Who wrote the Book of Revelation? Did the Apostle John really Revelation? The answer is not as easy as it seems. In this article we’ll explore the arguments in favor of St John being the author and also talk about why some experts believe there was “another John” behind this famous book. I’ll also give you my opinion on this age-old question which has now plagued Christians for nearly 2,000 years.
1. Who was John of Patmos?
“John of Patmos” is the self-identified author in the text of The Book of Revelation.
While it’s helpful that the author named himself for us, the problem we face has always been – WHO exactly was John of Patmos? Was he St John the Apostle or was he perhaps a lesser known “John?”
2. Who Wrote the Book of Revelation - What Most People Believe
The mainstream view is that John of Patmos is in fact John the Apostle.
Apostle John was also known as St John the Immortal, John the Beloved, John of Zebedee, John the Revelator, John the Divine, and John the Theologian. Given that he was a man of many names, it’s possible that Saint John was also known as John of Patmos too.
What Books did St John write?
In addition to being credited with The Book of Revelation, Apostle John is also commonly held by many to be the author of The Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, and possibly the apocryphal text called The Gospel of the Secret Supper (a text long lost to history but which can now be read in The Gnostic Bible).
When is St John believed to have written The Book of Revelation?
The theory is that the apostle was evangelizing in Rome and was exiled to the island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor Domitian in 95 AD as punishment because John was perceived as a threat to Roman rule. Recall that during Domitian’s rule Rome didn’t look kindly on Christians and banished a number of alleged practitioners of ‘magic and prophecy.’
Under this theory then John is said to have received visions while on Patmos and that he wrote the Book of Revelation during these later years of his life.
Despite the mainstream view that John the Apostle wrote Revelation, many modern scholars do not believe this to be true. Perhaps the most famous in our times is Bart Ehrman. There were also numerous early church elders (among them the famed Eusebius) who believed the author of Revelation was a “different John.”
Who were these other Johns?
Speculation as to who the real John of Patmos was has raged over the centuries. Various other Johns have been put forward as being the author of Revelation. These include:
Why don’t some people believe St. John wrote The Book of Revelation?
The main reasons some early church fathers as well as modern experts don’t buy in to St. John being the author of Revelation has to do with the argument that St. John was NOT (in their view) John of Patmos. Belief in this ‘two-John’ theory has to do with the vast differences between the other texts that St John is alleged to have written compared to the Book of Revelation. These differences can be summarized as follows:
- The author of Revelation specifically identifies himself (i.e. as John of Patmos), while whoever wrote the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John does not specifically identify himself (although St John is held to be the author in most mainstream circles).
- There are noted differences in language – the original Greek used in the Gospels and Letters of John is more ‘elegant’ and mistake-free while in Revelations it is more crude. (For more on this, read this book on the topic).
- The theological outlook of the books are clearly different. To wit: the Gospel of John focuses on establishing Jesus as the Messiah and professes that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. More importantly the Gospel of John is NOT an apocalyptic text and there is little to no discussion of a soon-to-approach end of the age. The Book of Revelation is the very epitome of an apocalyptic text and its primary purpose is to discuss the soon-to-occur End Times.
But there’s yet another problem with The Johns…
We don’t know much about John the Evangelist, John the Presbyter, and John the Elder – in fact, it’s possible that these monikers were actually alternate names for the Apostle John. If so, then this could mean that the apostle actually DID write Revelation. After all, being that St John was known by so many names, it’s highly possible he was John of Patmos too.
4. But did Saint John even write The Gospel of John?
Pondering this question will take you further down the John Rabbit Hole…
Did you know that not all scholars believe that John the Apostle even wrote the Gospel of John?
The biggest reasons for this trace all the way back to John’s roots. Let’s recall that the apostle John was. According to the Bible, Saint John was…
- John of Zebedee, the brother of James, AKA James the Greater).
- John and his brother were both some of the first disciples Jesus recruited during the early days of his ministry.
- While John and James went on to become prominent figures in Jesus’ evangelical mission (both during his life and after), they were also both allegedly poor fisherman from Galilee who likely not even literate.
- The language they spoke was Aramaic, but The Gospel of John and the Epistles were all originally written (as far as we know) in Greek – with a highly literate style.
How did an illiterate, Aramaic speaking fisherman from Galilee write in a high form of Greek?
While it’s certainly possible that John learned a new language during his own evangelical missions as he allegedly traveled outside Palestine on his way to Rome, and while it’s possible that he also learned to read and write, some wonder if he would have been able to develop this writing skills to the level displayed in the Gospel and Letters.
HOWEVER – what’s interesting about this knock on John is that this argument (i.e. that basically St John wasn’t educated enough to use the writing style of the Gospel and the Epistles) actually supports St John being the author of Revelation!
Remember, the writing style of the Greek used by John of Patmos in Revelation is said to be riddled with errors and ‘of a cruder nature.’ Isn’t this exactly as one might suspect of say a fisherman who learned Greek later in life?!?
And so the rabbit hole just got deeper, eh?
5. What do I personally believe about who wrote Revelation?
Personally I choose to believe that St John the Apostle actually wrote everything attributed to him – i.e. The Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, AND The Book of Revelations. This means that I therefore also believe that Saint John the Apostle was indeed John of Patmos.
But how do I reconcile the differences in style between the books and that St John was allegedly illiterate?
Just because someone doesn’t know how to read or write early in life doesn’t mean they can’t learn later, right? And isn’t is possible that if John traveled through Greek-speaking lands that he learned to read, speak, and write that language over the years?
Perhaps most importantly of all, I’m willing to ascribe to the theory that God is more than capable of inspiring St John with whatever literary skills he needed to pen these books.
I also think it makes for a better story.
So either way, Saint John wins in my book!. 🙂
What's YOUR Take?
Who do YOU believe really wrote Revelations?