Ten factors scholars use to determine the date of Revelation

Scholars are for the most part divided into those who think John wrote during or immediately after the time of emperor Nero (who reigned from 54-68), and those who think John wrote during the time of emperor Domitian (who ruled from AD 81-96). Here are the factors they consider in their reckoning:
  1. The testimony of the early church fathers about the book. Irenaeus is the most specific, saying that the book was written toward the end of the reign of Domitian. But he could have been mistaken.
  2. The development of the imperial cult to Rome, alluded to in the book. This factor is the least helpful, since the imperial cult existed in Asia in Augustus’ time, decades before Jesus was even born. There were temples in Pergamum and Smyrna dedicated to the worship of the Roman empire in 29 BC and 26 BC, respectively.
  3. Evidence for and against an empire-wide persecution in the time of Domitian. Years ago, it was a given that Domitian declared himself Dominus et Deus (Lord and God), was a terrible tyrant, and persecuted Christians fiercely. Now, however, scholars have noted that the evidence for persecution from Domitian’s own time is scarce, and that most of the negative portrait of Domitian’s reign was developed by later writers who had strong political motives for criticizing Domitian and praising his successor Trajan. So the scholarly tide has changed for the most part regarding this factor. If Domitian did not persecute the church, some scholars say, we must turn to Nero’s reign to find the setting of severe persection that matches that of this book.
  4. The evidence, or not, of the Nero Redivivus myth in Revelation chapter 13. Nero committed suicide in AD 68 and there was no public burial for him. A myth began to circulate to the effect that Nero had not really died, and that he would return to reconquer Rome. As the years went by, people began to speak of Nero’s resurrection rather than the idea that he was still alive.  There were three people who claimed to be Nero between AD 69 and AD 89.  Aune mentions that the last one almost led to an invasion of Rome by Parthia. What does all this have to do with Revelation, you ask? In chapters 13 and 17 a head of the first beast is a king who dies and comes back to life to take over the empire. If this is a reference to the Nero Redivivus myth, then an early date is unlikely, since the Nero myth needed time to develop and circulate to Asia. But then again, say some, if there was already someone in AD 69 who claimed to be Nero, and whose body, after his execution by Rome, was publicly displayed in Ephesus (the location of one of Revelation’s churches), isn’t the early date still a distinct possibility?
  5. The seven kings in Revelation 17.10-11. According to John, five kings have fallen, one is, and the seventh, whose reign will be short, has not yet come. Then there is also an eighth king that “belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.” If we go on the natural assumption that by ‘kings’ John means ‘Roman emperors’, we should be able to compare John’s sequence with the list of Roman emperors, and arrive at the one who ‘is’ at the time of John’s writing, right? Here are some of the problems involved:
    • It’s not clear where we should begin counting: with Julius Caesar or with Caesar Augustus? Or with Gaius Caligula, the first emperor after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus?
    • It’s not clear whether we should count the three emperors who reigned briefly and in rapid succession during the civil war of AD 68-69 (Galba, Otho and Vitellius).
    • Combining both of the points above leads to quite a number of different possibilities.
  6. References in Revelation 11 to the temple in Jerusalem. Some point to details in Revelation 11.1-2, 11.8 and 11.13 as evidence that Jerusalem was still standing and was already under siege by the Romans. Key questions: Was John writing literally here, or symbolically? Does the fact that John mentions an earthquake destroying Jerusalem mean that he wrote before the destruction of the city, and was mistaken about the way it would be destroyed?
  7. References in Revelation to Rome being called ‘Babylon’. Rome is referred to as Babylon in Revelation 14.6, 16.19, 17.5, 18.2, 18.10, 18.11. The theory of some is that Rome came to be known as Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, since Rome, like Babylon, destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Rome is referred to in other apocalyptic works, but all of them were written after AD 70. So according to this theory, Revelation couldn’t have been written before AD 70. However, other scholars point to 1 Peter 5.13, which also calls Rome ‘Babylon’. If Peter is accepted as the author, then 1 Peter was written prior to Peter’s martyrdom in Nero’s time. This means we would have another reference to Rome as Babylon years before AD 70. If so, this factor would not rule out an early date.
  8. The devastation of the city of Laodicea in AD 60-61. The question arises, could an early date of 68 or 69 for Revelation even be possible? Revelation mentions that the Laodiceans are prosperous. But wouldn’t the city still be recovering and rebuilding after its total destruction? How could the Laodiceans be described as rich already?
  9. Evidence regarding the founding of the church in Smyrna. Polycarp, writing in AD 155, says that when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, the Smyrneans had not yet known the Lord. This means that if Polycarp is to be believed, the Smyrnean church could not have been founded before the writing of Philippians. Scholars are not agreed on the date of Philippians. It depends on which imprisonment Paul was writing the letter from. Some say AD 53-55 and others say AD 56-58. The church may have not even existed until AD 60-64 or so, affecting some versions of the early dating of Revelation, since John would have been writing to a church that didn’t even exist yet.
  10. Certain factors about Revelation that would require some time to develop. Chapters 2 and 3 mention the spiritual decline of the churches in Ephesus (which had lost its first love), Sardis (dead) and Laodicea (lukewarm). They also mention the development of sects like the Nicolaitans. The key question here is, how long would we need to allow for the development of spiritual decline and the rise of sects?

Sources: Various, with special acknowledgement of David Aune’s extensive treatment in his commentary.

1 Comment »

  1. christoff Said,

    June 15, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    the dimension in revelation 21 taken as a sphere using 4pi radius square equals our moon approxmatley 14 million miles surface area.

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