Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Lesson 7: Bringing in the Kingdom: Postmillennialism from a partial-preterist perspective (part 4)

When was Revelation Written?

The dating of Revelation is as important as it is disputed. Some favor an early date (A.D. 64-69) while some a later date (~A.D. 90). 147

The reason for its importance is that a later date annihilates preterism. According to preterism, the Revelation is largely about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and not about a future end-times "great tribulation". A partial motivation for this view, as we discussed last time, is that John’s wrote with an overall sense of imminence. If Revelation was written after Jerusalem was destroyed, as the later-date would have it, then obviously Revelation is not about that event, and preterism is dead.

Recently the later date has been in favor, partly because it precludes preterism. Preterism is anathema to the majority and opposite view of futurism, which holds that these events (described in Revelation and the Olivet discourse) have yet to occur. In one frank admission, a renowned premillennialist wrote of his support for a late date because "it destroys the entire theory [of preterism]."148

Another push for a later date comes from liberalism. In general, liberals favor later dates for all New Testament scripture. This lends support to their argument that the writings have been altered and should be viewed as culturally biased guidelines (if not outright frauds) rather than inerrant and infallible.

Neither a desire to discredit preterism nor a desire to support liberalism says anything about the legitimacy of a later date. Dating Revelation must be done on the basis of evidence.

The idea that Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem is not new. The debate is usually cast in terms of who was the Roman Emperor when John was exiled to Patmos and had his vision. Was it Nero who reigned from A.D. 54-68 or Domitian who reigned from A.D. 81-96.

The evidence for dating Revelation is both external (from outside the Bible) and internal (from within the Bible). We will look at both.

External Evidence for a Later Date

The external evidence for a later date comes from the church father Irenaeus [140-203]. He was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John himself. In his book Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote:
"We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no (sic) very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign."

Several other church fathers state that John was exiled during Domitian’s reign. However, it is quite possible that they base their assertions of Irenaeus' writing.
Scholars such as Gentry149 and F. H. Chase150 argue that the most straightforward interpretation is that the antecedent of that in the sentence "For that was seen…" was John, not John’s vision.151 The Greek has a masculine form that could refer to either. In other words, Gentry, for example, would argue that a better interpretation is:
If we needed to know who the antichrist is, then John would have told us. He lived almost to our generation, well into the reign of Domitian".

Whether or not this is what Irenaeus meant is pure speculation. However, one thing is fairly certain: Irenaeus' statement is the strongest evidence for the late date. It is held to prove that John had his vision sometime during Domitian’s reign [A.D. 81-96], which would place it about A.D.90.

External Evidence for an Early Date

Irenaeus also supplies some evidence for an early date, for he wrote about "ancient copies" of Revelation. If, as late-date proponents would have us believe, that in the quote above Irenaeus was stating that the vision (which necessarily preceded the writing) was seen "almost in our day" then it is hard to square with his reference to "ancient copies" of Revelation.

Clement of Alexandria [A.D. 150-215] wrote:
When after the death of the tyrant he [John] removed from the island of’ Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit.152

There are two things to say about this:
  1. The "tyrant" is unnamed. However, history shows that this is by far a more apt description of Nero than of Domitian. There is voluminous evidence of widespread persecution of Christians under Nero, and little to no evidence for a similar treatment under Domitian.

  2. The date of John’s birth is not know, but it is generally assumed that he was born about the same time as Christ. After the death of Nero, he would have been in his sixties. After the death of Domitian, he would have been in his nineties. The activities that Clement ascribes to John are more befitting a sixty-something than a ninety something. Clement also writes of the post-exile John as "pursing a young apostate on horseback." Again, this would seem to indicate a younger man.

Another relevant and interesting statement from Clement is:
"For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, end with Nero."153

Clement states that apostolic revelation ended with the death of Nero (A.D. 68). It would seem inescapable that Clement believed that John wrote Revelation before that date, and consequently at least two years before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Additional external evidence for an early date:
  • The Muratorian Canon (circa A.D. 170) which says that the apostle Paul wrote to seven churches after John wrote Revelation. Tradition teaches that Paul died around A.D. 67-68.

