A close look at what the Bible says
There are a lot of folks who have been taught that the Roman Catholic Church is the harlot of Babylon that is spoken of in chapter 17 of the Book of Revelation: “I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names…and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of harlots…” (vv. 3-5).
They point to two main verses to “prove” that the woman (the harlot) is the Roman Catholic Church. Those verses are: 1) Rev 17:9…“This calls for a mind with wisdom; the seven heads are seven hills on which the woman is seated,” and 2) Rev 17:18…“And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
“See,” they say, “the seven hills means Rome, which is a city that sits on seven hills. The Catholic Church is headquartered in Rome. And, Rome was the great city that had dominion over the kings of the earth. Therefore, the harlot of Babylon is a world-wide religion that is based in Rome.” Wow. Open and shut case, right? Well, not so fast.
I’m going to make the case, using just the Bible, as to why I believe the harlot of Babylon is not the Catholic Church, but rather the city of Jerusalem. Let’s look a little more closely at some of these verses from Revelation 17.
Revelation 17:1, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters.” How is the nation of Israel often referred to in the Old Testament? As a harlot. Why? Because Israel quite often would forsake worship of the one true God, and would turn instead to the worship of false gods. The relationship between God and Israel is frequently described in marital terms. Therefore, when Israel would forsake her true Spouse, she was described as a harlot…a whore. Hosea 9:1, “Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved a harlot’s hire upon all threshing floors.” So, we see from the Old Testament that Israel is often referred to as a harlot.
Revelation 17:3, “…and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.” And, verse 9-10: “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven hills on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come….” What do we see here? We see that the seven hills pertain to the beast on which the woman is seated, not the woman herself. I believe, as do most folks I’ve read– Catholic and Protestant — that the beast is symbolic of Rome and the Roman Empire. So, again, the seven hills are referring to the beast the woman is seated upon, not the woman herself. But, if Rome is the beast, then that “proves” the woman sitting on the beast is the Catholic Church, right? Again, not so fast.
Let’s look at the last verse of the chapter again, verse 18: “And the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth.” Let’s think about that. We are told that the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth is Rome. And, since it is Rome, that “proves” that the harlot of Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church. But, big problem: I’ve already shown that the beast the woman is seated upon is Rome. If verse 9, which refers to the beast the woman is seated upon, is referring to the city of Rome; and verse 18, which refers to the harlot, is also referring to the city of Rome, then the beast and the harlot are one and the same. Both are the city of Rome. But, these are clearly two separate entities, so if one is Rome, then the other has to be something else. This is a bit of a problem for the harlot of Babylon folks.