In Deuteronomy 4:2, God says to Moses (and, subsequently, to the Israelites and the Christians and today’s believers), “‘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.'”
Why would God say such a thing? Because He knows man’s innate desire to control.
When I want to control my children, whether for their own good or for my own convenience, I make up rules. Or I eliminate rules, depending on what the situation calls for. We have some standing rules in our family, like don’t hit, be kind, don’t eat crayons. Those go without saying. But in the chaotic times, when my children are driving me nuts despite obeying those three no-brainer rules, I add to or subtract from the rules to regain some sense of control.
If I need a break, I might subtract from the rules. “I know we don’t usually get to watch TV before dinner, but it’s ok today.” My children love this kind of subtraction, but it also confuses them – what is the actual rule? Do we or don’t we watch TV before dinner? And, since Mom is willing to throw rules out, let’s see what else we can get her to compromise on…
When we transfer this desire to control to more serious matters, we get more disastrous results.
I don’t need to tell you – but I will – that man’s desire to control has reared its ugly head in religion. People have come along and decided they wanted more control, more power, and more fame. So they added and subtracted from God’s Word.
Joseph Smith did just that by adding the Book of Mormon to the Bible, despite God telling him not to in Deuteronomy 4:2, considering both books to be divine scriptures. The Book of Mormon is chalk-full of ideas that are contrary to the ideas in the Bible. And, just like that, a cult was born.
Legalists like to add to scripture as well. When my dad was a boy, a nun once told him that if he missed one Sunday, he’d go to hell. Let me assure you, the Bible does not say that, and that nun had no authority to impose her idea via her position of spiritual authority on the children she taught.
Perhaps even more common than adding to scripture is subtracting from scripture.
Many people choose the parts of the Bible they like and hold them to be true while discarding the rest. Most people can get on board with a loving God who whisks people away to Heaven when they die, but some throw out the less palatable part about the reality of Hell. Most people think Jesus was an awesome teacher who did lots of nice things, but they turn a blind eye to the Bible’s claim that He is the only avenue through which man can know God the Father.
When we add to and subtract from the Word of God, what we are really doing is trying to make God who we want Him to be. Without the whole counsel of scripture – and nothing more – we develop an erroneous concept of God and an unstable foundation for our lives.