I got such great response on my last post about an abused Bible passage that I thought I’d discuss another one. Let’s read the subject passage:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (NKJV)
Contrary to the common out-of-context use of this passage, it does not apply to the Bible. This passage is only in reference to the book of Revelation and nothing else. You have to remember that this was written long before the New Testament was collected as a book, and the subject of the text is “the prophecy of this book.” I hate to say this, but many good teachers have misused this passage to apply it to the whole of Scripture; I have seen it over and over again in commentaries.
Mormons hear this so much that they have learned to respond by pointing out the context, which really says nothing about their Book of Mormon or their other standard works. Of course what they don’t understand is that this does indeed apply to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, because he did add to and subtract from the book of Revelation!
Jehovah’s Witnesses change Revelation in their New World Translation, so we can say this applies to them also.
Now that I have your attention, does this mean we can add to or subtract from the Bible with no consequences from God? Of course not! Let’s look at some other passages from the Bible (all NKJV):
Deuteronomy 4:2: You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
What is the context? This is Moses talking to Israel in reference to all the Law given to him for Israel. Can we say this applies to the Bible as a whole? No. In context it only refers to the Law - the commandments of God given by Moses to Israel.
Deuteronomy 12:32: Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.
As with the other passage from Deuteronomy, this is Moses talking to Israel about the Law.
Jeremiah 23:31: “Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’”
The context is God telling what He hates about false prophets. This passage says God is against those who claim God said something that He didn’t say.
I think these passages tell us a principle - that God does not want His Word messed with by either adding to it or taking away from it. Now let’s look at one last passage:
Proverbs 30:5-6: Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
This is a general statement about God’s Word. It says don’t add to it! By extension I think we could also say this would certainly apply to taking away from His Word, because when you take away from the Word you add a new meaning.
So then, the lesson for today is this: use the Bible in context because that is where the truth lies. Tradition often leads us into error, and when we take passages out of context because we’ve heard them traditionally used this way, then we become no better exegetes than members of cults.