Is Babylon a Symbol for Rome in the Book of Revelation?
There are those who claim that Babylon is not a symbol of Rome in Revelation, but this is not true, for it is indeed a symbol of Rome. Because of the movement of the Babylonian Religion into Rome, individuals recognized it as a second Babylon for more information look at 666 History Overview. A number of sources, including several contemporaries of the time, support this. Augustine of Hippo, in his City of God, in several places mentions that Rome is comparable to Babylon. Augustine makes the comparison from a historical standpoint, given that both cities were conquerors.
Here, in book 16 of City of God is the first such statement:
"In Assyria, therefore, the dominion of the impious city had the pre-eminence. Its head was Babylon, an earth born city, most fitly named, for it means confusion. There Ninus reigned after the death of his father Belus, who first had reigned there sixty-five years. His son Ninus, who, on his father's death, succeeded to the kingdom, reigned fifty-two years, and had been king forty-three years when Abraham was born, which was about the 1200th year before Rome was founded, as it were another Babylon in the west."
In book 18 of City of God is another such statement:
"But since Grecian affairs are much better known to us than Assyrian, and those who have diligently investigated the antiquity of the Roman nation's origin have followed the order of time through the Greeks to the Latins, and from them to the Romans, who themselves are Latins, we ought on this account, where it is needful, to mention the Assyrian kings, that it may appear how Babylon, like a first Rome, ran its course along with the city of God, which is a stranger in this world. But the things proper for insertion in this work in comparing the two cities, that is, the earthly and heavenly, ought to be taken mostly from the Greek and Latin kingdoms, where Rome herself is like a second Babylon. "
In book 18 of City of God, Chapter 22, is another such statement:
"To be brief, the city of Rome was founded, like another Babylon, and as it were the daughter of the former Babylon, by which God was pleased to conquer the whole world, and subdue it far and wide by bringing it into one fellowship of government and laws."
The Catholic Encyclopedia itself argues that Babylon is Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia in the article titled St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, argues that Babylon is Rome. Go to the section about half way down the page to the section titled: IV. ACTIVITY AND DEATH IN ROME; BURIAL PLACE. Then, just below that is a group of bulleted paragraphs. Read paragraphs 2, 3, and you will see that they argue from a historical and biblical perspective that Babylon is a symbol of Rome.
It is clear that other church fathers considered that Peter's statement referred to Rome. Consider Jerome, in his De viris illustribus, in section 8, Mark, indicates that Peter is speaking of Rome when he mentions Babylon.
Catholic Historians openly admit that Babylon was a symbol of Rome. Cardinal Gibbons in his book, Faith of our Fathers in the 1917 edition on page 106 says,
"The penetration of the religion of Babylon became so general and well known that Rome was called the New Babylon."
History provides another suggestion that Rome is a symbol for Babylon. In 586 B.C, Babylon destroyed both Jerusalem and the temple. In 70 A.D, the Romans did exactly the same thing to both Jerusalem and the rebuilt temple. They were quite thorough too. Jesus in Matthew 24 speaking about the future of the Jewish Temple; said "not one stone would be left upon another." History records that the Roman army burned temple, and the fire melted the gold in the temple. After the fire was out, the Romans discovered that the gold had melted and run down between the cracks of the rocks. Therefore, they pulled up all the stones to get at the gold.
There is an article available at a Baptist Church website that details some of the history of thought by many individuals over the last thousand years that Rome is in fact the woman in Revelation, which the Bible identifies as Babylon, Rome And the Harlot of Revelation 17. Go about halfway down the page to begin reading the article.
It is reasonable to see the word Babylon in the book of Revelation as a code word for Rome. However, in Revelation 17, we are shown the prostitute woman who is said to be Babylon. Now, obviously, a literal woman cannot be a literal city. That is physically impossible. So, what we must conclude is that the woman symbolizes Babylon and Babylon symbolizes the woman. The literal city of Babylon is a model to help us better understand the woman. From the symbolism of the woman and the things she wears, we know that this woman represents a church, which since she is Babylon, which is a symbol of Rome, tells us that this woman represents the Roman Catholic Church.
However, depending on the time period under consideration for the history of "Babylon", it does not refer exclusively to the Roman Church, for the woman of Revelation 17, who has the word "Babylon" across her forehead, also has daughters (Revelation 17:5). These "daughters" cannot have been "born" and be part of Babylon right then because that would mean they never were "born" or separated from the mother church. Historically, we know that they separated from the church of Rome. So, when they were "born", they became separate cities of their own, though neither named nor directly mention by Revelation 17 (there is a very indirect reference to them in Revelation 17, but that requires some explaining not done here on this particular page). Someday their status will change. Someday those Protestant Churches will join in the coming Apostasy and will then become part of Great Babylon of the future. The Catholic Church is the only large Christian Denomination today that claims it is the mother church, the mother of all the Protestant Churches.
Most of the power of Protestant Churches today is in the United States. The earth beast of Revelation 13 creates the image to the beast and the apostate Protestant Religions through the US government will accomplish this. Some have suggested that Babylon is not Rome because the main economic center of the world today is the USA, and the description of the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18 is one of an economic powerhouse. However, this ignores the obvious evidence that the early Christian Church adopted many of the practices of the Babylonian religion. The Bible indicates who Babylon is by the presence of the Babylonian Religion. Most of the people in the United States do not practice that religion today.
One must consider that the Bible says the woman has daughters, which by history we know did not really come about until the time of the Protestant Reformation. This event was centuries after John wrote what God had shown him. Therefore, the definition has not changed over the millennia as demonstrated by this. Had this definition changed, then it would seem reasonable that the Bible would not talk about the woman having daughters.
The argument that Babylon is now the USA ignores the obvious evidence that the Catholic Church is a major economic force on a worldwide basis. Further, some object to this because Revelation 18 describes a city with a seaport, which Rome really is not, though it does have a nearby seaport. However, all of the objections ignore the clear rule that most things in Revelation are symbolic. Hence, this seaport idea is likely symbolic of something, as are the ships, trade referred to, and many other things in that chapter. Even if they are not all symbolic, there is plenty of evidence that during the time of ancient pagan Rome, to 476 A.D, Rome was the center of commerce of its time. That has changed, but we need to consider that God was using the cultural symbols of the day to point to future events. Therefore, we do need to understand the symbols of the time to understand what these things pointed to in the future. This does not mean the interpretation takes on the meaning of the time of John only, for that would be Preterism, which postulates that God fulfilled all the prophecies in the time of John. There is evidence the book of Revelation is about time until Jesus comes, not just John's day. The point is that one should not write off Babylon being Rome because of these objections.
In conclusion, Babylon as a code word for the church in Rome is reasonable given the historical and biblical perspective of this.