Good morning! We’re returning to the quotes from Sir Isaac Newton’s OBSERVATIONS UPON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL, AND THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN from 1733:
“With the opinion of the first Commentators agrees the tradition of the Churches of Syria, preserved to this day in the title of the Syriac Version of the Apocalypse, which title is this: THE REVELATION WHICH WAS MADE TO JOHN THE EVANGELIST BY GOD IN THE ISLAND PATMOS, INTO WHICH HE WAS BANISHED BY NERO THE CAESAR…This opinion is further supported by the allusions in the Apocalypse to the Temple and Altar, and holy City, as then standing;”
I need to remind us here that John was on Patmos, visiting heaven when the Temple and Altar were mentioned, and not in Jerusalem, so to say that this reference indicated that the Temple still stood because John was to literally measure it, is not valid. It disturbs me that Newton didn’t figure this out.
“…and to the Gentiles, who were soon after to tread under foot the holy City and outward Court.”
The treading referred to went on for centuries…up to this minute, despite the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem. And it will no doubt continue for the time being.
“’Tis confirmed also by the style of the Apocalypse itself, which is fuller of Hebraisms than his Gospel. For thence it may be gathered, that it was written when John was newly come out of Judea, where he had been used to the Syriac tongue; and that he did not write his Gospel, till by long converse with the Asiatic Greeks he had left off most of the Hebraisms.”
I despair for Newton’s mind here. There are far easier, and more likely explanations. First of all, Revelation was most likely written in Hebrew originally; and the person who translated it into Greek probably couldn’t work out how to translate all the Hebraisms without just doing it word for word…or, the person translating was not Jewish and so the Hebraisms went right over his head, leading him to translate word for word…or, the person translating was a Hebrew, who understood the Hebraisms, but perhaps wasn’t terrific at Greek, and so just translated word for word, or felt that the Hebraisms were important to the text, and thus left them in.
John’s Gospel and letters may have been dictated to a scribe who wrote the perfect Greek.
More than all that, the Hebraisms do not just relate to the language, they are highly cultural and also related to Judaism. I doubt seriously that John would ever “leave off” the Hebraisms in his speech or writing.
Back to Newton:
“It is confirmed also by the many false Apocalypses, as those of Peter, Paul, Thomas, Stephen, Elias and Cerinthus, written in imitation of the true one. For as the many false Gospels, false Acts, and false Epistles were occasioned by true ones…so this true one may well be supposed to have been written early, that there may be room in the Apostolic age for the writing of so many false ones afterwards…”
Newton seems to be unaware that the apocalypse was an established literary form long before Revelation was written. John did not invent it. It’s not a valid assumption that the above named people wrote their apocalypses after John wrote Revelation. Besides that, most of these names are decidedly not the actual people who wrote these apocalypses. And then, of course, Revelation was not The Revelation of John, but the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
On we go:
“Caius, who was contemporary with Tertullian, tells us that Cerinthus wrote his Revelations as a great Apostle, and pretended the visions were shown him by Angels, asserting a millennium of carnal pleasures at Jerusalem after the resurrection; so that his Apocalypse was plainly written in imitation of John’s: and yet he lived so early, that he resisted the Apostles at Jerusalem in or before the first year of Claudius, that is, 26 years before the death of Nero, and died before John.”
So, let’s look at these dates. Caius’ works are dated to ~200-220 AD. Tertullian lived from 155 to 220 AD. Cerinthus, according to Wikipedia, flourished from about 50 AD to about 100 AD, which suggests that the earliest knowledge of him was during the middle of Claudius’ reign, and that he may have died around the same time as John. Going to the Catholic website newadvent.org, they say that we don’t have dates for Cerinthus, and that all we know about him is from 1st-3rd century writers who mention him; if this is true, then Newton’s knowledge of him could not have been so detailed.
I find in interesting that Newton says “he resisted the Apostles at Jerusalem”, indicating that Newton was aware of Cerinthus’ wildly heretical views, which New Advent describes as “a strange mixture of Gnosticism, Judaism, Chiliasm, and Ebionitism”. As for Caius, Newton neglects to tell us that Caius was convinced that Revelation was actually written by Cerinthus, not by John in AD 65 or 95 AD.
Now, let’s look at the topic discussed in Cerinthus’ apocalypse: “a millennium of carnal pleasures at Jerusalem after the resurrection”? How is this an imitation of the Revelation? Topically it is nothing like Revelation. One of the main reasons that a book was included in the Bible, was that the book agreed with the other books of the Bible. Revelation fits in, it agrees with the other books, both Old and New Testament, but a book about a millennium of carnal pleasures does not. Cerinthus would have to have been writing against his own beliefs to have written Revelation…not the least of which was that he denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Newton goes on to list a final ‘proof’ that involves supposed allusions to Revelation in the Epistle of Peter and Hebrews. I spent a bunch of time going through his ‘proof’ and feel pretty confident that he isn’t right. What we see in Peter and Hebrews are references to the Old Testament (especially the prophets and Psalms), to Jesus’ teachings, and to common Judaic ideas. Most of the time Newton has to misquote to make it sound more like something from Revelation. And I used the King James Bible to compare to, which is the one he was most likely using. I had planned to add my proof against his ‘proof’ here, but it’s pretty long and is rather off topic, so I think I will leave it alone.
