More specifically: What authorities claim that the Book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John? What authorities claim otherwise?

This C.SE answer apparently references Pliny and Tacitus in favor of a single author, and a comment to this answer calls on "Justin Martyr confirmed by Melito of Sardis and Irenaeus of Lyons" in support of the same.

This answer quotes a passage from Eusebius that seems to call the Book of Revelation's authorship into question. And church historian Justo Gonzalez, in his widely regarded work The Story of Christianity,* offers the following:

The task of reconstructing John's later career is complicated by the frequency with which the name of John appears in early records. There is an ancient tradition that claims that John was killed in a pot of boiling oil. But the book of Revelation places John, at about the same time, in exile on the island of Patmos. Another very trustworthy tradition speaks of John as a teacher at Ephesus, where he died around the year 100. All this indicates that there were at least two people with the same name, and that later tradition confused them. A second-century Christian writer -- Papias of Hierapolis -- affirms that there were indeed two persons by the name of John in the early church: one the apostle, and another an elder at Ephesus, who received the visions on Patmos. It is clear, from the enormous difference in their use of the Greek language, that the John of Revelation did not write the Fourth Gospel -- commonly known as the Gospel of John. In any case, there was indeed toward the end of the first century, in the city of Ephesus, a Christian teacher named John, whose authority was great in all of the churches of Asia Minor.

So, were the Gospel According to John and the Book of Revelation written by the same author, or not? And the all-important follow-up question: "Says who??"

A note on scoping:

The concept of "authorities" as used in this question is, of course, open to interpretation. I'm primarily interested in what has been said by the Church Fathers and the principle figures of the Reformation. If the theory of multiple authors is more modern, then what modern writers have advocated the idea?

Edit: Here is a blog entry at Canon Fodder from RTS President and Professor of NT Michael J. Kruger that is quite germane to this question. An excerpt:

Lately, I have been doing a good bit of research on Revelation’s canonical history in preparation for writing an academic piece on the subject. Here are a few highlights about Revelation’s journey:

Revelation’s early reception was Outstanding: Perhaps as much as any other NT book, we have evidence for an early, widespread, and consistent reception of Revelation. Our evidence goes back as early as Papias (c.125) and also includes Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, the Muratorian Fragment, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. That is an impressive list.

In addition, it is worth noting that almost every one of these church fathers accepted the book of revelation on the same grounds, namely the belief that the apostle John, the son of Zebedee was the author.

* The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzalez. Revised edition, Volume I, Chapter 4, p. 36.


5 Answers 5


The internal evidence of the authorship is found in four passages in the Book of Revelation. It is in these four passages that the author refers to himself as "John".

Rev 1:1 This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must happen soon. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
Rev 1:4 From John to the seven churches in Asia.......
Rev 1:9"I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Rev 22:8 "Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things."

Also the very title of the Book includes in it the name John. This title "occurs in several MSS, including the Codex Sinaiticus".

Additionally, the fingerprints of John the apostle are all over the apocalypse. For example, Jesus Christ as the Lamb is referred in both these books. Also, John, and John alone, identifies Jesus as the Word, or Logos (John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13). Likewise, John alone identifies Jesus as the true witness (John 5:31–47; 8:14–18; Revelation 2:13; 3:14), and it is John who most exploits the Mosaic requirement of two witnesses (John 8:12–30; Revelation 11:1–12).

With mention of this single name as John, with no attempt to clarify any further on it, obviously indicates that he was well-known to his first readers, to whom no further identification was necessary. This conclusion is supported by most ancient historians.

Revelation has long been attributed to the author of John's Gospel, in spite of the differences in style of writing. The reason for this difference in style could possibly be that, the book of revelation was revealed to John the apostle at his old age and was possibly penned with the help of someone who was not good in Greek language. Since Domitian died in A.D. 96, the date attributed to the book of Revelation coincides with this date by which time John would have been quite old (Date of death of John is taken as 100AD at the age of 94). The evidence against John the Apostle being the author is minimal, and largely based on grammatical and writing style differences with the John’s Gospel.

