Home > Brandenburg, The Word > Revelation 22:18-19 and the Perfect Preservation of Scripture

Revelation 22:18-19 and the Perfect Preservation of Scripture

God promised a wonderful blessing to those who would read or hear the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:3):

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

This verse has several interesting features.  It is the first of seven blessings in Revelation.  No accident there—Revelation completes God’s special revelation to mankind.  The blessing is for people engaged in three activities.  They are three present participles, continuous action—“readeth,” “hear,” and “keep.”  Those describe what you would do in a church service—Scripture is read, then preached, and finally practiced.  What is read, heard, and then practiced?  “Words . . . which are written therein.”  Those who try to turn “words” into concepts, ideas, teachings, or just oral speaking will have a hard time doing that here.  There is an assumption here right away that we will have the words necessary for reading and hearing, the ones “which are written therein.”  You don’t read oral teachings—you read only written words that are in either a scroll or book.

We vault forward to the last chapter of Revelation.  The Greek term translated “words” in Revelation 1:3 is logos.  In Revelation 22 that term is used repeatedly and it is either translated “sayings” or “words.”  You find it in vv. 6-7:

And he said unto me, These sayings [logos] are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.  Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings [logos] of the prophecy of this book.

You find it in vv. 9-10:

Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings [logos]  of this book: worship God.  And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings [logos] of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.

You find it in vv. 18-19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words [logos] 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 [logos] 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.

So the “words” of 1:3 are the “sayings” of 22:6-7 and 22:9-10 and the “words” of 22:18-19.  They are words in a book, written Words.  So here we shouldn’t be getting the common anti-preservation-of-scripture criticism of “these words could be talking about all the words that God ever spoke that aren’t even recorded in scripture—do we even know what those words are?”  These have to be the very words that were written down in the original manuscripts.  And “that are written” in 22:18 translates a perfect participle, so we see the words to be written at a point in the past with the results ongoing.  That alone speaks of the preservation of the words.

The Warning

In Revelation 22:18-19 God through the Apostle John gives us a warning.  The first part of the warning is in v. 18 and it is about adding words, that is, including extra written words in the book.  If someone, upon those words being written in the original manuscripts, shall add to those words, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book.  The words are written in the book.  And there is a play on words here obviously.  If someone were to add words to the book, he would have added to him the plagues in the book, that is, this person must be an unbeliever.  You will notice in the book of Revelation that the plagues come upon unbelievers.

The second part of the warning is in v. 19 and it is about taking away words of the book.  If someone were to take away words from the book—another play on words—God would take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city.  It doesn’t say that God would take someone’s already recorded name out of a book, but his part.  Someone can’t have his name removed from the actual book anymore than he can have his person removed out of the holy city.   His “part” is what he would have had in the book of life if he had not been a person who would tamper with scripture.  Anyone who is saved wouldn’t show the Bible this kind of disrespect.  Parallel with the adding, this part of the warning about taking away judges the person to be an unbeliever.

These warnings are commands against any alteration of the words of this book.  Not one word should be changed.  “Add” and “take away” speak of additions and deletions.  What is written in Revelation would have been and continues to be very unpopular.  Some of the audience of those letters to the churches would receive it with anger.   So  a strong warning is given.  Doctrine can rise and fall on one word, even one letter.  God doesn’t want any changes to the words written in the book.

An ironic point for v. 19 is that there are differences in the very verse itself between the critical text (CT) and the textus receptus (TR)  “Shall take away” is present tense (aphaire) in the TR and aorist tense (aphele) in the CT.  The former denotes continuous action and the latter speaks of point action.  The former indicates a habitual or characteristic activity and the latter a one time act.  The TR warns against a lifestyle of taking away from the words of the book and the CT warns against taking away from the words of the book even one time.  The meaning of the verse changes with this change in the tense of the verb.

Is the warning against altering the words of only the book of Revelation or of any Scripture period?  This is the only such warning in the New Testament.  No other New Testament book ends with this warning.  It ends Revelation in major part because Revelation is the last book of the Bible.  No words should be added or taken away from scripture.  The canon of Scripture closes with Revelation.  This is the last of God’s special revelation.

