Don't add or take away
“There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me (1Cor 14:10-11).” The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth for many reasons, but one problem he addressed was confusion. In 1Corinthians 14 he addressed one specific area they were having confusion in, which was the operation of spiritual gifts in their gatherings. He gave them several guiding principles to help solve this problem, a main one being “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints (1Cor 14:33).” When God turned man from his evil purpose at Babel, He did it by sending confusion (Gen 11:1-9). Although they had a plan and were organized and united in its execution, confusion in their communication ended their endeavor. Communication problems seem to be a never-ending battle. James wrote of the power of the tongue (Jam 3), and Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Prov 18:21).”
God is the greatest communicator there is. He first demonstrated this when He created all things by speaking into the nothingness and bringing it all into existence (Gen 1). There was nothing for Him to communicate to, but He spoke it all into existence. The first thing the Bible records Him saying is, “Let there be light (Gen 1:3)”. “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple (Ps 119:130).” This theme is continued in the writings of John (Jn 1, Jn 3:19-21, Jn 8:12, Jn 9:5, Jn 11:9-10, Jn 12:35-36 & 46, 1Jn 1:1-7, 1Jn 2:8-10, Rev 1:23-24, Rev 22:5). God knows how to communicate clearly and effectively, and He does not need our help. The problem is not with God’s ability to speak. It is with our ability to correctly receive what He is saying. The infamous atheist Bertrand Russell said that if God did exist, when he had to face Him he would ask Him why He took such pains to hide Himself. As in the garden of Eden, God is speaking clearly. It is us who are hiding ourselves from hearing (Gen 3:8-10, Jn 3:19-21). The greatest hindrance to hearing is our own sinful and gullible hearts (Jer 17:9-10). The devil is a deceiver and seeks to take advantage of this problem (Rev 12:9). He delights in creating confusion in the heart and mind of man as to what God is saying to us. That is what he has been doing since the beginning (Gen 3:1-7, Jn 8:44).
The value of the scriptures is that they are the word of God written for us so we can clearly know what God is saying to us. The Bible is not a confusing book, but people make it so with their opinions and interpretations. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2Pet 1:19-21).” There are many guiding principles we can use to help us get the correct understanding of the Bible such as context, but if you only get one of them, it should be don’t add to or take away from what the scriptures actually say (Deut 4:2, Prov 30:5-6, Rev 22:18-19). Moses reminded Israel how clearly God communicated His word to them at Mount Sinai (Deut 4:1-14). He also told them how accessible God made His word to them (Deut 30:10-20). The question was not whether or not they could know what God said, but whether or not they would obey it. The Bible is not a secret code book written in a cipher. You do no need a special person or high education to know it, although we can all use the help of good teachers. “They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge (Prov 8:9).” “And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it (Hab 2:2).” God asks us, “Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee (Prov 22:20-21)?”
So, a prime principle of reading and understanding the Bible is to read it as it is written – to be plainly understood. Generally, the plain reading is also the plain meaning unless a passage is clearly symbolic as in some prophetic passages like Revelation. Some people seek to promote an approach to the Bible that sensationalizes it or makes it mysterious. This is often to promote themselves as people who have special revelation rather than to promote people’s relationship with God through a correct understanding of the scriptures. This is a sign that we are living in the approach to the return of the Lord. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2Tim 4:3-4).” When God spoke the ten commandments directly to Israel from Mount Sinai they asked Moses to go up and hear the word of God and then come down and tell them what God said instead because they were afraid (Ex 20:18-21, Deut 5). Hebrews 12:18-29 refers to this event and compares it to the gracious access we have today to the word of God. We should not fear hearing the voice of God. We should fear not hearing it. God can and does communicate with us through the Bible. We need to know what He is saying and do it. It is very concerning how people will decline to hear what the Bible plainly says but will quickly and easily listen to other voices (Deut 4, Jn 5:39 & 43, Gal 1:6-9, 2Cor 11:19).
Adding to the scriptures seems to be a bigger problem than taking away. People try to add many things into the Bible that are not actually there such as evolution and persons in the Godhead. Sometimes this happens concerning issues that are not essential, but sometimes the issue is critical to our relationship with God. There are many things that are commonly said and believed to be in the Bible that are not there. Yet because they were stated by someone and people did not check to see if they are actually there, they get repeated until they become widely believed. There are several versions of the statement that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth to people. This is credited to Lenin, Hitler, and Goebbels, none of which we should be using as a source of inspiration. Just one small example is that people often say that when the Lord Jesus met Paul when he was on the way to Damascus, he fell off a horse. There is nothing about a horse or any other animal. It simply says he fell to the earth. This is not essential, but it shows how this happens. It doesn’t matter who said it, or how often it is repeated. If it is not in the Bible, it doesn’t matter. Some people will say “amen” to this, but will still repeat things they have read outside the Bible or heard someone say without doing the diligence themselves to confirm its scriptural validity.
We do not need to “fill in the blanks” when it comes to the written word of God. If it is not there, don’t add it. We should not allow this in any area, because it is a slippery slope once we start. Undermining people’s faith in the Bible as the word of God is a grievous sin and the work of the devil. Sometimes this is done overtly and sometimes with subtilty. We need to do what Jesus said: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (Jn 5:39)”. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:1-13).