The Lamb’s Book of Life

June 1, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
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In a recent online debate Dr. Braxton Hunter and myself (Traditionalists) were asked about the Lamb’s book of life by our Calvinistic opponents. As is typical in a formal debate structure, we were not given ample time to fully develop our response, at least not to my satisfaction. (The full debate can be found HERE)

For a more complete answer I have taken a page from my friend’s web site, Richard Coords with http://www.examiningcalvinism.com.

I believe he provides a thorough and biblically sound response to the Calvinistic assertions regarding the Lamb’s book of life:


Revelation 13:8 (see also Matthew 25:34)

“All who dwell on the earth will worship him, 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.”

Calvinist, John MacArthur, comments: “Seven times in the New Testament, believers are identified as those whose names are written in the book of life (cf. 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; Phil 4:3). The book of life belonging to the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, is the registry in which God inscribed the names of those chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world. (This phrase is used as a synonym for eternity past in 17:8; Matt. 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; cf. 2 Thess. 2:13; and 2 Tim. 1:9.) … Believers are doubly secure, because the book of life belongs to the Lamb who has been slain. Not only the decree of election, but also the atoning work of Christ seals the redemption of the elect forever.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 1-11, p.50, emphasis mine)

Thus, the Calvinistic paraphrase of Revelation 13:8: All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written [before] the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

MacArthur comments on Matthew 25:34: “The Lord designed His kingdom from before the foundation of the world and He designed who would be in it from before the foundation of the world.” (Understanding Election, emphasis mine)

Another verse that demonstrates this point is Matthews 19:8: “He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.’” Evidently, “from” the beginning does not mean before the beginning, but from Genesis.

All statements where “before the foundation of the world” is used, is given with reference to Christ. (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20) All statements where “from the foundation of the world” is used, is given with reference to man, moving us from a point of reference forward. (Matthew 25:34; Luke 11:50; Revelation 13:8)

John Calvin comments: “The book of life is the roll of those who are fore-ordained to life, as in Moses, Exod. 32.32. God has this roll laid up with Himself. Hence the book is nothing but His eternal counsel, determined in His own breast.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.286, emphasis mine)

In other words, the book of life is the roll of the Calvinistically elect, but this is reading into the passage.

John Calvin writes: “Those are deleted from the book of life who, considered for a time to be children of God, afterwards depart to their own place, as Peter truly says about Judas (Acts 1:16). But John testifies that these never were of us (I Jn 2:19), for if they had been, they would not have gone out from us.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.151, emphasis mine)

Consider the following verses concerning the Book of Life:

Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

Revelation 13:8: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, 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.” 

Revelation 20:15: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Question: Why do names get written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

Answer
: It is a record of citizenship for the kingdom of heaven.

Question: Is the Book of Life an actual book?

Answer: Revelation 20:12-15 states: “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Therefore, it is evident that the Book of Life is an actual book, located in heaven, and is presented on Judgment Day.

Question: Can names be erased from the Lamb’s Book of Life?

Answer: No, but names can be erased from the Book of Life. Jesus states: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5) Those who do not overcome, never even had their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life to begin with. Who are those who “overcome”? 1st John 5:4-5 states: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Overcoming does not refer to the end of your physical life, but the beginning of your spiritual life. The Lamb’s Book of Life is the book of the redeemed. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of God, then God the Father responded by making you born of God, that is, Born Again, and on that basis, you have overcome the world. Jesus says that as a result of believing in Him, He will never blot out your name from the Book of Life.

Question: What does “from the foundation of the world” mean, and what is the impact of adding “before” the foundation of the world?

Answer: Before the foundation of the world indicates before Genesis, whereas from the foundation of the world indicates from Genesis to present. Therefore, it is incorrect to equate “written from the foundation of the world” with “written [before] the foundation of the world.” Luke 11:49-51 states: “‘For this reason also the wisdom of God said, “I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.”’” If you similarly inserted “before” [Greek: pro] then you would have to conclude that the prophets were martyred before they were born. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that the names that were written into the Lamb’s Book of Life (which are said to be “written from the foundation of the world”) were written as people became Christians.

Question: Is the Book of Life the same thing as the Lamb’s Book of Life?

