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Dating the Book of Revelation Provocative Articles Category
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Question: When was the Book of Revelation written?

Answer: The book of Revelation was written by St. John between AD 66-68, in the final years of the Neronic persecution. The internal evidence of the book strongly suggests the early date, and the external evidence for this date is firmly attested to by many well-known scholars and early Church writings. The information below gives a sampling of the external and internal evidence that supports the early date under Nero's reign.

 

Quotes from Scholars on the Date of Revelation

Robert Young (late 1800s)
"It was written in Patmos about A.D.68, whither John had been banished by Domitius Nero, as stated in the title of the Syriac version of the Book; and with this concurs the express statement of Irenaeus (A.D.175), who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou, ie., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius Severus, Orosius, &c., stupidly mistaking Domitianou for Domitianikos, supposed Irenaeus to refer to Domitian, A.D. 95, and most succeeding writers have fallen into the same blunder. The internal testimony is wholly in favor of the earlier date." (Concise Critical Comments on the Holy Bible, by Robert Young. Published by Pickering and Inglis, London and Glasgow, (no date), Page 179 of the "New Covenant" section. See also: Young's Concise Critical Bible Commmentary, Baker Book House, March 1977, ISBN: 0-8010-9914-5, pg 178.)

Philip Schaff (1877)
"On two points I have changed my opinion--the second Roman captivity of Paul (which I am disposed to admit in the interest of the Pastoral Epistles), and the date of the Apocalypse (which I now assign, with the majority of modern critics, to the year 68 or 69 instead of 95, as before)." (Vol. I, Preface to the Revised Edition, 1882 The History of the Christian Church, volume 1)

"The early date [of Revelation] is now accepted by perhaps the majority of scholars." (Enyclopedia 3:2036)

"Tertullian's legend of the Roman oil-martyrdom of John seems to point to Nero rather than to any other emperor, and was so understood by Jerome. (Adv. Jovin. 1.26) (History 1:428)

"The destruction of Jerusalem would be a worthy theme for the genius of a Christian Homer. It has been called 'the most soul-stirring of all ancient history.' But there was no Jeremiah to sing the funeral dirge of the city of David and Solomon. The Apocalypse was already written, and had predicted that the heathen "shall tread the holy city under foot forty and two months." (The History of the Christian Church, Vol I; 6:38)

George E. Ladd (1972)
"The problem with this [Domitian date] theory is that there is no evidence that during the last decade of the first century there occurred any open and systematic persecution of the church." (George E. Ladd, A Commentary on Revelation - Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972, p. 8.)

Steve Gregg (1997)
"Many scholars, including those supportive of a late date, have said that there is no historical proof that there was an empire-wide persecution of Christians even in Domitian's reign." (Revelation: Four Views, p.16)

Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown (1871)
"The following arguments favor an earlier date, namely, under Nero: (1) Eusebius [Demonstration of the Gospel] unites in the same sentence John's banishment with the stoning of James and the beheading of Paul, which were under Nero. (2) Clement Of Alexandria's story of the robber reclaimed by John, after he had pursued, and with difficulty overtaken him, accords better with John then being a younger man than under Domitian, when he was one hundred years old. (3) Arethas, in the sixth century, applies the sixth seal to the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), adding that the Apocalypse was written before that event. So the Syriac version states he was banished by Nero the Caesar. (4) Laodicea was overthrown by an earthquake (A.D. 60) but was immediately rebuilt, so that its being called "rich and increased with goods" is not incompatible with this book having been written under the Neronian persecution (A.D. 64)...(5) Cerinthus is stated to have died before John; as then he borrowed much in his Pseudo-Apocalypse from John's, it is likely the latter was at an earlier date than Domitian's reign. See Tilloch's Introduction to Apocalypse. But the Pauline benediction (Re 1:4) implies it was written after Paul's death under Nero." (Commentary Critical and Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible - 1871)

