Previous article in this series: September 1, 2011, p. 467.
Already in the Garden of Eden, the devil was at work attacking the word that God had revealed. The Creator had said that there was one specific tree of which Adam was not to eat. The devil, being aware of this, went after the woman, and suggested to her that God had said something that really He had not: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1b).
The woman first corrected the serpent, but then she herself altered what God had said: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Gen. 3:2b-3).
God had said nothing about touching the tree. It was only the eating of the tree that He had forbidden. The woman, like the devil, changed the words God had spoken.
This story at the beginning of Genesis serves to indicate that God’s revelation is constantly under attack. Sometimes those attacks are very explicit. Other times they are quite subtle. Yet this is an activity in which our three-fold enemy is constantly engaged, and of which we must be very aware.
I will not attempt to list all the different ways in which men have tried to make changes to what God has revealed unto us. Only a few obvious ways, and some of the more subtle ways will be mentioned. The point here is to stress that changing God’s revelation is a grievous sin, and one that is becoming increasingly common in the day in which we live.
Sharp warnings against altering God’s revelation
It is quite obvious that altering God’s revelation is an extremely serious matter. To say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and then to utter something that God has never said, is to be guilty of prophesying falsely. As one would expect, many are the passages that condemn this as a great evil, and that speak of the severe judgment that comes upon all who impenitently do this.
Then there are also passages that speak against the evil of taking what God has said and making additions to it or subtractions from it. Warnings against this are found in the Old Testament: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:32). “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).
In the New Testament, at the very end of the Bible, we find an extremely sharp warning about the judgment that will certainly come upon all who foolishly endeavor to change what God has revealed:
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 repeated and sharp warnings serve to point out not only that this sin is extremely serious, but also that it is very prevalent. It is committed in various ways by those all around us. It is a sin against which we, too, must constantly be on our guard.
Many ways of subtracting from God’s Word
Many are the ways that man has come up with to subtract from the Word of God. Some of these are very obvious and direct attacks.
There are, of course, many who deny that there is such a thing as divine revelation. Multitudes refer to the Bible as simply another piece of human literature. They explicitly reject the idea that this book is a record of what the one true God has revealed.
There are others who will say that the word of God is in the Bible, but that it has to be found. Such Bible critics argue that much of the Scriptures consists of the word of men, who sometimes wrote their own private views on matters, and even contradicted at times the views of some of the other writers. By this line of argumentation, these false teachers seek to take away from God’s people large portions of the Bible, labeling them as merely the fallible words of sinful men.
Such people commonly deny that the events recorded in the first portion of Genesis actually happened. Some might say that the writer of Genesis simply put down a view concerning origins that was common in his day. But however they want to explain it, if they deny that these events actually happened, then they are saying that the passages that speak of these events are not actually the word of God.
God never lies, and He never makes mistakes. So if these passages speak of events that never happened, the story must have originated not from God, but from the mind of man. Thus it should be evident that one who persists in holding such a position is guilty of the grievous sin of subtracting from the Word of God.
One more common example of subtracting from God’s revelation is the evil of taking a command given to the New Testament church and claiming that it was a requirement only for the culture in the days of the apostles. Take, for example, this clear command of our Lord: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (I Tim. 2:11-12).
This injunction concerning the conduct of women in the church institute is directly opposed to the thoughts of our present-day world. Therefore, those who desire to make the Bible conform to the thoughts of this age have come up with a way to get rid of this statement. “This commandment,” they say, “was merely for the culture of the day in which Paul lived. We in our culture have matured considerably since that time, and therefore this commandment no longer is needed for us.” Arguments such as this are very common today, and are being used effectively to strike this statement, and others like it, from the Scriptures.
Those who subtract from Scripture in this way on the issue of women in church office are very likely to commit the same sin when it comes to other issues as well. The sin committed by these people is deeper than that of violating a certain commandment concerning church government (as serious as that may be). It is the sin of subtracting from God’s revelation. It is centrally their attitude toward Scripture—and thus toward God Himself—that needs to be addressed. The stern warnings of Scripture against altering God’s revelation must be brought to such people.
The Scriptures are sufficient: No addition is needed
Those who add to God’s revelation are essentially denying that the Scriptures are sufficient. Our fathers recognized this, and quoted Scripture passages that warn against adding to or subtracting from the Word of God as proof of the sufficiency of Scripture:
We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein…. For, since it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects (Belgic Confession, Article 7).
By trying to add to God’s Word one is essentially saying that there is something lacking in what God has made known to us. Such people are clearly denying that the Scriptures God has given us are sufficient. The Romish church, of course, does this blatantly when she claims that the “infallible” word of God that comes from the mouth of the pope has to be added to what we have in Scripture. Undoubtedly it was against this evil that our fathers were battling when they officially adopted the Belgic Confession.
There are other obvious ways in which people fall into this evil today. Take, for example, all those who claim that God right now is still bringing new revelations, sometimes by means of speaking in tongues. A number of “televangelists” have come right out and claimed that God has spoken to them, making known something that they, supposedly, are called to proclaim to others. Such individuals clearly manifest themselves to be false prophets.
Yet there are other, more subtle ways in which even God’s people sometimes fall into this error. Just as Eve added to the word of God, so many today fall into the sin of adding to God’s law. This is a tendency especially of those who have a rather external view of what it means to be holy. Yet it is a sin into which any of us can fall, and against which we all must be constantly on our guard.
Today there is another, rather underhanded way to add to God’s revelation—a way that is becoming more common and is sometimes undetected. I refer now to the error of teaching that there are good works that God requires of us, that we are supposed to become aware of, not from the word of God in the Scriptures, but rather from the word of God made known in the creation.
It is true, of course, that God makes Himself known by means of the creation. But He does not tell us in the creation necessary things that we are unable to discover from the Scriptures. Such a teaching really denies that the Scriptures themselves are sufficient.
This, however, is a rather large subject, and one that in our own day needs to be looked at in much more detail. This will also then serve to bring us to our next subject—the word of God made known in the creation itself. Lord willing, we will turn to that subject next time.