Page images

metaphors by the help of the Old Testament. He must studs diligently to learn how the prophets used them. This of all helps is the best. And if an honest inquirer after Bible truth will, in the first place, prepare himself in this manner, he will see many difficulties vanish, which at first appeared to him insurmountable; and although he may not understand every part, he will understand enough to repay him richly for all his pains. We do not suppose

that we can now understand the book as well as those to whom it was originally addressed ; nor do we think it can do us as much good as perhaps it did them. But by the help of other parts of the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments, it may become profitable to us, and is therefore worthy of our serious attention and regard.




One of the most important questions concerning the Apocalypse is, at what time was it written? It is generally supposed to have been written by St. John the apostle, although there are not wanting those who incline to a different opinion. If written by him, (which has been inquired into in another place,) it must have been done sometime between the crucifixion of our Lord and the death of the apostle. The principal matter of interest is, was it written previously to the destruction of Jerusalem ? If not written until after that event, it seems to form an exception to all the books of the New Testament which treat of the fall of that city. The warnings, the metaphors, which occur in the other

parts of the New Testament, and which are unquestionably applied to the destruction of Jerusalem, occur also in the Apocalypse; and we have no help from any part of the New Testament in the application of these warnings and metaphors, unless the Apocalypse was written previously to that event. The question, then, as to the date, is one of great interest, and cannot too closely engage the attention of any person who desires to understand the book.

The learned editor of the “ Universalist Expositor” published an article on the Apocalypse, in which, although it occupies less than a dozen pages of that work, he treats of the three highly important topics, the authenticity, the date, and the meaning. When he comes to the second topic, he says,

Admitting, then, that St. John was probably the author of the Apocalypse, when was it written? Were we to judge solely from the allusions of the book itself, we should answer, at once, before the destruction of Jerusalem ; but if from the balance of mere historical testimony, such as it is, we should place its date after that event, and about the year 96. This testimony, however, is not of the most unquestionable character. Eusebius, in the fourth century, is the first to mention the time of St. John's banishment to Patmos, where he saw the Revelation; and he refers it, on what authority we know not, to the reign of Domitian, and adds that he was liberated on the accession of the emperor Nerva, which took place A. D. 96. There is indeed an ambiguous passage in an earlier and more competent witness, Irenæus, which has been generally understood to authenticate this statement, and to as

sert that the Revelation was seen at the end of Domitian's reign : } but Wetstein and Rosenmuller contend that the language relates

to the time when St. John himself lived, and not to the period of his vision. These are all the historical notices concerning the date of the book which are of any importance, for the statements of Jerome are probably founded on those of Eusebius; and as to the contrary representations sometimes quoted from Epiphaniu who refers it back to about the year 50, nobody acquainted wit the romancing habit of this writer ought to attach the least weig to them.” So far the editor of the Expositor. He evidently in clined to the opinion that the Apocalypse was written before th destruction of Jerusalem ; but he allowed that the balance of his torical testimony would place it about A. D. 96.

As to the relative weight which is to be given to the balance of historical testimony, on the one side, or the indications as to the date of the Apocalypse, which we find in the book itself, or the other, we decide in favor of the latter. The one is the unde signed testimony afforded by the writer himself; the other is that of other men, living at a distance of time from him, liable to be misinformed, to misunderstand language, and to mislead many others. Thus, the testimony of one man, having no very strong ground himself, perhaps, for the correctness of his opinion, goes by tradition, or record, to others, who help to swell the number of authors in defence of some position; and yet, after all, we have the testimony of only one man; and that we have, not from his own lips, or pen, but from the repetitions of others. We feel, therefore, a much stronger confidence in the internal evidences which the Apocalypse furnishes of its date, than we do in the historical testimony. It is for this reason, we think, that the number of those who believe that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem is steadily increasing, among men of sound learning. Professor Stuart has added the weight of his great learning and influence to the support of that opinion. Some few years ago, in his work entitled “Hints on Prophecy,” he showed very clearly that the internal evidences proved the book to have been written previously to the fall of Jerusalem ; and in his more recent and larger work on the Apocalypse, he has expressed the opinion more fully and decidedly. It is highly probable that as the true intent of that book is more and

more developed, the opinion will become more generally embraced.'


In respect to the historical testimony, the first thing which strikes the mind of the inquirer is, that it is contradictory. Irenæus, who is the most ancient authority we have upon the subject, seemed to think that the Apocalypse made its appearance about the end of Domitian's reign, say A. D. 95. Epiphanius said repeatedly that John wrote the Revelation during the time of Claudius, the predecessor of Nero; and if this be true, it must have been written before A. D. 54. Tertullian, and after him Jerome, are supposed to have taught, that John was banished to Patmos during the reign of Nero; and in the Syriac version of the Apocalypse, the title-page explicitly declares, that it was written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Cæsar. If the Apocalypse was written during the reign of Nero, it was but a few years before the Jewish war; and it would render very natural the language of that book in respect to the immediateness of the threatened judgments.

1 See “Hints on Prophecy,” 2d Edit., Andover, 1842, pp. 108–151, especially pp. 111-113; and also his large work on the Apocalypse, vol. i., 263— 282. Among other writers who have supposed the book to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, may be mentioned Sir Isaac Newton, in his “Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John ;" London, 1733; Dr. Hammond, in his Commentary ; the learned Lightfoot's works, (edited by J. R. Pitman, London, 1825, vol. iii., pp. 331— 371, and various other places; Bp. Thomas Newton, in his Dissertations on the Prophecies, London, 1832, pp. 444–447; and to these we are told we may add the authorities of Grotius, Wetstein, Eichorn, and many other learned men. The opinion is now becoming more and more general, that the Apocalypse was written previously to the destruction of Jerusalem. Dr. Adam Clarke, in closing his notes on the Apocalypse, says, “ I think the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and not in 95 or 96, the date I follow in the margin; which date I give, not as my own opinion, but the opinion of others.”— [See the paragraph at the end of his Commentary on the New Testament.]

Irenæus, it will be remembered, did not live until about a cei tury after St. John. The language of that father does not see to be intended to define the time when the Apocalypse was wri ten, so much as the time of its first appearance so far as he knes The words are these : “ The Apocalypse was seen, not long ago but almost in our generation, near the end of Domitian's reign. Supposing Irenæus here to have intended that the Apocalypse, s far as he knew, did not appear until near the end of Domitian' reign, would this prove that it was not written until that time or that none others had seen it until then? We think not. The passage quoted from Irenæus is evidently ambiguous; some authors take one view of it, and some another. Whether he meant that John had his vision near the end of Domitian's reign, or that the Apocalypse first came to light at that time, so far as he knew, we cannot tell. If the latter, it is entirely consistent with the fact asserted on the title-page of the Syriac version, viz., that John was banished to Patmos in the time of Nero. Eusebius, who lived about one hundred years after Irenæus, has left the same testimony; but he evidently quoted from him. As to the assertion of Epiphanius, that John wrote the Revelation during the reign of Claudius, all the critics speak lightly of his authority, except Hammond, who thinks there are strong reasons for believing him. Epiphanius contended with the Montanists, who maintained, against the credibility of the book of Revelation, that there was no church at Thyatira at the time the Apocalypse was said to have been written. Epiphanius, therefore, was under a temptation, if we may so speak, to put the date later rather than earlier than others. In placing it in the reign of Claudius, therefore, he must have stated what he believed to be true, because his success with the Montanists would have been subserved if he had placed it later.

To sum up the historical testimony, “ It is plain that an ancient tradition existed, and was propagated through succeeding

« PreviousContinue »