Foundational Principles—(2): Forbidden to Add to God’s Word

Previous article in this series: November 15, 2014, p. 80.

In the days of the Old Testament God warned His people about adding to or subtracting from the Scriptures: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:32).

This same exhortation is found at the very end of the Bible, where God adds a warning about the punishment that will come upon anyone who does not heed what He says about this:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, 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).

These exhortations and warnings teach us that the Scriptures are perfect and complete in all respects, and that all we need to know concerning the will of God is found there.

Examples of adding to the Word of God

There are numerous ways in which people try to add to the Word of God. Some of the common ones in the past and in the present are as follows:

1. Claiming another book is the word of God

There are those who claim that the Quran is the word of God, or that the book of Mormon is the word of God. These are, of course, obvious examples of adding to God’s Word.

2. Adding books to the Bible

There are 66 books that constitute the Bible. Some printed versions of the Bible include what are referred to as the apocryphal books.1 These books, however, are not divinely inspired. Anyone who says that they are is guilty of adding to the Scriptures.

Perhaps someone would ask how we know that the 66 books that are in the Bible do in fact belong in the Bible. We answer that the Holy Spirit assures us of that, and that the Spirit does this in a threefold way. First, we have the Spirit’s testimony in the Scriptures themselves. The writings that the Spirit inspired testify that they are from God. Secondly, we have the Spirit’s testimony in our own hearts. God has written His Word in our hearts, and causes us to recognize His voice when we read the books that He inspired. Thirdly, we have the Spirit’s testimony in the decision of the church to receive these books as God’s Word. The Spirit of God guided not only this or that individual but the church as a whole to recognize and receive these books as His Word.

3. Claiming to receive new revelations from God today

Many in our own day claim that God has spoken to them just as He did to the prophets in the days in which the Scriptures were written. Such individuals are false prophets, since the Bible was completed in the days in which the apostles lived. All that we need to know about the great salvation we have in Christ is found in the Scriptures as we have them today: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Heb. 2:3).

The “great salvation” was proclaimed by Christ and then confirmed unto us by them who heard Him. The Old Testament had been completed before Christ came, and the New Testament had been completed when Christ and “them that heard him” were no longer on earth. It is also worthy of note that the warning in the book of Revelation about adding to or subtracting from the Scriptures is found at the very end of the Bible.

4. Claiming that there have been infallible statements since the Scriptures were finished

The Roman Catholic Church has claimed for many years that there are times in which the pope is guided by God to speak infallibly. According to the Romish church, the pope speaks infallibly:

When, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.2

They claim that an example of such an infallible utterance took place in 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary as an article of faith.

Any infallibly inspired utterance would have the same authority as Scripture itself. To claim that infallibly inspired statements have been made after the time that Scripture was finished is to be guilty of adding to God’s Word.

5. Claiming that the creation reveals more of God’s will to us

There are those today who say that the Scriptures are insufficient to teach us all that we need to know concerning the will of God. They say that, in addition to the commandments found in Scripture, we are to hear and follow what are referred to as “norms” made known to us in the creation, which supposedly tell us how we are to conduct ourselves in human society. This, however, is adding to the Word of God.

The law of God concerning how human beings are to conduct themselves toward one another is found in its entirety in the Scriptures. God does make Himself known in the creation, but by this means He does not make known any additional laws for human conduct.

6. Inventing commandments and wrongly claiming to find biblical support for them

At the very beginning of the Scriptures we have an example of someone doing this, when Eve claimed that God said that they were not allowed even to touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had not said this, and Eve was thus guilty of adding to His words.

Many do this still today, and it is something against which all of us must constantly be on our guard.

7. Inventing promises and wrongly claiming to find biblical support for them

This has often been done in the past and continues to take place today. Multitudes today, for example, say that God has promised that the Jews will reign on this earth for 1,000 years sometime in the future. Though they claim to find biblical support for their position, they are actually prophesying falsely. They are saying, “God has promised…,” when actually He has not.

This serves to bring out how extremely serious it is to promote wrong views on eschatology.

Believing the pure Word of God

One of the passages that warns against adding to God’s Word says that the Word of God is pure, and that those who receive God’s Word as it is will experience God to be their shield. “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).

Here we have not only another warning about adding to God’s Word, but also a comforting statement about the protection experienced by all who receive what God says. Every addition to God’s Word will be found to be false. But every word that God has spoken is pure. The true believer comes to know this quite well. He has experienced in his own life that our Lord always does what He says He will do. Every one of His promises is certainly fulfilled. A shield He is for those who walk in His ways, fully protected from every foe. It is those who trust in the Lord, believing all that He says without additions or subtractions, who walk without fear, perfectly shielded by their God and Father.

1 The term “apocryphal” comes from a Greek word meaning “hidden.”

2 First Vatican Council, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chapter 4, 9, councils/20-Pastor-Aeternus.htm.