Methods of Bible Study (1986) is the most recent formal codification of Seventh-day Adventist understanding about hermeneutics, but this essay by Richard Davidson (2003) can be fairly characterized as the most recent and the most thorough explanation of Seventh-day Adventist understanding about hermeneutics:
I find this to be the most important statement in the essay: “Those who follow the historical-biblical method apply the same study tools utilized in historical criticism. There is careful attention given to historical, literary and linguistic, grammatical-syntactical, and theological details, as we will outline in the next section of this paper. But while utilizing the gains brought about by the historical-critical method in sharpening various study tools for analysis of the biblical text, there is an [sic] consistent intent in historical-biblical study to eliminate the element of criticism that stands as judge upon the Word.” p. 12. All tools that help us discern the meaning of the biblical text are permissible, so long as we do not use those tools to “criticize”, i.e., put to the test or challenge, the truthfulness of the biblical text. John Brunt’s essay can be deemed orthodox in my opinion, because he does not do the latter.
Perhaps the most famous application of Davidson’s rejection of the latter–the attitude of criticism, as it were–is my observation that the GC’s 2004 Statement on Creation’s pedagogical mandate is ironically reflective of a hermeneutic of criticism, in that science teachers are directed to put Scripture to the test by marshaling extra-biblical science data for the purpose of validating the biblical account of creation. This observation proved to be a major turning point in the creation/science controversy involving La Sierra University.
Davidson, whom I have never met, is my hero, but I can briefly offer a gentle critique of his essay, which in all fairness to him was written 14 years ago:
Despite the distinction he draws between tools and critical attitude, he may be a tad bit overly confessional and polemical in his description and discussion of various critical tools.
He appears to conceive the study of hermeneutics to be subsidiary to the study of theology. In reality, the study of theology is a subsidiary discipline of the multi-disciplinary study of hermeneutics. Contributions from other subsidiary disciplines, such as history, psychology, law, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, literary criticism, etc. do not appear to inform his understanding of hermeneutics.
He is a tad bit overly confessional and polemical in his advocacy of the hermeneutics of the Reformers. That history is more of a mixed bag than we typically acknowledge.
I fear that his understanding of hermeneutics is largely derived from secondary sources written by evangelical Christians rather than original works. Consequently, he is overly dismissive of various thinkers.
If he is aware of the philosophical turn in the study of hermeneutics–(he briefly mentions and dismisses Gadamer)–he does not seem to be fully aware of the philosophical dimension that has always inhered in methodology. Paradoxically, the philosophical dimension is of acute interest and relevance to Seventh-day Adventists, most of whom have no understanding of the study of hermeneutics. We need to address all aspects and contours of meaning.
Be that as it may, his essay is an excellent work. His rejection of the hermeneutic of criticism has withstood the test of time, has had legs, as it were. And he has more knowledge of the Bible in his pinky finger than I will ever have. He is one of the most important biblical scholars in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And no doubt, his understanding of hermeneutics is not fixed in time in the year 2003. Most certainly, my gentle critique probably does not do justice and capture the full picture.
I am optimistic that he and other Seminary faculty know quite a bit more than what they have time to write. I have a little bit of inside knowledge, but even without that, I am not concerned about the Seminary and its hermeneutical approach to the biblical text.