To elaborate on an earlier point, yes, the book of Revelation has been a subject of controversy in churches since it first appeared, and for good reason. The reasons why the book is not genuine I’ll examine later, if I have some time. The fact that it was controversial I’ll documents in this post.
The first early writer to reject Revelation explicitly was Marcion. Since he was considered a hereitic by the proto-orthodox, his opinion would perhaps be more suspect, but it’s interesting that he does a pretty good job of identifying a number of books that modern scholars would come to identify centuries later as forgeries.
Moving along in history, the book was either rejected outright or commented upon negatively, or recognized as disputed or ignored entirely by the Alogi sect, Caius of Rome, Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Canon 60 of the Synod of Laodicea Canon 85 of the Apostolic. Constitutions, Gregory of Nazianzus , Amphilochius of Iconium , John. Chrysostom, . Theodore, Theodoret , the List of 60 Books, and the Chronography of Nicephorus. It was not found in The Peshitta of the Syrian Church, and it was only added to the canon of the Armenian Church after 1200. It was accepted only late in the Orthodox canon, and it appeared only sporadically in lists of the Eastern canon for many centuries.
All during the middle ages, it was disputed. The Reformers has similar doubts. Erasmus, Martin Luther (who will be quoted below), John Calvin and Zwingli, Karlstadt and Oecolampadius all appeared to have serious doubts about the authenticity or value of the Book of Revelation. Many of them originally published Revelation, along with several other New Testament books, in a special section of “New Testament Apocrypha” at the end of the Bible, indicating its disputed or inferior status.
Before moving on to a few quotations, I should mention that there is an additional problem with the King James Version of Revelations. Erasmus, the scholar who prepared the Greek manuscript from which the King James is translated, had only one borrowed (late and corrupt) copy of a Greek manuscript for Revelations. This copy had Greek commentary intermixed with the text in such a way as to make it difficult to separate the scripture from the commentary – and the last part of the manuscript was missing, forcing Erasmus to back-translate Jerome’s Latin Vulgate into Greek to fill in the missing part. The result is that the King James Version of the Book of Revelation is, scholastically, one of the worst translations ever made. For example? In the King James, Revelation 22:19 speaks of the “Book of Life”. Not a single Greek manuscript ever found says “Book of Life”. They all say “Tree of Life”. But some Latin copyist at some point miscopied “lingo” (tree) into “libro” (book). And Erasmus then back-translated a Latin mistake into a Greek mistake, which has lived on as an English mistake to this very day in the King James.
Some direct ancient quotations about the Book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse of John) and the canon of scripture:
“Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. Among the rejected [Kirsopp Lake translation: "not genuine"] writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John [the book of Revelations], if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. And among these some have placed also the Gospel according to the Hebrews… And all these may be reckoned among the disputed books" – Eusebius, 300 AD
“Then of the New Testament there are four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are harmful. The Manicheans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being smeared with the fragrance of the name 'Gospel' destroys the souls of those who are rather simple-minded. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the latest work of disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul.” – Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures [No Revelations] Please note that I included the slap against the Gospel of Thomas rather than removing it with ellipsis, even though I personally think the Gospel of Thomas is wonderful 😉
“And these are the books of the New Testament: Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; The Acts of the Apostles; Seven Catholic Epistles, to wit, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; Fourteen Epistles of Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Hebrews, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon.” – Synod of Laodicea, Canon 60 AD (343-391) [Notice, no Revelations]
“But now count also [the books] of the New Mystery;
Matthew indeed wrote for the Hebrews the wonderful works of Christ,
And mark for Italy, Luke for Greece,
John, the great preacher, for all, walking in heaven.
Then the Acts of the wise apostles,
And fourteen Epistles of Paul,
And seven Catholic [Epistles], of which James is one,
Two of Peter, three of John again.
And Jude's is the seventh, You have all.
If there is any besides these, it is not among the genuine [books].” – Gregory of Nazianus (329-389 AD) [No Revelations]
“Canon 85. Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by all of you, both clergy and laity. [A list of books of the Old Testament …] And our sacred books, that is, of the New Testament, are the four Gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter; three of John; one of James; one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you, the bishops, by me, Clement, in eight books, which is not appropriate to make public before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us, the Apostles.” – The Apostolic Canons (380 AD) [No Revelations]
“It is time for me to speak of the books of the New Testament.
Receive only four evangelists:
Matthew, then Mark, to whom, having added Luke
As third, count John as fourth in time,
But first in height of teachings,
For I call this one rightly a son of thunder,
Sounding out most greatly with the word of God.
And receive also the second book of Luke,
That of the catholic Acts of the Apostles.
Add next the chosen vessel,
The herald of the Gentiles, the apostle
Paul, having written wisely to the churches
Twice seven Epistles: to the Romans one,
To which one must add two to the Corinthians,
That to the Galatians, and that to the Ephesians, after which
That in Philippi, then the one written
To the Colassians, two to the Thessalonians,
Two to Timothy, and to Titus and the Philemon,
One each, and one to the Hebrews.
But some say the one to the Hebrews is spurious,
not saying well, for the grace is genuine.
Well, what remains? Of the Catholic Epistles
Some say we must receive seven, but others say
Only three should be received — that of James, one,
And one of Peter, and those of John, one.
And some receive three [of John], and besides these, two
of Peter, and that of Jude a seventh.
And again the Revelation of John,
Some approve, but the most
Say it is spurious,” – Amphiolochius of Iconium (394 AD)
“And of the New Testament (writings) the following are gainsaid [disputed]:
1. The Revelation of John 1400 lines
2. The Revelation of Peter 300 lines
3. The Epistle of Barnabas 1360 lines
4. The Gospel of the Hebrews 2200 lines” – The Stichometery of Nicephorus (9th century)
“I miss more than one thing in this book [Revelations], and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic… I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it… Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep. Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago” Martin Luther – Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522)