The “Ancient Copies” of Revelation

Kenneth Gentry and others have argued for the early date of Revelation from Irenaeus’ reference to the “ancient copies” of it in existence in his day. Is this correct?

One argument that Irenaeus dated Revelation early is that he referred to the “ancient copies” of the book of Revelation as those containing the number 666, rather than 616 (Haer. 5.30.1).1.

Thus, Kenneth Gentry argues:

It would seem that the “ancient” (GREEK) character of the “copies” (GREEK) would suggest something more ancient than the “end of Domitian’s reign,” which Irenaeus speaks of as “almost in our own generation.”

Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, 59.

This argument seems to me to be inconclusive at best. The word translated “ancient” can also be translated “old,” which the oldest copies would have been in AD 185, when Irenaeus wrote, irrespective of whether it was written in the 60s or 90s.

Furthermore, the contrast with the end of Domitian’s reign, which is said to have been “nearly in our time,” cannot be pressed, for Papias, who lived into the second century, was said by Irenaeus to have been an “ancient man” (apud Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.1).

Yes, Domitian did reign nearly in Irenaeus’s time, but people, and perhaps also manuscripts, that existed in his reign were still “old” or “ancient.”

Endnotes

  1. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1998), 58. The first edition is available online for free here.

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