Tuesday, November 20, 2012

“Written before the foundation of the world in the Lamb’s book of life”

A question has come up in Andrew Clover’s Lutheran and Reformed Discussion group, “Does scripture teach the doctrine of reprobation?” I wanted to talk about this for a bit, because not only is this one of the more notable areas of disagreement between Lutherans and the Reformed, but it has some other applications as well.

Some of the discussion in the group centers on Romans 9 and 11, but here is another passage (group of passages) that I think very clearly show God’s intention.

While this is not a slam-dunk on the doctrine of reprobation, it does speak to the doctrine that God deliberately chooses, not that God merely “foresees”. This is also one of the greatest sources of comfort for the Christian believer who may be undergoing earthly trials.

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

Rev 13:5–10, ESV

If this is “a call for endurance”, it is also a source of information about where that endurance comes from. This passage clearly shows God’s deliberate intention.

The beast is “given a mouth”. “It was allowed to make war”. “Authority was given it”. We are not looking at a description of a God who allows things to chance.

We are also looking at “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world…” There are those whose names were deliberately written (Rev 21:27), and there are those whose names were not written.

I became aware of the construction found in verse 8 in a Christology course taught by Richard Gaffin of WTS. It was not just “the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world”, but that names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life”.

Gregory Beale, in his NIGTC commentary The Book of Revelation (pgs 701 ff) provides some analysis of this passage:

The phrase “book of life” appears five other times in the Apocalypse (Rev 3:5, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15, 21:27). In each case, as here, it is a metaphor for saints whose salvation has been determined: their names have been entered into the census book of the eternal new Jerusalem before history began, which is explicitly affirmed in 21:27, though the pretemporal phrase is omitted there, unlike 13:8 and 17:8, which express the notion of predetermination with “from the foundation of the world.” That saints were written in the book before history began is implied by the fact that the beast worshipers are said not to have been so written.

The genitive “of life” (τῆς ζωῆς) denotes the nature or purpose of the book. The book is a picture of security in God’s eternal city, and the genitive clarifies what kind of security is provided. The saints are given the protection of eternal life. This book stands in contrast to the “books” that record the sins of the ungodly (Rev 20:12–13). The dual notion of a “book of life” for the righteous and “books” of judgment for the wicked is based on Daniel 12:1–2 and 7:10).

The point here is that the multitudes throughout the earth who worship the beast do so because their names “have not been written in the book of life.” They are deceived into worshiping him because they do not have the eternal life-giving protection granted those whose names are in the book. Their destiny is identified with that of the false prophets, whose names also have not been written in the book of life (Ezekiel 13:9: false prophets will not be “written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel”).

The last phrase, “from the foundation of the world,” might explain that the death of Christ was decreed before time began (“of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”; so 1 Peter 1:19ff.: cf. Assumption of Moses 1:14, where Moses’s mediatorship was “prepared before the foundation of the world”). The former translation is viable because the statement about the Lamb’s death is immediately followed by the precreation temporal expression. And it is unlikely that the concluding temporal clause goes with “written,” since twelve words separate them. If the phrase describes the decree of the Lamb’s death, it is complementary to Rev 17:8, which strongly implies that the elect were written “in the book of life before the foundation of the world.”

But Rev 13:8 may refer to the same decree as 17:8, where the precreation phrase immediately follows “whose names have not been written in the book of life” (ὧν οὐ γέγραπται τὸ ὄνομα ἐπὶ τὸ βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου). But if that is the case here in 13:8, why is the temporal phrase separated from the clause it modifies? It is so that a further description may be given to “the book of life.” “Of the Lamb who was slain” is a genitive of possession, or it could also identify the Lamb as the source of the “life” associated with the “book” (the genitive functions likewise in 21:27). The phrase is in contrast to the similar description in vv 3 and 11. People reject Christ, the true “lamb who was slain” because they follow the beast “who was slain” and the beastlike lamb. Those who give such allegiance to the beast demonstrate that they “have not been written in the book of life.” Therefore, the Lamb does not grant them spiritual protection from the beasts’ deceptions. Genuine believers have assurance that their souls can weather any Satanic storm because of the safety accorded by the Lamb’s book. This safety is the precreation identification of God’s people with the Lamb’s death, which means that they also identify with his resurrection life, which protects them from the spiritual death and ultimate deception (cr. Rev 5:5–13). No one can take this life from them.

This conclusion stands regardless of how the syntactical problem is solved. Because the book of life is unreservedly ascribed to Christ, the salvation of all, implicitly including OT saints, is represented as depending on the one redemptive act of Christ.

The language here couldn’t be more clear. Those individuals “whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life from before the foundation of the world” have a life that cannot be taken away from them, that will not be dependent on some kind of “second plank of salvation”.

[The question will undoubtedly come up, “how do you know you are one of these”, but that is beside the point: those who were “written before the foundation of the world” never have a need for any kind of “second plank”, and those not written never have the opportunity for any kind of “second plank”. This is a clear contradiction from Scripture of an essential Roman Catholic doctrine.]

I don’t want to make light of this, suggesting it is a “once saved, always saved” kind of thing. But the language is clear: “once written in the Lamb’s book of life (from before the foundation of the world), always written in the Lamb’s book of life”.

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