When speaking of the authorship of any one of the books of the Bible, we must always bear in mind that we can speak of a twofold authorship of each book. Scripture is the word of God and in no sense is it the word of man; yet it pleased God to have His Word recorded for us through the instrumentality of men in the way of organic inspiration. Therefore we can speak of a primary and a secondary authorship. The primary authorship of every book of the Bible must be ascribed to God, but the secondary authorship is to be ascribed to some man whom God chose, prepared, inspired, illumined and moved to record His Word in human language. These human authors number forty or more. The exact number cannot with certainty be stated. In the book of Psalms you have more than one author. It is debated whether Paul is the author to the Epistle to the Hebrews or some other apostle or evangelist. Similarly it must be determined whether the Gospel according to John, the Epistles of John and the Revelation of John are written by the same man. There is not agreement either on the authorship of this book of Revelation, and it is interesting to consider the arguments for and against the common conception that the Apostle John is the author.
If we were to ask the question, “To whom must the authorship of the book of Revelation be ascribed?” we would have to answer in the light of the above that the primary authorship is to be ascribed to God while the secondary authorship is to be attributed to a certain John. However we feel that when we are assigned the topic, “The Authorship Of The Book Of Revelation,” our essay is meant to be one on the human or secondary authorship of the book of Revelation. There is and can be no dispute about the primary authorship unless it would be presented by the unbeliever who denies that the Bible either whole or in part is the Word of God. In verse one we read very plainly that it is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him.” There is no argument possible then that this is not the Word of God. If our essay were meant to serve the purpose of refuting the stand that this book is not the Word of God, we feel that we would not be assigned to write about the authorship of just one book of the Bible and that a different title would be chosen and so worded to indicate that we must show that the book of Revelation is the Word of God. On the other hand the secondary authorship of this book of Revelation is and has been debated for quite some time. We will therefore present to you in this essay the arguments for and against the view that this book was written by the Apostle John.
The authorship of the book of Revelation has been ascribed to no less than three men named John: namely, the Apostle John, John Mark and a certain elder named John. Those who hold to the view that the author of this book is a certain elder named John deny also that the epistles of John were written by the Apostle John and maintain that both the epistles and the book of Revelation were written by this elder named John. They base their contention on the fact that in neither of these books does the author claim to be the Apostle John. In the Epistles he merely identifies himself as “The elder” and in the book of Revelation merely “John.”
Besides being attributed to one of these three men called John there was also a sect that attributed the authorship of this book to Cerinthus. We dismiss this view immediately for in the fourth verse the author plainly identifies himself as John.
That the Apostle John was the author was first denied by Dionysius of Alexandria. Before his time the authorship was ascribed to the Apostle. It was Luther who in later years expressed his conviction that the Apostle was not the author and who diffused this stand through his influence.
- The first argument that is raised against the Apostle being the author is that the author merely calls himself John and in verse nine of chapter one presents himself as their brother and companion. Still more conclusive they maintain is the fact that he is called the “servant” of Christ in the first verse of chapter one.
- The second argument raised is that the author of this book sees in the twenty-first chapter twelve foundations to the new Jerusalem and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Were the author of this book the Apostle John, then he would see his own name and himself among the four and twenty elders before God’s throne. This would be impossible it is maintained for John was yet alive and on this earth.
- Thirdly it is stated that the style of writing displayed in this book is very different from that in both the Gospel according to John and the Epistles of John.
- A fourth argument is that when John states in chapter one verse nine that he was on the Isle of Patmos “for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ,” this does not mean that he was banished to this Isle as a form of persecution because he preached the Word of God and testified of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is contended, does this mean that God brought John to this Isle that he might receive these visions and the testimony of Jesus Christ in order to record it for the Church. He was not banished because he testified of Christ but God sent him there in order that he might testify of Him. He was not exiled because he preached the Word of God but God sent him there in order that he might become the secondary author of this portion of the Word of God. Such is the interpretation of this verse according to this view. You feel at once that all four of these arguments are very weak and that not one of them proves that the Apostle John is not the author of this book. AI- thought these arguments may cause one to hesitate a moment and consider the matter, not one of these arguments is strong enough to cause us to conclude that the author could not possibly be the Apostle John.
These four grounds in the first place certainly do not prove that the author is John Mark. Neither do they prove that a certain elder by the name of John wrote it. They are attempts to discredit the Apostle as the author but in no way do they bring anything positive.
That John merely calls himself “John” is not an argument against ascribing the authorship to the Apostle. Rather is it quite a strong argument for maintaining that it is the Apostle. Consider once that the author writes to the seven churches which are in Asia. The author knows that these seven churches will know who he is. Now whom would you suggest as the one most apt to be known by these churches? Would you not think of the Apostle before you would think of John Mark or some elder in Jerusalem. If there were another John which these churches knew so well, in fact so much better than the Apostle John, would we not expect to hear just a little about him somewhere else in the New Testament? This certainly does not prove that it cannot be the Apostle.
The same thing is true of the expressions he uses to identify himself. To be brief let it be stated that the Apostle would be very correct to state that he is a “brother and companion” with the church. Likewise would the Apostle himself be the last one to deny that he is a “servant” of Christ. It may also be pointed out that Paul declares of himself in the Epistle to the Romans that he is a “servant of Jesus Christ.” Neither is it true that Paul always designates himself as an apostle. In neither his Epistle to the Philippians, his first and second Epistles to the Thessalonians nor his Epistle to Philemon does he mention his apostleship. In Philippians one he again calls himself a “servant of Jesus Christ.”
Another fact to remember is that there is no peed for John to make mention of his apostle ship in this book. What he writes, he explains in verse one of chapter one, is the Revelation of Jesus Christ which He gave to His servant John. He is not writing an Epistle to rebuke or warn the church as Paul does in his Epistles. When one does this, he finds need of making mention of his apostleship that his word may be respected as being sent by God. Now when John records what Jesus revealed unto him, this is not necessary. In fact what John declares in verse one of chapter one commands far more respect to his writing than could ever be accomplished by calling attention to his apostleship.
That the style of writing is different is to be expected since it is not an epistle or an account of Jesus works while in the flesh but a record of the visions he has seen and of the words he has heard. Even those who present this argument that the style differs from the Gospel according to John and from that of the Epistles of John admit that the difference of style is not conclusive evidence that it was not written by the Apostle.
Neither does the fact that the Apostle would be seeing his own name in the foundation of the new Jerusalem make it impossible for him to be the author of this book. What John sees is a vision and there are many other things which have not yet taken place which have not yet taken place which John was privileged to see in a vision.
The attempt to read verse nine of chapter one in such a way that John is on the Isle of Patmos to be able to write this testimony of Jesus is but an attempt to refute the tradition that John the Apostle was on the Isle of Patmos as a form of persecution meted out to him by Domitian. It does not prove this tradition to be false and is a forced translation of verse nine for it does not take into account the fact that John states plainly that he was a “companion in tribulation” with the church of that day which was suffering under the persecution of Domitian. Even if one wants to read the passage to mean that he was there in order to write this testimony of Jesus Christ, it does not deny that God caused Domitian to inflict this form of persecution upon John that he might receive and write this testimony of Christ.
In our mind it is firmly established that the Apostle John is the author of this book and we see no reason for thinking otherwise.