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When Was the Apocalypse Written?

08 Jan
Clement of Alexandria

from Google Images

Eusebius, a fourth century AD church father and considered to be the “Father of Church History,” interprets Clement of Alexandria, a second and early third century church father (cir. 155-215 AD), saying the Apostle John returned from the isle of Patmos “after the tyrant was dead”, and Eusebius identifies the “tyrant” as Domitian, Emperor of Rome from AD 81-96. He does this at the beginning of his testimony concerning John’s writing the Apocalypse.[1] It also seems as though many modern scholars simply accept Eusebius’ testimony without even consulting Clement. If they do read Clement, it must be with the eyes of Eusebius, because Clement mentions Domitian four different times in his writings, but not once does he claim he was a tyrant or even that he persecuted Christians. Eusebius and, apparently, most modern scholarship have read this understanding into Clement’s works.

This is what Clement of Alexandria said and from which Eusebius (and modern scholarship) interpret the “tyrant” to be Domitian:

“And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.”[2]

How is anyone able to conclude accurately from this statement that Domitian was the tyrant whom Clement had in mind? Therefore, Clement of Alexandria is NOT a source for John writing the Apocalypse during the reign of Domitian. Third and fourth century AD church fathers seem to base their understanding upon a single statement from Irenaeus’ works. If this is logical, it can be argued that the citation from Irenaeus is the sole foundation upon which the later church fathers base their conclusions. In other words, it is logical that although many other church fathers, living in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, conclude that the Book of Revelation was written late in the 1st century, that their conclusions are all drawn from Irenaeus. In such a case we have only one authority—Irenaeus alone, not the other church fathers who base their understanding upon his testimony.[3]

Moreover, the later authorities coming out of the 3rd and 4th centuries AD seem to overlook what Clement of Alexandria claimed concerning when the whole of the New Testament was written. Notice what Clement wrote:

“For 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”[4].

In other words, the writings of the Apostles (including John’s Gospel, epistles and the Apocalypse) were written between the reigns of Tiberius and Nero, so says Clement of Alexandria. Therefore, as far as “external authorities” are concerned, it comes down to whom we believe of these two: Irenaeus (as his record is usually translated) or Clement of Alexandria. Nevertheless there are other authorities that we can use in determining when the Apocalypse was written:

“In support for the early date, the Syriac version of the New Testament (dating back to the 2nd century A.D.) says the book was written during the reign of Nero. The Muratorian Fragment (170 – 190 A.D.) and the Monarchian Prologues (250 – 350 A.D.) claim that Paul wrote to seven churches following the pattern of John’s example in Revelation, placing the book of Revelation even before some of the Pauline epistles” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12; p. 406).

If John wrote about things that were at hand or near, what should this say about the time John wrote the Book of Revelation? If John wrote cir. AD 95, nothing of consequence occurred shortly thereafter that the Apocalypse might be used to foretell. Nevertheless, if we are to believe the internal witness of the scriptures, the Apocalypse must have been written to alert believers of serious events that were about to occur. They were at hand (Revelation 1:3), meaning that what John wrote would come to pass shortly (Revelation 1:1; cf. Revelation 22:6, 10), and this is what all of the New Testament writers looked for (Romans 13:11; Philippians 4:5; James 5:8-9; 1Peter 4:7; 1John 2:18-19). The Apocalypse, then, if written early in the first century AD could refer only to the events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, which is exactly what Jesus said would occur in this generation – his generation and that of the Apostles (Matthew 23:29-38).

____________________________________

[1] Ecclesiastical History Book 3, chapter 23.

[2] Clement of Alexandria; The Salvation of the Rich Man; paragraph 42

[3] See my argument against accepting Irenaeus’ statement in my study: The Apocalypse and Irenaeus.

[4] Clement of Alexandria: The Stromata; Book 7; Chapter 17

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Apocalypse, Book of Revelation

 

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4 responses to “When Was the Apocalypse Written?

  1. Sean

    January 9, 2019 at 13:29

    Ed, I’ve been reading your blog for sometime, but this is my first comment. The preterist eschatology seems to be the most accurate view on the end times, but I find it odd that most theologians in church history held to a futurist view. In my research I found that the preterist view was first formulated during the counter reformation by a jesuit (i think he was a jesuit). Do you think the dominance of futurist eschatology in the church casts doubt on preterism? I’m sorry if this post is badly worded I find it hard to put my thoughts into text haha.

     
    • Eddie

      January 9, 2019 at 17:18

      Greetings Sean, and thank you for reading my studies, and for taking the time to offer a comment and question or two.

      Concerning the origin of Preterism, I believe you are referring to Jesuit scholar Luis de Alcasar, who published a book: “Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse” in 1614. However, I don’t believe his work is the first on what we call “Preterism” today. In the early third century AD, a man by the name of Origen published a work called “Against Celsus”, which in Book 4 he seems to say the end of the world had already come. If this is true, then so had the Second Coming and the resurrection occurred. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that, while it is always nice to have support from historical figures, it is the Bible, itself, that we must honor above the ideas of men.

