B.W. Johnson: The People’s New Testament – Late Date of Revelation (1891)

Hence, it is no misstatement of the facts to say that the historical proof, in favor of the later date, is uniform, clear and convincing.


The People’s New Testament:

Dating the Book of Revelation

By B.W. Johnson
The People’s New Testament


      Only two dates for the composition are named, (1.) that always assigned to it by the ancient church, near the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian, which extended from A. D. 81 to A. D. 96, and (2.) that which has been urged by certain modern critics, the latter part of the reign of Nero, about A. D. 65-68. The first date is supported by the historical testimony. It is urged in behalf of the second that there are internal evidences in its favor, but when these are examined they are found to resolve themselves into certain theories of interpretation and were it not for the necessity of these, this date would never have been proposed. Before stating the grounds for assigning the date to the latter part of the reign of Domitian, about A. D. 95,96, I will briefly consider the reasons urged in favor of the date in the reign of Nero. (1.) It is held that the work must have been written while the temple was still standing (Re 11:1) and that chap. 11:2 and chap. 20:9 prove that the City of Jerusalem was still standing but in a state of siege. It seems strange to me that a Bible student could use this argument. Every New Testament student knows that both the temple and Jerusalem are used elsewhere as symbols of the church, and how much more likely that the terms would be used as symbols in a book which is largely composed of symbols from beginning to end! It seems strange that in a vision composed of symbols any one should insist that John on Patmos, a thousand miles distant, literally saw the temple or Jerusalem. Besides, when John in chap. 11:8 speaks of the city as “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt,” he shows that he cannot mean the literal Jerusalem. A holy city is the symbol of the church; a wicked city of an apostate church; a city trodden down by the Gentiles of a church overcome by worldly influence. The language of chap. 20:9 utterly excludes the Jewish capital in the reign of Nero.1 (2.) It is held that chap. 17:11 refers to Nero, and hence a forced and, as will be shown in the text, an erroneous interpretation is made the basis for determining the date. The theory itself is skeptical in that it convicts John of holding and sanctioning a popular error. (3.) It is also urged that there are certain solecisms in the Greek original which are wanting in John’s gospel, and from this it is argued that the Revelation must have been written much earlier than the gospel, before John had fully mastered the language. Upon this point I quote from Prof. Wm. Milligan, of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, than whom, probably, no man living is a more thorough scholar in New Testament Greek: “The solecisms are not such as proceed from an ignorance of the Greek language, and they would not have been removed by greater familiarity with [406] it. However we attempt to account for them, they are obviously designed, and rather imply a more accurate knowledge of the grammatical forms from which they are intentional departures. At the same time there are passages in the book (as for example chap. 18) which, in their unsurpassed and unsurpassable eloquence, exhibit a command of the Greek tongue, on the part of the writer, that long familiarity with it can best explain, were explanation necessary.”2 (4.) It is said that the Jewish imagery belongs to John’s earlier rather than his later years. To this it may be replied that no New Testament writer shows a stronger Jewish feeling than is found in John’s gospel. It is John, who states, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) that Jesus is “the King of Israel” (John 1:49), and Old Testament thoughts and figures constantly appear in the fourth gospel.


      It is thus seen that the argument in favor of the early date is easily answered. On the other hand, the historical argument in favor of a later date is convincing to the mind which can be swayed by historical evidence. Commencing with the positive and definite statement of Irenæus there is unbroken agreement for nearly four centuries that the date of the work belongs to the persecution of the reign of Domitian. To properly weigh the statement of Irenæus, elected Bishop of Lyons in A. D. 178, and born in the first quarter of the second century, it is needful to keep in mind that he was a disciple of Polycarp, who suffered martyrdom in A. D. 155. In one of his letters Irenæus speaks to a fellow disciple of how intimate they had been with Polycarp and how often they had heard him tell of John the apostle, and how much they had been told of John by the aged saint who had once been under the instruction of the apostle. Hence it is apparent that Irenæus must have known from Polycarp the leading facts of John’s history, and especially the circumstances connected with his exile to Patmos. This witness, whose opportunity for knowing the facts is unquestioned, declares, “Revelation was seen no long time since, but almost in our generation, towards the end of the reign of Domitian” (A. D. 96). With this plain statement agree all the church fathers who speak of the subject, not only of the second century, but for three centuries. “There is no variation in the historical accounts. All statements support the conclusion that St. John was banished to Patmos by Domitian (A. D. 81-96)–some writers placing the exile in the fourteenth of his reign–and all agree that the Visions of which Revelation is the record were received in Patmos.”3

