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dianoigo blog

Monday, 27 August 2018

Why the Trinity Just Doesn’t Make Sense to Christadelphians

Guest Article by Matthew J. Farrar

Introduction

The denial of the Trinity doctrine is arguably one of the strongest identity markers of Christadelphians.1   Christadelphian arguments against the Trinity typically follow one of three lines:2
  1. Jesus is not the Father and is therefore not God.
  2. Jesus is a man and is therefore not God.
  3. The Trinity is inconsistent with the Scriptures' absolute insistence on monotheism.
The first objection is actually based on an erroneous conflation of Modalism3—a doctrine holding that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three modes of operation of a single divine person—with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, which holds that there are three distinct, eternal persons who share a Divine nature. The second objection similarly conflates the doctrine of Christ’s Divinity with a denial of His humanity, whereas orthodox Christology emphatically affirms Christ’s humanity.4

However, in conversations with Christadelphians—and indeed my own experience as a former Christadelphian—by far the most compelling arguments against the Trinity are based on the third issue of monotheism. Undoubtedly, the Scriptures insist on an uncompromising monotheism.5 It therefore appears that the Trinity doctrine is a violation of basic common sense: if God is one, then God cannot be three, and if He is three, He cannot be one. An answer in The Christadelphian Advocate's Question Box feature succinctly exemplifies this objection:
The Bible is so clear on this matter it is a puzzle as to how anyone can conclude anything about a godhead consisting of three beings, acting independently of each other yet still together, as one single being. The idea that the three were co-existent as well as co-equal and each a part of the Supreme Being destroys the beauty of the Father/Son relationship that is so emphatically detailed in the Scriptures.
The objection is clear enough: to say that three beings are actually one being is a contradiction, and a rather obvious one at that. So why is it that orthodox Christians hold to this doctrine when it seems to be at odds with basic common sense?

An Important Assumption

What is tacitly assumed but not acknowledged in the Christadelphian line of reasoning is that the God of the Bible is rightly understood to be a being. That is to say, there are many beings (e.g. angels, humans, animals), and God is regarded as another being, albeit a unique and supreme Being who exceeds all other beings in power, knowledge, wisdom, goodness, etc. It is precisely under this assumption that the Christadelphian argument against the Trinity are so compelling: 
  1. A "being" is the broadest classification possible.
  2. Therefore, distinct persons are beings.
  3. "God" is a being.
  4. Therefore "God" is either one person and one being or three persons and three beings. He cannot be three persons but one being.
  5. Since the Scriptures affirm that God is One (being), the Trinity is false.
So how is it that the Church came to affirm the Trinity doctrine despite this glaring problem? The answer lies in that the Church does not consider God to be a being, but rather, being itself.

Nominalism: The Roots of a Theological Revolution

Believe it or not, the roots of this issue go back to the 14th century, a time prior to but very influential on the Reformation. This era ushered in a new philosophical position known as nominalism, a philosophy that is widely held—though seldom explicitly recognized—today. At its core, nominalism denies the real existence of universals. To understand what a universal is, consider the drawing below.


We would all quickly identify this drawing as a triangle, but on what basis? There are two basic answers to this question. The first is that there is a universal triangle, of which this particular triangle is a manifestation or instantiation. In other words, something is a triangle in the measure that it conforms to the universal triangle. The second answer—that of nominalism—is that there are simply a collection of objects which we call “triangles”, and this happens to be one of them. However, nominalists would claim that this classification is more or less one of convenience and therefore there is no such thing as the essential nature of a triangle.

To see the impact of this thinking in our own day, consider two hot-button issues: marriage and gender. Those who believe that universals are real—called realists—hold that heterosexual marriage and gender (male and female) are real universals. As such, a particular marriage is an actual marriage in the measure that it conforms to this universal and is a particular instantiation of it. Similarly, realists hold that a man is a man on the basis that he is an instantiation of a particular universal, namely, a male nature (and similarly for a woman).

In contrast, the nominalist perspective asserts that there are merely a collection of relationships called “marriages.” Therefore, to redefine marriage beyond monogamous heterosexual marriage is simply to broaden the usage of the word “marriage”. Similarly, “man” and “woman” are mere labels applied to groups of persons, and so the labels can be applied differently or new labels may be created as needed.

