11.2. The Nature of Internal Evidence

As we saw when discussing the authorship of the book, there are two primary sources of evidence available when analyzing a biblical text: internal and external. We also noted that the interpretation of internal evidence is especially subject to subjective bias. External evidence has the advantage of being less subject to the bias of the interpreter.1

Those who favor an early date for the book of Revelation, and who wish to minimize the external evidence in favor of a later date, would have us place a greater emphasis on internal evidence than external evidence. “Conservative Christianity must recognize that the essential and determinative evidence ought to be drawn from the internal testimony of the scriptural record itself, when it is available.”2 The key point of contention in regard to the use of internal evidence is found in Gentry’s last phrase: when it is available. Leaving aside the interpretation of internal evidence which has its own problems, the determination of what constitutes internal evidence is highly problematic. Most often, the selection of internal evidence is driven by the a priori stance of the interpreter. What one interpreter sees as being “determinative” and “conclusive,” another interpreter sees as indicative of something else entirely.

For example, Hemer understands Revelation Rev. 6:6+ as being significant internal evidence of a late date: “We adduce reasons for accepting the view that Rev. Rev. 6:6+ alludes to an edict issued by Domitian in AD 92 to restrict the growing of vines in the provinces . . . and connect this with the contemporary setting of the Philadelphian letter.”3 Here lies the problem: who determines when a textual artifact is connected with a historical situation approximate to the time of writing? Hemer is sure that Domitian’s edict restricting the growing of vines is the source for John’s puzzling statement in Revelation Rev. 6:6+. Yet many other interpreters see no such connection and understand the passage in an entirely different light. The crux of the matter is determining when historical similarity equates to textual dependence or identity? This involves a huge amount of subjectivity on the part of the interpreter.

It is also frequently the case that the internal evidence results from the view which the interpreter has brought to the text, which is then used in support for the view: “As we will see . . . the book of Revelation is primarily a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This fact alone places St. John’s authorship somewhere before September of A.D. 70.”4

Here we see half of an “interpretive circle” which operates in the interpretation of internal evidence by early date advocates: the book is obviously a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and therefore must have been written prior to the event. The other half of this circle is as follows: the book was written before A.D. 70 and therefore must have the destruction of Jerusalem in view as its major theme. Internal evidence which contradicts this conclusion is minimized or reinterpreted.5

The main problem with internal evidence is that it is subject to too many conflicting interpretations. What one person believes is “significant” internal evidence for their particular view is often possible to explain in totally different ways. The identity of the seven kings and seven heads of Revelation Rev. 17:9-11+ is one such commonly-used piece of internal “evidence.” “[Gentry takes] the contemporary reign of the sixth king in Rev. Rev. 17:9-11+ and the integrity of the temple and Jerusalem in Rev. Rev. 11:1-13+ to exemplify arguments that are ‘virtually certain’ proof of a date some time in the sixties.”6 But, as Mounce observes, it is inadvisable to utilize something as evidence which is subject to such a diversity of interpretations. Rev. 17:10-11+ is also presented as favoring the early date. Here again the divergence of opinion regarding this figure precludes the advisability of attempting to build a chronology on it.”7

It is our position that internal evidence is highly overrated in the field of biblical studies as is evident from its fruitlessness. This is plainly evident in the conclusions drawn from academic considerations of internal evidence drawn from the four gospels.8


Notes

1 This is not to deny the influence of bias upon the interpretation of all evidence. For example, evolutionists and creationists are faced with the same objective evidence, but arrive at a totally different interpretation of the evidence.

2 Kenneth L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1998), 113.

3 Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 4.

4 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 4.

5 Jerusalem is mentioned separately from Babylon and Jerusalem is not known to have been referred to as “Babylon” any time prior to A.D. 70. Yet it is Babylon which is the object of God’s total destruction (Rev. Rev. 18:1+), not Jerusalem.

6 Robert L. Thomas, “Theonomy and the Dating of Revelation,” in Richard L. Mayhue, ed., The Master’s Seminary Journal, vol. 5 (Sun Valley, CA: The Master’s Seminary, 1994), 186.

7 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 35.

8 Robert L. Thomas, “The ‘Jesus Crisis’: What Is It?,” in Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, eds., The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998).