Formal Written Debate on the Dating of Revelation
Sergius Bale – V – Don K. Preston
Don K. Preston’s First Negative
All caps for emphasis only. Be sure to read Sergius Bale’s first Affirmative.
After reading Bale’s first affirmative we can clearly see why he has told us, repeatedly, what he stated in his concluding comment of his first affirmative. He admits that his evidence “is, “not at all definitive.” His entire presentation contains a lot of “maybes”, “could bes”, “it is possible” speculation, but absolutely NOTHING definitive, not even substantive.
He admits we have no archaeological proof for a late date. Quite an admission since on FB he has produced pictures of coins with Domitian’s likeness on them implying that these coins somehow point to a late date.
HE ADMITS that we have virtually NO evidence of widespread Domitianic persecution of Christians, although admitting that we DO have undeniable evidence of the Neronian persecution.
Mr. Bale likes to emphasize that Domitian established the first neokorate in Ephesus. But notice:
1. He did not produce EVEN ONE citation that Domitian persecuted a single Christian in Ephesus.
2. Significantly, in Christ’s letter to the church at Ephesus, (Revelation 2) where we should expect SOME record of the proposed raging Domitianic persecution, WE FIND NO HINT, NOT ONE WORD OF SUCH A PERSECUTION! PERIOD. (In fact, the reference to the Nicolaitans- who taught the doctrine of Balaam as in Pergamas, may well be identified as a Jewish problem- not pagan.)
Since Mr. Bale did not, could not, produce ANY EVIDENCE, of persecution against Christians in Ephesus, the supposed epi-center of emperor worship his house of cards falls to the ground.
Bale says: “it is very well documented through all the Roman historians of Domitian’s cruelty to the Jewish people.” However, he immediately admits that we have scant evidence (if any) of any persecution of Christians at his hands. He tries to excuse this by claiming that Jews and Christians were often confused with each other. Realizing he has no solid evidence for PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS, he then admits, “While not conclusive, there seems to be a good amount of evidence from Roman historians for the Revelation having been written at a late date.” WHAT EVIDENCE DID HE GIVE? NONE, MERE SPECULATION. WHERE IS THAT “GOOD AMOUNT OF EVIDENCE,” MR. BALE?
Bale argues that the Neronic persecution was limited to Rome, and was not in Asia: “We also do not see it written anywhere of persecution that was anywhere under Nero except for persecution being localized to the capital of Rome itself. Could people under Nero’s reign in Asia Minor have been persecuted? It is possible…”
Well, evidently then, there was a totally distinct persecution of the saints in Asia, just coincidentally happening at the same time as the Neronian persecution!
Follow me here:
1 Peter was written circa 65 AD. (John A. T. Robinson, Re-dating the New Testament, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1976), 150+). That puts us squarely in Nero’s reign.
1 Peter was written to the saints in Asia (1 Peter 1:1f). Revelation was written to the saints in Asia.
The saints were being persecuted (1 Peter 1:5f; 4:11-12), just as the Asian saints were being persecuted in Revelation.
Notice that Peter urged his audience: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts and be ready always to give an ANSWER (from apologia– meaning a legal, courtroom style defense) for the hope that lies within you.” We thus have early documentation of Christians being “tried” as Christians – matching the Neronian situation perfectly– but not any situation under Domitian.
Their persecution, was “filling up the measure of suffering / sin (1 Peter 5:10- epiteleo). This is directly parallel to Revelation 6:9-11 / 17:6f.
Peter promised the saints they would only have to endure persecution for a very short time (1 Peter 1:5f), just as the Spirit told the martyrs that their vindication would be “in a little while” (Revelation 6:9f).
In Revelation 3:10 Jesus promised the saints in Philadelphia: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” Notice that the persecution was literally “about to come” (mellouses– from mello in the infinitive). The Blass-DeBrunner Greek Grammar says: “mellein with the infinitive expresses imminence” (Blass-DeBrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1961), 181).
So, we have an already present Asian persecution, but we have a “fiery trial” of persecution that was “about to come.” Then, in an epistle written in AD 65– well before the time of Domitian- we find Peter saying: “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial THAT IS AMONG YOU.” The Greek of the text is “The fiery trial that is (present tense) among you (en humin).” It is not a future tense.
So, John, writing to the Asian saints said that a time of trial (persecution) was about to come. Peter, writing to the Asian saints, said that the fiery trial was among them. They were not to think that trial to be strange. WHY? The logical answer is that John in Revelation had told them it was about to come, AND NOW IT WAS ALREADY AMONG THEM! Revelation was clearly written before Revelation.
THIS CANNOT BE REFERENT TO ANY IMAGINARY DOMITIANIC PERSECUTION. Unless Bale can prove that Revelation and 1 Peter are speaking of two totally different persecutions, both of which were present but about to imminently get worse, and, both of which were to consummately fill the measure of sin and suffering! If he cannot prove this, his position falls.
