Roman persecutionPMW 2021-056 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Revelation’s early date is generally held by modern postmillennialists of the preterist variety. I have argued elsewhere positively for the early date. So here I am offering a short series that briefly responds to late-date evidences. I am focusing on Leon Morris’ arguments, due to their cogency, succinctness, and his stature as a Revelation commentator.

Morris discovers “indications that Revelation was written in a time of persecution.” This evidence is felt to accord “much better with Domitian.” [1] W. G. Kümmel is quite confident that “the picture of the time which the Apocalypse sketches coincides with no epoch of the primitive history so well as with the period of Domitian’s persecution.” [2] Morris, Kümmel, and a number of other scholars list this as among their leading arguments for the A.D. 95-96 date.

I agree that it seems clear enough that in Revelation imperial persecution against the faith has begun. But the evidence heavily favors a Neronic (A.D. 64-68) persecution rather than a Domitianic (A.D. 95-96) one. In fact, it is extremely difficult to even prove a Domitianic persecution — secular history is totally silent on the possibility.

Surprisingly, when we turn to Morris’s own presentation, we are frustrated as we seek sure conviction: “While later Christians sometimes speak of a persecution under Domitian the evidence is not easy to find.” [3] Many scholars understand Domitian’s violent conduct in A.D. 95 as a paranoid outburst. [4] It seemed to concentrate on “selected individuals whom he suspected of undermining his authority.” [5] The problem with the evidence for this “persecution” is that it proceeds solely from Christian sources — sources somewhat later than the events. A Domitianic persecution is not mentioned by any secular historian of the era.

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Though the historicity of a Domitianic persecution of Christianity is questioned, such cannot be the case with the persecution under Nero. Although many scholars argue that the Neronic persecution was confined to Rome and its environs, the indisputable fact remains: Nero cruelly persecuted Christianity, taking even the lives of its foremost leaders, Peter and Paul. The evidence for the Neronic persecution is overwhelming and is documentable from heathen, as well as Christian, sources.

In Before Jerusalem Fell I showed clear evidence of a Neronic persecution from the writings of several pagan and Christian writers of the era. To that list let me now add Tertullian (A.D. 150-220), who was a lawyer who wrote in Latin, the legal language of the Roman Empire. In defending Christianity, he challenged men to search the archives of Rome for the proof that Nero persecuted the Church: “Arid if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: “At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith.” [6] Surely he would not issue a challenge to search the archives of Rome, which could easily be taken and just as easily refuted, were his statement untrue.

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Indisputably, the sheer magnitude, extreme cruelty, and paradigmatic role of Nero’s persecution of Christianity fit well the role required in Revelation. Thus, we are led again to repeat: The Domitianic evidence is doubtful and, if accepted at all, pales in comparison to Nero’s. Interestingly, late-date advocate Robert Mounce, like so many others, admits that “the evidence for widespread persecution under Domitian is not especially strong.” Yet, he goes on rather boldly to add that “there is no other period in the first century in which it would be more likely”! [7] No other period?

The late-date use of the persecution theme in Revelation can neither establish the late date for Revelation, nor compete with the early date evidences.


  1. Morris, Revelation, 37.
  2. W. G. Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. Howard Clark Kee, 17th ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1973), 328.
  3. Morris, Revelation, 36
  4. For example, J. Ramsey Michaels, Revelation (IVPNTC) (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 19. M. Eugene Boring, Revelation: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1989), 17.
  5. Glenn W. Barker, William L. Lane, and J. Ramsey Michaels, The New Testament Speaks (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 368.
  6. Tertullian, Scorpion’s Sting 15.
  7. Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation (2d. ed.: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 34.

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