Can We Add or Take Away from What is Written in the Bible? – Part 1

When an employer or instructor gives specific details to be followed by command or presentation, their ideals and the specifics thereof are expected to be kept with no additions or subtractions. One may show them a better way, but with God this is not the case. This principle is held to by many Christians concerning God’s written instructions and the examples that He gives in keeping these instructions. This principle is some times called the “Law of Silence”, the “Law of Exclusion”, or “Specifics Exclude” being that the specific commands of God exclude alternatives and additions. This principle is used by some to exclude certain religious practices that Scriptures are silent about while also being specific in instruction. Let’s refer to this as the principle of exclusion. Many Christians being Biblically illiterate would be surprised to know what the Bible is silent about and even more important that the Bible is not silent about, but very specific. See, this principle of exclusion is the idea that though the Bible does not explicitly say that some things are wrong, these things are still wrong being excluded by what is specifically written. It is the object of this article to put to test this “law of exclusion” that forbids many man-made religious practices.

Where did they get this idea from? Did Jesus, the Apostles, and prophets use this principle? Is this principle a Scriptural one? Do the specifics of the Scriptures exclude and condemn certain religious practices? Let’s progress in testing this “Law of Exclusion” by addressing some specific religious practices that have been excluded.

Let’s first consider the practice of polygamy. Polygamy is condemned by most believers, but the Scriptures do not explicitly condemn polygamy (a man having more than one wife), such a practice is greatly condemned by most Christians. Why? Let’s examine the practice of polygamy and see why it is condemned. Should polygamy be condemned as a sin? In doing this, the questions asked above will be answered on the subject of the principle of exclusion.

Polygamy existed without condemnation in the Old Testament Scriptures though opposed by the specifics of God’s instruction from Genesis. Lamech is the first in Scripture to have taken more than one wife (Gen. 4:19). Abram’s wife Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a wife (Gen. 16:1-3), and it is by Abraham, a polygamist, that all the nations are blessed by faith in Christ. Jacob was blessed for taking two wives and two concubines. Then from Jacob to Gideon to David, these men had two or more wives, and they were righteous in the eyes of God. What is wrong with a Christian man having more than one wife? The New Testament Scriptures do not forbid it and Christians are the offspring of Abraham. Why do most believers in Christ believe that it is a sin for a Christian man to have more than one wife? Christians read God’s ideal for marriage from Christ and they read of God’s ideal for marriage in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and conclude that polygamy would alter that ideal. Are they right to think that polygamy is wrong for altering God’s ideal for marriage?

It is true that polygamy does go against God’s ideal for marriage since the very beginning. Even though God did allow polygamy in the Patriarchal and Mosaical ages, God’s ideal for marriage is that,

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5, Eph. 5:31).

In Matthew 19, Jesus used Genesis 2:24 to teach not to go beyond what is written concerning marriage. He used what is written to exclude divorce for any reason other than fornication. Jesus clarified that Moses for the hardness of heart of the Israelites suffered them to put away their wives, “but from the beginning it has not been so” (Matt. 19:8). Jesus affirmed His and God’s ideal for marriage is one man and one woman for life by quoting Genesis 2:24, and therefore Jesus showed that God’s written ideal excludes divorce in saying “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). In fact, Jesus taught that those who divorce for any other reason than sexual immorality were committing adultery in marrying another (19:9). By God’s ideal for marriage, the practice of polygamy is also excluded being that marriage is for a man and a woman. Polygamy is thus condemned along with other alterations to God’s ideal for marriage.

This principle of excluding practices contrary to the specifics of God’s ideals is a Scriptural principle. Evidently, Jesus showed that there is a principle of exclusion in using Scripture. If you exclude the existence of a principle for excluding practices contrary to the specifics of God’s ideal, because you believe it is not in the Scriptures, then you exclude the prciniple of exclusion by the principle of exclusion. A truly contradictory stance. By denying God’s written ideals excluding alterations, then you must accept polygamy, divorce for any reason, homosexual marriage, all alterations to marriage, and therefore deny the words of Christ and the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures.

