Recently the question was proposed, “does Revelation 22:18-19 means that one who tampers with the words of the Bible cannot get saved?” Revelation 22:18-19 states: “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.” This is indeed, a severe warning, and the question is a deep one that appears to imply the lack of personal salvation of anyone tampering with God’s word.

Notice first, the word “if” in verse 19 is a 3rd class conditional clause which views the condition as a possibility.1)Cleon Roger Jr. and Cleon Roger III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1998), p. 652 It surely is possible for one to corrupt the Scripture as well as being excluded from the book of life and the Holy city for their action of perverting Scripture. Alan Johnson comments, “So severe is the danger he is warning against that John says that those who teach contrary to the message of Revelation will not only forfeit any right to salvation in the Holy City but will have visited on them the divine judgments (plagues) inflicted on the beast worshippers.”2)Alan Johnson, The Expository Bible Commentary (Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein), Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1981), Vol. 12, p. 603

One of the debates that have revolved around this passage is whether it is only referring to the book of Revelation or the Bible as a whole. Alan Johnson begins his commentary on these verse with the words, “These verses should not be taken as a warning against adding anything to the Bible.”3)Alan Johnson, The Expository Bible Commentary (Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein), Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1981), Vol. 12, p. 602 This was argued by referencing early interpreters that implied the comment from John was strictly limited to the book of Revelation. However, the very passage Johnson references is cited wrong4)he cites Irenaeus, Against Heresies 30.2; which, first of all, neglects which book (there are five books by that title) and secondly, it is book 5, chapter 30, paragraph 1 that is relevant to this passage, not paragraph 2. and the passage from Irenaeus he intended to mention says the exact opposite. Irenaeus says, “there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture, under that such a person must necessarily fall.”5) Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk 5, chap. XXX. Para. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887, Hendrickson, 1994, Vol. 1, p. 558-559

Clearly, early interpreters applied it to “the Scripture,” not merely the book of Revelation. David Cloud writes, “This applies directly to Revelation, of course, but the warning must apply equally to the entire Bible of which Revelation forms the final chapter.”6)David W. Cloud, Faith vs. the Modern Bible Versions, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 2006), p. 60 It is not only logical that the warning in these verse should be implied to the whole of Scriptures, but the immediate context extends the reference to the Old Testament by mentioning the Holy Prophets (Revelation 22:6-7, 9). Thus, David Clouds’ conclusion is most accurate, “If God forbids man to tamper with any of the WORDS of the Bible, it is obvious that He intends to preserve those words so they will be available to man. Otherwise, the warning of Revelation 22:18-19 is meaningless.”7) David W. Cloud, Faith vs. the Modern Bible Versions, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 2006), p. 60-61 Indeed, the entirety of Scriptures consistently teaches the same thing (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:3-6; Jeremiah 26:2; Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:17; Galatians 3:15), as well as the doctrine of perfect preservation.8)see Heath Henning, “Psalm 12 Proves Perfect Preservation,” August 7, 2017; http://truthwatchers.com/935-2/

To understand the relevance of this passage in Revelation it is important to examine the ancient world, their view of preserving writings, and particularly the curses expressed against those who purposely corrupted documents. Craig Keener, who is well versed in ancient literature, has stated, “sources committed to writing often held a special authority; even an eyewitness might cite another eyewitness source written before his own work had been committed to writing. Writers often recognized that whereas oral tradition could be modified over time, written sources were fixed.”9)Craig S. Keener, Acts An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-2:47, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2013), Vol. 1, p. 128 Due to the widespread illiteracy in the ancient world, memory was emphasized and a major part of learning. To commit something to writing was for the specific purpose of the exact words to be preserved. The Jewish culture had a proportionally larger literate population in comparison to the other cultures in the ancient world. However, the Jews emphasized memorization of exact words as the Rabbis taught in the Mishna.

R. Dosethai b. Yannai said in the name of R. Meir: He that forgets one word of his study, the Scripture reckons it to him as though he was guilty against his own soul, for it is written, Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the words which thine eyes saw. [Deut 4:9] Could this be even if his study was too hard for him? Scripture say: And lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; thus he is not guilty against his own soul unless he sits and puts them away from his heart. (Mishna, Aboth 3.9)10)The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 451

From this we see that it was condemned for one to purposely neglect, or put their teaching away in order to forget a single word. The book of Revelation begins with the blessing, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein” (Revelation 1:3). With a Greek audience for the original recipients of the book of Revelation, this verse reveals that one person was reading the text to the church while the rest listened and were depending on memorization, likely due to illiteracy.

