Changes since the Writing of the Epistles

An entire class of internal evidence falls into the general category of differences which have been noticed between the epistles and the book of Revelation. These differences are thought to provide evidence of a significant span of time between the time the epistles were written and the writing of the book of Revelation. Some of the epistles are thought to have been written near the time of the early date suggested for the book of Revelation (e.g., A.D. 66-67 for 2 Timothy; 67-68 for 2 Peter). If the book of Revelation was written at approximately the same time as the epistles, how do we account for the differences which have been observed?

In the book of Revelation, John writes about the conditions prevailing in the seven churches of Asia. In two of the churches (Ephesians, Laodicea), the conditions described by John seem to differ from that described by the epistles:

If John wrote Revelation in A.D. 64-67, then the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation Rev. 2:1-7+ overlaps with Paul’s two letters to Timothy, who was the pastor of the church when Paul wrote to him. . . . Yet Paul makes no mention of the loss of first love or the presence of the Nicolaitans at Ephesus in his correspondence with Timothy. Neither does he mention these problems in his Ephesian epistle, which was probably written in A.D. 62.1

On the question, When the Apocalypse was given, we have a certain amount of implicit evidence here (Rev. Rev. 2:4-5+), in this reproach with which the Lord reproaches the Ephesian Angel; such as has its value in confirming the ecclesiastical tradition which places it in the reign of Domitian, as against the more modern view which gives the reign of Nero as the date of the composition of this Book. It has well been observed that in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Church of Ephesus there are no signs, nor even presentiments, of this approaching spiritual declension with which the great Searcher of hearts upbraids it here. . . . Those who place the Apocalypse in the reign of Nero hardly allow ten years between that condition and this—too brief a period for so great and lamentable a change. It is inconceivable that there should have been such a letting go of first love in so brief a time. . . . Place the Apocalypse under Domitian, and thirty years will have elapsed since St. Paul wrote his Epistle to Ephesus—exactly the interval which we require, exactly the life of a generation. The outlines of the truth are still preserved; but the truth itself is not for a second generation what it was for the first.2

Similar changes have been noted in the Laodicean Church:

The church at Laodicea was the only one of the seven churches (and possibly Sardis) that did not receive any commendations in Revelation Rev. 2:1+-Rev. 3:1+. In his letter to the Colossians, probably written in A.D. 60-62, Paul indicates that the church was an active group (Colossians Col. 4:13). He mentions the church three times in his letter (Col. Col. 2:2; Col. 4:13, Col. 4:16). It would certainly take more than two to seven years for the church to depart so completely from its earlier acceptable status such that absolutely nothing good could be said about it in Revelation.3

Another significant difference between the book of Revelation and the epistles concerns the Nicolaitans. At the time of the book of Revelation, the Nicolaitans appear to be a well-established and distinct heretical sect with a well-known title. For all their prominence in the letters to the seven churches (Rev. Rev. 2:6+, Rev. 2:15+), absolutely no mention is made of them in the epistles which otherwise spend considerable time warning against heretical tendencies.4

Perhaps even more significant is the lack of mention of Paul within the book of Revelation. Paul had a profound and lengthy ministry at Ephesus—the church addressed by one of the letters of the book of Revelation (Rev. Rev. 2:1-7+). If Paul ministered in Ephesus for almost 3 years beginning in A.D. 525 and John wrote within just 12-16 years of Paul’s ministry (as held by early date advocates), it seems very unusual that there was not the slightest inference about Paul in any of the letters to the Asian churches. But if John wrote much later, near the end of the 90s, then something more than 40 years would have passed and the generation which saw Paul’s ministry would no longer be living.

Revelation Rev. 2:1-7+ makes no mention of the great missionary work of Paul in Asia Minor. On his third missionary journey Paul headquartered in Ephesus for three years and had a profound ministry there. If John wrote in A.D. 64-67, then the omission of any mention of Paul in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor is inexplicable. However, if John wrote 30 years later to second-generation Christians in the churches, then the omission is easily understood.6


1 Mark Hitchcock, “The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 146.

2 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 77.

3 Hitchcock, “The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” 148.

4 “The Nicolaitan party, of which there is no certain trace in the Epistles of St. Paul, is now widely distributed and firmly rooted.”—Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), cxvii. “The existence of a distinct heretical sect with the well-known title, the Nicolaitans, presupposes some distance in time from the apostolic epistles (in which they are not even hinted at).”—Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 34.

5 “Leaving Corinth in the spring of A.D. 52, Paul paid a brief visit to Palestine and then traveled overland to Ephesus, chief city of the province of Asia, which he made his base for the next phase of his activity, lasting nearly three years (Acts Acts 20:31).”—F. F. Bruce, “Paul the Apostle,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 3:716.

6 Hitchcock, “The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” 147.