Monday, May 7, 2012

The importance of 70AD for Christianity - Was Revelation actually the first NT Epistle?

I have come to truly appreciate the relevance of the year 70AD. This date is most popularly associated with the year the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed for the second time (and has never been rebuilt to this day). I have posted on this subject tangentially in the past on a post I made about Judaism. For anyone who takes the Bible and Christianity seriously, it cannot be seen as an insignificant event in Salvation History for the Temple to be destroyed (2 Kings 25:8-9; Jer 21:10; Jer 26:18; Mich 3:12 - and see these Church Father quotes). We often forget that God still directs the events of history, and instead tend to think God only interacted with Israel and the Church during Biblical times, after which He left man alone. That latter view is called Ecclesial Deism, and it must be rejected.

As far as Christianity is concerned, the events of 70AD can provide important vindication to Our Lord's claim to be Messiah, as well as the proper dating and inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures. These two subjects are often the object of mockery and unfair criticism by Secularists and Liberals, so these types of studies are essential for defending your faith. Indeed, for centuries folks have been trying to discredit Christianity by making similar claims. Julian the Apostate (Roman Emperor shortly after the Council of Nicaea in 325) tried to refute Jesus by making it a goal to rebuild the Temple, a goal which failed miserably after some miraculously timed natural disasters in Jerusalem kept disrupting progress.

The fact that none of the New Testament writings clearly mention the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70AD strongly suggests all of the 27 books were written prior to the year 70AD. Such an event would not have gone unreferenced by the early Christians, especially considering the Judaizer heresy that hit the early Church. The only alternative is that the authors deliberately conspired to keep quiet about the issue, which doesn't fit any reasonable motive (and such conspiratorial "collaboration" suggests a close unity among early Christians that the Liberals reject in the first place). This realization means that the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles were all written between 40AD and 65AD (since the Roman-Jewish war culminating in the Temple's destruction began in 66AD). And thus the dating of the Book of Revelation, popularly dated around 90AD, is likewise not dated properly. This has caused me to do some research into just how dating Revelation so late came about in the first place.

Unlike the wacky dating "methods" used by Liberal "scholarship" for the rest of the New Testament, the primary reasoning behind the late dating of Revelation (also traditionally called Apocalypse, meaning a "revealing") in the year 96AD comes directly from a few early Church Fathers, notably Irenaeus (AH 5:30:3) and Eusebius (EH 3:18). The logic is as follows: in Revelation 1:9-20, Saint John tells us that he was exiled on the Island of Patmos when he received instructions to write Apocalypse, so the question is when this exile took place. Saint Irenaeus tells us that John was on Patmos in the year when the Roman Emperor Dormitian died, which is 96AD. This is not an improbable argument, nor should we rush to discount Saint Irenaeus' testimony. However, I came across a fascinating article from a Catholic site (now sadly defunct) dealing with this very issue. The author, Jacob Michael, points out that this claim by Irenaeus is virtually the only testimony for this late date. The first thing he says to do is examine the patristic text in question. Eusebius, quoting Irenaeus, states:
Irenæus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.
The question is, when Saint Irenaeus says "it was the end of the reign of Dormitian," what does the word "it" refer to? If the "it" is Saint John's Apocalypse vision, then that's precisely how the date 96AD is derived. But Jacob points out that this isn't a safe argument. The wording of the sentence actually provides two plausible alternatives: the term in the original language can mean John himself simply died around that time, or the "it" can just as easily refer to the unfolding of what Saint John saw as prophecy many years prior. Thus Irenaeus is saying: there would be no need for Saint John to warn against the Antichrist if the Antichrist has already appeared because John would have declared the Antichrist's "real" identity. This crucial detail totally unhinges any absolute link between Apocalypse and 96AD. But there's more!

