Adding & Subtracting

By Royce Frederick

Learning to add and subtract are important steps in education. The student who masters these fundamental skills will find them helpful in other studies, in employment, and in daily life. The Bible also teaches us some very important spiritual lessons about adding and subtracting.


There are many kinds of behaviour which we must subtract from our life in order to please God. We must take away “...fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). “But now you must also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Col. 3:8; see Jas. 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

However, this subtracting does not mean the Christian life is empty. With God’s help, we must fill our life with good attitudes and actions. The apostle Peter tells Christians to add to your faith” virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7; see Gal. 5:22-23). And the apostle Paul tells us, “...put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col. 3:12). When we continue adding good attitudes and good actions to our life, we experience the abundant life which Jesus wants us to enjoy (see Jn. 10:10; 6:63, 35; Phil. 4:4-8).

What if we make mistakes in our adding and subtracting? John assures all Christians who sin, yet continue trying to please God: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin....If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7, 9).

With the help of God, we must continue adding to our knowledge of God’s will and our ability to do it (2 Peter 3:18; Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9-10; Heb. 5:12-14).


In the Old and New Testaments, the Bible provides numerous warnings and statements which teach us not to add to God’s word nor subtract from it.

The prophet Balaam said: “...Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more(Num. 22:18). Balaam spoke God’s prophecies accurately, but he later committed a great wickedness against Israel and God, and he was destroyed (Num. 25:1-3; 31:16; Rev. 2:14).

Moses, prophet of God and leader of Israel, commanded the people, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Dt. 4:2). We must be faithful to God’s word in our doctrine (teaching) and in our actions. Moses said, “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess” (Dt. 4:5).

If you wrote an important letter and someone changed it without your permission, would you be happy? About 519 B.C., King Darius of the Medo-Persian Empire issued an edict which contained this warning: “Also I issue a decree that whoever alters this edict, let a timber be pulled from his house and erected, and let him be hanged on it; and let his house be made a refuse heap because of this” (Ezra 6:11). God has similar feelings about people who presume to change His message: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).

Through Agur, God explains why we should not change His word. Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar” (Pr. 30:5-6). We should not change God’s word because:

(1) God's word is pure. There is not any impurity in it that needs to be removed by us. “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6). God used human writers to give us the Bible, but He chose each word: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches...” (1 Cor. 2:13). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

(2) God is completely trustworthy. He knows all truth, He never lies, and He is able to do everything He says He will do. We trust God when we trust what He has said in His written word, the Bible: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

(3) Man is not trustworthy for spiritual truth. No man or group of men has the power to take us to heaven. Therefore, teachings produced by mere men should be rejected. “...Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar...” (Rom. 3:4). We need to be like the Jews in Berea: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

(4) The reproof and anger of God will be upon anyone who changes His message (Gal. 1:6-10; Rev. 22:18-19).

Moses also spoke of blessings for the faithful. “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Dt. 4:6). God’s commandments for Israel were designed to bless their lives (Dt. 5:29; 6:24; 10:12-13; 29:9). The same is true of His New Testament commandments for people of all nations today. Those who faithfully obey Him will be blessed now and forever (1 Tim. 4:8; Matt. 6:33; Mk. 10:29-30; Phil. 4:4-7; Eph. 1:3; Rom. 12:2).

Regarding people changing His message, God has the same attitude about the gospel of Christ as He had about the law of Moses. Paul wrote, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-10).

In worship, God wants us to follow His instructions, not the ideas of men. Old Testament Israel was commanded not to adopt the worship practices of other people (Dt. 12:29-31). “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Dt. 12:32). “So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them” (Dt. 28:14). Nadab and Abihu did not worship God in the manner He had commanded (Lev. 10:1). “So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:2). God does not always punish sin immediately, but He punished these two men as an example for us (see 1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). After the end of the world, God will punish all unforgiven sins (Eccl. 12:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:10; see Rom. 6:3, 23; 8:1).

Today, the New Testament reveals the way God wants Christians to worship Him. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). Our heart must be sincere, and our doctrines must be from God. The New Testament teaches us to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week and give cheerfully to support the work of the church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20; 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7; Phil 4:15-17; 1 Cor. 9:6-14; Gal. 6:6-10). It teaches us to sing songs which teach one another, and songs which praise God (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:6; Heb. 13:15). It teaches us to pray together (Acts 2:42; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Cor. 14:15-16; 1 Tim. 2:1-2, 8). And it teaches us to preach and teach God’s word (Acts 11:26; 13:1; 20:7-11, 27-28, 32; 1 Tim. 2:11-12; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).

Love for God should motivate every Christian to worship Him His way. Why would any sincere Christian want to worship God in a way that He has not approved in His New Testament? When we sincerely worship Him in the way He revealed in the New Testament, we know without a doubt that our worship pleases Him.

However, if we add other kinds of worship, we depart from His word. The New Testament does not teach us to worship by burning incense, lighting candles in front of images, counting prayer beads, playing musical instruments, dancing, or offering animal sacrifices. When we worship in ways which He did not reveal in His New Testament, we quit pleasing God and begin pleasing ourselves or other people (see Gal. 1:10; Jn. 12:43; 1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1). Jesus said of some people, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). Our fellowship with God depends on our faithfulness to His word. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn. 9).

We need to go back to the Bible. We need to test every doctrine by comparing it to God’s teaching in the Bible. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Every Christian must: “...contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul told Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). And we must also train men to continue teaching God’s word to others: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Christ began revealing His will for us during His work on earth. Then, before He returned to heaven, He promised to finish revealing His will through His disciples: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (Jn. 16:12-13). Christ kept that promise and finished revealing His will before the end of the first century A.D. Peter wrote: “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Since “all things” (all truths that we need for life and godliness) were given in the first century, God did not hold back any of His doctrines to be revealed in later centuries. All doctrines which men or councils have produced since the first century are not doctrines of God.

We will be judged by the words of Christ, not by the words of men. Jesus said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (Jn. 12:48-49; see Jn. 8:40; Dt. 18:18-19).

Since Christ was so careful to accurately teach God’s will, who on earth has the right to teach a doctrine which cannot be found in the Bible?


When Jesus died on the cross, God took away the old law which He had given to Israel by Moses: “...And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). He replaced it with the will of Christ, which is revealed in the New Testament (Heb. 10:9; 9:15-17; Gal. 3:24-25).

God takes away sin, but not by the blood of animal sacrifices. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Instead, God sent His sinless Son to take our place and suffer the death penalty for our sins. John said of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). Jesus “...was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin” (1 Jn. 3:5). A sinner who has heard the gospel, believed it, repented of his sins, and confessed his faith in Jesus Christ is saved by faith when he is baptized in water for the remission of his sins (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:36-39; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

God adds the saved people to the church of Christ. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). “...And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47; see 5:14; 11:24; Matt. 16:18; Rom. 16:16).

However, God will take away Christians who refuse to bear the fruits of righteousness, unless they repent. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn. 15:2; see Matt. 22:13-14; 25:28-30). When Christ (the “Son of Man”) returns, “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father...” (Matt. 13:41-43).

If we remain faithful, great blessings await us in heaven, and God will supply all the things we need in this life. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).