Adding to or Taking Away from God’s Word

Our daily readings for 1999 concluded with these words: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Rev. 22:20-21).

Life passes us by so rapidly that when we pause to reflect we are amazed at how quickly the years have passed. Truly Christ does come quickly! Whether we will be alive or will need to be summoned from our graves to meet him, he will soon be here.

Don’t change God’s word

If our appearance at the judgment seat is to be a happy occasion, we need to consider carefully all of God’s word. Jesus reminds us of this in the final warning of his prophecy: “…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”(Rev. 22:18,19).

While this caution applies specifically to the book of Revelation, the warning “not to add to or take away from” is echoed by many scripture passages. One echo found in Deuteronomy was directed to the children of Israel as they were about to enter the promised land:

“Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:1,2).

As we commence our daily readings once again at the beginning of the year this commandment has a special relevance. Adding to or taking away from God’s word has very serious consequences that none of us wishes to experience. Let us then strive to read and follow all of God’s directives in the coming year.

How the word is distorted

Many of the problems men have with God’s word come from not considering the whole of scripture. It is so easy to zoom in on a verse to the exclusion of the verses around it and thereby arrive at a false position. The single verse approach is the easy way but it leads to a superficial and often false view of Bible teaching. Similarly, if we pick and choose only the commandments we like, our growth in the Truth will be uneven and our characters ungodly. Eventually we could become like“Those who forsake the law praise the wicked” instead of like “such as keep the law contend with them” (Prov. 28:4). If our diminishing of God’s word is done deliberately, then James has this warning for us: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Our Master was always ready to do what God required of him. Never did he take away from his Father’s words. Even when John was reluctant to baptize him he directed: “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15). Later, when Peter suggested that Jesus would not be killed in Jerusalem, Jesus rebuked him sharply (Mt. 16:21-23). So confident was Jesus in God’s word that he taught: “One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mt. 5:18). Not only did he do God’s will himself, he continued to warn of the dangers in relaxing God’s commandments or adding to them, as did the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:19,20).

Tradition treated like God’s word

Adding to God’s word, like diminishing it, also has a serious consequence: “God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18). Proverbs explains why we should not add to God’s word: “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Prov. 30:5,6).

The proof of this statement is the harm wrought by the Pharisees who added much to God’s word. In their minds these additions were designed to keep men from breaking God’s law, but instead they caused people to become absorbed in legalism and to violate the great principles of godliness. Furthermore, their additions were consistently easy for them to follow but difficult for others. Jesus says of them: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:4). So serious was their tampering with God’s commandments that Jesus said:“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9).

Being too confident of our interpretations

When we apply God’s word to the behaviour of others, we must be careful that we do not add to it (i.e., “bind heavy burdens”). We do this when we demand more from others than we are willing to do ourselves. Instead of demanding more from one who is overburdened, we need to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 4:2). Adding to God’s demands when it comes to others is not part of our duty to God.

We can also add to God’s word by insisting that certain verses teach a course of action more plainly than the brotherhood at large is prepared to admit. When the correct interpretation of a difficult scriptural passage is uncertain, it is disruptive to insist that others agree with our interpretation. We should always be willing to listen to the gleanings of others. Arrogance of this sort is best counteracted by: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3).

We need to realize that God has given us not only the right commandments but the right number of commandments. We must strive to keep the commandments God has given us. By spending less time on trying to change them or coming up with a new interpretation, we will have more time to do what He has asked of us.

Jack Robinson