Is Babylon the Papacy?



The biblical evidence very strongly indicates that spiritual Babylon is much larger and more extensive historically than the papacy.

Edwin E. Reynolds

One of the widely misunderstood symbols in the Book of Revelation is that of Babylon, portrayed in the book both as the great city and the prostitute/harlot/whore. Many preterist interpreters believe that Babylon represents the pagan Roman Empire in the time of John. Other preterists teach that the Harlot is old Jerusalem. Many futurists believe that Babylon may have derived its imagery from the ancient Roman power but that it represents some corrupt future power that will produce the eschatological Antichrist. Idealist interpreters of Revelation have a variety of views regarding Babylon, but most tend to view Babylon as representative of a corrupt world system. Many historicists, including not only most of the Reformers but also many Adventist scholars and interpreters of Revelation, believe that Babylon represents papal Rome. A number of other scholars view Babylon as representing a broader image than merely pagan or papal Rome, encompassing the sweep of human history.

These diverse views cannot all be correct. The question is what the Bible teaches about Babylon, and particularly what is taught in the Book of Revelation.


The Great Conflict in the Book of Revelation

There are two major powers in conflict in the Book of Revelation. They are set forth in the heart of the book—in Revelation 12. The conflict begins in heaven, with a war between Michael (the pre-incarnate Son of God) with His angels and the devil (Satan, the dragon) with his angels (vss. 7–9). The devil lost the war and was cast out of heaven to this Earth along with his angels (vs. 4). The conflict was carried to this Earth, as the rest of chapter 12 recounts, with allusions to the Fall in Genesis 3, and with the dragon being identified in Revelation 12:9 as “the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world.”1 It stands before the woman in 12:4 as she is about to give birth, ready to devour her Child as soon as He is born. This seems to be a clear allusion to Genesis 3:15, where the promised Offspring of the woman is to enter into conflict with the serpent, and the head of the serpent will be crushed even as it inflicts a wound on the heel of the woman’s Offspring. Certainly, the descriptive phrase “who is going to rule all nations with an iron rod” (Rev. 12:5) is a clear allusion to Psalm 2:9 and points to the Messiah, who is the Son of God (Ps. 2:2, 7) and who will eventually sit in judgment on the nations and rule as King of kings and Lord of lords (2:6, 8, 10–12).

The devil loses this conflict at every point of the story in Revelation 12. In verse 5, the male Child “was caught up to God and to his throne.” Satan is unable to prevent the success of His mission to earth. In 12:10, in an allusion to Christ’s victory at the Cross, Heaven declares, “‘The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been thrown down.’” Further, those whom he accused “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (vs. 11). From the time of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, and His enthronement at the right hand of His Father, Satan knew that he was a defeated foe and that he had but a short time left to do his work of deception and destruction. Therefore, he was very angry and went off to persecute the woman who had given birth to the male Child (vss. 12, 13). But God protected the woman (vss. 6, 14–16), and the dragon/serpent/devil was unable to annihilate her, although he attempted to do. So, he became furious with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her Offspring—those who keep the commands of God and hold firmly to the testimony about Jesus (vs. 17). Revelation reveals that they, too, though persecuted, will finally prevail and will end up in the holy city, New Jerusalem (3:12; 21:24–27; 22:14), while the devil and his allies end up in the lake of fire that consumes them (20:10, 15).


The Dragon With Seven Heads and Ten Horns

Satan, the dragon, is revealed in Revelation 12:3 to operate on Earth through earthly powers represented by seven heads and 10 horns. These are his agents to accomplish his work of deception and destruction (17:9, 10, 12). The agent in view in Revelation 12:5 was pagan Rome, through which Satan attempted to destroy the male Child. The agent in 12:14 to 16 was still Rome, although the power shifted from pagan Rome to papal Rome (Dan. 8:9–12, 23–25), leading to the Holy Roman Empire, in which the pope crowned the kings and emperors, conferring on them divine authority to rule. This resulted in a union of church and state in which the state carried out the demands of the church, even to enforcing the search for and punishment of heretics, most notably under the Inquisition. This papal Roman agent is seen again in the image of the beast from the sea (Rev. 13:1–8), a further elaboration of the nature and activities of the power at work in Revelation 12:14 to 16.

