Sunday, December 21, 2014

When was Revelation Written

When was Revelation Written
Arguments for an earlier date of Revelation.

Many within the Evangelical community promote a late date for the writing of the Revelation. Usually early to mid 90 AD. This late date is based primarily on a quote by Irenaeus from his work "Against Heresies." This quote from "...Heresies" is cited by early church historian Eusebius, who was a late date advocate. 

This isolated quote has played a primary role in advancing a late date view. As a result, many subsequent late date advocates base their view of the dating of the Revelation on this one isolated quote. Some consider Irenaeus’s quote so significant they cite him as their
 only authority for a late date.

Since Irenaeus is the most highly regarded and earliest (DOB of Irenaeus is approximately 130 AD) “late date advocate", it is understandable why others would look to him exclusively.

Basing one’s position of a late date on such slim evidence makes a closer look at the quote necessary and even vital. If it can be demonstrated the common interpretation of this sole quote is a completely inadequate argument, it makes a late date totally unnecessary if not virtually impossible. 

The primary part of the quote cited to prove a late date is as follows:

“…For that was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign.” 

When one first realizes this isolated quote is what late date advocates look to, it may be a bit surprising. Alone it does not tell us much. Isolated, the meaning is confusing at best.

The common interpretation of this quote among late date advocates is the word “that” (underlined above) is referring to The Revelation (the book itself) received and written by John. If  “The Revelation” was received towards the end of Domitian’s reign in 96AD that would date the Revelation somewhere near the early to mid 90’s. Many therefore put the date of its writing between 90 and 94 AD as a result. If this is so, the book could not have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD some 20 to 25 years prior which early date advocates of The Revelation argue for.

Irenuaeus being Greek and Greek being the common language of his day, we will make a simple and brief comment on a key aspect of this quote in the original language.

On closer review of the Greek, the translation of the word “that” is inconclusive due to specific characteristics of Greek grammar. The word “that” is not the required translation at all. The word “that” could just as easily be translated “he” (i.e. John) or “it” as well as “that” (Revelation). Therefore translating the original as “that” is a 50/50 proposition at best and far from conclusive. In light of this very inconclusive information we must go elsewhere to determine its meaning.

We will now look at the context of the quote to see if this sheds any light.

The entire quote is taken from chapter XXX of Irenaeus’s book “Against Heresies.” It is important to point out that the topic of focus in this entire chapter the quote is taken from is how to determine the name of the beast and not the date of the writing of the Revelation. This is also indicated in the heading below. Emphasis added.


We will now look at the entire text this quote is taken form.

“Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number (i.e. 666) being found in all the most approved and ancient copies(3) [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; (i.e. that indeed the number 666 is in all approved copies of Revelation) while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six…”

What Irenaeus is saying is since the number 666 is in the oldest and most recognized copies of Revelation, and the number is also confirmed by those who meet John himself, it is within reason to use this number to determine the actual name of the Antichrist by properly calculating (according to a common Greek mode of calculation) the verbal equivalent of the number itself (numbers in those days had specific alphabetical values assigned to them). Indeed what Irenaeus is wrestling with in the entire chapter is the specific name of the beast and the means or method by which to best determine that name.

Again, it is important to note there is no comment or concern throughout this entire chapter over the date of the book itself. The only question being discussed is how to determine the name of the beast.

Irenaeus continues his argument regarding the beasts name:

"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 Revelation (i.e. John the Apostle). "For 'that' was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3)

You may read the chapter by Irenaeus in its entirety at  "Against Heresies."

Again we see the focus of the discussion continues on how to best determine the 
specific name of the “Antichrist.” After Irenaeus decides he has a reasonable way to determine the name (i.e. by calculating the verbal equivalent of the number 666), he checks himself and in essence says, there is no reason to take the chance of trying to guess the actual name of the Antichrist through calculating the alphabetical equivalent of the number 666. This is simply because determining the name could have been easily accomplished by simply asking John himself since he was seen not long ago, in fact, almost in our own day near the end of Domitan’s reign. (It is accepted by both sides of this discussion that John lived up until this time). If  knowing the name was that important, we simply could have asked him and John could have told us himself.

Irenaeus concludes since the specific name was not given by John but could have been asked directly of him, Irenaeus determines it is not worth speculating. He reasons that just as John, the author of Revelation confirmed that the number 666 was in the original text we could have known with equal certainly the name of the Antichrist if John wanted us to, so there’s no point in guessing i.e. it’s apparently not that critical to know, or meant to be or John would have told us.

