9.4.1. Testimony of the Early Church

As we have noted, the external evidence should be granted greater weight than internal evidence due to its less subjective nature. As Thomas noted above, it would be foolish of us to reject the early and objective evidence of historical witness in favor of late, subjective theories of internal grammatical and textual analysis.1

The earliest testimony to the Apostle John as author appears to be that of Justin Martyr. He appeals to the book of Revelation as an acknowledged work of John the Apostle.2 (See Beckwith for an extended treatment of the church tradition that John ministered at Ephesus after his release from Patmos and died of old age in Asia Minor. [Ibid., 366-392].) His testimony is of special significance because he lived for some time at Ephesus amidst the seven churches of Revelation Rev. 2:1+ and Rev. 3:1+ who were direct recipients of the book and because some of Revelation’s original readers would still have been alive to refute or correct him on this point if need be.4 Justin’s testimony was echoed by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. 5

Another early witness is that of Papias. As bishop of Hierapolis near Laodicea, one of the seven churches(Rev. Rev. 3:14+), his testimony to apostolic authorship is especially weighty.6 He placed great emphasis on oral teaching derived from those who once knew the apostles and is less likely to have simply repeated the written tradition of others.

Victorinus (d. c. A.D. 304) also states that the book of Revelation was written by John the Apostle during the reign of Domitian. “Victorinus of Pettau states that John was banished (damnatus) by Domitian to a mine or quarry (metallum) on the island of Patmos, where he saw the revelation (in Apoc. 10:11). In another passage, he explicitly says that the work was written during the time of Domitian (in Apoc. 17:10).”7

Fausset observes that the weight of such historic testimony, especially in view of its contemporary locale and time to that of the book of Revelation, is convincing.8

Tregelles well says [New Testament Historic Evidence], “There is no book of the New Testament for which we have such clear, ample, and numerous testimonies in the second century as we have in favor of the Apocalypse. The more closely the witnesses were connected with the apostle John (as was the case with Irenaeus), the more explicit is their testimony. That doubts should prevail in after ages must have originated either in ignorance of the earlier testimony, or else from some supposed intuition of what an apostle ought to have written. The objections on the ground of internal style can weigh nothing against the actual evidence. It is in vain to argue, a priori, that John could not have written this book when we have the evidence of several competent witnesses that he did write it.”9


1 Unfortunately, the tendency of academics is to reject historical witness in favor of novel theories. It is not clear whether this is fueled simply by the need for new Ph.D. topics or simply a reflection of human pride.

2 “The earliest testimony recorded is that of Justin, who lived some time at Ephesus, the center of the region to which the book was sent, at a date when the generation to which it first came had not yet passed away.”—Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 349.

3 Ibid., 366-392.

4 “The testimony of Justin and Irenaeus is especially significant, since they lived in Ephesus and Smyrna when some of Revelation’s original readers would still have been alive. That the church could have been mistaken about who wrote Revelation virtually from the time it was written is inconceivable.”—John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 4.

5 “Justin Martyr in the mid-second century wrote that the apostle John was the author (Dialogue with Trypho 81.4), and this became the accepted view (so also Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.20.11; Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.14.3; Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 2.108; Origen, De principiis 1.2.10).”—Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 2-3. “Irenaeus . . . a younger contemporary of Papias and Justin . . . makes frequent and explicit reference to the Apocalypse as that of ‘John the disciple of the Lord’ and he shows distinctly that by this term he means John the Apostle. From this time on the same testimony appears generally in the fathers, e.g. Clement of Alexandrian, Tertullian, Origen, etc.”—Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, 349-350.

6 “Papias . . . recognized the book, according to Andreas, as inspired, . . . from the manner in which Andreas refers to Papias’ view of the book, . . . he regarded him as agreeing with his own opinion, that the author was the Apostle.”—Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, 349. “Papias was bishop of Hierapolis, near Laodicea, one of the seven churches.”—A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 1:1.

7 Adela Yarbro Collins, “Book of Revelation,” in David Noel Freeman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 5:700.

8 “These testimonies of persons contemporary with John’s immediate successors, and more or less connected with the region of the seven churches to which Revelation is addressed, are most convincing.”—Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” Rev. 1:1.

9 Ibid.