And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.  So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:  And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.  And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. -Apocalypse (Revelation) 17:1-6
The great whore in these verses is a symbol of pagan Rome, not Christian Rome.  There is a big difference.  Christian Rome did not exist in St. John's day, and throughout this passage the whore is spoken of in present tense, which means she existed at the time St. John penned the Apocalypse.

At the end of this article are links to two pages which refute the false interpretation that the whore of Babylon is the Catholic Church.  In case you don't have a chance to read them, I'll give you a synopsis of some main points here:

The whore sits on "seven mountains" (Apoc/Rev 17:9).  These are not the "seven hills of Rome"; notice that the Bible says seven *mountains*, not hills.  The seven hills of Rome are too low to qualify as "mountains"; the tallest one, Quirinal Hill, is only 226 feet above sea level. That's a hill, not a mountain!

Vatican City isn't built on those seven hills of Rome, but on Vatican Hill.  They are east of the Tiber River, Vatican Hill is west of the Tiber.  In St. John's time, Vatican Hill was a cemetery outside of the city of Rome - the location of the catecombs in which Christians hid during the centuries of persecution.  All the early bishops of Rome (the ancient popes) conducted Masses there under Vatican Hill during the first three centuries of the Church.

The woman is arrayed in purple and scarlet (vs 4).  The Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ, uses many colors in her liturgy:  white - symbolic of purity - is the dominant color, worn by priests and the pope.  The others are gold, red, green, violet and rose.  Many of these colors have a Scriptural basis for liturgical use, especially purple and scarlet (red).  God commanded that the Tabernacle curtains be made of purple and scarlet (Ex 26:1), that the Old Testament priests wear those colors (Ex 28:6, 8, 15) and that scarlet threads be used in priestly rites (Lev. 14:4, 6, 49-52, Num. 19:6).  So there is a Biblical basis for priests wearing those colors!

The whore is "decked with gold and precious stones and pearls" (vs 4).  Is this the "rich" Vatican? Well, as James Akin points out:  "Regardless of what it had in the past, the modern Vatican is not fantastically wealthy.  In fact, it actually runs a budget deficit most years and has an annual budget only the size of that of the Archdiocese of Chicago".  Pagan Rome was the economic center of the entire Roman empire in St. John's time.  Modern secular Rome is not much of an economic center, and little Vatican City is even less so!

The whore holds a cup in her hands (vs 4).  This is not a chalice, for the Greek word here is the ordinary term for cup (poterion), not chalice.  Second, the overwhelming majority of the Eucharistic chalices Catholics use are not made out of gold, but other materials like brass, silver, glass and clay.  The few that are made of gold are in line with God's command to make gold vessels for the Tabernacle/Temple (Ex 25:38-40, 37:23-24, Num 31:50-51, 2 Chr 24:14).  Gold liturgical vessels and utensils have been part of the true religion ever since ancient Israel, and since the Catholic Church is the successor to the Israelite religion, it is not surprising that she, too, would use gold vessels.

So the description of the whore of Babylon doesn't really fit the Catholic Church, though it fits pagan Rome perfectly.  That's what this passage is talking about.  The articles cover many more points. Here are the urls if you care to read them:

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