Given the whole context of this quote, using “John” or “him” in the place of “that” makes far more sense then the commonly held interpretation of “that” referring to the entire book itself. 

Here it is again with "that" substituted with "John." 

"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 (John) who beheld the Revelation. "For 'he' (i.e. John) was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3)

Again, the context of the entire quote clearly shows that the focus of this discussion is
the date of origin for the Revelation but rather the name of Antichrist and how the name could have been determined.

Also when you consider the sentence just before the infamous quote is talking about how “he (i.e. John) who beheld the Revelation” could have given the specific name if it were necessary; it makes perfect sense that this quote would continue along this same line of reasoning. Especially considering the specific quote in question begins with “for” indicating a direct tie to the preceding sentence i.e. Irenaeus is reasoning that the name could have easily been obtained from the author himself “for” it wasn’t that long ago that John had been seen. To interject an entirely different line of reasoning regarding the date of the writing The Revelation does not fit the line of reasoning in the previous sentence nor the context of the entire quote.

Below is the entire quote without any emphasis except that “he” is put in place of “that.” Since the Greek clearly allows for this interpretation and it also fits the context of the overall quote we offer this alternate interpretation to demonstrate its logic. The primary quote cited as proof for a late date is highlighted in yellow.

“Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies(3) [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; (i.e. that indeed the number 666 is in all approved copies of Revelation) while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six…”

"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 (John) who beheld the Revelation.  For he (John) was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3)

As we can see, the highlighted quote fits the discussion regarding the antichrist and how to determine who he is and not at all with the very separate topic of dating the book.

In conclusion, it is worth pointing out that to my knowledge Irenaeus himself never directly indicated in any of his writings either way what his view was concerning the 
date of the book. It is simply not discussed in "Against Heresies" or anything else written by him. It appears it is only advocated by others, citing this quote as proof that he held to a late date but does not appear to actually be the view of Irenaeus based on any of his writings. It is clearly evident this quote has nothing to do with the date of the writing of the Revelation.

On a side note, it is interesting that there would be such intense discussion of what the name of antichrist was, unless they believed the party in question would be someone 
living among them in their day, who they would recognize. It is not likely they would be occupied with knowing the name of someone in the far off distant future if they believed the book was intended for an audience in the distant future. What would be the point of knowing the name of someone in the distant future they would never meet? Such a name would be meaningless to them even if known or at least would not likely create such earnest curiosity.

The only other external evidence offered for a late date is a reference to Hegesippus 
made by church historian Eusebius. There is no actual quote by Hegesippus supporting a late date but simply a dubious and highly speculative reference to Hegesippus that is so obscure it is rarely discussed much less considered as having any real weight in support of a late date.

Though the weight of this secondary reference is marginal at best, if you wish to see some discussion on Hegesippus both pro and con, I offer the following links for your consideration.


(the above link is an archive of the original link )

Are there any sources or people in the early church that clearly held to an early date?
  •      The Syriac Version of the New Testament (dated back into the second century) places the date of Revelation in the period of Nero who reign between 64 and 68 AD. It has a superscription which reads: "The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the Island of Patmos to which he was banished by Nero the Emperor."
  •       Epiphanies (who wrote ca 315-403) believed Revelation to be written at the time of Nero, ca 65-68 AD (Heresies 51:12).
  •      The Muratorian Canon (which was a collection of New Testament books in about 170 AD) says that the book was written in the days of Nero as well.
  •        Clement of Alexandria who wrote in 150-215 AD believed that all the books of the New Testament were written by Nero's reign. He said, "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." (Miscellanies 7.17)
So where does that leave us? If the external evidence is unclear in support of a late date at best and not at all conclusive, where else can we turn to determine the date of Revelation? We would need to look at internal evidence within the book as well as the rest of scripture. Are there any hints of an early date? There are several worth considering.

1.   (Rev 1:1)  The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon (tachos) take place
2.     (Rev 1:3) … for the time is near (eggus).
3.     Rev 2:16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon (tachu) and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
4.     Rev 3:11 I am coming soon (tachu). Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
5.     Rev 22:6 And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon (tachu) take place."
6.    Rev 22:7 “And behold, I am coming soon (tachu). Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
7.    Rev 22:10 And he said to me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near (eggus)..