Now since nominalists deny the existence of universals, and natures are universals, it follows that nominalists deny the existence of natures. Thus, under this rubric there is no universal human nature (i.e. humanity) of which all human beings are instantiations; there are simply a collection of beings that we call “humans” just as there are three-sided objects that we call triangles. More to the point, if there is no such real thing as a nature, then there is also no such thing as a real divine nature: only a being we call “God,”6 and the phrase “the divine nature” simply becomes a shorthand for His personal attributes. Consequently, to acknowledge three divine persons is necessarily to acknowledge three divine beings, since “divine” and “persons” are again merely labels and “being” is simply the least restrictive classification possible.

Since Christadelphians—like most of the Western World—tend to be involuntary nominalists with respect to their conception of God,7 8 the Trinity doctrine appears to present an insurmountable contradiction. Nominalist Trinitarians attempt to circumvent a contradiction by false appeals to the mystery of the doctrine,9 while Christadelphians deny the mystery of the doctrine by appeals to the contradiction.

But what if we reject nominalism in the first place?

God is Being itself, not one being among many

Since nominalism was an innovation of the 14th century, it follows that the formulators of the Trinity doctrine in the first five centuries of the Church were not and could not have been nominalists. For example, the Nicene Creed states that Jesus is “one in substance/essence/nature with the Father.” Of course, this formulation necessarily assumes that natures are real! Even the Arians of the 4th Century—those opposing the divinity of Christ at the First Council of Nicea—did not dispute the real existence of natures, but instead argued that Christ was of a different, inferior nature from that of the Father. Semi-Arianism, a subsequent attempt at a compromise position, declared the Son to be of “like nature” (homoiousios) to the Father rather than of the same nature (homoousios) as the Nicene Creed affirmed.10 Thus, opponents of Christ's true divinity in the fourth century were not raising the so-called “common sense” objections outlined above.

Moreover, if nominalism is rejected, then we may also reasonably deny that God is one being among other beings.11 Instead, following the revelation of the divine name, “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), the Church teaches that God is "the act of to be" itself.12 Thus, while I am a being, God is being itself. If this sounds unfathomable, perhaps we have not taken God’s transcendence seriously enough. God is not merely greater than us by degree but is utterly beyond us, of a different order. If the notion that “God is being itself” seems too abstract to grasp, consider by analogy the assertion that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). The Biblical claim is not merely that “God is extremely loving” or “God has a lot of love”; love is not merely an abstract attribute that exists apart from God and that God has more of than anyone else. Love is essential to God’s nature, and does not exist apart from God. We are capable of love only because God has shared his love with us (1 John 4:19). The same is true of being, of existence. God is not merely a supreme being, i.e. one who has the attribute of existence (and other dependent attributes such as power, wisdom and love) in greater quality or quantity than others. Rather, God is existence; nothing exists except from him and through him and for him (Rom. 11:36; Heb. 2:10).

Given this understanding of God, the “common sense” rejection of the Trinity no longer holds for the following reasons. 

First, monotheism is actually a consequence of this understanding, not a condition imposed upon it. While we cannot truly comprehend what it means for God to be “to be itself”, it’s simply impossible to have more than one sheer act of being itself. Thus, it is rigorously consistent with Scriptural affirmations of monotheism.

Second, the key tenets of the Trinity doctrine—that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-eternal and co-equal in nature—also follow directly from this understanding of God. It would be a contradiction in terms to say, for example, that the Son is the sheer act of being but not co-eternal with the Father, who is also the sheer act of being. Nor would it be possible to say that the Son is co-eternal with the Father but not the sheer act of being, since that would mean that a being exists always with being itself, which is also a contradiction. Thus, the doctrine that God is “to be itself” and the joint doctrines of consubstantiality (i.e. the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have the same nature) and co-eternality are logical consequences, not additionally imposed doctrines.

Finally—and most importantly for the present discussion—the existence of distinct divine persons is no longer equated with the existence of distinct divine beings. Rather, within the divine nature (i.e. the sheer act of to be) we can discern three distinct persons, but at no point are there any beings involved, only the act of to be itself. Do we really comprehend what that means? No, and that is why the doctrine is truly and properly called a mystery. However, the contradiction suggested by the original argument is dissolved.

