In this study, I will use the abbreviation OSAS to refer to the Once-Saved-Always-Saved position. In a nutshell, those who subscribe to the OSAS position take the view that salvation, once obtained, cannot be lost. This study is not intended to be a complete refutation of the OSAS position. Rather, it is intended to focus on one specific aspect of the OSAS view, namely, the meaning of the Book of Life as mentioned in Revelation 3:5:
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
In Scripture, there are many verses which either directly or indirectly contradict the OSAS view - some of them more directly than others! Revelation 3:5 is a particularly direct attack on the OSAS position since, in plain English, it tells us that only those who overcome the sins and entrapments of this world will be clothed in white raiment (i.e. be made righteous) and retain their salvation.
The unspoken converse of this verse is that if we do not ultimately overcome in this world, then we will not ultimately be saved. This plain, literal view of the verse is echoed by each and every one of the letters to the seven churches of Revelation, all of which point out the need to overcome. All seven letters associate the result of 'overcoming' with various metaphors which speak of salvation (e.g. sitting with Jesus on His throne, eating from the tree of life, etc.)
Unfortunately, this is not plain enough for those who subscribe to the OSAS position. They are boundlessly creative in their attempts to make Scripture say something other than what it plainly does say. Revelation 3:5 is commonly dispensed with by asserting that there are actually two Books of Life! The first book, mentioned in Rev 3:5 is a book into which everyone's name is supposedly entered by default. For the sake of argument, let's call this the Universal Book of Life. Thus, when Jesus warns that we need to overcome in order to avoid being blotted out, He is merely highlighting the fate of most, unsaved people who will be blotted out of the Universal Book of Life because they have not come to a saving faith in Him. The second book, referred to by OSAS devotees as "The Lamb's Book of Life", is the book into which (so the argument goes) only the names of the redeemed are written. In the remainder of this study, I will refute this position.
The first problem with the "Two Books" viewpoint (for want of a better word) is that it represents a dishonest attempt at selective exegesis. Let me explain further.
Those who believe that the Church has entirely replaced Israel in God's end-time purposes are often guilty of taking First Testament references to Israel and applying those scriptures to the Church as a whole. Worse, they do this in a very selective way. Those who are heavily into replacement theology tend to take all the passages which speak of blessing (in relation to Israel) and then apply those passages to the modern-day Church. At the same time, they take all the passages which have negative connotations (in relation to Israel) and they are happy to take those passages at their face value, ascribing any curses, etc, to Israel. In other words, the position can be summarized as "If it's a blessing, then Israel represents the Church, whereas if it's a curse, then Israel represents Israel!" Needless to say, this is not an intellectually honest way of reading God's Word.
What the "Two Book" OSAS proponents don't realize is that they are guilty of precisely the same type of dishonesty. If a particular scripture passage speaks of names being added to the Book of Life, then we must be talking about the Book of the Redeemed - i.e. the Lamb's Book of Life! But if a passage speaks of names being removed from the Book of Life, then surely we must be talking about the Universal Book of Life - the book into which everybody's names are initially written. Right? Wrong! Applying such selective, presuppositions to God's Word is just as intellectually dishonest as the aforementioned approach of the replacement theologians.
Biblical Evidence For Two Books
So is there any biblical evidence for two different Books of Life - the Lamb's Book of the Redeemed and the Universal Book of Life? Let's take a tour of scripture, examining every single scripture which speaks of these end-time books. The first is this:
A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10)
This is one of only two scriptures in the entire Bible (First and Second Testament) which refer to the end-time opening of books - plural. It should be crystal clear from the context that Daniel is referring to the books which record the deeds of every human being who has ever lived. Compare this verse with it's counterpart in the Second Testament:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)
Just in case there's any doubt, Revelation 20:12 plainly states that the dead are judged on the basis of the things written in the books (plural) which enumerate their deeds. In other words, these are not books of names, they are books of deeds. Moreover, Revelation 20:12 also indicates that these books of deeds are entirely distinct from another book (singular) which in the same passage is called the Book of Life.
Now if there are indeed two Books of Life, then it might have been helpful if the Holy Spirit had inspired John to let us know which one was being opened here - the Book of the Redeemed, or the Universal Book of Life. In reality, no such distinction needs to be made because there is only one such book!
For the next passage, we return to the First Testament:
Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin -- and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. (Exodus 32:32-33)
These are the words of Moses to the Lord following the infamous Golden Calf incident. Moses, as a type of Christ, intercedes for the people and pleads for the forgiveness of their sin. Notice that Moses seemed to be well aware of the fact that the Lord has a Book of Life, and the Lord essentially tells Moses that each person is responsible for their own entry in that Book. In other words, the Lord refuses to accept Moses' "blotting out" as a substitutionary offering for the sin of the people.
