Apr 172007

I’m going to try to not get too detailed about the sources of the book of Revelation and keep it rather general, but some specific examples will be necessary.

It seems clear that the author of Revelation used several earlier sources, and that these sources were Jewish apocalyptic documents that dated to the time of the Great Revot of 66-70 AD, or immediately before it.

Notice that in spite of a Christian preface and ending, and several Christian sections, most of Revelation is of a very Jewish character. Instead of a Trinity, there are the “seven spirits of God” – an idea from Philo. It is God who sits on the throne and judges, not Jesus. It is not the 12 apostles who sit on thrones, as Jesus had promised, but 24 Elders. There is no sign of baptism or communion– rather faithful Israelites are “sealed” by an angel. The ark of the covenant features prominently, as does incense, lamps, a horned altar, and multiple offerings. Temple worship is clearly the pattern. The dead are judged by their works, out of the book of life (as mentioned in Exodus 32). Grace is mentioned only in the Christian prologue and epilogue.

Many of the places where Jesus or a Jesus figure is mentioned, it seems tacked on as an afterthought. Such as: “And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10 KJV) This pattern is repeated over and over. In many of these sections, you could easily remove all the references to “the lamb” and the passage will still make perfect sense.

Unlike Christian martyrs such as Stephen, who pray for forgiveness for their persecutors, the martyrs in Revelation are out for blood:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed for the Word of God, and for the testimony of the Lamb which they had [yet another apparent insertion]. They cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, Master, the holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:9-10 WEB)

The Messiah figure in Revelation is in stark contrast to Jesus. Unlike Jesus, who is born on earth and reigns in heaven, the Revelation Messiah is born in heaven to rule on earth. He descends in a robe drenched in the blood of his enemies with a sword coming out of his mouth ready to destroy all who oppose him.

Also, while the Christian prologue and letters point to a later date under Domitian, as I mentioned previously – several clues in the Jewish section point to an earlier period. Most famous is the “mark of the Beast”. As many are aware, “666” has long been known to correspond to the Greek title of Caesar Nero. The most recent research, however, indicates that the earliest reading was not 666, but 616, which would have corresponded to the Greek name of Caligula


This is a perfect fit, as Caligula, half-crazed, declared himself a God, and ordered a statue set up of himself in every temple in the empire. Only the Jews refused. Caligula was infuriated, and roared at a visiting delegation of Jews, "So you are the enemies of the gods, the only people who refuse to recognize my divinity." It was only Caligula’s sudden death that saved Jerusalem at that time.

“He opened his mouth for blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his dwelling, those who dwell in heaven… All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been killed [another insertion]…It was given to him to give breath to it, to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause as many as wouldn’t worship the image of the beast to be killed. “

(Revelation 13:6, 8, 15 WEB)

But when the Jewish revolt began a few years later under Nero, the change of the number to 666 (representing Nero) would have made sense.

Other portions of the text point to authorship in 69 AD, just before the destruction of Jerusalem. For example:

They are seven kings. Five have fallen, the one is, the other has not yet come. When he comes, he must continue a little while. (Revelation 17:10 WEB)

Five Caesars fall (Julius, Agustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius) One is (Nero) another comes for a brief time (Galba – who reigned less than a year). Then, a return of the beast is expected. In fact, if we ignore the reigns Otho and Vitellius, who lasted less than six months each, the very next emperor was Vespatian, who had personally supervised the destruction of Jerusalem.

“It was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them. Authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation was given to him. “ (Revelation 13:7 WEB)

With the expansion of Claudius into Britan and the annexing of more provinces from the East, the Roman Empire at this point had expanded nearly to the boundries of the known world.

But since these appear to be several revisions of several Jewish documents (judging by the literary style) from slightly different periods, several different emperors are pointed to, and the final author “John” apparently didn’t bother to resolve all the contradictions.

Apr 172007

So… who wrote the book of Revelation?

Both tradition and modern scholarship tend to date Revelation to the latter part of the reign of Domitian, probably 95 to 96 AD. Although it contains earlier material, the condition of the churches mentioned in the seven letters at the beginning of the book indicate a late date. Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in 62 AD, but is mentioned as wealthy and prosperous in Revelation 3 – indicating enough time had elapsed for the city to rebuild and prosper. The church at Smyrna, which seems long established from the letter, was also established somewhat late. There are, however, earlier elements in the book which have caused confusion and argument over the dating for centuries. But it seems that at least the final hand in composing the book wrote fairly late.

