“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Deuteronomy 4:2
When Moses reminded God’s people of all that God had revealed to them and commanded them, he added this warning not to add to or take away from the word which he had commanded.
Many would diminish the teaching and commandments given to us by the LORD God by denying or explaining away the clear and plain words of Scripture and somehow saying those words do not apply to us today. Preachers have denied the historical accuracy of the creation account, denied sin, the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus and His bodily resurrection on the third day. Some explain away the clear pronouncements of God against sins which have become culturally acceptable with the argument that the commandments were culturally relative to a different time and place and do not apply to mankind today.
Clearly, diminishing from God’s Word is prohibited by God. Look at Jesus’ own words: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).
But harder for us to recognize are those instances in which we seek to infuse our own thinking and add our own applications into the words of Scripture. Notice that God’s Word here warns against adding to the words of Scripture before it mentions diminishing from it. Perhaps that’s because we are prone to add to what God says (cf. Genesis 2:16 and 3:3).
Jesus encountered it in during His ministry. He was accused of sin for healing on the Sabbath (cf. Matthew 12:10ff.). His disciples were condemned for breaking the Sabbath when they were walking through the grainfields on the Sabbath Day and picked, hulled and ate some of the grain (cf. Matthew 12:1ff.). The Pharisees and scribes excused themselves from honoring their parents in old age as required in God’s commandment by dedicating their property to God upon death and saying they could not use it to help their parents because it is dedicated to God (Mark 7:6-13).
And Jesus had harsh words of judgment for the scribes and Pharisees: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24; read chapter 23).
Not only do we need to use great care not to diminish or take away any word or command of the LORD; we need to be careful not to add to God’s words and commands with our own interpretations and applications. And, as the scribes and Pharisees were zealous to follow every tradition passed down to them by the elders, we need to exercise care that we do not do the same things by demanding obedience to the doctrinal applications of our fathers in cases where those applications are not commanded of God in the Scriptures.
To take away from the Scriptures often leads to minimalizing sin and reducing the atonement accomplished by Christ Jesus to an example of love for us to follow. To add to the teaching of Scripture can lead to condemning those who trust in Christ alone for forgiveness and life and who, as a fruit of faith, seek to live in accord with God’s Word. Both are dangerous and damaging to souls for whom Christ shed His holy and precious blood.
Rather, we should teach exactly what Jesus has commanded us to teach, neither adding to it or diminishing from it, that souls be moved to repent of their sins and look to Christ and His cross for pardon and forgiveness. Woe to us if we destroy souls redeemed by the blood of Christ by adding to or taking away from Scripture!
O God, grant that we neither add to Your words nor take away from them, but hold fast to the truth You have revealed to us that we may repent of our sins and look to You and receive pardon and forgiveness through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to redeem us. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]