A Question I Was Asked:

In Revelation 20, Which 'Books' Were Opened?

The Question:

In Revelation 20:12 it says "the books were opened" and "the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books." Usually, I have heard the books interpreted as records of the deeds of the dead.

1. [But] Where did this interpretation come from?

2. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that these are the books of the Law which are publicly read to confront people with their sins as Ezra did in Nehemiah 8:1-9 and 9:3? Or as in modern courts where the laws are "on the books" and infractions of them are publicly judged?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Your very last point seems quite strong, about which more later. None of the great Bible commentators ever suggests that the "books" of Revelation 20:12 has any connection with the 'book of the law' (on which all the laws of ancient Israel were written, save for the Ten Commandments which were originally inscribed upon stone by the very hand of God). There is a parallel Scripture to this; it is Daniel 7:10 which states:

A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10, NIV).

This too - quite clearly - refers to the Day of Judgment. 'Books' is from the Hebrew, 'sefar' - word number H5609 in Strong's Concordance. The meaning is, 'book,' 'scroll' or 'roll.'

Now let us check out Revelation 20:12:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12, NIV throughout, except where noted otherwise).

In the case of Revelation's Greek, 'books' is from the Greek 'biblion' meaning: 'bill,' 'book,' 'scroll' or 'writing.' So the meaning does not change and it is vague, this means that one has to check the setting and context to get a fuller understanding. Probably few have done this better than prodigious Bible scholar Albert Barnes who wrote:

"And the books were opened - That is, the books containing the record of human deeds. The representation is, that all that people have done is recorded, and that it will be exhibited on the final trial, and will constitute the basis of the last judgement. The imagery seems to be derived from the accusations made against such as are arraigned before human courts of justice." (Barnes, Notes on the New Testament).

For his part, Adam Clarke quotes the Sohar Chadash:

"In the first day of the new year the holy blessed God sits that he may judge the world; and all men, without exception, give an account of themselves; and the books of the living and the dead are opened."
Sohar Chadash, fol. 19, 1.

Clarke goes on to state this:

"The books mentioned here were the books of the living and the dead, or the book of life and the book of death: that is, the account of the good and evil actions of men; the former leading to life, the latter to death. St. John evidently alludes here to Daniel 7:10, on which the rabbinical account of the books appears to be founded. The expressions are figurative in both." (Adam Clarke Bible Commentary).

If we are being concerned about the 'book of the law,' we should note what Paul states about this:

Galatians 3:10 (KJV): For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Why was Paul so outspoken? Because he understood that the 'book of the law' was now superceded in Christ; its day had come and gone!

The Greek for 'book of the law' there is: 'to bibleo tou nomou.' Actual Greek wording: tw bibliw tou nomou (Sorry but you won't see the actual Greek letters if you are using Firefox with your computer set to western letters; IE and Google Chrome plus the newest version of Safari should be fine). Now the Galatians quote is specific. Revelation 20:12 is not specific, but there is really no good reason to suspect that John the Apostle was referring to the 'book of the law' in Revelation 20:12, neither was Daniel referring to it in Daniel 7:10. To insist upon this would amount to an attempt to put something into Scripture which is not there.

The outstanding JFB Commentary states,

"The books were opened - (Daniel 7:10). The books of God's remembrance, alike of the evil and the good (Psalm 56:8; Psalm 139:4; Malachi 3:16): conscience (Romans 2:15, Romans 2:16), the word of Christ (John 12:48), the law (Galatians 3:10), God's eternal counsel (Psalm 139:16)."

So "the books" (in contrast with 'The Book of Life,' which is mentioned later and which contains a listing of every saved person of all time), are a reference as to what each individual has done/not done in his or her life and the sense of being in a court of law (which Barnes also picks up upon) may be a fair comparison.

You have suggested that 'the books' can be compared to:

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1).

A point of interest but there is no real connection there. Following the captivity of the people of Judah, Ezra and Nehemiah were determined that the people should no longer neglect obedience to God, being proactive in teaching the Old Covenant Mosaic set of laws. Of course this only applied to the Jews who returned to Jerusalem. That will hardly apply right at the end of time when every person of every nation will stand in judgment.

Robin A. Brace. May 12th, 2012.