|« Prev||Section XII. Canonical Authority of the Book of…||Next »|
CANONICAL AUTHORITY OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION.
Hermas gives many indications of having read the Revelation, for he often imitates John’s description of the New Jerusalem, and sometimes borrows his very words. He speaks of the Book of Life and of those whose names are written in it. He speaks also of the saints whom he saw, being clothed in garments white as snow. Papias also, doubtless, had seen the book of Revelation; for some of his opinions were founded on a too literal interpretation of certain prophecies of this book. But neither Papias nor Hermas expressly cites the Revelation.
Justin Martyr is the first who gives explicit testimony to the Apocalypse. His words are, “And a man from among us by name John, one of the apostles of Christ, in the Revelation made to him, has prophesied that the believers in our Christ shall live a thousand years in Jerusalem; and after that, shall be the general and indeed eternal resurrection and judgment of all men together.” In the epistle of the Church of Lyons and Vienne, in France, which was written about the year of our Lord one hundred and eighty, there is one passage cited from the book of Revelation: “For he was indeed a genuine disciple of Christ, ‘following the Lamb whithersoever he goes.’”237
Irenæus expressly quotes the Revelation, and ascribes it to John the apostle. And in one place, he says, “It (the Revelation,) was seen no long time ago in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian.” And in the passage preserved by Eusebius, he speaks of the exact and ancient copies of this book; which he says, “was confirmed, likewise, by the concurring testimony of those who had seen John.”
Theophilus of Antioch, also, as we are assured by Eusebius, cited testimonies from the Apocalypse of John, in his book against Hermogenes. And in his works which are extant, there is one passage which shows that he was acquainted with the Revelation. “This Eve,” says he, “because she was deceived by the serpent—the evil demon, who is also called Satan, who then spoke to her by the serpent—does not cease to accuse: this demon is also called the Dragon.”
The Revelation of John is often quoted by Clement of Alexandria. In one passage, he says, ” Such an one, though here on earth he be not honoured with the first seat, shall sit upon the four and twenty thrones, judging the people, as John says in the Revelation.” That Clement believed it to be the work of the apostle John is manifest, because in another place he expressly cites a passage, as the words of an apostle; and we have just seen that he ascribes the work to John.
Tertullian cites many things from the Revelation of John; and he seems to have entertained no doubt of its being the writing of the apostle John, as will appear by a few quotations; “John in his Apocalypse, is commanded to correct those who ate things sacrificed 238to idols, and commit fornication.” Again, “The apostle John in the Apocalypse, describes a sharp two-edged sword, coming out of the mouth of God.”—“We have churches, disciples of John, for though Marcion rejects his Revelation, the succession of bishops, traced to the original, will assure us that John is the author.” And in another place he has a long quotation from the book of Revelation.
Hippolytus, who lived in the third century, and had great celebrity, both in the eastern and western churches, received the Revelation as without doubt the production of the apostle John. Indeed, he seems to have written a comment on this book, for Jerome, in the list of his works, mentions one, “On the Revelation.” Hippolytus was held in so high esteem, that a noble monument was erected to him in the city of Rome, which, after lying for a long time buried, was dug up near that city, A. D. 1551. His name, indeed, is not now on the monument, but it contains a catalogue of his works, several of which have the same titles as those ascribed to Hippolytus by Jerome and Eusebius, together with others not mentioned by them; among which is one “of the gospel of John and the Revelation.”
Origen calls the writer of the Apocalypse, “evangelist and apostle;” and, on account of the predictions which it contains, “prophet” also. In his book against Celsus he mentions “John’s Revelation, and divers other books of Scripture.” It was Origen’s intention to write a commentary on this book, but whether he ever carried his purpose into execution is unknown. Nothing of the kind has reached our times.239
Dionysius of Alexandria, who lived about the middle of the third century, and was one of the most learned men of his time, has entered into a more particular discussion of the canonical authority of the book of Revelation than any other ancient author. From what has been said by him, we learn on what account it was that this book, after having been universally received by the earlier Fathers, fell with some into a certain degree of discredit. About this time the Chiliasts, or Millennarians, who held that Christ would reign visibly on earth with his saints for a thousand years, during which period all manner of earthly and sensible pleasures would be enjoyed, made their appearance. This opinion they derived from a literal interpretation of some passages in the book of Revelation; and as their error was very repugnant to the feelings of most of the Fathers, they were led to doubt of the authority, or to disparage the value of the book from which it was derived.
The first rise of the Millennarians, of the grosser kind, seems to have been in the district of Arsinoe, in Egypt, where one Nepos composed several works in defence of their doctrine; particularly a book “Against the Allegorists.” Dionysius took much pains with these errorists, and entered with them into a free and candid discussion of their tenets, and of the true meaning of the book of Revelation; and had the satisfaction to reclaim a number of them from their erroneous opinions. His own opinion of the Revelation he gives at large, and informs us, that some who lived before his time had utterly rejected this book, and ascribed it to Cerinthus; but, for his own part, he professes to believe that it was written 240by an inspired man, whose name was John, but a different person from the apostle of that name; for which opinion he assigns several reasons, but none of much weight. His principal reason is, that the language of this book is different from that of the apostle John in his other writings. To which Lardner judiciously answers, that supposing this to be the fact, it will not prove the point, for the style of prophecy is very different from the epistolary or historical style. But this laborious and learned collector of facts denies that there is such a difference of style, as to lay a foundation for this opinion; and, in confirmation of his own opinion, he descends to particulars, and shows that there are some striking points of resemblance between the language of the Apocalypse and the acknowledged writings of the apostle John.
