Question: Who wrote the book of Revelations?

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Question: Who wrote the book of Revelations?

Critics of Mormonism claim that someone other than John, son of Zebedee authored the Book of Revelation as we have it in its current form and that this is evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.

Some secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim that the authorship of the book of Revelation is evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. The authorship of the book of Revelation is described in the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible:

The author of the book of Revelation identifies himself by name as John (1.1,4,9; 22.8). This distinguishes Revelation from other Jewish and Christian apocalypses, which are pseudonymous, that is, written in the name of some revered figure from antiquity (e.g., Apoc. Bar., Apoc. Zeph.). While some ancient authorities (e.g., Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 81.4) suggested that this author is the apostle John, the son of Zebedee (see Mk 3.17), internal evidence from the book itself is inconclusive. Among ancient interpreters, Dionysius of Alexandria maintained that Revelation could not have been written by the same John to whom the Gospel according to John was attributed.

The author’s familiarity with the Jerusalem Temple and its rituals and furnishings, the depth of his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (of the 405 verses in Revelation, some 275 include allusions to passages in the Hebrew Bible, or to its Greek translation, the Septuagint), as well as his adoption of a literary genre that was familiar in late Second Temple Judaism, combine to suggest that the John of Revelation may have been a Jewish Christian who fled to the Diaspora as a consequence of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans (66–73 Ce). His selfidentification to the “seven churches that are in Asia” (1.4) as “your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (1.9) suggests that he was well known to his audience, probably because he exercised a prophetic ministry among them (see 22.9). He mentions the twelve apostles as figures from the past (21.14), and does not refer to himself as one of them. This makes an identification of the John of the book of Revelation with the apostle of that name highly questionable, as is any connection of the John of the Revelation with the Gospel according to John or with the Letters of John.[1]


Latter-day Saint New Testament scholar Thomas Wayment (PhD New Testament Studies, Claremont Graduate University) writes:

The author of the book of Revelation formally introduces himself as John (Revelation 1:1). Based on the contents of the book, the author was also a Christian prophet who intentionally shared the contents of a spectacular vision relating to seven churches in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Tradition asserts broadly that John is to be identified with John the son of Zebedee (Matthew 10:2) and that the same author also wrote the Gospel of John and 1–3 John. Based on the style and substance of the writing, it is clear that the author was a native Hebrew/Aramaic speaker who probably moved to western Asia Minor and wrote his book in Greek to the churches in that region. The language is simple, revealing the words of an individual who had not been trained in Greek. From a scholarly perspective, it seems almost impossible to suggest that the same person wrote the Gospel of John, 1–3 John, and Revelation in the same way. More than likely, all of these compositions have historical connections to the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, though he did not write them personally. They all share ideas and concepts, but they were likely written at different times by different people.[2]

Scholars generally agree that it is more likely that someone other than John son of Zebedee wrote Revelation while not ruling out the possibility that he did.[3]

The prophet Nephi writes in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 14:20-27):

20 And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

21 Behold, he shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been.

22 And he shall also write concerning the end of the world.

23 Wherefore, the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew; and at the time they proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, or, at the time the book proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men.

24 And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.

25 But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.

26 And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.

27 And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John, according to the word of the angel.

Option #1a - John the son of Zebedee wrote what we have in Revelation

The first option that we might have for reconciling this is to say that John the son of Zebedee wrote or spoke what we have in Revelation. This option remains a live one for, as we’ve already pointed out, scholars generally don’t rule out the possibility that John, son of Zebedee, actually wrote the book himself.

Respected New Testament scholar Craig Keener has argued for the traditional identification of John, son of Zebedee as the author of Revelation in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible[4].

Option #1b - Material from John, son of Zebedee was preserved in either written or oral format and then brought together by a member of a Johannine community

Another option that still preserves John, son of Zebedee’s involvement with the authorship of the Book is that material from him was preserved for a time by a a member of a Johannine community/discipleship that used material preserved/kept in either written or oral form, and then subsequently composed/compiled the book. As Wayment observed, the material more than likely has connections to John son of Zebedee.

Option #2 - There was an apostle named John that wasn't the son of Zebedee

Less likely than the first option is that another person named John authored the Gospel but that that person wasn't John the son of Zebedee. Some may object to this using v 20 of Nephi's vision. One way to respond might be that John may have been an apostle that wrote after John son of Zebedee passed away. The author of Revelation does identify himself as John, son of Zebedee.

Another way to make this work would be to see if the addition of "twelve" in v 20 is a translator's gloss from Joseph Smith. Though this is weakened when seen "twelve apostles" are mentioned in Chapter 11 and “twelve others” are mentioned in Lehi’s vision in Chapter 1. It could be that the gloss exists in all three chapters.

This option is possible but not probable and not the most attractive.

In any case, we can see that the scholarly perspective on the authorship of the Revelation of John doesn’t need to have an impact on the Book of Mormon.

Notes

  1. Jean Pierre Ruiz, “The Revelation of John” in The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible Fifth ed. (ed) Michael Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, Pheme Perkins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) 1805.
  2. Thomas A. Wayment, “The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints” (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2019) 455.
  3. See esp. the commentary in Ian Boxall, "The Revelation of Saint John" in Black's New Testament Commentary (Ada: Baker Academic Press, 2009)
  4. John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, eds., NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervon, 2016), 2216.