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2.9 - Authorship Listen to Authorship

When one considers the contribution of the book of Revelation to the completion of the canon, its prophetic emphasis, and its teaching concerning controversial doctrines,1 it is not surprising to find opposition to the book throughout its history. This opposition has centered in an attack upon its canonicity in conjunction with a denial of its apostolic authorship.2

As we discussed previously, the style of writing of the original Greek text raised additional questions as to the authorship of the book. The primary reason given for rejecting John the Apostle as author is the style of the Greek.

Here we should mention that the entire area of textual and New Testament criticism is fraught with difficulties in lack of objectivity. “The subject presents one of these questions in New Testament criticism in which mental bent, apart from the bias of prejudgment, is chiefly influential in determining the conclusion reached.”3 Critics often come to the subject with preconceptions which result in an underemphasis on objective evidence in favor of overemphasis on subjective evidence.

An example of objective evidence would be external evidence such as the testimony of early Church Fathers as to the authorship. Subjective evidence usually consists of internal evidence derived from an analysis of the text itself. The problem with internal textual evidence, as used in textual criticism, is that it is highly malleable and easily conformed to the biases of the critic. Johnson recognizes the contribution which presuppositions play in the conclusions reached and notes how unfruitful textual analysis has been in attempting to shed light on the authorship of the book:

The evidence that allegedly argues against a single author revolves around a number of internal difficulties. These fall into four categories: (1) the presence of doublets—the same scene or vision described twice; (2) sequence problems—persons or things introduced seemingly for the first time when in fact they had already been mentioned; (3) seeming misplaced verses and larger sections; and (4) distinctive content within certain sections that does not fit the rest of the book. In each case, however, there are satisfying alternative explanations. In fact, the difficulties just named stem more from the reader’s presuppositions than from the text itself. Dissection of the text has been notoriously unfruitful in yielding further light on the book itself. [emphasis added]4

Guthrie makes the pithy observation regarding Dionysius’ attack on Johannine authorship: “In this Dionysius foreshadowed, as a man born before his due time, those modern schools of criticism which have peopled early Christian history with a whole army of unknown writers, whose works attained as great a prominence as their authors obtained obscurity.”5 As Guthrie has noted, the critics would have us believe that works of great prominence, such as the book of Revelation, accepted as part of the canon, must have been written by one or more obscure authors now lost to the mists of history. The critical tendency has become so prevalent and applied so widely to biblical texts that proving that the book of Revelation somehow differs essentially from John’s Gospel no longer provides the conclusion that it’s author can’t be John! “Dissimilarity with the Gospel neither proves nor disproves the apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse (since more often than not the Gospel is held by modern critics to be the work of someone other than John the apostle)” [emphasis added]6 .

When approaching the issue of the authorship of the book of Revelation, we should bear these two factors in mind: First, greater emphasis should be placed on the testimony of the early church (objective evidence) than analysis of internal factors within the text (subjective evidence); Second, attacks upon the Apostolic authorship are often coupled with an attempt to discredit the book and an attendant opposition to its doctrines (e.g., its Jewish emphasis, a literal millennium).


Notes

1 e.g., the existence, timing, and nature of the Millennium and the description of a future time of catastrophic events coming upon the earth.

2 “The determining factor in New Testament canonization was inspiration, and the primary test was apostolicity . . . If it could be determined that a book had apostolic authority, there would be no reason to question its authenticity or veracity.”—Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), 283.

3 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 354.

4 Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 7.

5 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 5.

6 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 29.


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