Satan’s agent in Revelation 12:17 is probably best understood to be the same power described in Revelation 13:11 to 17 as the beast from the earth, the new world superpower that acts with all the authority of the first beast—and in its presence, after its mortal wound has been healed (13:12, 14). Based on the timing of this power and its superpower status, able to cause the whole world to do its bidding, along with its rise from the earth (as compared with the sea, a fairly desolate and relatively unpopulated place) (Dan. 12:14–16; 17:15) and its nature—docile at first (with its two non-threatening horns like those of a lamb) but later speaking like a dragon—this political power may reasonably be deduced to represent the United States of America.2

In Revelation 17, a more complete picture of the dragon occurs, where it is viewed as a scarlet-colored beast with seven heads and ten horns. The angel’s interpretation to John declared that the seven heads represented seven kings that ruled consecutively—five had fallen, one was currently active, and one was yet to come (vs. 10). They were also represented as seven mountains, on which the harlot Babylon sat (vs. 9). Verse 18 represents the harlot as reigning over the kings (or kingdoms, as in Daniel 2:38 to 41 and 44; 7:17, 23 and 24; and 8:20 to 22) of the Earth; that is, sitting on the seven heads/mountains/kings/kingdoms represents her reign—or rule—over them, just as her sitting on many waters in Revelation 17:1 represents her reigning over the peoples, nations, and kings of the Earth (vs. 15).

The 10 horns, John is informed in 17:12, are 10 kings who have received no kingdom as yet—in John’s day—but would rule contemporaneously in John’s future as a confederacy of nations that would work together without becoming one—much like the feet and (10) toes of the image in Daniel 2:41 to 43 could not adhere to one another any more than iron mixed with clay. These 10 horns/kings would seem to be somewhat contemporaneous also with the little horn in Daniel 7:7 and 8, since they arose there from the fourth (Roman) beast and existed prior to the little-horn power but—all except the three which the little horn uprooted—continue, like the feet and toes of Daniel 2, until the end, when Christ destroys the kingdoms of this Earth and sets up His eternal kingdom (Dan. 2:34, 35, 44, 45). At that time, according to Revelation 17:12 to 14, the 10 horns conspire with the scarlet beast, who has become an eighth ruler in the eschatological period following the rule of the seven heads (vs. 11), to give their power and authority to the scarlet beast, the dragon, to make war with the Lamb and His followers. But the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings (vs. 14).


Babylon Versus the Heads and Horns of the Scarlet Beast

What is significant about the description in Revelation 17 is the distinction made between Babylon, the great city represented as a harlot sitting on the heads of the scarlet beast, and the heads and horns themselves. The heads and horns are powers/kings/kingdoms of the Earth that are used by the scarlet beast as its earthly agents to accomplish its purposes of making war on Christ and His followers, whereas Babylon is portrayed as a corrupting influence, a harlot, who reigns over, or exercises her dominance over, all of these earthly powers (vs. 18). There is, therefore, no justifiable way to equate Babylon with any one of the earthly powers represented by the heads and the horns.

Babylon is greater and more extensive than all of those earthly powers, being coextensive with Satan’s reign on earth. Her reign extends from the first to the last of all of those powers, that is, throughout most of human history. In fact, in Revelation 18:24, Babylon is held responsible for “the blood of prophets and saints, and of all those slaughtered on the earth.” That would include even the blood of Abel. The spirit of Babylon was already there in the heart of Cain when he rejected the requirement of God and became so angry at God’s rejection of his offering that he slew his brother, Abel, whose offering God had accepted (Gen. 4:3–11). The spirit of Babylon was there throughout history whenever the powers of Earth took action to reject the God of heaven and to oppress and kill His faithful followers. Babylon will continue its oppressive rule until its final collapse under the seventh bowl plague (Rev. 16:19), of which Revelation 17 and 18 offer an elaboration or fuller description.


The Papacy in the Book of Revelation

The papacy appears most clearly in the Book of Revelation in chapter 13, where it is represented by the beast from the sea. The language of the text makes a variety of literary and content connections with the little-horn power of Daniel 7 and 8. The seven heads and 10 horns (vs. 1) is one of those connections to Daniel’s prophecy. The mention of the leopard, the bear, and the lion (vs. 2) is another. Its war against the saints for 42 months/1260 days/a time, times, and half a time (vs. 5; 12:6, 14; Dan. 7:25) is yet another. The nature of that power—blaspheming God, His name, His tabernacle or dwelling place, and those who have their dwelling in heaven (vs. 6)—is still another. The fact that it appears outwardly to look somewhat like the dragon of Revelation 12 should not be too surprising, since the dragon gives it its power, its (civil) seat or throne, and great authority (13:2), and when people worship the beast, they are said to be worshiping the dragon because it gave its authority to the beast (13:4). In other words, they are worshiping the power and authority behind the throne, which is that of the dragon (Satan).

