property of the Inquisitions' pitiful victims . . . the sale of salvation . . . [t]he wealthy often leav[ing] a fortune for Masses to be said for their salvation after their death . . . corrupt banking practices, laundering of drug money, trading in counterfeit securities, and dealings with the Mafia." This is not even good <ad hominem> reasoning, since it displays an appalling lack of understanding of Catholic theology—salvation cannot be sold, and Masses for the dead do not save them—as well as laughably inaccurate historical claims.

This examination of Dave Hunt's arguments concludes next month.


PART II

Dave Hunt's earlier books seem to be divided into two categories: those against the New Age movement and those blaming the New Age movement on the Catholic Church. Now Hunt has written a straight-out attack on the Church, <A Woman Rides the Beast: The Catholic Church in the Last Days>. My analysis of Hunt's thesis, begun in last month's issue of <This Rock>, is based on a preview of his book given recently in his newsletter, <The Berean Call>.

The Mother Of Harlots

The seventh argument is Hunt's most ridiculous. He states: "John's attention is next drawn to the inscription on the woman's forehead: 'THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH' (V. 5). Sadly enough, the Roman Catholic Church fits that description as precisely as she fits the others. Much of the cause is due to the unbiblical doctrine of priestly celibacy." He argues that priestly celibacy has "made sinners of the clergy and harlots out of those with whom they secretly cohabit." The Catholic Church produces harlots and so is the mother of harlots.

Problems abound here. First, priestly celibacy is not a doctrine but a discipline—a discipline which only the Latin rite of the Church uses (the Eastern rites do not) and which has not always been mandatory even in the history of the Latin rite.

Second, the discipline can scarcely be unbiblical, since Hunt himself says, "The great Apostle Paul was a celibate and recommended that life to others who wanted to devote themselves fully to serving Christ."

Third, Hunt again has lurched to an absurdly literal interpretation. He should interpret the harlotry of the whore's daughters as the same as their mother's, which is why she is called their mother in the first place. This would make them spiritual or political fornicators or persecutors of Christian martyrs (cf. Rev. 17:2, 6, 18:6). Instead he gives the ridiculous interpretation of the daughters as literal, earthly prostitutes committing literal, earthly fornication.

Fourth, if he did not have a fixation on the King James Version, Hunt would notice another point which identifies the daughters' harlotries with that of their mother: The same Greek word (<porne>) is used for both mother and daughters. The King James Version translates this word as "whore" whenever it refers to the mother, but as "harlot" when it refers to the daughters. More modern translations render it consistently. Thus the Revised Standard Version says John is taken to see the "great harlot" (17:1,15,16,19:2) who is "the mother of harlots" (17:5). The harlotry of the daughters, therefore, must be the same as their mother's, which we have seen is either spiritual or political fornication or the persecution of Christians—not literal sex!

Finally, both pagan Rome and apostate Jerusalem could be described as "mother of harlots" since both committed spiritual fornication and led other nations to do so, formed unholy political alliances with other nations, and persecuted Christians and encouraged other nations to do so.

The Blood Of Saints

For his eighth argument, Hunt states, "John next notices that the woman is drunk—not with alcohol but with the blood of the Saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (v. 6)." As proof he advances numerous charges of brutality by the Inquisitions and alleges that the Church forced the conversion of whole nations. He even blames the Church for the Nazi holocaust!

This section of Hunt's article abounds with historical errors, not the least of which is his implication that the Church endorses forced conversions, which it emphatically does not. It condemned forced conversions as early as the third century and has condemned them on numerous occasions since, most recently in the <Catechism of the Catholic Church> (160, 1738,1782, 2106-7).

We will set aside Hunt's errors and <ad hominems> because they do not affect the interpretation of the text. Even if all the things he says about the Church were true (including his wildly exaggerated statistics), the fact would remain that both pagan Rome and apostate Jerusalem fit the description of a city drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs.

Since Rome and Jerusalem were the notorious persecutors of Christians in the first century, they could be recognized as referents for this symbol by John and his readers. The original readers of Revelation would have thought of one of these two as the city that persecutes Christians; they would not have thought of a future Catholic Church centered in Rome.

Hunt is aware of this, for he defensively remarks that "'Christian' Rome has slaughtered many times the number of both Christians and Jews that pagan Rome did." This statement, which is questionable on historical grounds, is irrelevant. If sheer numbers determine who the whore is, then Moscow is the prime candidate, for the Soviet Union killed far more Christians than did the Inquisitions or any group of Catholics. Hunt forgets that the Protestant Reformers were responsible for thousands of Christians being killed (a fact he admits in one of his other books, <Whatever Happened to Heaven>?).

The bottom line is that numbers are irrelevant. Both pagan Rome and apostate Jerusalem were notorious persecutors of Christians and were responsible (directly or indirectly) for the deaths of thousands. They were the ones to which John and the original audience of Revelation would have looked.