As we saw previously, John the Apostle died fairly early – a martyr in Jerusalem. If Revelation dates to 95 AD, John the Apostle could not be the author. If we assume that John the Apostle was the author of the Gospel of John (which is also somewhat questionable) there are other very serious problems with his being the author of Revelation. Dionysis of Alexandria pointed out these problems persuasively back in the third century. The writing styles of the Gospel of John and Revelation are completely different. The Gospel Greek is refined and cultured while that of Revelation is clumsy and barbarous and full of colloquialisms. They use different words for the same things (different words for “lamb” for example). While the Gospel writer is carefully anonymous, the author of Revelation tells us his name immediately. And yet, the author of Revelation never mentions that he is an apostle, and never mentions any of his personal experiences with Jesus. He speaks of the “twelve apostles of the lamb” in such an objective way that it seems clear he isn’t one of them. None of the themes so popular in the Gospel of John and the epistles are emphasized particularly in Revelation.

So it seems impossible that John the Apostle wrote the book of Revelation. Particularly if we think John the Apostle wrote the Gospel named after him.

Who did write it? Opinions vary. Some attributed it to the heretic Cerinthus. Some suggested that “John the Presbyter” mentioned by Papias might have been the author. This seems a good choice, as John the Presbyter lived later than the apostle, and was known to the churches of Asia minor. In any case, it was not written by John the Apostle.

Apr 172007

The Book of Revelation claims to have been written by “John”. While the “John” of Revelation doesn’t specifically claim to be the Apostle John mentioned in the Gospels, tradition claims that they are one and the same. According to Catholic tradition, which cites such sources as Ireneus and Tertullian, John moved, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, to Ephesus. In his older years, he was banished to the island of Patmos after the Romans were unable to harm him by throwing him into boiling oil. He supposedly died at a great age, but according to some Christians, he is still alive today (this is based on this saying of Jesus to Peter in the gospel of John: “Jesus said to him [Peter] , If I desire that he [John?] stay until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:22 WEB) Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, claimed to have personally encountered John the Apostle.

Critics would no doubt suspect this entire history of John of being legendary. And they would be correct. The early church leaders who particularly endorsed this theory were the ones who were particularly interested in championing the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. But there is considerable historical evidence to the contrary.

A little known fragment of Papias, an early church Father who was familiar with John and Polycarp his disciple, says that “John the divine and James his brother were slain by the Jews”. This would coincide well with what Jesus tells James and John in Matthew 20:23, that they will drink of cup and be baptized with his baptism (in other words, suffer martyrdom as Jesus did).

In another better known fragment of Papias, quoted by Eusebius, Papias mentions receiving instruction from “John the Presbyter” in the PRESENT tense, but mentions John the Apostle in the PAST tense…

“If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,—what Andrew or what Peter said, or what WAS said (past tense) by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by JOHN, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, SAY (present tense).”

This indicates that John was probably martyred quite early in Jerusalem. We’ll talk more of Presbyter John later.

In the ancient Syriac Christian calendar, December 27 is commemorated as the day of the martyrs “John and James, the apostles in Jerusalem”. The ancient Armenian calendar also lists them as co-martyrs, as does the Ethiopian and several other ancient lists of martyrs.

Heracleon mentiones several apostles (such as Matthew, Philip and Thomas) who were not martyrs. John is not mentioned, and so was presumably martyred.

Ignatius writes a very early Epistle to the Ephesians and greets Polycarp in particular, but makes no mention whatsoever of John the Apostle – a very odd thing to omit if John was living there, or HAD lived there, as Ignatius is careful to mention apostolic connections.

It seems likely, then, that John the Apostle died in Jerusalem, near the time of his brother James.

Apr 162007

To elaborate on an earlier point, yes, the book of Revelation has been a subject of controversy in churches since it first appeared, and for good reason. The reasons why the book is not genuine I’ll examine later, if I have some time. The fact that it was controversial I’ll documents in this post.


The first early writer to reject Revelation explicitly was Marcion. Since he was considered a hereitic by the proto-orthodox, his opinion would perhaps be more suspect, but it’s interesting that he does a pretty good job of identifying a number of books that modern scholars would come to identify centuries later as forgeries.


Moving along in history, the book was either rejected outright or commented upon negatively, or recognized as disputed or ignored entirely by the Alogi sect, Caius of Rome, Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Canon 60 of the Synod of Laodicea Canon 85 of the Apostolic. Constitutions, Gregory of Nazianzus , Amphilochius of Iconium , John. Chrysostom, . Theodore, Theodoret , the List of 60 Books, and the Chronography of Nicephorus. It was not found in The Peshitta of the Syrian Church, and it was only added to the canon of the Armenian Church after 1200. It was accepted only late in the Orthodox canon, and it appeared only sporadically in lists of the Eastern canon for many centuries.


