« PreviousContinue »
DISSERTATION THE FIRST.
ON THE OPINIONS DELIVERED BY ECCLESIASTICAL WRITERS RESPECTING THE DATE OF THE APOCALYPSE.
To ascertain the true date of the Apocalypse is, as will be shown hereafter, a subject of much greater importance than at first view most people may imagine. Critics are by no means agreed as to the time when it was written: indeed they differ so widely, that some make it one of the earliest, while others make it the last published book of the New Testament. Grotius and Sir Isaac Newton ascribe it to the reign of Claudius or of Nero. Mill, Lardner, Bengelius, Woodhouse and some other able critics contend that it was written in the reign of Domitian, A. D. 96 or 97. Michaelis believes
that it was written in the reign of Claudius,' who died A. D. 54. and appeals to Sir Isaac Newton, "that prodigy of learning," whose arguments in favor of an early date he considers as generally unexceptionable, (excepting those drawn from allusions to the Revelation, alleged to be found in the first Epistle of Peter, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews.) "I have so high "an opinion (says he) of the divine under"standing of Newton, that I cannot flatter my"self with having discovered a proof in his positions which was undiscovered by him. "It is therefore with some diffidence that I lay "before my readers some additional arguments "for his opinion, that the Revelation was writ"ten so early as in the time of Claudius or "Nero." His additional arguments are:-1. That when the Apocalypse was written, the governors of the church were still called Angels, a name nowhere else applied to them in the New Testament or in the writings of the primitive fathers. In the Epistles they are called Bishops [ἐπίσκοποι]. "Is it probable (says he) "that John would choose to be singular in calling those Angels [ayyeλ01], who had, by "custom, obtained a different title? May we
Introductory Lectures 1761. 4to. p. 389. But in his 4th Edition (Marsh's Translation 1793. 8vo. Vol. 4.) he seems to hesitate, whether to ascribe it to the reign of Claudius or that of his successor Nero.
"not then conclude, that his Revelation was "written before the title of Bishops was in "use?"-2. That the Revelation mentions no heresy as flourishing at that time, except only the sect of the Nicolastans: "this sect ex"isted long before Cerinthus, and as John wrote "his Epistle and his Gospel against Cerinthus, "between the years 65 and 68, the Revelation "must have been written considerably earlier." His third argument he rests on what is said respecting Christ coming quickly, (ch. xxii, 20) which he considers as not having reference to the second coming of Christ to the general Judgment, but to the judgment impending over Jerusalem: alleging that John so uses the phrase in his Gospel (ch. xxi, 22); that therefore, it seems probable, the same sense was intended in the Revelation; and that, consequently, "the Revelation must have been written before "the destruction of Jerusalem."-Of all the arguments adduced by Newton, none appears more cogent to Michaelis than that which is drawn from the Hebrew style of the Revelation; from which the former concludes, that John
'Michaelis is mistaken in his belief, that the term Angel is applied to the Presbyters in the Apocalypse only. It is Presbyters, and not spiritual beings, who are alluded to by that term in the Epistle to the Colossians ii. 18. He is right, however, in his general conclusion. The title of Bishop had come into general use long before the year 96.
must have written the book shortly after he left Palestine, because his style, in a later part of his life, was pure and fluent Greek.
Bishop Newton also thinks it more probable that John was banished to Patmos in the time of Nero, than in that of Domitian. Like Michaelis he rests his opinion chiefly on the evidence adduced by the great Newton, to whom he refers both in his text and notes. The style appears to him an unanswerable argument that the book was written soon after John had come out of Judea. He not only (contrary to the opinion of Michaelis on this point) considers the allusions to the Revelation in the Epistles of Peter, and in Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, to which Sir Isaac had referred, as being correct, but answers a possible objection, that St. John
might borrow from St. Peter and St. Paul, as ' well as St. Peter and St. Paul from St. John:'"If you will consider (says he) and compare "the passages together, you will find sufficient "reason to be convinced that St. Peter's and "St. Paul's are the copies, and St. John's the original."
Lardner, on the contrary, opposes the arguments drawn by Sir Isaac Newton from the bearing of ancient testimony; and, taking it for granted that John had been banished, concludes, that he and other exiles did not return from
their banishment until after the death of Domitian, (who died in 96); which is the opinion of Basnage, and likewise of Cellarius and others; and that the Revelation was written in the year 95, 96, or 97.
From the best examination that I have been able to give to this question, I have arrived at a different conclusion from those who contend for a late date for the Apocalypse. I think with Grotius, and with Michaelis, (if that continued to be his opinion,) that it was written in the time of Claudius ;—or, at all events, not later than the reign of Nero, as maintained by Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Newton, and others.
Before submitting to the reader. the evidence on which I have come to this conclusion, I shall state briefly the substance of Ecclesiastical tradition, respecting the time at which the Apocalypse was written;—and, secondly, the arguments which have been drawn from the supposed state of the Asiatic churches, with a view to the settlement of this question.