streams

Everyone is in God's Book of Life
(... for a While)

Paul Sumner

When I was made in secret,
And embroidered in the depths of the earth . . .
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance,
And in your Book they were all written:
The days that were crafted for me.
(Psalm 139)

Analogies, metaphors, and imagery are the ancient language of the Scriptures. Perhaps they aren't always literally true. But they convey truth, nonetheless.

Does God, the Creator of the universe, have a book in which he or a secretary angel writes down descriptions of a person's "unformed substance" (Heb. golem) and the number of days they will be alloted on earth — before they are born?

"Book" (Heb. sefer) is a metaphor for God's mind or memory. Imaging a divine sefer conveys the truth that God is attentive to his work and remembers what he has made. In the case of this passage in Psalm 139, he is attentive to the individual person he has "embroidered" (or knitted), before his birth.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Covenant (Testament) is the idea that people's names are recorded in a book in heaven.

A "name" means a person's personality or character, their unique being. Even though some of us share our name with millions of other people, God knows our specific name — that is, the unique "substance" we are made of, our physical and spiritual DNA.

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The Psalmist affirmed:

You have taken account of my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle;
Are they not in your book? (Ps 56:8, Heb. v. 9)

Yeshua told his disciples, "the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt 10:30).

Along with these comforting promises comes the warning that our sins, committed during our lives on earth, may provoke God to remove our names from his book.

That is, our continual, willful, unrelenting sins so damage, pollute, and corrupt who we are, that we are no longer recognizable to him. We are no longer pristine creations. We are not members of his godly human family. No longer do we have a place in his presence.

We conclude, therefore, that our files in the heavenly data base also contain our deeds, not only our profiles. And when the heavenly Court convenes in the future, "the books" will be opened (Dan 7:10) and the dead will be judged "according to their deeds" (Rev 20:12).

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah,
that each one may be recompensed for his dees in the body,
according to what he has done: whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)
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Is Hell for Babies, or For Adult Sinners?

Michael Horton, a Protestant Reformed (Calvinist) theologian, recently wrote that all humans are "born into the world guilty in Adam," and thus "condemned already" as babies.

In contrast, the apostle Paul, the evangelical Pharisee (Acts 23:6), said "the wrath of God will come upon the children of disobedience" (Col 3:6) — not because they are human beings but because of their sins:

They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer [so they are filled with] unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, malice, envy, murder, deceit, idolatry, sorcery, strife, jealousy, drunkenness, carousings . . . committed by "disobedient" people such as slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, inventors of evil, and those disobedient to parents. (Rom 1:28-30)

God judges and condemns people for sinning, which can only happen after birth during one's lifetime. "I forewarn you ... that those who practice such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21).

Paul didn't say: "Merely because you were born children of Adam and Eve, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

Time and again in the Tanakh, the verb "blot out" (Heb. machah) is used to describe removal from the Book.

[While interceding for Israel, Moses said,] "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made an elohim of gold for themselves. But now, if you will, forgive their sin — and if not, please blot me out from your book which you have written!" (Exod 32:32)

[In response,] the LORD said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot him of my book." (Exod 32:33)

[About his persecutors, the psalmist prayed:]
May they be blotted out of the Book of Life [sefer hayyim],
And may they not be recorded [katav] with the righteous. (Ps 69:28, Heb. v. 29)

[See my parable Yosi Peloni.]

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The Faithful Remain in the Book

Those who remain faithful to God, here and now, are retained in the master ledger — but under certain conditions.

If only you had paid attention to my commandments! . . .
Your descendants would have been like the sand,
And your offspring like its grains:
Their name would never be cut off or destroyed from my presence."
(Isaiah 48:19)

At that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.
(Dan 12:1b)

Nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into [God's holy city and temple], but only those whose are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. (Rev 21:22-23, 27)

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The contigency for remaining in God's Book is faithfulness to him and his commandments, whether before the coming of Messiah or afterward. Sins that lead God to blot out our names can only and must be removed by repentance and sacrifice: by blood.

This is the good message of the Re-Newed Covenant ratified by Messiah Yeshua's sacrifice on the Golgotha altar.

Disciples of Yeshua should "rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Paul's companions and fellow-workers, including women who "shared [his] struggle in the cause of the gospel," are assured that their "names are in the Book of Life" (Phil 4:3). And on Mount Zion, in the heavenly Jerusalem, we hear about "the festal gathering of the congregation of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb 12:23).

Contrary to the beliefs of many Christian sects, Yeshua issues a stern warning toward those who call themselves Christians but continue to live unrepentant lives of sin.

To a congregation of "Christians" in Sardis, Asia Minor, he says that those who "overcome" the temptations to betray him through sin and idolatry, will be "clothed in white garments" and "walk with [him] in white."

And I will not expunge his name from the Book of Life." (Rev 3:5a)

Their reputation ("name") will then be mentioned by Messiah "before [his] Father" and the heavenly court (v. 5b) as valid members of his people.

Yeshua's disciples soberly speak of falling "from grace" (Gal 5:4), falling "away from the faith" (1 Tim 4:1), and falling from their "steadfastness [of faith]" (2 Pet 3:17). The person who is overconfident about their religiosity needs to "take heed that he does not fall" (1 Cor 10:12).

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When Are Our Names Written in the Book?

Years ago, I heard it taught that when people become believers in Jesus, their names are at that moment written in the Book of Life. Before then, before they are saved, they are lost and headed for hell — because they aren't in the book. (Note the theologian's comment above that we are all "born into the world guilty . . . condemned already.")

But I also heard others teach that everyone who sins automatically has their name blotted out of the book and they go to hell.

This didn't make sense.

