As I said, there are verses in the Bible that talk about removing a persons name from the Book of Life. Well, kind of. It depends on how you read those passages. In order to interpret and understand the Bible correctly you must use proper or good Bible Hermeneutics (which is just a fancy way of saying interpret it correctly). The basic rules or principles of Bible interpretation are:
1. Pray before you begin.
2. Context! Context! Context! Always read a passage in context. Begin with the immediate context (those verses immediately above and below the passage you are concerned with); then move to a wider context (such as the complete chapter), and then to a progressively wider context (what the that particular book have to say on that subject? What does the Bible have to say on that subject? What is the historical context of the passage? Etc.)
3. What does the passage say in the original language?
4. Always remember that Scripture interprets Scripture. Don't interpret Scripture according to tradition or someone elses interpretation without first consulting the entire Bible.
5. Never interpret the explicit by the implicit. Always interpret the implicit by the explicit.
There are five primary passages in Scripture that are used to support a person's name being blotted out or removed from the Book of Life. They are:
1. Revelation 3:5 (ESV)
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
2. Revelation 17:8 (ESV)
8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
3. Revelation 22:19 (KJV)
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
4. Psalm 69:28 (ESV)
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
5. Exodus 32:32-33 (ESV)
32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.
At first glance, these passages appear to clearly teach that a persons name can be removed from the Book of Life; and depending on a persons theological leaning, that is how they will be interpreted. Those with an Arminian (or other version of semi-pelagianism) who already believe a person can lose their salvation will interpret these passages that way. Those with a Reformed perspective will not interpret them this way as they believe a person cannot lose their salvation. But rather than looking that these two different theological traditions to understand these passages, let's look to what they Bible actually says.
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” [Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV] “To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” [1 Peter 1:4-5 ESV]
Here we see that upon becoming born again, the true believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit. This sealing is our guarantee (an important word to remember) that we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven. An inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for the true believer, who is him or herself being guarded by God's power for salvation. [see also: 2 Cor.1:22; 2 Cor.5:5; Eph.4:30]
We also read in Scripture the very words of Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and our God, as the Apostle Thomas called Him. He very clearly and explicitly says in John 6:37-40, “37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at that last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
And in John 10:27-29, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
Now read those two passages again and let them sink in for a minute.
Jesus says that every single person whom God the Father gives to Him will come to Him. Will come to Him, not might come to Him, or could come to Him, or should come to Him; but will come to Him. This is a statement of fact, not a statement of possibility. Jesus then says that all of those who will come to Him He will never cast out. Never cast out. That is not only a statement of fact, but a promise as well, and unless Jesus is a liar (which He is certainly not), then it is a promise we can hold on to with absolute assurance and certainty. Jesus then doubles down on this promise and says that out of all of those who will come to Him, He will lose none of them. Not one; and He says, as a statement of fact, that every single one of them will be raised up on that last day.
Now look again at John 10:27-29. Jesus makes even more statements that are statements of fact and not statements of possibility. He states as a fact that every single one of those who are given to Him by God the Father will never perish. He states that every single one of them is held firmly and securely in God's hand and that “no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.”
What these passages (Eph.1:13-14; 1Pet.1:4-5; Jn.6:37-40; Jn.10:27-29) very clearly and explicitly state is that every single true believer has been given to Jesus by God the Father; that every single one of them is sealed by the Holy Spirit; that this seal is a guarantee of salvation; that every single one of them is held firmly and securely in God the Father's hand; that every single one of them will not perish; that every single one of them has eternal life. Not may have or could have, but actually does have eternal life, that is guaranteed, permanent, and, as Romans 11:29 says, “irrevocable.” [“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” ESV]
The Bible very clearly and explicitly teaches that once a person is actually saved – i.e. born again, places their trust in Jesus and follows Him in all sincerity and love, then that person has a guaranteed permanent salvation. It cannot be lost or forfeited or revoked. And these are not the only passages that teach this. See also: Philippians 1:6; Philippians 3:20-21; 2 Timothy 1:9,12; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 12:2; Jude 1,24; John 5:24; Romans 8:28-31,38-39; 1 John 5:13; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 13:5; John 3:18; Psalm 34:22; Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:8; and many, many more.
