by Martin G. Collins
For centuries, humanity has recognized the need for keeping written records in the administration of government. In fact, within the United States, each city, county, and state is tasked with cataloging copious records of significant events and legal transactions within its respective purview. Every law passed is recorded. Voting requires registration. Each birth, death, marriage, divorce, real estate transaction, traffic offense, and property tax bill makes it into an official registry.
However, despite man’s long history of record-keeping, the Bible teaches us that the first registry belongs to God. It is known as the Book of Life. Here, we consider its purpose and significance to the professing Christian.
1. What is the Book of Life?
Comment: Numerous biblical passages reference one or more books that God uses to record the names and significant details of each living person (Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:23; Daniel 12:1; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 21:27). Apparently, God will use these records in each person’s judgment:
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. . . . And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of Fire. (Revelation 20:12, 15)
In Psalm 69:27-28, the psalmist entreats God, “Add iniquity to their iniquity, and let them not come into Your righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living.”
In naming this book, the passage in Revelation 20 uses the Greek words biblion zoe (Strong’s #975 and #2222): literally, “book life.” Psalm 69 contains the Hebrew words sepher (Strong’s #5612) and chay (Strong’s #2416), which can be translated as a “book, register, or scroll of living things.”
By implication, then, God records every thought and action of every person who has ever lived. From this record, He will enact His final judgment, determining those attaining eternal life or eternal death. Those receiving the reward of eternal life will have their names entered into the Book of Life.
While many Bible scholars teach that there are two different books, the Book of Life and the Book of the Living, it is difficult to delineate between the two, as they would seem to share the same purpose and function.
2. Is the Book of Life a real book, or is it just a metaphor for God’s mind and judgment?
Comment: In Revelation 20:12, the apostle John declares that he “saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.” Although John was experiencing a vision (Revelation 1:10), the text does not indicate that we should consider this verse as figurative. In fact, Christ’s instructions were for John to write “what you see” (emphasis ours throughout). Perhaps we can say that the Book of Life represents a broad metaphor for God’s ultimate will and judgment for all men, but we should understand it to be a literal book. John explicitly expresses that he witnessed books being opened.
3. Why does God need a Book of Life?
Comment: While no scripture answers this question directly, we can infer from our knowledge of God’s nature (I John 4:8) that such a book exists for the benefit of His children—and not to jog His memory! It helps to reveal that our great God is a God of order (I Corinthians 14:33, 40) and that He keeps meticulous records of our lives (Hebrews 6:10). Moreover, since mankind has long dealt with governmental record-keeping, the very idea that such a registry exists adds a touch of real-life urgency to our goal of overcoming.
4. How does a person get his name placed into the Book of Life, and once in, can a name be removed?
Comment: In His message to each of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, Christ emphasizes that we must overcome our sinful natures to have our names written in the Book of Life (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).
In Revelation 3:5, however, our Creator indicates that there is no eternal security: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.” Add to this Revelation 22:19, Exodus 32:33, and Deuteronomy 29:20 (among others), and it is clear that God would remove a name written in the Book of Life should its owner turn away from his commitment to Him.