Archive for January, 2010

Four conclusions about the authorship of Revelation

  1. Given the weight of the various pros and cons, the jury is still out on whether John the apostle was the author.
  2. The difference between the literary style and quality of the Greek in Revelation and those of John’s Gospel and letters is striking, and most of the similarities that Morris and Wilson mention seem somewhat forced.
  3. But the external evidence for John the apostle is strong, whereas the evidence in favor of a supposed ‘John the elder’ is slender at best.
  4. One holding to a high view of inspiration need only affirm that a man named John wrote the book. Even when one operates with a high view of inspiration, one need not insist that John the apostle wrote Revelation, or that the same author wrote both Revelation and the Gospel and letters attributed to John.

Source: personal conclusions of the author.

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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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51 literary features found in Revelation

  1. Abrupt introductions of new characters (John introduces several characters for the first time as if we already know them)
  2. Alternation between hearing and seeing (John hears, then he sees, then he hears…)
  3. Alternation between heaven and earth (the vantage point from which John writes alternates between heaven and earth)
  4. Appeals to hearing (Revelation is a noisy book filled with trumpets, loud voices, roaring lions, weeping, singing, rushing waters, etc)
  5. Appeals to sight (Revelation is a visual book, using many colors and blinding lights)
  6. Appeals to taste and smell (Revelation mentions incense, sulphur, bitter scrolls, etc)
  7. Beatitudes (Blessed is the person who…) (see here for the list)
  8. Benedictions (blessings)
  9. Chiasms (ABA, ABCBA and similar patterns)
  10. Sharp contrasts (see here for the list)
  11. Divine passives (the use of the passive voice, e.g. “he received”, to indicate God acting without using the name of God)
  12. Doublets
  13. Embedded textual units
  14. Euphemisms
  15. Exhortations (there are not as many commands as one might expect in Revelation – but see especially chs. 2-3, 22)
  16. Extremes and epic scale (from heaven to the abyss, from joy to mourning, from good to evil, etc)
  17. Folklore motifs (damsels in distress, dragons, heroes on white horses, weddings in a beautiful palace, etc)
  18. Hapax legomena (there are 128 words found in Revelation that are not found in the rest of the NT)
  19. Hybrid creatures
  20. Hymns, songs, laments
  21. Hyperbole (exaggeration)
  22. Imagery, symbolism (the book is filled with animals, weather patterns, minerals, jewels, military imagery, architectural imagery, sexual imagery, stars and other items that stand for something else, etc)
  23. Inclusio (“bookend” elements that frame a section of the book)
  24. Intensification (judgments and cosmic phenomenon escalate or intensify as the narrative moves along)
  25. Inversion (Many things are viewed with an inverted or upside down perspective, like the ‘rich’ Laodiceans who are viewed as poor)
  26. Irregular Greek (John’s Greek is not very good. Was Greek his second language? Was he writing choppily to force the reader to slow down and notice the  details?)
  27. Lengthy, even compound titles for God
  28. Letters
  29. Mentions of the act of writing
  30. Merisms (mentioning the first and the last items of a list in order to represent the whole list – Alpha and Omega)
  31. Narration
  32. Numbers, symbolic, and gematria (3, 7, 12, 666, 1000 and many other symbolic numbers)
  33. Paired angelic revelations
  34. Paired characters
  35. Parataxis (imitating Old Testament Hebrew narrative, the author places the word “and” between clauses and sentences)
  36. Parody
  37. Personification
  38. Places, symbolic
  39. Promises and fulfillments
  40. Props, symbolic
  41. Rapid shifting of setting and imagery
  42. Reaction shots of the author (see the list here)
  43. Recapitulation (where the same chronological period or actions are repeated in the book and viewed from a different perspective)
  44. Repeated phrases
  45. Reversal of causes and effects (sometimes John mentions an effect before mentioning its cause)
  46. Semitisms (in many places the Greek of Revelation uses grammatical constructions that are found in Hebrew and Aramaic, but not in normal Greek)
  47. Two-step progressions
  48. Verbal threads
  49. Vice lists (lists of sins and/or sinners)
  50. Victor sayings (“To the one who conquers…”)
  51. Visions

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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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    Nine verses in Revelation 12 that allude to the OT

    1. In Revelation 12.2 the heavenly woman cries out as she goes into labor pain.
      • Isaiah 66.7 speaks of Jerusalem giving birth to a son, before going into labor.
      • Micah 4.10 tells Jerusalem to writhe in labor, because her people must go to Babylon. But Micah promises that the Lord will rescue her.
    2. Revelation 12.3 introduces a red dragon with ten horns. Daniel 7.7 mentions a beast with ten horns.
    3. In Revelation 12.4 the dragon sweeps a third of the stars from the sky with its tail. In Daniel 8.10 a horn rises up to heaven and threw stars from the sky.
    4. In Revelation 12.5 the woman gives birth to a son who rules over the nations with an iron scepter.
      • Psalm 2.9 speaks of the Son of God ruling over the nations with an iron scepter.
      • Isaiah 7.14 prophesies that a virgin will give birth to a son.
      • Isaiah 66.7 speaks of Jerusalem giving birth to a son, before going into labor.
    5. Revelation 12.7 speaks of a war in heaven between Michael and the dragon, with their respective armies. Daniel 10.13 and 10.21 mention fighting between the prince Michael and the prince of Persia. Daniel 12.1 also speaks of Michael, “the great prince who protects your people”.
    6. In Revelation 12.9 details how the dragon is cast from heaven to earth. In Isaiah 14.12 a morning star that once laid waste the nations was cast down to the earth.
    7. In Revelation 12.10 the dragon is described as an accuser. In Job 1.9-11, Satan accuses Job, and in Zechariah 3.1 Satan accuses Joshua the high priest.
    8. In Revelation 12.14 speaks of “time, times and half a time” (3 and a half years). This time period is mentioned in this way in Daniel 12.7, though in a different context.
    9. Revelation 12.17 the dragon leaves the woman in order to wage war against her children. In Daniel 7. 21 a horn wages war against the saints. Some indexes mention Daniel 7.7 in connection with Revelation 12.17, but this author does not see a clear connection.

    Source: The Greek New Testament (UBS, 4th edition), compared with the Old Testament Quotations and Allusions in the New Testament feature in Logos Bible Software version 4.

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