      One writer in the fourth century makes the blunder of assigning the banishment to the reign of Claudius Cæsar, a blunder which finds no endorsers, a blunder which is supposed to have been a verbal mistake, but it is not until the sixth century that we find the opinion expressed that the banishment belonged to the persecution of the reign of Nero, and up to the twelfth century there are only two writers who endorse this date. They cannot be called witnesses, since the earliest of them was separated from the death of John by a period greater than that which separates us from the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Hence, it is no misstatement of the facts to say that the historical proof, in favor of the later date, is uniform, clear and convincing. [407]


      The historical conclusion is corroborated by convincing internal testimony. I condense from Godet’s Bible Studies, second series, certain points which bear upon the question of Date: (1.) “The condition of the churches indicated” in the second and third chapters renders the early date improbable. These churches were not founded before A. D. 55-58. Paul wrote to two of these churches, Ephesus and Colosse, in A. D. 62 or 63; Peter wrote to all the churches of that region several years later still; Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, at Ephesus, probably as late as A. D. 67; in these letters there is no hint of John being in that section of the world, or of the spiritual decay revealed in the letters to the angels of the churches of Ephesus, Sardis and Laodicea; yet this theory requires us to believe that not later than A. D. 68 or 69, John found these churches spiritually dead. There is no reasonable doubt but that the second and third chapters of Revelation describe a condition which could only have arisen a generation later than the date of Paul’s last intercourse with these churches. (2.) Godet notes the fact that an ecclesiastical organization reveals itself in the seven churches which did not reveal itself until about the close of the first century. In each church there is one man, “the angel of the church,” through whom the whole church is addressed. There is no hint of any individual enjoying a distinction like this until about the beginning of the second. (3.) The expression, “The Lord’s-day,” does not occur in the earlier apostolical writings. They always speak of the “First Day of the week” instead. The term used in A. D. 68 was “the First Day of the week,” but the writers of the second century from the beginning use “the Lord’s-day.” This term, then, points to a period near the beginning of the second century as the date of Revelation. (4.) The expressions in chap. 2:9 and 3:9 point to a complete separation between the church and the synagogue. This complete separation did not take place until the epoch of the destruction of Jerusalem. Such language as we find in these two places can only be accounted for by a fact so momentous as the overthrow of the Jewish state, and hence belongs to a later date.

      This discussion might be continued, and it is of importance to any correct interpretation that the date should be clearly settled, but I believe that enough has been said to show that all the facts point to “near the end of the reign of Domitian, or about the year A. D. 96.” It might be of service to add that the persecution of Nero, as far as known, was local and confined to Rome; that death, instead of banishment, was the favorite method of punishment with him; that it is not probable that he would have put to death Paul and Peter and banished John; and that there is no evidence that John, as early as A. D. 68, had ever visited the region of the seven churches. On the other hand, the persecution of Domitian was not local; we know also that he sent other Christians into exile; we know also that the later years of John’s life were passed at Ephesus, and in the region of which it was the center.

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Date: 16 Feb 2011
Time: 11:07:42

I think Johnson does not know what he is talking about.

1. His “overwhelming” historic testimony really amounts to the declaration of one man (Irenaeus). Everyone else just quoted from him.

2. The internal evidence clearly points to the early date and his inability to see this is simply due to his presupposition that the wbook “Had” to be written later.

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