Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
Today I’m going to teach you what these words mean. I have recently become convinced that most Christians who claim to believe in the authority of the Scripture, or more completely, the authority of the Holy Spirit as he speaks in all the Scripture, have been sloppy in their thinking, and have therefore never understood the implications of such a belief. This should be deeply distressing to the Church, that most professing Christians do not understand or are too lazy to follow the most basic implications of this, the most basic axiom of the faith. But this is not a lamentation, so let me proceed to the matter at hand.
This article is not for the faint-hearted, so please leave now if you are not ready to be offended.
To avoid confusion, I must begin by defining the term implication as it is to be understood when used in the strictly logical sense, which is the only sense in which it should be used. (Dear friends! We have words like suggestion and insinuation to describe hints and apparent indications, why should we abuse an important word like implication?) I trust that those already familiar with the word will not take this excursion as an insult, and those who have been guilty of misusing it will have the humility to change their ways.
Prologue: defining implication
A logical implication is an inference that must be drawn. It is an inference that has to be drawn, if language has any meaning. The word comes from the idea of one thing being entwined or entangled with another, so that it is impossible to assert the one without simultaneously asserting the other. If you think about it carefully, implication is very closely related (if not identical) to the concept of definition. To study the implications of a statement is to unfold it, to open what is contained within it. In an implication, statement A implies statement B, and this is said in three equivalent ways:
- A implies B which is short-handed as A ⇒ B,
- B is necessary for A: B must be true if A is true,
- A is sufficient for B: A being true is enough to deduce B.
Let me give an example. Bachelors are men who have never been married. Thus the statement
- “John is a bachelor” implies that “John is unmarried”,
- John must be unmarried if he is a bachelor,
- If John is a bachelor we know enough to conclude that he is unmarried.
Take care that you understand the necessity of this connection, that no man can be a bachelor without being unmarried. This is what is known as a one-way implication, and we say that the unmarried state is necessary but not sufficient to deduce bachelorhood. Also note that the converse (the implication in the reverse direction) does not hold, an unmarried man may be a widower, and therefore not be a bachelor.
All of logic, all of mathematics, all of clear thinking is built on understanding and distinguishing necessity and sufficiency, and the man who masters their subtleties thinks without error. More importantly, he can interpret the Scripture correctly. Sadly, it is a deceptively-simple branch of knowledge, because the principles are so basic that we mostly get it right without conscious effort. But until you understand the rules, you will consistently make blunders at the fine points of Biblical arguments, which become extremely important when dealing with matters like eternal security. Foundational issues will seem to be resolved by hand-waving, and not adherence to the plain teaching of Scripture. You will be powerless to discern between reverent but subtle exegesis, and inconsistent or manipulative eisegesis. Is faith necessary for justification? Is it sufficient? What about good works? Are they necessary, sufficient, or both? The moment you understand necessity and sufficiency, that is, the moment you understand implication, you will be able to see the perfect harmony between Romans 4 and James 2.
But for now I can only ask you to keep this definition in mind, and to refer to it if at any point during this article you become confused by my reasoning.
Everlasting God, long ago You called Your name I AM, for You are the One that is. You alone are Truth, Being and Reality: in You we live and move and have our being. You have revealed Yourself to us in the the Eternal Logos, Your very Logic and Wisdom become incarnate and so humiliated for our sake. Only through the Lord Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, do we draw near to You, and ask for the grace to flawlessly discern the implications of Your holy and consistent statements, that we may rightly handle the precious and very great promises you have freely given to us. For You, O God, are a God of peace and not confusion, and You have sent to us the Spirit of truth Who guides us into all truth. And so, O Father, we affirm the prayer that our great High Priest, now glorified, still intercedes for us: sanctify us in the truth, Your word is truth. For it is only in His name, Beloved to You, that we pray, and so we say, Amen.
The Scripture has been called regula fidei, the rule of faith, since the time of the early Church. In the Reformation, this truth was recovered and it was then called “the norm of norms, which cannot be normed” and shortly thereafter, “the sole infallible rule of faith and practice”. Anyone with the smallest particle of rationality can see that these are absolute terms. The problem is that many struggle to deduce the necessary implications of these statements.