Remember rules #4 (Scripture interprets Scripture) and #5 (always interpret the implicit by the explicit). Learning from Church tradition is fine. Learning at the feet of a wise and accomplished teacher is fine. But check everything with Scripture. Traditions and teachers are fallible. God's Holy Word is not.
What does this have to do with the Book of Life? Everything! Having one's name in the Book of Life is synonymous with having salvation! Since, as we have learned, salvation is permanent and irrevocable; it is impossible to lose ones salvation (provided one actually has salvation, but more on that in a moment); and we must interpret those four primary passages listed above which ostensibly say we can have our names blotted out, or removed, from the Book of Life, in the light of the clear and explicit teaching of Scripture in the passages presented that teach no, you cannot have your name removed from the Book of Life. But let's take a look at those five passages again, this time in light of the biblical doctrine of eternal security of the believer.
Revelation 3:5 (ESV)
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”
Revelation 3:5 does not state that one can have his or her name blotted out, or removed from, the Book of Life. It simply does not state that anywhere in the passage. The only way to arrive at a conclusion that it does state this, is to approach it with the presupposition that losing ones salvation is actually possible –– which, as we've learned, is something Scripture states is impossible. A proper understanding of this passage is that it is a promise of eternal life for a true believer.
Revelation 17:8 (ESV)
“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.”
Again, this passage does not state, nor even imply, that one's name can be removed from the Book of Life. But rather, it simply states (and strongly implies) that anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life will be familiar with the beast who was thought to be gone, but has returned (and will not have eternal life).
Revelation 22:19 (KJV)
“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
While this passage appears to clearly state that “God shall take away his part out of the book of life,” thus indicating salvation (and one's name in the Book of Life) can be lost or revoked; it also contradicts numerous other passages that just as clearly teach salvation cannot be lost. The key to properly understanding this verse is found in rules #2 (context), #3 (original language), and #4 (Scripture interprets Scripture).
In Greek (rule #3), the passage does not read τοῦ βιβλίου τῆς ζωῆς [tou bibliou tēs zōēs, or the Book of Life], but rather, it reads τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς [tou xylou tēs zōēs, or the Tree of Life]. The problem arose when the 15th century Dutch theologian Erasmus was compiling his Greek text (which later became known as the Textus Receptus, or Received Text, he did not have the last six verses of Revelation, and was forced to use a faulty copy of the Latin Vulgate. It was faulty due to the fact that the scribe who prepared it accidentally replaced the Latin word ligno (tree) with libro (book), thus changing that particular portion of Revelation 22:19 from Tree of Life to Book of Life. Virtually every translation of the Bible, outside of the King James Version which follows Erasmus' Textus Receptus, renders the passage Tree of Life rather than Book of Life. In defense of that scribe, however, when one compares ligno with libro in a handwritten form from that era, they are very difficult to distinguish from one another.
As we have already learned, if one's name is removed from the Book of Life, then one loses ones salvation. However, as we have also learned, the Bible is very clear and very explicit in its teaching that one cannot lose ones salvation. It is quite literally impossible to lose ones salvation, for the simple fact that God firmly and securely holds each and every true believer in His hand and no one is able to remove them from God's hand. No one is stronger than God (John 10:27-29). Therefore, Revelation 22:19 cannot be a reference to losing salvation. Scripture interprets Scripture (rule #4).
When we look at the context of this passage, however, we are able to understand exactly what it means. Revelation 22 contains a vision of heaven. In verses 1-2, John describes being shown the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and running down through the middle of the street. Along either side of the river was the tree of life, the leaves of which provided healing of the nations. A glorious vision of the New Jerusalem, where true believers – those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, will live and glorify God for all eternity. Verse 14 calls them “blessed” and states they will have a right to the tree of life. Verse 15, however, describes those who are not blessed, and do not have access to the New Jerusalem and the tree of life. They are “the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” In other words, unbelievers. The unregenerate reprobate will not be allowed into the New Jerusalem and they will have no right to the tree of life.
