Revelation 22:19 says:

"And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll." (NIV)

This verse in some modern translations says the 'tree of life'. Other translations say the 'book of life'.

My first question is: can the Greek word for 'tree' be legitimately translated as 'book'?

My second question is: if the tree of life (Rev 22:19) really means the book of life, is the book of life the same thing as the 'lamb's book of life' in Revelation 21:27 which says:

"Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." (NIV; Rev 21:27)

My next question is this: does the Greek make clear, or does even the context of the whole of Scripture make clear the precise meaning of this 'book and/or tree of life'? In other words, is the book of life a record of the names of everyone who has ever lived or is it a record ONLY of people who are born again? Or does it record something else?

If everyone who ever lived has their name written in a book of life (the term 'life' here would refer to natural life, not eternal life, which is perhaps possible given the fact that unbelievers only live on earth because God allows it) then maybe if they (the unbeliever) die having rejected Christ, their names get blotted out of the Lamb's Book of Life as implied by Rev 21:27? Alternatively, if the Greek sheds light on whether the Book of Life is a record only of born again people, then it would seem possible for their names to be blotted out of it? I realise this is a complicated subject and the whole of Scripture perhaps needs taking into account to arrive at an objective answer. But if the Greek rendition sheds any meaning on similarities or differences between the Lamb's book of life (Rev 21) and the Book/Tree of life (Rev 22), I might get one step closer to finding an answer. Thanks.

  • 1
    It seems to me like maybe there are too many questions here, which may why I'm having trouble figuring out if the extant answers are "real" answers. The question of "tree" vs "book" (a textual or translational issue) could be its own question, and the issue of the identity of the item in 22:19 and 21:17 could be another.
    – Susan
    Apr 8, 2016 at 0:47
  • juchre.org/articles/book.htm
    – Michael16
    Jul 16, 2022 at 4:17

3 Answers 3


Let me try to explain. Those who have their name in the Lamb's Book of Life can enter the Holy City (New Jerusalem). Inside the city, there is a river of the water of life (Rev 22:1). On each side of the river stood the tree of life (Rev 22:2).

So the Book of Life resembles a pass book. Name in it entitles to live in the Holy City, enjoy the fruits on the tree of life.

So John might have two choice of expression, either

  • taken away their names in the Book of Life, meaning taken away their opportunity, or
  • taken away their share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, meaning taken away their opportunity to enjoy their eternal life.

John chose the latter expression, perhaps emphasizing the lost of treasure may have bigger impact in people's mind.


Revelation 22:18-19: For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. [my emphasis]

This concluding passage in the Book of Revelation was written simply to protect the book from unauthorised alteration. In most early Greek manuscripts, it threatens that anyone who adds words to those written in this book will suffer a plague, and any who shall take away from the words of the book will be punished when God shall take away his part out of the tree of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. However, four early Greek manuscripts and a Syriac manuscript state that God shall take away his part out of the book of life, so this very passage has been altered in the original Greek and not merely during translation into the vernacular, even though the alteration may well have been inadvertent in this case. In view of this alteration, it is worthwhile looking at whether the Book of Revelation has been altered elsewhere in the original Greek, or even in the Latin manuscripts we rely on.

Wikipedia lists an important variation between Textus Receptus and Majority Text at verse 22:14, as well as other differences (including additions or omissions) at 1:8, 1:11, 2:20, 4:2-3, 5:14, 8:7, 11:17, 14:5, 16:5 and 21:24. The number of the beast , in Revelation 13:18, is usually given as 666, but the early Greek manuscripts Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus and Papyrus 115 tell us the number was 616 so, regardless of which value was original, there has been a substitution that some would regard as theologically important.

Whether or not the original manuscript said God shall take away his part out of "the book of life" or "tree of life" these words constitute a threat against the life of any redactor who might attempt to alter the book, not a prophecy regarding other Christians.