In fact, a careful study of the language of the text reveals that the beast from the sea is actually one of the heads of the dragon, doing the dragon’s work on the Earth. Revelation 13:3 points out that “one of its heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but its fatal wound was healed.” Verse 2 states that “the dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority,” with the antecedent of his being the dragon. So, when verse 3 says that “one of its heads appeared to be fatally wounded,” the antecedent still seems to be the dragon. One of the dragon’s heads was wounded, and that head was the power represented by the beast from the sea, which mimics the dragon but is not the dragon. Later, the text speaks of “the first beast . . . whose fatal wound was healed” (13:12) and “the beast, . . . who was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (vs. 14). The beast itself, one of the seven heads of the dragon, was wounded, not one of the seven heads of the beast from the sea. There is no emphasis in the text on the seven heads of the beast from the sea, as though they represent separate powers or kings/kingdoms working as agents of the beast from the sea. They appear only to mimic the appearance of the dragon and have no individual symbolic value. It is the beast itself that acts, not its seven heads. In Revelation 13:1, the only place that mentions the seven heads of this beast, it is the 10 horns that are mentioned first and receive attention as being crowned. The only purpose of that mention is to show the timing of the rise of the beast, equating it with the period of the 10 horns of Daniel 7, during which the little-horn power would arise, pulling up three of the horns as it grew to full power (vss. 8, 24).

The papacy has, at least since the time of the Reformation, been held by many to be represented by the little horn of Daniel and by the beast from the sea in Revelation 13. So significant was this interpretation that Jesuit scholars Francisco Ribera and Luis de Alcasar in the 16th century proposed, respectively, the futurist and preterist methods of interpreting Revelation for the sole purpose of trying to avoid the historicist interpretation, which pointed to the papacy as the corrupt and blasphemous power described in Revelation.3 The papal Roman power has met the various specifications of these prophecies to a remarkable degree, not only in character but also in timing and in activities. It seems reasonable from a recapitulationist historicist perspective that Daniel’s little-horn power and Revelation’s beast from the sea do represent the papal power that ruled Western Europe for 1260 years, from the time Justinian handed over power to the bishop of Rome in A.D. 538 until Napoleon’s General Berthier took the pope into captivity in 1798. This seemingly fatal wound has since been fully healed, as prophesied in Revelation 13:3, 12, and 14, and current events reveal the resurgence of the papal influence today in preparation for the final events described in Revelation 13:11 to 17 with the support of the beast from the earth.


The Papacy Distinguished From Babylon

If the beast from the sea is one of the seven heads on the dragon or scarlet beast and represents the papal Roman power, it cannot also be Babylon, since Babylon sits on the seven heads (Rev. 17:9), representing its rulership over the heads, namely, the kings or kingdoms of the Earth that are represented by the heads/mountains (vs. 18). It remains to delineate the seven heads of the dragon/scarlet beast from Scripture and to note the distinctions between the papacy and Babylon.

We begin from the explanation given by the angelic interpreter to John in Revelation 17:9 and 10: “This calls for a mind that has wisdom. ‘The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated. They are also seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes, he must remain for only a little while.’” The statement by the angel to John that five had fallen, which uses a perfective aorist, signifies that their fall was in the past and they remained in their fallen condition in John’s day. In other words, five of the seven kingdoms were already ancient history by the late first century A.D., when John was receiving the explanation. One of the kingdoms was active and ruling in John’s day, namely the Roman Empire. And one kingdom was yet to arise in John’s distant future, and it would remain for only a relatively brief time before the return of Christ brings in the end of world kingdoms (Dan. 2:44; Rev. 11:15).

