Archive for 1. Introductory matters

Eight reasons against John the apostle as the author of Revelation

1. The author never claims to be an apostle

One response would be that the churches to which he writes would know which John was writing to them, so he did not need to specify which John he was, nor did he need to emphasize his apostolicity.

2. The style and vocabulary of Revelation is markedly different from the Gospel of John and the letters of John.

This is indeed a strong argument. But one response would be that the vastly different content explains the change in style and vocabulary.

3. The quality of Greek grammar is far inferior to that of the Gospel and letters of John

This is perhaps the strongest argument. But some respond by saying that John is writing in his second language from a prison island with no amanuensis (secretary) to clean up his Greek. Others believe that the author writes deliberately in slightly choppy Greek in order to slow down his readers and force them to notice the details in his work.

4. The theology of Revelation can be said to differ from the theology of the Gospel and letters of John

Some say that John’s God is love, but Revelation’s God is judgment. This is a naïve idea, as in the entire Bible we see both the love and the justice of God.

Some say Christ is portrayed as revealer and redeemer in John, but as warrior and ruler in Revelation. Again, there is no necessary tension between these various roles of Jesus.

Some say that John’s Gospel focuses on ‘realized eschatology’ (the changes the gospel makes in people here and now) whereas Revelation focuses on future eschatology. But this contrast is unfair. John’s Gospel is filled with references to future eschatology.

5. There is a tradition that claims that John the apostle died early as a martyr. He would not have lived long enough to write Revelation.

But many from the early church believed that John the apostle wrote, and that he wrote in the time of the emperor Domitian, toward the end of the first century. So the tradition was far from universally accepted.

6. Revelation names its author, whereas the Gospel of John is anonymous, written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

This is indeed a surprising difference, but does not rule out the possibility that the author wanted, out of modesty, to exclude his name from the Gospel but felt it important to include his name in Revelation, to substantiate the prophecy he received from Jesus.

7. Nothing in Revelation indicates that the author knew Jesus personally. This is surprising if the book was written by one of the twelve apostles.

The author is reporting a vision, not writing a treatise. He would have no reason to mention whether or not he had met Jesus during the latter’s earthly lifetime. And anyway, why must we assume the apostles would feel the need to mention their having met Jesus in every single work that they wrote?

8. Some people in the first centuries of the Christian church (Gaius, Dionysius, Marcion) did not believe John was the author.

Gaius and Dionysius, both from the third century, had a theological motive for not wanting John the apostle to be the author of Revelation:  they wanted to stop the millenarian movements that used Revelation 20 for support. Marcion was a heretic that rejected many portions of the New Testament that didn’t support his unorthodox beliefs.


Sources: David Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Revelation 1-5. (Waco, TX: Word, 1997); Carson, Moo and Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992)

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Three conclusions about the genre of Revelation

  1. First and foremost, Revelation is what it repeatedly claims to be: a prophecy in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets.
  2. Within the OT prophetic books there are any number of subgenres and literary conventions (narrative, poetry, vision reports, etc). Revelation uses primarily the literary conventions of apocalyptic literature. So we could say Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy (or a prophetic apocalypse, if you choose).
  3. Finally, Revelation is wrapped in an ‘epistolary framework’ – that is, it begins and ends like a letter (see Rev. 1.1-8 and ch. 22). This does not mean that the genre of Revelation is letter or epistle. The vast majority of Revelation looks nothing like a letter. The letter framework just means that Revelation was personal mail sent by a courier. And of course, not only letters but many different kinds of documents are sent as mail. Also, the letter framework may have been to encourage the churches to read the book in the context of their worship services, since letters from the apostles were read in this way. So we can say that Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy with an epistolary framework.

Source: author’s personal conclusions

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Ten ways in which Revelation is similar to a typical apocalypse

  1. Revelation contains angelic intermediaries
  2. Revelation contains epiphanies
  3. Revelation mentions persecution
  4. Revelation contains first person narratives
  5. Revelation has a future eschatological orientation
  6. Revelation contains visions
  7. Revelation contains otherworldly journeys
  8. Revelation contains examples of otherworldly literature (the scroll with the seals)
  9. Revelation contains dialogue and discourse
  10. Revelation contains mention of the author hearing sounds and voices

Source: Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation: Literary, Historical and Theological Perspectives. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), p. 20

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Four categories of apocalyptic works

