Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Rev 22:19

I recently ran a question by a NT scholar. Here's my question, followed by his answer: 

Wesleyan Arminians (e.g. Witherington) cite this verse as a prooftext to demonstrate that a Christian can lose his salvation. How do you explain it consistent with the perseverance of the saints? 

I think the main problem is in taking "his share" as virtually a technical, precisionistic term, as if one of the main purposes of the verse were to teach that one can lose one salvation, and that this is being articulated by equating salvation with having a share in the tree of life and the holy city. In fact, the language is similar to Heb 6: as part of the community of faith, one is counted as being heir, and one would have had a share in the tree of life in an absolute sense or decretal sense if one had been one of the elect. But Rev 22:19 is focusing on the working out of the dynamics of grace in time in the community (similar in this respect to Heb 6). An individual is counted as sharing in the heritage of the church while he is in the church. He has "his share" in the inheritance that God promises to all in the community. "His share" describes what belongs to human appearances; and it matters to God as well, because someone in the church has greater obligations, Heb 10:29; 2 Pet 2:21. 
I haven't read Witherington's discussion of this verse, but surely he does not favor the Vulgate reading, "book of life" (instead of "tree of life"). If that were the reading, it would make the text quite a bit harder for a Calvinist. Witherington surely also knows about Rev. 17:8, which is heavily against him on that score. I think it is fair to distinguish the contexts of 17:8 and 22:19 in certain ways. 17:8 comes in the context of other discussions of heavenly books, and that is often used with a decretal meaning. It's about a decree in place from the foundation of the world. 22:19, on the other hand, is about participation in a historical process, and the covenantal penalties (e.g., Kline, By Oath Consigned) for violating the terms of the covenant. Arminians typically don't appreciate the complexities that a covenantal approach can include.


  1. Here's a list of some Scriptural references that explicitly, implicitly or possibly refer to books written in heaven.

    Exodus 32:32-33; Deut. 9:14; 25:19; 29:20; Ps. 9:5; 56:8; 69:28; 109:13-15; 139:16; Prov. 10:7; Isa. 4:3; Ezek. 13:9; Dan. 12:1; Mal. 3:16; Luke 10:20, Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 20:15; 21:27

    [Rev. 22:19 is excluded because, as noted above, the best manuscripts have "tree of life" rather than "book of life"]

    As a young Christian I thought many of the above passages clearly excluded the possibility of the doctrines of 1. the perseverance of the saints and 2. the idea of an unconditional and unchanging election to salvation. However, I eventually came to a conclusion in keeping with the unnamed NT scholar.

    There are multiple books that God keeps according to Rev. 20:12 (maybe with the assistance and witness of angels). The above list of passages don't always tell us which particular book it's referring to. Even when they do refer to "the book of life," there may be multiple "books of life." Similar to what the scholar above wrote, some may correspond to the historical process and human appearances in the community of faith, while others to God's unchanging eternal decree.

    There is however, a specific reference to the "book of life of the Lamb" (Rev. 13:8) which is in all likelihood the same as the "Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27). It's described as having been "written before the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). This latter book seems to be an unchanging book which corresponds to God's unchanging decree. Finally, some of the passages above may only hypothetically warn of being blotted out of some book. For example, the "book of life" in Rev. 3:5 is probably the same as the "Lamb's book of life." Yet, the promise that conquerors/overcomers will not be blotted out does not necessarily entail that anyone actually is ever blotted out of that book.

    1. Regarding the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (as Calvinists understand it and not the truncated Dispensational view of Eternal Security or "Once Saved, Always Saved"), I prefer and suspect its truth. However, I don't think the doctrine of unconditional election or of God's exhaustive sovereignty necessarily entails the "P" in TULIP. Since, Augustine, Aquinas and Luther (et al.) affirmed both doctrines yet believed genuine believers can fall away. They believed in the perseverance of all the Elect and not of all Saints. Many Calvinists assume that Unconditional Election entails the Perseverance of the Saints because they agree with the Arminian premise that the only way someone could fall away is if salvation is ultimately in man's hands (i.e. man's free will). However, if God were truly sovereign, then hypothetically the salvation He gave in time, He should be able to take away in time. Or at least do so in effect by (as Augustine put it) "withholding the gift of perseverance."

      Some of the reasons I do lean strongly toward the "P" in TULIP include the following:

      No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.- John 6:44

      From this verse, it seems that absolutely all those whom God draws to come to Christ will be raised to [presumably] the resurrection of the righeteous (Luke 14:14) which is the resurrection unto life (5:29). That seems to exclude the possibility of anyone who ever truly comes to Christ from falling away.

      What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?- Rom. 8:31

      Presumably, all those truly saved have God on their side. Why then would God, withhold the gift of perseverance or take away the faith He had given or enabled to be exercised, or allow such a faith to dwindle and be blown out like a flickering flame?

