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Does Revelation 22:18-19 Close the Canon?

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 50:
“He That Overcometh Shall Inherit All Things”

 

 

Transcript

The third and fourth verses from the end of the Book of Revelation are among the most frequently quoted in conversations between members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those of other Christian faiths. These two verses, Revelation 22:18-19, read:

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Now to begin with, these are a beautiful example of a simile curse. If you add to the words, God will add plagues to you. If you take away from the words your name will be taken away out of the book of life, and so forth. The overall message, though, is that we are not to tamper with the words of the Book of Revelation. Coming as they do at the close of both Revelation and the New Testament, they are often represented as the word of the Lord closing the canon of scripture; perhaps even declaring an end to authoritative revelation after that point. But before coming to this hasty conclusion several facts are worth recalling; the first is that there are at least two similar passages in the Old Testament. The first of these is Deuteronomy 4:1-2, which reads,

1 Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you.
2 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.

Thus we read that we are not to add to or diminish from the words which the Lord commands us, or more specifically, commands Moses. Some scholars think that the statement at the end of Revelation is actually modeled on the Deuteronomy passage, which seems reasonable given that both John and the Lord were well aware of the passage. Now it bears notice that Moses doesn’t just stop writing Deuteronomy at this point but records this in chapter 4 or 34 in Deuteronomy, and, further, subsequent authors did not understand Moses’s written statement as meaning that no further divinely inspired writing could be commissioned. Rather, it was a warning specifically to not tamper with the text of the law which was being given by revelation to Moses. It did not preclude further revelation, but simply meant that they should faithfully preserve that revelation and not alter it. Similarly, the statement near the end of Revelation is a warning (with teeth) not to tamper with the text John has written containing the Revelation.

The next potentially relevant passage is Proverbs 30:5-6, which reads

5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

Once again, we are warned not to add to the words of God, which seems in this passage to mean we should not indicate that God has said that which he has not said. However, it clearly allows for the possibility that God could very well have more to say, and that should this be the case there would be no impropriety in recording it as the word of the Lord. The key thing is that we should faithfully report and represent the word of the Lord and not diminish it or falsify it, that is, portray words which the Lord did not speak or approve as if he had.

There are further reasons why it would be inappropriate to take the end of Revelation as suggesting that there would be no more revelation. The first is that John did not suddenly cease to exist upon putting the finishing pen strokes on the document. Where there exists apostolic authority to direct the Church, you can expect that revelation both individual and for the body of the Church will be a regular and normal occurrence. Where Christ’s authority and the accompanying spirit of prophecy are not, then you will indeed not have continuing revelation. However, at the conclusion of Revelation, John is still around, and some chronologies unsurprisingly hold that he continued to write to the saints, including indicating that both the Gospel of John and his epistles were written after Revelation. It is also worth noting that early manuscripts that were subsequently gathered into the New Testament circulated originally as single books. It was not until later that they were gathered together into the collection which we enjoy today, so applying a specific curse at the end of one demanding that we not manipulate that text to mean that no other inspired writing (provided that it was indeed inspired) was to be permitted would be thoroughly unsound. This of course all points to the importance of reading the scriptures in context and not using isolated verses of scripture to establish ideas that they don’t truly speak to when considered in light of the intent of the passage in which they occur.

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