One of the interesting questions raised by Biblical historians and scholars is “Who wrote the Book of Revelation?”
Christian tradition says that it was the Apostle John who is also attributed with The Gospel According to John and the epistles, 1, 2 and 3 John. But as early as the 2nd century AD, the Apostle John’s authorship has been questioned.
The name John was very common within Jewish culture during the 1st century AD, just as it is today. It is quite possible that many by the name of John rose to positions of great influence in early Christian history, but there are no records to directly support this.
The time of the writing is also questioned. Some believe that Revelation was written in the 60’s, during the reign of the Emperor Nero. The other possible date would be in the mid to late 90’s during the reign of Domitian. During the reigns of both Emperors Christians were heavily persecuted. Today, most Biblical scholars lean toward the later date.
Whoever wrote Revelation was undoubtedly a Jewish Christian. While he wrote in Greek, the style indicates Hebrew was his native language. He also was intimately familiar with Jewish scripture and apocryphal literature. He would also have been recognized as “authoritative” by Christians in the Province of Asia.
Case against John the Apostle’s authorship:
The evidence that John the Apostle did not write Revelation relies heavily on three arguments:
Stylistic differences: In many ways, Revelation does not follow the writing style of either John’s Gospel or his epistles.
Authority: The writer of Revelation does not identify himself either as an Apostle or as the “one who Jesus loved.”
Age: The Apostle John would have been well into his 90’s and living in a very harsh environment if we accept the later date.
Case for John the Apostle’s authorship:
During the late 60’s AD, just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews and Christians were banished from Jerusalem. The Apostle John relocated in the Roman Province of Asia (Asia Minor or Turkey on today’s maps.) He centered his ministry in Ephesus. The letter of Revelation is addressed directly to seven churches in this region and, indirectly, to all Christians both then and today.
Stylistic differences: While there are many stylistic differences, they are not so great that the Apostle John could not have been the writer of Revelation. First, Revelation is Apocalyptic literature, a very different form of writing than the other writings attributed to him. The Gospel According to John was actually recorded by “a disciple of Jesus,” a scribe. This is very similar to Baruch’s recording of Jeremiah’s prophesies. Furthermore, the Gospel of John was likely taken from well prepared sermons delivered over a long period of time. Two of his epistles were addressed to very specific people with a specific message.
Authority: While John is identified as an Apostle in the Gospel bearing his name, in the epistles the author identifies himself as “John the elder.” There is little debate about the Apostle John’s authorship of these letters.
Age: John’s Gospel and all three epistles are generally believed to have been authored in the mid to late 80’s AD. So, it is not that much a stretch to accept that John the Apostle lived another 10 years or so. Nor is it a stretch to think that Jesus kept John alive to receive His Revelation.
First, we can’t be sure whether it was John the Apostle or some other John who recorded the Book of Revelation.
Second, and MUCH more important, it doesn’t make any difference!
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show His servants what soon must take place. He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 1:1-2)
The true author of the Book of Revelation is Jesus Christ. John, whether the Apostle or some other John, was simply the scribe or recorder.
“Blessed is the one who reads this prophesy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3)
This blog is part of an ongoing series based on my notes from a weekly Bible Study. For all of the blogs in this study, see: A Study of the Book of Revelation: Index of Blogs
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