When we honor what Jesus (Matthew 23) and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16) said about the filling up of the measure of sin through persecution– by Israel, not Rome- this is tantamount to definitive evidence of the early date of Revelation. And the reader needs to remember that Bale totally ignored my arguments on this in my affirmatives.
Eusebius is often cited as “proof” for a Domitianic persecution of the church. However, Leonard Thompson notes that a more critical reading of Eusebius raises serious doubts about such a persecution: “most modern commentators no longer accept a Domitianic persecution of Christians.” (Leonard L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), 16). Eusebius also quotes Irenaeus, who claimed Domitian’s persecution consisted only of John’s banishment to Patmos and the exile of other Christians to the island of Pontia (CH 3.18.1, 5). That hardly qualifies for a major persecution.
My challenge to Mr. Bale– Produce a definitive, irrefutable piece of evidence that proves that Revelation was written after AD 70. Your “could bes” and “possibles” don’t count.
Produce a definitive, irrefutable piece of evidence that Domitian ever persecuted the church in any kind of systematic, widespread manner as an official policy. It would prove NOTHING to show that he “might” have persecuted a small handful of Christians.
Folks, this is the issue! The issue is NOT: “Domitian killed or banished lots of leading Romans.” Irrelevant. The issue is NOT, was Domitian a megolamanaic? Not the point. The issue is NOT, “It is ‘possible’ that this or that happened in Ephesus.” The issue is NOT, is it possible that Domitian persecuted a few Christians here and there? The issue is, where is the PROOF that Domitian persecuted the church in any kind of systematic, widespread, way that would fit Revelation in any way, at all! And do not lose sight of the fact that Dr. Bale, try as he might, had to admit nonetheless that what he presented is “not at all definitive.” Amen to that!
Bale says: “We must note that the poet Statius in Silvae 1.6:83–84 does claim that Domitian rejected the titles. However, the majority consensus of historians at the time seems to suggest that Domitian did claim deity while living.”
Notice how Bale glosses over some key facts. He just tells us that a “poet” claims that Domitian rejected the exalted titles. That is not the whole story.
Robert Briggs points out that it was DOMITIAN’S OWN PERSONAL HISTORIANS, (Statius [the poet, DKP] and Quintillian) who record how he would not allow men to deify him (Robert Briggs, Jewish Temple Imagery in the Book of Revelation, Studies in Biblical Literature, (New York, Peter Lang, 1999), 33, n. 93). Thus, it was not just “a poet” in view. IT WAS DOMITIAN’S OWN PERSONAL HISTORIANS WHO SAID THAT HE REJECTED THE TITLES OF DEIFICATION.
So, as Mark Wilson says: “The evidence here is mixed” (at best!– https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/post-biblical-period/domitian-persecution-of-christians/#note04). And Bale repeatedly admits it is not definitive. Thus, Briggs says: “The fashionable tenet that Domitian aggressively pressured one and all to kowtow to him as dominus et deus noster must be re-examined, whereupon it is found to be much more questionable than has been and is widely assumed.” (Briggs, 1999, 33).
Mr. Bale tries to convince us that Nero did not exile people– he killed them– whereas Domitian exiled them. Not true. fact. In truth, as Kenneth Gentry shows, there are multiple ancient sources THAT ASCRIBE JOHN’S BANISHMENT TO THE TIME OF NERO (Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, Tyler, Tx; Institute for Christian Economics,1989), 104++).
Bale attempts to tie Revelation 13 to Domitian by claiming: “Revelation 13 again shows and bears a lot of similarities here. Pliny even records that Domitian was “the Beast of the Sea, whose teeth drip with the blood of good Romans.”
Several problems here.
1. The fact that Domitian persecuted Romans and Jews is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. For that we have definitive PROOF. Yet remember, Bale admits that we have no definitive proof that he persecuted THE CHURCH. This is the critical issue of the debate.
2. It overlooks that Nero was likewise called the Beast by his contemporaries. As Kenneth Gentry noted, Nero was known as the ultimate “Beast.”
The pagan writer Apollinus said: “In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw and armed with horrible fangs…And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.” (From Kenneth Gentry, The Beast of Revelation, (Tyler, Tx; Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 42– Gentry cites several other similar sources).
3. PLINY WAS NOT SPEAKING OF PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS – the very thing that Bale must establish. Furthermore, revealingly, as Mark Wilson notes: “No pagan writer of the time ever accused Domitian, as they had Nero, of persecuting Christians.” (See the citation above- the accusation against Domitian as a persecutor of the church came literally hundreds of years later).
Bale offers this: “It is very well documented through all the Roman historians of Domitian’s cruelty to the Jewish people. This is a historical fact While we do not have much for Christians’ persecution, much of the time Jew and Christians were mostly seen as two rivaling sects of Judaism versus each other rather than two distinct sects.”
