This is the second and final part of the article by Charles Meek on the dating of Revelation. As I stated in the first installment, the dating of Revelation is often at the center of discussions on eschatology. Historically, there have been two proposed dates for the writing of the Apocalypse, what is called the Early Date, somewhere in the AD 60s, prior to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and in the AD 90s, in the reign of Domitian. (I once held the late date).
Those who oppose Full Preterism insist on the late date, claiming that to prove that date refutes Covenant Eschatology. Make no mistake, the dating is critical!
I am happy to share with my visitors to this site a two part article by Charles Meek. He is an excellent student of the Word – as you will see when you read his articles, and has written a very helpful book: Christian Hope Through Fulfilled Prophecy.
In this second installment, Meek will present some of the External Evidence in support of the early date. Enjoy!
For more internal evidence for the early dating, see my book Who Is This Babylon?
A Look at Some External Evidence
Another reason to believe the Book of Revelation was written at the earlier date is there is a question about John’s life after AD 70. Papias (AD 60-130) wrote that John was killed by the Jews. John’s martyrdom would have been when the Jews had the authority and means to have accomplished the execution—before AD 70. Actually, there is internal biblical evidence about the martyrdom of John (and his brother James). In Matthew 20:22-23 and Mark 10:38-39 Jesus implies that John and his brother James would drink the cup of martyrdom that He was about to drink! Further evidence comes from silence in the historical record about John. If John had survived AD 70, he would have been a leader in the church, but history is silent.
12. However, an opposing view about John is from Jerome (AD 340-420), who noted in his writings that John was plunged into boiling oil by Nero. John escaped that torture, and Jerome stated that John was apparently seen in AD 96, and that he was so old and infirm that “he was with difficulty carried to the church, and could speak only a few words to the people.” It is difficult to imagine John could write Revelation in AD 96 or be able to speak to many nations and many kings at any late date since he was already elderly and infirm. It is equally difficult to imagine the Roman authorities would arrest a decrepit very old man.
13. Tertullian, an early church father who lived from 145-220 AD, seems to place John’s banishment to Patmos at the same time as the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, who we know were killed during the reign of Nero (prior to his own death in 68 AD). In his writing, “Exclusion of Heretics,” speaking of the history of Rome, he had this to say: “. . . on which the Apostles poured out all their doctrine, with their blood: where Peter had a like Passion with the Lord; where Paul hath for his crown the same death with John; where the Apostle John was plunged into boiling oil, and suffered nothing, and was afterwards banished to an island.”
14. The Muratorian Canon (c. AD 170) is the earliest surviving list of canonical books. In this important manuscript we read: “The blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name.” This demands a dating of John’s Revelation prior to the time that Paul was beheaded, no later than AD 67 or 68, and probably earlier than his letters.
15. Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) in his writing “Miscellanies (7:17)” said: “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, ends with Nero.” (Again, Nero died in AD 68.)
16. The book “The Shepherd of Hermas” was well known by early church fathers and was often considered canonical. This suggests its composition to have been around the time of the apostles or shortly thereafter, as later books were not considered canonical. The book may have been written by the person Paul references in Romans 16:14. The book draws from Revelation, which implies a date for Revelation much earlier than the AD 95 time-frame, and probably before AD 70.
17. The apostle Peter wrote about the coming New Heaven and New Earth (2 Peter 3), reminding his readers that other apostles also wrote about it (2 Peter 3:2). The other apostle to have written most prominently about this was John in Revelation 21. Thus, it is probable that Peter used Revelation as source material. Since Peter was martyred under Nero no later than AD 68, that places the writing of Revelation earlier than Peter’s death. See my articles about the New Heaven and New Earth in section B here:
18. The late date is based largely on a third-hand ambiguous statement by Irenaeus in around AD 175, about either John or the book of Revelation having been “seen” during Domitian’s reign. Numerous scholars have questioned just what Irenaeus meant, and have also pointed out that Irenaeus was a sloppy historian. As stated by Edward E. Stevens, “Irenaeus was seemingly ignorant about a lot of things (e.g. Neronic persecution, death of Paul, Peter, and John during the Neronic persecution). He thought Jesus lived to over 40 years of age. He was clueless about the fulfillments at AD 70. Thus, he shows no evidence of having been taught by John or any of the other twelve apostles. So, it is no surprise that Irenaeus chronologically misplaced a whole bunch of things, not merely his confusion over Nero vs. Domitian.” In the same work (Heresies 5.3.1), Irenaeus spoke of “ancient copies” of Revelation, which leads to a contradictory conclusion.
19. There is potential confusion over who Irenaeus referred to with his reference to Domitian. Domitian was the Roman emperor from AD 81 to 96. But Domitius was the family name of Nero. While most scholars seem skeptical about the following opinion by Robert Young, it is worth considering based on the scholarly reputation of Young. (He was the author of Young’s Analytical Concordance as well as Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible.) In his commentary on Revelation, written around 1885, he said:
“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 in AD 175, who says it happened in the reign of Domitianou – i.e., Domitius (Nero). Sulpicius, Orosius, etc., stupidly mistaking Dimitianou 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 early date.”
So, Irenaeus may have simply been wrong, or something may have been lost in the copying or translation of his work. There are other possibilities concerning the Irenaeus quote. Domitian was the son of Vespasian (and brother of Titus). Vespasian was elected Emperor in December 69. But he was not in Rome at the time. It took Vespasian six months to make his way back to Rome from Jerusalem and Egypt, where he was securing foodstuff for his soldiers. During this half year, Domitian assumed the role temporarily as Caesar. So, if Irenaeus was indeed saying that John was writing Revelation during the reign of Domitian, he may have been referring to this period in AD 69. Also, there are reports that Irenaeus confused John the Apostle with John the Presbyter. Confounding the problem, almost all late daters rely on the unreliable and confusing Irenaeus quotation.
20. Kenneth Gentry lists 136 authors that hold to a pre-AD 70 dating. See Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 1998, pgs. 30-38). Gentry, considered by some to be the most authoritative author today about the dating of Revelation, discusses the Irenaeus issue (as well as a statement by Origen sometimes used to support the late date), in his book and in the articles below.
Conclusion: We should always place Scripture above non-scriptural sources. There are no convincing internal evidences for the late date of Revelation, and the external sources for the late date, upon examination, are flawed. While certain of the above points can be debated, the totality of the evidence strongly supports the early dating of Revelation.
For more on eschatology, see my website: www.ProphecyQuestions.com