AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Suppose you go to the library and borrow two books. In Jane’s Guide to Antique Dolls, a woman named Jane offers tips to doll collectors. In Bob’s Big Sports Book, a man named Bob talks about great moments in sports history.
Now as you pick up Jane’s book, the first sentence of her introduction says: “Reading this book is going to save you a ton of money.” You read a few chapters of her book, then you set it down and pick up Bob’s book. A while later your friend comes over and is annoyed that you are too engrossed in your book to pay any attention to her.
“Why are you so into some guy’s guide to sports?” she asks. “You don’t even like sports.”
“Because reading this book is going to save me money,” you reply.
“How do you figure that?” your friend asks. You hand her Jane’s book and show her the introduction page. “Okay, so this woman figures she can save doll collectors some money,” your friend says. “What’s that have to do with the sports book that you’re reading now?”
You look up in surprise. “Oh, but that promise applies to both of these books.”
“How do you figure that?” your friend asks.
“Well, I checked them out of the library at the same time.”
“So what? They’re by two different authors. They have nothing to do with each other. Jane has probably never even met Bob.”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s a connection,” you insist. “Because I checked them out at the same time. So whatever Jane says about her book must apply to Bob’s book as well, and vice versa.”
This is how stupid we Christians sound when we go around saying things like, “God says that anyone who adds or takes away any word in the Bible will be cursed.” No, actually God never said anything like this. When you pick up your modern Christian Bible with its Old and New Testaments, it’s like you’re picking up an armload of library books. Each book was written by a different author at a different point in human history. Some of the books were written hundreds of years apart. Most of the authors never met each other. Most never heard of each other’s books. And yet in the Church, you’re routinely taught to pluck one sentence out of one book in that pile of unrelated documents and try to argue that that one sentence is referring to all the other books. Of course it’s not. This is an utterly ludicrous idea. But even the dumbest idea in the world will start sounding smart if you hear it enough times, and today Christians are brainwashed into viewing “the Bible” as a single body of work that magically appeared one day.
The 66 books of the modern Christian Bible were written over a span of 1,500 years. There were over 40 authors involved. None of the authors of the Bible ever had the rest of what we call the Bible available to them at the time that they wrote their piece of it. None of the authors had ever heard of “The Bible”, nor were they trying to contribute to it. When he was dashing off letters to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul wasn’t trying to pen some sacred documents for Christians to obsess over for the next 2,000 years. He was just trying to put out fires in Corinth. When Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy, he was trying to obey Yahweh by creating written records of the things Yahweh had said. When Matthew wrote Matthew, he was taking a personal run at what many men in his day had already done: jotting down records of Jesus’ brief time on earth. Some people have an interest in writing, others don’t. Some people—like Nehemiah and Daniel—feel the need to journal their thoughts and activities. Other people are content to just live life without making notes about it. Some people have a keen interest in the history of their ancestors and they find it inspiring to make notes of who did what in the past. This was what Ezra did when he wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles. Other men don’t care who their ancestors were: they are content to focus on the present and let the past be the past. Some men are poets who want to jot down poems that they’ll re-read later. Lamentations is a long poem written by Jeremiah. David contributed many of the poetic songs of Psalms. Some men are arrogant and they need everyone to know how “righteous” they are, so they make notes of their flowery prayers, their fasting, and all the times they acted more moral than the slackers around them. In his book, Ezra doesn’t mind letting us know how hard he toiled to start a spiritual revival in Judah. Other men want to pass on wisdom that they’ve gained to future generations, and this is what we find many different men doing in the book of Proverbs. Some men are writing for their own benefit and they don’t spend much time thinking about what will happen to their works after they are gone. But other men feel very threatened by the idea of someone altering their work, so they try to find ways to prevent this from happening.