Once again, this says NOTHING ABOUT PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH! Persecution of the Jews and persecution of the church are two distinct issues!
4. There is something else here about Pliny (circa 112-115 AD). Bale tries to argue that Pliny referred to past trials of Christians as something of a settled policy.. He implies that was under Domitian. Not accurate. As F. W. Beare noted, “If persecution ‘for the name,’ had been the settled policy of the Empire for over thirty years, (i.e. in the time of Domitian, DKP) it is not possible that Pliny, an experienced administrator, should have been in doubt about it.” (F. W. Beare, First Epistle of Peter, (Great Britain; Oxford, 1967), 12). If you actually want evidence for any kind of “settled policy” of persecution, it is available in 1 Peter 3:15f as noted above, and well documented under NERO – not Domitian!
This point is driven home by the fact that Pliny was a favorite of Domitian. Did Domitian persecute the church but Pliny did not know about it? One thing is certain: We KNOW that Nero persecuted the church. We do NOT HAVE DEFINITIVE PROOF THAT DOMITIAN DID. Is it not possible that Pliny knew of the Neronian persecution policy, but that it was sufficiently distant in the past – even discontinued in the reign of Domitian- that Pliny had to inquire if Nero’s policies were to be continued by Trajan?
5. As Ken Laffer says: “Early attempts to use archeology to prove that certain Christian individuals were involved in the alleged persecution have, in recent times, found to be, faulty and in need of correction. Improved assessments of dating techniques have effectively placed the key individuals outside the persecution time frame that could have involved Domitian.
…. It is extremely likely that Domitian was not as bad as he has been portrayed and that he did not persecute Roman Christians at any time during his troubled rule.” (The Alleged Persecution of Roman Christians by Domitian, Ken Laffer, Doctoral Thesis, Edith Cowan University, 2005; Retrieved from https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/639).
Likewise, Duane Warden says: “In fact there is no evidence that emperor worship was promoted with any particular fervor during the time of Domitian” (Duane Warden, “Imperial Persecution and the Dating of 1 Peter and Revelation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 [June 1991]: 207). All Bale has given us is speculation– unconvincing speculation.
A FATAL OVERSIGHT BY BALE
Mr. Bale places all of his interpretive focus of Revelation on Rome. This is an incredible oversight. The book of Revelation is a preeminently Jewish book, about the imminent fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises made to Old Covenant Israel. Briggs was correct to note: “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the temple imagery in Revelation is primarily for the benefit of believing Jews…. The Apocalypse then, is an extremely Jewish book by dint of its temple imagery alone.” (Briggs, 1999,103). Revelation uses Jewish temple imagery – not Roman temple imagery.
No other NT book contains as many citations, allusions, echoes of OT prophecy as Revelation. It is thus focused on Israel’s covenant with God. This is manifest in an argument that I presented– totally ignored by Bale -so let me repeat it.
After these things I heard a loud voice …, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; AND HE HAS AVENGED ON HER THE BLOOD OF HIS SERVANTS SHED BY HER.” (My emphasis).
Revelation 19:2 is a direct citation of Deuteronomy 32:43- a prediction of the avenging of the martyrs in Israel’s last days.
Therefore, Revelation 19, (like Revelation 6 which applied Isaiah 2-4 to the impending vindication of the martyrs), spoke of the soon coming avenging of the martyrs, in Israel’s last days in the destruction of “Babylon.” It is NOT the judgment of Rome. Bale ignored this.
Revelation 19 quotes from the Song to declare its fulfillment in the judgment of Babylon.
The Song is about Israel’s last days judgment for shedding innocent blood.
Therefore, the judgment of Babylon is the judgment of Israel for shedding innocent blood.
So, as I proved in my first affirmative:
Deuteronomy 32 foretold the vindication of the martyrs in the judgment of Israel in her last days.
Isaiah 2-4– The vindication of the martyrs at the destruction of Jerusalem at the last days Day of the Lord.
Luke 23:28-31– Isaiah 2:19f applied by Jesus to the coming AD 70 judgment of Jerusalem.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 / 2 Thessalonians 1– Paul cited the verses from Isaiah that Jesus applied to AD 70, to speak of the imminent Day of the Lord against the Jews for persecuting the saints.
Revelation 6 & 19- quoted from the same verses from Isaiah 2 that Jesus applied to AD 70 to speak of the coming soon Day of the Lord to vindicate the blood of the martyrs– predicted by Deuteronomy 32- for Israel’s last days.
For Bale to falsify any of this he must demonstrate– definitively- that Israel and her blood guilt- is NOT the focus in this unbroken chain of evidence. He has admitted repeatedly that he cannot definitively do this!
