The Mother of Harlots

Down through the centuries students of Bible prophecy have wrestled with the identity and location of Mystery Babylon the Great as described in Revelation 17.

Until recently, the city of Rome has been the top choice of many Christian scholars. I say recently though, because a new ‘bad girl’ has appeared on the scene and is causing many to question the Roman paradigm. Thanks in large part to the writings of Joel Richardson, many are asking if Islam and Saudi Arabia might not be a better choice.

Today, we are not going to explore the Biblical record for the location of this mystery city, rather, I want to look at why the Bible describes this mystery city and its religious system as the great prostitute, the “mother” of prostitutes.

Ironically, both the Roman and Islamic theories of Mystery Babylon have one difficulty in common. They both must ignore one of the most important descriptive features of the false religious system.  You see, Mystery Babylon, is indeed described as the great Harlot or prostitute, but Revelation 17:5 provides even more details by telling us this mystery religion and its associated city is also the “Mother of Harlots”.

“And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)

Over the centuries many commentators have gone to great lengths to ignore or redefine the term mother as found here in Revelation 17:5. Obviously if “mother” is meant to be understood in its most natural sense then neither a Roman mystery Babylon nor the new Islamic mystery Babylon fit the description of Revelation 17. Over the last 6000 years of Biblical history there have been many idolatrous religious practices including those influenced by Rome and Islam. But can any of these idolatrous religious practices be legitimately considered the “mother” of harlots? In other words, which of these religious institutions can be considered the progenitor, source, or mother of all other idolatrous religions mentioned in the Bible?

Quite simply, it comes down to the definition of the term mother. If mother means mother then neither the Roman nor the Islamic theory of mystery Babylon fit the description of Revelation 17:5. As an example of how this difficulty is dealt with here is a quote from Joel Richardson’s new book: Mystery Babylon: Unlocking the Bible’s Greatest Prophetic Mystery.

“The title “the mother of all harlots,” however, has nothing to do with actual or metaphorical motherhood. ….

No, the phrase “the mother of” is figure of speech that means “major or best”. For instance, Saddam Hussein famously declared that if the United States invaded Iraq, the result would be “the mother of all battles,” meaning the biggest ever. The largest storm of the century might be referred to as “the mother of all storms.” Again, this simply means it is the biggest or most extreme storm, not that it will give birth to every other storm in history.” (Kindle loc. 1033)

A pretty important claim, don’t you think? Unfortunately, for his readers, Mr. Richardson does not provide a contextual Biblical basis for how he arrived at this conclusion. To you and I, in the 21 century using the term “mother” in this sense is not that unusual. But how Saddam Hussein or you and I understand the use of the word mother in the modern era is really not the question at hand. Proper Biblical interpretive method requires us to define the term “mother” as it was understood in the context in which it was given. In other words, is there any evidence in the Bible for using the word mother as Mr. Richardson and others who share  his interpretive method claim? Let’s take a look.

First, let’s define the word mother as it is found in Revelation 17:5. The word mother as it is found there in the text comes from the Greek word, meter {may’-tare} According to Strong’s concordance, the word meter is used 85 times in the New Testament and it has the following meanings:

1) a mother 2) metaph. the source of something, the motherland

Interestingly, of the 85 times this word is used in the New Testament, 83 of those refer specifically to a mother in the most natural sense. It must not be ignored that the only two instances when the term meter (mother) is not used specifically in reference to a human mother, it is used metaphorically in relation to two different cities. The first instance, found in Galatians 4:26, refers to a the heavenly city of Jerusalem which is the progenitor or source (mother) of all believers. The second instance refers to Mystery Babylon that mysterious earthly city which if taken in its most natural sense would refer to the progenitor or source (mother) of all idolaters. So two cities both described as mothers. One of which is described as the mother of all believers and the other the mother of unbelievers.

In the case of Mr. Richardson and his Islamic/Saudi theory of Mystery Babylon, he provides no real Biblical basis for his novel interpretation of the term mother. Like some of his peers who point to the Roman Catholicism as the great harlot, this is an oversight which any serious Berean cannot overlook.

I want to make clear here my intent is not to pick on Mr. Richardson, (others have made the same mistake) but rather to illustrate, with a contemporary example, how scholars have had to change the meaning of one of the Bible’s most basic words in order to find Mystery Babylon in their generation.

The reason this subject is so important is because pointing to Roman Catholicism, Islam, or some other religious belief as the religious system of Mystery Babylon has real world implications for believers as the return of Yeshua draws near. If the term mother was meant to be understood in its most natural sense then the religious system of Satan is still lurking in the shadows undisturbed by the light of truth while well-meaning believers provide cover by pointing an accusing finger at one of her idolatrous daughters.

So what do you think? Does the Bible describe a religious system or belief from which it could be said that all other idolatrous beliefs have their origins? In my next article Religion of the Harlot we will look for the Mother of Harlots in the Biblical record to see if we can find the root of this mystery religious system from which all others find their source. Secondarily, we will try to discover why the Bible associates this religious system with the infamous city of Babylon.

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