The Authorship of the Revelation to John | Notes on the Apocalypse of John

The Authorship of the Revelation to John | Notes on the Apocalypse of John

Four times the author identifies himself as “John.”

  1. Revelation 1:1: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which Go gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he. Made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.”
  2. Revelation 1:4: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia.”
  3. Revelation 1:9: “I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
  4. Revelation 22:8: “I John am he who heard and saw these things.”

Throughout the visions of the book, the author often uses the first-person pronoun; we assume, therefore, that John wrote the book.

What can we know about this John?

  • He was well-known to the first readers of this book. He does not feel the need to identify himself other than simply calling himself “John.”
  • He suffered for his testimony concerning Jesus. He shared in the tribulation in which his readers were sharing. He was exiled to Patmos.
  • He was a preacher.
  • He calls himself God’s servant, an Old Testament title of honor.
  • He had a good knowledge of the Old Testament—he refers to the Old Testament more than 100 times in this book.
  • He was a native of Palestine—He writes in apocalyptic literature; this literary genre was known among the Palestinian Jews. The genre did not survive long when it left Palestine.
  • The author writes with a familiarity of Jerusalem and the temple.
  • His Greek style suggests that he is not a native Greek speaker; he is probably either a native Aramaic or Hebrew speaker.

Which John should be viewed as the author?

There have been several Johns identified as the author of the Apocalypse—John the apostle, John the Elder, Cerinthus, John Mark, and John the Baptist. We will examine the arguments for authorship by John the Elder, Cerinthus, John Mark, and John the Baptist.

John the Elder.

There is no evidence that a “John the Elder” ever really lived. The evidence for “John the Elder” comes from a misinterpreted quote by the Christian writer Papias, where he calls John and the other apostles “elders.” Since the quote by Papias has often been misinterpreted, there is no real evidence that “John the Elder” is a different person than “John the apostle.”


Cerinthus was a heretic near the end of the first century. The only reason some have suggested he wrote Revelation was his belief in a millennial reign of Christ. One must also doubt whether the church would have accepted a book as canonical which was written by a heretic.

John Mark.

There is really no evidence to support this view.

John the Baptist.

J. M. Ford has taught that Revelation is a work of John the Baptist and his disciples. Again, there is no evidence to support this view.

John the Apostle as the author.

The traditional view has always been that John the apostle wrote the book.

External evidence.

The vast majority of apostolic writers claimed that John the apostle wrote the book. While we will not give an exhaustive list of apostolic writers, apostolic authorship was advocated by such well-known writers as Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and the Muratorian Canon List. Two of these sources come from cities to which John wrote: Melito (Sardis() and Irenaeus (Smyrna).

Internal evidence.

The internal evidence within Revelation itself also points to John the apostle as the author.

The fact that the author does not identify himself further than “John” shows that he was a John well-known to the audience to whom he wrote. What John would have been more suited simply to identify himself as John to these seven churches than John the son of Zebedee? Tradition claims that John retired to Ephesus at the end of his ministry.

There are similarities between Revelation and the Gospel of John.

  • Only these two writers in the New Testament use the term logos (John 1:1; Revelation 19:13).
  • Both books use the imagery of the “lamb,” “the water of life,” “he that overcomes,” “keeping the commandment,” and the adjective “true.”
  • Both books have a striking use of Zechariah 12:10 (John 19:37; Revelation 1:7).
  • Both books have an invitation to him who is thirsty (John 7:37; Revelation 22:17).
  • Both books have a commandment received by Christ from the Father (John 10:18; Revelation 2:27).
  • Both books speak of white clothing (John 20:12; Revelation 3:4).

Arguments against Johannine authorship.

The author does not call himself an apostle. This argument alleges that had the author been an apostle he would have appealed to the authority to make his case. John may not have referred to his apostleship because he knew so well those to whom he wrote that such an identification wasn’t necessary.

The author does not claim to know Jesus or to know about the events in his life. This argument claims that since the author did not claim to know Jesus personally nor discuss the events in Jesus’s life that the author did not know them. However, this view would require John to speak about Jesus’s life and his personal relationship with Jesus every time he spoke to a church. Can we really expect John to do such? Furthermore, Revelation does not deal with the earthly life and ministry of Jesus; we should not, therefore, be surprised to find no mention of Jesus’s earthly life and ministry.

There is a tradition which states that John died a death that so early that he could not have written this material. However, there is very little evidence to validate this view.

There are differences in language, style, and thought between Revelation and the Gospel of John. This argument has been advocated throughout most of church history. This view says that since there are wise differences in the language of John and the Revelation that these works could not have been written by the same individual. However, this view would require John to write the same way every single time he wrote. Furthermore, the purposes of John and Revelation are different. There is reason to believe that Revelation may have been written about 30 years earlier than the Gospel of John; this time difference would have allowed John to mature his writing style. There is also reason to believe that John may have had some help in writing the Fourth Gospel. This help would not have been available in exile.

This Bible class lesson was originally taught by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.

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