Not Adding or Removing
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen” Revelation 22:21, all texts are from RVIC).
by Leonard Griehs
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The final words of Revelation contain an admonition and a blessing. John’s stern warning shows the importance attached to this final book of scripture. “I witness unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part
from the tree of life, and out of the holy city [or even from the things] which are written in this book” (verses 18, 19).
Some have claimed John’s warning takes in the entire Bible, but this is unlikely since the 66 books of the Bible were compiled as one testimony long after it was issued. The term “book,” in the singular, more likely indicates that John referred only to this vision and prophecy. John’s own epistle probably came near or
closely after his revelation on Patmos. It is fitting that this warning echoed the words of Jehovah regarding the Mosaic Law, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2, cf. 12:32).
Jesus identified the meaning behind “adding” to the Law when he pronounced judgment on the Jewish lawyers — teachers of the Law — of his day for doing this very thing. “And he said, Woe unto you lawyers also! For ye load men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).
The vision of Revelation began with a directive that the words being relayed to John through a special messenger were coming directly from our heavenly Father through Jesus (Revelation 1:1). Earlier, when asked about his return, Jesus had told his followers that he did not yet possess knowledge of the time of his second advent (Mark 13:32). This was a significant statement given that Jesus probably knew the Book of Daniel by heart. Yet today, it is our source of understanding the time of the end and of Jesus’ return. After his glorification, Jesus was given a complete understanding of the events and time leading up to the consummation of the Gospel Age. Here, he shares it
through John. This message would help the saints to interpret, to endure, and to understand the reason for the seemingly endless delay described by the prophet Habakkuk (Habakkuk
2:3). It was not to be tampered with!
Attempts to Corrupt
Prior to the collective publication of the 27 books of the New Testament, writings of the apostles were circulated among the congregations individually. However, Peter seemed to know that Jehovah would oversee the collection of individual letters and writings into one cohesive testimony for the followers of Jesus (2 Peter 3:15,16).
One of the first of such lists is contained in The Muratorian Fragment, a document dated to about 170 AD. Revelation appears as an accepted book, along with all others except Matthew, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1st and 2nd Peter, and 3rd John. It may be that these omissions were listed on the portion of the fragment that was torn away. In 193 AD, the term “New Testament” appears for the first time, in the works of an unknown author.
Eusebius, writing in the 4th Century, wrote that certain letters had been removed from circulation, including Jude, Second Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation. Eusebius discussed claims of the group known as the Gnostics that new revelations had come to them. To counter these claims, another Christian writer, Athanasius, published his 39th Paschal Letter in 367 AD in which he defended as scripture all 27 books of our current New Testament. The Canon named after Athanasius was approved at Rome in 382 AD and was confirmed by papal declaration in 405 AD. It was not the act of the pope that gave these books their status, but the decisions of those in the early church who
testified to the intrinsic authority and power of these writings.
In The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Brother R.E. Streeter summarizes: “The object of [John’s] threatening words is doubtless to guard the book against being corrupted by any interpolations or changes. The threat would, of course, have regard more especially to the manuscript as originally given by St. John to the seven Churches, to whom he was instructed to deliver them. In rewriting, interpolations doubtless have crept into the different copies of the original, and possibly there have been some omissions. The former has been proved by a comparison with the oldest manuscripts now in existence, which were not used in the making up of the Common Version, the King James translation … The words of warning apply to the book of the Revelation only, although the same principle may properly apply to all the original Scriptures” (page 725, 2016 edition).
Albert Barnes, the Biblical commentator, wrote: “John supposed there might be those who would be inclined to omit some portions as improbable, or that he apprehended that when the portions which describe Antichrist were being fulfilled in distant ages, those to whom those portions applied would be disposed to strike them from the sacred volume, or to corrupt them.”
Even in our day, some Christian groups dismiss Revelation as heresy. “Christians need to put aside end time speculations about the rapture, the Anti-Christ, and Armageddon, and concentrate on taking up their cross daily to follow Jesus … Dare to compare the first twenty-six books of the New Testament to the Book of Revelation … A careful reading of ‘Revelation’ shows it disputes all twenty-six books preceding it. That being the case, it is heretical because it teaches opinions contrary to those of Jesus and his Apostles … Almost everything in John Patmos’ hallucination opposes the Gospel of Jesus’ words, ways, and teachings” (www.paradisecafediscussions.net/ showthread.php?tid=2367). This thesis is false because Revelation is true.
Are Interpretations of Revelation “Adding” to the Book?
