Much of the Christian world today believes in a closed canon, and rejects the idea of continuing revelation in these, the latter days. This is perhaps because of scriptures like Revelation 22:18-19, which says:
18 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:
19 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.
The first issue here is that there’s way too much ambiguity associated with what’s written in this verse. Explain in unmistakable detail exactly what is meant by “this book.” Of course we assume it to be the Bible. Is that exactly what we’re talking about here? What does “add unto these things” mean? Precisely define “take away” exactly as it is meant, here. What exactly is “the book of this prophecy”? The second problem is that, even though the book of Revelation appears last in the Bible, it may not have been written last. So anything after it would be adding unto it if we were to take that concept at face value.
Speaking of which…
There is a nearly-identical verse in Deuteronomy 4:2, which reads:
“2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
What does “add” mean exactly? And “diminish”? And here we have “the word which I command you.” If we are to interpret this the same way most people interpret the passage from Revelations, then that would invalidate everything in the Bible after Deuteronomy 4:2. But of course this is ludicrous, and we know there is another interpretation for it.
What these verses are saying is simply that we not distort or misconstrue what is revealed to prophets, whether past, present, or future. The Lord is not talking to the prophets themselves, but to everyone else. It is not their place to change anything.
For example, there are thousands of extant scrolls and codices that date from many centuries ago. Some date even to the 2nd century A.D. What scholars have found is that there are differences in nearly all of them. Why? Because of careless or malicious copyists who changed things they were not authorized to change. The types of warnings in Revelation and Deuteronomy that we have looked at is for these types of folks, not the prophet.
It does not mean that the canon is forever closed. There is much scripture that we know about, and probably a lot that we don’t know about that will yet be revealed. For example, let’s take a look at what James E. Talmage said on the topic:
“Missing Scripture. — Matthew’s commentary on the abode of Joseph, Mary and Jesus at Nazareth, “and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene” (2:23), with the fact that no such saying of the prophets is found in any of the books contained in the Bible, suggests the certainty of lost scripture. Those who oppose the doctrine of continual revelation between God and His Church, on the ground that the Bible is complete as a collection of sacred scriptures, and that alleged revelation not found therein must therefore be spurious, may profitably take note of the many books not included in the Bible, yet mentioned therein, generally in such a way as to leave no doubt that they were once regarded as authentic. Among these extra-Biblical scriptures, the following may be named; some of them are in existence to-day, and are classed with the Apocrypha; but the greater number are unknown. We read of the Book of the Covenant (Exo. 24:7); Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numb. 21:14); Book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13); Book of the Statutes (1 Sam. 10:25); Book of Enoch (Jude 14); Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41); Book of Nathan the Prophet, and that of Gad the Seer (1 Chron. 29:29); Book of Ahijah the Shilonite, and visions of Iddo the Seer (2 Chron. 9:29); Book of Shemaiah (2 Chron. 12:15); Story of the Prophet Iddo (2 Chron. 13:22); Book of Jehu (2 Chron. 20:34); the Acts of Uzziah, by Isaiah, the son of Amoz (2 Chron. 26:22); Sayings of the Seers (2 Chron. 33:19); a missing epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9); a missing epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 3:3); missing epistle to the Colossians, written from Laodicea (Col. 4:16); a missing epistle of Jude (Jude 3).”Jesus the Christ, James E Talmage, p. 113
And then the sealed portion of the plates from Ether 4:4–6, we read:
4 Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.
5 Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.
6 For the Lord said unto me: They shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord.
7 And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.
The next point is that you can only understand spiritual things by the power of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14 helps illustrate this concept:
“14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The very ability to interpret spiritual things depends on the power of the Holy Ghost to reveal their meaning to you. In other words, it’s not what is written that carries the meaning and authority nearly as much as the Holy Ghost does.
I did not say that the written word holds no meaning.
Let me illustrate with a story from Wilford Woodruff:
“I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’ When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the written oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.’ ‘And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the [p.23]writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.'” (Conference Report, October 1897, p.22)
It is the living Prophet who leads the Church by the power of revelation that carries the ultimate authority to us.
The one problem is that the Prophet cannot be with all people at all times. The scriptures are there to bring the Spirit into our lives. They are there to help us understand the Gospel. They are available to anyone and everyone who wants them. They certainly fill these needs in ways that nothing else can. For a further discussion on what scriptures can do for us, see “What Are the Scriptures?”
Do we need the scriptures? Yes, we need them. We need them because the Lord saw fit that we should have them. We need them for the reasons listed above and many others. However, they are not as authoritative as the living Prophet and Apostles. Stick to what the Brethren say and you’ll never go wrong.