Concluding Remarks

The philosophical system of nominalism developed in the late Middle Ages, long after the creedal statements surrounding the Trinity doctrine were constructed, but its popularity—especially amongst the Reformers—was widespread. Not surprisingly then, Christadelphian objections to the Trinity doctrine on the basis of “common sense” appeals to Scriptural statements of absolute monotheism tacitly—if not unwittingly—assume an underlying nominalist philosophy, namely that God is one being amongst many other beings. This is an important observation since some Christadelphians (perhaps relying on Col. 2:8)13 view “philosophy” as a by-word, a distraction to be avoided. What this article has shown, however, is that all of us—Christadelphians included—engage in philosophy and what we may prefer to call “common sense” actually rests on our own philosophical presuppositions. My hope is that a greater awareness of this philosophical framework will open channels of future discourse.

Footnotes

  • 1 Though not entirely unique. Biblical Unitarians essentially agree entirely with Christadelphians on this point, while Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Oneness Pentecostals share in the denial of the Trinity doctrine but do not share in Christadelphian theology and/or Christology. The Christadelphian doctrine of God underwent considerable evolution in the early period of the movement. The founder of the sect, Dr. John Thomas, held a somewhat ineffable doctrine of God that he thought was captured by the Greek word phanerōsis. While Dr. Thomas's ideas still have currency with some Christadelphians, the main stream of the movement has long since moved toward something closer to Socinianism or (biblical) Unitarianism—doctrines that Dr. Thomas emphatically repudiated!
  • 2 For example, see here.
  • 3 This view is also known as Sabellianism because it was taught by Sabellius, a 3rd-century priest. He was excommunicated for his teaching by Pope Callixtus I.
  • 4 Refer to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed defined at the fourth-century ecumenical councils of Nicea and Constantinople, and the Christological Definition reached at the fifth-century Council of Chalcedon.
  • 5 Historians of religion debate exactly when monotheism developed in Israelite religion; some earlier texts may suggest a belief closer to henotheism (allegiance to only one God, without necessarily denying the existence of others—see, e.g., Psalm 95:3). In any case, strong exclusive claims about “one God” that are synonymous with monotheism are present in Second Temple Jewish texts and in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 12:32).
  • 6 Granted, a very impressive being, even a Supreme Being. However, this being differs from us only in degree (e.g. we have limited power, while God has unlimited power) not by nature, since nominalists deny the existence of natures.
  • 7 As evidenced by the quotation above which starts from the use of the word “beings.”
  • 8 I wish to be clear that I do not mean this disparagingly. My point is merely that certain philosophical presuppositions are present in all arguments.
  • 9 This was blatantly the case in the writings of William of Ockham.
  • 10 Semi-Arianism was condemned at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., but by that time the three Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa) had succeeded through theological dialogue in persuading most of the Semi-Arians to return to the catholic faith.
  • 11 To be precise, while other beings have a real nature, we rightly say that God is His nature. In other words, I, as a human being, am a particular instantiation of a human nature. God, on the other hand, is not an instantiation of a divine nature, but rather, He is the divine nature.
  • 12 Ipsum esse subsistens, in the Latin of St. Thomas Aquinas.
  • 13 Of course, Paul does not here condemn philosophy itself, but only philosophy that is contrary to Christ and therefore false. Paul’s own willingness to enter into philosophical discourse is on vivid display in the account of his speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17). For a defense of the use of Greek philosophy by the early Church, see here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

A Tale of Two Cities: The Bride and the Whore in the Book of Revelation

The Apocalypse of John contains some of the most striking feminine imagery in the Bible and indeed in all of ancient literature. Two female figures, in particular, stand out as dualistic counterparts: the Bride and the Whore. This article explores these two figures against their biblical and early Christian background, with a view to correctly interpreting them.