Bro. Streeter writes: “We believe this thought is also evidently intended: If any man shall by a wresting or twisting of the Revelator’s statements add to their meaning some thought that is not there and was never intended, or if he shall by such unholy practice take away from, and thus pervert the force and significance of those messages. It is most evident that many so-called expositors have been guilty of such proceedings — of so misconstruing and misapplying the Apocalyptic messages as to vitiate to a considerable extent the beautiful truths therein set forth, and to draw inferences and conclusions altogether unwarranted” (Op cit., page 726, 2016 edition).
Evidently Pastor Russell considered a proper exposition of Revelation to be important for those brethren living at the end of the age. When asked, in 1909, a question about Revelation 20, he replied, “There are certain things in Revelation which I do not understand, and for this reason, I do not write the Seventh Volume (of Studies in the Scriptures). Therein I do not wish to give any guesses. Whenever I write the Seventh Volume on the Book of Revelation, I will have a satisfactory understanding of the teachings of that Book. Until then, I will not write it” (What Pastor Russell Said, page 645).
Following Pastor Russell’s death, a new Editorial Staff of The Watch Tower published The Finished Mystery, claiming that it was the seventh volume, the posthumous work of Pastor Russell. Its contents, however, were simply not an edifying explanation of the symbols of Revelation. It claimed, for instance, that patriotism in all its forms (flying a flag for example) was a delusion and likened to murder — something Pastor Russell never claimed. The book was banned by the Canadian government, and in 1918, U.S. Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory condemned The Finished Mystery as “one of the most dangerous examples of … propaganda … a work written in extremely religious language and distributed in enormous numbers.” Many Bible Students disassociated themselves from the Watch Tower about this time.
In recent years, extensive commentaries on Revelation have come from many individual Bible Students — perhaps more so than any other book. Discourses and prophetic applications have appeared more frequently in conventions and Bible Student journals. These are serious attempts to interpret its message in the light of present truth. Some have suggested that the emergence of these enlightening treatises are signs that the message of Revelation is a special one to equip the saints living at the very end of the Gospel Age Harvest.
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering unto the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11,12). This instruction is meant to edify and build up members of the body. It requires “cutting the word of truth straight” (2 Timothy 2:15) and offering expositions which build on the base of Truth already understood. The preface to one of these books explains, “The purpose of this booklet is to help the sincere seeker of truth find a way to study Revelation so that it provides real, reasonable, Scriptural, and historical sense in its interpretation” (Revelation: How to Study It and Have It Make Sense).
“He who witnesseth these things saith, Yes: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).
In the concluding words of the book, Jesus told John that he would return soon. How can this be, when the advents are separated by over 1800 years? The space between must be viewed from an eternal perspective. During the past 20 centuries, earth’s population has struggled with the reign of sin and evil. Mankind is now near the end of this seemingly endless journey that will bring a new world of righteousness. The past hundred years’ increase of knowledge has appeared to most as a tribute to man’s incredible ability and power, and not to the preparations for his kingdom due to the silent, invisible return of Jesus. To those observing from a scriptural viewpoint, however, this progress has alerted them to the fulfillment of prophecy, the return of Christ, and the threshold of a new age. They have called others to rally. This lifetime is but a blink compared to an eternity that lies ahead. Our time to secure
a place in the Kingdom of our Lord is waning. Our time to be with Jesus does indeed come quickly, never longer than a lifetime.
Jesus advised those followers who heard at his first advent not to store up treasures on earth, but to seek God and righteousness (Matthew 6:19, 33) (Judas learned this truth the hard way). In 70 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem brought all earthly treasure seeking to an end for the Jews. Those who could not give up their wealth or status to follow Jesus missed the opportunity to do so. Those words of Jesus are just as relevant for the saints today. The events of Revelation show us as students that when the current age is brought to an end, treasures on earth will be valueless. The opportunity to lay up treasure in heaven will be past. Let us, therefore, dedicate ourselves to giving our time, talent, and ability to furthering the cause of him who will welcome us if faithful (Revelation 2:10). Let us be ready. Let us echo the final words of John: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Recommended Expositions of Revelation
Randolph Elwood Streeter, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Pastoral Bible Inst., 1923, 1924 (recently reprinted as one volume). Considers various points of view before choosing one.
Frank Shallieu, The Keys of Revelation, Revelation Research Foundation, Inc., 1993. A chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse commentary. Over 700 pages commentary.
Dawn Bible Students (J. Parkinson), How to Study Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation, 40 pages.
New Albany Bible Students (D. Doran), Revelation: How to Study It and Have It Make Sense, 80 pages.
Edward (Bishop) Elliott, Horae Apocalypticae, or, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, 4 volumes; London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 5 editions 1844, 1846, 1847, 1851, 1862. Defends historical (Reformation) interpretations of Revelation. The chronology in Volume 4, Part III, is reprinted in “Studies in
the Scriptures,” Volume 2.