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FAQ: What Does It Mean to Add to or Take Away from God’s Word?

by Adriel Sanchez posted May 4, 2022

The book of Revelation says that anybody who adds or subtracts from the word of God will be punished. How does that work for the Catholic Church and the Mormon church that have added things to the word of God? The Mormons have the Book of Mormon and the Catholic Church has four or five books that aren’t in the Bible, but they’re still thriving after all these years.

The thriving of a particular organization or church isn’t evidence that what they’re teaching is true. There have been all sorts of movements over the last 2,000 years that have thrived for a period of time. Even today, things like the prosperity gospel seem to be growing like wildfire in various parts of the world. Does that mean that it’s true? Does mean that it has God’s blessing? No, it just means that it’s a deception that a lot of people are falling for.

This idea of adding and taking away from the word of God comes from the end of the book of Revelation: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Rev. 22:18–19).

The Roman Catholic Church includes in their canon of Scripture a number of books which we sometimes refer to as deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. They’re books that were written during those 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments. I’d distinguish that from what the Mormon church does. The Mormon church essentially says, “Well, we have another revelation of Jesus Christ—another gospel altogether.” It’s a false gospel. And so I would distinguish a bit. I don’t agree with the inclusion of the Roman Catholic Church’s inclusion of the apocryphal books, but I think that we want to differentiate.

It’s a very serious thing to add or take away from God’s word. And one of the dangers is that we tell ourselves, “I’ve never added a book to the Bible or words to the Bible. I’ve never cut pages out of my Bible. I must be okay.” There’s an issue here. But there are ways that we can add to Scripture and take away from Scripture that we’re not even aware of.

Jesus had strong words for the religious leaders in his day. He told them that they were replacing God’s word with their own rules: “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:2–9).

Essentially, the religious leaders were adding to the word of God. They were teaching as doctrine man-made traditions. That’s also one way that people add to God’s word today.

And they’re also taking away from the word of God. They’re invalidating the true word of God on the basis of their traditions. This is something we have to watch out for. You may not write in the margins of your Bible or cut pages out of your Bible, but are you invalidating the word of God by your own religious traditions? Are you neglecting portions of Scripture? Are you saying, “God, I’m going follow you here, but I’m not going to follow you there. I don’t like that part of the Bible”?

We need to be careful. Think about Revelation 22:18–19. God will bring judgment on those who add to or take away from his word.

This article is part of our Frequently Asked Questions series. Listen to Pastor Adriel answer this question on Core Radio here.

Dig deeper with these free resources from Core Christianity:

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Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.

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