Dating the Book of Revelation

The date when the book of Revelation was written has been a controversial subject for centuries. The insight I have gained and relate in this article is not likely to change the debate in favor of any certain date. However, after reading many different sources on the subject, I have not found anyone who has addressed Hegesippus’ testimony as it relates to the dating of the book of Revelation.

Eusebius was a fourth century historian who preserved many early writings. He is credited with quoting Irenaeus’ testimony (abt. 180 A.D.) that John wrote the book of Revelation near the end of Domitian’s reign. Domitian was executed in 96 A.D. “Eusebius quoted also Hegesippus’ testimony [abt. 150 A.D.] that John returned to Ephesus upon being released from exile after the accession of Nerva in A. D. 96 (HE III. xx).”(1) Nerva was the successor to Domitian and served as the Roman Emperor from 96 A.D. to 98 A.D.

Barring any evidence to the contrary or attacks on the credibility of Eusebius, this information presents a real problem for those who hold to the early date (abt. 64-68 A.D.) for the writing of the book of Revelation. John has told us he “was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9). Please notice the past tense implies John wrote what he experienced after he was off the island. The only logical conclusion is that John wrote the book of Revelation after 96 A.D.

Arthur M. Ogden, the well known author of “The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets” among members of the churches of Christ, advances the early date in his commentary on the book of Revelation. He states, “If the late date is accepted, it would be impractical and meaningless to interpret the book in the light of the fall of Israel.”(2) Therefore, I would expect Brother Ogden to make a most convincing argument to contradict the quotes given by Eusebius. He acknowledges “the strongest arguments for the late date”(3) are made concerning Ireanaeus’ testimony. However, he gives a weak defense by implying through another commentator who uses Robert Young’s statement (late 1800), that Ireaneus really meant Nero. Brother Ogden goes on to question the reliability of Ireanaeus’ statement. Yet, he never even mentions Hegesippus’ testimony by the same historian (Eusebius).

Logically speaking, if the early date is correct and Hegesippus’ testimony is also correct then John was in exile for some thirty years. If John wrote the book of Revelation while on the island (as early date proponents support) then we are left wondering how he got the document off the island in time for it to provide comfort to the reader before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). Of course, we are assuming that John had access to scarce writing materials while he was a prisoner on a secluded island. And if we can locate John in any other place other than the Isle of Patmos between 64 A.D. and 96 A.D. then we would know for sure that the early date is inaccurate.

If we add the testimony of Victorinus (late 3rd century) and Jerome (late 4th century) we come to the same logical conclusion. Both of these men expressly testify that John was sent to the Isle of Patmos by Domitian.(4) In fact, Jerome identifies the 14th year of Domitian’s reign as to when John was sent to Patmos.(5)

The only external evidence Brother Ogden uses in support of an early date is the Syriac Version. He writes, “The Syriac Version of the New Testament, which is the oldest version of the New Testament, dating all the way back to the second century, places the Revelation in the period of Nero, 68 A.D.”(6) The oldest Syriac Version of the New Testament is called the Peschito. “The Old Syriac Peschito version does not contain the Apocalypse.”(7) Subsequent Syriac versions do include the Book of Revelation but not the oldest one that dates back to the second century.

The reason Brother Ogden made such a bold statement concerning the Syriac Version of the New Testament is due to a title inserted into a translation known as the Syriac Vulgate Bible that was dated to the 6th century. The uninspired title asserts that John wrote the Apocalypse in Patmos where he was sent by Nero Caesar. The title is not part of any earlier manuscript from which that version was translated. Therefore, it is 6th century evidence and not 2nd century evidence as implied in his statement.

The external evidence used in this article to support a later date for the writing of the book of Revelation is from the 2nd century to the 4th century. The external evidence against an early date for the writing of the Book of Revelation is pretty solid.
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(1) Merrill C. Tenney, ed.; The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1976; Vol. 5, pg. 93.
(2) Arthur M. Ogden; The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets, Ogden Publications, 1991, pg. 8.
(3) Ibid, pg. 9.
(4) Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, ed. 2, Electronic Edition, Parsons Technology, Inc., 1999, Introduction to Revelation, Section 2.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ogden, pg. 15
(7) A. R. Faussett, The Revelation of St. John the Divine; Jamieson, Fausset Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871) expanded electronic edition.

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By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

2 thoughts on “Dating the Book of Revelation

  1. Ran into your article, Dating the Book of Revelation, on the net. The Hegesippus evidence is actually addressed in John AT Robinson’s “Redating the New Testament.” Both Domitian and Nerva were in Rome during 69 and 70 AD, while Vespasian and Titus were campaigning in Palestine. They had delegated imperial authority in Vespasian’s absence. Hegesippus could simple be mistaken about the dates, confusing events that happen in 69 or 70 with similar events in 95 or 96.

    • The only mention of Hegesippus in John A.T. Robinson’s book, “Redating the New Testament,” as it relates to my point is the following:

      “Apart from quoting Irenaeus, he [Eusebius] refers to ‘the record of our ancient men’ (i.e. in all probability the Memoirs of Hegesippus) for the tradition that ‘the apostle John also took up his abode once more at Ephesus after his exile’ under Domitian’s successor Nerva.” (Robinson, p. 223)

      Robinson makes no effort to refute this statement accredited to Hegesippus. In fact, he supports the premise by citing Victorinus’ statement that “John was ‘condemned to the mines in Patmos by Domitian Caesar’.” (Robinson, p. 223) Robinson goes on to cast doubt about the viability of these statements by citing Origen and Tertullian. The reader is not informed that Origen and Tertullian both lived decades after Hegesippus. It is unfortunate that Robinson would take the admittedly vague statements of Origen and Tertullian as more creditable over the unrepudiated statements of Hegesippus and Victorinus.

      Concerning the theory that Domitian and Nerva were in Rome at an earlier date, Robinson addresses this issue as well. He credits G. Edmundson as the originator of that theory. Edmundson points out that Domitian served as a de facto emperor for the first half of A.D. 70 in the absence of Vespasian and Titus. (Robinson, p. 249) It also turns out that Nerva served in a consulship to the emperor Vaspasian a year later. (Robinson, p. 250) Edmundson argues that Domitian could have banished John to Patmos at that time and Nerva could have released him a year later. That theory would place the writing of Revelation after A.D. 71 as John wrote the book of Revelation after he was off the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). However, this theory does not account for the statements of Irenaeus and Eusebius. Irenaeus said John wrote the book of Revelation “toward the end of Domitian’s reign” who died while serving as emperor in 96 A.D. (Against Heresies, V, xxx, iii, ANF, I, 559-560.) Eusebius records that John was banished to Patmos during Domitian’s 15th year of reign (A.D. 96, EH, III, xx,103). He also records that John returned from Patmos after the death of Domitian (A.D. 96, EH, III, xxiii, 104). This theory is only plausible in the absence of already known evidence.

      Steve Hamilton

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