I’ve heard Evangelicals try and use the last chapter of Revelation to claim that sola Scriptura is, in fact, Biblical. Specifically, Revelation 22:18-19 says:
18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
The claim is that Catholics add to the prophesy of the Bible, and therefore suffer the punishment described. The error in using this to defend sola Scriptura should be obvious, because it’s one of the two errors almost every argument for sola Scriptura runs into.* The “this book” in question is the Book of Revelation, not the “Good Book.” The Bible is a collection of books, and what’s being condemned here is adding or removing part of the prophesy – that is, tinkering with the text of the Book of Revelation is what is forbidden. Believing in something in addition to Revelation isn’t a sin, and it’s done by both Protestants and Catholics. After all, nobody has a one-book canon of just Revelation. And even if this prophesy were about adding or removing from the canon of Scripture, that’d be an argument against Protestantism, since the 66-Book Protestant Bible is based on removing books from Scripture (seeing as how that precise Bible isn’t found in the early Church).
But it occurred today that if anything, this passage is an excellent argument against Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS). Look at Revelation 22:19 again. The curse on anyone who removes part of the prophesy is that “God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” For God to take away his share in the Tree of Life requires that the man in question previously had a share in the Tree of Life, and that God removes it, and he no longer does. So far as I can tell, this passage is unambiguous enough to get around the two usual OSAS responses,** because it seems to be pretty clearly related to salvation, and pretty clearly dealing with people who were, in fact, saved.
This passage, connected with Psalm 69:28, suggests that individuals can be in the Book of Life, and then get their names removed. And Rev. 20:15 and Rev. 21:27 make it pretty blatant that those in the Book go to Heaven, and those not in the Book go to Hell. This seems too obvious. What am I missing?
*Those two assumptions are:
- Assuming that the “word of God” refers only to the written Word, or conversely, that “Tradition” refers only to things which are not written down.
- Assuming that any reference to Scripture is a reference to the 66-book Protestant Bible.
Read some of the defenses of sola Scriptura, and I think you’ll find that a great many of the arguments fall a-foul of one of these fallacies.
**Those two responses are:
- The passage in question isn’t really about individual salvation, but about (a) corporate salvation, or (b) individual non-salvific curses/blessings.
- The people who become unsaved weren’t ever really saved.