"Great and Abominable Church"?
by Stephen E. Robinson
Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture
Brigham Young University
The term abominable is used in the Old Testament to describe what God hates. In Daniel, the abomination of desolation is that thing so hateful to God that its presence in the temple causes the divine presence to depart, leaving the sanctuary desolate. In the Old Testament, the terms translated into English as abominable or abomination are usually associated with idolatrous worship or gross sexual immorality.
The word church had a slightly broader meaning anciently than it does now. It referred to an assembly, congregation, or association of people who bonded together and shared the same loyalties. Thus, the term was not necessarily restricted to religious associations; in fact, in Athens the Greeks used the term to denote the legislative assembly of government.
Originally, the term ekklesia, formed from two words meaning call and out, referred to those citizens whom heralds called out or summoned to public meetings. Thus, it was an ideal word to represent the body of individuals whom God “calls out” of the world through the Holy Ghost.
The civil dimension of the word appears in Acts 19:32, where assembly in the KJV is a translation of the Greek ekklesia. We must, however, remember that we don’t know the original word on the gold plates that Joseph Smith translated as church. Whatever it was, the Prophet chose to translate it as church instead of as assembly.
When we put all this together, we find that the term great and abominable church means an immense assembly or association of people bound together by their loyalty to that which God hates.
While the book of Revelation does not use the exact phrase “great and abominable church,” both John and Nephi use a number of similar phrases to describe it. They call it the “Mother of Harlots, and Abominations,” “mother of abominations,” and “the whole that sitteth upon many waters” (Rev. 17:5; I Nephi 14:10-11)
In noting the characteristics of Babylon, we should be careful to distinguish between her and the beast in Revelation 17. They do not represent the same things, thought the beast supports the great and abominable church. (See Rev. 17:3,7)
Babylon, the “woman … arrayed in purple and scarlet” described in Revelation 17-18, is specifically the Satanic counterpart of the virtuous woman in chapter 12 who symbolizes the church of Jesus Christ.
While the symbol of the unvirtuous woman represents falst religion, the beasts, the image of the beast, and its horns represent other aspects of the devil’s kingdoms or governments – the beast and its horns do that (see Rev. 17:12; also JST Rev. 13:1) – but she can represent the false beliefs and ideologies that oftencapture and motivate governments.
When the civil governments commit fornication with the false religion – that is, when church and state are joined together – then the wine of their fornication makes all the world drunk. (See Rev. 17:2; Rev. 18:3-5) The immorality and idolatry of the great and abominable church, together with the power of the civil states, dominate the economy and the life-styles of all nations and destroy the spiritual equilibrium and discernment of human beings.
Individual orientation to the Church of the Lamb or to the great and abominable church is not by membership but by loyalty. Just as there are Latter-day Saints who belong to the great and abominable church because of their loyalty to Satan and his life-style, so there are members of other churches who belong to the Lamb because of their loyalty to him and his life-style. Membership is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records.
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