Josephus recorded the importance of memorizing Scripture in the Jewish culture.

When the multitude are assembled together unto the holy city for sacrificing every seventh year, at the feast of tabernacles, let the high priest stand upon a high desk, whence he may be heard, and let him read the laws to all the people; and let neither the women nor the children be hindered from hearing, no, nor the servants neither; for it is a good thing that those laws should be engraven in their souls, and preserved in their memories, that so it may not be possible to blot them out; for by this means they will not be guilty of sin, when they cannot plead ignorance of what the laws have enjoined them. The laws also will have a greater authority among them, as foretelling what they will suffer if they break them; and imprinting in their souls by this hearing what they command them to do, that so there may always be within their minds that intention of the laws which they have despised and broken, and have thereby been the causes of their own mischief. Let the children also learn the laws, as the first thing they are taught, which will be the best thing they can be taught, and will be the cause of their future felicity. (Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 4.209-211)11)The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 156

His use of terms like “engraven” and “imprinting” in their souls conjure the imagery of carving words into stones as preserved inscriptions written on rock. Similarly, the prophet Jeremiah alluded to using a diamond pointed pen to engrave on the tablet of one’s heart (Jeremiah 17:1).

With this background knowledge, we can understand the curses pronounced on those who ignored obedience to the law of Moses. Moses commanded Joshua to make such engravings of the law when the Israelites entered the promised land to write the law on plastered stone and pronounce a blessing on those who obey and curse on the disobedient (Deuteronomy 27:2, 8). This was performed by Joshua (Joshua 8:30-35), which impresses the purpose of preserving the law being written in stone with curses on those who don’t submit to the law. The curses recorded in Deuteronomy 28, would obviously be more severe for anyone who attempts to corrupt the written words of the law. Josephus spoke of the event of Joshua proclaiming the curses with the emphasis of the need for the people to memorize the words in order to keep the law. “After this, curses were denounced upon those that should transgress those laws, they, answering one another alternately, by way of confirmation of what had been said. Moses also wrote their blessings and their curses, that they might learn them so thoroughly, that they might never be forgotten by length of time.” (Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 4.307)12)The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 163

This sort of event was not uncommon in the Middle Eastern ancient cultures. Many such engravings have been discovered by archaeologists with pronounced curses against anyone who would altered what was written on the inscriptions. Closest in relation to the Jewish culture are the Canaanite and Aramaic inscriptions that threaten judgements from the gods upon anyone who would alter an inscription.

If there be a king among kings and a prince among princes or a man who is (just) called a man who shall wipe out the name of Azitawadda from this gate and put down his own name, even if he has intentions toward this city but removes this gate which was made by Azitawadda and makes for the (new) gate a (new) frame and puts his name upon it, whether he removes this gate with good intentions or out of hatred and evil, let Ba’lshamem and El-the-Creator-of-the-Earth and the Eternal-Sun and the whole Group of the Children of the Gods (El) wipe out that ruler and that king and that man who is (just) called a man! However, the name of Azitawadda shall endure forever like the name of sun and moon! (Azitawadda of Adana)13)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 1, p. 217

Another similar inscription goes beyond a curse on any person in general, to specifying even the king’s own children if they would deface what was written.

If one of my children who shall sit in my place should damage this inscription, may the mskbm not respect the b’rrm, and may the b’rrm not respect the mskbm!

   He who smashes this inscription, may his head be smashed by B’l-Samad who belongs to Gabbar, and may his head be smashed by Ba’l-Hamman who belongs to Bmh, and by Rakabel, the Lord of the dynasty! (Kilamuwa of Y’dy’-Sam’al)14)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 1, p. 218

One particular treaty has a number of parallels to the warnings in Scripture with the expected emphasis on preserving the words inscribed on the treaty.

