When was the Book of Revelation Written?

Let me introduce a dear friend of mine. We are email pals who have never met but have come to similar conclusions on the complex theological and in particular the eschatologicial (biblical end times) principles of the Bible. Jim Gunter has written countless articles and has explained with great patience and clarity his views and understanding of some very profound passages in the scriptures  In this work Jim answers the question “When was the book of Revelation written?” The answer he arrives at is based on simple logical deduction and an analysis of both internal (inside the Bible) and external evidences.

It is important to know history and more important to know the validity of Biblical history for if there are books in the Bible written by uninspired people, the Bible is worthless. Showing that the author of the Revelation wrote before Jerusalem fell by the armies of Rome in 70 A.D. proves the fulfillment of all the promises of God both for the Jews as his people and for the rest of the world as a people with a hope of everlasting life. I have come to agree with Jim’s perspective, though there are points of interest I might expound upon. I hope you enjoy the study.

When Was The Book of Revelation Written?

By Jim Gunter

The book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, is the product of the inspired pen of the beloved apostle John, having been written during the time he was on the Isle of Patmos. It is agreed by most disciples and bible scholars alike, that due to the enormity of the signs and symbols, along with the very highly charged apocalyptic language used in the book, it is considered to be perhaps the most difficult to understand of all the inspired writings in the new covenant scriptures. The purpose of this article will not be to discuss in detail the subject matter of the epistle, but as the title suggests, to learn as best we can, the point in time at which the book was written.

Because of the language used, and complexity of the book, many disciples tend to not include the book in their bible studies. And I will confess to you that for many years, I, too, spent very little time there. The reason for that was; from the eschatological perspective which I then approached the book (amillennial), there was much confusion and uncertainty, thus making comprehension of its message a most difficult thing for me. However, after a change in my eschatological perspective in the past ten years or so (now preterist), I do feel that I now have a much better grasp on its contents.

Moreover, I believe there is much understanding to be gained by establishing the correct time-frame in which John wrote this epistle. I once thought, as do many other believers, that it was written somewhere from 92-96 A.D. However, in recent years, my view of that has changed. I am now persuaded that it was written prior to the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem—perhaps 65-68 A.D. I have also learned where many well-known scholars (such as Phillip Schaff), also changed their view to a pre-70 A.D. date. And so, if you would kindly bear with me for just a few minutes, I would like to present my reasons for why I now believe the 65-68 A.D. time-frame to be that, for not only the writing of the Apocalypse, but for its fulfillment as well.

I would like to begin this search by first considering the “external evidence” (i.e, evidence outside the scriptures) of just when the book may have been written. Those who support the “late” date of its writing (92-96 A.D.) seem to base their belief on the grounds of a solitary quote of Irenaeus who lived from 125-202 A.D. The late Foy E. Wallace Jr. (who supported the “early” date of its writing), in his book titled, “The Book of Revelation,” quotes that statement by Irenaeus. It reads as follows:

“If it were necessary to have his name distinctly announced at the present time it would doubtless have been announced by him who saw the Apocalypse; for it was not a great while ago that (it or he-emphasis by FEW) was seen, but almost in our own generation, toward the end of Domitian’s reign,” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:30:3, quoted in, The Book of Revelation, Foy E. Wallace Jr., p. 25).

As we can see here, the key phrase in Irenaeus’ statement is, “that was seen!” And so the question then becomes: Was it ‘he’ (John) or ‘it’ (the Revelation) that was seen? In the English, it could be either one!

In light of these remarks by Foy Wallace Jr, I would now like to cite also what some other scholars have to say on both Irenaeus and his statement:

D. Ragan Ewing writes:

“The difficulty arises in Irenaeus’ statement, as translated, “… that was seen …” The Greek text simply reads eJwravqh. The subject of the statement is simply subsumed in the verb, and there is therefore no grammatical indicator as to the referent; it could be the Apocalypse, or it could be John himself. In other words, the English could just as easily be, “… he was seen …”

Ewing further writes:

“Nevertheless, there remains another problem with the Irenaean witness. To what extent are we to take as trustworthy Irenaeus’ historical claims… In one place he portrays James the Apostle as the same person as the brother of the Lord, and in another, he astonishingly informs us that Jesus lived to be between forty and fifty years old! Lapses like these have understandably led to assessments such as Guthrie’s caution that Irenaeus’ historical method is “uncritical,” as well as Moffatt’s comment, “Irenaeus, of course, is no great authority by himself on matters chronological.” Such being the case, should we really place the great confidence in this testimony that many scholars have?”

Kenneth Gentry quoting Irenaeus:

Irenaeus said of the age of Jesus, “but the age of 30 years is the first of a young man’s mind, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, everyone will allow: but after the fortieth and fiftieth year, it begins to verge towards elder age: which our Lord was when He taught, as the Gospel and all the Elders witness…” (Quoted in Before Jerusalem Fell, Kenneth L. Gentry, p. 63) Can we trust the testimony of a man that says Jesus taught for 15 years and was fifty years old when he died? Yet, it is largely his testimony alone, for the latter date!

Burton Coffman writes:

“His (Eusebius’) quotation (of Irenaeus’ statement) does not even mention “the writing” of Revelation, but refers solely to the time when certain unnamed persons are alleged to have seen either the apostle or the prophecy, nobody knows which. This proves nothing. Besides that: If he meant the Apocalypse was seen, and if it had been originally composed in quotation, could have reference to the Greek translation, if indeed it referred to the Revelation at all. There goes the whole case for the latter date,” (Commentary on Revelation, Burton Coffman, p 4).