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    @Marisa It would only be a Christian who would be likely to alter the book, as pagans or non-believers would not be likely even to read it. We know that in spite of this threat, it was altered (inadvertently or otherwise) on at least 2 occasions, because we have versions in which the number of the beast is either 616 or 666 and versions that here say 'book of life' or 'tree of life'. Thus it was an empty threat, although many potential editors of the text were probably dissuaded from doing so. We know that other NT books have a lot more alterations. Apr 5, 2016 at 21:57
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    Asserting that variances in translation constitute adding or taking away from Scripture is one of the silliest interpretations of this passage I can think of. The only way you can blow this off so lightly is if you've given up on the idea of Scripture even being in any sense God's words—at which point I wonder what your interest in them even is. On the other hand if these scriptures are indeed inspired in any sense one must wrestle with what they actually mean: and this would not be it.
    – Caleb
    Apr 7, 2016 at 16:11
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    @DickHarfield There are plenty of Greek variants in this part of Revelation, but I thought the βιβλιου / ξύλου (book / tree) thing was all based on a misreading of the Latin (libro vs. ligno), which Erasmus (infamously) back-translated and incorporated into the TR (>KJV). Were there Greek mss prior to the 15th C. with βιβλίου?
    – Susan
    Apr 8, 2016 at 7:40
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    @Susan Yes, as I understand it, 2 early Greek manuscripts predate Erasmus, while another 2 could have been contaminated by him. Of course, if the author had God's imprimatur in making this threat, then Erasmus should have been punished as much as any other redactor, unless it happens that his version is correct. Incidentally, my 'inadvertent' link points out that the variation could have resulted from visual similarities in handwriting of the two Greek words. Apr 8, 2016 at 7:57
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    Would be interested to learn about those mss that predate Erasmus (that sort of blows the theory that he introduced it), but I actually think this has nothing to do with the content of the verse (which seems to me more related to Deut 4:1-2 (cf. 12:32 (Heb. 13:1)), which is surely more about adherence to false teaching and idolatry than it is about manuscript discrepancies (which seem vaguely anachronistic).)
    – Susan
    Apr 8, 2016 at 8:18

Several questions asked.

My first thought is that you are referencing two very different books: Acts and Revelations. Because they were written by two very different people and because of the well-documented disputes between Paul and the apostles of Christ, I’m not sure it’s fair to compare the use of terms. We have no way of knowing if John and Paul would compare these terms or if they even meant the same thing.

In any case, the most interesting part of your question to me, are the words. “Tree” and “life” and “name” all have the concept of breath. A tree gives oxygen. Life cannot be had without breath. “Name” is “shem” in Hebrew and some people would tell you that shem can be be seen in light of “neshamah” (breath).

It’s easy to imagine your name on a list and somebody taking an eraser and erasing it. Your spot was booked and now you’ve lost your reservation. It’s a familiar question: Can a Christian lose their salvation?

For me, this question is problematic because it implies that everyone is talking about the same thing when they read the word “Christian.” This term is not used in Revelation. In those times (and today), there were plenty of people purporting to be “Christians” and they were offensive to the original church fathers. This may be what John is alluding to.

For this reason, I think it’s right to bring up Johns’ point here -2,016 years later. It is a question of faith.

In my opinion, if you actually receive The Holy Spirit, you will know it (at some point) and knowing won’t allow for any doubt, so you would never doubt your salvation could be lost. Faith is key. So for me, the irony in this question is the asking of the question because it shows a lack of faith. And here, you’re going to have to take my word that even though it may sound like I am saying that you have no faith, I’m not; that’s not what I am saying because this is a forum where questions are encouraged and I don’t know you or your intentions.

But to answer your question, my guess is that this particular verse in Revelations is not referring to people that have received The Christ; my guess is that it is a reference to people that claimed to have received The Christ and did not.

Revelations 3:5 “The one who conquers will be clothed in white garments and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”

  • Thanks for your response, Daisy, but I wasn't asking for guesses or opinions; nor was I making a statement about my faith or anyone else's faith. I was hoping for a response from someone who understood Greek and who understood what the whole of Scripture says about this matter, and who could therefore give a biblical response based on sound hermeneutics.
    – Marisa
    Apr 5, 2016 at 18:41
  • Every response is going to be a guess or opinion, Marisa. Best of luck.
    – Daisy
    Apr 5, 2016 at 19:25
  • I'm seeing 10 questions from the asker. The title has two of the 10 questions asked. I answered one of the title questions and gave information regarding the other one, which is highly interpretable. I don't think it's reasonable (or educational) to expect an asker to not require continued clarification about a highly controversial book that is interpreted thousands of ways. That's what scholars do when they peer review. Thanks
    – Daisy
    Apr 6, 2016 at 2:59

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