Nathaniel Lardner, D.D.
Credibility of the Gospel History : Vol. III. discusses the evidence of the genuineness of the Apocalypse, and the question as to when it was written. London, 1757.
Of the Argument for the Truth of Christianity Arising from the fulfilment of our Saviour’s predictions concerning the destruction of the Temple, and the City of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews (1764)
Lardner on the Date of the Apocalypse (1788 PDF) | Annotations on the New Testament: Compiled from the Best Critical Authorities (1829) | An Essay on the Mosaic Account of the Creation and Fall of Man. | Vindication of Three of Our Blessed Saviour’s Miracles: viz. The Raising of Jairus’s daughter, The Widow of Naim’s son, and Lazarus. | Other Google Books
(On Matthew 8:11)
St. Matthew’s knowledge of the calling of the Gentiles, and the rejection of the Jews, may be concluded from many things recorded by him. In the history of our Lord’s healing the centurion’s servant at Capernaum, he inserts our Lord’s commendation of his faith, and that declaration, Many shall come from the east, &c. Matt. viii. 10—12.” (Hist. Apos. & Evang. chap. v. )
(On Matthew 21:33-46)
“The calling and acceptance of the Gentiles, and the rejection of the Jewish people, and even their overthrow, are plainly declared in the parable of the vineyard, let out to husbandmen, and the discourse which follows, Matt. xxi. 33—46. The same things are intimated in the parable of the king that made a wedding feast for his son, which is at the beginning of the next chapter, xxii. 1—14.” (Hist. Apos. and Evang. chap. v. )
“The call of the Gentiles, and the rejection of the Jews, as a people, are intimated in Mark xii. 1—12, in the parable there recorded of the householder, who planted a vineyard,’ &c.” (Hist. Apos. and Evang. chap. vii.)
(On Matthew 24:12)
In Mark xiii. are predictions concerning the destruction of the temple, and the desolations of the Jewish people. And particularly, at ver. 14—16, are remarkable expressions, intimating the near approach of those calamities, and suited to excite the attention of such as were in danger of being involved in them.” (Hist. Apost. and Evang. chap. vii)
(On Matthew 24:15)
“By the abomination of desolation, or the abomination that maketh desolate, therefore is intended the Roman armies, with their ensigns. As the Roman ensigns, especially the eagle, which was carried at the head of every legion, were objects of worship; they are, according to usual title of Scripture, called an abomination.”
“By standing in the holy place, or where it ought not, needs not to be understood as the temple only, but Jerusalem also, and, any part of the land of Israel.” (A Large collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies.. vol. 1, p. 49)
(On Matthew 24:16)
“But the faithful followers of Jesus, were steadie to their profession, and attended to his predictions concerning coming calamities, and observed the signs of their near approach, escaped, and obtained safety, with only the lesser difficulties of a flight, which was necessarie in the time of a general calamitie.” (Lardner, p. 76).
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
Thomas Newton (1754)
“The Gospel of St. Luke was written before the Acts of the Apostles, as appears from the preface to the latter; and the Acts of the Apostles concluding with St. Paul’s dwelling at Rome two years, it is probable that this book was written soon after that time, and before the death of St. Paul. It may be concluded then as certain, that three of the four Gospels were written and published before the destruction of Jerusalem; Dr. Lardner himself, who fixed the time of writing the three first Gospels later than most other authors, yet maintains that they were all published some years before the destruction of Jerusalem” (Dissertations on the Prophecies which have remarkably been fulfilled)
N. Nisbett (1787)
” If the time fixed by Dr. Lardner for the publication of the Gospels be well founded; it appears to me not improbable, that when the Apostle exhorts the Thessalonians, towards the conclusion of the chapter, to stand fast and hold the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word or his epistle; he means the traditions relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the signs of its approach. The Dr. supposes, the first three gospels were not written till the years 63 or 64, and St. John not till 68.” (The Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem)
Nathaniel Lardner (1684 – July 24, 1768), English theologian, was born at Hawkhurst, Kent.