  1. Old Testament apocalyptic and pre-apocalyptic works
    • The book of Daniel
    • The book of Ezekiel
    • Isaiah 25-27, 40-55 prefgure apocalyptic writing
    • Zechariah 9-14
  2. Extrabiblical Jewish apocalypses
    • 1 Enoch is a collection of five apocalypses
    • 2 Enoch
    • 2 Baruch
    • 3 Baruch
    • 4 Ezra
    • The Apocalypse of Abraham
    • Jubilees, chapter 23
    • The Testament of Abraham
    • The Testament of Levi, chapters 2-5
    • The Apocalypse of Zephaniah
  3. New Testament apocalypses
    • The eschatological discourse of Jesus (Matthew 24)
    • The book of Revelation
  4. Christian apocalypses
    • The Shepherd of Hermas
    • The Apocalypse of Peter
    • The Apocalypse of Paul
    • The Testament of Isaac
    • The Testament of Jacob
    • The Apocalypse of the Virgin Mary

    Sources: G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Revelation, book of”, in Dictionary of Later New Testament Developments. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997); Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation: Literary, Historical and Theological Perspectives. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 19. See the later for a few more examples, and dates for the extrabiblical items on the list.

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    Dave’s seven arguments for his proposed date for Revelation

    Regarding the date of composition of Revelation, scholars have generally favored either AD 68-69 (right after Nero’s death but before the Jerusalem was destroyed), or during the latter half of Domitian’s reign (he reigned from AD 81-96). My theory is that John wrote during the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79), probably toward the end of his reign. Here are my reasons:

    1. John and his readers have already experienced persecution, which the church had begun to experience even in the 50s, but John prophesies that a great persecution is soon to come. I believe this is the persecution under Domitian (who reigned from AD 81-96), but that this persecution has still not happened yet. This is predictive prophecy before the event. So at the very latest, John is writing at the beginning of Domitian’s reign, not at the end. Whether the persecution under Domitian was as bad as scholars used to believe, or whether it was overblown by later writers as is generally believed today, becomes irrelevant with this dating.
    2. Placing Revelation’s date of writing toward the end of Vespasian’s reign allows a few years for the Nero redivivus myth to develop after Nero’s death.
    3. Placing the date of writing toward the end of Vespasian’s reign gives Laodicea  up to nineteen years to recover from the earthquake that destroyed the city in AD 60. The Christians in Laodicea would be likelier to have become prosperous by then, as they are described in Revelation 3.
    4. This date also allows time for other developments, like the spiritual decline in some of the seven churches, and the rise of the heretical groups mentioned.
    5. Rome is called Babylon already in 1 Peter, dated before A.D. 70, but placing the date of writing after AD 70 makes more sense of the comparison of Rome to Babylon, because the Roman empire would have destroyed Jerusalem by then.
    6. I don’t make much of the references to Jerusalem in ch. 11, as if that requires the city to be standing. And if we take the view that Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, then we are forced to do three things I am not ready to do:
      • Severely limit ourselves to the dates AD 68-69, between the Nero’s death and the destruction of the temple, not really allowing enough time for the Nero redivivus myth to become well-known
      • Assume that John was wrong about an earthquake destroying the city of Jerusalem
      • Identify the two witnesses as people or churches in Jerusalem in those years.
    7. The kings in Revelation 17.10-11 makes good sense if placed during Vespasian’s reign. We start counting from Augustus, the emperor when Jesus was born, and we don’t include the brief reigns of the three civil war emperors. We get:
      • The five who have fallen:
        • Augustus
        • Tiberius
        • Caligula
        • Claudius
        • Nero
      • The one who is (Vespasian)
      • The one not yet, who will reign a short time (Titus, who reigned only three years)
      • The eighth, who will go to destruction = is the beast (Domitian)

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    Comparison of the seals, trumpets, and bowls


    # Seals Trumpets Bowls
    1 White horse: conquest Hail and fire; one third of the plants burned Sores
    2 Red horse: war Mountain of fire: one third of the sea creatures die The seas turned to blood
    3 Black horse: famine The star Wormwood; one third of the fresh water is poisoned Fresh water turned to blood
    4 Pale horse: death Darkness in one third of the sky The sun burns
    5 The martyrs are reassured Locusts from the abyss Darkness
    6 Earthquake, signs in heaven Four angels destroy one third of the population The Euphrates river dries up
    7 Half hour of silence Declaration of victory Earthquake and hail

    Source: H. Wayne House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 146-147

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    Three theories about the relationship between the seals, trumpets and bowls

    1. Some say the seals, trumpets and bowls are consecutive: the seals come first, are followed chronologically by the trumpets, which in turn are followed by the bowls.
    2. Others say the seals, trumpets and bowls are simultaneous: they all refer to the same phenomena, but are repeated to show the same phenomena from different angles or perspectives.
    3. Others say the seals, trumpets and bowls are telescopic: the trumpets are the content of the last seal, and the bowls are the content of the last trumpet.

