Prof. Charles R. Erdman, D.D.– Dating the Book of Revelation

(from The Revelation of John : An Exposition, 1936)

  “The Revelation was written by the Apostle John during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, about the year A.D. 96.  Such is at least the earliest tradition and such the conclusion of most recent scholarship.  There are, indeed, other variant views which are deserving of serious thought.  Some writers are even insisting that the authorship of this book is composite, and that an original Jewish apocalypse was re-written, with certain Christian features added by a later hand.  Most students, however, discover in The Revelation a perfect unity which can be attributed only to a single mind.

  “As to the date of the composition, some scholars, particularly of the last century, have been inclined to assign Revelation, either wholly or in part, to the reign of Nero, and to the year A.D. 68.  There were two main arguments.  The first was to the reference to “the holy city,” ch. 11, which was taken to imply that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem.  The second was to the supposed identity of Nero with the “beast,” ch. 13.”

   “As to the “beast,” which was actually killed and restored to life, it has been found increasingly difficult to adapt the description to the historic character Nero; and modern scholars, in considering Nero, are less inclined to accept the fanciful interpretation of “Six hundred and sixty-six” as “the number” of his name.

   “It is far more probable that The Revelation was written in A.D. 96, the last year of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian.  Many facts point to this conclusion.  First of all, there is the almost unanimous testimony of the church fathers, from the second century through the first half of the fifth century.  During this long era, and in all parts of the Christian church, it was firmly believed that the visions of John were to be assigned to the days of Domitian and not of Nero.

   “Then again, modern historians agree that the Neronian persecution hardly extended beyond the city of Rome, while the persecution under Domitian was spread widely over the empire.

   “Furthermore, the persecution under Nero was not on the grounds of religious belief.  He wished to avert from himself suspicion of the crime of having burned the city, and therefore attempted to implicate the new sect called “Christians.”  This was in A.D. 64, and there is no proof that his fiendish cruelties to the infant church continued until or during the year A.D. 68.  On the contrary, the martyrdoms under Domitian were due to a refusal on the part of Christians to worship the emperor as divine, or, as John declares, to “worship the image of the beast.”  The ground of persecution, therefore, indicates the reign of Domitian and not that of Nero.

   “Nor did the means of punishment adopted by Nero include banishment.  There was imprisonment, torture, drenching with oil and then burning the wretched victims as torches, and crucifixion; but exile is not mentioned.  On the other hand, there are detailed stories and references to a general policy of banishment as employed by Domitian.

   “One other fact is worthy of mention.  The state of the churches established by Paul in “Asia,” and described by John in The Revelation, was such as to have required a much longer period of development than the earlier date would allow.  For example, the church at Smyrna was not founded until A.D. 64.

   “For these and other reasons there is now rather general agreement upon the latter date for the composition of The Revelation.

  “To ascertain the exact time when John, as a Christian martyr on the isle of Patmos, received his visions is a matter of real oncern, for both the inspiration and the correct interpretation of the Apocalypse are involved.  However, it is of still greater importance to note the character of the time in which the book was composed.  It was in days when the Church was in great suffering and peril.  The allurements of the world or the fear of pain and loss were threatening to make men disloyal to their divine Lord.  A godless state and a pagan religion were leagued together to destroy the cause of Christ.  Dangers even more dark and dread were on the horizon.  Deliverance by no human power was possible.  It was in a time like this that John caught those inspiring visions of the returning, triumphant King, of His universal reign, and of the celestial city established upon earth, which have been the source of inspiration, of comfort, and of hope in all ages of the world.”

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hey Brian-

    I have his book “The Return of Christ”, but I didn’t realize he had an exposition of Revelation. I just ordered it off Alibris.

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  2. Hi Darrin,

    Amazingly, Erdman adopts an “a-Millennial” position, though I have several of his writings in which he is more or less distinctly pre-mil. I quote him mainly because he’s one of the few academics who championed the cause of Fundamental Christianity. And besides, most of his books are written from a pre-mil perspective.

    The better commentary was by W.J. Erdman, his dad. It’s called “Notes on Revelation.” He holds to the classic pre-wrath doctrine.

    Peace & Health,

    Brian

  3. I’m sure it’ll be an interesting read when I get it. I have that book by W.J. Erdman too. I like his section on the harvest and the vintage and have quoted in quite often. I don’t think anybody else comes close to the truth. (Except me of course).

    You know, the old school Historic Pre-Millennialists had some things in common with A-Mill that Dispensationalists came along and completely distanced themselves from. So your comment doesn’t completely surprise me if that was his perspective.

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -Darrin

  4. Hi Darrin,

    Yeah, that W.J. commentary is great, isn’t it? A little book with lots of meat. C.R. makes a few profound observations as well, though I disagree with his A-Millennialism. I just ordered E.W. Bullinger’s commentary, which (strangely enough) was recommended to me by an Anglican priest. I’m studying Revelation in depth now, as I plan to do a series of articles in the next couple months–God willing.

    Peace and Health,

    Brian

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