A moment to explain to our readers why I’m writing this article.
For a little over a year I have been preaching through Revelation. One of the people who has been following along with the sermons asked a great question about Revelation 17:8. Here is the passage…
“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.” (Revelation 17:8, ESV)
Here is the question I was asked concerning Revelation 17:8…
“In (Revelation) Chapter 17 verse 8 what does it mean ‘Whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world’?”
I wrote an article concerning this question you can read my original article here… “Foreordination, Predestination, Election & Revelation 17:8”
To be clear I do not believe the Revelation passage is about foreordination explicitly. I do believe however that the passage implicitly addresses the topic of foreordination, as well as predestination and election.
The reason I decided to move away from the Biblical Theology approach involving some exegetical work through this particular portion of Revelation has to do with the nature of the question. After a couple of follow up texts with the person who asked me the question I came to the conclusion that my answer should involve what I believe the text is implicitly (not explicitly) referring to. Based on that, for practical reasons, I decided something more along the lines of a topical approach would serve me well here.
So in my original article “Foreordination, Predestination, Election & Revelation 17:8” (which I hope you have read by now) I came to the conclusion that John is essentially saying that if one is not written in the book of life, which was written before the creation of the world, then one will not personally obtain the predestined inheritance mentioned… in the context of Ephesians 1:4-12.
Kenny Bruchard, a fellow writer at Think Theology, wrote something that involved a response or follow up to my article. After taking a moment to read my article I would encourage you to read his. It’s thoughtful and very well written. here is a link to that article… “Marveling at the Monster (a closer look at Rev. 17:8)”
So now (after having said all of that) I would like to address Kenny’s article.
In the comment portion below my original article Kenny wrote…
“Able, I wrote a post in dialogue with the ideas in this one. I’d be interested in your perspective on my exegesis, conclusions, and contra-perspectives based on a second look at the text.”
The difference between “Biblical Theology” & “Systematic Theology”.
If you took some time to read my article and then Kenny’s you will no doubt see some very different approaches to this passage. I believe this theological dialog between Kenny and I Is a great example of the uses, limitations and differences between “Biblical Theology” and “Systematic Theology”.
The Lexham Bible Dictionary refers to the differences between these two theological approaches in this way…
”An approach to the Bible that seeks to draw biblical teachings and themes into a self-consistent, coherent whole, in conversation with the history of Christian theological reflection and contemporary issues confronting the church. This is distinct from—yet related to—the approach of biblical theology, which focuses on the development of theological themes within individual books of the Bible or across one or both Testaments. The practice of biblical theology is often more closely intertwined with the practice of biblical studies, whereas systematic theology is usually viewed as a discipline that goes beyond the scope of biblical studies into church history, philosophy, and pastoral application.”(1)
My article “Foreordination, Predestination, Election & Revelation 17:8” involves the practice of “Systematic Theology” while Kenny’s article involves the practice of “Biblical Theology”.
The reality of what a text can explicitly and Implicitly point to.
“From my perspective (as I’ll demonstrate here), it’s also not about predestination. In fact, that idea is nowhere to be found in the text, and to find it there (I hope to convince you) is a theological interpolation (think: eisegesis which is done when we read theology into a text where it does not actually appear). The theme of predestination does not arise out of a clear reading of the text.”
Every article written is addressing a task. My article was written to answer a particular question. Most folks who come to the “Book of Life” passages in John’s Revelation are confronted with the implicit doctrine of divine foreordination, predestination or election. One can either believe in, against or somewhere in between concerning divine foreordination, predestination or election but one cannot ignore them. So Kenny is working through the passage via exegesis with the intent to make the Apostle John’s main point the main point of his article/sermon. He is looking for the melodic line of the text which is great! However, it is NOT eisegesis to look at the harmonies accompanying the melodic line. If the melodic line of the text is explicit the harmonies are implicit. Good doctrine comes from both places.
