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What does it mean, practically, not to add to or delete from God’s Commandments?

God’s command, not to add to or take from His Law, has wide-ranging applications and practical consequences in many areas of daily life. For instance, when we look at the question, why we are not to observe Christmas or Easter, then the first answer might be that they are pagan, not Christian, and that the Bible nowhere commands their observance. In fact, God prohibited His followers to worship Him, as pagans worshipped their gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-32), and Christ warned us that we are not to uphold human traditions while rejecting God’s commandments (Mark 7:8-9).

But there are additional important reasons to consider, which are not limited to the question of Christmas and Easter observance, and they affect our worship of God in other ways.

In our free booklet, “Don’t Keep Christmas,” we state the following:

“Moses reminded ancient Israel of a timeless principle when it comes to true worship. We read in [Deuteronomy] 4:1-2: ‘Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving to you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you’ (Cp. Deut[eronomy]. 12:32, Rev[elation]. 22:18 [and] 19).

“We find the same admonition in Proverbs 30:5-6: ‘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 rebuke you, and you be found a liar.’… So if we contend that Christmas is a festival that honors God, then we add to God’s Word, which has nothing to say about the celebration of Christmas.  God will rebuke us, and we will be found ‘liars,’ since we have misrepresented God.

“Let’s also note how the apostle Paul approached the Christians in Corinth… he tells them in 1 Cor[inthians] 4:6: ‘Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ (NIV)

“A similar reminder is recorded in the second letter of John. He states in verse 9: ‘For if you wander beyond the teaching of Christ, you will leave God behind; while if you are loyal to Christ’s teachings, you will have God too.’ (Living Bible). Those who do celebrate Christmas ‘go beyond what is written,’ and ‘wander beyond the teaching of Christ,’ thereby leaving ‘God behind.’”

This concept is not limited to Christmas celebrations. It can affect us in many different ways in our daily lives. We might take weekly Sabbath observance as an example. Are we becoming too liberal in our conduct, or are we becoming too strict? If we add to or delete from the commandments that God gave us regarding the true worship of the Sabbath, we are guilty of SIN.

It is true, without any doubt, that TRUE Christians ARE commanded today to keep the Sabbath. Those who refuse to do so, and who claim that Christ abrogated the Sabbath and replaced it with Sunday, are guilty of sin and of lying, and Christ told them that they are worshipping Him in vain, “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7; Isaiah 29:13). But notice too what we are saying in our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days,” when describing the sinful conduct of the Jews at the time of Christ, in regard to Sabbath observance:

“From God’s perspective, the Sabbath is a Feast Day, intended to be a day of joy and happiness, as well as physical and spiritual renewal. We can learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees and avoid repeating them today. By adding humanly devised restrictions to God’s Sabbath commandment, the Pharisees did, in fact, violate God’s law (Matthew 23:4; Mark 7:8–9, 13)…

“The Pharisees totally misinterpreted the prohibition against carrying burdens on the Sabbath. They decreed that a person was guilty of breaking the Sabbath if he carried a sheet of paper, or any food that weighed as much as a dried fig, or if he carried more than one swallow of milk, or enough oil to anoint a small part of the body. If a fire broke out in a person’s home on the Sabbath, he could carry out only the necessary food to be consumed on the Sabbath. This meant that if the fire broke out at the beginning of the Sabbath—right after sunset—the person could take out enough food for three meals; but if the fire broke out on the afternoon of the Sabbath, he could only take out enough food for one meal. The rest could not be carried out and had to be left behind, to burn with the building. Further, only necessary clothes could be taken out of a burning house on the Sabbath.

“Very likely, the Pharisees had been subconsciously influenced by their former Babylonian environment when they devised those Sabbath rules. The Babylonians had set apart the seventh day of the Babylonian week, called ‘Shabattum,’ as ‘ill omens’ or ‘evil days.’ For instance, it was forbidden on those days to eat flesh cooked upon coals. One must wonder whether we find a reason here why some Orthodox Jews have misunderstood the above-described passage in Exodus 35:3 regarding ‘kindling a fire,’ falsely concluding that even turning on a light switch was prohibited. The Babylonians also forbade the change of garments on those days, as well as calling for a physician. As we will see, Christ had to deal with a similar Pharisaic concept. The Pharisees in His day insisted that He should not heal anyone on the Sabbath—that people were not supposed to request healing on that day. Again, the parallel to Babylonian superstition is evident.

“We might laugh about those restrictions today, but these were no laughing matter at the time of Christ. He had confrontations with the Pharisees on numerous occasions when He refused to abide by their man-made Sabbath rules. We must be careful today not to create for ourselves, and others, similar rules on how to keep—or not keep—the Sabbath, when such rules cannot be found in Scripture.”

Again, it is all based on the biblical injunction, not to add to or delete from God’s commandments. Richard Elliott Freedman makes the following statements in his “Commentary on the Torah,” regarding Deuteronomy 4:2:

“One may think that, by doing more than the law requires, one is doing better, being more religious, more observant, when one is in fact thus violating the law… Adding to a command is as dangerous as taking away from it… in postbiblical Judaism a principle developed of ‘building a fence around the Torah’”…

Although this practice may seem logical to the human mind, in its final analysis, it is in violation of God’s command not to add to His Law.

We find that Moses was very careful not to add anything to God’s commandments, and he reminded the people before his death that they must not do so, either (Deuteronomy 5:33). He added that they must not turn to the right or to the left, but that they had to be careful and watchful to stay on the narrow road (Deuteronomy 5:32). This injunction complements of course the command not to add to or take away from God’s Law.

