The Author of the Book of Revelation

July 4, 2016 — Leave a comment

This post starts a series through the book of Revelation. Before starting in Revelation 1 I want to give plenty of explanations for the authorship, textual design, interpretation, date, themes, and outlines for the book of Revelation. Today’s post looks at the evidence for and against John being the author of the book of Revelation.

The Author of the Book of Revelation

The author of the book of Revelation is the disciple of Jesus: John the apostle (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). A brief survey of support for John’s authorship of this letter as well as counter arguments follow.

I. EVIDENCE JOHN WROTE REVELATION 

A. Internal Evidence

It is a fair statement to say that evidence that this letter was written by the disciple John solely based on internal evidence is weak. Yet, some internal evidence is shown by the fact that John is known by each of the seven churches and he is fully aware of their situations. The evidence is quite inconclusive, yet there is nothing that would make apostolic authorship impossible.

B. External Evidence

While the internal evidence of John the apostle being the author of Revelation is weak, the external evidence is strong. Here is a brief list of early church fathers which believed John the apostle was the author of Revelation:

  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Hippolytus
  • Irenaeus
  • Justin Martyr
  • Melito
  • Origen
  • Tertullian

All of these second and third century writers reference John the apostle as the author without question or doubt.

Donald Guthrie, in his 1,161 page New Testament Introduction asserts, “There is no need to cite further evidence in support, for there are few books in the New Testament with stronger early attestation” (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 931).

C. Suggestions Based on John’s Gospel

Various inferences can be made to support John’s authorship based on a comparison between John’s gospel and Revelation.

  • John’s messages use the Greek word, λογος, for Christ (John 1:1; Rev 19:13).
  • Christ is described as the Lamb (but with different Greek words: ἀρνίον in Revelation, ἀμνός in the gospel).
  • Figures of speech of waters, springs, etc. are used (John 4:10-14; 7:38; Rev 7:17; 21:6; 22:17).
  • Christ is described as a shepherd (John 10:1; 21:26; Rev 7:17).
  • Both suggest that temples are no longer needed for worship (John 4:21; Rev 21:22).
  • Both have a symbolic allusion to manna (John 6:31; Rev 2:17).

Additionally, there are contrasts between

  • light and darkness,
  • truth and false,
  • the power of God and the power of this world (Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 929-938; Grant Osborne, Revelation, 2-6).

II. EVIDENCE JOHN DID NOT WRITE REVELATION

Most evidence that supports another author other than John is based on the differences between John’s Gospel and the book of Revelation.

“From the latter part of the second century it was assumed that the Fourth Gospel, the letters of John and the book of Revelation were all written by John the son of Zebedee. Nevertheless, from early times it was recognized that there are difficulties in that assumption, notably with respect to the differences between Revelation and the Gospel” (G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Book of Revelation” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. by Ralph Martin and Peter Davids, 1032).

A. Linguistic Differences

Suggestions that John the apostle did not write this book started with Dionysius in the third century. Dionysius’ belief that John the apostle did not write Revelation was based on the differences between the Gospel of John and Revelation. Examples of this, according to Dionysisus are:

  • Misplaced nominatives
  • Irregular use of participles
  • Broken sentences
  • Unnecessary pronouns
  • Mixed genders

Dionysius claims that those are among the linguistic differences between the beautiful Greek of the Gospel of John and the confusing Greek grammar of Revelation.

B. Internal Indications

  • First, nowhere in this book does the author claim to be John the apostle.
  • Second, there are no allusions to the Gospel of John or any indication that the author personally knew Jesus during Jesus’s life on earth.
  • Third, Rev 18:20 and 21:14 seems to reference the period of the apostles as a period as past.

C. Non-Johannine Elements

Some theology displayed in John’s Gospel and his letters appears different than the theology of Revelation. For example,

  • The Gospel of John and John’s first letter focus on God as love; in Revelation the doctrine of God is primarily about God as creator and majesty.
  • In the Gospel of John Jesus is a revealer and renewer; meanwhile in Revelation Christ is the all-conquering Messiah who powerfully rules.
  • The Gospel of John is most interested in the present age; Revelation is focused on the end times (Guthrie, New Testament Introduction,938-945).

III. OTHER AUTHORS

Other theories about who might have written Revelation have been:

  • John the elder
  • John the prophet
  • John the Baptist
  • Cerinthus
  • An intentional pseudonym
  • John Mark (See Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 945-9

IV. CONCLUSION

In my personal opinion, the book of Revelation was written by John the apostle who was the brother of James and disciple of Jesus Christ. Above I have listed all the evidence I could find and believe that the evidence points to the apostle John as the author of the book of Revelation. 

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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