The term appears in both the Old Testament and New Testament. In the Psalms, those who are obedient to God among the living are considered worthy. In other occurrences in the Old Testament, "opening of the books" typically refers to the Final Judgment. The prophet Daniel mentions a heavenly court (Daniel 7:10).
The Book of Life in Judaism
In Judaism today, the Book of Life plays a role in the feast known as Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of repentance, when Jews express remorse for their sins through prayer and fasting. Jewish tradition tells how God opens the Book of Life and studies the words, actions, and thoughts of every person whose name he has written there. If a person's good deeds outweigh or outnumber their sinful acts, his or her name will remain inscribed in the book for another year.
On the most holy day of the Jewish calendar--Yom Kippur, the final day of judgment--each person's fate is sealed by God for the upcoming year.
The Book of Life in ChristianityJesus Christ alludes to the Book of Life in Luke 10:20, when he tells the 70 disciples to rejoice because "your names are written in heaven."
At the Last Judgment, believers in Christ are assured that their names are recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life and that they have nothing to fear. The Lamb, of course, is Jesus Christ (John 1:29), who was sacrificed for the sins of the world. Unbelievers, however, will be judged on their own works, and no matter how good those works were, they cannot earn that person salvation:
"And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:15, NIV)
Christians who believe a person can lose their salvation point to the term "blotted out" in connection with the Book of Life. They cite Revelation 22:19, which refers to people who take away or add to the book of Revelation. It seems logical, however, that true believers would not try to take away or add to the Bible. Two requests for blotting out come from men: Moses in Exodus 32:32 and the psalmist in Psalm 69:28. God denied Moses' request that his name be removed from the Book. The request of the psalmist to blot out the names of the wicked asks God to remove his ongoing sustenance from the living.
Believers who hold to eternal security say Revelation 3:5 shows that God never blots out a name from the Book of Life. They further argue that God, who knows the future, would never list a name in the Book of Life in the first place if it would have to be blotted out later.
The Book of Life assures that God knows his true followers, keeps and protects them during their earthly journey, and brings them home to him in heaven when they die.
Also Known As: The Lamb's Book of Life
Example: The Bible says believers' names are written in the Book of Life.
(Sources: gotquestions.org; Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, and Totally Saved, by Tony Evans.)
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.