Then another second angel followed, saying:

“Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the Great, which has given to all the peoples a drink out of the wine of the wrath of its porneia.”

Revelation 14:8

πορνεία | porneia

Often translated “fornication,” this koine Greek noun provides the root word for “pornography.” A brief survey of Greek lexicons comes up with the following definitions:

  • Prostitution
  • Unchastity
  • Idolatry
  • Harlotry

So often, sex-trafficking as well as sex-work is associated with females, and in fact, in koine Greek, which (like many other languages today) assigns male and female genders to nouns, the word “city” is female.

It is easy to see the next step of logic! “Babylon,” that great city, has for millennia been portrayed as a prostitute, profligate and promiscuous, wine sloshing from her tilted goblet, flesh spilling out of tight, lascivious garments.

So, although technically I should have translated “it” as “she,” I did not. Because even more technically, in English, a city is not a female person, or a female anything. It is a very large cluster of buildings – businesses and abodes – organized as an entity.

I have also been translating each of the “beasts” as “it” far more often than “he,” because though in koine Greek “beast” has been assigned a male gender, it is entirely unknown whether the dangerous animals depicted in these visions are persons, creatures, entities such as a government or religion, or concepts.

Now, back to porneia.

Tapisserie de l’Apocalypse | By atelierPublic Domain

There are two words that describe the wine – the heady, intoxicating mixture – that Babylon had given to all the ethnicities of earth to drink from. The second is porneia; the first is

θυμός | thumos

Translators go either way with this word thumos because it is polyvalent—it has several different meanings.

  1. In a physical sense, it means “breath” or “life,” “spirit” or “strength.” Think of your heartbeat, of your breath going in and out of your body, your pulse.
  2. It can also mean, in a soulish sense, feelings and passions.
  • It might be a person’s inclination or desire in the sense of their appetite.
  • It could refer to a person’s mind, their temper, or their will.
  • Sometimes this refers to a person’s spirit, their mettle, their courage.
  • Other times it means more specifically the seat of a person’s anger—their fury, their wrath.
  • But, on occasion, it also refers to matters of the heart, particularly in terms of such strong emotions as joy, or grief, of fear or love,
  • Finally, it can point to a person’s thoughts.

So, why did I pick “wrath” instead of “passion,” as some translations do?


Because, in this context, knowing what is coming (God’s judgment), and mindful of the angel’s purpose to sound the clarion call of warning, the wine of God’s wrath over Babylon’s porneia seems the most likely to me. Also, in a word that carries many meanings, the echoes or shadows of those meanings often play into how the word is used.

In this case, God’s passion and Babylon’s passion clash—this is the dichotomy that runs throughout all of the Johannine corpus: light and darkness, love and hate, life and death. God’s passion for life to thrive and love to flourish is also God’s passionate fury against corruption and death, revealed in the cleansing furnace of God’s wrath.

Babylon’s appetites become greed and gluttony, good things corrupted, the downward declension that happens when God is rejected, and the worship of something else begins. Corruption ultimately putrefies into the stink and slime of death.

In one of his letters, John put it this way:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world, for all that is in the world—

  • the desire of the flesh,
  • the desire of the eyes,
  • the pride in riches

—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God abide forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NRSV, modifications mine)

Babylon becomes a symbol, a metaphor, for the world drinking in the euphoria of its own power, the exhilaration of satiating unfettered lusts. This is the Tower of Babel, the great world empires, the amassing of wealth, power, fame, influence, and territory, of armies, crowns, and thrones. All this ironically, has been the bailiwick of men, not women. Oh certainly, there have been individual women swept up in Babylon’s passion. But chiefly, patriarchy has held sway in the world.

So, to present Babylon as a drunken harlot is, in the balance, inaccurate at best.

Instead, we need to see a world filled with those who care nothing for God, people – men and women –

“… filled with every kind of injustice, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 

“They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”

Paul, Romans 1:29-31 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
By Московская старообрядческая книгопечатня 1909 г., с древлеписьменной рукописи первой половины XVII в. – Public Domain


Unsurprisingly, interpreters see Babylon as a depiction of the Church seated in Rome. What is alluded to in this verse will be elucidated in Chapters 16-18.


Again, commentators are divided over whether Jerusalem or Rome is in view.

Some contend for Jerusalem, claiming Jesus intended His listeners to understand Jerusalem would be brought to an end once the Gospel had been preached to all nations—His prophecy being then fulfilled at Pentecost, when those in the upper room came pouring out preaching the Gospel in every language present in Jerusalem.

Most others consider Rome the likelier candidate, taking up the persecution of Christians all the more fiercely after the fall of Jerusalem.


Because Babylon will be treated in much more detail in the coming chapters, this proclamation serves as a foretaste of what is to come, in keeping with the nature of this chapter. The repeated word “fallen” indicates the certainty of Babylon’s fate, though the actual fall will not happen until the seventh bowl of God’s wrath is poured out. This final bowl marks the end of the Great Tribulation.

Babylon itself is a term used sometimes to signify an actual city, sometimes a religious system, and sometimes a political system. All trace their character back to the original Babylon of history, as described by Isaiah and other prophets as profoundly wicked.

A few commentators see Babylon as the apostate church at the beginning of the Great Tribulation which will meet its destruction in the middle of that time. Afterwards, Babylon refers to an actual, geographical place – possibly Rome, possibly a rebuilt capital city along the Euphrates – which will also be destroyed at the end of the Tribulation.

Other expositors understand Babylon to be a place-saver for all false religious systems, and particularly false teaching within Christianity, which will one day form a worldwide religion. Or perhaps this false religious system will be secular humanism, godless yet spiritual in that it does worship humanity apposite to God.


York Minster - Fall of Babylon.jpg
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York Minster, Great East Window, 5g, An Angel Announces the Fall of Babylon (Rev 14: 8) | By Coventry glazier John ThorntonPublic Domain


This is where scholars with a spiritual perspective pick up the narrative. Babylon stands in for a human society that has rid itself of God and has instead placed itself as the center. In this way, Babylon is another iteration of the dangerous creature that rose up out of the sea. It is a world system that opposes God.

Historically, in scripture, Babylon represented all that was anti-God, morally, spiritually, intellectually. Isaiah said of Babylon, “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.”

Babylon has long since been judged. Now the angel echoes the prophet whose voice rose seven centuries before,

Fallen, fallen is Babylon,
and all the images of her gods
    lie shattered on the ground.”

Isaiah 21:9 (NRSV)

The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg

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