Then we move on to verses 18-19, and the warnings of God. If anyone who hears the prophecy of the Book of Revelation and adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in the Book of Revelation. This is descriptive of an unbeliever, one who will suffer the tribulation. If anyone takes away from the words of the Book of Revelation, God will take away his share in the Tree of Life and the Holy City of New Jerusalem. Again, this is descriptive of an unbeliever. A true believer would not even entertain the idea of adding to or taking away from any part of the Bible; much less the Book of Revelation. Only an unbeliever would do such a thing. One who would end up outside the city walls, outside of heaven (verse 15).
Note also that in each of these passages (vv1-2, 14-15, 18-19) we see both the tree and the city mentioned together. Thus when tree is replaced with book in verse 19 as the King James does, the mistake sticks out like a sore thumb.
The contrast described in these passages is obvious. Those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, who are blessed, who live in the heavenly city, who have a right to the Tree of Life that grows there, and only there; contrasted with those who are unregenerate sinners, who live outside the heavenly city, who have no right to the Tree of Life. While any unregenerate sinner will have no place in the heavenly city, God makes it clear that tampering with His revelatory Scriptures are worthy of guaranteed condemnation if the sinner does not repent and rectify his or her sin. Again, this passage is not about losing salvation, but rather the contrast between those who are saved and those who are not.
Psalm 69:28 (ESV)
“Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.”
The Bible makes mention of several different books in its pages (Neh.7:5,64; 12:22,23; Jer.22:30; Ezek.13:9; Num.21:14; Josh.10:13; 2 Sam.1:18). Among them are the Book of Life (also known as The Book of Life of the Lamb and The Lamb's Book of Life), the Book of the Living, the Book of Remembrance, and the Books of Works. The Book of Life contains the names of those who will be saved – the elect. Their names were written in the Book of Life before the creation of the world (Phil.4:3; Rev.13:8; Rev.17:8; Rev.20:11-15; Rev.21:27). The Book of Remembrance contains the deeds of the righteous; those deeds done in faithfulness and obedience to the Lord and for His glory; as well as the sufferings of the righteous. It will be used for special blessings and rewards (Malachi 3:16; Psalm 56:8). The Books of Works contain the deeds by which the unrighteous will be judged (Rev.20:12-13; Dan.7:9-10). The Book of the Living is a record of all those who have lived. To be blotted out of this book means to experience physical death.
It is the Book of the Living which is referred to in Psalm 69:28. Again we refer to rule #2: Context! Context! Context! Psalm 69:28 is not a stand-alone verse; meaning it cannot be used by itself to define, determine or support a specific doctrine or belief. The entire Psalm must be taken into account in order to understand the meaning of any specific verse within the Psalm.
Psalm 69 belongs to a group of Psalms known as Imprecatory Psalms, or Psalms of Imprecation. Imprecatory Psalms include Psalms 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140. The word imprecate means to pray a curse against someone or pray for judgment or calamity against someone. Therefore, the Imprecatory Psalms are the cries of God's people for vengeance upon their enemies and the enemies of God.
When read in full, Psalm 69 quickly becomes clear that David is not asking the Lord to remove anyone's name from the Book of Life, but rather, he is calling for the destruction and/or death of those who are attacking him. In verse 1 we see David crying out to God to save him. In verse 4 we see that he is calling for God to save him from innumerable enemies who are falsely accusing and attacking him. In verses 6-7 David says that all he has done has been for the Lord, and he does not want the Lord brought into disrepute because of the attacks of his enemies. In verses 13-18 David prays to God to save him, but to do so in God's time, according to God's steadfast love and abundant mercy. In verses 22-28, David prays for God to not simply kill his enemies, but rather to utterly destroy them. And, in verses 30-36 we see David praising the Lord for saving him, and noting that all those who love the Lord will be glad and all creation will praise Him as well.
When examined in its proper context, Psalm 69:28 is clearly a reference to the Book of the Living and not the Book of Life, which are obviously two different things entirely.