May [he who observes the words of this stela] be guarded by the Gods as to his day and as to his house. But whoever does not observe the words of the inscription on this stela but says: I shall efface some of its words, or I shall upset the good things and put down evil ones, on the day he will do so, that man and his house and all that is in it shall be upset by the Gods, and he (his house) be turned upside down, and that (man) shall not acquire a name!…

   […and he who inten]ds to efface these inscriptions from the bethels where they are set up and says: I shall destroy the inscriptions, and tomorrow I shall destroy Ktk  and its king, but (who) himself is afraid to efface the inscription from the bethels and (therefore) says to someone who does not know: I shall hire (you), and command (him) to eff[ace  these inscri]tions from the bethels…[…].

   [But if they observe this treaty…], the God[s of the trea]ty in this inscription [shall guard] matti’el, his son, the son of his son, his offspring, all the kings of Arpad, all his nobles, and their people, as to their houses and their days. (The Treaty between KTK and Arpad)15)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 223-224

With an examination of such inscriptions, we get some insight to how the ancient Jews would have understood the events of Joshua. Josephus referred to the event, saying, “And when they had sacrificed, and denounced the [blessings and the] curses, and had left them engraven upon the altar, they returned to Shiloh.” (Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 5.70)16) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 171 Thus the engraved law of Moses was to be preserved without a words being altered so that all the people would have access to the words to memorize and confirm its accuracy in order to obey the commandments.

Historical text from Babylon and Assyria have also added to our understanding that these inscription with curses were written for the reason that they may be preserved for eternity.

(This is) the great miracle of Sin that none of the (other) gods and goddesses knew (how to achieve), that has not happened to the country from the days of old, that the people of the country have (not) observed nor written down on clay tablets to be preserved for eternity, that (you), Sin, the lord of all the gods and goddesses residing in heaven, have come down from heaven to (me) Nabonidus, king of Babylon! (Nabonidus and His God) 17)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 109

By placing these curses on the person who desecrate the inscriptions and the descendants, the point of the curse is established for being perpetually preserved.

[Whoever you are,] ruler and (ordinary) man, who might [continue] to do work on this altar and this engraved work of gold and this portico, my name, Yehawmilk, King of Byblos, [you should put with] yours upon that work, and if you do not put my name with yours, or if you [remove] this [work and transfer this work from its foundation] upon this place and […, my] the mistress, the Lady of Byblos, [destroy] that man and his seed before a the Gods of Byblos. (Yehawmilk of Byblos)18)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 1, p. 221

May the god of heaven extirpate every offspring of whosoever steals this statue of mine, and curse him, extirpate his sons and offspring also of his… servants, may the gods of heaven and nether world destroy his kingship and his country. May Adad, the lord of heaven and nether world and (all) the great gods make the son and progeny of whosoever changes or erases it(s inscription), disappear from his country. (The Story of Idrimi, King of Alalakh) 19)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 98-99

            Other expressions follow closer to the passage of Revelation by specifying the curses effect more than just plagues or loss of life on an individual and their descendant, but also including eternal damnation. For example, the Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon states:

He who changes, neglects, transgresses, erases the words of this tablet, falsifies […], the… oath […], […] of this treaty tablet […]…. If you remove it, consign it to fire, throw it into water, bury it in dust, or by some trick destroy, annihilate, or turn it face down—

May Ashur, king of the gods, who determines the fates, decree for you in evil, unpropitious fate, and not grant you fatherhood, old age,… ripe old age. (The Vassal-Treaties of Esarhddon, iv.35-37)20)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 62-63

This curse from the god Ashur to an unpropitious fate, means that one cannot find forgiveness for the god evoked in this curse. In light of Revelation 22:18-19, the exclusion from the holy city would likewise indicate that the person altering the Scripture would not receive of the propitiation through Jesus Christ, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past” (Romans 3:24). The mentions of propitiation in 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10 are of immediate importance to Revelation 22 since these books were written by the same author. As the book of Revelation ends with this curse, likewise parallel concept is presented in the end of the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra. This text closes with Ezra’s prayer, “give to al who copy this book and preserve it an recall my name and preserve my memory fully, give them blessing from heaven. And bless all of his things, just as the ends of Joseph. And remember not his previous sins on the day of judgement. Those who do not believe this book will be burned like Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 7:9-13)21)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 578 Here the positive sense is presented for preserving the text accurately while copying it brings blessings and the opposite will cause burning like Sodom and Gomorrah. The Biblical allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah burning is frequently used as a reference to hell (Luke 10:12; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7).

