Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bishop Dionysius on Revelation

Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (mid-third century), one of Eusebius' heroes in his History of the Church, was a great bishop who led the church in times of plague and persecution. He was also a capable biblical scholar (a rare trait among bishops these days) and wrote about Revelation.

A certain Nepos, a bishop of Egypt, argued that the Scriptures should be interpreted in a more Jewish fashion and he took the hope for a millennium in Revelation 20 quite literally. Dionysius wrote a response to Nepos in a book called On Promises. I find two interesting things about what Dionysius says concerning the canonicity of Revelation and its authorship.

1. In contrast to some who attributed Revelation to Cerinthus, Dionysius says:

I, however, would not dare reject the book, since many brethren hold it in esteem, but since my intellect cannot judge it properly, I hold that its interpretation is a wondrous mystery. I do not understand it, but I suspect that the words have a deeper meaning. Putting more reliance on faith than on reason, I have concuded that they are too high for my comprehension. I do not reject what I have failed to understand, but am rather puzzled that I failed to understand.

That probably sums it up for many of us!

2. On authorship, Dionysius says this:

That, therefore, he was named John and that this book is by a John - some holy, inspired writer - I will not deny. But I do not agree that he was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, who wrote the Gospel according to John and the general epistle. From the character of each and on the style and format of [Revelation], I conclude that the author is not the same. For the Evangelist nowhere names himself in either the Gospel or Epistle in either the first or third persons, whereas the author of Revelation announces himself at the very beginning: "The revelation of Jesus Christ which he ... sent by his angel to his servant John."

(Eusebius, H.E.7.25)

3 comments:

Philip R. Gons said...

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Michael Barber said...

I think this quotation is fascinating. It should be noted that Dionysius' opinion regarding the Apocalypse is rather unique among the early fathers in that he does not base his opinion on some previously received handed down tradition. His judgment is is based on internal evidence.

I think that is noteworthy.

Normally when early fathers are cited you go there looking for some kind of authority from "tradition"--not in this case though.

Tony Siew said...

Internal evidence is one factor among many in deciding on authorship issue especially in respect of Revelation. John would have written the book of Revelation himself in Patmos under restrictive circumstances of exile. As a Jew and indebted to OT for many of Revelation's allusions may explain why Revelation's Greek is more of the semitic flavour or written in less polished Greek. John's Gospel might have been John's thought but written by his disciple or a secretary who was better versed in Greek and hence the more polished Greek found in the Gospel and Johannine letters. About naming himself in Revelation and not the Gospel, it may well be John's intention to distinguish his Apocalypse from other apocalypses usually written pseudomynously.