Particularly note the contrast of the above reference in Revelation with Dan 12:4 “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end…” The events of that particular vision given to Daniel were far away yet, therefore Daniel was told to seal it up. This is important considering both Dispensationalists and Preterists alike believe Daniel and Revelation are dealing with the same events. However the instructions given to Daniel are the opposite of those given to John in The Revelation time wise but virtually identical subject wise. John was told near the very end of the book not to seal it up “for the time is near” i.e. get the word out. Something important is about to happen! The chorus of that famous Temptations song of the 70’s “Get ready, cause here I come…” would be an appropriate contemporary example of what Revelation is saying. If Revelation was addressing a distant future event like Daniel it only makes sense it would also use the same time language as that of Daniel i.e. seal up the words until the time of the end...

Both commands come at the end of each book but unlike Daniel which was dealing with the distant future, The Revelation was addressing that which would happen soon, i.e. the time was near.

John also stresses the benefits of reading the book now when he said in Rev 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Why are they blessed? The verse clearly states because the time for the events covered was near. Therefore heeding what was written would give them advanced warning and therefore the opportunity to prepare, to not be surprised at what was coming and act accordingly before these events happen. This fits with the warnings and promises Christ also gave in Mat 24:4, 6, and 13,16,25,44.

8.   Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon (tachu), bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.
9.   Rev 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon (tachu)." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

So do these “soon” and “near” references prove an early date. They don’t directly but if the coming event referred to in the book is the wrapping up of the Old Covenant via the coming judgment of the unfaithful bride/harlot i.e. Israel and the beginning of the New Covenant and marriage to the new faithful bride, the church, the best historical event around John’s life that fits is the event of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

10. In Rev 11:1 the temple is mentioned, however it was destroyed in 70AD and no longer around in the 90’s. If the book was written after the temple was destroyed why this reference to it as if it still stood. I realize some say this is referring to a future temple that will some day be rebuilt but in light of everything else, it simply doesn’t need to be in the future.
11. Reference to the birth of Christ in Rev 12 and all events in that chapter occurring around or near that time of birth and not in the far off future.
12. Every reference to “earth” is the word “gē” and every reference to “world” is oikoumenē throughout Revelation giving strong indication the events throughout the book are local or regional not global.

Earth - γῆ, gē, ghay
Contracted from a primary word; soil; by extension a region, or the solid part or the whole of the terrene globe (including the occupants in each application): - country, earth (-ly), ground, land, world.

World - οἰκουμένη, oikoumenē, oy-kou-men'-ay
Feminine participle present passive of G3611 (as noun, by implication of G1093); land, that is, the (terrene part of the) globe; specifically the Roman empire: - earth, world.

Even though use of the word gē, ghay would allow for a possible world wide event, it certainly does not require this interpretation. Coupling its use alongside the word oikoumene minimizes the likelihood of such an interpretation. It is far more likely referring to a local event. Reference to those in Judea fleeing on
 the Sabbath would also support the idea of a local, Jewish event and not a world wide event. 

13.  Many within the Nation of Israel that were alive during the crucifixion would no doubt still be around in 70AD.

Rev 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes (phulē - that is, race or clan) of the earth “gē will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. This is a case where literally some of those who actually pierced Christ would still be alive in A.D. 70. Yet in this case Dispensationalist’s abandon their “literal” hermeneutic.

14. Tribes appear to be reference to Israel not all peoples of the global world. Rev 21:12 “It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes (phulē - that is, race or clan) of the sons of Israel were inscribed…” When revelation refers to Gentiles, it uses nations and not      tribes and is often preceded with “every.”
15. The letter is clearly addressing 7 contemporary churches at the time of the book’s writing which is indication that the rest of the book was also dealing with contemporary events and not events in the distant future.

This list of internal evidence certainly gives clear indication and support to an early date.  


  1. I have thought an earlier date for some time now. My thoughts were further strengthened by a book by John A.T. Robinson: 'Redating The New Testament'. He was a liberal scholar who set out to disprove conservative early dates for the books of the New Testament, but became convinced otherwise and published his findings in his book. I recommend it if you can find a copy around.

    1. Also I have concluded ALL the NT was completed before 70AD.

  2. Thanks Thomas. I have heard of Robinson's book. Will try to check it out. I felt something briefer than a complete book would be helpful as well for those who are not as inclined to dig in more. Personally I like to dig. ;o)


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Grace to you
Jim Deal