The Author of the Book of Revelation

“John”

The author of Revelation refers to himself as John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), implying that he expects his readers to know who he is.

  • “…to his servant John” (1:1).
  • “John to the seven churches that are in Asia” (1:4).
  • “I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”(1:9).
  • “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things” (22:8).

Some facts about this John:

  • Referring to himself simply as “John” implies that he expects his reader to know who he is.
  • He claims to be a prophet.
  • His Greek style shows his native language to be Hebrew or Aramaic.
  • His extraordinary familiarity with the Old Testament supports the impression that he is a Jewish Christian.
  • On the basis of the similarities to the Fourth Gospel and the Letters mentioned above, we may conclude that he has at least read those works.
  • He has written a divinely-inspired work that is part of the New Testament canon of Scripture.

“John the Apostle”

Revelation has some similarities to the other Johannine writings:

  • Like the Gospel, and unlike other New Testament writings, it refers to Jesus as:
    • (1) the Word of God (Rev 19:13; John 1:1, 14) and as
    • (2) the Lamb (John 1:29, 36, although Revelation uses a different Greek word for “Lamb”) and as
    • (3) the true witness (Rev 2:13, 3:14; John 5:31-47; 8:14-18).
  • Like the Fourth Gospel, Revelation speaks of:
    • (1) “life-giving water” and
    • (2) alludes to Jesus being “pierced” (Rev 1:7; John 19:37; see Zech 12:10) and
    • (3) exploits Mosaic requirement of 2 witnesses (Rev 11:1-12; John 8:12-30).
  • In addition, Revelation shares vocabulary with the Gospel and the Letters of John that is not common elsewhere in Scripture: to “conquer” or “be victorious,” to “keep” the word or the commandments, “dwell,” “sign,” “testimony,” and “true.”

Historically:

 

  • The Apostle John served as the pastor to the churches in Ephesus and Revelation 2:1-3:22 shows John’s strong connection to the churches of Asia minor.
  • Important early Christian authorities, including Justin Martyr (AD 165), Tertullian (220), Irenaeus (180), Clement of Alexandria (200), Hippolytus (235), Origen (254), and Athanasius (350), identify this John as the apostle John, whom they also consider to be the author of the Gospel and the Epistles that bear his name.
  • Ignatius (110) also attests that the apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos (see Rev 1:9).
  • Western Church tradition has generally followed their lead.

To explain the striking style differences when comparing Revelation to the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John (see below):

  • Some scholars maintain that the apostle John did write Revelation and explain the stylistic differences as due to the book’s apocalyptic genre,
  • or to the apostle John’s use of a secretary (an amanuensis) in the composition of his other books, not available to him on Patmos.

“John the Prophet”

John does not identify himself as an apostle but rather as a prophet:

  • “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy” (1:3).
  • “your comrades the prophets” (an angel speaking to John) (22:9).
  • “Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets!” (apostles are prophets are distinct groups) (18:20).

Furthermore, when Revelation speaks of the twelve apostles of the Lamb as the foundation stones of the wall of the new Jerusalem (21:14), there is no suggestion that the author includes himself in their number.

Second, from ancient times, learned readers have found weighty stylistic reasons to question whether the author of the Gospel of John and 1 John was the same person who wrote Revelation. Writing in the mid-third century, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, identified significant differences in the Greek writing style, phraseology, and patterns of thought between the works. In contrast to the elegant Greek of the Gospel of John, the Greek of Revelation is heavily influenced by Hebrew or Aramaic. Dionysius also pointed out that the author of the other biblical books attributed to the apostle John does not name himself, while the author of Revelation identifies himself four times, and never in the ways the Gospel or 1 John refer to their author (“the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the “Elder,” the “one who testifies”). Dionysius points to the commonness of the name John and concludes that the author was another John who resided in Ephesus, noting the existence in his day of two tombs bearing the name of John and venerated by the church of Ephesus.

A “fake” John

Other scholars suggest that Revelation is pseudonymous, like many apocalyptic writings, and that in calling himself John, the author is (falsely) claiming to be the famous apostle. However, the absence of any claim to apostleship or acquaintance with Jesus during his earthly life makes this unlikely.

Resources Used:

  • Williamson, P. S. (2015). Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Revelation. (M. Healy, Ed.) (p. 19). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, pages 19-21.
  • “Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?” by Grace Token
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