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Book of Life


Term found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament for an imaginary record of the members of the people of God and of those destined for eternal happiness. The idea of a record or book of names kept by the Lord most likely had its origin in human census lists in antiquity. Sometimes, reference to inclusion in such a book is simply a figurative way of speaking of one's natural life; for example, when the Psalmist adds to the curses upon his wicked persecutors the wish that "they be erased from the book of living" [Ps 68(69).29], he is praying for the death of his enemies. However, those whose names appear on the Lord's census lists are His elect, His intimate friends, or at least His people.

In the Old Testament. The first use of the term is found in Ex 32.32. After the Israelites had sinned by worshiping the golden calf, Moses pleaded with the Lord for their forgiveness in words similar to those that St. Paul would later use when he wrote, "I could wish to be anathema myself from Christ for the sake of my brethren" (Rom 9.3). With great boldness Moses demanded, "If you will not (forgive the sin of the people), then strike me out of the book that you have written." In the ancient Near East, a man's name was more than a label suitable for distinguishing him from others. In Egypt, e.g., a man's name, his ren, was an essential part of him; to blot it out was equivalent to destroying the man himself. This view explains the zeal shown by the native Egyptian kings in erasing the names of the hated Hyksos invaders from every monument in Egypt after their expulsion. The notion that obliteration of the name meant devastation to the one named was shared by the Israelites, a fact that makes Moses' act of generosity all the more magnificent.

Isaiah, speaking of the messianic blessings of the future under the figure of a lush harvest, announces their possession by the remnant of Israel, which will consist of those "marked down for life in Jerusalem" (4.3), i.e., God's list of his chosen ones. Malachi speaks of a "record book of those who fear the Lord" (Mal 3.16). Daniel says that "everyone who is found written in the book" shall escape in the "time of unsurpassed distress" (Dn 12.12). In Ps 138(139).16 the book is envisioned as one that contains not only names but deeds that constitute material for judgment, an idea found also in the New Testament Book of Revelation.

In the New Testament. The notion that God keeps a record in the "book of life" of those who are destined for heaven is found in Phil 4.3 (Paul's "fellow workers whose names are in the book of life"; cf. Lk 10.20; Heb 12.23). But the figure is especially frequent in Revelation: in 3.5 it is said of him "who overcomes" that Christ "will not blot his name from the book of life"; in 13.8 the book is called the "book of life of the Lamb"; in this passage and in 17.8 those not destined for salvation are called those "whose names have not been written in the book of life"; in 20.12, 15 "anyone not found written in the book of life" is cast into the pool of fire; in 21.27 the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem are those "who are written in the book of life of the Lamb."

See Also: life, concept of (in the bible); predestination.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. & adap. l. hartman 261263. c. kopp, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche 2 2:738739. j. dupont, Essais sur la christologie de saint Jean (Bruges 1951), 157162. l. koep, Das himmlische Buch in Ankike und Christentum (Bonn 1952).

[w. n. schuit]

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