I'm a Bible-believing Christian, who believes in prophecy. But I am depressed and dismayed by some of the allegedly ‘Bible-based discussions’ taking place around the EU Referendum in June.
While there are plenty of sensible issues of concern to Christians being debated, I've also heard a number of people claim that a vote for remaining in the EU amounts to a vote for Babylon and even the ‘mark of the beast’.
So can we inject some rigour and accuracy into our use of scripture when discussing this extremely important issue? Lets start by taking a look at the passages often used by some end-time enthusiasts to make their anti-EU case.
Daniel 7 describes a 10 nation confederacy arising out of a ‘fourth beast/kingdom’ in the Last Days. This is followed by a boastful ‘little horn’ uprooting ‘three horns’.
Some Christians believe this refers to the EU, but clearly a 10 nation confederacy cannot be applied to a 28 nation European Union! To insist that it does, distorts scripture. And yet, last week I saw a church website insisting: ‘It is 28 countries now but at some time in the future it will be reduced to 10’. When you make a mistake admit it; don’t keep on perpetuating the error.
This means that attempts to apply Revelation 13:1-7 (which builds on Daniel’s prophecy) – where a beast with ten crowns/horns has authority over all the earth – to the EU, collapses, since the association with a ten-nation-confederacy clearly does not refer to the EU!
To go on and associate the mark of the beast with some EU-based plot is the stuff of desperate prejudice and without a shred of scriptural evidence. I've even heard talk of a super-computer in the EU with coding involving ‘666’. These conjectures are fantastical and not worthy of being described as biblical scholarship.
I am old enough to remember Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and to have once been influenced by it. At that stage in the Cold War a northern enemy of Israel (Gog, Magog = the USSR?) and a ten-nation-confederacy in Western Europe (the European Economic Community?) all looked alarmingly familiar. But Hal Lindsey clearly got it wrong, and it's about time we stopped perpetuating the error.
Whatever ‘Babylon the Great’ refers to in Revelation 14:8 there is no more reason to associate it with the EU than with any other period in past or future history. David Hathaway may have chosen a memorable title in his book: Babylon in Europe (2006); but it is basically perpetuating the same errors as Late Great Planet Earth, with his own twist. For example, he states that the European Parliament building in Strasbourg is deliberately designed in the shape of the Tower of Babel.
Hal Lindsey clearly got it wrong, and it's about time we stopped perpetuating the error
In fact, the EU building is based on structures and shapes drawn from Classicism and the Baroque; from Roman and Greek theatres to Galileo’s and Kepler’s ellipse. Its transition from a central geometrical structure to the ellipse, is meant to depict the constant motion expressing the evolution of the institutions, evolving from central power to a democratic organization. It is unfinished as, at the time of its construction, Europe was ‘unfinished’ and no country from the former Soviet bloc had at that point joined the EU. Not as exciting as ‘Babylon’ and ‘666’ but some fellowships continue to perpetuate the fictions.
I've even seen one church website claiming that the seat 666 is kept free, for dark purposes. It's not, and this is very easily checked. It's upsetting to see this kind of ignorant rumour-mongering being allowed to pass as serious study of prophecy.
Anti-EU enthusiasts jump on every piece of imagery that seems to support their case. For example, the depiction of the Classical scene of Europa and the bull on a Euro coin (pictured above), is referred to, in some circles, as ‘evidence’ of some pagan plot. In reality it just references a piece of Classical literature from the European past. On this basis we would scour our houses of Christmas Trees and every card with a bit of holly on it at Christmas if we really thought this way. And we would stop calling ‘Easter’ by that name, since the English name is actually derived from a long forgotten Anglo-Saxon deity. The simple reality, though, is that an image only has the meaning that a culture invests in it. Once it becomes just a piece of imagery, it loses its meaning. So the picture on the Euro coin is no more sinister than a Christmas Tree at Christmas, or Britannia as a Classically-derived representation of Britain on a coin or banknote.
Ending the error
As a historian, I have made a study of eschatology and millenarianism in the history of Christianity and my degree specialism was its 17th century manifestation. The sad thing is that the history of the Church is littered with the wreckage of such confident statements as: ‘it’s the Saracens’, ‘it’s the papacy’, ‘it’s Charles I or Oliver Cromwell’ and most recently, ‘it’s the EU’.
My hope is that we can have a serious and sensible discussion about the EU on important topics such as peace, justice, war, climate change and immigration. The question of whether the EU is Babylon the Great is very easily answered and debunked. It's high time we all rejected these nonsense claims and got back to a more careful and considered reading of the Bible's prophetic texts.
We should read and reflect on Jesus' words to the disciples in Acts 1:7 -'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority'.
Martyn Whittock is an Anglican Licensed Lay Minister and Historian