Reigning Over Kings

For his last argument, Hunt states, "Finally, the angel reveals that the woman 'is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth' (v. 18). Is there such a city? Yes, and again only one: Vatican City."

This is foolishness. Vatican City has no power over any other nation; it certainly does not reign over them. (If it did, the geopolitical state of the world would be very different.) In fact, the Vatican's very existence has been threatened in the past two centuries by Italian nationalism.

Hunt appeals to power the popes once had over Christian political rulers (neglecting the fact that this was always a limited authority, by the popes' own admission), but at that time there was no Vatican City. The Vatican became a separate state only in 1929, when the Holy See and Italy signed the Lateran Treaty.

Soon after making Christianity a tolerated religion in the early fourth century, Constantine moved the capital of the empire to his new city, Constantinople. It, not Rome, ruled over the Christian empire. In the seventh century large amounts of territory were lost to the Muslims, removing from Rome any prospect of its ruling them. The eleventh-century schism by the Eastern Orthodox churches removed still more territory from Rome's potential rule. The Protestant movement took away northern Europe and the British Isles. Emerging nationalism in France and other countries removed lands over which popes enjoyed some temporal authority. Only the tiny Papal States, located in central Italy, were left, and they vanished in 1870. Today Vatican City rules nothing but itself.

Conclusive & Irrefutable?

At the conclusion of his article Hunt brags that "The qualifying data which John gives us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for identifying this woman/city is specific, conclusive, and irrefutable. There is no city upon earth, past or present, which meets all of these criteria except Catholic Rome and Vatican City."

While the evidence that John gives us may or may not be specific, conclusive, and irrefutable, the evidence Hunt has given us certainly is not. Pagan Rome fits every one of the criteria Hunt lays out, and apostate Jerusalem fits them almost as well (the only questions being the identification of the mountains or hills on which "the city" is situated and the nature of Jerusalem's reign over the kings of the earth, though Jerusalem has Revelation 11:8 in its favor).

The presence of these two likely candidates proves that Hunt's evidence is not conclusive, which automatically means it is not irrefutable, for no inconclusive case is irrefutable. One must acknowledge, though, that Hunt's evidence is specific—often too specific, as when he interprets Revelation 17's symbols as referring to the vestments of certain clerics, pectoral crosses, Eucharistic chalices, and literal prostitutes committing actual sex acts.

Unfortunately for Hunt, when we press beyond what he quotes for us from Revelation 17, his case comes apart at the seams. Further reading of the book's discussion of the Great Harlot (chs. 17-18) reveals it is impossible for the Catholic Church to be the whore.

The Seven Kings

The whore sits on the beast with seven heads (17:3). In 17:9 we are told that these heads stand for seven mountains (or possibly hills). The next verse tells us "they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while." If five of these kings had fallen in John's day and one of them was still in existence, then the whore must have existed in John's day.

Catholic Rome and Vatican City did not exist then, but pagan Rome did have a line of emperors, and the majority of commentators see this as the line of kings to which 17:10 refers. Five of these emperors are said to have already fallen, one was still reigning in John's time, and another was yet to come. Since Jerusalem had no such line of kings in the first century, this argues that the beast is pagan Rome.

Note that the beast could be Rome and the whore Jerusalem. The picture of the whore seated on the beast (17:3-4) could represent an alliance between Jews and Romans. On this theory, the alliance represents Jews inciting and using pagan and Roman forces to persecute Christians (which they did at the crucifixion of Jesus and repeatedly afterward; see Acts 12:2-3,13:50,14:2,5,18-19,17:48, 13, 18:12-13, 21:11, 22:30, 24:9, 27, 25:2-9, 15,26:2, 28:19). This unsteady alliance between the whore (apostate Jerusalem/Judaism) and the beast (pagan Rome/paganism) is brought to an end in 17:16-17, when the beast and its subjects destroy and burn the whore, a prophecy fulfilled in history by the destruction and burning of Jerusalem by Roman forces in A.D. 70. (This would explain Jerusalem's connection with the seven hills—one of alliance with Rome.)

Hub of World Commerce

The whore is depicted as the center of world commerce. When it is destroyed, "the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more" (18:11), and "all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea . . . wept and mourned, crying out, 'Alas, alas, for the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth!'" (18:17-19).

Pagan Rome was indeed the hub of world commerce, but Catholic Rome has never been that, even during the Middle Ages. After the Reformation, economic centers of power became located in Germany, Spain, Holland, and England; in this century they have been in America and Japan. Rome is nowhere near the leading economic center in the world (try New York, London, or Tokyo). No matter how much money the pope once had, Vatican City (which runs a yearly deficit) has never been the center of world commerce.

Daily Life in the Vatican?

In Revelation 18:21-23 we read, "Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: 'With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.... No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again.... The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world's great men.'"