The great kingdoms spoken of in prophecy were those kingdoms that had oppressive relationships with God’s covenant people, first in ancient Israel, then later with the faithful people of God in the Christian Church. The first such major world power was ancient Egypt, which sought to oppress God’s people (the children of Israel), and even to annihilate them (Ex. 1:8–16; 14:5–12). The second was Assyria (Isa. 52:4), which conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, taking all of the fortified cities of Judah except Jerusalem, and placing the people of Israel in captivity, distributing them through the lands of the north and replacing them in Israel (also called Samaria) with heathen people from the north (2 Kings 17:3–6,18–24;18:9–13). The third was Babylonia, which under Nebuchadnezzar took Judah into captivity, destroyed Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, killed their fit young men, deported those who escaped the sword, and also destroyed the temple and took the valuables from the temple to Babylon to use for pagan worship (2 Chron. 36:17–21; Dan. 1:1, 2). The prophecies of Daniel pick up at this point, with Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire being represented by the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Babylon was also represented by the lion in Daniel’s dream in Daniel 7. But God prophesied the rise of other world kingdoms after Babylon that would continue to behave in similar fashion.

After Babylon, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians took power (Dan. 5:30, 31; 6:28). Daniel’s next vision took place at the end of the reign of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon (8:1), and it began with a prophecy of the rise of two kingdoms represented respectively by a ram and a male goat. The former, according to the interpretation of Gabriel, represented the combined kingdom of Media and Persia (or Medo-Persia), followed by the latter, the kingdom of Greece (8:20, 21). These were parallel, respectively, to the breast and arms of silver and the belly and thighs of brass (or bronze) in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. They were also parallel to the bear and the leopard in Daniel’s first vision in chapter 7. Medo-Persia tried to destroy the Jews under Ahasuerus (Xerxes) through the influence of Haman the Agagite (Esther 3:5–13).

After Alexander the Great conquered the Persian armies of Darius III, Greece ruled the world (Dan. 11:1–4). But Alexander died young, and his kingdom was divided (8:8, 21, 22). The Ptolemies ruled Palestine for a time, then the Seleucids won Palestine for themselves. Under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jewish religion was declared illegal, the temple was profaned, and the Jews were forcibly Hellenized or were killed. The Maccabean rebellion led to about a century of independence for Judea under the Hasmonean kings, but this independence was short-lived.

 Greece was followed by the iron kingdom of Rome (Dan. 2:49; 7:7, 19), which defeated the Greeks in the Macedonian Wars and defeated Carthage in 146 B.C. In 63 B.C., the Roman general Pompey defeated Jerusalem and placed Palestine under Roman control. The Roman empire was established under Caesar Augustus (Octavian) in 27 B.C. This is the empire that was ruling at the time of John’s vision on Patmos, about A.D. 95. This empire would be the sixth head on the dragon. The five that had fallen would be, starting from the beginning: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia, and Greece.4

It is important at this point to consider the 10 horns. In Daniel 7, these horns appear on the fourth beast, the great and terrible beast with the iron teeth and claws, which tramples the whole earth. After the 10 horns appear, the little horn arises and pulls up three of the horns as it asserts its power and becomes great, with the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking proud words and blasphemies (7:24, 25). This power is seen again, as shown above, in the beast from the sea in Revelation 13. In Revelation 17, the 10 horns will appear yet again in the distant future, from John’s historical perspective, strongly suggesting a lengthy rule for Rome before the rise of the 10 horns (Dan. 8:23–26). Strong parallels between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the little horn of Daniel 8 suggest that it is the same power but portrayed in a different setting, particularly from a sanctuary perspective. In both cases, the little horn continues until its judgment, which is contemporaneous with the vindication and reward of the saints at the end of the pre-advent judgment (Dan. 7:26, 27; 8:13, 14, 25, 26), much as the feet and toes of the image in Daniel 2 continued until the end of history and the setting up of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

All of this suggests that the 10 horns and the little horn are a continuation of the power of Rome in the Western world. This makes the little horn, which is also the beast from the sea in Revelation 13, a part of the sixth head, representing Rome. We should see the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire as an extension of the power of Rome, since it was Justinian I, the Roman emperor from 527–565, who appointed the bishops and popes, determined orthodox theology, and ruled the church until he had conquered the Germanic tribes that were attempting to control Rome and impose their Arian theology on the fallen Western empire.

After restoring Nicene orthodoxy in the West, in 538 he relinquished control to a praetorian prefect and to Vigilius the bishop of Rome, considered to be the first Byzantine pope. With the help of the Franks, who had converted to Catholicism under Clovis I and brought the individual tribes together under one king, the pope brought western Rome under the control of the Roman Catholic Church.

The bishop of Rome, who came to be known as the Holy Father (el papa, the pope), ultimately used the forged document, “The Donation of Constantine,” to establish his right to rule over all civil authorities. This led to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, with the pope as the true sovereign over kings and emperors, with authority to crown them or to depose them or place their nation under interdict to put public pressure on them to yield to papal authority. The papal plan was to rule the world.

