What does the text not say? Neither (13:8) nor any other references to the book state the deciding factor of how names came to be in the book. Calvinists treat the passage as though it does state the determining factor, which is God’s determination to elect some to salvation, and therefore record their names; however, it does not.
It tells us that names were recorded before the foundation of the world, and none of those names will ever be removed (Revelation 3:5). It does not tell us why some names were placed in the book and others were not. Thus, from the text alone, one can only derive certainty not causality, and security not selective process. To wit, the passage tells us nothing about why a person’s name is in it despite Calvinists’ certainty that it is due to God’s unconditional monergistic elective purposes. One must let the passage say what it says and no more, and then look elsewhere to establish the determiner for names being placed in or excluded from the book.
Additionally, these types of verses that mention the eternal past, election, predestination, etc., lend themselves to being reflexively imbued with Calvinism in such a way that the text seems to actually reinforce that belief and there seems to be no other biblically plausible answer. As with all such passages, the simple statement of this verse as well as other relevant verses needs to be considered. Two passages, one from the beginning of the missionary enterprise of the church and one that speaks directly to the time period of the beast, encapsulate the great truth of what determines whether a name is in the book of life or not.
Paul said, “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). The “lawless one,” i.e. the beast or antichrist, works false wonders and deceives countless people during the tribulation, and those whom he deceives perish—go to hell. Note that verse 10 says the reason for their succumbing to the deception and therefore perishing is “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” Now by any simple reading of this passage, their demise is not because they were not written in the book, but rather they were not written in the book because they refused to believe the truth of the gospel unto salvation.
An impartial reading of this passage clearly indicates that they could have accepted the love of the truth and been saved, and therefore their rejection is the sole determiner for their name being excluded from salvation and not recorded in the book of life. Thus, names are in the Lamb’s book of life because God knew they would receive the love of the truth by grace-enabled faith. Obviously, I am rejecting the ubiquitous refrain of Calvinism; of course, they did not receive the love of the truth because they were not the elect, and that is the only thing that the non-elect can do. This understanding is derived from Calvinism and not the text.
The second passage is in Acts 13, which describes the first missionary journey where Barnabas and Paul were sent out from the church at Antioch (vs. 1-3) and then went to Perga, and arrived at Pisidian Antioch. There they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and preached concerning Christ from the promises made to their fathers to the fulfillment made in Christ (vs. 14-41). The message concluded with the following words, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. “Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; For I am accomplishing a work in your days, A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you’” (Acts 13:38-41, italics added) .
Reading or hearing such a proclamation unfiltered by Calvinism, one clearly sees that Christ lays a real choice before the hearers. First, you (plural) to whom he speaks is the same you (plural) to whom forgiveness of sins is proclaimed and offered, which implies that everyone can believe. This is seen in just the simple words and also the warning, “Therefore take heed.” Based on the offer of forgiveness to you, each of you needs to act so that judgment “may not come upon you.” The predicted judgment is avoided or incurred based upon whether or not they heed the message to receive the forgiveness of sins. It is not that they cannot believe because of the judgment, but rather that they are judged if they do not take heed of the warning and receive salvation of the Messiah.
Thus, in both instances, as well as throughout the Scripture, their judgment was due to their rejection of a genuinely offered forgiveness rather than because of some secret elective recording of their names in the book; furthermore, their names are securely in the book guaranteeing their salvation rather than causing it. Remember, God has always known those who would certainly exercise grace-enabled faith and has therefore recorded their names in the “book of life” in eternity past. God’s offer of salvation is unconditional, but He sovereignly made grace-enabled faith the condition for receiving salvation and therefore having one’s name written in the “book of life” (John 1:12). Unfortunately, Calvinists conflate certitude and causality.