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The Book of Life and Faith? Judgment by Works in Revelation

The Book of Life and Faith? Judgment by Works in Revelation December 3, 2010

Revelation (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been using Ben Witherington’s commentary on Revelation in my class on Revelation this semester. In the last class, one of the interesting discussions related to the presence of (at least) two books in the depiction of the final judgment: a record of the deeds of an individual, according to which they are said to be judged, and a “Book of Life.”

Witherington in fact “renames” the book in question, referring to it as “the book of life and faith” (p.251).

While this certainly reflects the way many Protestants understand the Book of Life – a record of those who have faith and who are thus saved in the final judgment on that basis – it seems impossible to reconcile that understanding with the reference in the immediate context to deeds having been recorded and judgment being connected with them (Revelation 20:12).

It seems that the typical Protestant perspective faces the same problems here in Revelation 20 as in Matthew 25:31-46. In both instances, to say that deeds are irrelevant is to ignore what the text plainly says, and to say that they apply only to non-Christians is to allow that some will be saved apart from faith based on works.

At the very least, my students now understand better things they were told earlier in the semester about Martin Luther considering removing Revelation from the canon.

I have a student who has found this topic interesting enough that they will be doing a final paper on the depiction of judgment here, and the relationship between the book(s) recording deeds and the book of life. And so academic bibliographical suggestions on that topic are welcome.

What do others think? Does Revelation anywhere suggest that salvation, or inclusion in the book of life, depends on one’s faith. I believe the only occurrence of pistis in Revelation is in 13:10 where it is usually translated “faithfulness.” And so I wonder whether others feel, as I did, that at this point Witherington is reading into Revelation something that reflects Paul as traditionally understood by Protestants, but which the Book of Revelation itself may have a different view on.


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