After studying for the Presbyterian ministry in London, and also at Utrecht and Leiden, he took licence as a preacher in 1709, but was not successful. In 1713 he entered the family of a lady of rank as tutor and domestic chaplain, where he remained until 1721. In 1724 he was appointed to deliver the Tuesday evening lecture in the Presbyterian chapel, Old Jewry, London, and in 1729 he became assistant minister to the Presbyterian congregation in Crutched Friars. He was given the degree of D.D. by Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1743. He died at Hawkhurst on 24 July 1768.
An anonymous volume of Memoirs appeared in 1769; and a life by Andrew Kippis is prefixed to the edition of the Works of Lardner, first published in 1788. The full title of his principal work—a work which, though now out of date, entitles its author to be regarded as the founder of modern critical research in the field of early Christian literature—is The Credibility of the Gospel History; or the Principal Facts of the New Testament confirmed by Passages of Ancient Authors, who were contemporary with our Saviour or his Apostles, or lived near their time. Part 1, in 2 octavo volumes, appeared in 1727; the publication of part 2, in 12 octavo volumes, began in 1733 and ended in 1755. In 1730 there was a second edition of part 1, and the Additions and Alterations were also published separately. A Supplement, otherwise entitled A History of the Apostles and Evangelists, Writers of the New Testament, was added in 3 volumes (1756-1757), and reprinted in 1760.
Other works by Lardner are A Large Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Revelation, with Notes and Observations (4 volumes, quarto, 1764-1767); The History of the Heretics of the two first Centuries after Christ, published posthumously in 1780; and a considerable number of occasional sermons.
I shall therefore first put down the accounts of ancient authors, and then observe the opinions of learned men of later times.
Irenaeus says of the Revelation, “that it was seen no long time ago, but almost in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian.” And thought Irenaeus does not say that St. John was then in Patmos, yet since he supposeth him to be the person who had the revelation, he must have believed him to be then in Patmos, as the book itself says, ch.1.9.
Clement of Alexandria, in his took, entitled, Who is the rich Man that may be saved, as cited by Eusebius, speaks of John’s returning from Patmos to Ephesus, after the death of the tyrant:’ by whom, It is probable, he means Domitian. Tertullian, in his Apology, speaks of Domitian as hav�ing banished some christians, and afterwards giving them leave to return home: probably intending St. John, and some others. In another work he says,’ that John having been sent for to Rome, was cast into a vessel of boiling oil, and then banished into an island” in the time of Domitian, as is most probable. Origen, explaining Matt. xx. 23, says: ‘James, the brother of John, was killed with a sword by Herod. And a Roman emperor, as tradition teaches, banished John into the island Patmos for the testimony which he bore to the word of truth. And John himself bears witness to his banishment, omitting the name of the emperor by whom he was banished, saying’ in the Revelation : ” I John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle of Patmos, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” And it seems, that the Revelation was seen in that island.’ Victorinus, bishop of Pettaw about 290, again and again says, that John was banished by Domitian, and in his reign saw the Revelation. Eusebius, giving an account of Domitian’s persecution, says : ‘ In this persecution, as it is said, John, the apostle and evangelist, being still living, was banished into the island Patmos for the testimony of the word of God.’
Epiphanius, as formerly shown, says : ‘ John prophesied in the isle of Patmos, in the reign of Claudius.’ And in another place, then only referred to, he says: ‘ John wrote his gospel in his old age, when he was more than ninety years old, after his return from Patmos, which was in the time of Claudius Caesar.’
Jerom, in his book of Illustrious Men, as formerly cited, says : ‘ Domitian in the fourteenth year of his reign raising the second persecution after Nero, John was banished into the island Patmos, where he wrote the Revelation.’ And in another work, also cited formerly, he says again; John was a prophet, as he saw the Revelation in the island Patmos, where he was banished by Domitian.’ h[e] comment[s] upon Matt. xx. 23, where he speaks of St. John’s having been banished into Patmos but does not name the emperor, by whom he was banished.
Sulpicius Severus says, ‘ that ‘ John the apostle and evangelist, was banished by Domitian into the island Patmos where he had visions, and where he wrote the book of the Revelation.’
Arethas in his commentary upon the Revelation, Supposed to be written in the sixth century, says, upon the authority of Eusebius, that John was banished into Patmos by Domitian.
