More is Not Better: Added Words

When it comes to my physical well-being, I like to be extra careful. I’m not into skiing or snowboarding, as it’s hard to regain confidence after colliding with a tree. When I hike the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland for the umpteenth time, I still slide down certain parts on my behind — even though I can see perfectly good footholds on the way down — because I know I won’t fall if I descend this way. On hikes with friends, my husband knows to lend me a hand when crossing a muddy patch — even though we both know I could clear it one jump. Just in case. Juuuust in case. 

Although I have certainly made reckless decisions in my life (sorry beloved parents), I’m generally a careful person in most other ways, too. This is especially true in spiritual matters. I can be so careful sometimes that I add extra guardrails against things I know will harm me or not make me feel good. Even if a little bit is okay, I tend to stick to none. Just in case. 

I was reminded of this as my eyes traced Deuteronomy 4:2 this morning: “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.”

I found this verse curious. I am well-acquainted with the idea of not taking away from what God has said. In fact, as a Bible-believer, I am often distressed or annoyed by how others who claim Biblical-belief can sometimes try to explain away or downright ignore significant parts of Scripture. Don’t they know how wrong that is?

Photo by Shelby Miller on Unsplash

But what’s curious about this verse is that’s not what Moses says first: he first says to not add to the words he is commanding them. Why? So that they may keep the commandments of the Lord. So, the purpose of not adding (or subtracting) from God’s words are so that we can obey Him properly. 

I meditated on this for awhile and did some digging. Here are some similar verses and concepts I found:

  • Eve added to the words of God; she didn’t subtract. She said that God said they couldn’t even touch the fruit. But God didn’t say that. 
  • John says that the plagues of Revelation will be added to the person who adds to God’s prophecies (Revelation 22:18)
  • “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” Proverbs 30:5-6
  • Moses reiterates what he said in Deuteronomy 4: “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” Deuteronomy 12:32

I’m intrigued by this, especially those verses in Proverbs. When we try to add to His words, we’ll be found to be liars

I’m sure there are ways throughout the ages that people have tried to add to God’s word. But there are a few that come to mind that are intensely…current.

I find this to be a struggle of even Bible-believing Christians. We add words or instructions to His level of authority that He did not place there. We add man-made traditions and requirements, urging them on other people as if they were salvational issues or at the same level of authority of God Himself. 

It can sound good, right? It can sound like we’re just adding more guardrails, trying to be more careful, more holy, more Christ-like. But we’re actually corrupting the purity of God’s word. We’re giving ourselves authority that belongs only to God. 

I think we can do this for other reasons, too. Like the Pharisees and Saducees, we want to preserve a man-made hierarchy. You can’t come to Jesus like that. You have to do XYZ!

Or maybe we’re like Jonah. We resent the mercy and graciousness of God. We don’t want it to be extended to everyone, especially not that frustrating person; so we build up more requirements. 

Unless you worship God in the way that I do, you clearly don’t know what you’re doing. Here, let me show you…

Added words are just as bad as subtracted words (I may even be able to make a case for them being worse!). We have no jurisdiction or right to do either one. And although we may not write out our own version of Scripture, citing ourselves as the author, we may still act as if our preferences, our traditions, our views, and our way of doing things is a salvational or eternal issue. When it’s not. A lot of times it’s one of the disputable matters that Paul talks about in Romans 14. 

There are certain things that we need to be careful about. They’re outlined clearly in Scripture. But let’s not add burdens that God never intended, nor resent the grace that God extends to all and everyone. Both when we add and subtract, we prevent ourselves and others from properly obeying God. We’re skewing His loving commandments. 

Let’s be Biblical students like the Bereans: to search the Scriptures, test the things that we hear, and to understand it for ourselves (Acts 17:10-11). And when we do share — as we still should, and often — may we share with Christ-centered accuracy and clarity.