Instruction about Preservation

The teaching of Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t seem to be that difficult.  What those two verses say looks to be very straightforward.   They start to get muddled when someone doesn’t like what they say or if what they say clashes with a doctrine that a person already holds.  Revelation 22:18-19 teaches that every Word of God is important to Him.  He does not want one Word added or taken away from the Words written in the Bible.  It is very serious if someone adds or takes away even one Word from the Book.  The Words matter, not just the message.

These two verses say nothing about taking away from the teaching of the book.  They talk about adding or taking away from the Words.  This isn’t a warning about trying to change the doctrine of the book.  That would be bad, to twist what the book means.  However, it very clearly forbids the adding or taking away from the Words.  To not get that, you have to read something into the verse that isn’t there.  If you do change the Words, you are changing the teaching, but altering of the Words is what 22:18-19 talk about.

Revelation 22:18-19 assumes a settled text.  You can’t take away or add to a body of words that is unsure.   If you aren’t sure what a book is to begin with, you can’t know if you made any changes that did surely add or take away from the Words.  You can’t disobey a prohibition against adding or taking away words when those words are uncertain to begin with.  So the warning itself here in 22:18-19 establishes a settled text of Scripture.

I have found that people, who don’t know what God’s Words are, have to come up with some different meaning to Revelation 22:18-19 other than adding and taking away Words.  They know what that meaning does to the uncertainty of the text found in eclecticism.  So they make “words” to mean “teaching” in the face of a plain reading of the two verses.   If that doesn’t work, then they say that it’s only adding or taking away from the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible.  But even that latter position still leaves them with all their textual variants in Revelation itself, including in v. 19.  There really isn’t a way to understand Revelation 22:18-19 without the perfect preservation of Scripture.

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  1. May 20, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Revelation is no more Scripture than is Genesis or Mattew. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    In other words if you can’t add or take away from Revelation because it is pure Scripture, then the same measuring stick automatically applies to all the books of our Protestant Bible. And 2 Timothy 3:16 only confirms the statement in Revelation —

    “ALL SCRIPTURE is inspired by God…”

  2. May 21, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Amen–well put, Pastor Brandenburg!

    Even those who change “words” to “teaching” in this passage still don’t claim to have certainty about the teaching of every passage of the book–teachings in the book of Revelation change with the additions and subtractions between the preserved Textus Receptus and variations from it (such as changing the number of the beast from 666 to 616–cf. the margin of the NRSV, NASV, etc.).

    Furthermore, Revelation 22:18-19 is a problem for the so-called “Majority Text” position of Robinson, Hodges, and others. There are many places in Revelation where there is no reading that has 50% or more support in Greek MSS–the textual tradition of the book is split in three major groups. The TR typically follows the largest of the three groups, but sometimes the other two groups agree against it, and then the “Majority Text” disagrees with the TR. One can only have certainty about the text of Revelation–and certainty is required by Revelation 22:18-19–if he rejects the critical Greek text and the so-called “Majority Text” and receives the perfectly preserved words of the Textus Receptus that underlies the Authorized Version. (This is apart from the fact that it is inconceivable, in light of Biblical preservation promises, that the true Word would not be extant in print until 1881 (critical text) or, worse, until the 1990s, as with the so-called “Majority Text.”) True Baptist churches have never agreed upon any set of Words other than those in the TR underneath the KJV as perfect–and if those Words are not the perfectly preserved Words, everyone who ever reads, preaches, or translates the book of Revelation–not to mention the rest of the Bible–cannot avoid the curse of 22:18-19, and the blessing of Revelation 1:3 cannot be attained.

    By the way, the anti-eternal security argument made based on Revelation 22:18-19 is (well) answered here by Pastor Brandenburg, and the question of the book of life and eternal security, including a detailed analysis of Revelation 22:18-19, is examined in my work “The Book of Life and Eternal Security” in the Soteriology section of my website (http://sites.google.com/site/thross7).