William Bell writes:

“Concerning the above statement (Irenaeus’ statement), scholars have long recognized that it is not possible to determine whether Irenaeus meant to say John was seen by Irenaeus’ tutor, Polycarp, or that “the Apocalypse” was seen toward the end of Domitian’s reign. Such ambiguity destroys this argument as evidence. Even Eusebius, who recorded this statement, doubted that John, the apostle, even wrote the book of Revelation. The point here is this, if the statement was not strong enough to convince Eusebius that John even wrote Revelation, why do so many think today that it is strong enough to convince one that the apostle saw it (the Apocalypse) during Domitian’s reign (A.D. 95)? It is weak to say the least.”

Finally, is support of the “early” day of the Apocalypse, are the words of Robert Young, author of “Young’s Analytical concordance of the New Testament,” and “Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible.” In his remarks, you will see that he contends that a mistake has been made on the part of other early writers who quote Irenaeus’ statement. As you will see, it is his belief that the other early writers actually (mis)quote Irenaeus as to the name of the Roman Emperor who was ruling at the time of his statement, and succeeding writer simply followed their lead!

Robert Young (late 1800s) writes:

“It was written in Patmos about A.D.68, whither John had been banished by Domitius Nero, as stated in the title of the Syriac version of the Book; and with this concurs the express statement of Irenaeus (A.D.175), who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou, ie., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius Severus, Orosius, &c., stupidly mistaking Domitianou for Domitianikos, supposed Irenaeus to refer to Domitian, A.D. 95, and most succeeding writers have fallen into the same blunder. The internal testimony is wholly in favor of the earlier date.” (Concise Critical Comments on the Holy Bible, by Robert Young. Published by Pickering and Inglis, London and Glasgow, (no date), Page 179 of the “New Covenant” section. See also: Young’s Concise Critical Bible Commmentary, Baker Book House, March 1977, ISBN: 0-8010-9914-5, pg 178.)

Now that we have looked at the “external” (outside the scriptures) evidence, most of which opposes the “late date” of the book (92-96 A.D.), I would now like to offer what I understand as “internal” (inside the inspired scriptures) evidence for why I believe the “early date” (65-68 A.D.) to be the more accurate date for its writing.

Today, there are many scholars who now believe Revelation to have been written just prior to “the fall of Jerusalem,” perhaps 65-68 A.D. One bit of internal evidence is found in Revelation 11:1-2. Here, John was instructed by the angel to “measure the temple of God.” However, if the time in which John wrote was the later date (92-96 A.D.), then the temple would not have still been standing! Not only that, but the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation would all have been destroyed for a quarter century by then! Good folks, please consider this with me: If John wrote the epistle in 92-96 A.D, which would have been after the fall of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish nation, how could it possibly be, that there would be absolutely no mention whatsoever in the Apocalypse about these things? In my view, the possibility of this is just simply incomprehensible! I would even go one step farther and say: If “any one” of the epistles, the gospels, or the book of Acts, were written after 70 A.D, the odds that not even one word would have been written by at least one of those inspired writers concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the nation would, in my view, be simply unimaginable! But as we all know quite well, there is not even one single word! Please let us not forget that the destruction and burning of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, the slaughter of more than a million Jews, and the enslavement of almost another million; why, this was one of the most monumental and historic events in the history of the world! Our Master prophesied of the things of the 70 A.D. judgment in great detail in Matthew 23, 24, & 25, Mark 13, and Luke 17, 19, & 21, and He said that it would all take place in the same generation in which He and the apostles lived (Matt. 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lk. 21:32). And personally, I just simply cannot fathom the likelihood of the fulfillment of these things never even being mentioned anywhere in all of the new covenant scriptures, if any one of them was written after 70 A.D! Folks, am I making sense here? Moreover, it is my understanding that the period of The Spirit’s revelatory work, (i.e, His inspiring of men to write scripture) also ended with the fall of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish nation (See Zechariah 13:1-3; 1Corinthians 13:8-13).

When The Things Shown to John Were Fulfilled:

Other internal evidence of the earlier date for the writing of the Apocalypse, would be the words of both John and the angel that was sent to him by the Lord. And please, let us not forget; these things that John wrote had to mean something, first and foremost, to the 1st century disciples; the ones to whom the epistle was written! Folks, I believe this is critical to a proper understanding of the message being conveyed therein! For example:

(1.) In Revelation 1:1, John makes it very clear that the things the Lord showed to him were, “things which must shortly take place.”

(2.) In Revelation 1:3, John further spoke of the blessings to come to those 1st century disciples to whom he prophesied. They (1st century disciples) were to, “keep those things which were written” in that prophecy because, as he said, “for the time is near.”

(3.) In Revelation 1:9, John declared to those 1st century disciples, that he was their brother and companion, “in the tribulation…”

So, it should be noted here that these words were written to John’s brethren who were presently, “in the tribulation.” Certainly, it is not “we 21st century disciples” that he is talking about! According to history, the most severe days of that “great tribulation” began in the spring of A.D. 67, and of course culminated with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple in the fall of 70 A.D; a period of 3-1/2 years—a time, times, and half a time—42 months—1,260 days (See Daniel 12:7).

(4.) In Revelation 2:25, Jesus told the Church at Thyatira, “…hold fast until I come.” Folks, the church at Thyatira has been extinct for 2,000 years now. Therefore they cannot still be, “holding fast.” So, did Jesus keep His promise to come to them? I sincerely believe that He did!

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