Foundational Principles (3): Forbidden to Subtract from God’s Word

Previous article in this series: February 15, 2015, p. 230.  

In both the Old and New Testaments, God warns us 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).

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).

Last time we considered ways in which many people add to God’s Word. In this article we consider ways in which people attempt to subtract from it.

Examples of subtracting from the Word of God

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

1. Denying that Scripture is the Word of God Multitudes deny that the Bible really is a revelation from the one true God. This, of course, is a blatant subtraction of all that God has made known to us.

2. Denying that the events recorded in Scripture actually took place

To say that an event recorded in Scripture did not happen is to deny that that portion of Scripture is the Word of God. There are many, for example, who deny that the miracles recorded in Scripture actually happened or that the events recorded in the first eleven chapters of Genesis really took place. That amounts to saying that those parts of Scripture are not the Word of God, but rather are mythical stories arising from the minds of men.

3. Claiming that the Bible contains incorrect statements about the creation

There are those who like to say that “the Bible is prescientific.” Below are some quotes that summarize what is often meant by those who say this:

The Bible often speaks in accordance with prescientific views that are not literally correct.

The Bible in fact speaks only in accordance with ancient views that, while once held to be incontestably true by many peoples, are now proven incorrect.

It is a mistake for Christians to expect the Bible to make literally correct statements about science two thousand years before the advent of modern science.

A revelation from God must be given in terms that are comprehensible, and thus in principle we should not expect that the Bible outpaces ancient, pre-scientific concepts about the structure, function, or age of nature.1

To say that the Scriptures contain incorrect teachings about the creation is to say that it contains statements about the creation that are not the Word of God but the word of men. It is to be guilty of subtracting from the Word of God all the statements about the creation that men today view to be “incorrect.”

Furthermore, with regard to the specific statements that are quoted above, we ought to note the serious implication of saying that a “revelation from God” could contain statements that are incorrect. That would mean that God Himself has told His people things about the creation that are not true. If that were the case, there would be no way for us to know what else He has told us in the Scriptures that is incorrect. In fact, this would strip us of the “certain knowledge” of faith. We could not have certain knowledge, but rather would always be in doubt as to whether this or that statement that God has made to us is really true.

4. Claiming that something God has revealed belongs to the hidden things we cannot know

There are many who refuse to preach about election and reprobation, claiming that God’s decree of predestination belongs to the secret will of God that cannot be known by us. Yet the truth concerning predestination is spoken of frequently in Scripture. To ignore this teaching is effectively to subtract it from the Bible.

We must remember that God commands us to preach all that He has revealed to us, without subtracting anything:

Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word (Jer. 26:2).

To refuse to do this is a grievous sin.

5. Claiming that one of God’s commandments was merely a cultural requirement

Another way that people commonly subtract from the Word of God is by taking a command that Christ has given us and saying that we do not have to abide by it. For example, our Lord has clearly told us that only men may be ministers of the Word, elders, or deacons (I Tim. 2:8-15; I Tim. 3:2-12; Tit. 1:6). There are many, however, who deny that God requires this, and who insist that this was merely a cultural requirement for those who lived at the time that the New Testament was being written.

Those who use such arguments may think that they have cleverly disposed of God’s Word on this subject. Yet what they are doing is as foolish as what Jehoiakim king of Judah did when he took the scroll that contained the prophesy of Jeremiah and threw it in the fire, because he did not like what it said. The scroll was burned, but the Word of God remained:

Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words (Jer. 36:32).

Adhering to the Word of Wisdom, our life

When we make confession of faith, we vow never to take away from the words our Lord has taught us, but always to adhere to them. We promise that we will heed the exhortation of our heavenly Father: “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life” (Prov. 4:13). We believe and know that the words our Lord has taught us are our life. To cling to those words is to cling to the Lord Himself. He is Life. He is our Life. In the way of taking fast hold of His instruction, and never letting go, we enjoy the true life, the true communion with our God, and begin to experience the true joy of that heavenly life which our Lord has promised to those who love Him.