A friend asked me a question recently that I thought was very interesting. She has a popular devotional book written by the author in the voice of Jesus. In other words, as I understand it, the devotional sessions read as if Jesus is addressing the reader directly, though it is the author writing it (i.e., it’s not simply a collection of New Testament statements of Jesus, though I’m sure it includes these as well).
My friend says that she has not encountered anything in the devotional that is objectionable or unbiblical. However, she is curious to know if the devotional might not be violating Revelation 22:18-19.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
I’m grateful for the question. It reflects a high view of Scripture and a genuine desire not to violate its precepts. Furthermore, it reflects a high view of Christ and a desire not to see Him in any way diminished.
I suppose the first thing I would say is that the author’s approach is potentially dangerous, for reasons that should be obvious. We dare not speak for Jesus. We are not Jesus. Tying ourselves to the text is an act of wisdom and an acknowledgment of our own tendencies towards sin. I would imagine that writing a book like that might present certain very real and very subtle temptations to substitute my thoughts for Jesus’ thoughts, even if I am trying to be biblical.
On the other hand, potentially dangerous is not synonymous with clearly wrong. For instance, I can imagine three scenarios in which most Christians tolerate this kind of exercise within certain parameters. First: films about Jesus. Most films on the life of Christ imaginatively depict Christ saying words that are not in Scripture. However, this is acceptable to most Christians so long as the words of Christ in the film do not violate the words or spirit or tone of Scripture.
Second: preachers do this in sermons all the time. Frequently in sermons Christian preachers with a high view of Scripture will do a kind of imaginative paraphrase of what Jesus was saying in the particular text they are preaching, stating in fuller terms what Jesus appears to be saying in the text. We are not adding to God’s Word in doing so. We are, instead, trying to flesh out more extensively the words of Jesus for the Church.
Third: the entire, popular exercise of asking ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” involves a degree of imagining His words today in this or that particular situation that may not be explicitly addressed in Scripture. I realize this is different insofar as it is usually personal and fairly insular. Asking oneself this is different from publishing a book in the voice of Jesus. But still, this mental, spiritual exercise is conceptually the same. In both situations, we are being asked to considered what the Lord Jesus would say more fully to us today.
In short, it seems to me that there is a difference between an imaginative paraphrase and adding to God’s Word. It seems to me that the key is this: is the imaginative paraphrase tied to the content and voice of Scripture and is it allowing Scripture to drive it? If so, it would seem to be appropriate. If not, it would seem to be a sin.
In my opinion, based on what my friend tells me of this book, it does not sound like the author has done anything inappropriate. Even so, we should ever be careful in diligent in reading such works, judging all by the clear testimony of God’s Word.