The Book of Revelation is traditionally the final book of the New Testament. Its title is derived from the first word of the Koine Greek text: apokalypsis, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation”. The Book of Revelation is the only apocalyptic book in the New Testament canon. Modern theological scholars characterize the Book of Revelation’s author as “John of Patmos”. The bulk of traditional sources date the book to the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (AD 81–96), which evidence tends to confirm.
The obscure and extravagant imagery has led to a wide variety of Christian interpretations. Historicist interpretations see Revelation as containing a broad view of history while preterist interpretations treat Revelation as mostly referring to the events of the Apostolic Age (1st century), or, at the latest, the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. Futurists, meanwhile, believe that Revelation describes future events with the seven churches growing into the body of believers throughout the age, and a reemergence or continuous rule of a Greco-Roman system with modern capabilities described by John in ways familiar to him; and idealist or symbolic interpretations consider that Revelation does not refer to actual people or events but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil. (Wikipedia contributors, “Book of Revelation,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).
Most Christian interpretations fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Historicism, which sees in Revelation a broad view of history;
- Preterism, in which Revelation mostly refers to the events of the apostolic era (1st century) or, at the latest, the fall of the Roman Empire;
- Futurism, which believes that Revelation describes future events (modern believers in this interpretation are often called “millennialists”); and
- Idealism/Allegoricalism, which holds that Revelation does not refer to actual people or events, but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
Additionally, there are significant differences in the interpretation of the thousand years (the “millennium”) mentioned in Revelation 20:2.
- Premillennialism, which holds a literal interpretation of the “millennium” and generally prefers literal interpretations of the content of the book;
- Amillennialism, which rejects a literal interpretation of the “millennium” and generally prefers allegorical interpretations of the content of the book; and
- Postmillennialism, which includes both literal and allegorical interpretations of the “millennium” but views the Second Coming as following the conversion to Christianity of a gradually improving world.
There is a “complete lack of consensus” among scholars about the structure of Revelation. (Mounce, Robert H. (1998). The Book of Revelation. Eerdmans. p. 32)
Literary writers and theorists have contributed to a wide range of theories about the origins and purpose of the Book of Revelation.
Lack of early acceptance in the Church
Revelation was among the last books accepted into the Christian biblical canon, and to the present day, some churches that derive from the Church of the East reject it. (Wall, Robert W. (2011). Revelation. Baker Books., Taylor, David G. K. (11 September 2002). “Christian regional diversity”. In Esler, Philip F. (ed.). The Early Christian World. Routledge Worlds. Routledge (published 2002). p. 338.)
Eastern Christians became skeptical of the book as doubts concerning its authorship and unusual style. were reinforced by aversion to its acceptance by Montanists and other groups considered to be heretical. (Stonehouse, Ned B. (n.d.) [c. 1929]. The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church. A Study in the History of the New Testament Canon. Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre [Major discussion of the controversy surrounding the acceptance/rejection of Revelation into the New Testament canon.])
This distrust of the Book of Revelation persisted in the East through the 15th century. (Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou (editor) Commentary on the Apocalypse by Andrew of Caesarea (CUA Press 2011), pp. 3–6)
Revelation was not originally in the Aramaic Peshitta. The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition. The consensus within biblical scholarship, although not universal, is that the Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from Biblical Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century AD, and that the New Testament of the Peshitta was translated from the Greek, probably in the early 5th century. This New Testament, originally excluded certain disputed books including 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. The first version of the Peshitta that included Revelation is the Harklean Version of AD 616. (Wikipedia contributors. “Peshitta.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia)
Dionysius (AD 248), bishop of Alexandria and disciple of Origen, regarded the Apocalypse as the work of an inspired man but not of an Apostle (Eusebius, Church History VII.25).
Eusebius, in his Church History (c. AD 330), mentioned that the Apocalypse of John was accepted and rejected at the same time. The implication is that is was disputed. (Eusebius of Caesarea. Church History, Book III Chapter 25. newadvent.)
Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 348) does not name it among the canonical books (Catechesis IV.33–36).
The Council of Laodicea (AD 363) omits it as a canonical book. (of Jerusalem, Cyril. Catechetical Lecture 4 Chapter 35. newadvent.)
The Apostolic Canons, approved by the Eastern Orthodox Council in Trullo in 692 omit it. (in Trullo, Council. The Apostolic Canons. Canon 85. newadvent.)
