In Deuteronomy 4:2 the Israelites are given a warning: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” This warning not to add or take away from the commands of the Lord is specifically given to the Israelites after the wilderness wandering. With this command, was Moses telling the Israelites not to add or take away from the Bible? Does this apply to us today?
The Israelites were instructed to remember what God had done and to carefully obey His decrees and laws. These included the Ten Commandments as well as other laws God gave them to observe as they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 4:14). By carefully following God’s “righteous decrees and laws,” the people would be a light to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:6–7).
The warning to Israel not to add or take away from God’s commands was needed. Human nature is such that we try to “improve” on what God has said—as if His perfect Word needs editing. One of Jesus’ rebukes of the Pharisees and experts of the law of His day concerned their failure to heed Moses’ instructions. Jesus told them, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:13). Their “improvement” of God’s Word involved taking away from His commands (“you nullify”) and adding to His commands (“your tradition”).
The warning in Deuteronomy 4:2 specifically applies to law given to the Israelites, but does it apply to the entire Bible? When Moses gave the instruction, Genesis through Deuteronomy were the entire Bible—that’s all the revelation God had given to that point. So, yes, Moses was speaking of the “entire Bible” available at that time. Don’t add to it; don’t take away from it. Later, God gave further revelation, and there are other passages that reflect the same message. Revelation 22:18–19, for example, contains a similar warning: “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” (ESV). Proverbs 30:5–6 warns that the person who adds to God’s words will be rebuked and proved a liar. With these repeated messages, God sets His Word apart as holy. The warning not to add or take away from God’s commands applies to the entire Bible.
The Bible is God’s Word to us (2 Timothy 3:16). It contains information about who God is and what He has done. It directs us in godly living (Psalm 119:105). Since God values His Word and name above all else (Psalm 138:2), we are not to distort it in any way. We must not add to or take away from it. We must not hold tradition or man’s opinions equal to it. We must not add or remove words or passages to fit our own interpretation. We must not falsify, alter, or intentionally miscommunicate what is in it. We must obey God’s Word and let it dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), allowing it to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, train us in righteousness, and discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart (2 Timothy 3:16–17; Hebrews 4:12).
The command to the Israelites to not add or take away from the Bible still applies to us today and for eternity. “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). What a loving and caring God we have, to give us His Word and commands that lead to abundant life and godliness (John 10:10; 2 Peter 1:3). May we be diligent to observe and obey His words (Deuteronomy 4:6) and to handle the Bible with care and reverence. By doing so we can accurately reflect God’s words and character to a world that so desperately needs Him.