Christianity 201

June 3, 2017

The Bible: Additions and Deletions

NIV Revelation 22: 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 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.

Are these concluding words in Revelation 22 intended to refer to that book only, or do they apply to the whole Bible? Or is this expressing an even broader principle?

Jon Rittenbaugh writes:

Though these words were written specifically about the book of Revelation, the principle is significant in light of today’s church. Christ’s concern at the very end is that His people do not deviate from what is written in the book. To remain in His safety, a Christian must be submissive to Him, worshiping Him in every aspect of life, continuing to develop in Christian freedom, not enveloped by an attitude that may prove to be spiritually fatal.

The classic commentary Albert Barnes Notes suggests it only applies to the one book, but somewhat hedges on other application:

The reference here is to the book of Revelation only – for at that time the books that now constitute what we call the Bible were not collected into a single volume. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced as referring to the whole of the sacred Scriptures. Still, the principle is one that is thus applicable; for it is obvious that no one has a right to change any part of a revelation which God makes to man; to presume to add to it, or to take from it, or in any way to modify it. Compare… 2 Timothy 3:16

Almost humorously, John Gill reminds his readers that commentary (i.e. his own) does not constitute an addition, but also speaks of creating other writings which would have equal footing.

To “add” to the things contained in this book, is not to deliver, or write an exposition of it, in a modest manner, with a sincere view to give light into it, agreeably to the analogy of faith; for to expound Scripture, or to preach from it, consistent with it, is not to add unto it, but to give the sense of it; but then may it be said to be added unto, and so this book, when it is wrested and perverted, and a false gloss is put upon it, as the Pharisees did upon the law; and when unwritten traditions are made to be equal to it, or above it, as the same persons made the traditions of the elders, whereby they transgressed the law, and made the word of God of none effect, and so broke through the precept given, Deuteronomy 4:2 as do the Papists in like manner; and when men pretend to visions and revelations, and make them the rule of faith and practice, and to confirm things that are neither in this book, nor in any other part of the word of God; and when men interpolate it, and set up human fictitious writings upon equal authority with it; which shows the authenticity of this book, and of all the whole Scripture, and the perfection of it, whose canon is closed with it: the punishment of such a crime follows…

For some readers here “human fictitious writings” or books with “equal authority” may have suggested to you The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I thought a Catholic response might be in order. On this forum, the points made are:

  • the Protestant Bible subtracts seven books
  • the large number of Protestant denominations suggests varying interpretations (this is a frequent argument raised by Roman Catholics)
  • it applies only to the Book of Revelation
  • the full canon of scripture did not yet exist when this was written
  • the scriptures, as they knew them at that point, were the books of the Hebrew bible.

Note: This issue is also is also particularly sensitive to members of the LDS Church, especially as it applies to The Book of Mormon. Space doesn’t permit us to explore that here.

The fullest and lengthiest commentary I discovered on this was at life-everlasting.net.  The author, David Simon, looked at several different aspects of this verse, for example:

  • What does it mean to have one’s part in the tree of life taken away? This is a part of the verse that is often under-examined. What does this say about the eternal security of the believer?
  • Another overlooked part is the reference to those who “hear” the words. Communication was mostly oral at that time, so today we might interpret this to includes “hears or reads” (though we are increasingly moving back toward more oral transmission).
  • The best example of “adding to” is mentioned here, namely all of the additional “weight” the Pharisees added to the law. The similarity to legalistic groups in contemporary Christianity is striking.
  • What about subtraction? The author says that this is, “more than rubbing out some words. It concerns the denial of the prophecies contained in Revelation, and hence the denial of the authority of this book and the Bible as a whole. Denying the authority of the Book, denies God…” equating this to what is often referred to as “the unforgivable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
  • The author concludes that such activity can be seen as a “sign” of person’s spiritual state: “…persons committing these acts are unsaved… evidence of the unsaved state of a person, whatever he or she says, is that he or she will add or take from Scripture, nullifying the prophecies of God. Such a person cannot be saved, for they will deny the saving grace of God.”

There is much more at that website, and I’ll repeat the link and encourage you to visit.

 

 

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