Apologetics Thursday – Names in the Book of Life in Revelation

Rev 3:5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Revelation 3:5 suggests that there is a Book of Life containing the names of all God’s followers, and as individuals turn against God their names are removed. This concept is problematic for those who want to see the divine book as an eternal list of names, elect by God. Calvinists want to use the book as a prooftext of their concept of an eternal elect. As such, the verse needs to be dismissed.

John Piper writes:

The promise “I will not erase his name from the book of life,” does not necessarily imply that some do have their names erased. It simply says to the one who is in the book and who conquers in faith: I will never wipe out your name. In other words, being erased is a fearful prospect which I will not allow to happen. I will keep you safe in the book. That is one of the promises made to those who persevere and conquer. It does not say that those who fail to conquer and fall away from Christ were written in the book and got erased.

In fact, there are two other verses in Revelation that seem to teach that to have your name written in the book means that you will most definitely persevere and conquer. Consider Revelation 13:8. “And all who dwell on the earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” This verse implies that those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life “from the foundation of the world” definitely will not worship the beast. In other words, having our name in the book of life from the foundation of the world seems to mean that God will keep you from falling and grant you to persevere in allegiance to God. Being in the book means you will not apostatize.

Similarly consider Revelation 17:8, “The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will marvel, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.” Again having one’s name written in the book of life from the foundation of the world appears to secure one from “marveling” at the beast. Those whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel. If your name is written there, you will not marvel at the beast.

Ironically, John Piper misreads his own prooftext to dismiss Revelation 3:5. Both Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 are about “names not written” SINCE the foundation of the world. The verses are not about “names which have been written” BEFORE the foundation of the world. And there are zero verses referencing an eternal life of names. [As a side note, the prepositional phrase “since the foundation of the world” modifies “written” in both verses. The phrase does not modify “slain” in Revelation 17:8. This would make zero sense and would be highly unusual as the phrase is used in a almost identical context modifying “written” in Revelation 13:8.]

The phrasing suggests an ongoing process of adding names to the book. The Greek word used is ἀπό (since), not πρό (before). Compare to Matthew 1:17: “So all the generations from (ἀπό) Abraham to David were fourteen generations” and Matthew 4:17 From (ἀπό) that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The preposition used in reference to timeframes is a reference to actions after the timeframe mentioned. While prepositions are flexible, the default reading should be that this is an ongoing and not an eternal life of names. John Piper’s own prooftexts contradict his theology.

Conveniently, John Piper omits mention of a forth reference to the book of life within Revelation:

Rev 22:19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Just as in Revelation 3:5, Revelation 22:19 makes reference to names being removed from the Book of Life. It is a warning to people that their “part” of the Book of Life can be revoked based on their actions.

To John of Revelation, God possessed a divine book, a Book of Life. This book was an ongoing list of His followers. This book was updated in real time as people turned to God or away from God. Names are both added to the book and removed from the book. To John, God did not have the attribute of eternal exhaustive knowledge of the entire future. Instead, God watches the present and reacts in real time.

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