Answer: No. Psalm 69:28 and Exodus 32:32-33 refer to the Book of Life which is distinct from the Lamb’s Book of Life. The Lamb’s Book is the roll of the Redeemed, and names are added as people become saved. The Book of Life is the roll of all who ever lived, and the wicked have their names blotted out of it. Revelation 20:15 states: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Let Us Reason Ministries explains the differences in the two books: “Those who received Christ have their name written in his book of life (the lambs book) and it is retained in the book of life. Those who reject him, never have their name written in his book. Their name is also removed from the book of life, of which everyone’s name is written down that ever lived. The other books mentioned are the biographies of the individual. The times they heard the Gospel and rejected it, their good and bad deeds that will determine their degree of punishment, not their salvation. God has perfect record keeping.” (Let Us Reason Ministries)

First of all, John MacArthur has altered the biblical text of “from the foundation of the world,” and made it “before the foundation of the world.” The King James Version reads: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

Question: What does Revelation 22:18-19 mean that people who add and subtract from the prophecy of the Book of Revelation will have their part taken out of the Book of Life and from the Holy City?

Answer: Luke Liechty explains: “If their part is removed from the holy city as well, in order for them to be removed, they had to have a part.” (Who Can Be Saved?, emphasis mine) Thus, no one was ever born “non-elect” or “passed-by,” which serves as further evidence that God has a wonderful plan for everyone.

Question: Why does the Calvinistic English Standard Version [ESV] translate Revelation 13:8 as “before” the foundation of the world, instead of “from” the foundation of the world?

Answer: Unknown.

The Greek word apo = since or from.

The Greek word pro = before.

The Greek word apo is used in Matthew 13:35, 25:34; Luke 11:50; Hebrews 4:3, 9:26; and Revelation 13:8, 17:8.

The Calvinist translation [ESV] seems to be erroneous at Revelation 13:8, as it mistranslates apo as “before.” What’s telling is that in the parallel verses of Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 17:8 (in which apo is used in the same exact way), the ESV properly translates apo at Revelation 17:8 as “from,” but improperly translates apo at Revelation 13:8 as “before.”

Indeed, the “Lamb” is “before the foundation of the world” [as per 1st Peter 1:20], but at Revelation 13:8, “from the foundation of the world” is not modifying the Lamb, but modifying the writing of the names.

When used of time, apo can only mean “from” in the sense of “since”, i.e., the point identified is the beginning point of the period in view. <link>


 

Richard’s article clearly spells out the differences between Traditionalists and Calvinists, but I also wanted to draw our attention to the problem within the ranks of Calvinism. If you have studied anything about the lapsarian controversy you will recognize right away that interpreting the passages about the Lamb’s Book of Life as being completed BEFORE the foundation of the world would necessitate a high supralapsarian position, which has typically been rejected by mainstream Calvinists (see this LINK).

I would be interested to explore how a Calvinist who is not a supralapsarian would maintain their perspective of the Lamb’s Book of Life being completed by God unconditionally before the foundation of the world.

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Jeffery Stading

Sublapsarianism which is sometimes referred to as moderate calvinism may explain the God completed the Lamb’s Book of Life based upon His perfect foreknowledge. I may not be stating that accurately. I don’t have a clue how a infralapsarian would approach your question.

    rhutchin

    The ordinary Calvinist sitting in the pew today may not know the difference between supra and infra; what they do know is that God is omniscient and God knew those who would be saved and those who would be lost when He created the world (and basically, in eternity past). Given that God is omniscient, there can be a book of life and a Lamb’s book of life that existed before God created the world and whose contents would certainly have been known to God even if they did not physically exist.

    Professor Flowers, in arguing that the translation of APO should be “from,” appears to be saying that the content of the books were not know to God before the foundation of the world and are being added as time passes. He seems to be arguing an Open Theist position. If not, I do not see his point. He makes a technical argument but never comes to a place where he explains why he is arguing the point (other than as a scholarly, Seminary issue). Even if Professor Flowers is correct, the Calvinist can still argue, based on God’s omniscience, that the contents of the books were known to God when He created the world (and the issue of translation whether “before” or “from,” means nothing as far as doctrine is concerned). The use of “before’ and not “from” points the reader to God’s omniscience and reinforces that omniscience. Maybe, the ESV translators took liberty with the Greek text. In doing so, they have done a disservice to the reader but they have not introduced wrong doctrine.

    In the end, we have a technical issue that would be nice to resolve.

