Irenaeus’ Support of an Early Date of Revelation
Ironically Irenaeus, who is credited with the one quote that “proves” a late date for Revelation’s writing, also gives us two quotes that support an early dating for its writing as well. The following are the two writings in which these are found: first in his third book, Against Heresies, he mentions that there were “approved and ancient” copies of Revelation during his lifetime; secondly in his fifth book, The Apocalypse of John, while referring to the number of the name of the Antichrist he says, “As these things are so, and this number is found in all the approved and ancient copies.”
By writing these statements Irenaeus was showing that he was aware of copies of Revelation that were circulating during his time. If John did not write Revelation until Domitian’s reign, then how would the believers have had time enough to hand write enough copies to make them readily available for circulation? Also he said they were, “Ancient.” How could copies that were freshly made qualify for a description like that? These clues show us that he had to have been referring to works that had been around long enough for copies to have been made and for those copies to be considered time-tested and trustworthy by the Church of that day. This would have been possible if John had written Revelation before the 70 AD coming.
Don’t be Left Behind; Get the Facts!
Many Futurists claim that since the first century there were few, if any, who believed John wrote Revelation before Jerusalem’s 70 AD destruction. One that believes this is the co-author of the hugely successful Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye. The Washington Times reported on this belief in an article dated January 24, 2002. That article stated, “Mr. LaHaye calls the Preterist interpretation ‘the most ridiculous view of eschatology I’ve ever heard… Historically, the fact is the church has always believed that the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John in 95 AD, 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Consequently, it has to portray future events.’”
LaHaye’s statement simply is not true! History shows that many writers and scholars have attached their name to the belief in an early date for Revelation. This shows that even though LaHaye is acclaimed to be a leading expert on Dispensationalism, and a best selling author on the subject of the “end time,” he doesn’t really know his facts about the history of the book that has helped make him a millionaire—Revelation. The proof of this is found in the fact that there were many voices from the same basic time period as Irenaeus that believed in an early dating of Revelation. The following is a list of some of the more commonly recognized names, from both the past and present that adhere to an early dating of Revelation:
Clement and John’s Journeys (1st Century-101)
Clement’s first account has John traveling to do his apostolic duties after his release from exile. “When after the death of the tyrant he [John] removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit.” (Quoted from his Quis Salvas Dives [Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved?] sec. 42)
In another account he tells of a time when John chased down a young church leader on horseback that had forsaken the faith. He, it said, chased him, “with all his might.” Then when the young man recognized John as his pursuer, he stopped and was ashamed. John then cried, “Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thy father, unarmed, old? Son, pity me.”
Both of these situations would have been quite a test for a man in his 90’s, especially after being banished to the work colony on the isle of Patmos. But if John was a younger man, neither of these would have been that unbelievable.
Some of the better known names who taught that Revelation was written before the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem are:
The Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170)
This document stated, “The blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name.” This says Paul followed John’s example in Revelation (the book that John addresses to seven named churches) when he likewise addressed his epistles to only seven churches. That shows, if it was to be an example for Paul, Revelation must have been penned prior to Paul’s epistles. This we can know for sure because Paul was martyred by Nero and did not live to see a later date.
Epiphanies (A. D. 315-403)
This man states Revelation was written under, “Claudius [Nero] Caesar.” (Epiphanies, Heresies 51:12,) He, like so many others, was not influenced by Irenaeus’ quote to change the date of Revelation’s writing.
Syriac Vulgate Bible (6th century)
“The Apocalypse of St. John, written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Caesar.” (Opening Title for the Book of Revelation) This ancient translation recognizes Nero as being the one who banished John to Patmos. This would have made Revelation’s writing pre-70 AD since Nero died years before that date.
The following is a partial list of many teachers, writings, and scholars who have in the past, or who do now in the present, support an early date for the writing of Revelation. They are as follows:
Early: Clement of Alexandria; Muratorian Canon; Tertullian; Epiphanius; the Syriac versions of Revelation; Arethas; Papias; and the Shepherd of Hermas.
Later: Greg L. Bahnsen; Adam Clarke; F. W. Farrar; John A. T. Robinson; Henry Barclay Swete; Milton S. Terry; Wilhelm Bousset; F. F. Bruce; Rudolf Bultmann; Samuel Davidson; Alfred Edersheim; Johann Eichorn; Joseph A. Fitzmyer; J. B. Lightfoot; C. F. D. Moule; R. C. Sproul; and Augustus H. Strong, just to name a few.
Hal Lindsey, another well-known dispensational late date advocate, would have to disagree with the historians and theologians just mentioned. He would take the word of one man over all these other sources because Lindsey says Irenaeus was, “careful and accurate with facts.” Because of this belief we can also figure that Mr. Lindsey must also believe Irenaeus’ teaching that Jesus lived up to His 40’s or 50’s, even though there are no historical or scriptural evidences to support it.
LaHaye and Lindsey are just examples of the way futurists take a smorgasbord approach to scriptural interpretation by picking only those areas of information, whether extra-biblical or not, that best serve their teachings and bypassing those that don’t agree, regardless of the validity of those they must ignore to do so.
Misquotes, Misunderstandings, and Mistranslations
To add to this quagmire, there is a chance that Irenaeus has been misquoted.
Some Greek scholars have suggested that there is a possibility that Irenaeus wasn’t referring to Domitian but to the first name of Nero, which was very similar. Irenaeus could easily have substituted the name of one emperor for another’s since he wrote his work a century after the fact.
This name change could also have happened due to the nature of the Latin version in which Irenaeus’ quote originates. The translator of Irenaeus could have mistaken one emperor’s name for another in his effort to translate his statement from its original Greek text into Latin.
Also the Latin translations of Irenaeus we have today are not the originals. Many scholars of today and the past have called their accuracy into question. One church historian said that those Latin copies, “have reached us merely through the medium of a wretchedly barbarous and obscure Latin translation.” The Ante-Nicene Fathers add that, “the Latin version adds to these difficulties of the original, by being itself of the most barbarous character…Its author is unknown, but he was certainly little qualified for his task.” Plus the fact is these writings of Irenaeus are NOT God inspired writings at all! They were merely historical accounts that came from a man’s knowledge of the church as he knew it. Since they are only man’s words, they cannot and should not be used as the final authoritative source to date God’s inspired book of Revelation.
History is Inconclusive
From that First Century on we find doctrines that taught that the Apostle John was NOT the writer of Revelation, that there were three gods instead of one, that it was necessary to baptize infants and to change the biblical mode of baptism from immersion to sprinkling, and many others doctrines that were not founded upon the biblical witness of the Bible. This leaves us with the conclusion that many of the extra-biblical historical teachings about Church history are lacking when speaking of infallibility.
With all the confusion and opinions one must wonder how can you know for sure what is scripturally right? There is only one source we can look to that is infallible; there is only one source to which we can all rely—Jesus’ Word—the Bible.
More study to come…
Copyright © 2002 TK Burk. All Rights Reserved