Another inscription from the dedication of the Temple of the sun god Shamash curses the offender with a brutal death in war and the eternal fate of not being permitted entrance into the nether world.

Whoever desecrates this temple, assigns it to evil and untoward purposes, does not reinforce its foundation, does not replace what has fallen down or stops the food offerings (destined) for it, erases my name (in this inscription)—or gives orders for erasing it—, inscribes his own name not previously inscribed—or gives orders for writing it—, or prompts somebody else (to do these things) on account of the curses (inscribed here), be this man a king, or a general, or a mayor, or whoever else, Enlil who pronounces decisions for (all) the gods, should make the kingdom of this man smaller than that of all the other kings; Sin, the elder brother among the gods, his brothers, should curse him with the “Great Curse”; Nergal, the armed god, should break his weapon and not accept him (in the nether world when he appears there) slain (in battle). Ea, the master (lit.: king) of fates, should make his fate a bad one; the great lady Aja the Brid, should forever represent his case in a bad light before Shamash; Bunene, the great plenipotentiary of Shamash, should end his life, eliminate every offspring of his, so that neither descendant nor progeny of his should ever live under the sun (text: Sun god). (The Dedication of the Shamash Temple by Yahdun-Lim)22)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 96

            These curses were also specified to those who were making copies of the writings, that they would fearfully duplicate with the greatest of care to not alter the text at hand. “Written and checked against its original. A tablet of the masmasu-priest, Bel-shum-iddin, a native of Ashur. May Shamash take away him who takes (this tablet) away.” (The Assyrian King List)23)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 118 Ancient Christians understood this strictness in copying the Scripture, as Tertullian encouraged all to check their copies against the original autographs that remained extent in the churches that the apostles had sent them to. “Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.”24)Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics, chap. XXXVI; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., vol. 3, p. 260 Note how Tertullian expressed that the accuracy of the text was applied to the business of their salvation.

Such strong reverence for Scripture from a Gentile Christian speaks loudly for the way they understood the curse from Revelation 22:18-19. Generally speaking, the Gentiles had less of an emphasis for preserving their religious text than the Jews. For example, Josephus attacked the Greek’s failure to preserve the religious texts of Homer.

However, there is not any writing which the Greeks agree to be genuine among them ancienter than Homer’s Poems, who must plainly be confessed later than the siege of Troy; nay, the report goes, that even he did not leave his poems in writing, but that their memory was preserved in songs, and they were put together afterward, and that this is the reason of such a number of variations as are found in them. (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.12)25) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 938

Josephus compared this to the Jews preservation of the Scriptures. “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine[.]” (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.38)26) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 939

Evidence of the Gentile’s lack of preserving their texts is presented by David Aune, who speak of: “Ancient literature. Out of approximately 2,000 known authors in Greek and Roman antiquity, the complete works of just 136 (6.8 percent) have been preserved, together with fragments of another 127 (6.3 percent)[.]”27)David E. Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY: 2003), p. 277 However, when Christianity became overwhelmingly Gentile in its population, they began to make a strong emphasis on preserving their Scriptures and other valued religious writings. “The recycling of manuscripts was so widespread that a synodal decree of 691 C.E. forbade the destruction of manuscripts of the Scriptures and of the Fathers.”28)David E. Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY: 2003), p. 328 The Gentile culture previously had an expected protection of legal writings with capital punishment threatened upon offenders of altering man-made laws. Dio Chrystom spoke of the seriousness of such a crime.

Again, if any one chisels out only one word from any official tablet, you will put him to death without stopping to investigate what the word was or to what it referred; and if anyone should go to the building where your public records are kept and erase one jot of any law, or one single syllable of a decree of the people, you will treat this man just as you would any person who should remove a part of the Chariot. (Dio Chrystom, Discourses 31.86)29)Dio Chrysostom: Discourses 31-36 (Loeb Classical Library No. 358) (Trans. J. W. Cohoon, H. Lamar Crosby), Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA: 1940), p. 91

With these implications of man-made laws, how much greater would the Gentile Christians perceive the offense of erasing the Divine law which the Lord Jesus Christ said “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law” (Matthew 5:18).

