LEARNING ACTIVITY #39
Dating the Book of Revelation
In this Learning Activity we are going to explore the topic of when the book
of Revelation was written. The first question that may pop into your thinking may
be: Why be concerned over such a fine point about the Bible? The answer to this question
is that the date the book of Revelation was written is a major factor in the interpretation
of both the book of Revelation itself and many other passages in the Bible!
the time of my writing of this Learning Activity, there are two camps of scholarship
of the dating of the book of Revelation. One camp places the date at around the year
AD 95 in the later years of the reign of the Emperor Domitian (AD 81–96). The second
camp places the dating in late AD 68 prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
late dating (AD 95) of the book of Revelation has its roots hanging on a very slender
and precarious thread. This dating is determined from a single source statement by
the Bishop of Lyons by the name of Irenaeus (AD 120–202). The statement he makes
is not an eyewitness testimony, but is his recollection of what was said (verbal
transmission) by an earlier man, Polycarp, who is supposed to have known John (who
wrote the book) personally (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, book 5, chapter
20, AD 324). The Irenaeus statement appears in his book "Against Heresies,
5:30:3" dated AD 175–180.
Irenaeus spent his youth in Asia Minor,
but his manhood and Christian work took place in Gaul, which is modern day France.
It would not be a far fetched idea to think that for Irenaeus to remember a conversation
from such a distant time in his life and at such an early age could have led to confusion
of names and dates. This, however, is not the only basis for my personal doubts in
this situation as you will see later in this material.
It appears that Irenaeus'
statements, as they were understood, shaped the opinions of Eusebius and Jerome on
this question, and this view was passed on to later authors and authorities. It is
my belief that it is not good scholarship to accept a dubious statement from the
Bishop of Lyons that was orally transmitted to him when he was a young man. This
does not appear to be adequate and compelling evidence to cause a person to set aside
the overwhelming weight of evidence, both external and internal to the book of Revelation
itself, as proof that the Revelation was written during the AD 95 window.
is important to examine not only where and how Irenaeus came by his opinion, but
also what Irenaeus said because as you will shortly see it is possible that his testimony
has been misunderstood. The statement that Irenaeus makes consists of a testimony
about the number of the beast, 666, in Revelation 13:18. A translation from the original
Greek is as follows:
"We therefore do not run the risk of pronouncing
positively concerning the name of the Antichrist [hidden in the number 666 in
Rev.13:18], for if it were necessary to have his name distinctly announced at
the present time, it would doubtless have been announced by him who saw the apocalypse;
for it is not a great while ago that it [or he] was seen, but almost in our
own generation, toward the end of Domitian's reign."
passage, it must be noted that the subject of the verb "was seen" is
ambiguous in the Greek language and may be either "it" referring to the
Apocalypse, or "he" referring to John himself. So the slender thread surfaces.
If one chooses to select "it" meaning the vision, we have the Apocalypse
being written at the later date. If "he" is chosen, meaning John, then
the Apocalypse is written at the earlier date because he, John, would have been seen
"almost in our own generation." Quite a situation to base your entire
"end times" prophecy doctrine on, would you not say?
I am convinced
that what Irenaeus was attempting to communicate was something along the following
lines. John would have announced the name of the Antichrist if he wanted to because
he (John) was around during the reign of Domitian. Since John did not announce it,
why should we (Irenaeus and his contemporaries) run the risk of announcing it! The
reason for this approach would be that although Nero was gone, Domitian and the Roman
threat was still present and quite capable of carrying out a swift reprisal in the
name of Rome against anyone who spoke against Nero in such a manner as to identify
him as the beast!
In another place in the writing of Irenaeus, again writing
about the number 666, he seems to indicate an earlier date for the dating of Revelation.
In his fifth book, he writes the following: "As these things are so, and
his number  is found in all the approved and ancient copies." Domitian's
reign was almost in his own day, but now he writes of the Revelation being written
in "ancient copies!" His statement at least gives some doubt as
to the "vision" being seen in AD 95 which was almost in his day, and even
suggests a time somewhat removed from his own day for him to consider the copies
available to him as "ancient."
Several of the church fathers
of the third and fourth century speak of John's writing Revelation in connection
with his banishment to the Isle of Patmos, which they fix as the reign of Domitian.
Yet some of them are unclear between Nero and Domitian. Clement of Alexandria says
John was banished by "the tyrant," a name appropriate to either, yet in
usage applies less to Domitian and more to Nero. Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Elder,
and the Roman satirist Juvenal, all of whom predate Eusebius, call Nero "the
Eusebius, who was the bishop of Cesarea from AD 314–340,
writes of John as being banished to Patmos and of seeing his visions there in the
reign of Domitian. The problem with this source is that he quotes Irenaeus, in fact,
the very passage we have under consideration (this appears in his history, book 3,
chapter 18). He also refers to a tradition to the same effect, which may have grown
out of the same leading of Irenaeus.
Jerome [331–420] held the same opinion,
apparently on the authority of Irenaeus.