So how can you prevent someone from changing what you wrote after you’re dead and gone or physically living far away from the guy who is handwriting another copy of your book? You can’t. The best you can do is try to psych him out by leveraging cultural superstitions against him. If you happen to live in a culture that believes humans have the power to cast spells on each other, then you’ve got a distinct advantage. Just write down some kind of curse in the text of your book and hope that your threats will sufficiently intimidate anyone who comes along with ideas about modifying your words. This is what John did when he was paranoid about someone altering his long letter which we now call the book of Revelation. At the end of Revelation, John says:
I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, which are written in this book. (Rev. 22:18-19)
Let’s get real about how obnoxious John is being here. He’s so heady about the vision he’s just received that he declares that anyone who tries to alter it will be guilty of committing an unpardonable sin. In other words, God finds this letter of John’s to be so universe altering that He will instantly disown anyone who dares to mess with John’s writing. After all, it’s not like John could have made any mistakes in jotting down this vision he received—it’s not like he could be guilty of leaving a few things out or making a poor choice of words. Since when is John so perfect? Since when does God Almighty declare some stupid created thing to have the power of eternal life and death? Mess with John’s work, and you go to Hell. Only in John’s egotistical fantasies does God agree to surround his document with this kind of supernatural shielding. Salvation has nothing to do with how well we respect some ratty document that a dead man composed nearly 2,000 years ago. Salvation depends on how our souls respond to our CREATORS, and John is not one of our Creators.
We need to keep things in perspective here. The John who tells us we’ll all go to Hell if we mess with his letter is the same John who tells us none of us are saved. According to John, no true Christian can sin.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn. 3:9-10)
So then, do you sin? If you answer “no” to that question, you just lied, and lying is a sin. EVERYONE SINS. But according to John, a true Christian CANNOT sin. So if you sin, you’re obviously a child of the devil, you’re obviously not saved, and you’re obviously going to Hell. John is a theological idiot on the subject of salvation, and he loves to set himself up as the supreme judge over humanity and invent lists of unpardonable sins.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 Jn. 3:15)
So now murderers can’t get saved and Christians can’t ever feel less than love for their fellow human beings? What a bunch of blasphemous rot. This is NOT how the New Covenant works, and John is totally out of line to change Yahweh’s rules for Him. By the time we get to Revelation—which is the ONLY writing John is referring to with his curse—we find John adding the alteration of his own personal masterpiece to his long list of unpardonable sins. In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable for John to alter how the New Covenant works and move salvation totally out of reach for every human on the planet, but if anyone dares to change a word of John’s letter, then that’s inexcusable. And how delusional did John have to be to think he passed his own test for salvation? While he tells everyone else that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a true Christian to sin, he is claiming to be a Christian himself, which is the same as claiming to be sinless. So apparently we’re supposed to believe that John was as perfect as Christ, because that is John’s requirement for salvation. Good grief. Someone save us from the egos of New Testament apostles.
If you’re going to claim that this kind of idiotic rot is “inspired”, then congratulations: you’re going to Hell. So you might as well stop reading the Bible, because according to John—that infallible prophet of God—you’re beyond hope. You sin, and that makes you a child of the devil. There is no third option. John lays down very sharp lines about who is in and who is out. He says the sinless perfection of Christ is an essential requirement of salvation. You can’t have it both ways with this “inspired, inerrant, and infallible” game. If the Bible is without error, then John’s writings were without error, and that means you’re going to Hell. If the Bible has error, and if John’s spiritual discernment is patchy at best, then there’s no way you can take his threat in Revelation seriously. John’s curse is nothing more than an attempt of one superstitious Jew to try and control how others treat his manuscript. John is stuck on the island prison of Patmos at the time he pens Revelation. He wants to get it off that rock and over to the mainland so it can be read in the various cities that Jesus refers to in it. He knows that copies of his letters will be made to increase circulation, and he’s paranoid about his work being tampered with. So he tacks on a little curse from sorcerer John: the human pipsqueak who tells God who He can and can’t save. Nice try, but no. God isn’t going to throw people into Hell for messing with John’s work. God throws people into Hell for defying HIM on a soul level. Eternal damnation is God’s response to our SOUL CHOICES, not our external behaviors.
Now as delusional as John is, we Christians are even worse when we try to take passages like Revelation 22:18-19 and apply them to the entire pile of unrelated documents which we call the Bible. Yet this is exactly what we do with Deuteronomy 4:2. Over 1400 years before the birth of Christ, a very old Moses is jotting down some final instructions to the Israelites. Moses is torn. On the one hand, he loves his fellow Hebrews and wants to see them succeed. On the other hand, Yahweh has already told Moses that the little jerks are going to totally fall away and Moses is disgusted.
