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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Babylon in the New Testament:
Babylon Βαβυλῶν ,
1. Mesopotamian Babylon
In Matthew 1:11 , Matthew 1:12 , Matthew 1:17; Acts 7:43 the old Mesop city is plainly meant. These all refer to the captivity in Babylon and do not demand any further discussion.
2. Symbolic Sense
All the references to Babylon in Rev are evidently symbolic. Some of the most important passages are Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 18:2 , Revelation 18:10 , Revelation 18:21 . In Revelation 17:5 Babylon is designated as
(1) The characteristics ascribed to this Babylon apply to Rome rather than to any other city of that age: (a) as ruling over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18 ); (b) as sitting on seven mountains (Revelation 17:9 ); (c) as the center of the world's merchandise (Revelation 18:3 , Revelation 18:11-13 ); (d) as the corrupter of the nations (Revelation 17:2; Revelation 18:3; Revelation 19:2 ); (e) as the persecutor of the saints (Revelation 17:6 ).
(2) Rome is designated as Babylon in the Sibylline Oracles (5 143), and this is perhaps an early Jewish portion of the book. The comparison of Rome to Babylon is common in Jewish apocalyptic literature (see 2 Esdras and the Apocrypha Baruch).
(3) Rome was regarded by both Jews and Christians as being antagonistic to the kingdom of God, and its downfall was confidently expected, This conception is in accord with the predicted downfall of Babylon (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 18:2 , Revelation 18:10-21 ). As Babylon had been the oppressor of Israel, it was natural that this new power, which was oppressing the people of God, should be designated as Babylon.
3. In 1 Peter
In 1 Peter 5:13 Babylon is designated as the place from which 1 Pet was written. Down to the time of the Reformation this was generally under stood to mean Rome, and two cursives added "en Roma." Since the Reformation, many scholars have followed Erasmus and Calvin and have urged that the Mesopotamian Babylon is meant. Three theories should be noted:
(1) That the Egyptian Babylon, or Old Cairo; is meant. Strabo (XVII, 807) who wrote as late as 18 ad, says the Egyptian Babylon was a strong fortress founded by certain refugees from the Mesop Babylon. But during the 1st century this was not much more than a military station, and it is quite improbable that Peter would have gone there. There is no tradition that connects Peter' in any way with Egypt.
(2) That the statement is to be taken literally and that the Mesop Babylon is meant. Many good scholars hold to this view, and among these are Weiss and Thayer, but there is no evidence that Peter was ever in Babylon, or that there was even a church there during the 1st century. Mark and Silvanus are associated with Peter in the letter and there is no tradition that connects either of them with Babylon. According to Josephus (Ant ,
(3) That Rome was the city that was designated as Babylon. The Apocalypse would indicate that the churches would understand the symbolic reference, and it seems to have been so understood until the time of the Reformation. The denial of this position was in line with the effort to refute Peter's supposed connection with the Roman church. Ancient tradition, however, makes it seem quite probable that Peter did make a visit to Rome (see Lightfoot, Clement , II, 493ff).
Internal evidence helps to substantiate theory that Rome was the place from which the letter was written. Mark sends greetings (1 Pet Mark 15:13 ), and we know he had been summoned to Rome by the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11 ). The whole passage, "She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you," seems to be figurative, and that being true, it is natural that Babylon should have been used instead of Rome. The character of the letter as a whole would point to Rome as the place of writing. Ramsay thinks this book is impregnated with Roman thought beyond any other book in the Bible (see The Church in the Roman Empire , 286).
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Babylon in the New Testament:'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/b/babylon-in-the-new-testament.html. 1915.
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