  • Tertullian [A.D. 160-220] writes that John was exiled the same time that Paul and Peter where killed. Again, tradition teaches that Paul and Peter where martyred circa A.D. 67-68.

  • Epiphanius [A.D. 315-403] writes (twice) that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero.

  • The Syriac version of the canon (6th century) has a heading to Revelation: "Written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar".

Internal Evidence for a Late Date

I do not know any. If you do, please share that information.

Internal Evidence for an Early Date

One piece of internal evidence for an early date is the deafening silence regarding the destruction of Jerusalem. If Jerusalem had already been destroyed, with well over a million Jews killed, hundreds of thousands of others in bondage, and the rest scattered, not to mention the temple in ruins, it is reasonable to expect that such a catastrophic event would warrant a mention.

In fact, no book of the New Testament mentions the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the genocide unleashed on the Jews by the Romans. This is very consistent (and may be the source of) Clement’s teaching that apostolic revelation ended with Nero.

Direct internal evidence comes in many forms. We will look at only two. The first is that Revelation itself describes the Temple as still standing:
1 I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. 2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. (Rev. 11:1-2).

We have already noted the intriguing fact that the Jewish revolt, as recorded by Josephus, lasted about 42 months. Here we merely note that the passage indicates that at the time of writing the temple is still standing prior to the trampling of the Gentiles.

The Sixth King

Another piece of internal evidence comes from the identity of the sixth king.
7 When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.
9 "This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
(Rev 17:7-11).

First, we identify the kings as Roman emperors on the basis of the "seven hills." Only one city is known throughout history as the "City of Seven Hills: Rome.154 This identifies the "beast" as Rome; not as in the Papacy but as in the Roman Empire.

The passage indicates that at the time of writing, five have fallen, the sixth presently reigns, and the seventh has not yet come, but when he does come, he will reign for just a little while.

The most natural counting scheme of Roman kings (emperors) is:

King (Emperor)   Reign  
1) Julius Caesar  49-44
2) Agustus        31-14
3) Tiberius        14-37
4) Caligula        37-41
5) Claudius       41-54
6) Nero            54-68
7) Galba           68-69
8) Otho            69-69
9) Vitellius         69-69
10) Vespasian     69-79
11) Titus            79-81
12 Domitian        81-96

This enumeration is not universally accepted (the debate is whether to begin the count with Julius Caesar or Augustus), but it is found in various ancient sources including our friend Josephus, who refers to Augustus as “the second” and Tiberius as “the third.” This enumeration places Nero as the sixth and "current" king from the perspective of Revelation. Note that no enumeration results in Domitian as the sixth king. The most biased in that direction is to start with Augustus and skip (as inconsequential) Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. That still results in Vespasian, not Domitian as number six.

147 It is interesting that the debate is a choice between approximately A.D. 65 and A.D. 90. There is little argument for a compromise date in the 70s or 80s. This is significant, as we shall see.
148 Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House), 1988, p. 249.
149 Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, pp. 50-51
150 F. H. Chase, “The Date of the Apocalypse: The Evidence of Irenaeus”, Journal of Theological Studies 8, (1907), pp. 431-432.
151 Those who originally translated Irenaeus' work into English complained of the poor condition of the manuscript evidence for his work. They wrote: 'The great work of Irenaeus, now for the first time translated into English, is unfortunately no longer extant in the original. It has come down to us only in an ancient Latin version, with the exception of a greater portion of the first book, which has been preserved in the original Greek, through means of the copious quotations made by Hippolytus and Epiphanius. The text, in both Latin and Greek, is often most uncertain."
152 Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved?, Section 42
153 Clement, Miscellanies 7:17.
154 The seven hills are: Palatine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Capitoline

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