It was the wish of Martin Luther that the Book of Revelation should be omitted from his translation of the Bible. In his opinion, the Apocalypse was of pagan origin, and was not a writing of the beloved John. It was filled with Hermetic inferences and strange allegories which troubled the soul of the great German reformer.
Though not greatly learned in comparative religion, Luther sensed the Gnosticism that pervaded the book. He denied the divine inspiration of the entire work, affirming with Erasmus that the Apocalypse had no legitimate place in the Christian scripture. He raised his voice against tradition, but tradition was stronger; and, after his death, the Book of Revelation was restored to the Bible and has remained in its accustomed place ever since.
The debate concerning the origin of the Book of Revelation began in the second century. Even the Gospel according to St. John was involved. Dionysius of Alexandria declared that both books had been written by Cerinthus, a Gnostic, who, to add credence to his writings, had appended thereto the name of John. Later, St. Jerome attacked the validity of the Apocalypse, lending to the controversy one of the greatest names in the Church. Jerome insisted that through some machination of the evil one, the devil had introduced his voice into the scripture itself, in an effort to undo the whole labor of Christendom.
It must be acknowledged then, that the authorship of the Revelation is extremely uncertain. The claims of the Authorized Version that it was the work of John, while on the Isle of Patmos, may be liberally discounted. It is quite possible that the Cerinthus story is the correct one. If so, the Revelation may be the most important work in the entire New Testament, for the reason that it arose from Gnostic scholarship. From a philosophical standpoint, the Book of Revelation exhibits a wisdom far in excess of the other Testament writings. Here comparative religion is introduced.
The great mystery institutions which dignified the past with their initiates find a place in the Apocalypse. The rites of Phrygia, those celebrating the Aged One who walks amidst the lamps; the rites of Osiris wherein is set forth the last judgment; and the rites of the ancient sun-god and the horsemen who ride through the sky; all these, and many others, are to be found set forth in various sections of the Apocalypse.
Recent translations of Egyptian manuscripts indicate that in some cases the pre-Christian text has been quoted word for word.
Here indeed is the mystery of pagan books, with only the change of an occasional thought or word, wandering into the Christian scriptures, becoming canonical, and remaining century after century unidentified as to their original sources.
John was one of the disciples who did not suffer martyrdom. He is believed to have been buried at Ephesus, the city of the Mysteries, near the tomb of the Virgin Mary.
John sleeps through the centuries awaiting the return of his Lord. When that great day comes, he will arise and be seated upon the right side of his master. These legends have little regard for history, but are products of the traditional trend in early Christian thought. During this period, fantastic accounts of Christian origins were developed, and these inventions ultimately took on a stature second only to the scriptures themselves.
There was a wild confusion of Christian and pagan doctrine. The Greek god Dionysus was canonized, as was also his Roman mode, Bacchus. The pagan mathematician Hypatia, a victim of Christian monks, blossomed forth as St. Catherine of Alexandria. It was not until the end of the Dark Ages that anything resembling reason could be clearly distinguished in the picture. This was no time of critical scholarship.
From our present perspective it is reasonably certain that the Apocalypse is a compilation of pagan doctrines with an occasional Christian reference interpolated into the text.