More from Newton:
“This Prophecy is called the Revelation, with respect to the scripture of truth, which Daniel was commanded to shut up and seal, till the time of the end. Daniel sealed it until the time of the end; and until that time comes, the Lamb is opening the seals: and afterwards the two Witnesses prophesy out of it a long time in sack-cloth, before they ascend up to heaven in a cloud. All which is as much as to say, that these Prophecies of Daniel and John should not be understood till the time of the end: but then some should prophesy out of them in an afflicted and mournful state for a long time, and that but darkly, so as to convert but few. But in the very end, the Prophecy should be so far interpreted as to convince many.
“Then, saith Daniel, many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased…”
I agree with most of this paragraph. There are many who think that the sealed book was the book sealed by Daniel. I can understand that to Newton, and to most pre-21st century people, Revelation looked dark and forbidding. But I think he’s wrong that “but a few” would be converted from the teaching of Revelation. It may have been very confusing to people of the past, but our current times are so confusing that Revelation starts to look like a roadmap. And then there is the quote from Daniel…we don’t need to ponder hard to figure out what that means.
One last bit from Newton:
“Tis therefore a part of this Prophecy, that it should not be understood before the last age of the world; and therefore it makes for the credit of the Prophecy, that it is not yet understood. But if the last age, the age of opening these things, be now approaching, as by the great successes of late Interpreters it seems to be, we have more encouragement than ever to look into these things…The folly of Interpreters has been, to foretell times and things by this Prophecy, as if God designed to make them Prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt. The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and the Prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men’s curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world.”
Another good paragraph. It’s amazing how many interpreters of prophecy missed the point that the prophecy would not be fully understood until close to the time…or even not until after the time. And Newton was absolutely right: these prophecies were not given “to gratify men’s curiosities” or for them to brag on their knowledge of the future. I agree that the prophecies, instead, will help us understand what happened after the event; but I think they are also to provide encouragement. If we know that God knew all this for millennia before it happened, then we can confidently rest in Him while it’s happening, knowing that none of this is a surprise to Him and probably is a part of His plan.
Additionally, remember that Jesus made it clear, by berating the Pharisees for not recognizing His First Coming, that we should also understand the events of His Second Coming and prepare for it. A significant part of the Bible, including Revelation, describe those events and are there for our profit.
We’ll finish up today with a longish quote from Moses Lowman’s book A PARAPHRASE AND NOTES ON THE REVELATION OF ST. JOHN, originally written in German for the common man, and published about 1745. Here he describes his reasons for believing that John the Apostle wrote Revelation:
“The book of the Revelation, notwithstanding the pains and application of many persons of great ability and learning to explain it, seems yet, to the generality of Christians, very dark and obscure: many look upon it as a sealed book still, never to be explained to any certainty or satisfaction. No wonder, then, they account it lost labor to read or study what they can never hope to understand…
“Tertullian wrote about…200, and so somewhat above a hundred years after the time in which John wrote the revelation. He observes, ‘John in his Apocalypse, is commanded to correct those who eat things sacrificed to idols, and commit fornication.’ And again, ‘We have churches, disciples of John; for though Marcion [mid-2nd century, considered heretical by many] rejects his Revelation, the succession of bishops, traced to the original, will assure us that John is the author of it.’ It is no wonder than Marcion should reject the Revelation, who rejected all the Old Testament, and of the New received only the Gospel of St. Luke, and ten epistles of Paul, which also he had corrupted and altered.
“Somewhat before this, Clement of Alexandria, quotes these revelations as John’s: ‘As John says in the Revelation.’ And he refers to them as the words of an apostle, or having the authority of apostolical writings.
“Yet earlier, Theophilus of Antioch, in a book of his against the heresy of Hermogenes, makes use of testimonies from John’s Apocalypse.
“We have another witness of great character still nearer the times of John: Irenaeus wrote about A.D. 178, within seventy or eighty years of him. He expressly ascribes the Revelation to John, the disciple of the Lord. His testimony to this book, as Mr. Lardner [1653-1740] observes, ‘is so strong and full, that considering the age of Irenaeus, it seems to put it beyond all question, that it is the work of St. John the apostle and evangelist.’
“Still nearer the times of John, Mileto, bishop of Sardis, one of the seven churches, wrote a book on the Revelation of John. Some think it was an entire commentary; however that be, it will show he esteemed it a book of canonical authority.
“Justin Martyr, a person of eminent name, about the year…140, and so about fifty or sixty years after the writing of this book, expressly calls it a prophecy, and ascribes it to John the apostle; ‘ A man from among us,’ says he, ‘by name John, one of the apostles of Christ, in the revelation made to him, has prophesied.’
“The church, nearest the times of writing this book, received it with so full a consent, that in very few years…it was acknowledged and placed in the number of apostolical writings, not only by the churches of Asia, but by the neighbor churches of Syria and Samaria, by the more distant churches of Africa and Egypt, by Rome and the other churches of Europe. Such reasons there are to receive this as one of the books of the holy scriptures of the New Testament, that hardly any one book has more early, full, or authentic attestation given to it…”
A pretty strong endorsement!
So, we’ll leave it at this for today. We have skipped Johan Albrecht Bengel here, despite the fact that he was probably the most influential writer on this topic of his century. People are, for the most part, unfamiliar with his writings today, and are more likely to have heard of someone he strongly influenced, namely John Wesley from this same century. But he profoundly influenced writers well into the 19th century with his ideas. We’ve passed over him here because his introduction is quite technical: more about the translation than about Revelation itself, and so would not add much to what we are doing here. We will definitely hear from him during the verse by verse.
We will still be in the 19th century for one more post. We will excerpt from John D. Michaelis, another very influential writer of the century, and finish up with John Wesley and Charles Warmesley. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for all of us to persevere.