The opinion of those persons who believed it to be the work of Cerinthus, is utterly without foundation; for this book contains opinions expressly contrary to those maintained by this heretic; and even on the subject of the millennium his views did not coincide with those expressed in the Revelation. Caius seems to have been the only ancient author who attributed this book to Cerinthus, and to him Dionysius probably referred when he spoke of some, before his time, who held this opinion. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, received the book of Revelation as of canonical authority, as appears by the manner in which he quotes it. “Hear,” says he, “in the Revelation, the voice of thy Lord, reproving such men as these, ‘Thou sayest I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and 241miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’” Rev. iii. 17. Again, “So in the Holy Scriptures, by which the Lord would have us to be instructed and warned, is the harlot city described.” Rev. xvii. 1-3. Finally, “That waters signify people, the divine Scriptures show in the Revelation.”
Victorinus, who lived towards the close of the third century, often cites the book of Revelation, and ascribes it to John the apostle. That Lactantius received this book is manifest, because he has written much respecting the future destinies of the church, which is founded on the prophecies which it contains.
Until the fourth century, then, it appears that the Revelation was almost universally received; not a writer of any credit calls it in question; and but one hesitates about ascribing it to John the apostle; but even he held it to be written by an inspired man. But, about the beginning of the fourth century, it began to fall into discredit with some on account of the mysterious nature of its contents, and the encouragement which it was supposed to give to the Chiliasts. Therefore Eusebius of Cesaræa, after giving a list of such books as were universally received, adds, “After these, if it be thought fit, may be placed the Revelation of John, concerning which we shall observe the different opinions at a proper time.” And again, “There are, concerning this book, different opinions.”
This is the first doubt expressed by any respectable writer concerning the canonical authority of this book; and Eusebius did not reject it, but would have it placed next after those which were received with universal consent. And we find at this very time, 242the most learned and judicious of the Fathers received the Revelation without scruple, and annexed it to their catalogues of the books of the New Testament. Thus Athanasius after giving an account of the twenty-two canonical books of the Old Testament, proceeds to enumerate the books of the New Testament, in the following manner, which he makes eight in number:—1. Matthew’s gospel; 2. Mark’s; 3. Luke’s; 4. John’s; 5. The Acts; 6. The Catholic epistles; 7. Paul’s fourteen epistles; and 8. the Revelation, given to John the evangelist and divine in Patmos.
Jerome, in giving an account of the writings of John the evangelist, speaks also of another John, called the presbyter, to whom some ascribed the second and third epistles under the name of John. And we have already seen that Dionysius of Alexandria ascribed the Revelation to another John. This opinion, we learn from Jerome, originated in the fact, that two monuments were found at Ephesus, each inscribed with the name John; but he says, “Some think that both the monuments are of John the evangelist.” Then he proceeds to give some account of the Revelation. “Domitian,” says he, “in the fourteenth year of his reign, raising the second persecution after Nero, John was banished into the isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Revelation, which Justin Martyr and Irenaeus explain.” Augustine, also, received the book of Revelation, and quotes it very frequently. He ascribes it to the same John who wrote the gospel and the epistles.
From the view which has been taken of the testimonies in favour of the book of Revelation, I think it must appear manifest to every candid reader, that 243few books in the New Testament have more complete evidence of canonical authority. The only thing which requires explanation is, the omission of this book in so many of the catalogues of the Fathers, and of ancient councils. Owing to the mysterious nature of the contents of this book, and to the abuse of its prophecies, by the too literal construction of them by the Millennarians, it was judged expedient not to have this book read publicly in the churches. Now, the end of forming these catalogues was to guide the people in reading the Scriptures; and as it seems not to have been desired, that the people should read this mysterious book, it was omitted by many in their catalogues. Still, however, a majority of them have it; and some who omitted it, are known to have received it as canonical.
This also will account for the fact, that many of the manuscripts of the New Testament are without the Revelation; so that there are extant, comparatively, few copies of this book. But the authenticity and authority of the Apocalypse stand on ground which can never be shaken; and the internal evidence is strong in favour of a divine origin. There is a sublimity, purity, and consistency in it, which could not have proceeded from an impostor. In addition to all which, we observe, that the fulfilment of many of the predictions of this book is so remarkable, that to many learned men who have attended to this subject, the evidence from this source alone is demonstrative of its divine origin. And there is every reason to believe, that in the revolution of events this book, which is now to many sealed with seven seals, will be opened, and will be so explained, 244that all men will see and acknowledge that it is indeed “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass—and sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John, who bare record of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Rev. i. 1, 2.245
|« Prev||Section XII. Canonical Authority of the Book of…||Next »|