Homer Hailey states concerning this matter:

"Although a few relatively early writers raised the question of authorship, the Apostle John's composition of Revelation was never seriously questioned until modern nineteenth-century liberal criticism."

Early church fathers were unanimous that it was John the apostle. As one examines this segment of history, one needs to be reminded that the further away from the first century one gets the lesser reliable evidence to know about the correctness of any claim on this issue.

Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165) in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (LXXXI) says. "There was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied by revelation," and then refers to the thousand years, the resurrection and the Judgment of Revelation 20. Again Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) quotes John the Apostle that Jesus Christ would dwell in Jerusalem one thousand years.

Irenaeus (120-200 A.D.) quoted in every chapter of Revelation. Irenaeus who had heard Polycarp, a disciple of John the apostle, wrote in his Against Heresies (IV. xx. 11), "John, also the Lord's Disciple ..... says in the Apocalypse," and then quotes profusely from that Book. (11) Having thus identified him as the "Lord's Disciple". Irenaeus says later: "In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, revealed certain things," which the writer proceeds to discuss (V.xxi 1).

Tertullian (155-220 A.D.), sometimes called "the Father of Latin Christianity," a voluminous writer, also quotes from almost every chapter of Revelation and attributes John the Apostle as author. He wrote five books Against Marcion Hippolytus (170-235 A.D.) also attributed Revelation to John, he quotes Revelation chapter 17 and 18 a great deal. In book III. xxv, Tertullian writes of the Jerusalem let down from heaven. He quotes Paul, who called it "our mother" (Galatians 4:26), and he says, "the apostle John beheld" it, referring to Revelation 21:2.

Clement of Alexandria ( 150-211 A.D.) and Origen (185-254 A.D.) also attribute John the Apostle as the author of Revelation. In his treatise, Who is the Rich man that Shall be Saved? (XLII), writes of "the apostle John" who "returned to Ephesus from the Isle of Patmos" after "the tyrant's death." The tyrant is unnamed but is believed to be Domitian.

Ignatius (30-108 A.D.) writes regarding John the Apostle,

Origen (A.D. 185-254), in De Principiis says, "According to John, God is Light" (I. II. 7), unquestionably referring to the Apostle John. Then later he says, "Listen to the manner in which John [the John whom he had quoted above] speaks in the apocalypse". (I. II. 10). Surely Origen knew only one John who wrote Scripture, and that was John the Apostle.

Hippolytus (A.D. 170-236) ; Victorinus (Died in persecution A.D. 303) as well as the Muratorian Fragment, ect. all lend their support to the genuineness of Revelation and that of being from John the Apostle of Christ. It is with great surety that such an array of testimony can lead one to accept John the Apostle as the writer of Revelation.

Eusebius (A.D. 300-340) the father of church history writes in his Ecclesiastical History about the connection between John the Apostle and Domitian.

It is said that in this persecution the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word. Irenaeus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: “If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.”

Prior to the third century, there was no dispute of apostolic authorship. The bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius (200-265 A.D.), was the first to raise questions about the apostle John being the author. He claimed, based on the writing style and the lack of an apostolic claim in the book, John the Elder (Presbyter) was the author not John the apostle. Dionysius, who studied under Origen, also denied the teaching of a literal Millennium. The teaching on the Millennium was based on a literal reading of the book of Revelation (Revelation 20:1-7). The Alexandrian school taught scriptural symbolism and allegorical interpretation, rejecting a literal Millennium interpretation of Revelation. By questioning John the Apostles authorship of the book, their Amillennial view had greater credibility.

There is valuable information from the writings of Papias as brought out in Catholic Encyclopaedia: Irenæus makes mention of these as the only works written by Papias, in the following words: Now testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him. In the Papia-I, Papias describes his way of gathering information. This is preserved through Eusebius (III, xxix):

"I will not hesitate to add also for you to my interpretations what I formerly learned with....., but in those who relate the precepts which were given by the Lord to the faith and came down from the Truth itself. And also if any follower of the Presbyters happened to come, I would inquire for the sayings of the Presbyters, what Andrew said, or what Peter said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which Aristion and the Presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I considered that I should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice which yet lives and remains."

