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?
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.