- If the Scripture is infallible, can it contain a contradiction?
- What if it’s a really small one, perhaps minor oversight in one of the tiresome genealogies that fascinated the Jews?
- What about a tiny numerical error? Can it have an inaccuracy irrelevant to the “main message”?
The answer to questions like this has, is and will always be, absolutely not. As the Lord declares, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). So this is the way it works, whenever you think you see a contradiction in Scripture, you have two alternatives:
- You can acknowledge in humility that it is your flawed and sinful mind that has failed to see the consistent truth that is being clearly expressed by the Spirit, ask him to enlighten Your eyes, and begin to pursue this subjective reconciliation (for Scripture, being consistent, needs no reconciliation outside our perverted minds)
- You can reject Christianity and the audacious claims of an antiquated text written by uneducated and uncivilised geocentrists.
Listen to me. To believe in your heart of hearts that the Scripture is contradictory, even on the most miniscule of points, is to charge the God with ignorance, impotency or deceit. If there is but one minor contradiction, either he does not know the truth, or he has a speech impediment and cannot communicate himself, or he is a liar. I hope that everyone reading this has enough fear of God to shrink back in terror from such blasphemy. But, because of the great importance of this point, I will push things one step further. Recall that it is the special office of the Holy Spirit to inspire the writing of the Bible, because as we are told:
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 2:21
Dear one, to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that the Scripture is contradictory is to commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Please note that I have been precise in my usage of terms here, so I am not saying that anyone who holds this position fleetingly or in a period of their life stands condemned. But if you do not believe that God’s word, all of it, is truth, then you are standing on spiritual quicksand, and you will soon be lost forever, unless you repent.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever.
This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
Isaiah 40:8, 66:2b
Oh that our hearts would tremble, suddenly and uncontrollably, with exceedingly-great fear, every time the thought of doubting, of tampering with, of stretching, of manipulating, of misapplying, or of practising cunning with the word of God enters our sinful minds! Let us learn to flee to our knees and cry with Agur,
Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!
O Lord we do not know the answer to such questions! We are little babes, unlearned and foolish. For we know that You oppose the proud, so humble us that You may be gracious.
Do you know, dear Christian, that you know nothing except that which has been given to You in Jesus?
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
He and he alone has brought us “grace and truth” (John 1:17):
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5
Bearing this weighty truth in mind, that all truth is in God, and God is revealed to us only in his Son, and his Son is revealed to us only by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit speaks to us only through his word, shall we begin to twist this word with impunity? In the words of Conrad Mbewe, what sane mother would throw her newborn baby into a sewer? If this prospect moves you to pity, then do not tamper with the word of God, for it is far more shameless, vile and heartless. It is safer—a thousand times safer—to drive blindfolded, to shoot an automatic rifle indiscriminately, to throw naked flames onto gasoline, than to be found misrepresenting God. The only reason you and I have been spared the just penalty for our sins, every single time we engage in this folly, is the mercy of God. There is simply no other reason.
Now I do not raise these points to hurt you. I assure you that they scare me just as intensely—if not more—than most people reading. I make them to expose evil for what it is:
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
The Authority of the Scripture
These alarming things being said, I will now state the theorem I hope to fix in your mind, which is sadly all the more disconcerting:
The persistent and purposeful perversion of divine truth is the hallmark of apostasy. To deliberately resist the teaching of Scripture, to publish falsehood when under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and to do so lastingly from your heart, is to prove yourself to be an unbeliever.
This is a difficult pill to swallow if you’ve grown up in the same culture that I have. So bear with me as I explain the meaning of these words, and demonstrate that they are Biblical.
So let me begin by saying what is not meant by this jarring statement. We are all greatly confused about some matters of doctrine. That is the sad truth that every believer, no matter how sanctified, must come to terms with. Our sin puts limits on the extent to which we are capable of understanding the word of God. You do not stand condemned, as a believer, for being wrong in your interpretation of a given Scripture or doctrine. You stand condemned for being wrong and not caring. You stand condemned for being wrong intentionally.