The Bride

On the one hand, we have "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." This woman appears in the latter visions of the book (chs. 19 and 20-21), where the bridal imagery is part of a broader picture of the consummation of all things as the Lamb's marriage feast. She is also identified as a city, "the holy city, new Jerusalem" (21:2, 9-10).1 The people of God have already been depicted as a woman in Revelation 12, using imagery that draws heavily on Genesis 3 ("the seed of the woman"). The metaphor of the Church as the betrothed or the bride of Christ is found elsewhere in the New Testament, in the "great mystery" expounded in Ephesians 5:22-32 (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2). Such imagery is undoubtedly rooted in the language of the Hebrew prophets, who depict Yahweh as a bridegroom or husband and Israel as his bride or wife.2 The New Testament's recasting of Jesus in the role of bridegroom, possibly based on Jesus' own words,3 has profound Christological implications, but our focus in this article is on the bride. Besides using feminine imagery for Israel as a whole, the Hebrew Bible also uses feminine imagery for cities. In Ezekiel 16 and 23, for instance, the cities of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Sodom are depicted as sisters whose misdeeds bring shame on their family.4 The holy city of Jerusalem is frequently referred to in the prophets as the "daughter of Zion" or "daughter of Jerusalem,"5 and this name for the city is echoed in the Gospels (Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). Meanwhile, the identification of the Church with a transcendent Jerusalem is also found elsewhere in the New Testament.6 Thus, when the author of Revelation depicted the Church both as a woman and as a transcendent city, he built on rich biblical foundations, and was not the only New Testament writer to use such imagery.

The Whore

The other woman in the Apocalypse is the "Great Whore," who is described in a lurid vision in Revelation 17:1-6. A whore or prostitute is of course a radically different image from a bride. The Bride is clothed in "fine linen, bright and pure," symbolising "the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:8), the Whore also wears "fine linen," but of a different colour, "purple and scarlet," which undoubtedly correspond to her "abominations and impurities" (Rev. 17:4), her violence and sensuous luxury. The Whore holds in her hand a "golden cup" full of abominations. While Revelation does not explicitly associate the Bride with a cup, the Eucharistic connotations of the "marriage supper of the Lamb" for which the Bride has prepared herself are obvious.7 Furthermore, the Whore, like the Bride, is identified with a city, namely "Babylon," "the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth"(Rev. 17:5, 18). Earlier in the book, "the great city" is said to have "the symbolic names 'Sodom' and 'Egypt'" and is identified with the place "where their Lord was crucified," i.e. Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8). The Whore Babylon is mentioned briefly in Rev. 14:8 and 16:19, described in lurid detail in chapter 17, and is the subject of a judgment woe in chapter 18. As with the Bride, much of the language used for the Whore draws on the biblical prophets. The antithesis between Jerusalem and Babylon is exemplified by the imprecations of Psalm 137. The exact name "Babylon the Great" (Greek: Babulōn hē megalē) used in Revelation 17:5 is taken verbatim from Nebuchadnezzar's boast in Daniel 4:30 LXX. The phrase "the/this great city" in the prophets is used of Nineveh (Jonah 3:2-3) and of ungodly Jerusalem (Jeremiah 22:8). The phrase "Fallen, fallen is Babylon!" (Revelation 14:8; 18:2) is taken from Isaiah 21:9. Much of the imagery used of the Whore in Revelation 17-18 is borrowed from oracles against Babylon in Isaiah 13-14 and Jeremiah 25 and 50-51. The Hebrew Bible never explicitly calls Babylon a whore or prostitute, but the oracle of Isaiah 47 implicitly does. There, the "virgin daughter of Babylon," "daughter of the Chaldeans," is told, "Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen...you shall no more be called the mistress of the kingdoms" (Isa. 47:3-5). This same oracle accuses Babylon of "sorceries" (Isa. 47:9, 12), a charge that is leveled at the Whore in Revelation 18:23. The metaphor of a prostitute is applied explicitly to Nineveh in Nahum 3:4-78 and to Tyre in Isaiah 23:16-18.9 Israel and Judah, Samaria and Jerusalem are also frequently labelled as a whore in the Hebrew prophets.10 The Bride in Revelation is an aggregation of biblical prophetic language about the people of God and the holy city Jerusalem, while the Whore in Revelation is an aggregation of biblical prophetic language about various ungodly nations and cities, both Gentile and Israelite. The Whore is thus a composite figure,11 which militates against interpreting her as corresponding to any one historical city or entity.