Do we start out in the Book or not? Or are there two books: one we all start out in (but get blotted out of if we sin), and one we get enrolled in only if we believe in Jesus (but never get blotted out of)? Is one book for Jews and all other Gentiles, and the other only for Christians?

I resolved the exegetical mystery by studying the biblical texts. From my reading, I concluded that everyone is written in God's Book from the beginning. Whether that means at our conception in our mother's womb or at our physical birth, or perhaps in eternity, long before conception when God perceived our unformed substance (Ps 139:16), I don't know.

We begin as invaluable treasures to the Creator, each uniquely crafted in his image (Gen 1:26-27).

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We Corrupt the Image

But the terrible, undeniable reality is: upon our entry into earthly human life, we commit and accumulate sin. And if the habitual, willful sin is not removed by atonement and the forgiveness of God, we, ourselves, are removed from his memory, blotted out from among those who are forgiven.

A life of sin mars the Image of God in us. Until finally we become so unGodlike we are different beings — an alien species that cannot reside in the holy city Jerusalem.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps 14:3)

If you, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand? (Ps 130:3)

The Lord Yeshua shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retributrion to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. (2 Thess 1:7).

When David was confronted by his great sins involving Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12), he knew what was facing him: expulsion from God's Presence. So he begged that God would "blot out [machah] my rebellions" — before God blotted him out. "Wash me...cleanse me...I have sinned...purify me...wash me and I shall be whiter than snow...create in me a cleansed heart...renew a steadfast ruach within me" (Psalm 51).

God hates this situation into which humans have descended.

" 'I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,' declares the Lord YHVH. 'Therefore, repent and live' " (Ezek 18:32). "The Lord...[does not wish] for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

He wants to retain everyone in his living book.

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Implications

Based on this survey of texts, Cain was once in the Book. So was Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. And Herod and Caesar. And Torquemada and Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong, Bin Laden and Al-Assad, and other mass killers ... even apostate priests, rabbis, and mullahs who have led people to hell through their false teaching.

At one time, they were all recorded in the Book of Life. But one day when the books are opened and the entirety of their lives are examined, they will be blotted out for good — unless at some point they repent and seek salvation (yeshuah) from the hand of God.

If they accept God's cleansing atonement through Messiah, they'll will be retained in the Pesach Lamb's registry — his Sefer Hayyim.

Regardless of how we view the fate of the wicked before the day of judgment, these Scriptures speak to us of both God's love for his human creation and his justice toward unrepentant human sinfulness.

It should provoke a rather fundamental question in our personal, introspective soul times:

Am I still in the Book by faith in God and Messiah —
or heading for removal because of my sins?

It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem
will be called holy [qadosh] —
everyone who is Written for Life [katuv lachayyim] in Jerusalem.
(Isaiah 4:2-3)

Paul Sumner

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NOTES
Here are other pertinent texts on being removed from the Holy Book of Life:

Hebrew BibleExod 17:14; 32:32-33; Deut 9:14; 25:6, 19; 20:20; 2 Kgs 14:27; Isa 4:3; 48:19; Ezek 13:9; Malachi 3:16; Ps 9:5; 56:8; 69:28: 109:13; 139:16; Job 19:23-24; Dan 12:1.

New TestamentMatt 10:30; Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27.

Readers may also wish to survey the uses of the Hebrew verb machah:

Gen 6:7; 7:4, 23, 23; Exod 17:14, 14; 32:32, 33; Num 5:23; Deut 9:14; 25:6, 19; 29:20; Judg 21:17; 2 Kgs 14:27; 21:13, 13, 13; Isa 25:8; 43:25; 44:22; Jer 18:23; Ezek 6:6; Ps 9:5; 51:1, 9; 69:28; 109:13, 14; Prov 6:33; 30:20; 31:3; Neh 4:5 (3:37); 13:14.


Contradictions in Revelation?
An inquiring reader named "Dawn" wrote and asked whether the following two passages in the book of Revelation contradict the teaching that everyone is originally written in the Book of Life.

All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the Beast], 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. (Rev 13:8)

[Given John's often perplexing Greek grammar, some translators place the phrase "from the foundation of the world" after "the Lamb who has been slain." But this doesn't affect the first part of the sentence: the names of the worshipers of the Beast are not written in the Book.]

Those who dwell on the earth will wonder [at Babylon and the Beast], whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world... (Rev 17:8b)

The question whether John is contradicting the teaching of Yeshua is valid. What we don't want to do, however, is pit Scripture against Scripture as a way of nullifying all of it. Here's how I work with this apparent contradiction.

I reject as unbiblical the Calvinist (Reformed) doctrine of Predestination in which some people are ticketed for the Hell train before they are born. (See my comments above on Michael Horton.) This is one of the Five Points of "TULIP" Calvinism, which I believe besmirches the name and character of God.

It also avoids disturbing passages such as Rev 3:5, where Yeshua warns sinful (Christian) believers in Sardis that he might blot out their names, IF they remain idolatrous and unrepentant. They were at that point in the Book; they could be deleted.

But the worshipers of the Beast (and Harlot Babylon), whom John describes (in Rev 13:8; 17:8), are so sinfully corrupt in their spirits it is as though they never occupied ledger entries in the Holy Book. John describes them as far beyond the pale of normal creation: unlike most other human beings who were created precious to the Creator, these folks are poisoned from the beginning. Stillborn because of a satanic seed.

John doesn't say that explicity, but I believe this interpretation is valid. It is essentially the view of Robert H. Mounce found in this commentary on Revelation 17:8: "John isn't teaching a form of determinism..., but emphasizing the great distinction that exists between the followers of the Lamb and those who give their allegiance to the beast" (Revelation [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev. ed. 1998], p. 314).

clarify