Exodus 32:32-33 (ESV)
“'But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.' But the Lord said to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.'” Again, we must take this passage in its proper context. In this case, it is all of Exodus 32, which records the Israelites worshiping the golden calf while Moses is on the mountain receiving the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments from the Lord. God tells Moses the people are sinning against Him, and Moses leaves to return to the camp with Joshua where they witness the great sin the people have committed against God.
Moses commands the sons of Levi to go throughout the camp and strike down his “brother and his companion and his neighbor.” They put 3,000 men to the sword. Moses tells the people why this has happened and he goes back up to the Lord to try and make atonement for the sins of the whole people. Moses tells the Lord, if it is the Lord's will to not forgive the Israelites, then he wishes to die in their stead. Moses obvious love for his people as shown in his offer to die in their place, is similar to that of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:1-5, where he says, “1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
The Lord, however, tells Moses that punishment is reserved for those who have sinned against the Lord, not for those who have not; and later, the Lord sends a plague throughout the camp of the Israelites as punishment for the sins they had committed against the Lord.
The idea that Moses was asking the Lord to remove his name for the Book of Life does not make any sense whatsoever when verses 32-33 are examined in the light of the full chapter; and it is clear the passage is actually talking about the Book of the Living. In other words, the Lord and Moses are talking about physical death, not spiritual death. (cf. Ex.17:14; Deut.29:20; Ps.9:5-6; Ps.139:16).
As mentioned above, having one's name in the Book of Life is synonymous with having salvation, And, as we have learned, salvation is permanent and irrevocable. It is impossible to lose one's salvation. This is known as the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, or, Once Saved Always Saved (commonly abbreviated as OSAS). One of the main objections – if not the main objection, to this doctrine is that it justifies all manner of sin in the life of the Christian. And, in all honesty, this is a legitimate objection, especially in light of those who teach this.
In fact, there are many who, quite sadly, teach that once a person is saved they can live however they choose, and engage in any sin they choose, and still go to heaven. One very well known and beloved pastor wrote a book about the doctrine of eternal security, and in it he went so far as to write that even if a person were to deny Christ and live their entire life in sin, that person would still go to heaven when they die, provided they believed in Christ at some point in their life. This pastor went on to write that although the Christian who lives a life of sin (often referred to as a “carnal Christian”) will still go to heaven when they die, they will likely go to the “outer darkness,” which this pastor claims is not hell, but rather a part of heaven reserved for carnal Christians.
Not only is this completely unsupported by Scripture, but it is rank heresy, and is known as antinomianism. Antinomianism is the belief that while under grace, the Christian is under no obligation to obey any of God's moral laws, arguing that nothing more than faith is required for salvation; and that any additional requirement is nothing more than legalism. While this is true to a limited extent, in that we are saved “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9); as James 1:21-2:26 so very clearly points out, those who believe in a faith that does not bear good fruit is simply not saved.
Nor is James the only person in Scripture to teach this. The Apostle Paul wrote at length against the heresy of antinomianism in Romans 5:12-8:39. His treatise can be summed up in three verses from chapter 7, where he wrote, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4-6).
Jesus also spoke against the heresy of antinomianism. While He did not teach that works were essential for salvation; He did teach that those who were truly saved would keep His commandments. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. ...If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.” (John 14:15,23-24). Unless one is willing to reject the Deity of Jesus, then one is faced with the very real problem of embracing antinomianism (rejecting God's moral law) and Jesus being the Author of the moral law as part of the Triune God who delivered it to Moses in Exodus 32. How can one accept Christ but reject His morality? Answer? One cannot.
The Apostle John recognized this, and addressed it very succinctly in his first epistle, where he wrote under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4-10)
Those advocating an Antinomian view of salvation, such as the well known and beloved pastor mentioned above, are advocating a position that cannot be held by a Christian, but only by a false Christian, who is, in reality, nothing more than an unbeliever who is lost in their sin and in dire need of salvation. And, by advocating such a view of salvation, they are leading an untold number of people not to heaven and eternal life, but away from Christ and eternal damnation.