      And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.- Phil. 1:6 (cf. Jude 1:24-25)

      Also, if Limited Atonement is true, then that too would support "P." Though, I have doubts regarding "L," Rom. 8:32 seems to fit very nicely with Limited Atonement; and by extention "P." Since, it would seem that God the Father wouldn't withhold the gift of perseverance if He also delivered and gave up His Son on behalf of any true believer. Paul gave a Kal Vachomer argument there. AKA an a fortiori argument (I believe an a maiore ad minus rather than an a minore ad maius).

      Another reason is the nature of God's love, mercy and grace. While it's true that not everyone under the Old Covenant was regenerated or persevered, the OT promise that God's mercy/lovingkindness/steadfast love "endures forever" (Ps. 136) applies much more under the New Covenant which is the final, ultimate and fullest revelation and provision of God's mercy and grace. Old Covenant passages like the following have an even greater meaning in light of the New Covenant.

      For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints.They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.- Ps. 37:28

      22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.- Lam. 3:22-23

      For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.- Ps. 30:5

      More could be said, but I think those are some good reasons to hold to the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.

    2. In point of fact, election entails the salvation of the election. That's the objective of election: predestination to salvation.

      Sovereignty is not a synonym for fickleness. Sovereignty doesn't mean God changes his mind or works at cross purposes with his own goals.

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    4. In point of fact, election entails the salvation of the election. That's the objective of election: predestination to salvation.

      I never said otherwise. Election entails salvation, but salvation doesn't necessarily entail election (or having been elected to persevere). It's logically possible for God to decree and providentially bring about someone's entering into initial salvation without God also decreeing and providentially bringing about their perseverance and final salvation.

      Sovereignty is not a synonym for fickleness. Sovereignty doesn't mean God changes his mind or works at cross purposes with his own goals.

      Saying that the view that admits the possibility and/or reality of the final apostasy of truly regenerate believers entails fickleness on God's part seems to be Calvinistic bias on your part. Why would it necessarily mean that God changed His mind or would be working at cross purposes with His own goals if, hypothetically, His goal was to further condemn apostates for their apostasy against greater light?

      Does God do such a thing? I suspect not for the reasons I gave above. But I don't see why in principle God couldn't since He does a similar thing with the non-elect who never make a profession of faith but yet get exposed to the Gospel and enjoy God's greater/better Common Grace benefits.

      God wouldn't have to be an "Indian Giver" (no ethnic slur intended) to bring about the apostasy of a genuine believer. He wouldn't necessarily have to take it away by positively doing something extra. He could just withdraw His grace, withhold the gift of perseverance and allow the believer to naturally fall away (having left him to his own evil devices).

      BTW, another reason why I don't believe God actually does this is because justification seems to be irreversible. Romans 8:33 wouldn't preclude the possibility of final apostasy of believers in general because it refers to the "elect". However, Romans 8:1 would seem to since the context is that of all true believers. Similarly, a case could be made regarding the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9 and Eph. 4:30).

    5. If all those who have the Spirit of Christ will persevere, and if all true believers (or all the regenerate) have the Spirit of Christ, then it follows by resistless logic that all true believers will persevere to the end. There'd be no room for the category of true believers who don't have the Spirit of Christ.

      Some might argue that contrasting John 6:37b with John 6:37a leaves room for a category of persons who come to Christ who aren't specifically drawn by the Father. But as noted above, John 6:44 seems to preclude that possibility.

      No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.- John 6:44

      Based on this verse, there is no category of persons who come to Christ who aren't drawn by the Father. Nor is there a category of persons drawn by the Father who will not be raised up unto the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14; John 5:29).

      Moreover, John 6:37b could be interpreted to teach the perseverance of all believers. Though, I suppose an Arminian could argue that Christ might not cast such a person out, but the person might cast himself out. Just as a person might jump out of the Father's and Christ's hand in John 10:28-29. However, verse 28 has Christ specifically saying "they shall never perish" (implying perseverance).

    6. You're confusing some hypothetical, counterfactual scenario with what election actually implies. Given the actual purpose of election, that's inconsistent with electing someone for initial salvation but not their final salvation. I'm discussing what logically follows from a real-world situation.

      You might as well say that, in principle, the Son of God never had to become Incarnate, die on the cross, rise from the dead, &c. So what. Given that, in fact, God has an actual plan of salvation, one element does entail another in the teleology of the appointed means to appointed ends.

      "Saying that the view that admits the possibility and/or reality of the final apostasy of truly regenerate believers entails fickleness on God's part seems to be Calvinistic bias on your part."

      You're getting to be a tiresome, contentious, contrarian nuisance. Yes, I have a "Calvinistic bias." That's because I'm a Calvinist. And it's not as if that's an unargued assumption on my part.

      Don't waste my time with your idle speculations. And, frankly, many of your comments don't improve the original post. I've generously allowed you to hitch your caboose onto my steam engine. Don't abuse the privilege.