The Date of Revelation

By Timothy King

To: Larry Hall, Sword of the Spirit Apologetics

Re: The Date of Revelation

Dear Larry:

Let me now make some points regarding the date of the book of Revelation.  I will not labor long over this since the deepest studies are already in print if you’re willing to examine them, most notably, Kenneth Gentry’s Before Jerusalem Fell.  But consider:

You rightly say, “If it can be established that Revelation was written by John even one day after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, preterism completely falls” (emphasis yours).  Let’s look at your evidence and see if the point can be made conclusively that the book of Revelation was written post-A.D. 70.

Your first argument has to do with the health of the churches mentioned in chapters two and three.  You say, “Those churches were strong and healthy during the mid-60’s when Paul last ministered in Asia Minor. It is inconceivable that they could have declined in the very short time span between Paul’s journeys and the end of Nero’s reign.”

You do not mention your sources here, but your statement flies in the face of most scholarship for two reasons.  First, it cannot be declared with certainty that Paul was anywhere near the churches of Asia Minor in the mid sixties.  New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce dates Paul’s arrest as described in Acts 21 to have taken place in A.D. 57 or 59 and his voyage to Rome taking place in September of 59.

Paul arrived in Rome in February of A.D. 60 and was under house arrest in Rome where he wrote his prison letters.  The only ministry of Paul we have recorded in the Scriptures was in his “rented quarters” (Acts 28:30).  It is thought that he was released for a period and later arrested, but what he did at his release is in doubt.  Bruce says:

“It is clear that no dogmatic statements are justified when the sequel to Paul’s first imprisonment is under discussion.  Tradition affirms rather confidently that he was released, but Eusebius, who first records this tradition explicitly, introduces it with the expression ‘report has it’” (F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Eerdman’s, 1977 , p. 444).

It is possible he went to the churches of Asia Minor.  It is also possible that he went to Spain, as some have said.  My point is that the evidence is hazy enough that one cannot be as dogmatic as you have been.  To make your statement as being a verified fact is misleading.

Second, what is your evidence that “(t)hose churches were strong and healthy during the middle 60’s?”  Is it impossible that these churches had experienced a spiritual decline before A.D. 70?  The church of Corinth was undergoing internal strife.  The church of Galatia was succumbing to Judaizing tendencies.  The church of the Hebrews was undergoing apostasy.  If the churches that Paul had planted were in need of rebuke, why not those of Asia Minor?

We might also point out that the main persecution going on against two of the churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia) were at the hands of Jews, not Gentiles (Revelation 2:9; 3:9).  If this was the persecution under Domitian, wouldn’t the persecutors be more Roman/Gentile rather than Jews?

Let’s look at your argument concerning the Nicolaitan heretics.  You say, “This sect was not once mentioned by Paul, not even in his various letters to these same churches.”  In the first place, could you explain what you mean by Paul’s “various letters” to these churches?  Besides Ephesus and an unknown letter to the Laodocians (Colossians 4:16), we have no record of any letter from Paul to any of the other six churches in Revelation 2 and 3.  But I digress.

Arguments from silence are fair to assert, but not always conclusive.  We could argue that Simon Magus didn’t arrive on the scene until after A.D. 70 because Paul does not once mention him in any of his epistles.  But Simon appears early on in the ministry of the church (Acts 8:9 ff., even before Paul’s conversion!)  Further, Eusebius cites Justin Martyr’s and Irenaeus’ accounts of Simon and calls him “the original author of all heresies” (quoted in Eusebius: the Church History, translated by Paul L. Maier, Kregal Publications, 1999, p. 72).  Can we conclude from Paul’s silence that Simon didn’t exist until after A.D. 70?  Certainly not!

But as for the Nicolaitans, so little is known of their origins, it is unwise to be as dogmatic as you are.  In fact, according to Eusebius, “They laid claim to Nicolaus, one of the deacons who, with Stephen, was appointed by the apostles to care for the poor [Acts 6:5]” (Maier, p.117, 118).  This would make their origins also to be before the conversion of Paul!

Now let me comment on your take on this statement from Irenaeus, “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the 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 apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”  Your comment that follows is:

“Most scholars interpret the pronoun ‘that’ in the phrase ‘that was seen’ to refer to the vision itself. This interpretation makes perfect sense, flows most naturally with the statement, and allows the pronoun ‘that’ to stand in for the nearest previous noun (vision). If Irenaeus had been referring to John, the pronoun ‘who’ rather than ‘that’ would have undoubtedly been used.”

Now, Larry; you know better than this!  Irenaeus would not have used the pronoun “who” nor would he have used the pronoun “that” because Irenaeus originally wrote in Greek, not English!  Either you are being plain ignorant here (and I know you’ve had some training in Greek), or you did not state your case clearly, or you are being knowingly misleading.

