Does God Have An Eraser?
Dr. Vic Reasoner
We have been considering six different attempt to explain Revelation 3:5 from those who hold to unconditional security. The first part of this article gave three interpretations; this half continues with three more:
• The "book of life" and the "Lamb's book of life" are two different books. The book of life contains the names of all mankind. The Lamb's book of life contains the names of only the redeemed. While unbelievers can be blotted out of the book of life, the redeemed can never be blotted out of the Lamb's book of life.
Rosscup concluded that only in the New Testament do references appear concerning the book of God that pertain to eternal life. MacArthur claimed Exodus 32:33 and Psalm 69:28 referred to physical death [Revelation 1-11, p. 115]. Yet Robert Thomas, Professor of New Testament at MacArthur's Master's Seminary, disputed the distinction between the interpretation that these Old Testament passages refer to the loss of physical life, while the New Testament passages refer to the loss of spiritual life. "This distinction is arbitrary, however. Consistency demands that both refer to spiritual death" [Revelation 1-7, p. 262].
Charles R. Smith surveyed sixteen passages in Scripture and concluded that the Old Testament refers to several divine registers or books. "It is unlikely that any refer to mere physical life alone. Rather, all specify the recipients of special divine blessings." But Smith also argued that since the Mosaic Covenant promised blessing, conditioned on obedience, a person's name could be blotted from a list of covenant blessings if he failed to fulfill the conditions. Here Smith created a false distinction between the Mosaic Covenant and other covenants, since all covenants are based upon conditions.
However, Smith concluded that by the New Testament only one book was under discussion and it was "the register of the elect." Smith asserted that names are never removed from it ["The Book of Life," pp. 219-230]. But Revelation 17:8 clearly teaches that everyone is not written in the book of life. Therefore, those blotted out in Revelation 3:5 cannot be unbelievers who were never entered into it, but backsliders who apostatized.
• Walter Scott claimed the "book of life" in Revelation 3:5 contains the names of professing believers, while the "book of life" in Revelation 13:8 contains the names of genuine believers. While the names of professing believers will be blotted out of the book of life, no genuine believer will ever be blotted out. Matthew Henry's Commentary offered a similar explanation.
Yet this is the book of life, not a church roll. Grant Osborne wrote, "It is difficult to conceive why those with an empty profession would be included on such a list in the first place" [Revelation, p. 183]. Thomas rejected this view saying, "This explanation fails to indicate why a person with an empty profession had his or her name written in the book of life in the first place" [Revelation 1-7, p. 262]. And why would a name which was never entered in the book of life need to be erased?
• Fuller explained that in Revelation 3:1 "name" refers to reputation. Those who deny the faith will still enter eternal life, but Christ will be ashamed of them. They will lose the privileged reputation of the overcomer because their garments are soiled (v 4).
However, 3:1 warns that while they have a good "name," Christ knows their true condition and they are actually dead. Therefore, the promise in 3:5 is not to those with a good reputation who are "dead," but to the few who have not soiled their garments. Those who are dead have been erased from the book of life.
In a desperate attempt to salvage eternal security, scholars such as Fuller, Rosscup, Thomas, Smith, and Walvoord have grasped at any attempted solution, sometimes offering more than one option. Often their conflicting explanations cancel each other out. While I have studied under a couple of these men and respect their scholarship, I am disappointed in their lack of objectivity in this instance. They seem uncertain about what the verse means, but they are sure about what it does not mean! They appear willing to go to any length to protect their presupposition. In his synopsis of "The Overcomer of the Apocalypse," Rosscup stated that the correct interpretation of the "overcomer" involves a "defense of the doctrines of eternal security and of the perseverance of the saints." Thus, eternal security becomes their foundational doctrine and everything else must be cut to fit.
Perhaps Revelation 3:5 could be more easily understood if we did not approach it with so much extra baggage. Let's consider a seventh possible interpretation. If God already knows who will be saved, why does he bother writing down names that he knows will later be erased? The only consistent answer is that their names were written down because they were once saved; their names were erased because they fell away. "The names of the good are often represented as registered in heaven (Luke 10:20). But this by no means implies a certainty of salvation, but only that at that time the persons were on the list, from which (as in Rev 3:5), the names of unworthy members might be erased" [McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia, 1:852].
Wesley taught that "if any who are saved make shipwreck of the faith, God will blot them out of his book, although they were written therein from before the foundation of the world." Howard Marshall wrote,
The possibility of failure to endure is mentioned. Christians who fail to persevere will come under judgment and their names will be blotted out of the book of life. There is no reason to suppose that these warnings are purely hypothetical, directed against non-existent dangers; the reverse is the case. Moreover, the reference to the book of life indicates that John is addressing his warning to believers [Kept by the Power of God, p. 175].
Yet we need not fall away. "This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4). Yet John describes this faith in the next verse as a present tense faith. The person who keeps on overcoming is the one who keeps on believing with active, trusting, obedient faith. Those who do not persevere will have their names blotted out of the Book of Life. Adam Clarke wrote, "Is it not evident that a soul could not be blotted out of a book in which it had never been written? And is it not farther evident from [Exodus 32:32-33] that, although a man be written in God's book, if he sins he may be blotted out?"
In ancient times city registers contained the names of its citizens. There were two reasons why a name could be erased: committing a capital offense or death. Physical death can never separate us from life in Christ (Rom 8:38-39). Yet the church at Sardis had many who had grown careless and were about to die spiritually. Their names were about to be erased. Only a few were overcomers. Joseph Benson wrote, "This passage plainly implies, that some names shall be blotted out from the book of life: this is, some who, in consequence of their adoption and regeneration, were entitled to and fitted for eternal life, shall, through falling from grace, lose these blessings, and come again under guilt, condemnation, and wrath."
If we understand apostasy to be a "capital offense" which results in spiritual death, then it is possible to understand how names which were recorded in the heavenly register could be blotted out. How long has it been since you received any confirmation from the Holy Spirit that your name can be found written in the book of life? Ben Witherington concluded that "one is not eternally secure until one is securely in eternity."