What, then, of the seventh head of the dragon? According to Revelation 13:12, 14, the beast from the sea continues its power after the healing of its deadly wound, supported by the beast from the earth, who “exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed” (vs. 12). This indicates another last-day power that arises after the healing of the deadly wound and is a superpower like that of the beast from the sea, sharing the coercive nature of the first beast to force people to worship the first beast. This is the only power in Revelation that could be rightly represented by the seventh head on the dragon—and it has no equivalent in Daniel, which ends with the feet and toes of the image in Daniel 2 and with the 10 horns and little horn in Daniel 7, which are old-world powers. The beast from the earth seems to be a new-world power, as suggested by the scenario in Revelation 12:14 to 16, which points to the earth opening its mouth to swallow up the flood of people that the dragon/serpent spewed out of its mouth in order to sweep the woman away with the flood. The portrayal of the woman fleeing into the wilderness, a desolate place largely devoid of population and poorly suited for life, is an apt portrayal of the opening up of the New World as a place for the faithful people of God to flee for refuge from persecution by the Holy Roman Empire under the direction of the papal Inquisition. The timing was right: within the 1260 years (12:6, 14; 13:5) of papal domination beginning in 538 and ending in 1798. The seventh head was in the distant future for John but would rule for a relatively short period before the end of history (17:10). The sixth (Roman) head had already ruled for nearly two thousand years when the seventh head began to rule, and the seventh head may well rule less than three hundred years before the end of history occurs, which is a relatively brief time.

It is impossible for the papacy to be considered to be the seventh head, since not only was it a continuation of the Roman Empire with its seat in Rome (Rev. 13:2), but also because it ruled from A.D. 538 until the end of human history except for a brief hiatus after receiving its deadly wound in 1798. Its seat in Rome was officially restored by Mussolini in 1929 in the Lateran Treaty, and its power has grown until today.


Is Babylon the Papacy?

The papacy has been shown to be best represented by the beast from the sea in Revelation 13, which is equivalent to the little-horn power of Daniel 7 and 8, and as the sixth head on the dragon/scarlet beast. In other words, the papacy is represented by one of the seven heads or mountains (kingdoms) in Revelation 17, on which the harlot Babylon sits. Babylon, however, has been shown to be “the great city that has royal power over the kings of the earth” (17:18). She has also been shown to be responsible for “the blood of prophets and saints, and of all those slaughtered on the earth” (18:24). Therefore, Babylon cannot be the papacy, and the papacy cannot be Babylon. Babylon is a dominant spirit that has been around since Cain slew his brother Abel, who “was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts” (Heb. 11:4), while God did not approve of Cain’s gifts (Gen. 4:5). She rules over the nations of the earth, causing them to hate the righteous, as Cain hated Abel, and to rebel against God and His decrees, as Cain did. This lawless and rebellious spirit has ruled every one of the major nations of Earth that has come into conflict with God’s people and thus with God.


What Is Babylon?

Babylon originally derived its symbolic characteristics from the city and tower of Babel as recorded in Genesis 11:1 to 9. Built by Nimrod, “the first on earth to be a mighty man” (10:8, ESV) and “a powerful hunter in the sight of the Lord” (vs. 9), Babylon very early in biblical history became a type for the spirit of rebellion against God. Nimrod and his colleagues built the city and the tower as a way of defying God’s command to spread out and fill the earth (9:7; 11:4) and His promise not to destroy the Earth again with a flood of water (9:11, 15; 11:4).

They also determined to make a name for themselves (11:4), much as later empires would attempt to do. But God dispersed them against their will and confused their language (11:5–9), so that the city was called “Babylon” because there the Lord confused their language. It became a type of what would take place later at different periods of history.

The spirit of spiritual Babylon is present in all of the seven heads on the dragon, and that spirit is really the spirit of the dragon manifest on Earth as ruling over the heads (and the horns on the sixth head) of the scarlet beast, which as an eighth king rules in the eschatological period after the line of the historical seven kingdoms (Rev. 17:11). The papacy was one of those heads, or kingdoms. It was ruled by the spirit of Babylon and could be thus considered a representative of Babylon in its historical period.

