The Origin of the Word ‘Rapture’



By Craig Bluemel


The Rapture is a doctrine used by the Christian church to explain what will happen when Jesus Christ returns to save his church from the Great Tribulation.  The word, “Rapture,” is not found in the Old Testament or New Testament Scriptures, whether in the original languages or English Bible translations.  The origin of rapture is an interesting path to follow because it explains how this concept was initiated and blended to fit with eschatological views of the 2nd Coming of Christ. The ‘Rapture’ has been both trivialized as a literary expression for intense joy or pleasure, and used to describe millenarian Christian eschatology.


The word ‘rapture’ itself is from the Latin raptus, and it connotes either apocalyptic spiritual overtones or possessive and physical undertones. The origin of rapture dates to the late 16th century, (directly or via French rapere) from Medieval Latin raptura “seizure,” from the Latin cognate raptus, meaning, “seized and taken, kidnapped by force, snatched hold of and then taken hostage, carried off or away.”  In Medieval time, raptus was sometimes used to describe the euphoria soldiers experienced after defeating a foe in battle, then seizing the opponent, and taking him away as captive.  Greek raptus virginum Sabinarum is a reference to the Sabine virgins, who were raped and abducted.


There is a literary connection between the words ‘rapture’ and ‘rape.’  To rape someone is to force somebody to have sex.  Rape also implies the use of force to violate something, or to treat something in a violent, destructive, or abusive way (e.g. - Rape the land for its resources).  During the brutal conquests of the 14th century, Anglo-Norman ‘rapers’ pillaged the land and people, and this term ‘raper’ meant to seize and carry off somebody or something by force (archaic).  The word raper is directly from Latin rapere “to seize.” 


The use and meaning of the word ‘rapture’ has changed dramatically over time.  Rapture is a noun that means:


1.      Overwhelming happiness: a euphoric transcendent state in which somebody is overwhelmed by happiness or delight and unaware of anything else.


2.      In Christianity mystical transportation: a mystical experience of being transported into the spiritual realm, sometimes applied to the second coming of Jesus Christ when true believers are expected to rise up to join him in heaven.[1] 


If you are familiar with the Latin words used to describe a specific class of birds of prey, such as eagles or hawks, they are known as, “raptors,” because of their method of hunting, which is to, “seize,” live prey with their sharp, powerful talons, grasping rodents or fish unaware or hopelessly trying to escape, and then they, “carry it away.”  The raptor as a bird of prey is also from the 14th century Latin, “robber,” which is also derived from the obsolete French word rapere.




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[1] Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.