    Note also that patristic writers made statements echoing Revelation 22:18-19 about their own uninspired writings, indicating, a fortiori, a concern for accurate copying of the text of Scripture, and also providing indirect ancient support for the (obvious) view that Revelation 22:18-19 means exactly what it says, and condemns adding or taking away any actual words from its text. For example, Rufinus, in his prologue to his translation of Origin, states:

    And, verily, in the presence of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I adjure and beseech every one, who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that, as he would not possess for an eternal inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where their fire is not quenched and their
    worm dieth not, he add nothing to Scripture, and take nothing away from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcript with the copies from which he made it, and make the emendations and distinctions according to the letter, and not have his manuscript incorrect or indistinct, lest the difficulty of ascertaining the sense, from the indistinctness of the copy, should cause greater difficulties to the readers. (see “The Longevity of the New Testament Autographs,” http://sites.google.com/site/thross7, for sources and more information).

    I am so thankful that when I read my Textus Receptus, and read my King James Bible, accurately translated from it, I can get the blessing of Revelation 1:3, rather than the curse of 22:18-19. Hallelujah!

  3. Anvil
    May 21, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Wow, Thomas. That last comment sounds an awful lot like “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”

  4. May 21, 2010 at 9:31 am

    It seems to me that men would at least agree that the book of Revelation, if inspired, must be perfectly, providentially preserved because of these verses. Then, it follows that any other books that are inspired would get the same providential “treatment.”

    In my opinion, those that have “difficulty” with the perfect, providential preservation of Revelation reveal a non-objective philosophical bias against this position. They’re not as concerned about what the Scriptures say as they want us to think.

  5. May 21, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Good comments. Interesting points Thomas. Anvil, I didn’t hear what you heard in Thomas’ comment. What was it that hit you that way. I would want to warn him against sounding like a Pharisee, but I didn’t hear it all. Jeff, I agree. And I hear what you’re saying, really hear it, as in, as it relates to someone who right now is supposedly doing an investigative series on that at SI.

  6. May 21, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I don’t follow SI anymore, but you must be talking about the series you’ve been interacting with on your own blog.

  7. Anvil
    May 21, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I guess I wasn’t very clear. I was referring to just the last paragraph, not Thomas’ entire comment.

    Obviously, on this issue my position is more like Don Johnson’s, but I don’t mind reading and considering strong comments from your side. That last little bit sounded a little self-serving to me, though.

  8. May 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Brother Kent,
    Amen & Amen!

    Brother Thomas,
    Also amen!

    Brother Anvil,
    I saw nothing arrogant or self-righteous about what Thomas said. It is not arrogant to be thankful for knowing the truth. The problem with those on the “other side” of this argument is they really don’t know.

  9. May 21, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Lamblion,

    I assume by Protestant Bible you mean Bibles translated in the Reformation, because Protestants generally use the modern perversions today.

    • Charles cross
      July 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      I assume by “Protestant Bible” he is referring to the false Bible, King James created to further his own agenda. King James did exactly what he was warned not to do by GOD… and Christians have been paying the price ever sense.

  10. May 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Dear Anvil,

    My rejoicing that God has graciously kept His promises to preserve His Words, and my rejoicing that I can receive the blessing of Revelation 1:3 instead of the curse of 22:18-19 because of the faithfulness of my all-powerful, ever-faithful Triune God, is not at all like the pride of the unregenerate, self-righteous, self-dependent, unbelieving Pharisee of Luke 18. In fact, failing to rejoice that the Lord has kept His promises about preservation is sin—rejoicing that He did so is not.
    I cannot see inside of anyone’s heart, of course, so I am not going to presume to assign you, personally, a motive in your comment. I will say, however, in general, that those who reject the perfectly preserved Word and defend a position of uncertainty are going to have a lot of trouble rejoicing over Revelation 1:3 and 22:18-19. Rather, I have noticed that they regularly try to explain the verses away. Acting in this manner will not do them any good, though, when they stand before the holy Author of those verses, the Lord Jesus Christ, and give an account for their actions. They will then have even less cause for rejoicing over Revelation 1:3; 22:18-19 than they have now—so they should repent, and receive, in the manner of John 17:8, what God has perfectly preserved.
    So I say, again, Hallelujah!—for as God works in me to will and do of His good pleasure (Philip 2:13)—since all goodness in the believer comes from God and His grace, not from his own self (1 Cor 15:10)—I can receive with the faith of a little child (cf. Matthew 18:3), rejoice in, love with all my heart, tremble in awe before, meditate, memorize, obey, preach, and teach the holy Words of the book of Revelation and the rest of Scripture, knowing my God has faithfully kept His promises and preserved them for me through His church in the Textus Receptus. How much better it is to rejoice so than to idolatrously stand in judgment over the Words of God and employ unbelieving principles to decide which of them to keep and which to throw out!

