Therefore, anyone who purports to give a word of prophecy, in the Church today, adds new revelation to the Bible, and brings upon himself all the curses of the book.
When John penned these words in the epilogue to his book of the Revelation, and wrote about the “book of this prophecy,” was he writing about the completed canon of Scripture, or was he writing about the book he was then completing? Since the NT canon was not yet assembled the most logical response to the question is, he was referring to the prophecy he was immediately closing. Note the particularity of the clause “the book of this prophecy of this scroll...”1 If John were referring to the canon — yet-to-be-assembled — one would expect to read “the book of this prophecy and all that has come before.” Some might yet argue, however, that since John’s was the last book of the 66 to be written, the warning passage found within it, extends to the entire canon.2 Even if that position were granted, and John was speaking of the entire canon, would his warning necessarily demand that all prophecy would cease after the canon was finally complete?
No, because “adds to...and takes away from” cannot be referring to prophecy.3 To demonstrate this point two other texts will be considered where this same warning is given.4
You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you... (Deut 4:2 NAS)
Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. (Deut 12:32 NAS)
If the cessationist’s interpretation of Revelation 22 is consistently applied to Deuteronomy 4 and 12, and these warnings were given to prohibit all future prophesies in Israel, then the Church ought to limit the canon to the 5 books of Moses.5 Clearly, that’s an absurd position to take. These warnings did not prevent future prophecy — we have 62 more books in the canon, and many more unrecorded prophecies given through prophets in those remaining books.6 So what was the point of the warnings? They were given so that Israel would understand that they must not add to nor subtract from what God had already commanded. In other words, “Do not tamper with God’s Law!” Moses was not at all concerned about what God may add or reveal, by way of prophecy in the future. In fact, he longed for the day when the LORD would put his Spirit upon his people, when all would be prophets.7 Moses principle concern then, was not that prophecy should henceforth cease, but that God’s people remain obedient to God’s Law alone.8
Similarly, John was not suggesting that prophecies would cease with the closing of Revelation. He was merely echoing the words of Moses, warning his readers that no one must tamper with what was written in the book of his prophecy. Perhaps, one might paraphrase John in this way, “You know what Moses said about Deuteronomy, that you should not add to nor take away from the commands of God? I am saying that his command is enforced here as well. This epistle is just as authoritative as what Moses taught you; it is as substantively Scripture as is the Torah. So be warned, do not add nor subtract one jot nor one tittle from this prophecy, lest you be cursed with all the plagues found herein, and be damned.”
So then, if Moses’s warnings did not prevent prophecy from continuing on into the future of redemptive history, why should one expect that John’s words would?
Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts
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2 Though I maintain that John was speaking specifically about the prophecy he was drawing to a close, I do agree with this position in principle. All those who would dare add to or take away from the words of Scripture will incur a curse. My dispute with cessationists is over the meaning of “adds to...and takes away from” and whether they have to do with the NT gift of prophecy. ↩
3 “Do not add to...” Cessationists are quick to assume that prophecy is in view here, suggesting that it adds to God's Word, yet they do not mention how that understanding would be compatible with the latter clause, “take away from.” Even if a prophecy were given, which purported to abrogate a prior command of Scripture (thereby taking away from Scripture in one sense) the prophecy would still be an additional infallible word of revelation. So, if prophecy adds to the Bible, what supernatural gift takes away from it?↩
4 Cf. Prov 30:6; Jer 26:2; Gal 1:6—9 ↩
5 The Sadducees would be correct. The Prophets and the Writings should be rejected, and we must only obey Torah.↩
6 70 elders (Num 11:25—26); King Saul and the prophets (1 Sam 10:10—11; 19:20—21, 23—24); Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8—10).↩
7 Num 11:29↩
8 This was the error of the Pharisees (Mark 7:5—13)↩