Now we are told in Scripture that we have the “Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). This implies that Christians are able to understand the truths expressed in Scripture. However, we are elsewhere informed that “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). All the truth in the Bible is of great importance, as I have laboured in this essay. However, as Jesus says, there are “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). And in the words of the prophet,
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:6-8 (emphasis added)
The necessary logical consequence of these texts is this. The foundational issues of Christianity are so well and clearly taught in Scripture that if anyone rejects them, we know that they are not operating in good faith. This is why we, as the Church, reject as heresy any theological system that does not teach the Triune God, the Incarnate God and Saviour, that justification is by faith alone and all the central doctrines of the faith. We do not extend olive branches to Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Mormons, or Muslims because it is clear that they are not in fellowship with the God described in the Bible, “our only Master and Lord”.
All this being well understood, let me explain what I mean with the above statement. When a man becomes convinced that the word of God teaches some truth, no matter how big or small, the principle is the same: they are obligated to spread, defend and exult in this truth. Perhaps you’re a Baptist, and you believe that Scripture teaches the sacrament of baptism should only be administered to confessing Christians. Now imagine that a violent group of Paedo-baptists show up at your door and demand that you recant your belief, under pain of death. (Before you object that this is a contrived situation, go read about Martin Luther and Fritz Erbe, or Ulrich Zwingli and the “third baptism”.) Tell me, do you have the freedom, as a believer, to recant your views? Can you declare that the Bible teaches what you believe it does not teach? I testify to you, today, before God and in all seriousness, that you have no such freedom.
Consider the following passage:
“Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the LORD’, although I have not spoken?” Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace”, when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out.
Ezekiel 13:7-12 (emphasis added)
Do not misunderstand the meaning of the Spirit in those verses. When you speak with divine authority, which is what you do whenever you make a claim about the teaching of Scripture, if you are lying, and if you do this shamelessly and deliberately, know that you have neither lot nor portion in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so we must be careful. We must guard our hearts. We must be fearful and repentant whenever we find ourselves to be perverting the word of God, for no one is guiltless here. But no believer takes matters like this lightly, no believer (except perhaps a very immature one) will be bold when he is uncertain about his interpretation of a text.
This is what is meant by the warnings like:
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.
Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
If we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:12b-13
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
We do not, as believers, have the authority to twist divine truth. We do not have the right (or capacity) to judge the impact that misrepresenting certain portions of Scripture will have. It is our duty to always remain faithful to the “whole counsel of God” insofar as we understand it, and never to compromise in that regard. Says Calvin, “when Divine Truth is avowedly attacked, we must not tolerate the adulteration of one single iota of it. It is certainly no trivial matter to see God’s light extinguished by the devil’s darkness; and besides, this matter is of greater moment than many suppose. Nor is it true as they allege that he who does not acquiesce in the errors of others, shows deadly hate by dissenting from them.” This quote anticipates my next point, but first let me summarise the present one:
Therefore, our first duty is to so reverence the word of God, that we are always labouring to be “holding faith and a good conscience” because “by rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). When Paul says that “if we are faithless he remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13) he is not suggesting that Christ will not punish those who depart from the faith. That interpretation breaks the flow of his argument, because the preceding statement is “if we deny him, he will also deny us”. Rather, in order to admonish us to endurance, Paul affirms the unchanging nature of God, as did Elihu long before him:
If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself, and your righteousness a son of man.
Abandon the faith and you will only succeed in condemning yourself: you will take nothing, no glory, no joy, no victory, from the Lord Jesus Christ. With or without you, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11 KJV). I add here that none of this is even remotely inconsistent with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. God’s people are preserved by him, and one of the means that he uses to preserve them is the threats in Scripture which, if they discarded, they would not be believers, but since they are his, they shudder and pay attention to them, and in so doing persevere. This dual truth is expressed by Paul shortly afterward in the same chapter:
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his”, and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
2 Timothy 2:19
Do you think, O sinner, that you can relax the commandments of the Lord with impunity? Know that you have no salvation, and stand condemned, for “the Lord knows” you are not his. Do you fear, O saint, that in your infirmity you might be faithless to the Lord tomorrow? Trust in the promise that he “knows those who are his” and “depart from iniquity” today. Come to him and be assured that he will never cast you out (John 6:37).