Because it gives us a picture of daily life in the whore prior to its destruction, this passage demolishes any claim that the whore could be Vatican City. Since when has Vatican City had an economy of tradesmen living in it? Since when has Vatican City milled its own flour? Since when have the inhabitants of Vatican City been in the habit of marrying each other? (Most of them, even the women, are under vows of celibacy.) Since when has Vatican City had a corps of native merchants? (In fact, since when has Vatican City had any <natives> at all? Its citizens come from outside.) All of these things reflect life in an ordinary city, not in an ecclesiastical one such as Vatican City. If we want to find a city which fits the description of everyday life that Revelation 18:21- 23 offers, we need to look to worldly cities such as pagan Rome or apostate Jerusalem.

Early Persecutions

In Revelation 18:20 and 18:24 we read, "'Rejoice over her [the whore], O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you' . . . In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth." This shows that the whore persecuted not just Christians, but apostles and prophets.

Apostles existed only in the first century, since one of the requirements for being an apostle was seeing the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1). Prophets existed as a group only in the Old Testament and in the first century (Acts 11:27-28, 13:1, 15:32, 21:10), after which they ceased to appear in any numbers.

Since the whore persecuted apostles and prophets, the whore must have existed at the same time they did, which means it existed in the first century and prior to the first century. This ruins Hunt's identification of Catholic Rome or Vatican City as the whore of Babylon. Vatican City did not exist in the first century, and Rome was not a Christian city until the fourth century, so neither could be the whore.

(If Hunt tried to broaden the whore to being the Catholic Church instead of a literal city—which he insists it is in his article—he would still undercut himself since he claims, contrary to the facts, that the Catholic Church did not even exist in the first century. This means that he cannot claim Catholicism in general is the whore.)

Because the whore had to exist in the first century, it could only be pagan Rome or apostate Jerusalem. Only these two cities have any hope of meeting the criteria Revelation 1718 lays out. Both of them were known for persecuting Christians and, in particular, for killing apostles.

Rome was responsible for the deaths of the apostles Peter and Paul, who died there around A.D. 64, during Nero's persecution. Jerusalem was responsible for the deaths of James the son of Zebedee and James the Just (who is described as an apostle in Gal. 1:19). Jerusalem was especially known for killing prophets (Matt. 23:34, Luke 11:49-51, 13:33-35, Acts 7:52). Revelation 18:24's statement, "In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth," might be a reference to Jesus' statement of Jerusalem "that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation" (Luke 11:50).

Hunt's Pre-millennialism

One of the reasons Hunt does not recognize that the whore must have been a creature of the first century is that he has straight-jacketed himself into the system of pre-millennialism, which requires that the events of Revelation refer primarily to our future. This belief warps his understanding and prevents him from understanding the data in the text.

Pre-millennialism is a system that was rejected by the Protestant Reformers (as well as by the Catholic Church), but Hunt embraces it anyway. The current popularity of the system among Protestants in America goes back less than a 150 years and is due primarily to the influence of the <Scofield Reference Bible>, which espoused the system and was widely circulated in the United States.

According to pre-millennialism, the millennial reign of Christ and the saints mentioned in Revelation 20:110 refers to a reign in an earthly paradise (which is why it must be future) prior to the end of the world and the general judgment. Pre-millennialism does not interpret the millennial reign of Christ and the saints, as did both the Reformers and the Catholic Church, as the current reign of the saints in heaven and of the Church on earth.

Because his pre-millennialism forces him to distort the text of Revelation and say that the millennium (Rev. 20) is future, Hunt does not recognize that the doom of the whore (Rev. 17-18) must have happened long ago, in the early centuries, certainly no later than the Christianization of the Empire in the fourth century. Hunt is forced to miss obvious cues in the text, such as those at the beginning and the end of the book, which state that the chief events it records were "what must soon take place" (Rev. 1 :1, 22:6, 20)— not what would take place in the distant future.

Even if Hunt were right and pre-millennialism were true, this would raise serious problems for his attempt to identify the whore of Babylon. If the whore were a future reality immediately preceding an earthly millennium, identifying it ahead of time would be virtually impossible. A future whore might not be any city currently existing. Attempting to identify it would be as foolish as attempting to identify the Antichrist before he arrives.

Hunt and his fellow pre-millennialists are fond of conjecturing that in the last days there will be a "revived Roman Empire," one that will persecute Christians. Yet they never draw the inference that this revived empire must be headed by a revived pagan Rome, with the bishop of Rome leading the Christian underground, as he did in the first century.

In summary, Revelation 18:20 and 18:24 prove that the whore had to be a creature of the first century, which in Hunt's own view the Catholic Church was not. Identifying the Catholic Church with the whore is completely impossible, no matter how hard Hunt strains against the evidence of the text.

James Akin is a contributing editor to This Rock.


These articles were taken from the September and October, 1994 issues of "This Rock," published by Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177, (619) 541-1131, $24.00 per year.


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