A.N. Wilson (1977)
"There is no concrete and inescapable reference, in any of the New Testament books, to the destruction of Jerusalem, and is this in itself not a pretty surprising fact? Would we not expect one of these writers, particularly those of a triumphalist turn of mind, to make it clear that the very core and centre of Jewish worship had been obliterated? Such a radical view inspired J.A.T. Robinson's 'Redating the New Testament,' which made a spirited case for supposing that all the books of the canon were completed before 70." (Paul: The Mind of the Apostle - p. 254)

"The historian who tries to date and place John's Revelation is guided by the author to a quite specific time span. The words of Revelation are written down four years after the Roman fire, and shortly after Nero's own death. We know that they were written before the ultimate calamity of the Sack of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70...He writes of the earthly temple as still in existence [Rev 11:1-2]." (Paul: The Mind of the Apostle - p. 11)

"In Paul's lifetime, and Nero's, there was no such thing as the New Testament--even though some of its individual writings (perhaps all of them in some primitive form) could be dated to before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70." (Paul: The Mind of the Apostle - p. 19)

 

Testimony from Early Church History

Epiphanius of Salamis (315-403)
"[John], who prophesied in the time of Claudius [Nero]...the prophetic word according to the Apocalypse being disclosed." (Epiphanius, Panarion/Heresies 51:12,33)

Clement (150-215)
"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.)

(On the Timing of John's Banishment)
"And to give you confidence, when you have thus truly repented, that there remains for you a trustworthy hope of salvation, hear a story that is no mere story, but a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of the tyrant [previously identified as Nero] he removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit." (Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved?; Section 42)

The Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170)
"the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name."

"John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes to only seven churches, yet addresses all. " (ANF 5:603)

Note on the Muratorian Canon: Sometime between A.D. 170 and 200, someone drew up a list of canonical books. This list, known as the Muratorian Canon, is the oldest Latin church document of Rome, and of very great importance for the history of the canon. The witness of this manuscript, which is from the very era of Irenaeus and just prior to Clement of Alexandria, virtually demands the early date for Revelation. The relevant portion of the document states that "the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name" and "John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes to only seven churches, yet addresses all." The writer of the Canon clearly teaches that John preceded Paul in writing letters to seven churches. Yet, church historians are agreed that Paul died before A.D. 70, either in A.D. 67 or 68.

Syriac Vulgate Bible (sixth century)
"The Apocalypse of St. John, written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar." (Opening Title for the Book of Revelation)

Arethas (sixth century)
"Arethas in the sixth century, applies the sixth seal to the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), adding that the Apocalypse was written before that event" (From Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, 1871)

(On Revelation 6:12) "Some refer this to the siege of Jerusalem by Vespasian."

(On Revelation 7:1) "Here, then, were manifestly shown to the Evangelist what things were to befall the Jews in their war against the Romans, in the way of avenging the sufferings inflicted upon Christ."

(On Revelation 7:4) "When the Evangelist received these oracles, the destruction in which the Jews were involved was not yet inflicted by the Romans."

Papias (first century)
"Because of a statement by Papias, an early church father, that John the Apostle was martyred before a.d. 70, the Johannine authorship has been questioned." (John F. Walvoord on the Date of Revelation - The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 925)

"A fragment is, however, attributed to Papias which states that "John the theologian and James his brother were killed by the Jews". (Chapman, John. St. Papias. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI [Online Edition 2002]. Retrieved November 29, 2002 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11457c.htm)

 

Examining the Evidence for the Late (Domitian) Date (AD96)

All belief in the late date rests upon one cryptic statment of Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons (130-200AD) who wrote his "Against Heresies" around AD 174. All those that hold to the late date do so because of this one uncertain phrase by Irenaeus, and it is highly controversial as to what Irenaeus said. Apologist H. Daniel Denham notes that the testimony of Irenaeus is considered the bastion of the evidence for the late date, and goes on to admit some problems with this "bastion of evidence." First, the Greek language of Irenaeus can be understood to refer not to the Revelation, but to John being seen on Patmos. Second, he observes it is possible that Irenaeus has been misunderstood. Scholar Robert Young stated that the name Domitianou, referring actually to Nero, was mistaken by later writers for Domitian. Irenaeus' quote is listed below, with a few comments from well-respected scholars:

Irenaeus' Solitary Quote (Used as Grounds for Late Date Theory)
"We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the Revelation. For ('he' [John?] or 'it' [Revelation?]) was seen...towards the end of Domitian's reign." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3)

 

Robert Young (late 1800s)
"It was written in Patmos about A.D.68, whither John had been banished by Domitius Nero, as stated in the title of the Syriac version of the Book; and with this concurs the express statement of Irenaeus (A.D.175), who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou, ie., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius Severus, Orosius, &c., stupidly mistaking Domitianou for Domitianikos, supposed Irenaeus to refer to Domitian, A.D. 95, and most succeeding writers have fallen into the same blunder. The internal testimony is wholly in favor of the earlier date." (Concise Critical Comments on the Holy Bible, by Robert Young. Published by Pickering and Inglis, London and Glasgow, (no date), Page 179 of the "New Covenant" section. See also: Young's Concise Critical Bible Commmentary, Baker Book House, March 1977, ISBN: 0-8010-9914-5, pg 178.)

H. Daniel Denham (1979)
"The testimony of Irenaeus is considered the bastion of the evidence for the Late Date...The obscurity of the testimony, as it has come down to us, must be considered as weak and inconclusive to demand the Late Date." (Date of the Book Of Revelation; H. Daniel Denham, Part 1, 1979)

Steve Gregg
"Since the text is admittedly "uncertain" in many places, and the quotation in question is known only from a Latin translation of the original, we must not place too high a degree of certainty upon our preferred reading of the statement of Irenaeus." (Revelation: Four Views, p. 18)

"Earlier in the passage, Irenaeus refers to "all the...ancient copies" of Revelation. This presupposes that that the book had been around a good long while before this statement was written. If there were "ancient copies," was not the original more ancient still? Yet, in Irenaeus' estimation, the time of Domition's reign was not considered to have been very ancient history, for he speaks of it as "almost in our day." How could Irenaeus speak of ancient copies" of a work the original of which has been written "almost" in his own time?" (Revelation: Four Views, p.18)

F.W. Farrar (1831-1904)
On Early Church Fathers that openly rejected Irenaeus' testimony
"The Alogi at the close of the second century rejected it [Revelation] only on internal grounds, and their judgment is of no importance. Gaius (circ. 200) appears to attribute it to Cerinthus. Dionysius of Alexandria (A.D. 247) was inclined, on the grounds of style, to assign it to some other John, but speaks of it with reverence. Eusebius wavers about it, placing it among the spurious books in one passage, and among the acknowledged books in another. Cyril of Jerusalem (386) deliberately excludes it from the Canon. The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 381) omits it. Amphilochius, in his Jamb. ad Selecus, says that 'most' regard it as spurious. Junilius, even in the sixth, says that among the members of the Eastern Church it was viewed with great suspicion. Theodore of Mopsuestia (429) never cites it. Theodoret (457) alludes to it very slightly. It is not found in the Peshito. The Nestorian Church rejected it. It is not mentioned in the sixth century by Cosmas Indicopleustes. Nicephorus (ninth century) in his Chronographia omits it. Even in the fourteenth century Nicephorus Callistus, while accepting it, thinks it necessary to mention that some held it to be the work of 'John the Presbyter,' regarded as a different person from 'John the Apostle.' " (F.W. Farrar; The Apocalypse)