Defending Sacred Truth
Our second duty is to guard the Church from the cunning of the Devil. Nothing would be gained, if we were to hold the truth quietly in our hearts, indeed this is antithetical to the entire Gospel, for
…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
When we become convinced that fellow believers are mistaken about the meaning of Scripture, it is our responsibility to labour to show them their error, by correctly “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (1 Cor 2:13, Eph 4:13). This is the test of Christian love, will we answer honestly and kiss the lips of our friends? Or will we stand by and watch them in struggle in error, falling into the judgement of the Lord? No indeed, we will wound them faithfully rather than offer the profuse kisses of the enemy (cf. Proverbs 24:26, 27:6).
But there is a far more serious obligation. When it comes to our attention that the word of God is being deliberately perverted, we must immediately stand up and be counted among those faithful few who defend the truth. It is here that we “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Christians do not have the right to remain silent when the truth of God is being prostituted before their eyes.
I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself how the world condemns martyrs. Do not think, in ignorance, that they are condemned in glory. Do you think the masses hear fair reports about the grounds of their convictions and executions? Are they not slandered like their Lord and his apostles? Are they not “treated as impostors, and yet are true” (2 Cor 6:8)?
Similarly, do not ever think that apostates call themselves apostates. They call themselves orthodox, they speak of following the Scriptures, service to the Lord, and adherence to the historical truths. Listen to Paul:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
1 Corinthians 11:13-15
The Roman church continued to allege its orthodoxy even as it anathematised the Gospel. Don’t think that heretics openly reveal their rejection of the Lord’s authority! To wait for people to do this before rebuking them and calling them to repentance is misguided and short-sighted, for it will likely never happen. It is also exceedingly dangerous, because it betrays the numerous believers who need to hear their Lord’s voice, and are presently being caused to stumble (Matt 18:6).
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
God does not need you, and he does not need your reputation. Instead, he gives you the opportunity to submit to his will and in so doing preserve your own soul. We are unworthy servants, we have only to do our duty (Luke 17:10). But this is also our joy and greatest blessing, to boldly defend the mysteries of God that have been entrusted to us, and perhaps suffer and to fill up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
Today we are hearing of Church leaders who allegedly “humbly sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the process of studying the scriptures”. But yet they do manifest violence to his word. They are openly participating in the ongoing and rapid corruption of our generation—our generation of believers. I ask you, what right have you to remain silent? Is it not our duty to “mourn” and then call them to repentance? Does not “a little leaven leaven the whole lump”? Tell me what is becoming of thousands of ignorant babes in Christ who do not know their right hand from their left? Are they not being led into rebellion?
My dear brothers and sisters, do not tell me about charity, as if it is charitable to refrain from condemning this evil for what it is. I will make one final appeal, consider the example laid down for us, by the Holy Spirit, in Paul’s rebuke of Peter:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Look at this. Peter “stood condemned” simply by withdrawing from the Gentiles when the Jews came. He did not publish doctrine contrary to Scripture, he did not begin teaching heresy, he only lived it, and only for a moment, and Paul tells us that he “stood condemned”. Did Paul wait to see if Peter’s intentions were “genuine”? What about the fact that Peter was the first apostle to go to the Gentiles (Acts 10)? What about the fact that He publicly defended the inclusion of the Gentile Church at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 11? Weren’t all these actions enough to show that his “heart was in the right place”? No, by God, no. He was acting hypocritically and betraying the truth of the Gospel, the truth of God. And so Paul rebuked him.
And so I warn you, with all the love in my heart, that we will likewise stand condemned if we remain idle while the Scripture is being twisted beyond recognition. We must oppose these lies, and we must oppose these hypocrites to their faces, inasmuch as God places them within our reach. We must not continue to pretend that all is well, that this kind of disobedience will not bring the judgement of God. Let us urge them to “wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die,” for their works have “not been found complete in the sight” of God. Let us encourage the few names who “have not soiled their garments” that they will walk with the Lord “in white, for they are worthy.” And doing thus we are assured that the Lord will confess our names before his Father and his angels. (Rev 3:2-5)
Reading through this article this morning again, it is clear to me that I was impassioned as I wrote it, and perhaps—but only perhaps—some of the wording could have been less condescending. Nonetheless, I stand with everything said here, this is not a disclaimer.