The Bride and the Whore as an instance of the Two Cities Motif

Although Revelation never mentions the Bride and the Whore together, there is clearly an implicit comparison between the two, an apocalyptic subplot that we might call, in Dickensian fashion, "a tale of two cities." These two entities share much in common: they are both women with symbolic apparel and cities with symbolic names. The Whore is the Bride's evil antithesis, her ugly stepsister. The Bride is the wife of the Lamb, the singular King of Kings who receives authority from God (Rev. 2:27), who loves the Bride and ransomed her with his blood (Rev. 5:9). The Whore sits astride a Beast (who receives authority from the Dragon, Satan; Rev. 13:2-4) whose many heads and horns represent numerous kings. She fornicates with these kings and dominates them, but they and the Beast hate her and make her desolate (Rev. 17:2, 16, 18).

This ecclesiological antithesis between two women or two cities is not unique to Revelation in early Christian literature. It is found in Paul's allegorical interpretation of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:22-31, where the apostle contrasts "the present Jerusalem" who is "in slavery with her children" with "the Jerusalem above" who "is free, and...is our mother." The two Jerusalems recur in the Letter to the Hebrews, where the author describes "the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God...a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:10, 16). The readers are told that they have "come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (12:22). Subsequently, referring to the earthly Jerusalem (specifically "outside the gate" where Jesus suffered), he emphasises, "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (13:14). This "two cities" contrast appears again in The Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century apocalypse that is surely relevant to the interpretation of Revelation inasmuch as it is "the other major work of early Christian prophecy which has survived."12 The Similitudes or Parables portion of the book contains the following passage:
1 He said to me, 'You know that you slaves of God are living in a foreign land. For your own city is a long way from this one. If then,' he said, 'you know your own city, where you are about to live, why are you preparing fields, expensive furnishings, buildings, and pointless rooms for yourselves here? 2 Anyone who prepares these things in this city, therefore, cannot return to his own city. 3. You foolish, double-minded, and miserable person! do you now understand that all these things belong to another and are under someone else's control? For the ruler of this city will say, 'I do not want you living in my city; leave it, because you are not living by my laws.' 4. And so, you who have fields and houses and many other possessions—when he casts you out, what will you do with your field and house and whatever else you have prepared for yourself? For the ruler of this country rightly says to you, 'Either live by my laws or leave my country.' 5. And so what will you do, you who have a law from your own city? Will you completely renounce your own law for the sake of your fields and whatever else you own, and follow the law of the city you are in now? Take care, because renouncing your law may be against your own interests. For if you want to return to your own city, you will not be welcomed, because you have renounced its law; and you will be shut out of it. 6. And so take care. Since you are living in a foreign land, fix nothing up for yourself except what is absolutely necessary; and be ready, so that when the master of this city wants to banish you for not adhering to his law, you can leave his city and go to your own, and live according to your own law gladly, suffering no mistreatment. 7. Take care, then, you who are enslaved to the Lord and have him in your heart. Do the works of God, remembering his commandments and the promises he made; and trust in him, because he will do these things, if his commandments are guarded. 8. Instead of fields, then, purchase souls that have been afflicted, insofar as you can, and take care of widows and orphans and do not neglect them; spend your wealth and all your furnishings for such fields and houses as you have received from God. 9. For this is why the Master made you rich, that you may carry out these ministries for him. It is much better to purchase the fields, goods, and houses you find in your own city when you return to it...' (Hermas, Similitudes 1.1-9)13
The parallels between this parable and the New Testament texts we have mentioned are impressive. Hermas's two cities correspond to two laws, just as Paul's two Jerusalems correspond to two covenants (Gal. 4:24-26). Hermas emphasises detachment from the goods of the present city in favour of the goods of the future city, just as Hebrews does (11:9-16; 13:12-14). Hermas teaches that failure to obey God's commandments will result in exclusion from the future city, just as Revelation does (21:27; 22:14-15). Also, Hermas notes that the respective cities have rulers (God and the Devil),14 just as Revelation identifies one city as that of God and the Lamb, and the other as that of the Beast (who is empowered by the Dragon, i.e. the Devil).

Noting that both Hebrews and Hermas use "city" interchangeably with "country," and contrast the two cities temporally as present and future, we may be justified in linking the "two cities" motif with the "two worlds" or "two ages" motif that is a prominent feature of Second Temple Jewish and early Christian literature.15

The foregoing parallels represent, in this writer's view, compelling evidence that the Bride and the Whore in Revelation correspond to the two cities motif found elsewhere in early Christian literature, which basically contrasts the moral, spiritual, and economic life of those who belong to God (the Church) and those who do not, together with the conflict between the two communities and their diverging eternal destinies.

