Yes, Jesus is Allowed to Add to the Bible

Even Scripture warns against closing the canon.

You know you were raised evangelical when one of your childhood fears was misquoting a memory verse and being damned to hell for "adding to God's Word." I remember reading Revelation for the first time--a terrifying experience as is--and nearly doubling over at these words: "If anyone adds anything to the words of this prophecy, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll." In my youthful ignorance, I neglected to consider the important qualifier "of this prophecy." However, Scripture is clear in other places that God's Word is not to be tampered with.

It's this understanding of God's revelation that has led many to believe (calling themselves cessationists) that spiritual gifts like tongues have ceased and God speaks exclusively through the Bible and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit now. They say that those gifts were given to specific individuals for a specific time until the canon of Scripture could be completed. In this way, cessationism depends heavily on sufficiency to support its position that the Bibles fulfills the role left by the apostles.

The apostles' teaching was an extension of Jesus' earthly ministry and makes up the core of Christian orthodoxy. But when they died, cessationists believe that their teaching was passed on in their writings while the role of apostle ended with them.

Supporting this, they claim, are these words of Paul:
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
They interpret that completeness as the canon--that Scripture completes our knowledge and eliminates the need for prophecy. More moderate cessationists allow for tongues and prophecy today but only with unreached people groups because, until the entire Bible is translated into their language, they need the same foundational apostolic ministry that we had.

It's a weak argument. Not only is the notion of a developing canon completely foreign to the writings of Paul, it ignores the direct allusions to the correct interpretation: the completeness is the second coming of Christ (commonly referred to as the parouisa). Paul goes on to say, "now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." Historically, no one has been able to see God, but when Christ returns, John says that we will finally be able to see his face. Besides, Paul also includes knowledge with tongues and prophecy as things that will cease. It goes without saying that the canon has not brought an end to that.

The truth is that things like tongues and prophecy are unpredictable. As Paul's own words in that same passage bear witness, they're easily abused and prone to creating disorder. More importantly, they represent a direct line to revelation from God.

From Muslims to Mormons, history has no shortage of people claiming additional revelation that we have deemed deviant from Christianity. And the fear of many Christians is that such confident assertions could lead people away from our faith. So it makes sense to cut off the problem at the source by saying that additional revelation has ceased and all who claim otherwise are heretics. In essence, cessationism is little more than heresy management.

However, Scripture itself offers its own remedy to combating unorthodox beliefs. In fact, Paul expressly tells us to not prohibit things like prophecy and tongues but instead to test them. John expands on this by telling us to test the spirits with a confession of Jesus coming in the flesh. This is not a test that can be administered through some sort of immodest doctrinal statement because confessions are not scantrons. Just like biblical sufficiency makes God optional, doctrinal statements can make the church lazy. And we can't test the spirits if we don't trust the Spirit to guide the church.

The Bible isn't the only source of divine revelation or remotely close to the fullness of it. God's revelation was given to us materially in the person of Jesus and immaterially through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is the Word made flesh who fulfilled the law so that makes the Bible the material revelation for us today. But it only points us to Jesus; the Bible was never meant to be God's final revelation. That's why we were also given the Spirit as expressed in its fullness through the church.

The Spirit-guided church interprets the Bible and determines orthodoxy by distinguishing between genuine and false additions. Even Jesus himself genuinely added to revelation in his sermon on the mount. There was no condition in the seventh commandment about looking at another woman with lust--he added that. But his motivation was different than that of the religious leaders he condemned.

On more than one occasion, Jesus called them out for adding things to the law that sought praise from people, not God. That was their problem. They were adding external motions to what Jesus taught as a largely internal religion. He never added a clause for the truly holy to wear lust-proof blindfolds that others could see. Jesus added onto the law that which kept our piety solely between us and God. And any addition that does this should welcomed by the church.

But if we claim that Jesus no longer actively speaks then we bear witness to a dead religion. The writer of Hebrews says that the Word is living and active, and it can't be either if we choose to not listen and close the canon. After all, when Jesus came the first time, he rewrote much of the current understanding of Scripture and prophecy. Who's to say that the second time around we know any better.


Photo credit: frankieleon via Foter.com / CC BY

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