“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2, ESV)
We are told that we are not to add or subtract from what God commanded of the Nation of Israel through Moses.
Jesus gives us his viewpoint on the Old Testament when he said,
“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18, ESV)
From these statements, it should be obvious that we should not add or subtract from what is written in Scripture. Do we add and subtract? I think that we do.
Adding to Scripture
We add to Scripture when we make some sins worse than others. For example, the church has a history of elevating sexual sin to be worse than more common sins like pride. I have met many prideful Christians who find excuse for their pride while condemning others.
We add to Scripture when we call sin what the Bible does not prohibit. For example, some churches condemn all alcohol use as sin. I understand that alcohol has had devastating effects on families and individuals and that some are prone to addiction, but we must be careful in saying more than Scripture says.
We add to Scripture when we take a hard stance of issues that are unclear in Scripture under the guise of denominational “distinctives.” For example, Scripture gives hints about the events surrounding Jesus’ return, but we are not given a timeline or order of events. It it OK to make guesses about the events, but they remain guesses. To stand on one interpretation as the only possible correct interpretation is divisive and unwise.
Subtracting from Scripture
We subtract from Scripture when we explain away clear statements in the Bible. One example is the current debate over the definition of marriage. There are some in the church who have felt the freedom to deviate from the definition of marriage that God gave us in Scripture under the guise of “inclusiveness.” We should be loving to everyone, but we do not have the freedom to revise what God has proscribed.
We also subtract from Scripture when we ignore its teaching. For example, Paul tells us to be angry but do not sin (Eph 4:26). Those who justify their inappropriate anger by saying, “that’s just the way I’m wired” or “that’s just how my family was” are subtracting from Scripture.
We subtract from Scripture when we ignore or forget the promises that are made to us. Jesus tells us “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Yet, I often find myself stressing over the details of life. Remembering that Jesus is with me should change my behavior.
The bottom line is that we add in the area of external sins by adding rules above and beyond Scripture. We subtract in the areas of internal sins by making excuses for our own behavior. We like to declare what others are doing is sin while excusing our own failures. I see this tendency in myself and my observation of others seems to prove that this is a universal tendency.
The goal is not external conformity to a set of rules. The goal is to have a heart yielded to God and willing to do what he commands.
I find great comfort in my favorite prayer in Scripture, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)