Bale simply claimed that since none of these texts explicitly mentions the dating of Revelation that they are irrelevant. But that exposes his false hermeneutic- as I proved. It is specious to demand that a text explicitly say something for a doctrine to be true. Bale knows this, but he is desperate to escape the force of my exegesis.
Rome is not in Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 2-4, Matthew 23:29f, Luke 23:28-31, Thessalonians, or Revelation. In fact, employing Bale’s “hermeneutic” we could say that since there is not a single text in Revelation that explicitly says Domitian was the beast or that he persecuted Christians, then all of his “evidence” is irrelevant.
To drive home the covenantal nature of Revelation, as being focused on the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel, consider what Sebastian Smolarz observes:
Of the 91 metaphorical applications of this word (for harlot, dkp) or its derivatives….
Most significantly of all is the fact that in the OT, almost all of the occurrences of the prostitution metaphor (86/ 91) apply to the people of the Covenant (Israel, Judah or Jerusalem). Once (1/ 91) it applies to the original ‘inhabitants of the land’ (Exodus 34:15) and in the remaining few occurrences (4 / 91) it is used of Nineveh (Nahum 3:4. 4.4) and Tyre (Isaiah 23:17). The metaphor of prostitution therefore, appears to have a particular significance for the people of God, for reasons that are well known; The Covenant between God and the people of Israel was conceived metaphorically as a marriage, so the idolatrous worship of other gods represented infidelity to that marriage and was therefore described in terms of sexual misconduct.” (Sebastian Smolarz, Covenant and the Metaphor of Divine Marriage in Biblical Thought, (Eugene, Or; Wipf and Stock, 2011), 238f).
Unless Bale can prove that Revelation is using the metaphor of “harlot” in a way totally divorced from its consistent OT usage this eliminates Rome as Babylon. Rome was NEVER IN A MARITAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LORD.
In his final negative Bale accused me, NINE TIMES!!!– OF VIOLATING THE RULES. Totally false, and of course, HE DID NOT CITE ONE SINGLE RULE THAT I BROKE. More than revealing.
Remember the argument I have presented repeatedly:
All the blood of all the righteous, including the prophets, of Jesus and Jesus’ apostles and prophets, would be avenged in the destruction of Jerusalem– Jesus.
All the blood of all the righteous, including the prophets, Jesus and Jesus’ apostles and prophets, would be avenged in the destruction of Babylon– Revelation.
Therefore, Babylon was Jerusalem.
Since Revelation was written before the destruction of Babylon, that means Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Remember: NO OTHER CITY DID- OR COULD DO- WHAT BABYLON OF REVELATION HAD DONE- OTHER THAN JERUSALEM. Bale has not touched this and he knows he can’t. His desperate claim that some Christians died outside of Jerusalem is not the point. That appeal essentially calls Jesus and Paul a liar. I have asked Bale repeatedly to answer:
Who did JESUS identify as guilty of killing the prophets, of him, of his apostles and prophets? No answer.
Who did PAUL identify as guilty of killing the prophets, of him, of his apostles and prophets? No answer.
Per Bale, we are to believe that John is discussing a totally different persecutor – a pagan persecutor – who had not done, could not have done, what John accused “Babylon” of doing. Yet he admits he cannot definitively prove his case! Not convincing!
Revelation is about the imminent- to John- judgment of Babylon.
Babylon is “where the Lord was crucified”- (Revelation 11:8).
Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem– NOT ROME.
Therefore, Babylon of Revelation was Jerusalem.
Consider what Bale must prove:
That the united testimony from the Tanakh through the NT about the avenging of the martyrs in Israel’s last days, in the judgment of Jerusalem- is unrelated to Revelation.
He must prove that although Revelation draws from the OT more than any other NT book, that it is in reality concerned, not with the fulfillment of Israel’s OT promises, but the fate of a pagan city / nation!
He must ignore any relationship between Jesus’ consistent, repeated teaching, parabolic and prosaic, on the avenging of the martyrs in the judgment of Jerusalem.
He must prove that some city, other than Jerusalem killed the OT prophets, Jesus and Jesus’ apostles and prophets.
He must show that the marriage motif in Revelation is totally divorced from God’s promises to Israel, and that is was the destruction of a pagan nation that would bring about the marriage between Christ and the church.
He must prove how the repeated, emphatic, undeniable statements of the nearness of the fall of Babylon can be applied to Rome, when her destruction was literally hundreds of years away.
Bale must, in fact, prove that Revelation is unrelated to the rest of the Bible, and is a totally different, new revelation about the avenging of the martyrs, the marriage of the Lamb, the New Creation, the identity of the true persecutor of God’s people. This in spite of the fact that Revelation draws on the OT more than any other book!
I have answered every major point presented by Bale- in sharp contrast to how he ignored almost all of my arguments. All he has done is admit that he has no definitive proof of anything. He has no proof to offer.