Your Friday Firestorm #28

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.

(Revelation 22: 18-19)

Discuss.

Comments

  1. Good firestorm, I guess. Scary video, though.

    So, just to provoke discussion: the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants certainly don’t activate the curse you’ve quoted, since they’re different books. The Joseph Smith translation of the Book of Revelations does seem to activate the curse, though?

  2. JNS,

    Nah,

    Revelations has been translated numerous times down thru the ages. JS simply clarified (although in my view not enough)

  3. When I first joined the Church, a concerned Baptist minister read me that scripture. At the time I didn’t have an answer for it. Later, when I did learn the answer, it ticked me off– I felt like the guy was trying to play me.

    The chick in the video, what a peach.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    The common countercultist tradition of seeing this passage as a death knell to the BoM relies on an embarrassingly anachronistic understanding of what is being referred to by “this book.” (Hint: it’s not the Bible.) For some basic background, see this post.

    JNS raises a more interesting question vis-a-vis the JST. If the JST were simply restoring the original text, as your average Saint might assume, it would seem not to be tripping over the imprecation of the curse. But, common Mormon assumptions notwithstanding, it’s unlikely that that is all that’s going on in the JST.

    Some of the JST might be “translation” in the sense of providing alternate English language; that too seems like it should not trip the curse.

    What is more interesting is the midrashic, targumic practice of commenting on the text within the text itself. Certainly there have been many commentaries on the Apocalypse (do these trip the curse?); what is different about the JST is that the commentary is brought right into the text, the way a Jewish sage of the time might have done it.

    The JST rarely takes anything away, but does it add to the text in a way that trips the curse?

  5. Kev: Since my options are this or talking about Iowa, I’d say the real question under the Curse Question is whether God or Joseph Smith added and took away, etc etc.

  6. Last Lemming says:

    The Book of Mormon might not be off the hook, even if the “book” is only Revelation. Nephi’s vision beginning in 1 Nephi 10 is clearly linked to Revelation in 1 Nephi 14:18-30. Of course, in the Mormon framework it was John adding in ~100AD to what Nephi wrote in ~600BC, which wouldn’t trigger any curse. But in the non-Mormon framework, it is Joseph Smith adding in 1827 to what John wrote in ~100AD.

  7. .. Later, when I did learn the answer, it ticked me off– I felt like the guy was trying to play me.

    Can you elaborate? I don’t know the answer.

  8. bbell, well, if Joseph Smith were merely translating, you’re right. But Smith’s translation did involve commentary and so forth that almost certainly wasn’t the original text, as Kevin points out.

    Matt W., interesting point. I’m not sure, really, if God telling Joseph Smith to do it helps. The curse doesn’t have an exception for motive, and Joseph Smith voiced the actual expansions. Although his scribes might be on the hook, as well, since they’re the people who actually physically added his words to the text?

    Last Lemming, I’d note that in a lot of Mormon frameworks, we still have Joseph Smith adding a lot of specifically religious content in 1827 — for example, in Blake Ostler’s expansion theory.

    To be clear, I don’t think this is a real issue — mainly because I don’t think the curse is operative. I just think this is a more interesting vein in which to think about this passage than the typical modern-revelation-is-evil stuff.

  9. What has surprised me most about this flagrantly anachronistic proof-texting defense of the Protestant canon (itself only one of several) is the extent to which it was invoked in the 1830s. I figured somehow that it was a problem that Smith and company didn’t have to deal with directly, a problem left to us in the twentieth century. In point of fact, antebellum Protestants were invoking this criticism from the 1830s on, and the earliest LDS answered correctly that John (or the author of John’s Apocalypse) did not have in mind the Protestant canon when he wrote those lines meant to prevent modification of the Apocalypse itself.

    Tracy, in the literal reading of what I find a silly evangelical proof-text criticism, the Protestants are in as much danger as anyone they’re attacking. By trying to read this warning as a canon-wide warning, they imply that their frankly late canon was present with John, which is manifestly false. Given this, though, their canon represents exactly the sin they accuse Joseph Smith of.

    To take them at their word, they either have to maintain that the Protestant Bible was something John held in his hand OR the only valid book of the Bible is the Apocalypse of John (this is what pretentious people call “Revelation(s)”), and the rest are illegitimate. Neither is sustainable. Which leaves them with an unscriptural dogma related to the validity of their canon. This is fine, but it ought not to be confused with a textually valid argument.

  10. Nothing more than an ancient version of the copyright notice.

    The curses are bad, but not as bad as having to defend copyright litigation.

