Now that I have said something about what’s in the book of Revelation and about how we need to study it in light of its literary *genre* (“apocalypse”) I can begin to discuss something about its historical context. As you know, one of the overarching themes of this entire blog is that if you take something out of its context, you change its meaning. If you want to know what the author of Revelation might have actually meant and how he would have been understood by his real-life audience — the Christians in the seven churches of Asia Minor he was addressing – you have to put the book and its author in their own historical context (not in our 21st century context).
Here are some of the most important points about that, as I make them in my textbook on the New Testament (The New Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction; Oxford University Press, 7th ed.), edited slightly here.
The Revelation of John in Historical Context
I have already pointed out that the book of Revelation is virtually unique among apocalypses in that it does not appear to be pseudonymous. I say that it does not “appear” to be pseudonymous because the author simply calls himself John without claiming to be a famous person from the past.
Some Christians of the second and third centuries claimed that this John was none other than the son of Zebedee, Jesus’ own disciple. Others rejected this notion and as a result refused to admit the book into the Christian canon of Scripture.
I should point out that if the author had claimed to be that John, the book would probably have to be considered pseudonymous, for reasons we will see momentarily. One of the ironies of the New Testament is that the Fourth Gospel, which does not claim to be written by someone named John, is called John, whereas the book of Revelation, which does claim to be written by someone named John, is not called by this name. In any event, it can be stated without reservation that whoever wrote the Gospel did not also write this book. For one thing
Revelation is the most mysterious and misunderstood book of the entire Bible. Want to see how scholars approach it? Members of the blog get this entire post. Why not join yourself? Here’s how to do it: Click here for membership options