Interpreting the Bride and the Whore in Revelation

The Bride is the easier symbol to interpret, both in the original literary-historical context and for today: the Bride is the Church who, speaking together with the Spirit, ever awaits Jesus' promised coming (Rev. 22:17). The majority of biblical scholars identify the Whore of Revelation with ancient Rome; a minority interpretation identifies the Whore instead with Jerusalem.16 The reference to the woman sitting on seven mountains (Rev. 17:9) and her description as "the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth" (Rev. 17:18) both point to Rome, the city of seven hills. "Babylon" is used as a cipher for Rome in other post-70 A.D. Jewish literature (and probably also in 1 Peter 5:13), probably because Rome had, like ancient Babylon, sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.17 However, "whore" imagery in the prophets is most commonly linked with Judah and Jerusalem, and "the great city" is described in Rev. 11:8 as "where their Lord was crucified." The apocalyptic Babylon thus cannot be limited to the physical city of Rome. It is a composite reality that transcends any particular earthly city,18 which was exemplified in John's day by Rome. To interpret the symbol for today, we need to look for the locus of moral, spiritual, and economic corruption in today's world. That locus cannot be identified with any one contemporary city or system. Babylon's footprint can be seen wherever idolatry, greed, injustice, sexual immorality and other abominations flourish. This is not to deny the possibility that a more concrete manifestation of Babylon (like imperial Rome) could occur before the Lord's Second Coming. However, we should exercise the same hermeneutical restraint as Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, in a sermon of 1935 (at the height of Nazi pomp) preached the following:
Who is Babylon? Was it Rome? Where is it today? Today, we dare not yet say–not because we fear the world! Rather because the Christian community does not know yet–but we see terrible things and revelations drawing near.