Jacob points out that the Muratorian Canon, one of the oldest indexes of Scripture (dated around 150AD because it mentions Pope Pius I), says this:
the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name, in this order: the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, the third to the Philippians, the fourth to the Colossians, the fifth to the Galatians, the sixth to the Thessalonians, the seventh to the Romans
Note that Paul writing to "seven churches" was no accident, but rather follows a rule already laid out by John. The only place John wrote to "seven churches" was in the Apocalypse, and thus Apocalypse must have been written prior to Paul's last letter! Since Paul was martyred in the mid 60s, this means Apocalypse was written as late as about 65AD. And Jacob ends with one more facinating piece of evidence:
Another similar statement is made by St. Clement in his Stromata:
For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero. (St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book VII, Cap. 27)
More plainly than St. Irenaeus or the Muratorian Canon, St. Clement says that the Apostolic teaching ended in the reign of Nero. He could not have made such a statement if St. John had written the Apocalypse after AD 70, after the reign of Nero.
Hats off to Jacob Michael for this brilliant work! Next, Jacob turns to internal evidence for the dating of Revelation, and this is where things begin to tie back directly to the 70AD date. Jacob's exegetical argument can be summarized as follows:
  • John quotes Jesus as saying He will return "very soon," multiple times. This is strange if "soon" means 2,000 years plus. Instead, it makes more sense to say Jesus is going to return in terms of judgment upon Jerusalem, which fits perfectly the war of 66-70AD.
  • In Revelation 17:9-10, John speaks about "seven kings" on the hills of Rome, five of which have already fallen, one who is currently reigning, and one final which will reign a short time. This perfectly lines up with the Roman Emperors at that time, with Nero currently reigning (and persecuting the Church). No other list comes anywhere close to fitting this data.
  •  In Revelation 11:1-2, which is also the most popular argument for dating Apocalypse before 70AD, the text explicitly says (a) measure the Temple length and (b) the Gentiles will trample on Jerusalem for 42 months. To say "measure" the Temple requires it to be still standing, and the Gentiles trampling on Jerusalem for 42 months (3.5 years) fits perfectly the 3.5 years from 66-70AD when the Romans sacked Jerusalem.
The case is solidly made. While Jacob rightly notes that an 'allegorical' interpretation is not excluded, the literal interpretation and other historical details place Apocalypse easily prior to 66AD. Again, Jacob Michael was simply brilliant.

To conclude this brief study, I think it is important to tie all of this back to vindicating Our Lord's prophecies about Jerusalem, giving strong testimony that He is indeed the Messiah and that the Gospels were indeed written by Apostles. Some of the most difficult and hotly debated prophecies of Our Lord come from His Olivet Discourse (i.e. Jesus' predictions paralleled in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). The primary difficulty is whether these prophecies refer to 70AD, or some end of the world events, or (in the traditional Catholic opinion) a 'dual fulfillment' of those two "extremes". The primary argument of all Liberal scholarship of the last 175 years (and still going strong today) is that the Olivet Discourse certainly did refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. However, the Liberal mindset states that predicting the future is impossible (and miracles are ways for ignorant folks to explain real science), so Jesus did not infact predict anything, but instead the Gospels were written after 70AD and simply made up words to record to remember Our Lord. This mindset is virtually the sole "criteria" Liberal scholarship uses. It's not only antiChristian, it isn't even that valid of an argument. 

Catholic testimony from the Apostles (e.g. Acts 6:14) to early Church Fathers, up through the middle ages strongly testifies that the Olivet Discourse pertains first and foremost to predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, and secondly as an allegorical parallel to the end of the world. This explains why Jesus wept over Jerusalem, as He described the judgment that would come for rejecting him (Luke 19:41-44). And the plain words of Olivet state, "while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, Jesus said, 'As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down'" (Luke 21:5). Among other important details, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. ... They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:20-24), and, "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place." (Luke 21:32). All the evidence converges on the same fact: Jerusalem would be sacked within that same generation, i.e. within 33 years or so, meaning approximately 66AD, the very year Rome invaded. All this is just as Our Lord predicted and the New Testament writings awaited to be fulfilled.


Steven Reyes said...

Remarkable find Nick, I appreciate all of the hard work you put into this site. Do you mind if I link you on my blog as one of the good Catholic blogs to read :-)?

I think it's particularly fascinating that Revelations was written so early and I think you've made a very strong case.

