According to Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping, the Rapture is set to occur today. So I’m trying to get this one in under the wire. Still if Camping is right, us sinners and unbelievers will still be around and may want to know where the word rapture comes from.

The noun rapture comes from the post-classical Latin raptura, a participle of the verb rapio, meaning “to snatch, seize, pillage.” The Latin verb is also the source of our verb rape

The noun makes its appearance in English at the close of the sixteenth century. It appears to be have been a favorite of George Chapman, who translated Homer and other classical Greek writers, and who uses it on multiple occasions to denote a state of ecstasy or delight, being carried off in reverie. For example, in his 1594 Σκíα Νυκτóς, Chapman writes:

It is an exceeding rapture of delight in the deepe search of knowledge [...] that maketh men manfully indure th’extremes incident to that Herculean labour.

At about the same time, other writers are using the word to refer to the abduction of women. Francis Sabie, in his 1595 Fissher-mans Tale, writes:

Priams famous towne, Nere bought so deare the rapture of faire Hellen.

And Chapman also uses the term to refer to sexual violation in his 1615(?) translation of the Odyssey:

My women servants dragg’d about my house To lust and rapture.

The Christian sense is more recent. The idea of the Christian rapture is a relatively new concept. The term in full is rapture of the Church or rapture of the saints. The Oxford English Dictionary includes a citation from Thomas Broughton’s 1769 Prospect of Futurity:

We have determined likewise, from the Circumstance of the Rapture of the Saints, [...] that the Air or Atmosphere will be the Place of the Judgement.

The great popularizer of the concept of the rapture was the nineteenth-century evangelist John Nelson Darby.

Note that according to this non-traditional brand of Christian theology, the rapture is not the end of the world. The rapture is to be followed by a time of tribulation, then the second coming of Christ. After which he reigns for a thousand years. Then comes the end of the world and the last judgment.

Works cited:

“rapture,” n. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Third edition. December 2008. Web. 21 May 2011.

Lewis, Charlton T. and Charles Short. “rapio.” A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1879. Print. 

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