  11. Tracy, this scripture is oft-quoted by evangelicals and anti-mormons to show that the Book of Mormon, D&C and PGP are anti-Biblical, because they are scriptural additions the Bible. This argument fails for many reasons, chief among them that the additional scriptures do not add to or take away from “this book,” i.e. the Book of Revelations. At the time St. John was having his visions and writing them, there was no Bible per se; his references to “this book” are most likely referring to the transcription of his own vision. This is something obvious to any preacher, and so those who advance this argument are largely seen as disingenuous.

  12. JNS and KB, yours is a much more interesting line than the traditional one.

    The question is what to do with midrash and re-appropriation? Was the Gospel authors’ appropriation of the OT as Christology the kind of divinely inspired re-writing of scripture that God would sanction? I suspect most LDS would answer yes, and most Protestants are stuck answering yes given their beliefs about the NT canon. Then you have to parse the fine line between NT appropriation of OT scripture and JSJ’s appropriation of NT scripture.

    It really comes down to a more fundamental and metatextual question of whether a canon can remain open and whether God speaks serially/continuously or merely anciently.

    But framing the question as “can God still speak today?” clearly gives the LDS the advantage, as it takes a strong invocation of tradition and Biblicism to overcome the intuitive sense of many Americans that “yes, God could still speak today.” Hence it’s easier to advance a time-worn proof-text that’s neither proof nor text (in the sense intended).

    I think the most inspiring invocation of this idea is by Hugh B. Brown in his “Profile of a Prophet.” A rousing speech indeed.

  13. One time on my mission I was teaching someone and they were starting to understand the message and it scared them, because I think that they hadn’t thought they would at first. In any event they trotted out this scripture and asked for clarification. I asked them what they thought it meant. They cast their eyes down and said that it only applied to the Book of Revelation. They eventually found some excuse they could live with and asked us not to come by again.

    I’ve always taken this passage to mean the same thing that Christ said in 3 Ne 11:40

    And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

    I think that the intent is that you are accursed if you add to or take away from the doctrine of Christ. How do you do that? You mingle scripture with the philosophies of men, or make uninspired alterations to fit your agenda. Critics of the church would likely welcome this assessment and point to the Book of Mormon as an example. Oddly enough, most people who criticize the Book of Mormon have never studied it with an honest heart, sometimes because of the Revelation passage above.

  14. smb, you’ve got me teary-eyed thinking of that speech! That cassette got worn down on my mission. Oratory like that is sorely needed today.

  15. David Koresh knows full well the consequences of messing with the Book of Revelation. I would argue that he tripped the curse. :-)

  16. smb, there is a conceivable distinction between NT authors who quoted OT texts in ways that are arguably at odds with original intention and JS’s revisions that actually writes such reinterpretations into the text. That is, it seems that texts like Nephi’s vision that invoke existing material while recontextualizing it are more analogous to the NT authors’ use of OT material than the NT revisions were.

  17. I listened to that speech maybe 14 times on my mission. I bought the CD when I came home and I have ripped it, and it is on my iPod. I find solace in the words there and wish that I could have seen him speak live. HBB was an amazing orator. One day I hope to emulate his passion and skills.

  18. Over the last 2,000 years there have apparently been a whole lot of folk who have been cursed for their handling of the book.

  19. JNS, I agree, one can draw a distinction, and certainly evangelicals do. The question is whether it’s a meaningful one. What does it mean to affirm a canon (say by not rewriting an actual text) while modifying it by a new canonical authority as opposed to modifying a canon by rewriting an actual text? One purports to support a canon while violating it, while the other says the only meaningful canon is the ongoing prophetic voice.

  20. This reminds me. Does anyone have video footage of HBB speaking? Speaking of copyright violations, it would be great to circulate video of some of his speeches.

  21. Copyrights and Digital Rights Management in ancient scrolls! The RIAA and Microsoft’s legal departments must have read the bible somewhere along the line! There’s the real curse for you.

    Actually sounds more like an “I triple-dog-dare you”.

  22. The most egregious sin WRT Revelation is its consistent misappropriation as a soap opera of the End of the World.

  23. Ironically, at least one scholar has speculated that the curse at the end or Revelations was actually added by a later copyist who was frustrated by the extent to which other early Christians copyists modified or adapted scriptural texts to their own liking.

    I’m referring to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, but unfortunately I don’t have a copy at hand. I may be misquoting Ehrman . . . (I recognize that Ehrman may have his own agenda here–he seems to think that alterations to the NT books were substantial in the first few centuries A.D., before professional scribes took over.)

