“Books of Judgment” and the “Book of Life” in Biblical Theology -- By: John A. Jelinek

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 01:2 (Fall 1997)
Article: “Books of Judgment” and the “Book of Life” in Biblical Theology
Author: John A. Jelinek


“Books of Judgment” and the
“Book of Life” in Biblical Theology

John A. Jelinek

Seminary Chaplain, Baptist Bible Seminary
Associate Professor, Baptist Bible Seminary

Introduction

From whence comes the idea of God as a divine stenographer? A cursory examination of the relevant biblical passages raises a number of perplexing questions. How did the Israelites and other ancient peoples regard the divine role in keeping account of human affairs? Is there more than one book of life in the Bible? What is contained in these records and when were they recorded? What is meant when names are said to be “blotted out” of this record? In sum, how does one understand and integrate the many biblical references to “books of judgment” and the “book of life”?1

Historical Background

A belief in the existence of celestial or heavenly tables on which the “gods” kept record of men, their activities and destinies, can be traced to ancient Sumer.2 Here, individual destinies, as well as the destinies of nations, were believed to be recorded on tablets reserved in the heavens.3 Nabu was thought to be the divine stenographer,4 the keeper of the unalterable records, and several cuneiform texts reflect appeals made by kings to him.5 The idea, then, of the gods keeping record of human events and participating in human destinies was not foreign, even in the time of Moses and before.

Further, in ancient cities the names of citizens were often recorded in a register until their deaths (cf. Jer 22:30; Ezek 13:9).6 Their names were then marked out of the book of the living. This same concept appears in the Old Testament (cf. Exod 32:32–33; Pss 58:8; 69:28; Isa 4:3, et al), and implications from it seem to spill into the New Testament, particularly the book of Revelation (see references below).

Yahweh as Record Keeper

God asScribe.” The first and only biblically recorded instance of God “writing something down” o...

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