Likewise, the Gentiles from the earliest reception of the Scripture being translated into their language are reported to have a desire to keep it uncorrupted. Josephus relates the event of when the Old Testament was translated into the Greek language upon request of Ptolemy, king of Egypt, all the elders of Israel had commended the accuracy of the translation (referred to as an “interpretation” in the quote below) and that it would continue unaltered.

The multitude did also approve of those elders that were the interpreters of the law. They withal commended Demetrius for his proposal, as the inventor of what was greatly for their happiness; and they desired that he would give leave to their rulers also to read the law. Moreover, they all, both the priest and the ancientest of the elders, and the principal men of their commonwealth, made it their request, that since the interpretation was happily finished, it might continue in the state it now was, and might not be altered. And when they all commended that determination of theirs, they enjoined, that if any one observed either any thing superfluous, or any thing omitted, that he would take a view of it again, and have it laid before them, and corrected; which was a wise action of theirs, that when the thing was judged to have been well done, it might continue for ever. (Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 12.108-109)30) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 394

Josephus next indicated how the king revered the text with the intentions to protect it. “And when the king had received these books from Demetrius, as we have said already, he adored them, and gave order that great care should be taken of them, that they might remain uncorrupted.” (Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 12.114)31) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 394 Justin Martyr offers the earliest Christian record of the historical event of the Septuagint being translated, portraying that seventy Jewish scholars had individually translated the Scripture without having contact of each other. “And when he [the king] ascertained that the seventy men had not only given the same meaning, but had employed the same words, and had failed in agreement with one another not even to the extent of one word; but had written the same things, and concerning the same things, he was struck with amazement, and believed that the translation had been written by divine power, and perceived that the men were worthy of all honour, as beloved of God[.]”32)Justin Martyr, Justin’s Hortatory Address to the Greeks, chapt. XIII; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887, Hendrickson, 1994, Vol. 1, p. 279 This has obviously been developed with a legendary exaggeration but it shows the opinion of the Gentile Christians reverence and desire for the preservation of every single word of God.

The earlier report of the translation of the Septuagint from the Letter of Aristeas expressed that it was 6 Jews from each of the twelve tribes which spent 72 days in the individual dwellings to work of their translations. When they ended their individual work, contrary to Justin Martyr’s expression, they did compare each others translations. “They set to completing their several tasks, reaching agreement among themselves on each by comparing versions.” (Letter of Aristeas 302)33)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 32 next, there completed work was presented to the Jewish elders.

As the books were read, the priests stood up, with the elders from among the translators and from the representatives of the “Community,” and with the leaders of the people, and said, “Since this version has been made rightly and reverently, and in every respect accurately, it is good that this should remain exactly so, and that there should be no revision.” There was general approval of what they said, and they commanded that a curse should be laid, as was their custom, on anyone who should alter the version by any addition or change to any part of the written text, or any deletion either. This was a good step taken, to ensure that the words were preserved completely and permanently in perpetuity. (Letter of Aristeas 310-311)34)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 33

It was also stated that when the king of Egypt received the text, “he bowed and gave orders for great care to be taken of the books and for their hallowed preservation.” (Letter of Aristeas 317)35)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 34 With the parallel wording used in reference to the Septuagint being translated with curses proclaimed on any who would alter its words, it is clear that when the apostle John wrote Revelation 22:18-19, he likely had the entirety of the Bible in mind with his warning of damnation. Furthermore, with John’s comment of the gospel being preached “to every nation, and kindred, and tongues, and people” (Revelation 14:6), John very likely expected faithful and accurate translations of God’s word to be preserved with curses standing over offenders of corrupting these translations as well. This means the very words need to be translated, not the modern dynamic equivalent method which most modern version follow.

Craig Keener, who is no adamant defender of perfect preservation, comments on Revelation 22:18-19, “Such claims of completeness or inspiration of books were often made in later times (e.g. 1 Enoch; Josephus and Epistle of Aristeas made this claim for the LXX) to uphold their authority or to secure them against later editors interpolating their own ideas—a practice common in books that were not treated as sacred Scripture or other inspired writings.”36)Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Intervarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL: 1993), p. 821 The book of 1 Enoch proclaims, “woe unto you who alter the words of truth and pervert the eternal law!” (1 Enoch 99:2)37)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 79 He calls them the “words of truth” and the “eternal law” because the author presents the Scriptures as having been inscribed in heaven on tablets that cannot be altered. “For I know this mystery; I have read the tablets of heaven and have seen the holy writings, and I have understood the writing in them; and the are inscribed concerning you.” (1 Enoch 103.2)38) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 83 This book further suggests that wicked people will intentionally alter the Scripture on earth, but godly people will seek to keep them preserved.

