Home > Eschatology > What Is the ‘Abomination of Desolation’? Perplexing Passages

What Is the ‘Abomination of Desolation’? Perplexing Passages

Editors’ note: This is the first installment in a new series that analyzes perplexing passages of the Bible.


 
If a group of Christians sat down to list perplexing passages, it wouldn’t take long for someone to mention Matthew 24:15-16: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

The reasons for uncertainty are easy to list. What is an abomination? What abomination does Jesus have in mind? One that belongs to his generation, or one from the last days? What is the connection between the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus? Who is “the reader,” and what should he or she understand? In what sense should readers “flee to the mountains”? Should they obey literally or metaphorically?

As always, the first step is to read the text in literary, cultural, historical, and canonical contexts. Then we analyze the structure of the passage and do the necessary lexical and grammatical work. We begin with the key phrase, “abomination of desolation.”

The term “abomination” (Hebrew toevah and siqqus) appears more than 100 times in the Old Testament and just a few times in the New Testament. An abomination is normally a great sin, commonly worthy of death. Readers immersed in current debates about sexual ethics may first think an abomination is a sexual sin. Indeed, Scripture calls sexual sins like adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality abominations (e.g., Leviticus 18:22, 29-30). But more often throughout the Bible “abomination” refers to major covenant violations, especially idolatry (in Deuteronomy alone, see 7:25, 13:6-16, 17:2-5, 18:9-12, 27:15, 32:16). In the historical books, “abomination” always describes idolatry, often with child sacrifice (1 Kings 11:7, 2 Kings 23:13). Abomination also refers to idolatry in the prophets, including Daniel 9 and 11. (Daniel uses siqqus, a term that always appears in connection with idolatry.)

 

 

Read the entire answer here.

  1. September 30, 2014 at 4:53 am

    My own view on this for what it’s worth (and I’m probably wrong) is that it refers to preaching a false Gospel. What an abomination that is! And what desolation it causes to the souls of men and women!

    • October 1, 2014 at 6:26 am

      Amen. Preaching a false gospel is certainly an abomination. However, as I interpret scripture, I try to apply it first to those of whom it was directly written. As the article states: Christ gave specific prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. One of these was the abomination of desolation. So in its historical context I see it fulfilled in the desecration of the temple by the Romans.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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