Menu

NLT Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, and the Authorship and Dating of Revelation

The dating of Revelation has not lack controversy. One can pick up any number of scholars who will “prove” that Revelation was written in AD 90s or AD 60s. So, I was curious what the new study Bibles said about the authorship and dating of Revelation.

NLT Study Bible:

Many Jewish apocalypses were written after the close of the OT canon, at a time when Jews believed that prophecy had ceased and that the word of the Lord for them was primarily to be found in the Law and the Prophets. These Jewish writers therefore wrote under the names of earlier godly persons such as Ezra, Baruch, Enoch, Isaiah, and even Adam so that their writings would gain credibility and acceptance. These works are called pseudepigrapha (literally “false writings”) because they were written under pseudonyms. Similarly, in the post-apostolic era, fanciful writers and false teachers returned to this practice by using the names of earlier followers of Jesus (such as Peter, James, John, and even Mary) to gain a hearing from Christians.

By contrast, the books collected in the NT were written under their authors’ own names (see Rom 1:1; 2 Thes 3:17) or were legitimately apostolic even though they do not claim an author by name (e.g., Matthew, Hebrews). The author of Revelation identifies himself simply as John (1:1, 4, 9). In the early church, this John was generally identified as the apostle John, who refers to himself in the Gospel bearing his name as “the disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7); in his epistles, he calls himself “the elder” (3 Jn 1:1). John received the visions presented in Revelation while he was a political and religious prisoner on Patmos, a rocky island used as a Roman prison off the western coast of Asia Minor near Ephesus (1:9).

Revelation was probably written during the concluding years of Domitian’s reign (AD 94—96) or immediately following (AD 96—99). The eight kings (17:7-11) may refer to the eight Roman emperors from Augustus to Domitian (see chart). It is also possible that Revelation was written during the AD 60s, when Nero was persecuting the church and killing Christians. During these times, Christians were experiencing significant anguish and persecution (13:7). John called his readers to endurance and faithfulness (13:10). While some have argued that the persecution was more perceived than actual, Revelation seems to suggest real, physical persecution (2:9, 13; 3:9).

ESV Study Bible:

Author and Title

Revelation 1:1 announces both the book’s title (it is a “revelation”) and its divine author (“Jesus Christ”). The book is an “unveiling” of unseen spiritual forces operating behind the scenes in history and controlling its events and outcome. This disclosure is conveyed in a series of symbolic visions that exhibit the influence of OT prophecies, especially those received by Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. The book is also “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3; 22:7), not only as divine prediction of future events but also as divine diagnosis of the present state of affairs.

The divine author identified in the opening verse, Jesus the Messiah, has authority from God to describe coming events to his servant John (see also 1:4, 9; 22:8) for communication to the church.

Without denying his own role in the composition of the book, John presents himself more as a recipient and recorder of visions than as the author of Revelation’s message. Although John does not call himself an apostle and he numbers himself among the prophets (22:9), early church fathers–notably Justin Martyr (writing c. a.d. 135—150), Melito of Sardis (mid-2nd century), and Irenaeus of Lyons (writing c. 185)–consistently identified him as John the son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple who authored the Fourth Gospel and three NT epistles. Because Revelation’s Greek style differs markedly from other Johannine literature and its theological emphases are distinctive, a number of contemporary scholars think it was written by another John, called “John the elder,” someone otherwise unknown (who also wrote 2 and 3 John). These scholars give weight to another early tradition (beginning with Dionysius of Alexandria in the 3rd century) that attributes Revelation to “John the elder.” Nevertheless, thematic links (e.g., Jesus as Lamb and Word of God [John 1:1, 14, 29; Rev. 5:6; 19:13]) and the earliest church tradition both favor the traditional attribution of Revelation to John, the “beloved disciple,” who with Peter and James belonged to Jesus’ inner circle (John 21:20, 24).

Date

Irenaeus reports, on the basis of earlier sources, that “John received the Revelation almost in our own time, toward the end of the reign of Domitian” (Against Heresies 5.30.3). Since Domitian’s reign ended in A.D. 96, most scholars date Revelation in the mid-90s. Some, however, have argued for a date during Nero’s reign (A.D. 54—68) and before the fall of Jerusalem in 70, basing their conclusion in part on the belief that Revelation 11:1—2 is a predictive prophecy of the Roman siege and destruction of the earthly Jerusalem during the Jewish War. However, the conditions in the churches of chs. 2—3 and their cities favor a date around A.D. 95—96, and in Revelation “the holy city” does not seem to refer to the earthly Jerusalem (see note on 11:1—2). Assuming this later date, events relating to Nero’s reign and Jerusalem’s destruction, both of which would now have been in the past, are woven into John’s visions as portents and prototypes of present pressures and coming traumas in the world’s assault on Christ’s church.

________________________________

I am glad to see that both the early dating and late dating of the book of Revelation are revealed as possibilities in each study Bible. Revelation 17:9-14 causes me to accept the early dating of the book of Revelation. (The seven hills are seven kings; Five have fallen– Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero; one is– Vespasian (the three that ruled for a combined three years are not counted because during the chaos none of the three established a rule. Further Daniel 7:20 says to remove three); one is yet to come– Titus (who will finish Jerusalem’s destruction); and the eighth is like the seventh which goes to destruction– Domitian (who will bring persecution on the Christians).

Further, the ESVSB points out that the Greek is a different style in Revelation than John’s other writings. Rather than demand a different author, the differences in Greek would fit an early date for Revelation, with John’s gospel and epistles being written in AD 90s. Languages change in a 30 year span; just ask the “old” NASB and NIV.