Revealing Revelation – The Late Date Theory Part 1

24Mar11

We will begin our examination of the dating of the book of Revelation with the common, traditional and most widely accepted view. The view is so commonly accepted that I would wager if you were to grab the nearest popular Study Bible and turn to the “dating” section of the book of Revelation it will state that the late date is simply the de facto  view and little consideration will be given to the opposing proposition.

This has been the historic view of the Church since the early 300’s AD and has been the “popular” view. It should be noted that the view is not and was not exclusively held. There have always been those who have argued for the earlier date, but they have continued to be in the minority. It should also be noted that the late date, though remaining the primary view of scholars, has been losing influence and it does not maintain the overwhelming popularity it previously possessed.

This view places the dating of the book and John’s vision around 95AD under the reign of Domitian. As a result it places the events described into the future starting with 95AD and most would argue that those events are yet to be fulfilled. This is the view of nearly all futurist, especially Dispensationalist. It should be pointed out, though, that there many preterist who believe the book is primarily about the fall of Rome and maintain the late dating of the book as accurate.

INTERNAL EVIDENCE

There are four basic Internal Arguments used by the Late Date advocates. We will look at these four arguments and then give the critical response before moving on to the External Evidence arguments. This is because the reader will find that the Internal Evidence is rather weak while the External Evidence arguments is primarily the leg the chair rests upon.

  • Late Date advocates argue that Emperor Worship at the magnitude described did not exist until the time of Domitian
  • They note the spiritual decline of the churches in revelation and argue that the decline is too severe for such a short period of time.
  • There is doubt whether there was even a church in Smyrna at the time of Nero’s reign. This comes as a result of a letter by Polycarp stating the Smyrnan’s did not know Paul or the Gospel in the 50’s AD.
  • History does not appear to support a Neronic persecution of Christians beyond the city of Rome.

INTERNAL EVIDENCE CRITIQUE

EMPEROR WORSHIP

The first argument has been losing water for quite some time despite it still being employed. The reason being archaeological evidence now shows that Emperor Worship was clearly practiced well before the time of Domitian and began as early as Julius himself. Below is a review of some of the bullet points previously discussed on Emperor Worship.

  • Emperor worship started as early as Julius Caesar – Jupiter Julius
  • Augustus denied worship of himself in Rome but demanded it elsewhere
  • 11 cities in Asia fought for the right to build a temple to Tiberius
  • Gaius (Caligula) had his head placed on statues of Jupiter and demanded the same salute given to Jupiter to apply to him
  • The senate voted Claudius a god, but Nero had it annulled

NERO

  • Called himself Apollo at the urging of Seneca and had himself appear as Apollo on coins
  • Suetonius claims Nero called himself Hercules
  • Nero had a statue of himself placed in the Temple of Mars
  • Carvings referring to Nero as “God and Savior” are found in Ephesus, Salamis and Cyprus
  • Province governors were expected to bow before his statues and artistic renderings when they paraded before them

So, as can be seen, Emperor Worship was employed well before the time of Domitian.

SPIRITUAL DECLINE

I have always found this argument to be odd. Why should we doubt the great spiritual decline of the churches described in Revelation? Is it that hard to believe that in ten, fifteen or twenty years a church could experience the kind of decline pictured in the letters to the seven churches?

One should only take a look around their own community to see once vibrant churches that are now physically and spiritually dead. A debate over the kind of hymnal, color of the carpet and whether to have a video projector can cause a church split so why should the influences of first century troubles like the Judiazers, Gnostics and heretics infiltrating the early church be any less of a problem. This was also at a time when the amount of printed works were limited and teaching was constantly suspect. In fact, Scripture itself points out these very problems.

2 Corinthians 11:4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

Galatians 1:7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel

It is by no means difficult to accept the fact that the Churches in question would be experiencing great decline. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written soon after visiting the city and he writes that they had already deserted the faith!

SMRYNA

The issue with Smyrna is that Polycarp’s letter noted that they did not Paul or the Gospel. This was in the mid 50’s AD it is believed. But even the most ardent late date theorist admits that a church was founded in Smyrna by 64 AD at the very latest. It could have been earlier. Either way, note that Smyrna is not rebuked, but rather encouraged through her suffering as those around her slandered and persecuted her. This would make even more sense to a new Church where in Ephesus the charge is leaving her first love, a charge not unlike Paul’s charge leading Paul to leave Timothy in Ephesus to care and teach this struggling Church.

NERONIC PERSECUTION

It is argued that the persecution of Nero did not extend beyond the borders of the city or Rome and the outlining areas. There are two responses to this argument that must be noted.

  • Like the book of Acts showed, the persecution of the early Church was not necessarily at the hands of the Roman government, but most often came at the hands of the Jews. If the book of Revelation is about the two great persecutors of the church it is no stretch to assume this includes the Jewish persecution as well.
  • The Neronic persecution possibly described need not extend beyond Rome’s borders for the book to accurately describe the impact. The seven churches were facing persecution at the hands of the Jews and at the hands of the Roman government through the mandates determined in the city of Rome. We see this taking place even in Jerusalem as well as  elsewhere when the hand of Rome extended through the work of the apostate Jews.

Acts 4:1-3 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them…[3] And they arrested them and put them in custody

2 Cor. 11:24-25 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned…

Acts 5:17-18 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy [18] they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.

Acts 12:1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.

Even Herod was involved in this persecution. We are even told that when Herod saw the positive response he received from the Jews when he persecuted the early Christians he increased the level of persecution. The same is aid to have been the actions of Nero.