      Andrew Barker

      rhutchin: Your opening comment highlights the problem you have in that while you confidently accept that not all ordinary Calvinists know the difference between supra and infra lapsarianism they all apparently do accept that everything was done and dusted as you say “basically, in eternity past”. You are assigning most of these pew filling Calvinists to what is essentially a supralapsarian position!! even though they don’t know it. More to the point, I suspect that you don’t realise it either otherwise you would not have phrased your comments in that way. It’s not as though you haven’t had enough promptings either. Leighton finished his piece with …”I would be interested to explore how a Calvinist who is not a supralapsarian would maintain their perspective of the Lamb’s Book of Life being completed by God unconditionally before the foundation of the world.” I don’t want to add to your woes, but I would contend that the vast majority of pew filling Calvinists can’t give a reasoned explanation for the basis of their theology. Most won’t haven’t even heard of compatibilism, let alone explain it.

      The example of how you try and deal with the greek word apo is also very revealing. It is clear that you are seeking to establish the meaning of the word apo in the light of your existing theological viewpoint, ie Reformed Calvinism. It’s as clear an example of eisegesis as you could wish to get. You then go on to state that even if Prof Flowers is correct (if?) “the Calvinist can still argue, based on God’s omniscience, that the contents of the books were known to God when He created the world.” In effect you are saying that come what may, you’re still not going to change your view. Well, I think we all cottoned on to that ….. a long time ago.

      As if this were not enough, your final comment … ” Maybe, the ESV translators took liberty with the Greek text. In doing so, they have done a disservice to the reader but they have not introduced wrong doctrine.” … kind of says it all really. I’m afraid you are in danger of reducing the script of the Bible to little more than Wayne’s world.

        rhutchin

        I never got excited about the supra/infra argument and really cannot tell you the difference – I could look it up and repeat what others say, but that’s no fun. From what I have read, I am Supra. However, when I talk to Calvinists, or sympathizers, the focus of their argument is “omniscience.” Omniscience and sovereignty tend to define Calvinist theology for most of them.

        Professor Flowers may be correct on “APO.” It would be nice to have it sorted out. However, if his intent is to say that the book is still being written, and has been “from” the foundation of the world (Genesis 1), then, what is his point. Is he promoting the Open Theist view. I don’t get the impression that he has gone that far, yet. If not, then it doesn’t matter “when” the book is written; the contents were known to God in full before He created the world. So, should I change my view on omniscience? The issue here is not whether God is omniscient is it – it’s a non issue.

        Professor Flowers has raised a technical argument about the translation of “APO” as if it makes a real difference. I don’t see that he identified why it makes a difference. So, get the smart guys together and work it out. The outcome will not change anything – as far as I can see and I don’t see Professor Flowers saying ti would.

        I think you are over analyzing my response to Professor Flowers and maybe not understanding that Professor Flowers said nothing substantive in his article. The Supra/Infra reference seemed to be a straw man to me. What does Professor Flowers seek to gain here? Nothing!?

          Andrew Barker

          rhutchin: “I think you are over analyzing my response to Professor Flowers”
          I think to call your post a ‘response’ to anything Prof Flowers actually said would be to dignify it too much.

Jeffery Stading

rhutchin,

I know you wrote that you “never got excited about the supra/infra argument” and I don’t know that I would call my feelings excitement, but know the distinctions between the views is exactly what you are asking. The logical order of God’s decrees are what you are arguing after all.

If memory serves me well a supralapsarian believes the logical order of the decrees are (1) election of saints and reprobate (2) creation of both groups (3) all the lapse (or fall) of man (4) provide salvation for the elect (5) apply salvation for only the elect. The infralapsarian believes the order to be (1) create all (2) allow the lapse (3) elect some and reject others (4) provide salvation for only the elect (5) apply salvation only for the elect. Sublapsarians (this is where I fall) believe the most logical order is (1) God created all mankind to have a love relationship with Him. That necessitates freedom (as a forced relationship is not a love relationship.) (2) Permit the lapse (3) Provide salvation for all (Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for all) (4) Elect all who believe and pass by those who do not (5) apply salvation to the elect.

Let me add the decrees are God’s and not really made in chronological order. As men we are trying to order them logically. I sometimes wonder if in the SBC we place to much significance on the order. Biblically speaking God creates, God permits man’s freedom, God provides salvation, and calls man to man to salvation by faith in Christ.

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