Isidore, of Seville, near the end of the sixth century, says, Domitian raised a persecution against the christians. In his time the apostle John having been banished into the island Patmos saw the Revelation.’
We may now make a remark or two.
1. All these testimonies are of use, whether they name the island where John was banished, or the emperor by whom
St. John. 417
he was banished, or not. They all agree that St. John was sent thither by way of punishment, or restraint, for bearing witness to the truth: which confutes the opinion of Lightfoot, ‘ that John travelling in the ministry of the gospel, up and down, from Asia westward, comes into the isle Patmos, in the Icarian sea, an island about thirty miles compass: and there on the Lord’s day he has these visions, and an angel interprets to him all he saw.
2. All these writers, who mention the time of the Revela�tion, and of the banishment, say, it was in the time of Domitian, and that he was the emperor by whom St. John was banished: except Epiphanius, who says it was in the time of Claudius. As he is singular, it should seem that he cannot be of any great weight against so many others. Nevertheless, as some learned men, particularly Grotius have paid great regard to Epiphanius in this point, it is fit we should consider what they say.
Says Grotius in a tract, entitled, A Comment upon divers Texts of the New Testament, relating’ to Antichrist: particularly upon the tenth verse of the seventeenth chapter of the Revelation: John began to be illuminated with divine visions in the island Patmos, in the time of Claudius which was the opinion of the most ancient christians. See Epiphanius in the heresy’ of the Alogians. Claudius, as we learn from Acts xviii. 2, ” commanded all Jews to depart from Rome.” Under the name of Jews, christians also were comprehended, as has been observed by many learned men. And it cannot be doubted, but many governors of the Roman provinces followed that example. So therefore John was driven from Ephesus.’
That argument was long ago examined by David Blonde, who says, 1. It is not true, that the most ancient writers said that St. John was sent into Patmos by Claudius. It is Epiphanius only who says so: he is altogether singular. There are no ancients, either before or after him, who have said this. 2. As Epiphanius is singular, he ought not to be regarded. 3. There was no persecution of the christians in
the reign of Claudius. There is no proof from any ancient monuments, that christians, as such, suffered banishment under that emperor. It is allowed that Nero was the first Roman emperor who persecuted the christians. 4. The edict of Claudius only banished the Jews from Rome. It did not affect the Jews in the provinces, as appears from the New Testament itself particularly Acts xviii and xix. It is manifest from the history in the Acts, that in the reign of Claudius, in other parts of the empire out of Rome, the Jews enjoyed as full liberty as they did before. Paul and Silas, Aquila and Priscilla, dwelt quietly at Corinth; where the men of their nation had their synagogue, and assembled in it according to custom without molestation. 5. Nor could the governors of provinces banish either Jews or christians out of their governments, without order from the emperor: and that they had no such order, is apparent. Neither Jews nor christians were molested by them at Ephesus, as may be perceived from the history in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts. That they were not molested by them at Corinth, appears from the preceding chapter. 6. St. John could not be banished from Ephesus by Claudius, or the governors under him: for he was not in that city during the reign of that emperor, nor in the former part of the reign of Nero, as has been shown. He did not come thither till near the end of the reign of the last-mentioned emperor: therefore he could not be sooner banished from Ephesus.
These observations if I am not mistaken, are sufficient to confute the opinion of Grotius.
Sir Isaac Newton was of opinion, that St. John was
banished into Patmos, and that the Revelation was seen in the reign of Nero, before the destruction of Jerusalem.
‘Eusebius,’ says he, ‘in his Chronicle and Ecclesiasti�cal History follows Irenaeus: (who said the Apocalypse was written in tile time of Domitian:) but afterwards in his Evangelical Demonstration he conjoins the banishment of John into Patmos, with the deaths of Peter and Paul.’