  24. RE: my #23–

    Alright, I found the Ehrman text I was referring to. It turns out that Ehrman does not specifically speculate that it was a later copyist who added the curse language–he speculates that it was the “author” (who Ehrman doubts was really John).

    Nonetheless, it seems possible that the curse may not have been part of the original text. It could have been one of the “midrashic, targumic” comments that Kevin describes in #4.

  25. I always took that verse to entail punishment on the apostates in early Christianity who corrupted the Bible. Darn them, removing and adding to it.

  26. #s 18 and 22:
    People who misappropriate the text in the fashion Ronan has described are now in the process of reaping the punishments concomitant with the threatened curse: the haunting specter of two consecutive US Presidents, the chief qualifications of which are conservative Protestantism (i.e. they misread “this Book” in exactly the same way) and, respectively, applying biblical inerrancy to one’s gut instincts and losing copious amounts of weight.

    [Did he really just manage to bring Iowa into this firestorm? Oh no he didn.t...!!!]

  27. Oh snap Brad!

  28. Seriously, though. Without going partisan or even explicitly political on this, it seems fairly obvious that the more seriously people take the kinds of mishandlings and misreadings of John’s Apocalypse tn and Ronan are talking about, the more disastrous will be the consequences, especially to the degree that said misreaders are positioned to influence the starting and conducting of wars, rumors of wars, to say nothing of environmental policy.

  29. Brad,
    Music to my ears, sir. John’s vision is about the classic Christian struggle against evil; its political backdrop is Rome; its symbols are, er, symbolic. This is not to say that it has nothing to say about our time, or any time for that matter. But it has become Armageddon porn in the hands of fundamentalists.

  30. Ronan,
    Masterfully put. You need to trademark “Armageddon porn” immediately. My kidneys hurt from laughing, but it wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t so true.

  31. Armageddon Porn. Genius, and spot-on. Anyone who has read or been subject to any of the Left Behind products knows the import of Ronan’s newly-minted term.

  32. I would greatly desire to have the audio for Hugh B. Brown in his “Profile of a Prophet.” Can anyone lead me, guide me, and/or walk beside me in helping me find it?

  33. here is the text, and here is the audio.

  34. smb #19, I think I’ve failed to communicate clearly. One needn’t have a concept of a canon at all to distinguish between appropriations of a text that reimagine its meaning while leaving the text intact, and those appropriations that involve rewriting the text. Christians in all ages have certainly done both, as have people in other traditions and outside of religion altogether. It seems hard to imagine the quoted curse applying to people who reimagine the meaning of John’s Revelation without changing its text, though, while it seems to be intended to apply to all those who appropriate the text by changing it.

    Ronan, very good indeed. Signs of the times? Hooey!

  35. I found the text on that site, but lacked the fortitude to press on to see if there was audio. I built my search on the sand, and the rains came tumbling down. Thanks for extending the hand of fellowship my way, Steve Evans.

  36. Where would I find the text for Profine of a Prophet that all seem so fond of?

    And thanks, smb and Steve for filling me in on my previous question.

  37. Answer posted while I was reading and posting- sorry.

  38. JNS: I was just strongly contextualizing the claim. In general terms, you are quite correct. In the specific case of evangelicals vs. prophetic dissidents, I’m less impressed by the relevance of the difference.

    Can one of you technical types maybe create a video of the prophet profile based on pictures of HBB and the audio stream? That would be nice.

  39. and RJH deserves many congratulations for the simple elegance of the phrase “Armaggedon porn.”

    Does this imply that one ought not to read Cleon Skouzen (or similar) documents alone or in a dark room? I suggest possibly yes.

  40. JNS,

    Revelation may indeed contain signs of the times, but it’s too often read as the articles of faith of a Christian death cult. I am reminded of something J. Stapley once wrote here at BCC: why-oh-why do people imagine that the Earth’s “cleansing by fire” — a rather clear allusion to the Comforter — equals nuclear apocalypse? Ours is a gospel of peace and hope (a very Hinckley-esque theme) and we need not imagine that a 1st century CE revelation has doomed us to death and destruction. I believe the world can move peacefully into the millennium if we so desire. Of course, nuclear/environmental apocalypse is eminently possible, but it is not our unavoidable fate. It’s this nasty fatalism that abuses John’s revelation so egregiously.