Here Eusebius has caused a difficulty by pointing out that two Johns are mentioned, one being distinguished by the epithet presbyter from the other who is obviously the Apostle.

Dionysius Misconception of two John:
The historian Eusebius adds that Dionysius of Alexandria said he heard there were two tombs of John at Ephesus. To quote Catholic Encyclopaedia, this view has been adopted by practically all liberal critics and by such conservatives as Lightfoot and Westcott. But Zahn and most Catholic writers agree that Dionysius was mistaken about the tomb, and that Eusebius's interpretation of Papias's words is incorrect. For he says that Papias frequently cited John the Presbyter; yet it is certain that Irenaeus, who had a great veneration for the work of Papias, took him to mean John the Apostle; and Irenaeus had personal knowledge of Asiatic tradition and could not have been ignorant of the existence of John the presbyter, if there ever was such a person in Asia. Again, Irenaeus tells us that the Apostle lived at Ephesus until the time of Trajan, that he wrote the Apocalypse in the last days of Domitian.

Irenaeus had heard Polycarp relate his reminiscences of the Apostle. Justin, who was at Ephesus about 130-5, asserts that the Apostle was the author of the Apocalypse (and therefore the head of the Asiatic Churches). But if the Apostle lived at Ephesus at so late a date, (and it cannot be doubted with any show of reason), he would naturally be the most important of Papias's witnesses. Yet if Eusebius is right, it would seem that John the Presbyter was his chief informant, and that he had no sayings of the Apostle to relate. Again, "The Presbyter" who wrote I and II Johnhas the name of John in all manuscripts, and is identified with the Apostle by Irenaeus and Clement, and is certainly (by internal evidence) the writer of the fourth Gospel, which is attributed to the Apostle by Irenaeus and all tradition. Again, Polycrates of Ephesus, in recounting the men who were the glories of Asia, has no mention of John the presbyter, but of "John, who lay upon the Lord's breast", undoubtedly meaning the Apostle. The second John at Ephesus is an unlucky conjecture of Eusebius.

Some more readings here, and here

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    Wow, stellar answer. Thanks for providing such a thorough answer, and thanks for citing your sources as well. Definitely worth much more than the current +5. Jul 20, 2013 at 22:35

I found this by William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible in 17 volumes. This section is from Revelation of John Vol 1; the 1976 United States reprint.



(i) The Revelation was written by a man called John. He begins by saying that God sent the visions he is going to relate to his servant John (Rev. 1:1). He begins the body of his book by saying that it is from John to the Seven Churches in Asia (Rev. 1:4). He speaks of himself as John the brother and companion in tribulation of those to whom he writes (Rev. 1:9). "I John," he says, "am he who heard and saw these things" (Rev. 22:8).

(ii) This John was a Christian who lived in Asia in the same sphere as the Christians of the Seven Churches. He calls himself the brother of those to whom he writes; and he says he too shares in the tribulations through which they are passing (Rev. 1:9).

(iii) He was most probably a Jew of Palestine who had come to Asia Minor late in life. We can deduce that from the kind of Greek he writes. It is vivid, powerful, and pictorial; but from the point of view of grammar it is easily the worst Greek in the New Testament. He makes mistakes which no schoolboy who knew Greek could make. Greek is certainly not his native language; and it is often clear that he is writing in Greek and thinking in Hebrew. He is steeped in the Old Testament. He quotes it or alludes to it 245 times. These quotations come from about twenty Old Testament books; his favourites are Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Psalms, Exodus, Jeremiah, Zechariah. Not only does he know the Old Testament intimately; he is also familiar with the apocalyptic books written between the Testaments.

(iv) His claim for himself is that he is a prophet, and it is on that fact that he rests his right to speak. The command of the Risen Christ to him is that he must prophesy (Rev. 10:11). It is through the spirit of prophecy that Jesus gives his witness to the Church (Rev. 19:10). God is the God of the holy prophets and sends his angel to show his servants what is going to happen in the world (Rev. 22:6). The angel speaks to him of his brothers the prophets (Rev. 22:9). His book is characteristically prophecy or the words of prophecy (Rev. 22:7,10; Rev. 22:18-19).

