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Revelation was the last of the 27 New Testament books to be accepted into the official canon of the early Christian churches.[1]Despite the canon’s confirmation as early as AD 397 by the Council of Carthage, the book’s place has been a topic of debate since its introduction. Ancient Syrian Christians rejected it because they felt it was, at least partially, the product of the hated Montanists.[2]A group that had been deemed heretical by the early church. Later, in the 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other important church leaders, disputed Revelation’s biblical veracity because of the difficulties in interpreting it and the risk of its being abused by groups like the Montanists.[3]Much later, during the Reformation in the 16th century, Martin Luther initially considered it to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic.”He stated at that time that “Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”[4]Thus, he relegated Revelation to his “Antilegomena” of questionable documents. However—and thankfully—he later retracted this view and embraced its inclusion in the New Testament canon.[5]

In the same century, John Calvin believed the book to be biblical, yet it remained among the only New Testament texts he didn’t offer his formal comments on. For what reason or reasons this may be, we can’t be sure, but it’s clear that the book’s enigmatic nature played a role in his silence. To this day, it’s the only New Testament book that’s not read as part of the accepted liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Although it is included in Roman Catholic and Protestant lectionaries.

Despite the book’s sometimes reluctant acceptance, most scholars today see Revelation as providing a logical conclusion, not only to the New Testament, but to the Bible as a whole. Plus, its recognition, however disputed, dating back to the second century, supports its veracity and indicates that it was generally included among the accepted lists of the Church’s New Testament canon of contents.

 

Literary Style

The book of Revelation has inspired a number of great works of art over the years. Painters like Albrecht Dürer, Jan van Eyck, and Michelangelo; musicians like George Handel, Olivier Messiaen, Pëtr Tchaikovsky, and writers such as John Milton, William Blake, and Ernesto Cardenal. All of whom addressed the book’s artistic form and features. It has provided the texts for several of the great hymns of the church, including “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “For All the Saints,” and “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.”

The book of Revelation spans three literary genres including correspondence, apocalyptic, and propheticstyles.[6]It begins with an address of correspondence to the reader and then addresses the seven historic churches in the area of Asia Minor.[7]Then what follows is a somewhat abstract or apocalyptic description of a series of symbols derived from the prophet’s visions that include the appearance of a number of images. The obscurity of some of its symbolism has led to a variety of interpretations from ethereal to historical in nature, and everything in between. Finally, the text encases itself in prophetic prose that purport to have their fulfillment in actual world events.[8]

 

Historical Context

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”was written at a time when persecution against Christians had intensified.[9]The Jewish leadership was determined to silence these Hebrew castoffs. What’s more, Nero’s insistence that only he be called “Lord” aggravated the situation seeing that Christians chose only to call Jesus Lord. All of this seemed to have played into the hands of Nero’s angry wrath as though he were keeping Rome’s promise of peace at any cost (pax romana) by killing Christians.[10]John’s concern was to pass along to his fellow believers, God’s sovereign guarantee of ultimate and eternal victory. His concern also included the vindication of God’s plan following Jesus’ resurrection.

 

Authorship

While it’s true that the author never explicitly claims to be the Apostle John, or for that matter, John the son of Zebedee,ancient Christian testimony seems to confirm the Apostle John as Revelation’s author. Justin, Papias, Melito, Irenaeus, Origin, Tertullian and Hippolytus all make a strong case for his authorship.[11]This study assumes that the early critics of John’s authorship, such as Marcion, Dionysius and Alogoi were simply wrong in their opposing views to the Apostle John’s authorship. While Dionysius, for instance, found enough legitimate differences in the style of John’s Gospel from that of Revelation that he would state reconciling the two was impossible, the hyperbole of his personal persuasion is less than convincing to this author. Yet again, Dionysius’ educated observation gives one pause, despite disagreement, to at least consider his proposal. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that the Apostle John was most likely the book’s author.[12]To be sure, Papias did write about there being “two Johns”whose tombs were located in Ephesus.[13]But the apocryphal book entitled the Acts of John, dated around AD 90 and the Gnostic Apocryphon of Johnthat came some time later, affirm the Apostle’s authorship. The added witness of the Muratorian Canonfrom the late second century substantiates his authorship as well. Besides all that, the Apostle John’s personal and intimate association with Jesus would have made the preservation of his writings a priority for the early churches. For me, that helps explain the book’s stubborn endurance despite so much criticism regarding its contents over the years. So, precisely because of who John the Apostle was and the evidence in favor of his writing the book of Revelation, makes his authorship a rather certain matter for the purpose of this study.

[1]Wall, Robert W. (2011). Revelation. Baker Books.

[2]Denzey, Nicola. “What did the Montanists read?” Harvard Theological Review 94.04 (2001): 427-448.

[3]Stonehouse, Ned B., (c. 1929) The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church. A Study in the History of the New Testament Canon, n.d., Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre. P.138-142

[4]Hoekema, Anthony A (1979). The Bible and the future. Eerdmans. P. 297.

[5]The term “canon” is used to describe the verified books acknowledged by Christians as to be included in what they called the “Bible.”

[6]Baukham, Richard (1993). The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge University Press., p.2

[7]Stuckenbruck, Loren T. (2003). “Revelation”. In Dunn, James D. G.; Rogerson, John William. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Eerdmans. P.1536.

[8]Crutchfield, Larry V. (2001). “Revelation in the New Testament Canon”. In Couch, Mal. A Bible Handbook to Revelation. Kregel Academic. P.81.

[9]Stephens, Mark B. (2011). Annihilation Or Renewal?: The Meaning and Function of New Creation in the Book of Revelation. Mohr Siebeck., pp.143-145

[10]On Rome’s pax romana see Walter Goffart (1989). Rome’s Fall and After. A&C Black. pp. 111f.

[11]Collins, Adela Yarbro (1984). Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Westminster John Knox Press. P.26f.

[12]Cf., Against Heresies 5.30.3, c.180AD.

[13]Cf., Papias, as quoted by Euesibius in Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.4-6