I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yoke-fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2)
This time it is Paul's turn to refer to the Book of Life and - once again - we find it referred to as "The Book of Life" rather than "A Book of Life". We have seen nothing so far to indicate the existence of more than one such book.
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)
This is the only place in Scripture where the phrase "The Book of Life of the Lamb" appears. Does this mean that we should understand this book as being different to the Book of Life mentioned elsewhere? Absolutely not! Compare this verse (for example) with the subsequent passage in Revelation 17:8 which states that:
The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (Revelation 17:8)
Notice that in Rev 17:8, those whose names are not written in the Book of Life "wonder" (are amazed, marvel, etc) after the beast. Previously, in Rev 13:8 those whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb are disposed to worship the beast. Is there, then, much difference between these two verses? No, there isn't - and that's because we're talking about the same book, as should be very obvious by now!
There is only one Book of Life, and this book belongs to the Lamb, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Why does the Book of Life belong to Jesus? It belongs to Him because Jesus has been appointed by God the Father as the Righteous Judge of all, and Scripture plainly teaches that everyone must appear before the judgement seat of Christ.
Finally, we have:
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15)
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev 21:27)
These two, identical, verses affirm that whoever is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life is ultimately thrown into the lake of fire.
So let's summarize then. What Biblical evidence have we accumulated to suggest that there are two Books of Life? To be blunt, there is not an iota of Biblical evidence to support this assertion. On the contrary, every reference to the Book of Life is in perfect harmony with all other references, stating plainly that in order to be "saved", we must find our names in this Book.
Some Common Sense Observations
At the risk of laboring the point, there are several common sense arguments that also need to be stated. Firstly, why should the Lamb of God need two books anyway? It seems to be deeply strange that God should start off with a book in which everyone's name is written, and yet refer to this as the Book of Life! Surely, to suggest that everyone starts off in the Universal Book of Life is to imply that we all start off as saved by default! This flies right in the face of orthodox Christian thinking which tells us that we are born into the world as sinners. Moreover, Paul assures us in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and so on.
With all this in view, it seems totally unbiblical - even ridiculous - to assert that the Lord enters everyone's name, by default, into some Universal Book of Life. Not only that, but most orthodox Christians accept that the Lord knows who are His from before the creation of the world, by virtue of His divine foreknowledge. Thus, those who believe that Rev 3:5 refers to a Universal Book of Life are essentially stating that God has entered everyone's name into a book, knowing perfectly well that He will subsequently be removing most of those names from the same book on some later occasion! Does that sound logical to you? Viewed in the light of other Scriptures, the "Universal Book of Life" idea becomes nothing more than an absurdity.
It would be far more reasonable to state what is plainly the Scriptural position - that there is one Book of Life, belonging to the Lamb, and that it is indeed possible to have one's name blotted out of it.
It has been stated that this idea of a Universal Book of Life is a Jewish concept, as though this were something to recommend the belief. Although we honour Israel, it is clearly not right to give precedence to the traditions of men, over and above the clear and direct teaching of inspired Scripture.
Finally, there are sound hermeneutical arguments against the belief in two separate Books of Life. This erroneous proposition offends no less than three of the golden rules of hermeneutics. Namely:
Take the face-value, literal meaning of a passage if at all possible.
Do not accept an interpretation which creates contradiction with other Scriptures.
Apply Occam's Razor - don't make things more complex than they are.
To take each of these three rules in turn:
1) Stating that there are two Books of Life is a deliberate attempt to turn Revelation 3:5 on its head, making it say something other than what it plainly teaches. We are told that it is necessary to overcome in order to attain salvation, with the clear inference that if we do not overcome, then we will not obtain. That is the plain-English meaning of the verse.
2) The plain meaning of Revelation 3:5 is completely consistent with other passages such as making our calling and election sure, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, the whole of 2 Peter 2, Hebrews 6, Hebrews 10, many of the parables of Jesus and much more besides. The "Two Book" view, on the other hand, introduces the concept of two separate Books of Life, a position which finds absolutely no support elsewhere in Scripture.
3) Don't make things more complex than they are! There is one Book of Life - not two.
Nowhere in Scripture is there any hint that more than one Book of Life exists. The only reason that OSAS proponents need to introduce such a bizarre concept is because they cannot reconcile Revelation 3:5 with their theology. If your theology does not agree with Scripture, then you need to change your theology - it's as simple as that!
Let me state this more plainly: If your beliefs do not fit with God's Word, then get your beliefs straightened out. We seek to align our theology with God's Word, we do not seek to align God's Word with our theology!
On no account should anyone attempt to alter the meaning of Scripture, and this warning is all the more stark when you bear in mind that the "Two Books of Life" approach is an underhand attempt at the manipulation of the one book in Holy Scripture which ends with a curse upon those who seek to alter its meaning. Therefore, in reverent fear and trembling, let me conclude by quoting the only Scriptural reference to the Book of Life which I have not mentioned thus far:
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. (Rev 22:19)