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What Revelation 22:18-19 Says about Additional Scripture & Revelation

the Holy BibleMany Christian denominations believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that the scriptures begin and end with this holy writ. Revelation 22:18-19 is often cited as evidence of this claim. In this scripture, John the Revelator writes:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that 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 out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Some believe that “this book” refers not just to Revelation but to the entire Bible as well. This belief shuts the door on continuing revelation, additional books of scripture and modern prophets and Apostles—all integral aspects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, Mormons believe in a more literal interpretation of this scripture. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

Some Christians, in large measure because of their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles. Imputing no ill will to those who take such a position, nevertheless we respectfully but resolutely reject such an unscriptural characterization of true Christianity.

 

One of the arguments often used in any defense of a closed canon is the New Testament passage recorded in Revelation 22:18. … There is now overwhelming consensus among virtually all biblical scholars that this verse applies only to the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible.

The support for this interpretation comes from both ancient and modern scriptures.

 

Evidence in the Bible

Jesus Christ with His Apostles after His Resurrection

After His Resurrection, Jesus Christ met with His Apostles and others. Bible scholars believe that many books of the New Testament were written after the Apostle John received his revelation on the Isle of Patmos.

The Bible itself speaks to the meaning of this scripture. Elder Holland said:

Those scholars of our day acknowledge a number of New Testament “books” that were almost certainly written after John’s revelation on the Isle of Patmos was received. Included in this category are at least the books of Jude, the three Epistles of John, and probably the entire Gospel of John itself. Perhaps there are even more than these.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, a professor of ancient history at Brigham Young University, gives evidence of John’s timeline. He wrote:

John’s life during these years was sketched by Irenaeus, a bishop writing in the last quarter of the second century. … Irenaeus related that John wrote the Revelation in exile “towards the end of Domitian’s reign,” which is A.D. 96. John then wrote his Gospel “during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” Some modern scholars speak of an Ephesian ministry before Patmos, but Irenaeus gives no hint of this. Irenaeus speaks of John as known until “the times of Trajan,” a reign that began in A.D. 98. …

 

So a study of Irenaeus suggests about A.D. 96 for Revelation, about A.D. 98 for the Gospel, and about A.D.100 for the letters. Since the letters constantly refer to what Christ taught, they presuppose that the Apostle had already circulated his Gospel. Some modern Christians mistakenly argue that no prophecy could come after the end of Revelation, but the Apostle continued to speak and write by inspiration after warning copyists not to change “the book of this prophecy,” clearly referring to the book of Revelation only. (See Revelation 1:3Revelation 22:19.)

Offering further insight from the Bible, Elder Holland said:

But there is a simpler answer as to why that passage in the final book of the current New Testament cannot apply to the whole Bible. That is because the whole Bible as we know it—one collection of texts bound in a single volume—did not exist when that verse was written. For centuries after John produced his writing, the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. Of the entire corpus of 5,366 known Greek New Testament manuscripts, only 35 contain the whole New Testament as we now know it, and 34 of those were compiled after A.D. 1000.

 

Historical Perspective

Bible copyists

History offers a very pragmatic perspective on this biblical warning. Bible scholar Bart Ehrman wrote [Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 54–55.]:

The very real danger that [New Testament] texts could be modified at will, by scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a dire warning [quotes Revelation 22:18–19].

 

This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe everything written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings.

The threat of copyist error or modification was all the more pronounced because Christ’s ancient Church was battling widespread apostasy—or a turning away from the truthfulness of the gospel. Speaking of Revelation, Mormon scholar Kent P. Jackson wrote:

In John’s apocalypse we find convincing evidence that apostasy was finally destroying the Church. The evidence is found in the messages to the seven churches of Asia in chapters 2 and 3. …

 

If the messages to the seven churches of Asia paint a fair picture of the overall status of early Christianity, one cannot avoid the conclusion that the prophecies of apostasy were then being fulfilled. Of the seven churches, only two were not condemned, and one of those was to suffer martyrdom. One church was ready to die because of its sins; another was to be spit out of God’s mouth. Of the rest, all were guilty of serious error, and each was told in strong terms that if it did not repent it would be rejected.

Thus, John’s strong warning was also aimed at averting apostasy. Despite his efforts, this turning away was imminent. By John’s third letter, about A.D. 98, the Apostasy was, in essence, complete. Jackson wrote:

In it he made reference to one Diotrephes, a local Church leader who, as John put it, “loveth to have the preeminence” among the Saints. (3 John 1:9.) In his capacity as an Apostle, John had written to him, but Diotrephes would not receive him. Neither would he receive “the brethren,” and he would not let his congregation do so either. In fact, he excommunicated those who would. (3 John 1:10.)

 

This was apostasy by any definition. It was rebellion against divinely instituted authority. John promised to deal with the offending leader when he could, but if Diotrephes did not recognize John’s authority, no doubt he would not have responded to his discipline either. Hence, by the third generation of Christian history, not only doctrinal apostasy was taking place, but some were in open rebellion against priesthood authority. With their rejection of John, they severed the final legitimate link of doctrinal and priesthood authority between Christ and the church that bore his name.

The Apostles prophesied a turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they also prophesied of a restoration of all things. And the knowledge and revelation that came in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ offer more insight into this scripture.

 

Living Apostles Testify of Ancient Doctrines


The living prophet and Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ as well as the additional scriptures brought forth in the Restoration shed additional light on the subject of continuing revelation. Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

… With respect to the doctrine that revelation still exists, some very good people have been confident that the Church could not be true because they have been taught, and therefore believe, that the heavens are closed and there will be no additional revelation, no scripture, and no pronouncements from heaven. Let me emphasize that this widely held belief is not scriptural….

Elder Holland explained:

The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and … my words … never cease.”

Indeed, one of the purposes of additional scripture is to clarify and testify of the Bible. Elder Holland said:

… One of the great purposes of continuing revelation through living prophets is to declare to the world through additional witnesses that the Bible is true. “This is written,” an ancient prophet said, speaking of the Book of Mormon, “for the intent that ye may believe that,” speaking of the Bible. In one of the earliest revelations received by Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “Behold, I do not bring [the Book of Mormon forth] to destroy [the Bible] but to build it up.”

And modern Apostles remind us of the source of all truth. Elder Holland said:

In the words of esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but [rather] ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ ” In other words, “Scripture itself points … away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.” So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation.

 

This doctrine lies at the very heart of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of our message to the world. … We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent.

And a God who is engaged would not silence His voice but will—and does—speak to the people of the earth through His prophets and Apostles. Elder Holland testified:

In declaring new scripture and continuing revelation, we pray we will never be arrogant or insensitive. But after a sacred vision in a now sacred grove answered in the affirmative the question “Does God exist?” what Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints force us to face is the next interrogative, which necessarily follows: “Does He speak?” We bring the good news that He does and that He has. With a love and affection born of our Christianity, we invite all to inquire into the wonder of what God has said since biblical times and is saying even now.

 

In a sense Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors in this Church answer the challenge Ralph Waldo Emerson put to the students of the Harvard Divinity School 170 years ago this coming summer. To that group of the Protestant best and brightest, the great sage of Concord pled that they teach “that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.”

Thus, although John the Revelator’s warning is placed at the end of the Bible, it was never intended as an announcement that the heavens were closed. Rather, it was a caution speaking specifically of the book of Revelation.

 

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