Friday, December 19, 2014

Getting the Cart Before the Horse

Rev 13:8  and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Rev 17:8  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.

For those of us who were raised with the KJV, we would immediately recognize that the ESV makes a major change in 13:8.  The KJV has the Lamb as the one slain from before the foundation of the world while the ESV applies this to the names of the elect being written down in the book of life.  Commentators state that both are true and so the ones I checked anyway don’t make much of the difference.  While I agree that there is a sense in which one can apply it to both biblically, I think there are good reasons to take the ESV’s translation as best.

The first one is because John later in 17:8 uses this phrase clearly in relation to the elect’s names being written in the book of life and so we should assume that he would be consistent here especially when with the rest of the Bible would support this in the fact that God elected some to be saved from before the foundation of the world, Eph 1:4  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  

Secondly there is no other place in the Bible as far as I know that refers to Jesus as having been slain in eternity.  Was he predestined to?  Yes, but being predestined to die is not the same as actually being slain which is what the KJV’s rendering says.  Again, if we look at how John describes the Lamb in the book of the Revelation we see that he is referred to as a Lamb that bore the marks of crucifixion but in such places he clearly is referring back to the literal death of Christ in time, Rev 5:6  And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Rev 5:12  saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

The third reason why I believe it is best not to refer to Jesus as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world is because some have twisted this to teach doctrines that are clearly unbiblical.  This in itself does not prove which translation is right because sinful men easily pervert doctrine in the clearest texts, but to me it seems that John is describing the reason why the elect cannot fall.  His point is not that Jesus was destined to die for us but that our security lies in the eternal councils of the Sovereign Lord.  We were destined to believe and so we shall not be deceived.  Conversely in ch. 17, the reason the lost will marvel at the beast is because they were not elected unto salvation. 

The dangerous error that some have used Rev. 13:8 to teach is the idea that election unto an end is the same as the end; in other words, Hyper-Calvinism.  Some have the idea that once God decrees something to happen, then it is as good as done.  But this is only half the story and it is not the biblical view.  Their reasoning might go something like this: since God has decreed that the Son was to be crucified, then in his mind it is as good as done and whether he actually is slain or whether the elect actually repent and believe, it doesn’t matter because God’s will can’t be stopped.  It is not unusual for preachers to say that we were saved when Christ died for us on the cross.  Yet the Bible teaches we were born under wrath and are “saved” when we believe in time.

While thinking they are guarding and extolling God’s sovereignty, they are actually selling the Lord short.  God not only determines the end but the means to that end.  And he is fully capable of making sure that all the steps to the end take place.  So we don’t have to make excuses for him by saying that even though this man died before he believed he is saved if he was elected.  This is the old example the Hyper-Calvinist uses when he says something like: if the man on the battlefield is elected to be saved and a bullet is about to take his life, God will regenerate him or give him faith just before the bullet hits.  But this is adding to what the Bible teaches about how we enter the kingdom where Jesus says over and over again that we are saved through repentance and faith.  It might be better to assume, especially when considering one’s own salvation and not someone else’s, that if you die before you believe you will be eternally lost; of that we at least have solid biblical teaching. 

Now I know that good men warn us that we don’t necessarily know whether and how God saves infants and the retarded and those not able to understand the gospel and so we must leave room for the fact that God might save in other ways.  I don’t have a problem with that.  My point is merely that we must be very careful of changing the way God has told us things work by pointing to election but ignoring the equally ordained means to the end.  God has it all worked out from beginning to end or he really doesn’t have anything worked out at all.


  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent.

    Thanks for pointing out this significant change by the ESV and its implications from A to Z. Over the past couple of years, I've come to the conclusion that the ESV is the best translation due to all these types of little points and the best commentary as well, giving all views on controversial passages a fair hearing.

    Just yesterday, the ESV hit me across the forhead in Revelation, by retranslating back 200 miles to 1600 stadia and 1500 miles to 12,000 stadia. The stadia numbers are important if you view the numbers in Revelation as symbolically important.

    Another important and cool thing I remember the ESV doing is in Corinthians, putting into quotes what the Corinthians were apparently saying in I Cor. 6:12ff, 8:1ff, 10:23.

    On the whole, it just seems like the ESV is usually in 1st place in my estimation when it comes to comparing the translation of any particular verse.

    But back to your Revelation 13:8 -- I now will watch out for and use the ESV for this verse. It makes a really big diference here.

    Kenny B

  2. Thanks Kenny,

    I have been using the ESV for study and preaching for at least 5 years now and agree with your assessment. To be fair every now and then it seems the KJV does a better job to convey the meaning of a word. The difference is that sometimes the KJV just gets it wrong whereas the ESV's translation is okay, it is just that I like the KJV better every now and again. I love the ESV but as in all translations, it is just that and one still has to study things out to be fair and safe and accurate.


    1. While I agree with both of your comments, this doesn't solve my problem:I have memorized portions of scripture from the RSV and the NIV and my brain won't change those verses to the ESV! Help! If only all our problems were this trite. : ) Good comments. Very edifying.