To which I answer, first, that the Ecclesiastical History was not written before the Evangelical Demonstration, but after it: for the Demonstration is referred to at the end of the second chapter of the first book of the Ecclesiastical History. Secondly, Eusebius in his Demonstration is not different from himself in his Ecclesiastical History. In his Demonstration, having spoken of the imprisonment of all the apostles at Jerusalem, and of their being beaten, and of the stoning of Stephen, the beheading of James the son of Zebedee, and the imprisonment of Peter, he adds: ‘James, the Lord’s brother; was stoned, Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward, and Paul was beheaded, and John banished into an island.’ But he does not say, that all these things happened in the time of one and the same emperor. It is plain, that it is not his design to mention exactly the time of the sufferings of all these persons. Nothing hinders our supposing, that the apostles Peter and Paul were put to death by order of Nero, and John banish�ed by Domitian, many years afterwards, agreeably to what himself writes in his Chronicle and History.
It follows in Sir Isaac Newton. ‘And so do Tertullian, and Pseudo-Prochorus, as well as the first author, whoever he was, of that very ancient fable, that St. John was put by Nero into a vessel of hot oil.’
“…It is true, that Tertullian speaks of the death of Peter and Paul, and of John’s being cast into boiling oil, and then banished, all together but he does not say, that all happened in the same reign. St. John’s banish-
ment is the last thing mentioned by him: and, probably, it happened not till after the death of Peter and Paul. It is likely, that Tertullian supposed it to have been done by the order of Domitian; for in another place he speaks of the persecution of that emperor, as consisting chiefly in banishments.
‘–and Pseudo-Prochorus.’ What place of Prochorus, who pretended to be one of the seven deacons, and is called by Baronius himself a great liar, Sir Isaac Newton refers to, I do not know. But in his history of St. John he is entirely against him. For he particularly relates the sufferings, which St. John underwent in the second persecution of the christians, which was raised by Domitian. That emperor sent orders to the proconsul at Ephesus, to apprehend the apostle. When the proconsul had got St. John in his power, he informed Domitian of it ; who then commanded the proconsul to bring him to Rome. When he was come the emperor would not see him, but ordered him to he cast into a vessel of scalding oil, and he came out unhurt. Then Domitian commanded the proconsul to have St. John back again to Ephesus. Some time after that, by order of the same Domitian, John, and others at Ephesus, were banished into Patmos. Domitian being dead, they returned to Ephesus with the leave of his successor, who did not persecute the christians. So Pseudo-Prochorus.
Since the great Newton has been pleased to refer to such a writer, I shall take notice of another of the like sort; I mean Abdias, who assumed the character of the first bishop of Babylon. What he says is to this purpose: that John
who survived the other apostles, lived to the time of Domitian, preaching the word to the people in Asia. When Domitian’s edict for persecuting the christians was brought to Ephesus, and John refused to deny Christ, or to give over preaching, the proconsul ordered that he should be drowned in a vessel of boiling oil: but John presently leaped out unhurt. The proconsul would then have set him at liberty, if he had not feared to transgress the emperor’s edict. He therefore banished John into Patmos, where he saw and wrote the Revelation. After the death of Domitian, his edicts having been abrogated by the senate, they who had been banished, returned to their homes: and John came to Ephesus, where he had a dwelling, and many friends.
Then follows an account of St. John’s visiting the churches in the neighborhood of Ephesus. Where is inserted also the story, formerly taken notice of concerning the young man, as related by Eusebius from Clement of Alexandria: and as happening, not after the death of Nero, but of Domitian.
Newton proceeds: ‘as well as the first author, whoever he was, of that very ancient fable, that John was put by Nero into a vessel of hot oil, and coming out unhurt, was banished by him into Patmos. though this story be no more than a fiction, yet it was founded on a tradition of the first churches, that John was banished into Patmos in the days of Nero.’ Who was the first author of that fable, I do not know But it does not appear, that Tertullian, the first writer who has mentioned it, thought it to be in the time of Nero. He might mean, and probably did mean, Domitian, the same who banished John into an island: as did also the two writers just taken notice of, Prochorus and Abdias to whom we were led by Sir Isaac. Jerom, who in his books against Jovinian, mentions this story, as from Tertullian,
according to some copies, says, it was done at Rome, according to others, in the time of Nero. However in the same place, as well as elsewhere, Jerom expressly says, that John was banished into Patmos by Domitian. And in the other place, where he mentions the casting St. John into boiling oil, he says: ‘and presently afterwards he was banished into the island Patmos.’ Therefore that other trial, which St. John met with, was in the same reign, that is, Domitian’s. And indeed Jerom always supposes St. John’s banishment to have been in that reign: as he particularly relates in the ninth chapter of his book of Illustrious Men. Let me add, that if the story of St. John’s being put into a vessel of scalding oil be a fable and a fiction, it must be hazardous to build an argument upon it.