The facts are that all the copies of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies are only in Latin.  Thankfully, we have the Greek text of Irenaeus cited twice in Eusebius’ Church History.  It is true that the key phrase in question has to do with whether to translate the Greek pronoun “that” (the vision) or “who” (John), but John A.T. Robinson, in considering the “that” (the vision) rendering, states, “This translation has been disputed by a number of scholars” (Redating the New Testament, p. 221).

The fact of the matter is that, in this statement, the Greek verb for “was seen” has no noun before it.  As you well know, Greek verbs carry within their form the subject without one having to be explicitly supplied.  As I said, you know this perfectly well.  The verb could be translated, “he was seen,” “she was seen,” or “it was seen.”  With the context eliminating the second translation, it is an indisputable fact that either of the remaining translations are grammatically possible.

In trying to surmise Irenaeus’ main idea, Kenneth Gentry (who is no fan of full preterism), offers this paraphrase: “It is not important for us to know the name of the Beast (or Antichrist), which was hidden in the number 666.  Were it important, why did John not tell us?  After all, he lived almost to our own era, and spoke with some men that I have known” (The Beast of Revelation, p. 207).

Dr. Gentry comments: “The main idea involves John himself.  Irenaeus is speaking of John and his knowledge of the Beast.  It seems quite clear that he is exhorting the reader not to worry about the name of the Beast.  We should not trouble ourselves with the matter because even John, who lived a long time after writing Revelation, did not tell anyone the identity” (ibid, emphasis in the original).

By the way, regarding your accusation that preterists are guilty of biased interpretation, remember: That accusation can easily be a two-edged sword and used to wound many a futurist.

I will not weary myself by disputing all of your citations of early church fathers on the date of Revelation for this reason: They are all using Irenaeus as their source.  Gentry again: “Almost invariably the major reason for the dismissal of the early date for Revelation is due to a statement by an early church father named Irenaeus” (Beast, p. 106)  And if the information of Irenaeus is in question (which it is), then your sources fall like dominoes.

This brings us to an issue of much greater importance as determining the date of Revelation which is the internal evidence; that is, the testimony found in the book itself.

The most compelling is that John is told to, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar” (Revelation 11:1).  How could the temple of God be measured in A.D. 95 since by that time the temple and Jerusalem itself had been leveled to the ground?  John is speaking of Jerusalem of the first century for these reasons:

1.  It is demanded in that John explicitly states that all of the prophecies are to take place imminently (Revelation 1:1, 3, 19; 3:10; 22:6 ff.).

2.  This city was to be trodden underfoot (Revelation 11:2).  This was exactly what happened by the Roman general Titus in A.D. 70.  The treading underfoot by the nations/Gentiles took forty-two months.  This fits remarkably with the time of the siege against Jerusalem.

3.  This city was the place where Jesus was crucified (Revelation11:8).  Its mystical names, “Sodom” and “Egypt” are well-known as referring to Jerusalem and her adulterous people (see Isaiah 1:10).

4.  And lest some would see this as a “spiritual” temple and city, we note that after the destruction of this city, we see a “temple of God which is in heaven” opened (Revelation 11:19).

If John wrote Revelation in A.D. 95, why did he not mention the destroyed temple?  Early, post-apostolic Christianity made much of the destruction of the temple as evidence of God’s rejection of the Jews.  Why would John pass up a golden opportunity to mention this in Revelation, unless the city and the temple were still standing?

In all, Larry, there is really nothing in the text of Revelation nor in external sources that would absolutely conclude that Revelation was written after A.D. 70.  All of the visions of John could easily be interpreted as pointing to the events of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70.  I believe this is the most natural and reasonable way to approach the book, especially considering the internal timing statements.

My plea to you would be to loosen up on your dogmatism when there are reasonable arguments from the other side.  Sounding scholarly is easy; being scholarly is not.  Your methodology has your case coming across less as apologetics and more like propaganda.  Please be careful regarding your scholarship.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. stormcrow1
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 22:37:35

    Just a couple of other points regarding the earlier dating of Revelation…

    John was addressing some of the same issues with the churches of Asia Minor that Paul was addressing in his letters: both deal with the eating of meat offered to idols and false apostleship in the churches.

    But more importantly is the issue of the comments from Iraneaus. This is the quote that futurists use:

    “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.”

    Forget the controversy over prepositions. The real problem, as Robert Young pointed out in his “Commentary on Revelation” (1885), is that Nero’s given name – Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus – was mistranslated “Domitian” which is why people ascribe the writing of the book during Domitian’s reign. At the very least, it’s hardly objective to build an entire dogma (futurism) out of a quote that is both vague and very likely mistranslated.

    Domitious? Domitian? The argument over the dating of Revelation may ultimately hinge on a transcription error.


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