Do not add to His words, Or He will reprove you, and you will be found a liar.
Many modern translations of the Bible are over one thousand pages. Why in the world would we think of adding anything to it? But many of us do. All of us interpret the Scriptures through the grid of our culture and experience. We can’t help it; it just happens. But our goal is to understand these truths the way the God-inspired authors intended their original audience to grasp them. For instance, Paul’s harsh words to the believers in Galatia were prompted by their wavering faith and their tendency to go back to trusting in good works to save them from sin (Galatians 3:2-5). His words spoke to a particular need in the lives of those people.
Today, we “add to His words” when we make them say what we want them to say instead of digging deep to get to the real meaning. That takes work, but it’s well worth it. People who want to justify their extravagant lifestyles insist that God promises wealth to everybody who trusts Him. He does? That would be news to Jesus. And other people insist that if they just pray a certain way or hard enough God will certainly answer their prayers. He will? He didn’t answer Paul’s prayer for healing, Job’s request for answers, or even Jesus’ petition to “let this cup pass from Me”(Matthew 26:39)
We like simple answers and answers that fit our lifestyles, but we need to go deeper to find the truth. Ultimately, God wants us to trust In Him no matter what difficulties we endure or joys we experience. When we insist on simple answers for life’s most complex questions, and when those answers justify selfish behavior, we run great risk of being found to be liars.
Some people believe in the Dalmatian theory of the Bible. They believe the Bible is inspired in spots and that they are inspired to spot the spots.
The Bible isn’t designed to be a buffet where we can pick out scriptures that we like and leave out the ones that call us to a different way of living. Unfortunately this happens more frequently than we’d like to admit. There are those who will quote Bible verses- usually out of context or surroundings- to validate our position. Consider the conversation around how we should respond to the pandemic. There are those who are sure that by faith they don’t have to take any precautions whatsoever. So they quote scriptures about the keeping power of God or the promises of healing. In doing so they forget that the devil quoted bits of scripture to Christ tempting Him to foolishly throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. We ought to apply Christ answer to that when He said that neither do we tempt God by deliberately putting ourselves in harms way expecting God to compensate for our foolishness. On the other hand, there are those who are living in abject fear and have allowed the pandemic to rob them of any sense of peace, joy or well-being. But in doing so they too have forgotten the promises of God to be with us and for us and to keep us in all our ways.
Sometimes we try to fit the Bible into our culture or social norms in some way to present our cause as though it was instituted by God. We hear many with a cause-human-driven cause- who wish to portray God being on their side of a political, social or culture norm. It was no different in Jesus’ or the apostle’s day. Remember how the religious leaders wanted Jesus to choose a side when they brought to Him the question of whether paying taxes to Rome was right? Remember Jesus’ answer? Give to Caesar what is his and to God what is His. Jesus refused to get involved in earthly causes for His attention was focused on the plans and will of the Father. It’s of great interest to me that many of the social and political issues that the church becomes embroiled in today were ignored or given little attention by Christ or the apostles. For example, Paul will call us to prayer for kings and leaders and he does so while the emperor of Rome was wicked and corrupt. We don’t find Paul engaging in political conversation. As a matter of fact he wrote to Timothy, a young minister,advising him to not become engaged in fables or stories or useless conversation. Some in the church seem to wish to add their agendas to the agenda of God and the church and many times human agenda eclipses the purposes of God. I think the worse case of adding is when we “throw the God-card on the table.” What I mean by this is we try to use scriptures to give weight to our side of an argument. Oh how we can make the scriptures stand up and yell to prove our point! I decided a long time ago that if I’m engaged in a debate about earthly things and someone plays the “God card,” I just walk away because the conversation becomes futile.
The other way we can add is when we search out scriptures that support what we have already decided to believe. We do at the expense of ignoring any scripture that contradicts or modifies our preconceived belief. I’ve discovered that those who choose this path will not listen to anything that challenges their notions. In theological terms this is called eisegesis which is the practice of imposing a preconceived or foreign meaning into a text versus exegesis which is the process of seeking to understand what a text means or communicates on its own. The best prevention for this type of adding is to read and search thoroughly the whole of scripture with an open mind. The Bible gives us some guidelines when it says that everything must be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses. So if you find a single scripture and nothing else seems to support your conclusion you might want to do more study before drawing your conclusion.
Finally, it is dangerous to accept what someone says the Bible says without reading it for yourself. Even preachers and teachers can speak error. I remember as a young preacher, I parroted what I had heard older preachers declare to be truth. One Sunday evening I boldly declared that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t dwell in an unclean temple. At the end of the service an elderly gentleman approached me and kindly asked where it said that in the Bible. I didn’t know but I was sure it was there. He asked me to find the place and come the next service and tell him where. I searched and discovered I had exaggerated and misquoted the text. Here’s what it actually says:
Do you not know and understand that you [the church] are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells [permanently] in you [collectively and individually]? If anyone destroys the temple of God [corrupting it with false doctrine], God will destroy the destroyer; for the temple of God is holy (sacred), and that is what you are.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
With embarrassed gratitude I went to the gentleman and confessed my error. That moment became a learning moment. No longer would I just quote someone else. I’d search the scriptures to see if what I heard was in keeping with them.
Oh how easy it is to add our sayings and quote them as though they are actually from the Bible. One Sunday morning as I gave a sermon on “What the Bible Actually Says,” I asked the congregation how many had heard that in the last days you would know one season from the other. A lot of hands went up. I then told them that it wasn’t in the Bible but asked them to tell me where if they believed it was. I think there were more Bible readers that following week than in the history of the church. Some came the next week and told me they had searched and couldn’t find it. Others told me they called pastor and teacher friends who assured them it was in the Bible but couldn’t tell them where. I’m sure that there were those who still believed it was true even though they couldn’t find it in the Bible.
Sometimes we are so sure that what we want or what we believe is true that we will set aside what the Bible actually says. Some of the debates in the church today are the result of a desire to set aside what the Bible says about a subject when it takes an opposing view to our view. Some years ago a young lady asked me to give her some spiritual advice. It seemed she was dating two boys and was trying to decide which to continue in relationship with and which to drop. I asked her about each boy’s spiritual life. One, she told me was a devout atheist. My advice to her as a Christian was to separate from this person after she told me she had numerous conversations about God and he remained unmoved. I asked her how she would be able to fully follow God with a spiritually divided home. The next Sunday her mother asked to meet with me and I’ve never forgot her words. She said, “I don’t care what the Bible says, I know which of these two boys I want for my son-in-law.” The words that chilled me was “I don’t care what the Bible says.”
One day we will sat and before Christ and all our works will be judged. Since He is the Word, our works will be measured by the Word, both the Living and the written. When the wicked stand before the judgement throne, their lives will be judged against what the Word of God has laid down. We won’t get a chance to modify, pick and choose or ignore what the Bible says. It will become the measuring stick by which everything is measured. On that day I hope we can say to Christ, “I lived my life according to the Word of God as close as I understood it. I searched to find it’s true teaching and meaning and when change was needed, I changed to conform to it rather than attempting to force it to fit my mold.”
Dr. John Thompson