It follows in Newton: ‘Epiphanius represents the gospel of John as written in the time of Domitian, and the Apocalypse even before that of Nero.’ I have already said enough of Epiphanius in considering the opinion of Grotius. However, as one would think, Sir Isaac Newton had little reason to mention Epiphanius, when he does not follow him. He says, that St. John was banished into Patmos in the time of Claudius: Sir Isaac, not till near the end of the reign of Nero.
‘Arethas,’ says Sir Isaac, ‘ in the beginning of his commentary quotes the opinion of Irenaeus from Eusebius, but does not follow it. For he afterwards affirms, that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem and that former commentators had expounded the sixth seal of that destruction.’
To which I answer. Arethas does indeed say, that some interpreters had explained things under the sixth seal, as relating to the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian: but they were some only, not the most. Yea, he presently afterwards says, that the most interpreted it otherwise. Nor does he say, that any of. those commentators were of opinion, that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Arethas seems to have been of opinion, that things, which had come to pass long before, might be represented in the Revelation. Therefore immediately before
that passage, explaining Rev. vi. 12, 13, he says : ‘ What is the opening of the sixth seal? It is the cross and death of the Lord, followed by his resurrection, desirable to all faithful and understanding men. And lo, there was a great earthquake.” Manifestly denoting, says he, the signs that happened during the crucifixion, the shaking of the earth, the darkness of the sun, the turning the moon into blood. For when it was full moon, being the fourteenth day, how was it possible, that the sun should be eclipsed by its interposition?’
However, I must not conceal what he says afterwards, in another chapter of his Commentary. He is explaining Rev. vii. 4-8. ‘ These, says he who instructs the evan�gelist, will not partake in the calamities inflicted by the Romans. For the destruction caused by the Romans had not fallen upon the Jews, when the evangelist received these instructions. Nor was he at Jerusalem, but in Ionia, where is Ephesus: for he stayed at Jerusalem no more than fourteen years.–And after the death of our Lord’s mother, he left Judea, and went to Ephesus: as tradition says: where also, as is said, he had the revelation of future things.’ But how can we rely upon a writer of the sixth century for these particulars ; that John did not stay at Jerusalem more than fourteen years: that he left Judea upon the death of our Lord’s mother, and then went to Ephesus: when we can evidently perceive from the history in the Acts, that in the fourteenth year after our Lord’s ascension, there were no christian converts at Ephesus: and that the church at Ephesus was not founded by St. Paul, till several years afterwards? What avails it to refer to such passages as these? Which, when looked into and examined, contain no certain assurances of any thing. And Sir Isaac Newton himself says ‘It seems to me, that Peter and John stayed with their churches in Judea and Syria, till the Romans made war upon their nation, that is, till the twelfth year of Nero,’ or A. D. 66.
We proceed with this great man’s arguments, who adds: With the opinion of the first commentators agrees the tradition of the churches of Syria, preserved to this day in the title of the Syriac version of the Apocalypse, which title is this: “The Revelation, which was made to John the
evangelist by God in tile island Patmos, into which he ‘was banished by Nero Caesar.” ‘ But how comes it to pass, that the tradition of the churches of Syria is alleged here, when the Apocalypse was not generally received by them? Moreover in the titles of the books of the New Testament received by them, there are manifest errors. Nor can we say when the Syriac version of the Apocalypse was made: nor is it impossible that the authors of that title might mean Domitian by Nero. It is not a greater error, than that of supposing the epistle of James to have been written by James the son of Zebedee.