God bless,
Steven Reyes

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Nick, please be carefull about quoting anything by Jacob Michael. He teaches the heresy that God never revoked the the Mosiac Covenant. I also think he leans toward the heresy of preterism, which is very popular among Reformed sectarians. Michael is from a Calvinistic background, so I can see how that could still be an influence on him. Finally, he's associated with the smear site Sungenis and the Jews. Our internet bud, Matt Bellisario, has denounced that site as an attack on Sungenis character, rather than a critical examination of what Bob believes about Jews. So, I urge you again to please be careful about using him as a source.

Nick said...

Hello Steven,

Feel free to quote/link anything I post. I'll make sure to do the same for your stuff. I follow your blog in Google Reader.

Hi Steve,

I have not heard that Jacob believes in the OT is still in force. He seems to have disappeared off the net for the last few years and I've never been able to get in contact with him. Regardless, I try to be careful about quoting anyone blindly. In this case, I think he made a very solid case for Revelation being pre70AD.

In studying the issue of "Preterism," I've come to see that the consistent view of the Fathers and Scholastics is that there was a primary (literal) fulfillment at 70AD and a secondary (figurative) fulfillment at the very end. The main difficulty which all consistently admit is properly dissecting which parts of Olivet apply when, since the Apostles associated the destruction of the Temple with the End of the World (or at least a tangible Messianic Kingdom on earth) they in some ways conflated two separate events.

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Nick, like you, I believe Matthew 24 is mostly talking about the events that lead up to 70 AD. With the exception of one, I do not believe these signs mentioned in the Olivet prophecy will precede Our Lord's second coming. The Lord himself said the only sign that would be given of his second coming will be the ripping open of the heavens to reveal him in his glory. That kind of destroys the need for all those prophecy charts put out by a lot of these prophecy mongers, doesn't it?

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CD-Host said...

The fact that none of the New Testament writings clearly mention the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70AD strongly suggests all of the 27 books were written prior to the year 70AD.

Would you be willing to apply this in the other direction. So if one of the books mentioned something that happened much later then they must have come later.

For example O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings Contradictions (the "Antithesis") of the called Gnosis. (1 Tim 6:20)

A reference to a 2nd century book written by Paul.

Nick said...

How do you conclude that 1 Tim 6:20 is talking about a 2nd century book written by Paul?

Surely you know Paul was martyred around 65AD, so surely you mean a pseudo-graphical work.

CD-Host said...

How do you conclude that 1 Tim 6:20 is talking about a 2nd century book written by Paul?

I wasn't saying a 2nd century book written by Paul. Antithesis was written by Marcion.

Surely you know Paul was martyred around 65AD, so surely you mean a pseudo-graphical work.

I agree that Paul, if he existed was likely 1st century. I don't know that Paul was martyred around 65 CE. I don't think we know much of anything about Paul's biography at all. I agree that Acts and the later church present that view.

My point was of course that 1 Timothy couldn't have been written by Paul since it contains a 2nd century reference. I was asking if you were as comfortable running the argument backwards.Essentially trying to make a point regarding the temple.

As an aside I date all 4 gospels well after 70 CE. I do agree with Revelations being early but I don't have much of a position on Nero vs. Domitian's rein, or even earlier.

Nick said...

It seems plain to me that "antithesis" is a generic Greek word from which we get the English term. All the context and langauge of 1 Tim 6:20 is saying is Paul warning Timothy to avoid wasting time with irrelevant controversy and babblings. He doesn't seem to be saying "avoid the book Antithesis by Marcion".

CD-Host said...

He doesn't seem to be saying "avoid the book Antithesis by Marcion".

Why would he be telling Timothy to keep away from "contradictions", which is what the word means if you are saying it was just generic? Who says that "Nick I want you to avoid contradictions". In verse 21 he says that some have professed these contradictions and in doing so have departed the faith? Which means he must have specific ones in mind. Why are contradictions falsely called knowledge?

Generic doesn't make any sense. It makes a lot of sense if you make it a proper noun. I've put it together both ways

20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the [Antithesis / contradictions] what is falsely called [Gnosis / knowledge], 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.