It is here that John's authority lies. He does not call himself an apostle, as Paul does when he wishes to underline his right to speak. He has no "official" or administrative position in the Church; he is a prophet. He writes what he sees; and since what he sees comes from God, his word is faithful and true (Rev. 1:11,19).

When John was writing, the prophets had a very special place in the Church. He was writing, as we shall see, about A.D. 90. By that time the Church had two kinds of ministry. There was the local ministry; those engaged in it were settled permanently in one congregation, the elders, the deacons and the teachers. And there was the itinerant ministry of those whose sphere of labour was not confined to any one congregation. In it were the apostles, whose writ ran throughout the whole Church; and there were the prophets, who were wandering preachers. The prophets were greatly respected; to question the words of a true prophet was to sin against the Holy Spirit, the Didache says (Rev. 11:7). The accepted order of service for the celebration of the Eucharist is laid down in the Didache, but at the end comes the sentence: "But allow the prophets to hold the Eucharist as they will" (Rev. 10:7). The prophets were regarded as uniquely the men of God, and John was a prophet.

(v) It is not likely that he was an apostle. Otherwise he would hardly have so stressed the fact that he was a prophet. Further, he speaks of the apostles as if he was looking back on them as the great foundations of the Church. He speaks of the twelve foundations of the wall of the Holy City and then says, "and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev. 21:14). He would scarcely have spoken of the apostles like that if he himself was one of them.

This conclusion is rendered even more likely by the title of the book. In the King James and English Revised Versions it is called The Revelation of St. John the Divine. In the Revised Standard Version and in Moffatt's and in J. B. Phillips' translations the Divine is omitted, because it is absent from the majority of the oldest Greek manuscripts; but it does go very far back. The Greek is theologos (GSN2312') and the word is here used in the sense in which we speak of "the Puritan divines" and means, not John the saintly but John the theologian; and the very addition of that title seems to distinguish this John from the John who was the apostle.

As long ago as A.D. 250 Dionysius, the great scholar who was head of the Christian school at Alexandria, saw that it was well nigh impossible that the same man could have written the Revelation and the Fourth Gospel, if for no other reason than that the Greek is so different. The Greek of the Fourth Gospel is simple but correct; the Greek of the Revelation is rugged and vivid, but notoriously incorrect. Further, the writer of the Fourth Gospel studiously avoids any mention of his own name; the John of the Revelation repeatedly mentions it. Still further, the ideas of the two books are different. The great ideas of the Fourth Gospel, light, life, truth and grace, do not dominate the Revelation. At the same time there are enough resemblances in thought and language to make it clear that both books come from the same centre and from the same world of thought.

  • -1 for a quote only answer. A long quote without any original commentary is not really helpful (essentially the same thing as a link only answer) and additionally is a borderline copyright violation. While attribution certainly helps, you can't get around copyright simply by attribution - there is a limit to how much you can copy within rules (it isn't a set number of words, but rather relates to whether you have copied the essential arguments of the author to the point where no one has an incentive to obtain the original). Could you summarize this in your own words?
    – ThaddeusB
    Dec 23, 2015 at 15:15
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    In this case, I think the material might be public domain, which removes the legal issue if true, but it would still be FAR better to summarize the material. A quote-only answer doesn't really fulfill the Stack Exchange goal of producing original content that can be shared under the CC-BY-SA license.
    – ThaddeusB
    Dec 23, 2015 at 15:20
  • @ThaddeusB link answers are a problem because the link can break. Quotes do not have that problem. Commentary is not necessary.
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 24, 2021 at 7:39

I thought I should provide this information. I just want to point out that this is from an Eastern Tradition Perspective.

In Aramaic Revelation (From Crawford Codex manuscript) used in Some Eastern Traditions, you will see this title - "The Revelation which came to John the Evangelist from God in Patmos Island to which he was exiled by Nero Caesar." (Translation from Dave Bauscher's The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English, Pg. 363).