Again, says the celebrated Newton : ‘That same is confirmed by a story told by Eusebius out of Clemens Alexandrinus, and other ancient authors, concerning a youth, whom St. John, some time after his return from Patmos, committed to the care of the bishop of a certain city. This is a story of many years, and requires, that John should have returned front Patmos rather at the death of Nero, than at that of Domitian.’
But, first, if this be only a feigned story, or apologue, as some have thought it, contrived to convey moral instruction; circumstances ought not to be strained, nor the truth of history be founded upon it. Secondly, we must take the story, as it is related by Clement, and other ancient authors. Clement placeth it after the death of the tyrant, by whom John had been banished: and Eusebius supposeth him to mean Domitian. Thirdly, if St. John lived in Asia two, or three, or four years after his return from Patmos, that is time enough for the events of this story.
Sir Isaac adds in the same place : ‘ And John in his old age was so infirm, as to he carried to church, dying’ above ninety years old: and therefore could not be then supposed able to ride after the thief.’
Nevertheless in the original account, which we have of
this affair, St. John is expressly called an old man: Sir Isaac therefore has no right to make him young; for that would be making a new story. If a man allows himself so to do, and argues upon it; the necessary consequence is, that he deceives himself and others.
Upon the whole, I see not much weight in any of these arguments of Sir Isaac Newton; and must adhere to the common opinion, that St. John was banished into Patmos, in the reign of Domitian, and by virtue of his edicts for persecuting the christians, in the latter part of his reign. Says Mr. Lampe : ‘ All ‘ antiquity is agreed, that St. John’s b banishment was by order of Domitian.’
VI. We should now inquire, when St. John was released, or how long his banishment lasted. According’ to Tertullian, Domitian’s persecution was very short, and the emperor himself before he died, recalled in those whom he had banished. Hegesippus likewise says, of that Domitian by an edict put an end to the persecution which he had ordered. Eusebius says, ‘ that after the death of Domitian, John returned from his banishment.’ And before, in another chapter of the same book, he said move largely: ‘After Domitian had reigned fifteen years, Nerva succeeded him and the Roman senate decreed, that the honourable titles bestowed upon Domitian should be abrogated, and moreover, that they who had been banished by him might return to their homes, and repossess their goods, of which they had been unjustly deprived. This we learn from such as have written the history of those times. Then therefore, as our ancestors say, the apostle John returned from his banishment, and again took up his abode at Ephesus.’
Jerom, in his book of Illustrious men, says: ‘ When Domitian had been killed, and his edicts had been repeal�ed by the senate, because of their excessive cruelty, John returned to Ephesus, in the time of the emperor Nerva.’ I place below a passage of the martyrdom of Timothy
in Photius, and another of Suidas, saying, that after Domitian’s death, when Nerva was emperor, St. John returned from his banishment. This is also agreeable to the general accounts in Dion Cassius, and the author of the Deaths of Persecutors. Indeed, Hegesippus and Tertullian, as before observed, intimate, that the persecution of Domitian ended before his death. But it is very remarkable, that Eusebius having quoted both of them, gives a different account, as we saw just now. And, as learned men have observed, it is a great prejudice to their authority in this point, that Eusebius does not follow them, but presently afterwards differs from them.
It seems probable therefore, that St. John, and other exiles, did not return from their banishment, until after the death of Domitian: which is the opinion of Basnage, and likewise of Cellarius. Domitian is computed to have died, Sept. I8, A. D. 96, after having reigned fifteen years, and some days. Nerva died the 27th day of Jan.98, after having reigned one year, four months, and nine days. Therefore Trajan began his reign, Jan.27, A. D. 98.
If the persecution of Domitian began in the fourteenth year of his reign, and St. John was sent to Patmos that year, and restored in the beginning of the reign of Nerva, his exile could not last more than two years, perhaps not much above a year. If St. John’s life reached to the third year of the reign of Trajan, which is the opinion of Cave and many others, he
lived three years after his return from Patmos: if it reached to the fourth year of Trajan, as Basnage thought, he must have lived four years after his return.
Or, in other words: if St. John returned about the end of the year 96, or the beginning of 97, and did not die till the year 101, he lived four years in Asia, after his return from Patmos. If he died in the year 100, he lived three years after his return.
What do YOU think ?