Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?

Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?

By S.A. Mouw


John is often referred to as “John the Revelator”, as it was he who wrote the book of Revelation. Or…did he?

There has been much, at times contentious, discussion over who really wrote the book of Revelation. We do know John is who recorded it, but is that the same John as John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother to James? Or John the Baptist? Or some other John, only known as “John the Elder?”

Dionysius, a Catholic bishop in the third-century church of Alexandria, challenged the then commonly held belief it was John the Apostle who wrote the book of Revelation. The 4th century church historian, Eusebius, records some of Dionysius’ writings in his work, The Ecclestiastical History of the Catholic Church.

“6. After this he examines the entire Book of Revelation, and having proved that it is impossible to understand it according to the literal sense, proceeds as follows:

Having finished all the prophecy, so to speak, the prophet pronounces those blessed who shall observe it, and also himself. For he says, ’Blessed is he that keeps the words of the prophecy of this book, and I, John, who saw and heard these things.’

7. Therefore that he was called John, and that this book is the work of one John, I do not deny. And I agree also that it is the work of a holy and inspired man. But I cannot readily admit that he was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, by whom the Gospel of John and the Catholic Epistle were written.

8. For I judge from the character of both, and the forms of expression, and the entire execution of the book, that it is not his. For the evangelist nowhere gives his name, or proclaims himself, either in the Gospel or Epistle.”[1]


Further on, Dionysius adds, “12. But that he who wrote these things was called John must be believed, as he says it; but who he was does not appear. For he did not say, as often in the Gospel, that he was the beloved disciple of the Lord, or the one who lay on his breast, or the brother of James, or the eyewitness and hearer of the Lord.”[2]

Not to oversimplify Dionysius’ statements, but it would seem he has two primary arguments against the claim that the John who recorded Revelation was the same as John the Apostle:

  1. Because John does not identify himself as John the Apostle, or “the beloved disciple of the Lord.”
  2. Because the style of writing between the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation do not seem to be from the same hand.

There are those, even today, who would agree with Dionysius’ contention. A blogger, a self-proclaimed historian of the early days of the Church, writes “Today, *part* of Dionysius’s views are widely held. Whoever wrote Revelation did not also write the Gospel of John. The writings styles really are massively different; whoever wrote Revelation (unlike the author of the Gospel) did not have Greek as his first language.”[3]

The conclusion from Dionysius, and others, is that someone named “John the Elder” recorded the book of Revelation and this “John the Elder” is not the same person who wrote the Gospel of John. In fact, there are some who argue whoever wrote the three epistles that are accredited to John the Apostle is also not the same John as who wrote the Gospel of John, but that is for another discussion.

As mentioned earlier, there is some contention over who wrote, or recorded, the book of Revelation, especially within the Catholic church. However, the overwhelming majority today do believe it was John the Apostle. The Christian Research Institute denies the existence of another John, or “John the Elder”, as not grounded on facts or on scriptural reference.

“Furthermore, it is commonly argued that Revelation was written by a shadowy figure named John the Elder. Like pseudonymity, this contention has its feet firmly planted in mid-air. It would be better grounded if there were even a shred of historical certainty that John the Elder existed in the first place. (According to eminent New Testament scholar R. C. H. Lenski, the reason the “Elder theory” caught on in the first place is not historical evidence but distaste for chiliasm—i.e., millenarianism.) It is far more likely that John the Elder is just another way of referring to John the apostle. Indeed, John describes himself as “the Elder,” not to distinguish himself from “the apostle,” but to emphasize his authority and seniority. In short, there is scant evidence that a distinct John the Elder even existed and there is sufficient evidence that John the Elder and John the apostle are one and the same.” [4]

Overall, the arguments for the John who recorded the last book of the canonical Bible as being the same as the John who wrote the fourth Gospel, are compelling. Not the least of these arguments are that church historians, such as Iraneus, gave John the Apostle credit for the book of Revelation and the similarity between the recording of Revelation from the Isle of Patmos and the life of John the Apostle, as traditions which have established John the Apostle’s exile to Patmos, are difficult to deny.

In a very real sense, however, it doesn’t really matter. If we believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit, whoever penned those words truly has little impact on the credibility of the last book of the Bible. The book of Revelation, itself, tells us to whom belongs the credit for writing it:

“1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand" (Revelation 1:1-3, KJV)

So the book of Revelation, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, was given to Christ by His Heavenly Father, and then unto John, who was charged with recording the things he saw and heard. John is not the “Revelator”, or the one revealing the events that are recorded in the book of Revelation – he is just the one given the charge of recording that which was revealed to him by God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. The word “just” used here is not to diminish John’s role, but to heighten the glory that is God’s and His Son’s, Jesus.

Who wrote the book of Revelation? The answer is the same as Who wrote, or inspired, the rest of the canonical Bible – God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

[1] Church History (Book VII), Eusebius recording Dionysius, newadvent.org/fathers/250107.htm, copyright 2021

[2] Ibid

[3] "Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?", the Bart Ehrman Blog, https://ehrmanblog.org/who-wrote-the-book-of-revelation/, October 4, 2018

[4] "Who Wrote Revelation?", Hank Hanegraaff, Christian Research Institute, https://www.idisciple.org/post/who-wrote-revelation, April 13, 2011


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