PMT 2015-025 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Many scholars argue that Jesus’ rebuke of Laodicea in Rev 3:17 is evidence for a late-date for Revelation. But the postmillennial preterist sees Revelation as being written in the mid-AD 60s, well before the mid-90s (late date). Let’s consider this alleged problem for the early-date.
Revelation 3:17 reads:
Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
Leon Morris notes that in the Laodicean letter “we are told that the church in Laodicea was ‘rich, and increased with goods’ (iii. 17). But as the city was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60/61 this must have been considerably later” (Morris, Revelation, 37). Mounce and Kummel also endorse this observation, a major component of the complex of evidence derived from the Seven Letters (Robert Mounce, Revelation, 35 and W. G. Kummel, New Testament Introduction, 469).
It is true that Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake about this time; the evidence for both the fact of the earthquake and its date are clear from Tacitus (Tacitus, Annals 14:27). The idea behind the argument is that such a devastating event as an earthquake must necessarily have severe and long term economic repercussions on the community.
Furthermore, in such a community, the minority Christians could be expected to have suffered, perhaps even disproportionately. If Revelation were written sometime in the period from A.D. 64-70, it would seem to Morris, Mounce, and others, that the time-frame would be too compressed to allow for the enrichment of the church at Laodicea, as is suggested in Revelation. But by the time of Domitian a few decades later, such an enrichment of the church would not be difficult to imagine.
Despite the prima facie plausibility of this argument it does not carry sufficient weight to serve as an anchor for the late-date theory. Some suspicion is immediately cast on the argument when it is noted that it is avoided by such noteworthy late-date advocates as conservative scholars H. B. Swete and Donald Guthrie, and such liberal proponents as R. H. Charles and James Moffatt. The refusal of these scholars to make reference to this argument is not necessarily destructive to the cause, of course. But it is at least curious that such vigorous liberal and conservative advocates do not deem it to have merit.
What Was the Nature of Their “Riches”?
We should note also that it may be that the reference to “riches” made by John is a reference to spiritual riches, and not to material wealth at all.
These riches and other goods in which the Laodicean Church and Angel gloried we must understand as spiritual riches in which they fondly imagined they abounded. . . . [T]his language in this application is justified by numerous passages in Scripture: as by Luke xii. 21; 1 Cor. i:5; 2 Cor. viii. 9; above all, by two passages of holy irony, 1 Cor. iv. 8 and Hos. xii. 8; both standing in very closest connexion with this; I can indeed hardly doubt that there is intended a reference to the latter of these words of our Lord. The Laodicean Angel, and the church he was drawing into the same ruin with himself, were walking in a vain show and imagination of their own righteousness, their own advances in spiritual insight and knowledge. (R. C. Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches, 210).
A good number of commentators suggest an allusion here to 1 Corinthians 4:8 and Hosea 12:8. Additional passages such as Luke 18:11,12; 16:15; and 1 Corinthians 13:1 may be consulted, as well. If this interpretation of “riches” in Rev 3:17 is valid, then the entire force of this argument is dispelled. Surprisingly, this is even the view of Mounce:
“The material wealth of Laodicea is well established. The huge sums taken from Asian cities by Roman officials during the Mithridatic period and following indicate enormous wealth. . . . The ‘wealth’ claimed by the Laodicean church, however, was not material but spiritual. . . . The Laodiceans felt they were secure in their spiritual attainment.” (Mounce, Revelation, 126)
How Devastating Was the Earthquake?
In addition, there is the impressive historical evidence of the situation that tends to undermine the rationale of the argument, even if material riches are in view. Most ruinous to the entire argument is the documented fact of Laodicea’s apparently effortless, unaided, and rapid recovery from the earthquake.
Tacitus reports that the city did not even find it necessary to apply for an imperial subsidy to help them rebuild, even though such was customary for cities in Asia Minor. As Tacitus records it, Laodicea “arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.” (Tacitus, Annals 14:27) This is as clear a statement as necessary to demonstrate that Laodicea’s economic strength was not radically diminished by the quake. Despite the quake, economic resources were so readily available within Laodicea that the city could easily recover itself from the damage. Interestingly, both Morris and Mounce make reference to this statement by Tacitus, despite their using the argument to demand a late date (Morris, Revelation, 37 and Mounce, Revelation, 123).
Before Jerusalem Fell Lecture
(DVD by Ken Gentry)
A summary of the evidence for Revelation’s early date.
Helpful, succinct introduction to Revelation’s pre-AD 70 composition.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Furthermore, it would seem that the time element would not be extremely crucial since “earthquakes were very frequent thereabouts, and rebuilding doubtless followed at once” ( F. J. A. Hort, Apocalypse, xx). The quake occurred in A.D. 61; if Revelation were written as early as A.D. 65 or early A.D. 66 (as is likely), that would give four years for rebuilding. We must remember that the recovery was self-generated. Simple economic analysis demands that for the resources to survive, rebuilding would have to be rapid.
Free downloadable Gentry sermon: “The Antichrist“
Where Was the Quake?
In addition, who is to say that the Christian community was necessarily overwhelmed by the quake in that city? After all, in the Revelation 3:17 statement it is the church that is in view, not the city. Even the horribly destructive earthquakes in Mexico City on September 19 and 20 of 1985 did not destroy every sector of the city. Perhaps, by the grace of God, the Christians were in areas less affected by the quake, as Israel was in an area of Egypt unaffected by the plagues (Exo. 8:22; 9:4, 6, 24; 10:23; 11:27). Would this token of God’s providence lead the Laodiceans to a too proud confidence in their standing as suggested in Revelation 3:17? Perhaps a roughly analogous spiritual situation is found with the church at Corinth, which Paul set about to correct (1 Cor. 4:6-8).
The Laodicean earthquake is not strong evidence against the early-date of Revelation. Several issues render it unuseful for determining Revelation’s date.