And now I know this mystery: For they (the sinners) shall alter the just verdict and many sinners will take it to heart; they will speak evil words and lie, and they will invent fictitious stories and write out my Scriptures on the basis of their own words. And would that they had written down all the words truthfully on the basis of their own speech, and neither alter nor take away from my words, all of which I testify to them from the beginning! Again know another mystery!: that to the righteous and the wise shall be given the Scriptures of joy, for truth and great wisdom. So to them shall be given the Scriptures and they shall believe them and be glad in them; and all the righteous ones who learn from them the ways of truth shall rejoice. (1 Enoch 104.10-13)39)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 85-86

This is reminiscent of what David Sorenson has addressed on the topic of preservation, that those who alter God’s words (as 1 Enoch says), “speak evil words and lie[.]” Sorenson says, “Adding (or removing) words from the sacred text is the epitome of deception. To pass off a text as the word of God, when in fact human hands have tampered therewith, is nothing more than lying…. It is a serious thing to tamper with the words of God.”40)David H. Sorenson, God’s Perfect Book: The Inspiration, Preservation, and Alteration of the Bible, Northstar Ministriies (Duluth, MN: 2009), p. 90-91

Similarly, Josephus spoke of the Essene sect, which have preserved the texts discovered as the Dead Sea scrolls, that to join their group they took oaths to preserve their writings. “They also take great pains in studying the writings of the ancients… and will equally preserve the books belonging to their sect[.]” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.136, 142)41) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 737-738 Another interesting account Josephus shares that reveals the Jews fervor to preserve the Scripture, reports that the Torah scrolls were in possession of common villagers and when a Roman soldier destroyed it, the whole nation was ready to take up arms.

Upon this Cureanus sent men to go round about to the neighboring villages, and to bring their inhabitants to him bound, as laying it to their charge that they had not pursued after the thieves, and caught them. Now here it was that a certain soldier, finding the sacred book of the law, tore it to pieces, and threw it into the fire. Hereupon the Jews were in great disorder, as if their whole country were in a flame, and assembled themselves so many of them by their zeal for their religion, as by an engine, and ran together with united clamor to Cesarea, to Cumanus, and made supplication to him that he would not overlook this man, who had offered such an affront to God, and to his law; but punish him for what he had done. Accordingly, he, perceiving that the multitude would not be quiet unless they had a comfortable answer from him, gave order that the soldier should be brought, and drawn through those that required to have him punished, to execution, which being done, the Jews went their ways. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.229-231)42)The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 744-745

This intriguing passage expresses the zeal of the Jewish people to guard God’s word from any damage or corruption, and the fact that they demanded capital punishment on anyone who would do harm to a single copy of the Scripture. Clearly the Jewish people received this impression of punishment on such an offender from the Bible itself.

In the Slavonic version of 3 Baruch a clear expression of judgment upon the prophet himself if he would omit or add to the revelation given him. An angel sent from God to show the mysteries of God begins by saying:

“Only tell me that you will neither add nor omit (anything), and I will show you mysteries which no man has ever seen”

And I Baruch said to the angel, “As the Lord God lives, if you will show me, I will listen; I will not subtract nor will I add one word. If I do omit (anything), then maty the Lord pass judgement upon me on the Day of Judgment.” (3 Baruch 1:6-7) 43)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 662

There definitely was an expect damnation on Judgment Day for a prophet that would alter God’s word.

In this day and age of prominent Christian scholars promoting multitudes of Bible versions and practicing textual criticism, it may seem extreme to many reading this article that altering the Scripture comes with a judgement of eternal damnation. Indeed, this is an uncomfortable and undesirable conclusion. However, in light of the cultural context and the literal meaning of Revelation 22:18-19, no other conclusion is possible without twisting the Scripture which Peter warns about bringing to oneself destruction (2 Peter 3:16). It appears the Bible itself places the altering of the Scripture in the same unforgivable category of sin as blaspheme of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10).

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