  • Paul referred to being in his presence as “escaping the lions mouth”
  • Clement l wrote in the first century that the Christians were “slain, tortured and suffered inhuman indignities”
  • Eusubius declared “Nero was the first of the emperors to show himself an enemy of the divine religion”
  • Severus claims Nero “was the first to try and abolish the name of Christian”
  • Suetonius wrote that Nero “punished and afflicted the Christians…”

Tacitus listed the following punishments

  • Wrapped in animal skins and ripped apart by dogs
  • Lit on fire while crucified
  • Drawn and quartered
  • De-boweled while alive
  • Impaled with a pole, tarred and lit on fire to light his garden parties
  • Sawn in two with palm branches
  • Blamed Rome’s fire on the Christians leading to intense persecution starting in late November 64 AD lasting to his death in early June 68 AD – 42 months
  • Those directly impacted included Peter and Paul
  • John was exiled, tarred and feathered and boiled in oil

So, suffice it to say that the Neronic persecution was both intense and widespread. This, coupled with the persecution at the hand of the Jews, makes this possibly the weakest of the four Internal Evidence arguments. One last note on this topic, it is now believed that the persecution under Domitian was actually quite limited and not severe in any way comparable, with banishment being the primary judgment.

Next we will look at the strongest argument for the Late Date advocates, the External Evidence of history and tradition.

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8 Responses to “Revealing Revelation – The Late Date Theory Part 1”

  1. I have read some of Ireneaus’ work on Gnostism. What weird things people believed. Sounds like Demonic activity to me.

    I have a question for you. I would like to know what your thoughts are about my new blog entry about false teachers and false preachers.

    http://777denny.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/woe-to-false-teachers-and-preachers-woe-to-them-that-follow-their-teachings/

    I have another one if you care to read it also.

    http://777denny.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/grapejuice-evangelicalism-versus-jesus-christ-the-gift-of-eternal-life/

    Thank you for listening,
    777denny

  2. 2 Tom

    Can you provide a scholastic source for “late November, 64” being the initial date of the Nero persecution?

    • 3 low5point

      In July of 64 AD the great fire of Rome took place. Some initial reported by historians Seutonius pointed to Nero as the possible instigator of the fire. Tacitus claims that beginning in November of that same year Nero began to persecute the Christians who he was passing the blame on to.

      “to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace” (Tacitus XV)

  3. 4 Tom

    I see nothing in Tacitus XV that indicates the persecution started in November. Am I missing it somehow?

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Tacitus/Annals/15B*.html#44

    • 5 low5point

      The timing is based on Tacitus’ surrounding descriptions of events at roughly the same time and soon after the first related actions of nero. But for a list of those who propose the same date for the beginning of the persecution the following contemporary author’s works are in agreement.

      Before Jerusalem Fell – Gentry
      Apocalypse Code – Hannegraaf
      Postmillennialism – Mathison
      Last days According to Jesus – Sproul
      Millennium – Boettner
      Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary
      Days of Vengeance – Chilton
      Back to the Future – Dr. Bass
      Four Views On Revelation – Ed. Pate

      Commentators and historians, noted, quoted and footnoted from sources above and essays available on internet with similar and extended documentation. The genral acceptance of this date is obvious with even a limited search on the net

      Apocalypse – Moses Stuart
      Textbook of Ecclesiastical History – Gieseler
      Persecution – Rutherford
      The Christian testimony Throughout the Ages – Carron
      Handbook of Church History… – Green
      The Two Empires – Westcott
      early Church history to the Death of constantine – Backhouse
      Church History Vol 1 – Van Antwerp
      The Ancient Church – Killen
      A Church history of the First Seven Centuries – Mahan
      The story of the Church – Johnson, Hannan and Dominica
      Cathlolic Encyclopedia of history – Hassatt
      The persecuting Emperors – Galli
      The early Christian church – carrington
      readings In early Church History – Davis
      Nero: Emperor In Revolt – Grant
      Nero: The Singing Emperor of rome – Weigall

  4. 6 Tom

    I appreciate all the information. I will look those up; although, I have to say that trying to establish November as the precise start month of the Nero persecution is rather tenuous without the direct witness of the Roman historians.

    At first glance, I didn’t see anything in the surround text of Annals XV to suggest a November date. If the July 19, 64 date is valid, and a professor I contacted from Univ Chicago says he’s seen no ancient text supporting that, it seems reasonable to speculate some time had to pass before Nero began his rebuilding project and people began to spread the rumor that Nero burned Rome.

    Point is, this date is mere speculation unless a good argument can be established from Tacitus, Dio or Suetonius or even the early church fathers. Maybe you could save me some time and direct me to that specific contemporary argument. Without such an argument, contemporary authors would be guilty of pure speculation, so their opinion would be nebulous.

    Honestly, it almost seems as if November was conveniently selected because contemporary Preterists like how it fulfills the Rev. 13 expectation of the beast, being 42 months from the date of Nero’s death. I’d like to verify that that isn’t the case.

  5. 7 Tom

    Yes, I can see further down the book (Tacitus, Annals XV–chapter 47), there is a reference to “at the close of the year”. This places the persecution somewhere between July 18 + 6 days and “the close of the year.” Not exact, but bounded at least in the ancient transcript.

  6. 8 Tom

    The July 19 date is verified by Tacitus Book XV. Since it’s a chronological narrative, and 64 CE is mentioned earlier in the narrative, the persecution first began sometime between July 25, 64 CE and just before the “close of the year”. If the events mentioned in Annals between those bounds can be cross referenced with the same events in Dio or Suetonius to obtain a date for those, the end date boundary may be reduced leftward in the chronology.


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