Revelation is not extant in the Codex Vaticanus (4th century) which includes most of the New Testament. (Wikipedia contributors. “Codex Vaticanus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
A New Testament uncial is a section of the New Testament in Greek or Latin majuscule (upper case) letters, written on parchment or vellum. These types of manuscripts span from the fourth through the tenth centuries. There are a few uncial manuscripts that include the Book of Revelation. (Wikipedia contributors. “List of New Testament Uncials.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)
Lack of later use and emphasis
During the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther called Revelation “neither apostolic nor prophetic” in the 1522 preface to his translation of the New Testament (he revised his position with a much more favorable assessment in 1530), (Lohse, D. E. (1988). “Wie christlich ist die Offenbarung des Johannes?”. New Testament Studies. 34 (3): 321–338)
Huldrych Zwingli labelled it “not a book of the Bible”, (Glasson, T.F. (1965). “How was the Book received by the Church?”. In Glasson, T.F. (ed.). The Revelation of John. Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the New Testament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 6)
It was the only New Testament book on which John Calvin did not write a commentary. (Hoekema, Anthony A. (1979). The Bible and the future. Eerdmans. p 297)
As of 2015, Revelation remains the only New Testament book not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (Boring, M. Eugene (1989). Revelation. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press (published 2011). p. 3)
The prologue and epilogue
There are several references to Jesus “must soon take place,” “the time is near,” and “coming soon” in the book of revelation. The problem is that most Christians are awaiting fulfillment and about 2000 years have passed. The vast majority of these references indicating near-term fulfillment are at the beginning and end of the book in what appears to be a prologue (Rev 1:1-8) and epilogue (Rev 22:6-21), which may have been added later.
The references of “must soon take place,“ “the time is near,” and “coming soon” include Rev 1:1, Rev 1:3, Rev 22:6, Rev 22:7, Rev 22:10, Rev 22:12, and Rev 22:20. The majority of these are in the epilogue of the last chapter. This lends credence to the notion that the prologue (Rev 1:1-8) and epilogue (Rev 22:6-21) were added later, if one holds that the fulfillment is still pending.
Additionally, the epilogue of the last chapter exhibits choppiness whereas various interpolations appear to be strung together in a disjointed way. The epilogue also exhibits grammatical issues and ambiguities. It appears that phrases are being cherry-picked from the main body of Revelation and incorporated in an end summary with additional exhortations. Close examination of Rev 22:6-21 reveals that the epilogue isn’t very fluid, but rather disjointed.
Also regarding the epilogue, there are only two Greek manuscripts before the 10th century that contain Revelation 22:6-21. They are 4th c. Codex Sinaiticus. and 5th c. Codex Alexandrinus. There are no papyrus fragments attesting to Revelation 22:6-21. Codex Porphyrianus (designated as 025) is a Greek uncial manuscript dated paleographically to the 9th century. It is one of a few uncial manuscripts that include the Book of Revelation. It is missing Revelation 22:6-21 (the end, as well as Rev 16:12-17:1 and Rev 19:21-20:9)
Poor attestation of Greek manuscripts
Revelation is one of the most poorly attested books in the New Testament, in terms of early Greek manuscripts. There are only two complete versions before the 10th century. The list of Greek manuscripts of Revelation up to the 15th century is as follows:
- Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century
- Codex Alexandrinus, 5th century
- 051, 10th century
- 035, 11th century
- 424, 11th century
- 1006, 11th century
- 1854, 11th century
- 1773, 14th century
- 2494, 14th century
- 2497, 14th century
- 1957, 15th century
- 2495, 15th century
- 2845, 15th century
Revelation as a Supplemental Authority
Luke-Acts + Paul are sufficient for conveying the core essentials of Christian belief and practice. Revelation and other traditional authorities in the New Testament canon are useful for adding additional perspective to supplement the core testimony provided by Luke-Acts + Paul. For this and the following reasons, Revelation should be considered a supplemental authority:
- Revelation was not unanimously accepted in the early church.
- There are few early manuscript witnesses of Revelation. It is one of the most poorly attested books in the New Testament.
- Revelation exhibits a lack of later use and emphasis among both Protestant and Orthodox circles.
- The structure, interpretation, and application of Revelation are highly disputed among Christian groups.
- Revelation, because of its symbolism and cryptic nature, has been the source of much confusion, misunderstanding, and false predictions throughout the centuries.
What about the curse of Revelation 22:18-19?
At the time that Revelation was written, there was no concept of a New Testament canon. The author could not have been speaking about canon in Rev 22:18-19 because canon didn’t exist at the time. Not including Revelation in a list of Foundational Authorities is not the same thing as modifying the book to remove or add words.
The curse of Rev 22:18-19 is regarding adding or taking away from the words of the prophecy which has to do with the falsification of that particular book, not whether it is accepted in a list of primary authorities. It is likely the curse was added because modifying and editing texts was so common in early Christianity. Despite the warning, there are dozens of variant readings between manuscripts and evidence of tampering throughout the centuries. Thus, the warning has failed to prevent corruption in the text as it had been copied and edited.