You see this concern in other places like 1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God (which implies someone was denying this)

As an aside the idea of "departed from the faith" is also quite a bit later. Paul in his 7 early works never has the faith as a fixed collection of beliefs but an inward experience.

Nick said...

When I said generic, I meant the word itself was not a title of some work. e.g. I can use the term "titanic" and be speaking of something specific that is very huge, rather than talking about the boat that sank. Paul did have specific controversies in mind when he spoke, most notably those Jews claiming to be of noble lineage and thus superior race. There were other troublemakers concerned with junk philosophy that was disrupting the Gospel work.

1 Timothy 1: 3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

1 Timothy 6: 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

2 Tim 2: 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

CD-Host said...

Nick --

I understood what you meant by "generic". My post was responding to that. I.E. if he doesn't Antithesis (the work) but just antithesis (a noun meaning contradictions)... then you have a problem that the sentence doesn't make sense. Why are contradictions falsely called knowledge?

You've mentioned 2 specific possibilities

1) Jews holding to genealogies as per Ezra style theology. What contradiction there is falsely called knowledge? More importantly this group wouldn't deny there is one God. They wouldn't need assurance that there is only one God or that the scriptures are still valid. Or 1 Tim 4:3 forbid marriage? No these are not Judaizers.

2) "Junk philosophy" which is too unclear to even respond to. If you want to work this theory, try and give it some meat and make it fit the verses you cite. He's attacking something, what is it? What do these people actually believe? What faith can they be departing from?

Nick said...

Hello CD,

Clearly, Paul was opposing certain heretical/problematic philosophies at that time, be they Jewish or pagan. I don't think there is enough information to know specifically what Paul had in mind, but assuming it was a specific work of the 2nd century seems like more of a leap than what you're willing to grant me.

Looking up the passage in a Lexicon (here), the term 'knowledge' is a generic term for knowing throughout the NT, and the "oppositions" only appears once. So there isn't much to go on there. The phrase "profane and vain babbling" appears in 1 Tim 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:16 (quoted above), so that can be one guide. In 2:16 Paul says "Hymenaeus and Philetus" are prime culprits of this. Hymenaeus is mentioned in 1 Tim 1:20 as some serious troublemaker. So putting pieces together, Paul very well could have had in mind the errors of Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander, and not some 2nd century book. When I move onto 1 Tim 6:21, speaking about departing from the faith, such terms are used in 2 Tim 2:18, where Hymenaeus claimed (among other things) that the resurrection already happened.

Interestingly, the Lexicon says "Hymenaeus" is named after the god of weddings and means "belonging to marriage" which could have a strange connection to "those forbidding marriage" in 1 Tm 4:3.

I think there is enough problems at least spoken of generally throughout 1st and 2nd Timothy that latching onto one word and assuming it must be a title of a book isn't convincing to me.

CD-Host said...

If an American were to say something like, "try to avoid Hamlet moping around" it is grammatically possible that he's saying you don't want to mope around in small villages. There is no Lexicon issue there. Any Christian talking about rules for building a church in the middle of the 2nd century referring to the Antithesis is talking about Marcion's. The assumption is that it can't mean that because, according to the myth, Paul wrote it and Paul wasn't alive then.... Which was the point regarding counter evidence this is just an example of the sorts of problems you run into with arguing for an early date on everything.

In terms of Hymenaeus and Philetus, they are preterists and that belief is still with us; a minority view among Catholics. I don't believe Marcion was a preterist, but Tertullian may have (Against Marcion, III, 25). We know that Marcion opposed Cerinthus' Premillennialism. So... that passage doesn't help your case much in putting this book early or divorcing it from anti-Marcionism. The attacks on Hymenaeus seem like 2nd century issues.

David Meyer said...

Scotju said:
"I also think he leans toward the heresy of preterism, which is very popular among Reformed sectarians."

A couple comments here I think are conflating Full Preterism with Partial Preterism. As a former Partial Preterist when I was Reformed, I can say that the overwhelmingly vast majority of Reformed people are either Amillenialist or Partial Preterist, definatley NOT full Preterists of the heretical variety.