  41. Ah, the Zen of Skou. I had waited so long for enlightenment, and here on the fourth day of 2008 I have achieved it!

  42. Wow. Wow. That speech is AMAZING.

  43. smb #38, I think we’ve been talking at cross-purposes to each other. I agree that evangelical claims against people who want to write new revelations are totally unaffected by the verse quoted at the start of this firestorm. Largely, this is because I don’t think the quote reflects God’s will at all, but was rather just a sort of standard relic of its time and culture.

    However, if we imagine things from the point of view of the author of the quote, it does seem to me that Joseph Smith’s prophetic interpolations into the text of Revelations are probably more or less the kind of thing that was meant to be discouraged.

    I should note that most of the Joseph Smith revision changes to the text of Revelations aren’t particularly substantive. “Angel” changed to “servant,” conflicting images combined, that sort of thing. The major exception, and the chapter probably most worth thinking about in the present context, is Revelation 12.

  44. I remember engaging a born-again high school classmate in a debate about the Bible, and its alleged inerrancy. He defended his position by citing this scripture. I didn’t know it at the time, but his argument was the very definition of “begging the question.” Since the misuse of that phrase has become one of my biggest pet peeves, I now cite that argument in all explanations of the proper use of “begging the question.”

  45. articles of faith of a Christian death cult.

    Ronan’s on a roll. I love it, man!

  46. On my mission, I was shown this scripture, Deut 4:2 and then told a story by my DL (who I discovered later was a wonderful purveyor of mormon folkore) about another elder. This other elder was a body builder/exceptionally strong and had a run-in with a JW. The JW showed him the verse in Revelations. The elder tried to discuss it intelligently. The JW insisted, “but this verse in Revelations.” The elder, “Fine. There’s this verse in Deut 4:2, so everything you’ve got after it is an addition.” He then ripped the bible into two pieces and handed back the OT from Genesis to Deut 4.

    I doubt it actually happened, but it was certainly amusing to think of back then.

  47. Hugh B. Brown. What a guy. Ripping up scriptures.

  48. So what does the video of the girl blowing up the water bottle have to do with the book of Revelation, or as some seem to prefer, Revelations?

  49. Mark B., she ALSO rips up a phone book and crushes a can of soda!

  50. While we’re on the subject of clever, trademarkable catch-phrases in the tradition of “Armageddon porn,” I have to give major props to DKL’s “Bible-vomiting evangelicals.”

  51. Mephibosheth says:

    I heard this scripture so many times on my mission I have about 20 explanations for it written in the margins of that page in my Bible. Several have already been mentioned here, but I found that the most effective one was to say, “The answer to that question is in Matthew 17:21″ or any of the other dozen or so scriptures that are missing in the NIV or New World Translations due to their absence in the earliest manuscripts.

    The look on peoples’ faces was priceless as they flipped to a certain scripture in their Bible only to find that the verse has been replaced by a “–” or that the numbers skip from 20 to 22. They’re usually a little more open to discussion about “adding to” scripture when their own church has so blatantly “taken away.”

  52. Mephibosheth, it isn’t that simple — most of those verses are removed because they are lacking in many old manuscripts and are therefore suspected of being late additions to the text. Calling out other religions for this ends up being a bit deceptive, although obviously unintentionally so.

  53. Mephibosheth says:

    I knew that, that’s kind of why I mentioned “their absence in the earliest manuscripts”. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate that the idea of adding-to or taking-away is a lot more nuanced than your average JW or evangelical may think.

    In my experience the other explanations just aren’t as compelling. You can quote Deut. 4:2, cite chronological authorship, and talk about Bible history until you’re blue in the face, but the discussion goes nowhere.

  54. Another technique I was taught by an older missionary was that, when a Bible-bash-hungry Jehovah’s Witness inevitably trotted out the “add or take away” scripture from Revelation, you asked to borrow his JW Bible, flipped to the inside cover, and pointed to the JW’s Bible chronology that was printed there. It showed John writing Revelation first, then later “adding” his own Gospel.

    (Whether their chronology is accurate or not, I haven’t the foggiest idea…)

    Then one of us would snap our fingers in a “Z” shape, and the other one would say “Oh, SNAP.”

    Just kidding.

  55. OK, I’m late to this discussion, but I just have to add my awe. “Armageddon Porn” and “Christian death cult” in one thread. I bow in humble deference.

    On top of that, #40 is about the most concise and well-phrased summary of that interpretation I have ever read.

    I am done fawning.

    My first response always has been the New Testament chronology. Next is a simple question about the missing books and prophecies mentioned in the Bible – if these people would reject them if found or if they would allow them to be added to the Bible that obviously classifies them as inspired scripture. That usually does the trick, but some evangelicals just don’t get it.

