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9.1. Apostolic Authorship Opposed

Opposition to the Apostolic authorship of the book of Revelation was initiated because its teachings were thought to be incompatible with the rest of the New Testament or to be too Jewish in emphasis. A Roman presbyter by the name of Caius who held the book of Revelation to be inconsistent with other parts of the New Testament first attributed the authorship to Cerinthus rather than John the Apostle. Caius’ criticisms were refuted by Hippolytus, but the issue was not put to rest. 1

Marcion, a second-century Gnostic, who rejected much of the New Testament because of his anti-Semitic stance, also rejected the book of Revelation holding that its authorship was not apostolic.2

By the middle of the third century, opposition to apostolic authorship had also arisen from Dionysius the Great, the bishop of Alexandria. Although he felt that the book was inspired, his opposition to millenarianism (the belief in a literal one thousand-year kingdom on earth, Rev. Rev. 20:4+) was thought to have been one of the key factors which brought about his denial of apostolic authorship.3 Dionysius also based his rejection of apostolic authorship upon an analysis of the differences between the text of the book of Revelation and that of John’s Gospel. Thomas has since shown that Dionysius’ analysis was flawed.4 As bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius had great influence and his conclusions were to color the acceptance of the book of Revelation as part of the canon within the eastern church for years to come. (We discuss this in greater depth in our treatment of the acceptance of the book of Revelation into the canon.)

Eusebius followed Dionysius in rejecting apostolic authorship and attributed the authorship to a different John.5 Eusebius believed that Papias’s mention of a “John the Elder” identified a different John at Ephesus from John the apostle and that this John wrote the book of Revelation. But there are reasons for understanding this mention by Papias as being the self-same John of the fourth gospel.6

Rejection of apostolic authorship continued in various places, especially the eastern church, right up to the time of the Reformation. Erasmus, Luther, and Zwingli all regarded the book as non-apostolic, largely because of their opposition to its teaching of a literal thousand-year-reign of Christ on earth. Both Luther and Calvin more or less ignored the book.7


Notes

1 “A zealous anti-Montanist the Roman presbyter Caius in the time of Zephyrinus (pp. 199-217) wrote a Dialogue against the Montanist Proclus in which he attributed the Apocalypse to Cerinthus . . . [finding] various discrepancies between it and the other parts of the New Testament. . . . Caius criticism was . . . taken up and refuted by Hippolytus.”—Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 340. “Cerinthus . . . resided in Ephesus around the turn of the first century. Included in his heretical potpourri of doctrines was the notion that at Christ’s second coming a millennium characterized by sensuous pleasures would be established.”—Larry V. Crutchfield, “Revelation in the New Testament,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 26.

2 “The first to reject apostolic authorship was Marcion, the second-century Gnostic who rejected all non-Pauline books (apart from an edited version of Luke) . . . because of their Jewish influence. Dionysius . . . was the first to develop a series of arguments for his position, . . . Dionysius believed that ‘another (unknown) John’ wrote Revelation.”—Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 3.

3 “Toward the middle of the third century Dionysius the Great, bishop of Alexandria, in his opposition to millenarianism and apparently influenced by Caius, took up anew the question of the authenticity of the Apocalypse . . . concluding that the John who wrote it was not the Apostle, he nevertheless accepted it as divinely inspired . . . The criticism of so illustrious a figure in the church as Dionysius could not fail to exert influence, especially in Egypt and the east.”—Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, 341.

4 “Twelve of the nineteen terms or expressions with which Dionysius says the Apocalypse has no connection or affinity . . . are found in the book, some of them with great frequency.”—Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 6-7.

5 “Following in his [Dionysius’] footsteps Eusebius, . . . bishop of Caesarea . . . saw a second John as the author of the book.”—Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, 341.

6 [Osborne, Revelation, 3], [John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 6].

7 “The Dutch reformer Desiderius Erasmus, German reformer Martin Luther, and Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli . . . all regarded it as a nonapostolic work. All three did so largely because it teaches a literal thousand-year earthly reign of Christ. Essentially, John Calvin and Luther simply ignored John’s Revelation.”—Crutchfield, “Revelation in the New Testament,” 33.