      But concerning Origin’s “Against Celsus” (Book 4), in chapter 20 he quotes the philosopher, Celsus, as saying the Jews foretell that a man from God (Christ) is coming in the future to destroy the wickedness of men, just as he did during the deluge (Noah’s Flood), but Christians maintain that he (the Christ) had already come to judge the world and punish wickedness.

      In chapter 21 Origen replies to Celsus’ argument by saying “We do not deny, then the purificatory fire and the destruction of the world took place in order that evil might be swept away, and all things renewed; for we assert that we have learned these things from the sacred books of the prophets.”

      In chapter 22 Origen speaks of the coming of Jesus to the Jews, but they crucified him and in doing so incurred the wrath of God. “And anyone who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation (see Matthew 23:34-36) after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands… Now it has never been recorded, since the Jewish nation began to exist, that they have been expelled for so long a period from their venerable temple-worship and service, and enslaved by more powerful nations; for if at any time they appeared to be abandoned because of their sins, they were notwithstanding visited (by God), and returned to their own country, and recovered their possessions, and performed unhindered the observances of their law.” [all parenthesis above are mine]

      So, Origen equates the overthrow of the Jewish nation (chapter 22) with the “destruction of the world” (chapter 21). When the Jewish nation was destroyed, according to Origen’s understanding of the prophets, “evil was swept away and all things (were) renewed.” So, while we might be able to conclude that the Jesuit scholar, Luis de Alcasar, may have studied Origen, and drew conclusions from him, he, i.e. Luis de Alcasar, is not the author of Preterism. It has been discussed, debated and believed since the writing of the New Testament.

      Did you know that “futurism” is also credited to have begun with the Jesuits?

      Francisco Ribera
      In 1585 Jesuit scholar Francisco Ribera (1537 – 1591) appears. He started the futurist interpretation by publishing a 500-page commentary on the book of Revelation. Ribera took the last “week” (seven day-years) of the 70-week prophecy of Daniel 9:25, divided it into two 3 ½ year periods, and applied it to a future Antichrist, while avoiding any application to the papal system.

      Robert Bellarmine
      Ribera’s views would have fallen away quickly if not for Robert Bellarmine (1542 – 1621), a cardinal who promoted Ribera’s ideas. His lectures were published as Polemic Lectures Concerning the Disputed Points of the Christian Belief Against Heretics of This Time. Froom describes these lectures as “the most detailed apology of the Catholic faith ever produced.” Froom also says they “became the arsenal for all future defenders and expositors.”

      You may find this quote at: Futurism and Preterism: Antichrist’s Dangerous Detours. I’m not certain that I believe that. I would have to investigate it further to say one way or the other. Nevertheless, I put it here to say, we need to be careful about our sources. Anybody can **say** anything, but what does the Bible say?

      Concerning futurism casting doubts upon Preterism, I am unafraid of what the majority believe. If one studies the Bible one would find it clearly stated that the Lord’s followers were always in the minority. You will find several great revivals of truth, but at the end of the day only the “remnant” embraces the truth enough to continue in it.

      Once more, thank you for reading my studies, and if I can be of any more help, don’t hesitate to ‘comment’ again and ask whatever you wish. I may not have a good answer, but I’ll do my best to help out. Lord bless you, Sean.

       
  2. Dave White

    January 8, 2019 at 07:07

    Thank you Eddie for taking this on. I appreciate your careful analysis. I recall that when I came to realize the error of futurist thinking, I actually spent some time mourning! It really does change things.

    It is unfortunate that many have taken the preterist view and claim that all of the promises of salvation are IO (for Israel Only) and have no bearing on us! False prophets exist even within the preterest community!

    At some point I would love to see a ‘statement of faith’ to which you now ascribe. I understand that it may be somewhat in flux as is mine! I find folks that have the scripture all wrapped up in a bow and unwilling to consider other points of view to be sad (especially in church leadership – my church as well!)

    I also want to commend you for the spirit of love that permeates your writings. Even as you refute erroneous beliefs you do it with such grace that I have no doubt that the Spirit of God lives in you. Bless you!

    Dave (BTW, Dave and James are the same guy! James D. White)

     
    • Eddie

      January 8, 2019 at 07:41

      Greetings Dave (James), and thank you for your kind words of encouragement. I must admit that I have no idea concerning the theology of some factions of the Preterist movement within Christianity. The IO idea doesn’t sound like something I would embrace as true. I don’t see IO in anything that Paul has written. Anyway, I think it is simply best to try to understand the Bible step by step as I learn to walk in the new worldview that Christ has already come. Thus far, and in this context, I see nothing that would cause me to believe salvation has to do with Israel only.

      Concerning a statement of faith, I’m not sure anything has changed. My eschatology has changed, of that we can be certain, but I believe in the same God and the same Savior of mankind. How has that changed by my embracing Prterism? Am I missing something?

      Thanks again for reading and for your kind words. Lord bless you.

       

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