    Source: H. Wayne House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Academie Books), p. 146

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    Twelve characteristics of the imminent persecution John envisions

    1. In Revelation 2.10 Jesus warns the Christians in Smyrna to prepare to be imprisoned and possibly martyred. It’s not clear if the ten days should be taken literally or symbolically. Imprisonment implies that political authorities will be involved, not just a lynch mob.
    2. “Rev. 6:9–11 describes the cry for vengeance for those “who had been slain for the word of the God and for the witness they had borne” (Aune)
    3. “The innumerable multitude in white robes depicted in Rev 7:9 consists of those who have come out of (i.e., died in) the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14).” (Aune)
    4. In Revelation 11.7-8 the two witnesses are killed by the beast
    5. In Revelation 12.11, the saints have defeated the dragon because of the blood of the Lamb and their faithful witness to him even to the point of death
    6. In Revelation 13.7 the beast is given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them
    7. Revelation 14.13 pronounces a beatitude on those “who from now on die in the Lord.”
    8. In Revelation 16.6 an angel announces that God’s pouring out of the bowl judgments on the followers of the beast is poetic justice, ironically appropriate: they are being forced to drink blood because they shed the blood of the prophets and saints.
    9. In Revelation 17.6 the prostitute is drunk with the blood of the saints and the witnesses to Jesus
    10. Revelation 18.24: “In her [Babylon, or Rome] was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.”
    11. Revelation 19.2 says that God will avenge the blood of his servants.
    12. Revelation 20.4 speaks of people who were beheaded for their faithfulness and witness to Jesus.

    Source: David Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Revelation 1-5. (Waco, TX: Word, 1997);

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    Seven connections between chapter 1 and chapters 2-3

    1. Jesus holds seven stars in his hand (compare Rev. 1.16 and 2.1, 3.1)
    2. Jesus walks among seven lampstands (compare Rev. 1.13 and 2.1)
    3. Jesus is the First and the Last, was dead and came back to life (compare Rev. 1.17-18 and 2.8)
    4. A sharp, double-edged sword comes from Jesus’ mouth (compare Rev. 1.16 and 2.12)
    5. Jesus has fiery eyes and feet like polished bronze (compare Rev. 1.14-15 and 2.18)
    6. Chapter one mentions the seven spirits, as does Rev. 3.1
    7. Jesus is the faithful witness (compare Rev. 1.5 and 3.14)

    Source: William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), p. 25.

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    Fourteen items found both at the beginning and the end of Revelation

    1. God sends his angel in both Revelation 1.1 and 22.6 (cf. Rev. 22.16)
    2. Christians are described as God’s servants in both Revelation 1.1 and 22.6
    3. Both Revelation 1.1 and 22.6 speak of ‘things which will soon come to pass’
    4. Both Revelation 1.1 and 22.9 mention John’s name
    5. Both Revelation 1.1 and 22.8 mention that John sees things
    6. Both Revelation 1.2 and 22.20 mention the testimony of Jesus
    7. There is a beatitude in both Revelation 1.3 and Revelation 22.7
    8. Both Revelation 1.3 and 22.7 speak of ‘keeping the words of the prophecy’
    9. Both Revelation 1.3 and 22.10 mention that the time is near
    10. Both Revelation 1.4 and 22.16 mention the churches to which the book is addressed
    11. Both Revelation 1.4-5 and 22.21 offer a wish that the readers receive grace from Jesus
    12. Both Revelation 1.4 and 22.17 mention the Spirit
    13. There are references to Jesus’ second coming in both Revelation 1.7 and Revelation 22.7, 20.
    14. Both Revelation 1.8 and 22.13 refer to the title ‘Alpha and Omega’.

    Source: Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation: Literary, Historical and Theological Perspectives. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 106.

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