So it is believed among Aramaic Christians that Revelation is written by Apostle John during the time of Nero Caesar.


Of course Revelation's author calls himself John, but your question is (at least largely) about the early external evidence on the identity of this John. The many references to the Apocalypse of John (e.g., in the title of one of Melito's writings, and throughout the manuscript tradition) don't speak to that (at least not directly). Let's survey the earliest pertinent evidence.

The lost writings of Papias (ca. 100) probably attested Revelation's authorship, although we know of it only indirectly. Andrew of Caesarea cites Papias among the authorities affirming its authorship by John the Evangelist (and, providing an otherwise-unknown quotation from Papias's work, has considerable credibility), though somewhat allusively. The fact that Papias was, according to Irenaeus, a "hearer of John" (in context, this John) would then imply essentially first-hand knowledge. Needless to say, practically everything about Papias is controversial to some extent.

Justin, Dial. 81.4 (ca. 155), writes: "there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him...." The reference to Revelation is pretty clear, and Justin calls him one of the apostles. However, this need not necessarily mean one of the Twelve Apostles, as second-century writers also name Paul, Barnabas, and Luke as "the apostle", for example.

Irenaeus (ca. 185) has a lot to say about Revelation and repeatedly refers to its author, but his clearest statement is in Haer. 4.20.11: "John also, the Lord’s disciple, when beholding the sacerdotal and glorious advent of His kingdom, says in the Apocalypse," and after quoting from Rev 1 continues, "But when John could not endure the sight (for he says, 'I fell at his feet as dead;' [Rev 1:17] that what was written might come to pass: 'No man sees God, and shall live'), and the Word reviving him, and reminding him that it was He upon whose bosom he had leaned at supper, when he put the question as to who should betray Him [John 21:20], declared: 'I am the first and the last....'" So, Irenaeus unambiguously identifies John the Revelator with John the Evangelist (whom he elsewhere, like Justin, calls an apostle).

Among the Fathers, the first explicit identification of John the Revelator with John the son of Zebedee (and not simply as "John the Apostle"), is in Origen, Comm. Jo. 1.14 (ca. 230): "John, son of Zebedee, says in his Apocalypse...." This of course is entangled with the question of identifying the Evangelist with the son of Zebedee; Bauckham discerns such an identification already in two early apocrypha, the Acts of John and the Epistle of the Apostles, perhaps of the second century (though the dates are far from certain); on the other hand, Papias's mention of the martyrdom of the brothers James and John is usually understood as contradicting that identification. It continues to be debated today.

What about the denial of authorship by John the Evangelist?

Pseudo-Hippolytus's lost Chapters against Gaius (ca. 250?), a fictional dialogue between the orthodox "Hippolytus" and the heretic "Gaius", has the latter assert that Revelation (as well as John's Gospel!) was actually written by the heretic Cerinthus (famously opposed by John the Evangelist, as we read in Irenaeus). But this probably springs from misreading another fictional dialogue, the Dialogue with Proclus (probably by the real Hippolytus), where Cerinthus's apocalyptic forgeries and chiliastic views are briefly mentioned by the protagonist "Gaius". Anyway, Dionysius of Alexandria (ca. 255, in a lost work quoted in Eusebius) briefly mentions the allegation of Revelation's authorship by Cerinthus and dismisses it outright, but he goes on to question whether John the Revelator was indeed John the Evangelist, versus some other John, based on a comparison of style and content. Eusebius himself (ca. 315) notes the various prior positions affirming or doubting authorship by the Evangelist (assumed to be also the Apostle), and he speculates that the "John the Elder" cited by Papias was not the Evangelist (as Irenaeus says) but perhaps a distinct John who also wrote Revelation.

The above are the earliest evidence for the various ancient views on record. Although you also asked about scholars of the modern age, others more knowledgeable than I am will have to answer that.


We know that John the Apostle knew Jesus personally and intimately as cousin and close friend, so when John writes that he saw somebody that looked like "The Son Of Man" in Revelation 1:9. John is telling us that he knew what Jesus looked like. So by this clue we can infer that the person who wrote the Revelation is non other than John the Apostle!

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