4.3.1. Book of the Living versus Book of Life

One solution which has been proposed is to understand God’s book, the book of the living (Ex. Ex. 32:32-33; Ps. Ps. 69:28) as being a different book than the Book of Life. Proponents of this view hold that this book records those who are afforded a full life due to righteousness. The sinner is then “blotted out” of the book by judgment resulting in his physical death. The remaining passage which indicates names may be blotted out (Rev. Rev. 3:5+) is seen as a literary device—coupled with a strong adversative—intended to illustrate the impossibility of being blotted out from the other book—the Book of Life.

Thomas suggests that John used a figure of speech known as a litotes. “Interpreters . . . could take the ‘blotting out’ as an example of litotes, a figure of speech in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of a contrary statement. Coming by way of denial of the opposite, this is an understatement to express emphatically the assurance that the overcomer’s name will be retained in the book of life.”1

But understanding Christ’s warning in Revelation Rev. 3:5+ as a figure of speech doesn’t seem to do justice to the context:

The promise to the overcomer is an empty one unless the possibility exists that such a blotting out could occur. What incentive is furnished by being promised deliverance from something that could not happen? Furthermore, the psalmist prays for the blotting out of the names from the book of life (Ps. Ps. 69:28), and in so doing indicates that such is a distinct possibility. The “not blotting” referred to in this verse [Rev. Rev. 3:5+] must be more than a figure of speech.2

The difficulties attending this view are:
  1. Moses’ offer to be blotted out of God’s book (Ex. Ex. 32:32) appears to be parallel to that of Paul (Rom. Rom. 9:3). This view trivializes Moses’ offer to be blotted out with God’s people (only involving physical death) and fails to recognize the parallel of Paul’s comment in Romans which concerns spiritual death, not physical.
  2. Understanding the warning of being blotted out in Revelation Rev. 3:5+ as a literary device doesn’t do justice to the context of the letter to the church at Sardis.
  3. The terms “book of the living” (Ps. Ps. 69:28) and “Book of Life” (Rev. Rev. 20:12+, Rev. 20:15+) are so similar as to call into question any view which maintains they are different books.

Notes

1 Mal Couch, “Soteriology in the Book of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 168.

2 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 261.