When we are tempted to add to or delete from God’s commandments and develop a guilty conscience when we do not follow the dictates of our human hearts (which are not in harmony with God’s Law), then we are sinning. We need God’s wisdom to show us exactly, in a given situation, what His command is, rather than replacing God’s lead with our own self-righteous and presumptuous human imaginations.

We should also accept the fact that God leads His Church through His ministry. For instance, the question as to whether or not to eat in a restaurant on the weekly and annual Sabbaths has been a stumbling block for some.

We wrote this in our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days”:

“If Church members today eat occasionally in a nice, quiet restaurant on the Sabbath or a Holy Day after Church services, for instance, while, at the same time fellowshipping with other brethren and speaking about the things that pertain to God, then we must not condemn them for that. For instance, Church members might be traveling for quite a distance to attend Church services, looking forward to spending additional time with their brethren after services.

“If, on the other hand, your conscience does not allow you to go to a restaurant on a Sabbath or a Holy Day, then you must not do so, since ‘whatever is not from faith [or conviction] is sin’ (Romans 14:23). It would be advisable, though, to review the Scriptures to see whether your conscience is based on the Bible or merely on man-made traditions. God never accepts our conviction as justification for the violation of His law, and man-made regulations can… cloud the intent of God’s commandments in the minds of men.”

The last sentence should also be viewed in light of the fact that God gave the ministry of His Church the authority to bind and to loose,  and with it, the responsibility to explain biblical passages which might not be that clear at first sight. In our Q&A on Matthew 16:18-19, Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23, we state the following:

“The ministry has been given the authority from God, to ‘bind and loose,’ and to ‘remit’ and ‘retain’ sin. It is critical that we understand correctly the scope of this authority… The Nelson Study Bible comments on Matthew 16:19 and on Matthew 18:18: ‘In rabbinical literature, binding and loosing refers to what was permitted or not permitted. So this passage may refer to judgments that Peter [and the other apostles] would make about what would be permitted or forbidden in the church… As in [Matthew] 16:19, the tenses [in Matthew 18:18] imply that what is loosed or bound on earth will have been determined already in heaven. In other words, this is a promise of divine direction…

“‘The New Bible Commentary: Revised, agrees and adds the following remarks: ‘…  Judicial rulings, like the promulgation of rules of conduct, are binding.’… The Broadman Bible Commentary, commenting on Matthew 18:18, explains the meaning and scope of ‘binding and loosing,’ as follows: ‘The authority to bind and loose, given to Peter in [Matthew] 16:19, is here extended to the whole church [that is, its ministry]. In [Matthew] 16:19 it seems to relate primarily to instruction, what conduct is permitted and what not [We might insert here that this would include conduct that is not clearly defined in Scripture. The Church is not permitted, however, to do away with any of God’s commandments, judgments or statutes, compare Matthew 5:17-19; James 2:10; Mark 7:6-13. Likewise, the Church is not to add prohibitions regarding conduct that the Bible permits, compare Revelation 22:18; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6]. Here [in Matthew 18:18] it relates primarily to church discipline…’

“In summary, Christ empowered the leadership of the Church, throughout the Church’s history and existence, to discern God’s Will regarding binding Church decisions as to what God permits and prohibits, based on His law, and who is to be excommunicated and reinstated, based on the Church leadership’s discernment of the person’s repentance and God’s forgiveness…”

Over the centuries, the true Church of God has declared, based on the directions and instructions of the Bible, that it is wrong to observe Christmas and Easter, or to participate in any of their customs. Furthermore, it has declared as binding God’s injunction to observe the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days. In this context, it has recognized and therefore dogmatically pronounced that God gave the Jews the sole responsibility of maintaining the Hebrew calendar.

God’s Church has also declared God’s Law of abstaining from unclean food, while clarifying that it is wrong to insist that we must be vegetarians today. Rather, that it is not wrong to eat the flesh of clean animals (while rejecting the consumption of fat and blood). The true Church of God has determined for a long time that it is wrong for a Christian to vote in governmental elections and to serve on a jury, and it has pronounced God’s revelation of circumstances when God binds a marriage, and when a Church member is free to divorce and remarry. God’s Church has also clarified that we are not obligated to observe new moons, and it has determined, based on the Bible, that the Passover is to be kept in the beginning of the 14th of Nisan, as this was the correct time when ancient Israel, Jesus and the apostles observed it.

In addition, as mentioned, God’s true Church and its ministers have also declared with godly authority that it is not wrong or a sin to eat out in a restaurant on the weekly Sabbath or annual Holy Days, including during the Night to Be Much Observed on the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Even though the Church respects the conscience of (newer) members who may not be comfortable with going out on a weekly or annual Sabbath, because the Church realizes that their faith may (still) be weak (compare the principle in Romans 14:2; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13), it expects that they, in time, will grow in the knowledge of God and, in submitting to the guidance of the Church ministry, will come to understand the truth in the matter. It is clarified, of course, that they must never try to convince other Church members of their unique individual religious conviction (which is not based on Church teaching), and that they must be very circumspect in the practical application of their conscience, as this could otherwise create division within the congregation.

In conclusion, we should carefully heed God’s admonition to His followers in Ecclesiastes 7:16-18:

“Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, Nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this, And also not remove your hand from the other; For he who fears God will escape them all [NIV: “will avoid all extremes”].”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link