Footnotes

  • 1 See also Rev. 3:12; 11:1-2; 14:1.
  • 2 See, e.g., Isaiah 54:5-6; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2, 32; 3:20; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:16-20.
  • 3 See Mark 2:19-20; Matthew 25:1-13; cf. John 3:29.
  • 4 See also Isaiah 1:21; Lamenations 1:1ff.
  • 5 See, e.g., 2 Kings 19:21; Psalm 9:14; Isaiah 10:32; 62:11; Jeremiah 4:31; Lamentations 2:13-15; Micah 4:8-10; Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 9:9.
  • 6 See, e.g., Matthew 5:14 (cp. v. 35); Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14.
  • 7 The Lord's Supper in early Christianity is where the cup of blessing, the cup of the Lord's blood, is drunk (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:20-25). The psalmist declares that his response to the Lord's goodness is to "raise the cup of salvation" (Ps. 116:13). St. Athansius of Alexandria, in his Festal Letters 5.3, interprets the "cup of salvation" to refer to the Eucharistic cup. Two earlier writers, Origen (Exhortation to Martyrdom 28-29) and St. Cyprian of Carthage (Epistles 76.4), take the cup of salvation to refer to martyrdom, probably in light of Ps. 116:15 and the metaphor of martyrdom as a "cup" in the Gospels (cf. Mark 10:38-39; 14:36). Elsewhere in Revelation, the "cup" functions as a metaphor for God's wrath, directed at Babylon the Great (Rev. 16:19; 18:6; cf. 14:10). In Rev. 18:6, "repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed" suggests that the punishment she inflicted on others will be inflicted on her, so probably the "abominations" in the Whore's golden cup in 17:4 include the blood of the martyrs, with which she is "drunk" (17:6).
  • 8 Nineveh is also described in unflattering feminine terms in Zephaniah 2:13-15, which closely parallels oracles against Babylon in Isaiah 13 and 47.
  • 9 Language from the same oracle against Tyre (Isa. 23:8) is borrowed in Rev. 18:23. Tyre is also depicted as a female figure in Ezekiel 26:17.
  • 10 See, e.g., Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 3:1-8; Ezekiel 16; Ezekiel 23; Hosea 2-4; 9:1.
  • 11 "the Babylon of Revelation 17-18 combines in itself the evils of the two great evil cities of the Old Testament prophetic oracles: Babylon and Tyre. Of the two, Babylon is the city whose name John uses as a cipher for Rome" (Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation [London: T&T Clark, 1993], 345).
  • 12 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 144.
  • 13 Trans. Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 2:307, 309).
  • 14 The identity of the ruler of this city is discussed in note 42 of my forthcoming study The Intimate and Ultimate Adversary: Satanology in Early Second-Century Christian Literature.
  • 15 For the writer of Hebrews, "the city that is to come" (13:14) is also "the world to come" (2:5) and "the age to come" (6:5). The Pauline letters contrast "this present time," "the present life," "this present darkness, "this present age," "this present world," which is "passing away," with "the glory that is to be revealed," "the life to come," the age to come (Rom. 8:18; Eph. 1:21; 6:12; 1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Tim. 4:8; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 Cor. 7:31). The Synoptic Gospels likewise contrast "this age" with "the age to come" (e.g., Mark 10:30; Matt. 12:32; Luke 20:34-35). Similar antitheses are probably presupposed in statements about the/this world in the Gospel and Letters of John (see, e.g., John 12:25-31; 18:36; 1 John 2:15-17) and in James 4:4. The temporal contrast is also present in Revelation: the Whore is presently active (as is evident from 17:9-10), while the vision of the Bride is first mentioned (19:7) only after the vision of the Whore's judgment concludes.
  • 16 "Most commentators agree that ‘Babylon’ in the Apocalypse is a symbolic name for Rome" (Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse [Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1984], 57). Commenting on "the great city" in Rev. 17:18, George Elton Ladd wrote, "In the first century, this stood for Rome; but in the end time, it will stand for eschatological Babylon" (George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 234). "The identity of this woman leaves no room for doubt: v. 5 gives her name; it is Babylon, about which we know since Rev 14:8 that the name designates with veiled language, but without ambiguity, Rome, the capital of the empire" (Pierre Prigent, Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John, trans. Wendy Pradels [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004], 485). A detailed argument for the Jerusalem interpretation is offered by D. Ragan Ewing, The Identification Of Babylon The Harlot In The Book Of Revelation (Th.M Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2002). Further discussion and a refutation of the Jerusalem view can be found in G. Biguzzi, "Is the Babylon of Revelation Rome or Jerusalem?" Biblica 87 (2006): 371-386. See also the summary of arguments for the Babylon and Jerusalem interpretations respectively in A. J. Beagley, “Babylon,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development (ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 111-12.
  • 17 "Just as Babylon destroyed the first temple and sent Israel into exile, so Rome came to be called ‘Babylon’ in some sectors of Judaism because it also destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and exiled Israel (so Midr. Rab. Num. 7.10; Midr. Pss. 137.1, 8; cf. Targ. Lam. 1:19)" (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 755). "Most of the occurrences of Babylon as a symbolic name for Rome in Jewish literature are in the Apocalypse of Ezra (4 Ezra = 2 Esdras 3-14), the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Apoc. Bar.), and the fifth book of the Sibylline Oracles. In each case where it occurs in these three works, the context makes it abundantly clear why the name Babylon was chosen. Rome is called Babylon because her forces, like those of Babylon at an earlier time, destroyed the temple and Jerusalem. It is probable that John learned this symbolic name from his fellow Jews and that it quickly became traditional" (Collins, Crisis and Catharsis, 57-58).
  • 18 "As a symbol, Babylon embraces more than the empire, city, and culture of Rome. It is the sphere of idolatry and worldliness under the temporary control of Satan, a worldliness in opposition to the people and work of God, a worldliness epitomized first by Babylon and then by Rome. Babylon as the mother of harlots and abominations in opposition to God (17:5) is the antithesis of the Church as the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of God" (Duane F. Watson, “Babylon,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:566). Beale refers to the city of Revelation 11:8, which he identifies with Babylon, as "the ungodly world-city" (The Book of Revelation, 593). Later, he avers, "The ungodly social, political, and economic system dominated by the Roman Empire placed believers in the same position as Israel was in under Babylon...Therefore, here in the Apocalypse Rome and all wicked world systems take on the symbolic name ‘Babylon the Great’ (op. cit., 755). He summarises his view: "‘The great city’ has been identified as Jerusalem, Rome, or the ungodly world system, which would include Jerusalem, Rome, and all other wicked people groups. The third view is preferable" (op. cit., 843). "Any institution or facet of culture that is characterized by pride (see on v 5), economic overabundance, persecution, and idolatry is part of Babylon" (op. cit., 856).