  56. #31: Amen, brother.

    Out of curiosity, when do we think the earliest Bible, as the generally recognized collection everyone recognizes today, was collated into one work?
    Was it the King James Version, or earlier?

  57. Martin Luther hated the Book of Revelations and considered it to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and stated that “Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” He also had great disdain for the Book of James because it contradicted the doctrine of “Sola Fide” or justification by faith alone. He is quoted as saying, “At the University of Wittenburg, we fire our stoves with the epistle of James.”

    It is ironic that fundamentalist Christians universally use this scripture in Revelations to condemn Mormonism for allegedly adding unto the closed cannon but that the father of Protestantism gets a free pass for blatantly taking away from it.

  58. kurt, you just reminded me of a “discussion” with a couple of Calvinists (grad students) on another blog. They tossed out the Revelations verse and claimed absolute infallibility, then, in a different discussion of grace and works/fruits, they quoted Luther to dispute the verses from James that I quoted. It was as hilarious as it was frustrating, especially when they tried to move on to another topic without addressing their hypocrisy.

    I always am amazed by how obvious these things are to my children but how complicated they are to Doctors of Theology and Comparative Religion.

  59. Kevin Barney says:

    FHL, the canon as we know it today is usually dated to a letter written by Athanasius in AD 367.

  60. No one could ever accuse Calvinists of being consistent. Unlike Luther, Calvin was OK with Revelations though.

    When a fundamentalists (after Huckabee’s win in Iowa, do you think it’s OK if I just call them Christian hillbillies?) friend in medical school once confronted me with Revelations 22:18-19, I told him, “I may well be going to Hell, but it won’t be because of this scripture.”

  61. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil,

    Sounds like 3 Nephi is attacking unwritten rules… :)

  62. Seems as though Nephi and John and Paul were all zealous of protecting a pure gospel from those who would seek to deliberately distort it by adding and/or eliminating fundamental beliefs.

    If Joseph Smith restored the purity of the original gospel then nothing in fact was appended or removed from the old or new testaments.

  63. kurt #57,

    I would like to see a reference to those Martin Luther quotes. It would be helpful in further discussions I have with other creedal christians and evangelicals.

    I usually use the chronological appearance of the books of the canon as my primary rebuttal to this claim and have on occasion spoken about how the Father will do nothing lest he reveil it to his servants, the prophets and ask which prophet selected the canon.

  64. Richard #63,

    I found the quotes above while preparing my Gospel Doctrine classes last year. I’m pretty sure I found the quotes about Revelations on Wikipedia under Revelations. You should be able to find all of them in Luther’s Table Talks.

    I found the following quotes at a Quotes From Luther site.

    I maintain that some Jew wrote it [the Book of James] who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any.”

    “We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [the University of Wittenberg]….”

    “I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kulenberg did.”

    http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9336.htm

  65. Armageddon Porn. I love it. Ronan, you are today’s hero.

    From this moment forward I will not mention the “Work and the Glory” series by that name, instead I shall call it “Restoration Porn.”

  66. Ours is a gospel of peace and hope (a very Hinckley-esque theme) and we need not imagine that a 1st century CE revelation has doomed us to death and destruction. I believe the world can move peacefully into the millennium if we so desire. Of course, nuclear/environmental apocalypse is eminently possible, but it is not our unavoidable fate. It’s this nasty fatalism that abuses John’s revelation so egregiously.

    The gospel is of eternal peace and hope, but the Lord himself knows how the world as we know it will end, and has repeatedly tried to get that through our heads. He called it an “abomination of desolation”, He said that the wicked will burned as stubble-not glorified by a baptism of fire as in the influence of the Holy Ghost. It isn’t fatalistic to actually believe what God has declared is going to happen. Our duty is not to contribute to the horror, to cry repentance to the world, and warn our neighbors while getting our families prepared to face what is coming.

    If the people of the world desired to enter the millennium peacefully and filled with a love for God and all mankind, I believe it is possible too. But they won’t. No matter how many revelations you declare as allegories or how cavalier you are about the warnings and testimony of John, the Savior, Isaiah, Joseph Smith etc.

  67. I heard this in Priesthood a couple weeks ago: Joseph Smith was killed by a gun, not by the plagues that are written in this book, so therefore he isn’t guilty of adding to it.

  68. LOL, Peter!

  69. Peter, I am laughing almost as hard as I did while reading Dave Barry’s 2007 Year in Review column – and there’s nothing funnier than those columns.

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