Does the warning at the end of Revelation signal the closing of the canon?

This question was asked in response to my post, “Can more books be added to the Bible?

Q. Do you read the conclusion to the book of Revelation as an indication that the canon of divine-inspired writings was concluded at that point? I’m specifically referring to the strict commands about not adding anything or taking anything away from what has been written. I understand the historical arguments concerning canonicity of Scripture, but my question is different from that. What I’m specifically asking is whether, in your view, God’s special revelation to John at the end of the book of Revelation was God’s way of saying (in essence) to humanity,  “I will not be inspiring any more writings after this.” I’ve heard this argued before, but I’m undecided on it myself.

That statement in Revelation applies explicitly to “the words of the prophecy of this book,” so the original intention is not to close the canon of Scripture. It’s only when Revelation is placed last in the New Testament–where it does not always appear in the historical tradition–that the statement seems to take on this larger meaning.

I would be hesitant to endorse a position that requires a certain biblical book order, when that order was so fluid for so long, before the advent of printing.  As I explain in my book After Chapters and Verses: “The books of the New Testament also appear historically in a variety of orders. Bruce Metzger observes [in The Canon of the New Testament] that these books are typically gathered into five groups, in this sequence: the gospels; Acts; Paul’s epistles; the general epistles; and Revelation. But Metzger then notes, “Prior to the invention of printing, however, there were many other sequences, not only of the five main groups of books, but also of the several books within each group. . . . A sequence in which the book of Revelation follows the gospels, instead of concluding the entire New Testament, is attested several times.”

Richmond Lattimore actually revived this presentation in our own day in the first volume of his New Testament translation, The Four Gospels and the Revelation (London: Hutchinson, 1980).

So, once again, since the argument that the warning at the end of Revelation closes the canon depends on a certain book order, but NT book order has varied considerably throughout the centuries, I would not accept that argument.


Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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