Victorinus of Petavio, who died
in AD 303, in a Latin commentary on the Apocalypse, says "John saw this vision
while in Patmos, condemned to the mines by Domitian Caesar."
of a later age could be cited supporting this same connection between John and Domitian,
but it would seem that this does no more than to continue a tradition which appears
to have come from the language of Irenaeus. The conclusion most come to at this point
is that the external evidence of John writing the Apocalypse at the close of Domitian's
reign rests on the sole testimony of Irenaeus, who wrote a hundred years after that
date, and whose words were from a verbally transmitted second source during the childhood
of Irenaeus. To make matters worse, the words he used can easily have two different
Unfortunately, the earliest church fathers such as Barnabas, Clement
of Rome, Papias, Polycarp and Justin Martyr, the very testimonies that would be the
most helpful to us, are silent on the dating of Revelation. They either omitted this
point because it was understood without their testimony, or what they wrote perished
along the way.
An ancient document known as the Muratorian Canon which comes
down to us from AD 170–210 states, "Paul, following the order of his own predecessor
John, writes to no more than seven churches by name." The seven churches that
Paul wrote to were: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossi and Thessalonica.
John, in his addressing the writing of Revelation, wrote to seven churches as indicated
in Revelation 1:4. The implication of this statement in the Muratorian Canon is that
John had written his book of Revelation BEFORE the completion of Paul's writings
to the seven churches he had written to. Paul died under Nero's persecution.
Nero's rule ended in AD 68!
There is also in existence, a number of Syriac
translations of the book of Revelation which have the following inscription: "The
Revelation, which was made by God to John the Evangelist, in the island of Patmos,
to which he was banished by Nero the Emperor." Most of the Syriac translations,
which are known as the "Peshito," "Curetonian," the "Philoexenian"
and the "Harclean" are supposed to have been translated late in the first
century or very early in the second, but the ones containing Revelation are not believed
to be quite that old. The superscription on this manuscript does provide support
that the dating of the Revelation goes back to the time of Nero. Moses Stuart, Commentary
on the Apocalypse (1845), Vol. 1, p. 267; J. W. Mc Garvey, Evidences of Christianity
(Nashville, Gospel Advocate, 1886), pp. 34,78; Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics
(1890), pp. 136, 138; James Murdock, Syriac New Testament, Peshitto Version,
translated in 1852, published 1896. It is thought that the Peshitto Versions,
which are dated at 150 AD, were based upon original autographs (original documents).
(AD 150–215) makes the following statement supporting an early dating: "For
the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was
completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing
the ministry of Paul, end with Nero" (Miscellanies 7:17). Clement seems
to indicate that he believes that the Scriptures were completed by the end of Nero's
reign which ended in AD 68.
Epiphanies, AD 315–403, stated that the book of
Revelation was written under Claudius [Nero] Caesar. This Roman ruler was emperor
from AD 54 to AD 68.
Andreas of Capadocia, about AD 500, in a commentary on
Revelation, dates the book as Neronian.
Arethas, about AD 540 assumes the
book to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem and that its contents
was prophecy concerning the siege of Jerusalem.
There is no shortage of those
from the above date forward who support the earlier dating of the book of Revelation.
is language in the book of Revelation itself that gives strong if not convincing
evidence of its earlier dating. The Greek words that give us this evidence are "tachei"
and "tachu." These words appear in the following verses of Revelation.
Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things
which must shortly [tachei] come to pass; and he sent and signified [it]
by his angel unto his servant John" (Rev.1:1).
or else I will come quickly [tachu], and will fight against them with the
sword of my mouth" (Rev.2:16).
"Behold, I come quickly [tachu]:
hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Rev.3:11).
he said unto me, These sayings [are] faithful and true: and the Lord God of
the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must
shortly [tachei] be done" (Rev.22:6).
"Behold, I come
quickly [tachu]: blessed [is] he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy
of this book" (Rev.22:7).
"And behold, I come quickly [tachu];
and my reward [is] with me, to give to every man according as his word
shall be" (Rev.22:12).
"He which testifieth these things
saith, Surely I come quickly [tachu]. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus"
These words, in their various tenses, are translated as "shortly,"
and "quickly." The words do not mean "soon," in the sense of
"sometime," but rather "swift," "now," "immediately,"
"hastily," and "suddenly." The word meanings here are critical
to understanding the "imminency" that is being communicated in the vision
of the book! The vision is NOT something that would be expected to take place two
thousand, or more years into the future!
Another word that reeks of the imminency
of the revelation to John is the Greek word "eggus" which means
"at hand" or "near." This word is found in the following passages.
the time is at hand (eggus). (Rev.1:3).
"...for the time is at
hand (eggus). Rev.22:10.
Another word we should look into is the Greek
word "mello," and "mellei." These words appear
in the following texts.
"Write the things which thou hast seen, and
the things which are, and the things which shall [mellei] be hereafter"
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I
also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall [mello] come
upon the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev.3:10).
meaning of these words are given to us as: "is about to come." When these
words are used with the aorist infinitive the preponderance of use and preferred
meaning is "be on the point of, be about to." The same is true when these
words are used with the present infinitive. The basic meaning in both Thayer's and
Abbott–Smith is "to be about to" and the word "mellei" with the
infinitive expresses imminence such as the immediate future. This causes us to understand
that the word usage in Rev.1:19 and 3:10 portray an expectation of soon or quick
This kind of language should lead us to conclude that the
prophecy in the vision was something that was to take place very close to its being
revealed to John! I see this as being fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in
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