Many are confused because of the inconsistency and because of the misrepresentations of the principle of exclusion. It is by the usual reference to the principle as “silence forbids” that the principle is discarded, but it is even tragic when this phrase “silence forbids” is built upon and maintained by good brethren. Now, does silence exclude? Is there a law of silence that excludes?

Some would say that the silence concerning God’s ideal for marriage in Genesis 2:24 does exclude. At the same time, the Scriptures are silent about couples praying together. Silence if it does exclude does not exclude here. In actuality, there is a principle of exclusion, but silence does not in itself exclude. There are numerous practices that the Scriptures are silent about, but Jesus showed that it is what is specifically written that excludes when He made the case of God’s ideal for marriage excluding alterations. Here is the principle of exclusion simply stated: written specifics of God’s ideals exclude. The written specifics of God’s ideals in Scripture exclude all alterations. In other words, a positive statement declaring God’s Will excludes all changes to it. Let’s see from the Scriptures how this law of exclusion is proven further.

It is by this principle that when God’s ideals are written, then all adding and taking away from such is a sin and receives cursing. This principle of not going beyond what is written is found throughout the Scriptures in such passages like Galatians 1:6-12, 3:15, Proverb 30:5-6, Revelation 22:18-19, and 2 John 9. Second John 9 states,

“Whosoever goes onward and abides not in the teaching of Christ, has not God: he that abides in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son.”

Why is this wrong? Because this is the adding to God’s ideals for His people. Even if these Scriptures did not exist, all alterations made to God’s ideals are wrong. With the reliance on the Scriptures alone for one to be complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), it makes sense that the Spirit’s revelation in Scripture presents God’s ideals for any and all matters of beliefs and practices, so that all additions and subtractions are wrong and such would be quenching the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19).

The principle of exclusion is an old principle that has been misunderstood as “silence excludes” being the “law of silence”. This erring title “silence forbids” is often propted up as a strawman by critics. Those who teach that silence exclude usually if not every time explain that silence excludes when God has specified.

Let’s go to this principle the way that the Scripture presents it. We must “learn not to go beyond the things which are written” as is stated in 1 Corinthians 4:6. This passage does not say “learn not to go beyond the things which are not written (silence)”. It is “the things which are written (specifics)” that exclude. The Scriptures are silent and do not authorize cars, computers, and projectors; but these things are not excluded. Why? There are no specifics in God’s word excluding them. One might add that silence only excludes regarding specifics, and authorization is needed within given specific instructions. This is correct and fair, but a slightly over complication of the simple truth that what is specifically written excludes. Why not just say, “The specifics of God’s ideals exclude”, or say concisely, “specifics exclude”? Then even better just say, we are “not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

It takes a very arrogant or ignorant person to add or subtract from God’s ideals presented in Scripture.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]
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17 Responses to Can We Add or Take Away from What is Written in the Bible? – Part 1

  1. Truth says:

    Randy said: Logic would follow that some are closer than others to what the Word teaches.

    Reply: I agree. Let me put it this way, I wouldn’t claim of any single church or denomination as being the closest in being more right than all others.

    Randy said: From my study, I believe the church of Christ to be closer.

    Reply: I understand what you are saying, and their are many, many others who attend other churches who feel their church is the closest.

    Randy said: We all were saved by Jesus, with imperfect knowledge of doctrine, imperfect understanding of the entire bible. Jesus accepted us on those terms, so maybe, it’s a good idea that I accept you and others as he accepted me.

    Reply: Thank you.

    I don’t want to hog Scott’s blog either so I will leave this with some Scripture.

    Matthew 18:1-6
    “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    1 Corinthians 1:18-31
    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption– that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

    When Jesus spoke to them about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, notice He could have said He would, but He didn’t.


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