Don’t Add to or Subtract From the Bible

Most people who read the Bible are careful – or so they claim – not to add anything to God’s written word or to take anything away from it.

A commonly cited verse to support this practice is Revelation 22:18-19, which pronounces plagues for those who add and implies eternal death to those who subtract. However, John isn’t referring to the entire Bible but only to the record of his dream. Applying John’s warning to all of scripture is taking these two verses out of context.

A similar warning against adding or removing words occurs in Deuteronomy 4:2 and Deuteronomy 12:32. Again these passages only apply to laws God gave to Moses. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day would have done well to follow what Moses said in these two verses, because over centuries of time, religious leaders added thousands of rules and regulations beyond God’s original words. Their efforts at clarification may have been well intended, but in doing so, they directly violated what God prohibited.

These verses, while narrow in scope, offer a principal applicable to the whole Bible: don’t add to it or take away from it. Yet people do this all the time, elevating personal practices and opinions to the authority of biblical mandate.

Earlier in my life, I spent time with people who, with godly fervor, decried drinking, smoking, dancing, and playing cards. Never mind that the Bible never said these were of the devil, yet our pastor proclaimed them to be so. More recently, I visited a church with odd requirements for women to wear dresses and not cut or color their hair. Where did that come from? I could go on.

If we’re going to follow what the Bible says, let’s actually follow what it says and not interject our own ideas or delete our own biases.

[Revelation 22:18-19, Deuteronomy 4:2, and Deuteronomy 12:32]