Recently, I was stunned to come across two verses in Revelation which claimed that not everyone’s name was once written in the Book of Life. In Rev 13:8, John writes: “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,” and later in Rev 17:8, “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.”
My understanding had always been that everyone’s name was written in the Book of Life, and that their actions (of rejecting God and living in rebellion against Him) expunged their names. To think that God did not even write someone’s name (even if only due to foreknowledge of who would reject him) seemed rather unfair. At judgment, a person could argue the case that he was not saved because he never even had a chance. As an apologist, I found this quite disheartening, and set about to resolve the issue in my own mind.
Two verses immediately sprang to mind in defense of God’s gift of salvation being an equal opportunity to all: 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (emphasis mine), and John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (emphasis mine).
The concept of someone’s name being erased from the Book of Life is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In Exodus 32: 32, Moses offers his own eternal destiny in exchange for that of the golden calf-worshiping Israelites. “But now, if You will, forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” God responds in verse 33, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” And in Revelation 3:5, Jesus tells the apostle John that, “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.”
If God informs us that He erases people’s names, what would be the point of not recording the names of everyone? If a person’s own actions determine whether they remain recorded, why make a third class of people – those who from birth never had a chance at salvation?
To determine the intended grammar of the original Greek text, I turned to Young’s Literal Translation, a strictly literal translation of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, translated according to the letter and idioms of the original languages. The phrase in the two verses in question reads as follows: “whose names have not been written in the scroll of the life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8b); and “whose names have not been written upon the scroll of the life from the foundation of the world” (Rev 17:8b).
We see a distinct difference in the grammar from the Greek than that of the grammar rendered in the English translations. In verse 13:8, it is clear that it was the lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, as opposed to names were not written from the foundation of the world. And while verse 17:8 is missing the phrase of the lamb slain, it could be argued from verse 13:8 that that is what was intended. But even if verse 17:8 is implying that the book of life itself was also written from the foundation of the world, does that imply that the names were not ever written, or only that they are at present not found in the book that was written from the foundation of the world?
Given what John stated in his second epistle, as well as Moses’ converstion with God, it is my personal conclusion that God did indeed record every name, giving everyone equal opportunity to accept Him, and that at judgment, if one’s name is not found, it has been erased due to his own actions and rejection of God.