"...the authority of Irenaeus was not regarded as decisive, even if his meaning be undisputed. Tertullian places the banishment to Patmos immediately after the deliverance from the cauldron of boiling oil, and Jerome says that this took place in the reign of Nero. Epiphanius says that St. John was banished in the reign of Claudius, and the earliest Apocalyptic commentators, as well as the Syriac and Theophylact, all place the writing of the Apocalypse in the reign of Nero. To these must be added the author of the 'Life of Timotheus,' of which extracts are preserved by Photius. Clemens of Alexandria and Origen only say that 'John was banished by the tyrant,' and this on Christian lips may mean Nero much more naturally than Domitian. Moreover, if we accept erroneous tradition of inference from the ambiguous expressions of Irenaeus, we are landed in insuperable difficulties. By the time that Domitian died, St. John was, according to all testimony, so old and so infirm that even if there were no other obstacles in the way, it is impossible to conceive of him as writing the fiery pages of the Apocalypse. Irenaeus may have been misinterpreted; but even if not, he might have made a 'slip of memory,' and confused Domitian with Nero. ... We cannot accept a dubious expression of the Bishop of Lyons as adequate to set aside an overwhelming weight of evidence, alike external and internal, in proof of the fact that the Apocalypse was written, at the latest, soon after the death of Nero. " (F.W. Farrar; The Apocalypse)

 

Internal Evidence for the Early (Neronic) Date

As stated earlier in one of the above quotes, scholar Robert Young (best known for the Young's Analytical Concordance and his Literal Translation of the Bible) believes Revelation was written during Nero's reign. Furthermore, he claims that the internal testimony of the book is "wholly in favor of the earlier date." The following points are evidences from within the Book of Revelation itself that confirm the early date of its writing:

(1) The time statements refer to soon events of cataclysmic Jewish importance. If it was written in 96 AD, there are no events soon from that time that could even remotely fit. If, however, it was before 70 AD, then the destruction of Jerusalem rises to the occasion as both Jewish and cataclysmic. The time statements demand we look here, and there is no historic support for a persecution of the Church under Domitian in the 90s.

(2) According to the epistles to the churches, the Judaizers were persecuting the churches (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). This assigns the book to the pre-AD 70 era, for the Jewish persecution of the Church dissolved at AD 70.

(3) The temple and the city were apparently still standing in Revelation chapter 11. John is sent to measure the city and temple, and Jerusalem is said to be under siege at the time of writing. It would not be possible for John to speak of these as still standing after 70 AD, for they were utterly destroyed at that date. And, if John is referring to some rebuilt temple in the far distant future, and he is writing in 96 AD, then his complete silence about the destruction of the temple and city in 70 AD is deafening--the destruction of Jerusalem is perhaps the greatest disaster in antiquity, and surely the greatest disaster in Israel's history. To imagine St. John overlooking the apocalyptic destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple while he discusses both as if they were still standing, is impossible. Rather, St. John is prophesing their impending doom just two or three years before they were made utterly desolate.

(4) There were "other apostles" still around according to Revelation 2:2. Tradition has it that all the apostles were dead before 70 AD and John was the only original possibly surviving past that time.

(5) Caesar Nero's name in Hebrew gematria adds up to 666. Since this was written about soon events, no other person can be found within this time scope whose name fits this requirement and description. For certain, none can be found in the soon future of 96 AD.

(6) Almost all scholars believe Revelation is inextricably linked directly to the Olivet Discourse. Since the best commentaries on the Olivet Discourse demonstrate that it is speaking of the events leading up to AD 70, so must Revelation be speaking of these same events.

(7) The 6th king in Revelation 17 is the one that persecutes the saints. The Roman emperors as listed by Josephus and Tacitus are as follows: (1) Julius, (2) Augustus, (3) Tiberius, (4) Caligula, (5) Claudius, then (6) Nero. Nero was the first and only Roman Caesar of the Julian line to persecute Christians. Nero's death ended the Julian dynasty. The one ruling after him reigned only a little while--Galba, for 6 months. If the 6th king is indeed Nero, he would be the one that "now is" according to the prophecy, and this would date the writing before 68 AD when Nero supposedly committed suicide. Nero also persecuted Christians for 42 months as is stated in the prophecy.

 

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