Revelation 17:8 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Rev 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

The Book of Life is often claimed to be an eternal list of names of God’s elect. John Frame writes:

In Revelation 17:8, those not in the book of life are excluded from it “from the foundation of the world,” and, implicitly, those written in the book were written in it from the world’s foundation. This expression precludes the notion that one could be listed in the book and later blotted out because of something that happens in history.

Coincidentally, Frame then cites Revelation 3:5 as additional evidence, despite that verse giving a condition by which someone is not blotted out of the book. If people don’t fulfill the condition, they are blotted out. People are not “excluded” from the Book. They opt in and out.

Using Revelation 17:8 for a prooftext of an eternal list of names is faulty for a few reasons.

First, the verse is talking about names “not written”. It only talks about names written by implication.

Second, the prepositional phrase “from the foundation of the world” is conflated with “before the foundation of the world”. Luke 11:50 talks about all the prophets which have been killed since the foundation of the world, using the same phrase. A better reading of Revelation 17:8 is saying that everyone who has never accepted God will be the ones marveling.

Third, “foundation of the world” is not a defined phrase. It could mean any number of things: The creation of the universe. The fall in Eden. The Flood in Genesis. The re-establishment of the world after the flood. “Foundation” could be “casting down” or “building up”. “World” could be “good order” or “creation”. Although “creation of the universe” might be a good reading, it is not the only option.

Forth, the theology which requires and eternal list of names does not even have names “written” before the foundation of the world. The names are eternal. They are never written.

Revelation 17:8, instead, suggests that the Book of Life is a running list of all believers. The contrast is between people who have never had their names written in the book of life since the foundation of the world, and those who have had their name written in the book of life since the foundation of the world. Names are added as people become saved and removed if they do not persevere.

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