The Authorship of Revelation

The author of Revelation repeatedly identifies himself simply as "John" (1:1, 4, 9; 21:2; 22:8). The Greek form of this name represents a common Hebrew name Yochanan, which identifies the author as a Jew.

The fact that the author makes no attempt to build himself up, but simply refers to himself as John, "your brother" (1:9), is strong evidence against pseudonymity. Writers claiming to be apostles usually spared no efforts to classify themselves as such. It appears that the writer was someone so well known to the churches that his name alone was sufficient for identification.

The New Testament mentions several Johns which could be considered: John the Baptist is obviously not a possibility, for he was dead. John Mark is an unlikely candidate, for no early Christian writer believed he wrote Revelation, and his book is identified by his surname rather than by the name John. There was also a John who was a relative of Annas the high priest (Acts 4:6), but we have no evidence that he was ever even a Christian. The only other John prominent enough to be considered is the disciple John, the brother of James, the son of Zebedee.

Every Christian writer until the middle of the 3rd century, whose works are extant today and who mentions the matter at all, attributes Revelation to John the apostle. Examples include:

Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (died A.D. 165), was the first Church Father to question the apostolic authorship of Revelation. His argument was based upon his observation of the use of different words and expressions in Revelation than in the gospel of John. For example:

Word Used Gospel of John Revelation
kosmos, "world" used 79 times used only 3 times
aletheia, "truth" used 25 times never used
phos, "light" 22 times 3 times
agapao, "to love" 37 times 4 times
pisteuo, "to believe" 100 times not at all
alla, "but" more than 100 times 13 times
enopion, "before" once 36 times
emos, "mine" 42 times once

Furthermore, in referring to Christ as "the Lamb," the Gospel always uses the word amnos, whereas Revelation always uses arnion, both of which mean "lamb." In the Gospel, Jerusalem is always Hierosoluma, whereas in Revelation it is consistently Hierousalem. The Greek of the Gospel of John is correct and idiomatic, whereas that of Revelation contains a number of passages that are unusual and cannot be explained in terms of correct Greek grammar and syntax.

But does this prove that John did not write Revelation? No. For one thing, the two books present different themes, and a certain difference of terms should be expected. But more importantly, when Revelation was written, John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos. He had no scribes or literary helpers there to assist him in writing. John was an uneducated Jewish fisherman who had never taken a college class in Greek composition. When the Lord appeared to him on Patmos the apostle was instructed to record what he was seeing (Revelation 1:11), so he apparently scribbled out the vision as it was being shown to him (Revelation 10:4).

We have reason to believe, on the other hand, that in the writing of the Gospel of John at Ephesus after his release from Patmos, the apostle may have had one or more literary helpers. It may have been one such scribe who in John 21:24 wrote, "And we know that his [John's] testimony is true."

Although we cannot blindly accept everything people believed in the early days, we do have some evidence that in the 2nd century the idea did exist that John had composed his Gospel with the assistance of others. Examples of this opinion at that time are found in the Muratorian Fragment, composed at Rome around A.D. 170, and in the following statement attributed to Papias (died c. A.D. 163), preserved in a 10th-century manuscript:

"This Gospel, then, it is clear, was written after the Apocalypse, and was given to the churches in Asia by John, being still in the body, as the bishop of Hierapolis, Papias by name, a beloved disciple of John, who wrote this Gospel with John by dictation, recountes in his Exoterica, that is, in the last five books" (Latin text in Wordsworth and White, Novum Testamentum . . . Latine, vol. 1, pp. 490, 491).

The use of a literary assistant in the writing of the Gospel of John could easily explain its dissimilar usage and grammar. The presence of Semiticisms and less polished Greek in Revelation actually evidence it to be the work of John's own hand.

In spite of grammatical differences, the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation contain a number of noteworthy points in common. For example:

Revelation Gospel of John
"Water of life" (21:6; 22:17) "Living water" (4:10; 7:38)
"Let him that is athirst come" (22:17) "If any man thirst, let him come" (7:37)

Also interesting, the word opis, "appearance," or "face," is used in the New Testament only in John's writings (John 7:24; 11:44; Rev. 1:16). The same is true of the expression terein ton logon, "keep my saying [or, "word"]" (John 8:51, 52, 55; 14:23, 24; 15:20; 17:6; 1 John 2:5; Rev. 3:8, 10; 22:7, 9), and onoma auto, "his name," (John 1:6; 3:1; Rev. 6:8). Except where direct reference is made to Old Testament symbolism, Christ is characterized as a Lamb only in the Gospel of John and in the book of Revelation (John 1:29, 36; Rev. 5:6; and 28 other times).

We conclude that the attempt to disprove the apostolic origin of Revelation based upon literary factors is insufficient to offset the evidence in favor of John's authorship.