In Revelation 13:8 was the lamb slain from before the foundation (NIV), or the book written from before the foundation (ESV), or both?
The Greek text is as follows:
13:8 καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν αὐτῷ πάντες οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ; ὧν οὗ γέγραπται τὰ ὄνοματα ἐν τῇ βίβλῳ τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου
13:8 kaí proskynísousin autó pántes oi katoikoúntes epí tís gís ; ón oú gégraptai tá ónomata en te bíbloi tes zoes toú arníou esfagménou apó katabolís kósmou
Written, when, or slain when?
The issue here is similar to the famous ‘thief on the cross’ verse Luke 23:43 where translators debate whether the temporal adverb “today” attaches to the verb “I say” or the verb “you will be”. It’s generally understood by translators today that in that case the adverb belong with the preceding verb, “I say”.
Here we have not a temporal adverb, like “today”, but a temporal phrase “from foundation of the cosmos”. The question is whether that temporal phrase attaches to the verb “written”, or to the verb “slain”?
Most English Bible versions follow the reading “slain – from [the] foundation of the world”, among them KJV and NIV:
“all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” (NIV)
Some other Bible translations follow a new alternative reading “written from the foundation of the world”, among them ESV:
“everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (ESV)
Does it make a big difference?
Rather than counting versions the first approach to the text would be to see which makes the most sense in context. But in this case that leads to the conclusion that both make sense because from the view of God’s plan the main action is the sacrifice of the lamb, and the consequence is the writing of the names of the redeemed in the Book of Life. The writing cannot take place without the slaying of the Lamb, and neither event literally took place before the foundation of the cosmos in the sense of linear time. Both the writing of names and the slaying of the Lamb are events keyed to the crucifixion and resurrection circa AD30.
So does it really matter to which verb, when the context indicates both?