All during the middle ages, it was disputed. The Reformers has similar doubts. Erasmus, Martin Luther (who will be quoted below), John Calvin and Zwingli, Karlstadt and Oecolampadius all appeared to have serious doubts about the authenticity or value of the Book of Revelation. Many of them originally published Revelation, along with several other New Testament books, in a special section of “New Testament Apocrypha” at the end of the Bible, indicating its disputed or inferior status.


Before moving on to a few quotations, I should mention that there is an additional problem with the King James Version of Revelations. Erasmus, the scholar who prepared the Greek manuscript from which the King James is translated, had only one borrowed (late and corrupt) copy of a Greek manuscript for Revelations. This copy had Greek commentary intermixed with the text in such a way as to make it difficult to separate the scripture from the commentary – and the last part of the manuscript was missing, forcing Erasmus to back-translate Jerome’s Latin Vulgate into Greek to fill in the missing part. The result is that the King James Version of the Book of Revelation is, scholastically, one of the worst translations ever made. For example? In the King James, Revelation 22:19 speaks of the “Book of Life”. Not a single Greek manuscript ever found says “Book of Life”. They all say “Tree of Life”. But some Latin copyist at some point miscopied “lingo” (tree) into “libro” (book). And Erasmus then back-translated a Latin mistake into a Greek mistake, which has lived on as an English mistake to this very day in the King James.


Some direct ancient quotations about the Book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse of John) and the canon of scripture:


“Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected [Kirsopp Lake translation: "not genuine"] writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John [the book of Revelations], if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews… And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books" – Eusebius, 300 AD


“Then of the New Testament there are four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are harmful. The Manicheans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being smeared with the fragrance of the name 'Gospel' destroys the souls of those who are rather simple-minded. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the latest work of disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul.” – Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures [No Revelations] Please note that I included the slap against the Gospel of Thomas rather than removing it with ellipsis, even though I personally think the Gospel of Thomas is wonderful 😉


“And these are the books of the New Testament: Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; The Acts of the Apostles; Seven Catholic Epistles, to wit, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; Fourteen Epistles of Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Hebrews, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon.” – Synod of Laodicea, Canon 60 AD (343-391) [Notice, no Revelations]


“But now count also [the books] of the New Mystery;

Matthew indeed wrote for the Hebrews the wonderful works of Christ,

And mark for Italy, Luke for Greece,

John, the great preacher, for all, walking in heaven.

Then the Acts of the wise apostles,

And fourteen Epistles of Paul,

And seven Catholic [Epistles], of which James is one,

Two of Peter, three of John again.

And Jude's is the seventh, You have all.

If there is any besides these, it is not among the genuine [books].” – Gregory of Nazianus (329-389 AD) [No Revelations]



“Canon 85. Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by all of you, both clergy and laity. [A list of books of the Old Testament …] And our sacred books, that is, of the New Testament, are the four Gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter; three of John; one of James; one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you, the bishops, by me, Clement, in eight books, which is not appropriate to make public before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us, the Apostles.” – The Apostolic Canons (380 AD) [No Revelations]


“It is time for me to speak of the books of the New Testament.
Receive only four evangelists:
Matthew, then Mark, to whom, having added Luke
As third, count John as fourth in time,
But first in height of teachings,
For I call this one rightly a son of thunder,
Sounding out most greatly with the word of God.
And receive also the second book of Luke,
That of the catholic Acts of the Apostles.
Add next the chosen vessel,
The herald of the Gentiles, the apostle
Paul, having written wisely to the churches
Twice seven Epistles: to the Romans one,
To which one must add two to the Corinthians,
That to the Galatians, and that to the Ephesians, after which
That in Philippi, then the one written
To the Colassians, two to the Thessalonians,
Two to Timothy, and to Titus and the Philemon,
One each, and one to the Hebrews.
But some say the one to the Hebrews is spurious,
not saying well, for the grace is genuine.
Well, what remains? Of the Catholic Epistles
Some say we must receive seven, but others say
Only three should be received — that of James, one,
And one of Peter, and those of John, one.
And some receive three [of John], and besides these, two
of Peter, and that of Jude a seventh.
And again the Revelation of John,
Some approve, but the most
Say it is spurious,” – Amphiolochius of Iconium (394 AD)


“And of the New Testament (writings) the following are gainsaid [disputed]:

1. The Revelation of John 1400 lines

2. The Revelation of Peter 300 lines

3. The Epistle of Barnabas 1360 lines

4. The Gospel of the Hebrews 2200 lines” – The Stichometery of Nicephorus (9th century)


“I miss more than one thing in this book [Revelations], and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic… I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it… Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep. Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago” Martin Luther – Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522)



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