The main difference for those who may not know is that full preterists believe the resurection and second coming have already occured. So yeah... that is pretty bad heresy, and it makes them unable to say the creed.

The vast majority of Reformed Preterists are Postmillenialists of a variety that is very comfortable around Amillenialists. Now that I am a Catholic, I would consider myself an Reluctant Amillenialist (must obey the Church) who is very comfortable around Postmillenialists and partial preterists.

Remember that for post-mil and partial preterist people, there still is the last tidbits at the end of Revelation to go through. I think this is 100% compatible with the teaching of the Catholic Church. If not, please by all means let me know so that I can conform my mind to hers.


David Meyer

David Meyer said...

Nick I have long agreed with the early date of Revelation (<70AD). But a while back I asked about this to Bryan Cross and he firmly disagreed. So I guess I have been in limbo on this question now as a Catholic.
Do you think a view where it was written in the 90s but recounted the past events of Jerusalem is possible?

Also have you heard of the preterist/postmil exegesis of the mark of the beast (666) being the actual name of Nero Kaiser? To me this evidence was overwhelming and must be seriously taken into account.

"calculate the number of the Beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six." Rev. 13:18

I am convinced that the people recieving Johns Apocalypse would have read it and absolutely known that he was refering to Nero... whether they read it in the 60's or the 90's. The number of his name is 666. And in a language that uses letters in place of numbers there is no mystery there as there would be for us who have a seperate numbering system. To me this is the big old elephant in the living room that is rarely discussed in these end times discussions.
This explaination even explains the variation in the manuscripts (666 vs. 616)
Hebrew = 666, Latin = 616.

BOTH 666 and 616 are "Nero Caesar".

David Meyer said...

here is a link that I think gives a nice overview of what I am saying.

Nick said...

Hello David,

I am very interested in what Bryan has to say about this if he "firmly disagreed". The data seems pretty limited, namely Irenaeus's comment (taken a special way) that could possibly date it past 70AD, where as Eusebius and texts like Rev 11:1-2 & 17:9-10 are pretty convincing to me.

I do not think it is possible that it was written in the 90s but recounts past events because the Book itself is how the prophecies/information was first presented to us. In other words, Rev 1:1,11,etc, state that Revelation is one long vision that John received and from there he passes this information on to us via the Book. So it is not a situation where X happened in the past and John is recording history, as in the Gospels.

I have heard of 666 being a reference to Nero, but have never really stopped to verify or investigate. My favorite thing to do with 666 is what Catholic Answers does, since Adventists like to say the Pope adds up to 666 what they don't realize is that the Seventh Day Adventist prophetess eLLen GoVLD WhIte (L+L+V+L+D+V+V+I) also adds up to 666.

Strong support for 666 being in reference to Nero, I followed a footnote and checked a Lexicon, and Rev 13:18 (mentioning 666) and Rev 17:9 (mentioning the Emperors) use almost identical sentences: "This calls for a mind with wisdom." This is the only place I see where these (almost) identical phrases are used.

The two weaknesses I see is that:

(1) It isn't clear if the 666 is the First Beast or the Second Beast of Rev 13, but the wording could also mean Nero was simply rising to power (since he was nephew of Emperor Claudius and took over after Claudius).

(2) Rev 13 mentions "42 months," which if the same as the "42 months" of 11:1-2, then this signifies the damage the beast will do is in 68-70AD, right after Nero dies. Since 17:9 says Nero reigns currently, this might rule him out as 666. One possibility is that the "42 months" are its own persecution of Christians and distinct from the 42months of sacking Jerusalem from 68-70.

The Wiki Page on this is quite interesting, for it notes that in 1 Kings 10:14 it says Solomon collected 666 talents of gold, which could in some way signify the Beast is Money/Greed/IndustrialCapitalism. Or it says it could refer to a future Ruler who reminds us of Nero. Or it could be a double prophecy, including a future time when we cannot buy food without having the "mark". Most interesting though is that it says Kabbalistic Judaism says 666 is the number of perfection!

All in all though, a partial-preterist view makes the best sense of Scripture and testified in the Fathers.

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