Why the Earthquake at Laodicea is Not Evidence Against an Early Date of Composition of Revelation

PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY Forums Forum Why the Earthquake at Laodicea is Not Evidence Against an Early Date of Composition of Revelation

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    Due to compelling internal and external evidence, Preterists generally believe that the Book of Revelation was written sometime in early to late A.D. 60’s. One of the arguments leveled against this early date of composition is derived from the fact that Tacitus says that Laodicea was devastated by an earthquake in A.D. 60: “That same year [A.D. 60] one of Asia’s famous cities, Laodicea, collapsed in an earthquake, but recovered through its own resources with no help from us.” (Tacitus The Annals 14:27.) Proponents of a late date of composition allege that Revelation could not have been written sometime in the A.D. 60’s because one of the churches addressed by John in Revelation was a church in this city. How could John have written a letter to a church that was destroyed by an earthquake?

    This argument is unwittingly based on absurd assumptions. It is well known in scholarly circles that first century Christians were generally members of the poorest castes of society: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth (1 Corinthians 1:26).” Thus because the church was small and consisted primarily of poor people, first century Christians did not meet in ornate and lofty cathedrals that would take years to rebuild as many do today. Rather, because first-century Christians were small in number and generally poor, they often met for worship in each other’s houses.

    Is one to believe that the people of Laodicea could not rebuild their own homes within a few years? If they could not rebuild their homes quickly where were they to live after the earthquake? Late date apologists would have us believe that the whole of Laodicea remained homeless for almost six years until A.D. 66, at the start of the Jewish War when the plagues of Revelation began to be fulfilled. Because of the desperate need for shelter the first thing to get repaired during earthquakes in the ancient world would have to have been people’s houses. And these houses especially among the poor of Laodicea–which may have comprised a good share of the Laodicean Church–were generally very small. Many of these small huts could have likely been repaired or rebuilt in hours or weeks, not years as late date advocates would have us believe.

    Furthermore, this argument also implies that every single home was completely leveled to its foundation by the earthquake. How often does an earthquake completely demolish every single building in a city? When a city is devastated by an earthquake one would generally expect that at least some of the homes to remain largely intact if not entirely unscathed. Earthquakes do not cause uniform devastation. If the house in which the Christians of Laodicea typically met for church service was leveled, what would prevent these people from moving service to the home of another member whose house was not as badly damaged? And in the highly unlikely event that every single house of every single member was completely leveled, the church could easily move its service to an outside shaded area for a Sunday or two until one or more homes could be adequately repaired.
    But what about Revelation 3:17 in which John says that the church was rich? Looking at the context in which this verse appears seems to suggest that this “wealth” is spiritual wealth:

    15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:15-18).

    From the context above it appears that the wealth referred to here is spiritual wealth which Paul denies. However, Laodicea does appear to have been a rich city as implied by Tacitus when he said that the city rebuilt itself without need of outside aid. If this wealth is to be understood literally, then this still does not pose a problem for an early date. If the preponderance of the church was rich, then this means that they likely had the monetary recourses necessary to quickly repair damages. And if they did have the resources necessary to bounce back from this earthquake without outside aid this fact seems to make sense of Revelation 3:17: “I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” The fact that these people are rich and do not need a thing may be a direct reference to fact that these people quickly rebounded from the recent earthquake by their own resources without outside help as Tacitus states. If this is what is meant by this verse then this statement implies that Revelation was likely written shortly after this earthquake of A.D. 60, not over thirty years later when this disaster was a distant memory.

    Therefore, whether the Christians in Laodicea were rich or poor, the earthquake in Laodicea should not have interrupted the continued meeting and worship of the Christians in that city. And therefore this earthquake cannot be used as evidence against an early date of composition of the Book of Revelation.

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