In his article Kenny says
“The theme of predestination does not arise out of a clear reading of the text”
I would say the theme of divine foreordination is definitely implied clearly in the text though not as the melodic line. Predestination and election are further distillations under the topic of predestination and election. I agree with the Tyndale Bible Dictionary which says,
“In common usage, “foreordination” and the term “predestination” are synonymous. “Predestination” and “election,” however, specifically refer to the destiny of persons.” (2)
So in my previous article I wanted to go from the harmonizing theme of foreordination accompanying John’s melodic line in order to discuss the issue of the destiny of persons. Why? Because aside from Johns melody my friend was asking a question about one of the harmony parts. This is one of the weaknesses of Biblical Theology done without respect to Systematic Theology they both need each other or no one is free to ask a question concerning the implicit. Biblical Theology though very helpful is often a one trick pony without its friend Systematic coming along and helping answer relevant questions or concerns. If Biblical Theology is interested in trajectory then Systematic Theology is the fella helping the sniper with wind speed, and all the surrounding factors involved in communicating in dialogue with history, philosophy and application. Systematics helps hit the target in our day and in our way.
Concerning the melodic line of Revelation 17:8
This is how I see the melody as it is leading up to Revelation 17:8. The desperate dragon (Satan) in Revelation 12:1-6 is doing everything he can to defeat the Woman (Church) and the Child (Christ) and like a fumbling bumbling idiot he cannot so the Dragon is kicked out and thrown to the earth in Revelation 12:7-12.
The Church (woman) is under constant attack from this dragon who, after having been tossed to earth, is more than a little angry that God’s people have delivered the Child (Jesus).
The dragon, though wounding the church, cannot seem to accomplish an overthrow of the Church as a whole because of the protection God has over her (Revelation 12:13-17).
In Revelation 13:1-18 the dragon creates an unholy trinity to help him overthrow the Church.
The first helper is a scary Beast from the sea and the second is a cuddly beast from the earth.
Through these two beasts Satan is influencing the world via their governmental, educational and religious systems.
I believe the first scary powerful beast to be government and the second cuddly beast to be the false religious and philosophical systems needed to overcome the people’s minds and hearts.
The story goes back to the overcoming Church of God in 14:1-16. God’s saints (144,000) overcome (vv 1-5), Three special angels bring warning to those following the unholy trinity vv6-13, and from vv 14-20 we to the overcomers being harvested and the wicked being judged.
How the wicked are continually judged is detailed in Revelation chapters 15-16 via seven bowl judgments of the wrath of God. And now within the context of the passage that our article is addressing (Revelation 17-19) the unholy trinity of the two beasts and the dragon will be destroyed just as God had declared from the beginning.
I needed to go back in the melody far enough to give context as I zoom in a little closer to the text we are discussing. Why? Because there are actually two beasts at work in Revelation it’s easy to confuse them. I believe the woman riding the scary beast (Rev 13:1) is the “cuddly” beast that came from the earth in Revelation 13:11. The two beasts are now one in alliance with the dragon (Rev 16:13-14). Together these three are ruling behind the anti-Christ and anti-church government, religion, etc. as an unseen hand trying to accomplish on earth what the dragon could not in heaven.
The bathwater that the melodic line is floating in is the foreordination of God’s unfolding plan for the Church (including individuals), His son King Jesus and the coming kingdom.
Johns use of the “Book of Life” language is to show that pathetic impotent nature of Satan’s plans. He, the dragon, cannot overthrow the Church (people of God) who stands on the moon and wears the Son for a garment and is crowned with the stars. She has been a part of Gods plan before the creation of the world. This is why the battle goes from the heavenly realms to the earth (Rev 12). Satan wanted to destroy this whole thing before it was ever started. The “book of life” language combined with the phrase “before the foundation of the world” is God’s declaration that Satan was doomed to fail before he ever started (Genesis 3:15). The Church corporate and individually has overcome from the beginning. Satan just didn’t get the memo?
Beal who oddly enough says that the book of life metaphor refers to “God’s memory” in his Biblical theology states in his Revelation commentary (Rev 13:8) that “book of life” is a “metaphor for saints whose salvation has been determined.”. When ever the phrase appears in John’s Revelation the melody is that God’s people through the blood of the lamb have, are and will overcome and abide in the new creation. The harmonic support surrounding the melody and giving it strength is that all of this was foreordained in the mind of God. He has always been in control.
