Does Revelation 22:18-19 Teach Perfect Textual Preservation?
“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. ” (Revelation 22:18–19)
The above verses have been used to argue for the King James Version against other translations of the Bible. Simply stated, the argument is that the original text is preserved in the KJV and that all other translations add to, or take away from the original text.
Our question is this, “Does this passage actually teach said doctrine?” Some say that it does, and others say that it does not. What do the Scriptures say?
First of all, let us ask what words are. That is what we are warned against embellishing or removing. Words are expressions of thought. The form of words change over time so that words become archaic and are replaced by other words that convey the same meaning. One instance of this is that we use the word “let” to mean “to allow”. In the King James Version the word was used to mean “to hinder”. We must ask ourselves, then, whether the use of synonyms is acceptable in Bible translation. We must then ask ourselves whether a sentence in a more recent English translation of the Bible could have more or less words in it than a sentence in the KJV contains and yet still convey the same thought.
In the Scriptures we find that sometimes the very word “word” is used to express the decree, or command of God. One example can be found in Psalm 33:6-9 where we know that it simply means that God spoke the command and the worlds were made. We again see this in Hebrews 1:3 where we find that universe is sustained by the word, or decree of God.
The meaning of “word” does not have to be the lexical form of a word, but can be a word, its synonym, or the command of God.
The Bible does not condemn the use of synonyms or loose quotations of Scripture, as long as the thought of the Scripture is conveyed. Most students of the Bible are aware of the fact that the New Testament writers sometimes quoted the Old Testament in ways that were definitely not verbatim quotations. One interesting instance is found in James’ writing. James said, “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (James 4:5) Have you ever tried to find the instance in the Old Testament where that statement is made? Most of us will admit that there is no place in the Old Testament where one can find this statement verbatim. It will not do for someone to claim that the Bible writers were inspired and could use Scripture in such a fashion, because to do so would be to charge the Bible writers and God the Holy Spirit with inconsistency. After all, if God tells us not to change the form of one single word, we can be sure that He would be inconsistent to command one to do so even if he were inspired.
Jots And Tittles
What, then, of the jots and tittles of Matthew 5:17-18? What is that all about? Simply put, it means that the Scriptures will be perfectly fulfilled. We have a saying today that goes something like this: “He follows the rules to the letter.” What we mean is that a person strictly adheres to the meaning and intent of the rules. So it is with God’s Word. All will come to pass perfectly, just as God has told us.
The words of Jesus concerning jots and tittles cannot teach perfect textual preservation, because the law itself neither teaches, nor is presented as an example of perfect textual preservation. This truth is seen in a comparison of the ten commandments as given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. When Moses spoke the law to Israel the second time he did not speak it verbatim, but actually added words to what he said previously. We will find, too, that it is this same Moses who said that we are not to add to the words of God.
What is meant by the adding to and taking away of Revelation 22:18-19? The answer to that question has to be found by considering the previous places in which we were warned not to add to, or take away from the words of God.
Moses told Israel, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. ” (Deuteronomy 4:2) Why was Israel warned not to add to, or take away from the words of God? So that they would obey God. The issue that is before us is that the message cannot be changed by adding commandments, or taking away commandments. Either one would be sin. Either one would lead people into disobedience. That is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, because they were adding commandments to God’s Word, and taking away commandments, also. (See Matthew 5:33-35;15:1-10) Furthermore, Moses told Israel, “These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. ” (Deuteronomy 5:22) We already saw that Moses did not give a verbatim quotation of the ten commandments here. Now he adds that God gave them no more words. In other words, the law that God gave at Sinai was all the word that they needed at that time. Simply put, “Ye shall not add unto”, or “He added no more” simply means that what they had been given was all that they needed. The message that God had given Israel through Moses was sufficient for them at that time, and was not to be changed so as to make the message say something that God did not say.
In the same vein of thought, we read in the Proverbs, “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, Lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. ” (Proverbs 30:5–6) Those who add to the words of God will be shown to be wrong, and demonstrated to be liars. One is not a liar who uses synonyms and yet retains the message accurately. He is a liar who changes the words to the extent that the message is changed. God’s warning is for us to not change the message. This is the foundation of Paul’s anathema in Galatians 1:7-9. The message IS NOT TO BE CHANGED!
Thus it is that Revelation 22:18-19 is the last in a long chain of warnings against changing the message of God, and not a text that supports the doctrine of perfect textual preservation.