Issues in Dating the Book of Revelation


There are a plethora of issues involved in the dating of the Apocalypse. Within current scholarship the amount of theories as to its dating are as plentiful as the attempts to discover its structure. Early scholars considered the dating of the writingto be early in Church history. Many scholars of the last century have argued for a late date to the Apocalypse using a method of doubt which was supported by circular argumentation. However, in recent years many scholars have come to the fore questioning the validity of this past and continued skepticism surrounding an early dating.

 Many scholars subscribe to a late date of the writing of the Apocalypse based upon a quote from Irenaeus in which he says that the book was ‘seen’ around the end of the reign of Domitian. However, recent scholars like Wilson have pointed out that Irenaeus also connected the disciple John as the author of both the Gospel and the Apocalypse. Modern scholars dismiss Irenaeus’ idea that John actually wrote the Apocalypse and Eusebius’ idea that there was widespread persecution during the time of Domitian (the emperor of the late date theory) but they choose not to question his (Irenaeus’) thoughts on the dating. Furthermore, the logic used to support the late dating of the Apocalypse are developed by using circular argumentation. Revelation has been connected with other works within the New Testament such as 1 Peter and Matthew but many modern scholars argue that because Matthew and/or 1 Peter were written at a later date, then so was the Apocalypse and vice versa. As Wilson attests, it seems at least plausible that one should consider the late date theory as suspect on these grounds.

Other problems that occur in the dating of the Apocalypse involve but are not limited to matters of symbolic language, meaning, and significance, linguistic structure, archeology, anthropology, and religion. For instance, the symbolic number 666 has been used by many scholars to indicate the time of the writing. The logic is that a date could be postulated by figuring out which emperor the author was referring to. The problem is that Roman emperors like Nero, Popes, and even presidents like Ronald Reagan have been pinned as representatives of the number! Linguistic structure has been used in connection with supposed contemporary writings of the Apocalypse (i.e. Shepherd of Hermas) in order to argue certain dates. Furthermore, archeology and anthropology have been used to argue both for a late and early date. All of these elements can make it hard to discern both the authorship and dating of the Apocalypse.

I agree with Wilson and others that the most logical conclusion is that the Apocalypse was written at an early date within Church history. I also believe that it was none other than the disciple John who wrote the magnificent work. The most important reason for me to believe this initially is because this was precisely the view of the majority of the Church up until the 20th Century. I think that Wilson and others have done a great job of pointing out the circular logic that has been used to postulate both a late date and pseudo-authorship. However, I would add that much of this questioning is wrong-headed in that there should be sufficient and critical evidence for one to doubt instead of simply ‘doubting for the sake of doubting’. It is illogical to uncritically accept Irenaeus’ dating while questioning his view of authorship.

I see sufficient evidence in the historical and biblical record which supports an early date. For instance, the eating of food sacrificed to idols and persecution which included martyrdom was most prevalent during the time of which an early date would be applicable. Nero was known for his murderous rampages against Christians, and the notion of widespread persecution leading to martyrdom under Domitian has been disproven. Furthermore, both proclamation of deity and the beginnings of emperor worship have recently been connected to Augustus Caesar (63 B.C. to A.D. 14). Augustus built temples and other monuments which depicted him and his family as divine rulers. In fact, he prided himself in being ‘the son of the deified one’ Julius Caesar. Indeed, all of the historical evidence seems to favor an early date rather than late. Nevertheless, in the end I would err on the side of caution in being too dogmatic regarding the date.


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