  11. May 22, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Thomas,

    I’m sure you know this, but it is always easier to attack the messenger’s motives than to honestly evaluate the point. It’s a cheap way to win an argument, but sometimes with the wrong people effective. I don’t think there are too many of those who read this blog regularly.

  12. Joe
    May 22, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Mr. Ross,

    Amen! Amen! Amen! Now you’ve got me rejoicing!

    Joe V.

  13. Anvil
    May 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Mr. Heinz,

    I’ve been reading this blog since close to the day it was opened, and I have been evaluating and considering this issue for longer than that. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t “perfect preservation in the TR” just as honestly as you came to the opposite point of view. I’ve been reading both Pastor Brandenburg’s and Thomas’ posts, articles, etc., for a long time. I have Pastor Brandenburg’s book which I have thoroughly read, as well as number of others. At some point, I think both sides just have to understand we aren’t going to convince the other, so long arguments are mostly a waste of time in that case. The positions are well staked-out. I still read the other side, though, just to be sure I’m not missing anything important. Thomas’ last paragraph just struck me wrong.

    Thomas,

    I probably shouldn’t have posted that comment. I understand the point about rejoicing in the Lord, as we are commanded to do so. I still think there is a difference between rejoicing and telling others we are rejoicing that “we are not getting the curse.” I believe it’s quite reasonable for someone to be thankful that God has watched over them so that they are not murderers, adulterers, or unbelievers. It does look prideful when that is stated to others the way the Pharisee did (and of course Jesus knows the heart, we don’t). I can accept that you weren’t prideful about that comment if you say so, but it still sounded wrong to me. However, since I’m apparently the only one that feels that way, I’ll let it drop now.

  14. May 22, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Anvil,

    I have my own blog in Spanish on this same topic and just today tied off the last comments with a guy who wants to make the issue personal and not stick to the subject matter. It’s not helpful. Taking Thomas to task by speculating over his motives for a paragraph that doesn’t deal with the issue of the blog is a diversion. If you didn’t mean it like that, I’m glad.

  15. October 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I have a question. If the Bible or the New Testament as we know them did not exist at the time when John wrote the Book of Revelation, how can Revelation 22:18,19 refer to any book other than the Book of Revelation?

  16. Devin
    July 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Love God, Love others

  17. kevobx
    May 19, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Jeremiah 51:63-64 And it shall be when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: And thou shall shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. *Revelation 9:14*

  18. submit
    July 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Are Greek texts pure word of God. Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

    P46 (175CE) is Greek manuscript with the largest percentage of difference on record. This just proved that Church have been changing words since early 2nd century at will.

    Here is the words of the early church father, Origen (3rd century CE):
    “The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.” Origen, early church father in “Commentary on Matthew.”

    Regarding the oldest surviving fragment, Colin Roberts compared P52 writings using ONLY 5 samples from the early 2nd century CE back in 1935 and concluded based on those 5 samples; P52 was from the early 2nd century.

    (Brent Nongbri’s 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel)
    What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. – Brent

    Compare with 4th century codexes. You will be surprise how Holy Spirit inside the scribes fail to prevent them from changing words of God ever since the beginning.

  1. August 6, 2012 at 9:56 am

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