Spiritual Babylon is much greater than the papacy and far more extensive in history. The papacy did not arise as a world power until A.D. 538, and although it has ruled longer than any other power, it is not co-extensive with Babylon. There was no papacy in the Old Testament period, but spiritual Babylon was already there. It was, early on, exemplified by the spirit of the Babel/Babylon builders, but it has been far more destructive through history than the builders of the original city and its tower, and God promises to judge it accordingly.

The biblical evidence very strongly indicates that spiritual Babylon is much larger and more extensive historically than the papacy, going at least as far back as the tower of Babel and the city of ancient Babylon, and probably all the way back to Cain and Abel (Rev. 18:24). Papal Rome claims to trace its roots back as far as Peter, the first bishop of Rome, in a line of continuous apostolic succession. However, it was difficult to substantiate its function as one of the seven heads until the Roman emperor Justinian I left the civil power in Western Rome to be controlled by the bishop of Rome. From that point onward, the papacy increasingly controlled the civil powers in the West, leading to the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, a union of church and state that became increasingly despotic until the time of the Protestant Reformation.

The power of the Roman Church was temporarily suspended in 1798 by the arrest and imprisonment of Pope Pius VI and the confiscation of the lands and monies of the church by the army of Napoleon. Although all of this was returned to the church by Mussolini in the Lateran Treaty of 1929, and the papacy has returned to power once again (Rev. 13:3) as a city-state—Vatican City—with its own flag, money, civil authorities, ambassadors, and so forth, it is still under the domination of spiritual Babylon, according to Revelation 17:18. It may behave like Babylon and bear the characteristics of Babylon, but it is not spiritual Babylon any more than any of the other six heads are Babylon. Each did the work of Babylon, because Babylon was the controlling influence over it.

But it is important biblically to draw a distinction between the seven heads and 10 horns and the harlot, which is depicted as sitting on them and ruling over them. The papacy may be referred to as a historical representative of spiritual Babylon that has dominated the world for much of the Christian era and will play an important role in end-time events (Rev. 13:12, 14, 15), but it should not be concluded that the papacy is actually Babylon itself. The two are separate and distinct entities in the Book of Revelation, not to be confused with one another.

Rome, both pagan and papal, is the sixth of the seven heads on the dragon in Revelation 12 and the scarlet beast in Revelation 17. Papal Rome is also the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 and the little horn of Daniel 7 and 8. It is a very significant civil and religious power on Earth, ruling longer than any other power in history. Yet it has a limited history, confined to the Christian era, with no presence in Old Testament history.

Babylon, on the other hand, is shown in Revelation 17:18 to reign over all of the heads of the scarlet beast, which are the major kingdoms depicted as mountains in 17:9, on which she sits, five of which are already “fallen” in John’s day, one “is,” and the other still lies in the distant future for John (vs. 10). Babylon, then, dominates all of these kingdoms with her corrupting influence, beginning with ancient Egypt, followed by Assyria, Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome (both pagan and papal phases), and the new-world superpower of the United States (as depicted in 13:11–17).

Furthermore, Babylon is held responsible for the blood of all who have been slain on the Earth (18:24), extending the spirit of Babylon all the way back to the death of Abel in Genesis 4. With this extensive history for Babylon, which is essentially coextensive with the earthly dominance of the dragon, Satan himself, there is no way that the papacy can be said to be equivalent to spiritual Babylon.

This does not suggest that the papacy does not have the spirit of Babylon, as did all of the earthly powers that have come under its dominant influences, but it cannot be coextensive with Babylon or be understood to be identical with Babylon. The two are not interchangeable entities.


Edwin E. Reynolds, PhD, is a retired Professor of New Testament currently serving as Research Professor at Southern Adventist University’s School of Religion in Collegedale, Tennessee, U.S.A.



1. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations in this article are quoted from the Christian Standard Bible.

2. T. E. Andrews and T. Z. Andrews, Studies in Revelation: An Exposition of Chapters 12 & 17 (College Place, Wash.: Walla Walla College Print, 1902), 21, 22; Lawrence M. Nelson, The Antichrist (Middleton, Idaho: CHJ Publishing, 1996), 88, 89; Edwin Reynolds, “The Seven-headed Beast of Revelation 17,” Asia Adventist Seminary Studies 6 (2003): 99–106.

3. Oral Edmond Collins, The Final Prophecy of Jesus: An Introduction, Analysis, and Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 8.

4. Ekkehardt Müller, “The Beast of Revelation 17: A Suggestion (Part I),” Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary 10:1 (2007): 165.