The Revelation of John is placed in a lot of bibles at the end of the canon. This has always seemed natural to me, but on reflection perhaps it is simply an artifact of the books uniqueness as an Apocalypse in the New Testament canon. Are there reasons, though, to think that John might have self-consciously written it as a close to the Scriptural canon (however he might have construed it)?
Revelations is certainly the last book of the bible; however, canonicity wasn't resolved concerning the New Testament until the Council of Trent in 1546; in which it was established that 27 books which we refer to as New Testament were confirmed as "Articles of Faith", and "anathema" was ascribed to those that rejected them.(Reference: Canon of Trent)
What many have mistakenly inferred Revelations to be the last book of the bible comes from Rev. 22:18-19 (KJV),
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Various preachers have interpreted "this book" to mean all the books of the bible, when in fact John is only referring to 'his book': the "tou" or "toutou"(the/this) are in the Genitive Neutral Singular, which refers only to his book, not all 'the book(s)' which comprise the bible.
Another reference to the same issue is when John describes the "adding of plagues" to those who would "add" to his words. These plagues are spelled out specifically in Revelations, whereas one would have to 'conjure' those from reading the rest of the bible.
Whether or not John saw Revelations as being the "last book" is speculative; but Jesus Himself said,(Mk. 9:1 KJV)
"And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power."
John certainly 'saw' the Kingdom of God come in power, and Jesus returning to reign on earth. This became a point of controversy which is described in John 21:23,(KJV)
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
John saw and understood the "Alpha and Omega"(Rev. 1:8-KJV)
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
who is the beginning and end of all Revelation. It was his gospel where Jesus says,
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."(John 14:6-KJV)
John knew that all truth was contained in Jesus; and seeing the end in the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven(Rev. 21:2), he saw "God shall dwell with His people".(vs 3). So while it is highly speculative that John imagined he wrote the last book, it is no stretch to say that John saw the final day, in which those who were redeemed by God from all humanity would dwell with Him for all eternity.
Once the New Testament books were placed together in one volume, it was natural to place the gospels first, followed by all the epistles and then place Revelation last, whether or not we think of Revelation as a prophecy of the end times.
John would not have known what books of the New Testament were yet to be written; in fact there was no thought given to defining a New Testament canon until after Marcion had defined his own canon in the middle of the second century, in competition to the centrist Church.
It is only as codices began to replace scrolls that it became feasible to even think of placing all the books in the one codex. Christians began to use codices around the end of the first century, at about the time John of Patmos is thought to have written Revelation, but he can not be expected to have considered that the Church would one day define a canon of scriptures, bound in a single volume, with the Apocalypse last.
Tau's answer ends with this note:
So while it is highly speculative that John imagined he wrote the last book, it is no stretch to say that John saw the final day, in which those who were redeemed by God from all humanity would dwell with Him for all eternity.
Theologically this is surely the most salient point that can be made—whether or not John self consciously knew the work he just penned would end up being the last in the Scriptural canon or not is nearly irrelevant to the meaning of the work itself.
That being said I don't think it's much of a stretch to speculate that he was aware of this detail. Speculative? Sure, but not highly so, and not even that much of a stretch.
John refers to himself as “The Elder”. Many commentators have noted that this could have more than one connotation. Sure the position he held in the church could be labeled as the office of Elder, but at the same time John likely had a second meaning in mind. By this time he was an old man. He had more gray hairs than anybody else on the team.
As a matter of fact, all the rest of the team was dead. As a mere youth at the time of Jesus’ ministry and having been blessed with a generously long life, he was the last living member of the original Apostles. Even Paul had been pushing up daisies for nearly 30 years!
Revelation was likely the last book physically penned. The most probable candidates for later books would be John’s own three shorter letters: which leaves John still having a pretty good idea of where his work fits in. The other NT books all date to 15–50 years earlier. Some have proposed a late date for Mathew; yet if the book is original material the earlier dates make more sense and if it is a compound work refactoring existing material then a late date for its authorship isn't really a case for adding new material that John wouldn't have been aware of.
Given his location in Ephesus up until the years directly preceding his exile on Patmos (where he likely wrote Revelation) he would have had access to nearly all the scattered documents that later came to be explicitly known as the canon. Ephesus was a hub through which all the letters as well as of course the gospel texts would have eventually made their way. John’s position in the church there would have guaranteed that he read them all. He surely had a pretty good handle on what texts were out there, what had been written by his fellow Apostles, what Paul had penned, etc.
And as an old man he knew that there wasn’t anybody left that could give the kind of witness he could.
Whether he had in mind the kind of organized canon we have today could be debated. As others have noted his own warnings about not adding to or taking away from the book is likely a reference to either the one book or the scope of the Apostles’ teachings in general rather than inclusion or exclusion from a canon—but I think it’s safe to speculate that John did in fact have some realization of where his work fit in the context of the rest of Scripture.
Does Revelation self-consciously bring a close to the canon? The question seems to presume that the scroll has a consciousness, which is not likely what was meant so I'm interpreting the question to be, "Does the author of Revelation intend that Revelation be the last scripture to be written?"
I will presume that this question is based on the blessing and curse that ends the scroll:
Rev. 22:18-19 For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
By placing this blessing/curse at the end of his scroll he clearly intended his own work to be "canon" or "rule" that was to be taken as divine in authority.
Since Revelation was written on a scroll and not at the end of a codex (book) that contained other writings it can safely be asserted that there is no reason to think that the author would be intending to canonize any and all text that would then be bound up together with it in the future. Had that been his intent then the contents of Sinaiticus would have thus been "canonized."
So why does it appear last in Protestant "Bibles"?
First of all, "canonization of Bibles" is not a scriptural concept. The scriptures never speak of a "Bible". Instead it speaks "writings" ("scriptures") and authorizes them all as "god-breathed":
2Ti_3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
And it speaks of "sacred literature":
2Ti 3:15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred literature, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
However many religions have the concept of a "canon". The Catholic canon that has prevailed for most of history was a Latin text called "The Vulgate" which was authorized by the Pope to be used in the Catholic Church. It contained several texts that do not appear in the Protestant canon. Other groups, such as the Mormons have other texts in their canon.
The Revelation came to be placed at the end of the Protestant canon because Martin Luther produced a German language Bible and he placed all of the texts from the OT that he considered bogus at the end of the OT (now called "The Apocrypha) and all the texts from the NT that he considered bogus at the end of the NT. Luther considered Revelation, while of interest to Christians as literature, to be the ravings of a mad man so he stuck it at the end.
So, depending on your faith:
- the organization of the texts of the scriptures in a book is post-revelation affair of no religious importance
- Revelation is non-canonical and so stuck on the end of the revealed books
- Revelation is canonical but so are the books of Mormon
- only tradition recognizes the concept of a canon
- Revelation, by divine inspiration, closes the canon which, now by divine decision is the Protestant "The Bible"
Personally I consider the concept of "The Bible" to be a completely bogus one as the scriptures themselves say.
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