Concerning this powerful framework of determinism Beal writes,
The phrase “book of life” appears five other times in the Apocalypse (3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). In each case, as here, it is a metaphor for saints whose salvation has been determined: their names have been entered into the census book of the eternal new Jerusalem before history began, which is explicitly affirmed in 21:27, though the pretemporal phrase is omitted there, unlike 13:8 and 17:8, which express the notion of predetermination with “from the foundation of the world.” That saints were written in the book before history began is implied by the fact that the beast worshipers are said not to have been so written. (3)
I cannot agree with Kenny’s conclusion when he says
“Thus, the overall theme here is the resurgence of evil in each generation, and how different groups of people respond to it (depending on their orientation toward God vs. the Monster).”
I believe the book of life metaphor is being leveraged to show how absolutely impotent Satan is to overcome the true people of God (i.e. Rev 12). Revelation is not a Systematic Theology on foreordination, predestination, election and determinism but it’s task is to comfort the persecuted Church with the truth that God is still in control, battles might be lost but the war has already been won.
I believe Kenny is also putting too much of an emphasis on “how different groups respond” these groups are responding because “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” (Rev 17:17). So John is actually making the opposite point that the unholy trinity and its followers think they are really creating a movement when in fact they move depending on God’s determinate counsel and his orientation toward them. I think the phrase “multitudes will marvel” is really just a rhetorical device being used to show how the blind multitudes are being fooled by the beast that the reader already knows is a fraud.
This verse is used sometimes to teach predestination, but that is a mistake. The mistake is made by (however subconsciously) importing a word into this text. That word is “before” (as in “whose names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world”). It must be stated that this is not how the text reads, and leaving the word out clears the fog and misdirection. The theme here is how every generation has monster marvellers, and how this has always been so “since the foundation of the world.”
I agree this verse does not teach predestination it implies it. It is a mistake to make these passages about predestination as if John is trying to prove predestination. John is using the reality of what God has already foreordained to make the point that the unholy trinity and its followers will not overcome.
The prepositional phrase “from the foundation of the world” is what Beale calls a “pretemporal” phrase in other words the phrase is relating to something existing or occurring before time.
H. Esser says the following about the preposition katabolēs as used in Revelation 17:8…
“Two points stand out in all the texts which mention the foundation of the world. One is that it is always associated with a statement about man’s destiny. The other is the implied connection between God’s → foreknowledge and predestination. In particular, Matt. 25:34 and Eph. 1:4 speak of → election. Rev. 13:8 and 17:8 speak of reprobation. Lk. 11:50 (a lamentation of Jesus) and Heb. 4:3 speak of historical failure for which account must be rendered. Finally Matt. 13:35 (quoting Ps. 78:2); Heb. 9:26 and 1 Pet. 1:20 (cf. Jn. 17:24) refer to the unique, central position of Jesus Christ in the history of salvation. He reveals in the midst of history what has been hidden since the foundation of the world, and thus fixes the end of time. The phrase “before the foundation of the world” in Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20; Jn. 17:24 is foreign to the OT and is probably an attempt to express the independence of the creator from his creation in the face of Hellenism, and thus to make his acts of salvation dependent on him alone.” (4)
The exegetical dictionary of the New Testament also states…
…Ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου is used simply to designate time in Matt 13:35; Luke 11:50; Heb 4:3; 9:26. It has in view the conclusion of the creative work of God: “since the creation of the world / since the [completion of the] creation of the world.” In Matt 25:34 (the preexistence of the eschatological blessing) and Rev 13:8; 17:8 (predestination; cf. CD 2:7) it refers to a divine decision that took place at the absolute beginning, so that its meaning comes close to that of πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου. The same sense can be found in the rabbinic literature in the phrases min yômā’ de’iṯberê ‘almā’, “since the creation of the world” (Tg. Cant. 8:2); mitteḥillaṯ berîyāṯô šel ‘ôlām, “since the beginning of creation” (Pesiq. 21:5; Midr. Esth. 1:1; cf. T. Mos. 1:14, 17); and miššēšeṯ yemê berē’šîṯ, “since the six days of creation” (Mek. on Exod 14:15). (5)
In his article Kenny goes on to cite Christopher Fisher who says…
“…this verse is talking about unbelievers whose names “have not been written in the Book of Life since the foundation of the world.” Of course unbelievers would never have their names written in the Book of Life. This in no sense means that believers must have had their names written since before the foundation of the world. Secondly, “from the foundation of the world” could, and does, mean the timeframe between the creation of the world and the future time. This would be like saying “all those who have not grabbed an umbrella since we opened the storage locker will get wet”. The actions are not limited to taking place before the founding event in question. In fact, the natural reading is that the actions take place between the founding event and the future event.”