Yahweh said to Moses, “You are about to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon commit adultery with the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will abandon Me and break the Covenant I have made with them. My anger will burn against them on that day; I will abandon them and hide My face from them so that they will become easy prey. Many troubles and afflictions will come to them. On that day they will say, ‘Haven’t these troubles come to us because our God is no longer with us?’ I will certainly hide My face on that day because of all the evil they have done by turning to other gods.” (Deut. 31:16-18)
What can a guy do when faced with such a grim prognosis? Moses writes out a long recap of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness and he rails at the people to stay true to Yahweh. He reviews many of Yahweh’s Covenant laws with them, he adds some new ones that they’ll need once they enter the Promised Land, and he records the transferring of leadership from himself to Joshua. All of this is what we call the book of Deuteronomy, and near the front of the book, Moses writes:
“Now, Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to follow, so that you may live, enter, and take possession of the land Yahweh, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of Yahweh your God I am giving you.” (Deut. 4:2)
Notice that while Moses urges the Jews not to edit his works, he doesn’t hang the threat of eternal damnation over them. Moses was far more levelheaded than John was. Moses spoke to Yahweh face to face—a privilege which Yahweh Himself said indicated His approval of Moses. But John, well, he denies all of that by saying “No one has ever seen God,” in John 1:18 and again in 1 John 4:12. But Yahweh Himself says:
“With Moses I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of Yahweh.” (Num. 12:8)
As an Old Covenant Jew, John would have some basic understanding of the writings of Moses (aka the Torah), for these were the principle Scriptures which the Jews lived by. Yet John has the brass to call Yahweh a liar by saying “No one has ever seen God.” Nice. And we’re supposed to believe John was speaking for the Holy Spirit? Since when does the Holy Spirit insult Yahweh like this?
Now when Moses tells a group of rebel hearted Jews not to start slicing and dicing his words, what is his motivation? Unlike John, Moses is not on some ego trip about the importance of his own writings. He really wants his people to succeed with God and experience Yahweh’s best plans for them. He urges them not to edit his records because he knows that rebels will be tempted to cut out a few troublesome commands that God gave and thus pretend they weren’t disobeying Him when they really were. Moses isn’t trying to wave some sorcerer’s curse over people, and he’s not trying to exalt himself. Unlike John, Moses knows what humility is, and he is trying to urge people to choose the path that will lead to spiritual life and joy. At the time he wrote Deuteronomy, Moses has never heard of an Old or New Testament. He’s never heard of “the Bible”, so when we try to say he is referring to these things, we are merely flaunting our own idiocy. Don’t pretend that you really want to know what the Bible says while you claim a man meant something that he clearly did not mean. Moses is speaking of his own writings and ONLY his own writings when he speaks of not editing things.
You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of Yahweh your God I am giving you.” (Deut. 4:2)
Proverbs 30:6 is the third verse Christians like to whip out to defend this ridiculous notion that some curse will fall on people who fail to treat our modern collection of “sacred” documents with sufficient awe.
Now while we often think of King Solomon when we think of Proverbs, this book is actually a collection of the sayings of many different men. In Proverbs 30 we find “the words of Agur the son of Jakeh.” Who in the world was Agur? We don’t know—he’s only mentioned in Proverbs 30:1, and he clearly collected a lot of proverbs in his day. Let’s look at some context for verse 6. Here is Agur launching into his speech:
Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I do not have the understanding of a man. Neither have I learned wisdom, nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His Name or His son’s name? Surely you know!
Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar. (Prov. 30:1-6)
That last line is the zinger that Christians like to isolate and throw around like some ominous curse for anyone who alters a word of their modern day Bible. But what is Agur really saying here? He’s saying, “Hey, I’m just an idiot human. God is the wise One. Wise people listen when He speaks. If you try to put words in His mouth, He’ll discipline you and make you look like an idiot.” Putting words in God’s mouth is something people have always done, and we’re still doing it today. False teachers and preachers abound in the Church today, and many of them are attaching God’s Name to their own foolishness. But there are many forms of misquoting God, and trying to twist the meaning of isolated verses in Scripture is one of them. You need to be wise to this and get a lot more cautious about just believing whatever you’re told. When pompous John declared that anyone who altered his writings would be banned to Hell, he wasn’t speaking for God. When Moses urged people not to change his words, he wasn’t speaking for God, he was speaking as Moses. When Agur says God will discipline those who misrepresent Him, he’s reminding us of a general principle that God won’t be mocked. But nowhere in the Bible does God Himself say that you’ll be cursed if you add or take away from the collection of historical documents which modern day Christians call “God’s Word.” So let’s not be putting words in God’s mouth, and let’s stop trying to change what different men meant by their individual thoughts. Each man’s words need to be studied in their original context.
The Bible isn’t perfect. Now what?