Revealing Revelation – The Late Date Theory Part 2


Since we have already discussed the Internal Evidence in a previous post we will now turn our attention to the strongest and most popular argument for the Late Date theory. The date proposed by the late date advocates is usually around 95 AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian. This argument is based on External Evidence and it directly related to the tradition of the Church and an early Church leader named Ireneaus.

In fact, the totality of Church history’s argument for the later date stem directly from the writings of Ireneaus. It is argued that Ireneaus stated that John saw the vision during Domination’s reign. The argument then states that the majority of the Church history and historians agree that the date should be set at 95 AD under Domitian’s reign. That is a fact I have no problem conceding.

We will deal with the actual statement later in this post, but first let us examine the type of evidence this is and whether it can withstand the scrutiny of deeper reflection. This is a testimony of a Church Father and, a a result, should be dealt with in a respectful and serious tone, but at the same time the placement of one as a Church Father should no necessarily give automatic credence to all that is said. One must use Godly wisdom and a Biblical standard. One must also realize that everyone is a “man of their times” and certain issues will always creep up because of the culture in which someone lives.

Ireneaus lived and wrote in the mid to late 2nd century. He claimed to be a disciple of  Polycarp, who was a disciple of John. He wrote his greatest and most famous work, Against Heresies, in the last 2nd century. This was a work primarily attacking the ideas and philosophy of the Gnostics. It is a truly great work and as a result is given quite a bit of credence when it discusses not only the issue of gnosticism, but other theological and historical issues as well.

Ireneaus put a great deal of emphasis on the deity of Christ, the inspiration of all four Gospels, the importance of Apostolic Teaching and the early discussion of the canonization of the Scriptures. He also, many have argued, claimed that Jesus lived to be about 50 years of age and probably mis-characterized the teachings of Gnostics in many areas, despite their horrific ideology.


Whether or not Ireneaus actually claimed that John saw the vision of the revelation sometime during Domitian’s is up to debate and will be dealt with later in this post, but the fact remains that many, if not most, believe he makes that claim and that is where Church History and Tradition places the vision. But here tradition has the danger of falling into the “poisoned brook” fallacy.

What is the “poisoned brook” fallacy?

Picture something like the old children’s game “telephone.” The first person whispers a name or phrase into the ear of the person sitting next to to them. That person forwards the information, and so on until the original saying is completely different and quite often the opposite of what was originally stated. But what if the roles were reversed?

What if Ireneaus was wrong to begin with and everyone passed along “correctly” the misinformation. This is the poisoned brook fallacy. If someone places poison in a brook halfway or two-thirds of the way downstream the entire brook is not poisoned, just the from the point at which the poison is introduced. But what if the brook is poisoned at the starting point? Then the entire brook is poisoned and the we are guilty of drinking from a poisoned stream, even a 2,000 year old stream.

So, the first problem with the Ireneaus claim is whether the claim itself is accurate. Remember, as we discovered previously, there is little to no Internal Evidence in support of the later date, so the External Evidence must be even stronger to maintain the argument.


We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in the present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.

It should be noted up front that the Greek translation available is choppy at best and quite difficult to get a solid translation from. But even given that the grammatical question is in regards to “who” or “what” was seen? The answer in ambiguous at best. Was it John that was seen, the vision or the fulfillment of the vision?

Since the point of Ireneaus’ statement is in regards to the identity of the Antichrist. John would know the identity and Ireneaus states that John did not divulge the information even though either he or the vision was recently seen. So, how would the recency of the vision impact the necessity of divulging the identity of the beast? Could the “vision” give the information because of a closer proximity to Ireneaus’ time? Or is it better understand that John was around even up until the time of Domitians (close to Ireneaus’ time) and chose not to divulge the information (at least to Ireneaus’ knowledge).

The latter makes more sense since the vision itself could not divulge the information, only John could, especially since he lived so near to Ireneaus’ time. This is coupled with the fact that previously in the same statement Ireneaus’ refers to the “copies” of the revelation as “ancient.” He is not stating that the autographa (original) should be considered “ancient” and “reliable” but that the COPIES were to be considered ancient. This would lead one to believe those copies had to be more than just a couple decades old to be considered “ancient.”

This is by far the very best argument the late date proponent has. It is a good and reliable case, but not one that is iron clad. When you couple that with the very weak and limited Internal Evidence one must at least consider the opposing view before determining matter of factly to the better of the two arguments.

That is the direction to which we will next turn.


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