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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Adding to the Word

Revelation 22:18 tells us that we are not to add to the words of the Book.  Since the result of choosing to is getting all of the plagues that are in the Book dropped on you it would probably be wise not to be adding any words…
Adding to the Word

Now I am aware that this admonition in context is speaking of the prophecy.  However a similar text shows up in Jeremiah 23.  There, rather than sharing the Word of God the prophets were sharing their own ideas.  If you read the chapter you will find God was not happy with them.

We wouldn't do that now, would we?

There are times when there is not a lot of data about what is happening in the narrative.  We see people acting, interacting with Christ, but their motives and their thinking is not clearly revealed.  In some cases their motivation is revealed.  In the case where it is not, if we are called upon to teach or share on that passage there is a lot of pressure to supply that motivation or to explain the thinking of those involved.  There are commentators who will suggest motivation or thinking should we not be creative ourselves.

A couple of years ago I was working through Bible study methods with a group in another country.  I use 2 Peter in those situations.  One of the things I ask people to do is to try to determine when the book was written from observation only.  The answer is found in 2 Peter 1:14, Peter knows that he is at the end of his life.

One of the men asked how old Peter was when he died.  I told him I did not know.  He said he wanted to know; that it would help him better understand the text.  Less bluntly than I am going to write it here I told him that it would not and that apparently it was not data that was important.

Why did I say that?  There are many examples in the Bible where the Holy Spirit did tell us how old men were when they died.  Apparently, we need to know that information.  Not so with Peter.  If we add it, are we not adding to the text?

The same may be true when we try to supply motivation or thinking that is not in the text.  My point is that what the Spirit inspired men to write in the Bible, according to Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:14 – 17, is profitable – well you can read it.  It seems that it should be adequate to observe what is being said well, rather than speculate what could have been said.


  1. Great reminder and caution, Mike. It brought to memory definition of the term "inductive" Bauer and Traina make in the Introduction to their "Inductive Bible Study" book:
    "...movement from evidential premises to inferences implies an emphasis on inductive, inferential reasoning: one examines the evidence in order to determine what may properly be inferred from the evidence for the meaning of passages."
    Bauer, David R, and Robert A Traina. 2011. Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, page 1.

  2. on the other hand... my wife was sharing with a woman how we see scripture now more clearly than ever before. She used the analogy of receiving a text from me that was rather poorly written, and if interpreted with the filter she had on at the moment would have made me out to be quite a jerk to my wife. However, she stepped back, and remembered the context within which the text was sent - I love her desperately, and she knows it - so then she re-read the text with that context, and realized what I was trying to communicate with her. The same MUST be done with scripture. We don't need all of the data surrounding biblical events perhaps, but we do need the context; to be able to put ourselves into the story and 'imagine' what is truly happening to get to the heart of God within the story... because eventually, our deep understanding of God's love for us and by that the interpretation from the Holy Spirit, is what builds us up into images of Christ. Without that, we become like the scribes and Pharisees, full of knowledge but lacking in love or truth.

  3. What I often wish I knew more about is the cultural context of a book/passage. It would be likely the message to the seven churches of Revelation 2, 3 would be illuminated by knowing something about the contexts the church lived in.
    Another illustration is the book of Mark I am currently studying. Since this isn't my first time through I know it was most likely written to a Gentile (Roman?) audience. That gives some life and understanding to some of the emphases and incidents.
    As Jeff Hayes says on our radio at the end of his short monologues, "Just a thought." I'd love to have you comment, Mike and anyone.