Christoper Fisher (who seems super smart btw) majored in Computer Science and Political Science. He also minored in Mathematic and Economics. These are not the most desired credentials for expertise in exegesis and ancient languages. When it comes to correct translation of the prepositional phrase in question It’s wise to stand by (as cited above) the work of G.K. Beale (Ph. D. in Divinity, University of Cambridge, England (concentrated in Greek and Hebrew exegesis), EDNT and the NIDNTT
In response to Kenny’s conclusion
The text is not a proof-text for a belief that goes something like this: “Long ago before there was time and when there was only God, God pre-determined which individual people would be elected to be part of his eternal family. He did this unconditionally and it is a mystery which we do not understand. Right here in Rev. 17:8 it says that their names were put into a special book before the world was ever created. We must trust that God knows what he is doing by letting some in, and keeping others out.” That is a theological reading of Revelation 17:8 that must ignore a historical-grammatical reading. The text does not dispense what the theology wants from it (namely, predestination).
I think I have made a strong case that this (Rev 17:7-18) is a text (along with all the other “book of life” referencing texts in John’s Revelation) that predestination is implicit in the text supporting John’s explicit point that the Church will not be overcome by the dragon and his buddies. To ignore what this text and others like it in Revelation imply is like a guy dismissing the architecture under a bridge as unimportant because he thinks the road is the most important part.
What’s the strongest argument that this text’s main point is being complemented by divine foreordination? The meaning of the Greek preposition katabolēs and what its referring to. I say the phrase implies predestination. I have come to this conclusion based on my understanding of the passages context as well as the referencing the translation skill and work of G.K. Beale, the EDNT and the NIDNTT (as well as others). Kenny who is taking the “exegetical approach” is referencing the Open Theist philosopher Christopher Fisher educated in Computer Science, Political Science, Mathmatics and Economics to support his claim that it’s an error to think this phrase is pretemporal.
I, in no way, want to be critical of Fisher who seems to be a smart fellow or Kenny who I think might actually be more qualified to speak with more authority on the passage than Christopher. I simply want to point out that theologians and sources deeply respected in their particular fields of expertise (i.e. exegesis and ancient languages) say that the Greek preposition katabolēs supports my view that divine foreordination, predestination and election are all implicated in Revelation 17:8.
Kenny ends his sermon/article with this,
“If this was a sermon about marveling at the monster, I’d end it this way.
Don’t follow the monster in this generation (as others in previous generations have done — going all the way back to the beginning). Instead, follow Jesus — and in following him, have your name written down in God’s book of life.
However, If this were my sermon I wouldn’t be able to ignore the fact that over and over again John in The Revelation is pointing the Church (The woman in Revelation 12:1-6) to be encouraged in the fact that God called the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) when he said…
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”” Genesis 3:15.
I wouldn’t be able to read the words “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.” And “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” Without remembering that even though the Church is being hunted and beaten by the dragon and his beasts she (Revelation 12:1-6) will prevail because…
“they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” Revelation 12:11
The church is ultimately the woman who crushes the head of the serpent as foretold in Genesis 3:15 and nothing can stop her!
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.” (Revelation 12:1–6, ESV)
- Major Contributors and Editors. (2016). Systematic Theology. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
- Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 494). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
- Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 701–702). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
- H-Esser, H. (1986). Creation, Foundation, Creature, Maker. L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), New international dictionary of New Testament theology (Vol. 1, pp. 377–378). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
- Tg. Targum Pesiq. Pesiqta Midr. Midrash T. Mos. Testament (“Assumption”) of Moses Mek. Mekilta Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2, pp. 255–256). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.