Hermeneutics, Sabbath School Quarterly and Ideological Gamesmanship

In mid-18th century England, education was largely a privilege of the wealthy class. Their children –usually the males – were instructed by private tutors at home. Children of poor factory and farm workers toiled alongside their parents as soon as they demonstrated “industrial” efficacy. Neither parents nor children had the means or use for education. It was in this setting that Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, penned an influential editorial in 1781 supporting a William King’s newly established home Sunday School class. This was ostensibly aimed at educating slum children in what would become the basics: reading, writing, “ciphering” (arithmetic) and instruction in the Bible. King’s, and all future such classes, met on Sundays because that was the only day the factory and farm employers would spare the children, who until now had no resort to any form of education.

Out of these small beginnings lay the kernel that would germinate to become the vaunted British public-school system. A system which would be exported across the British Empire and transform whole nations and the lives of its people, rich and poor. It was from these foundations that the weekly Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Sabbath School Quarterly (SSQ) structure followed: a commitment to empowering instruction in the best traditions of education, albeit narrowly tailored to biblical religion. And having aligned our vision to the Sunday School model, we had to take the commitment seriously. For a while, those charged with the SSQ enterprise took it seriously. But it appears that, in recent years, this commitment has been weakening and the Adult lesson study in particular is steadily evolving into an ideological mouthpiece of the church’s more right-wing leadership who currently control the quarterly’s production.

Here is what I observe of the current maneuverings that implicate the administration in using the SSQ to advance its goals. It concerns the apparent manipulation of the quarterly studies, not as adjunct to, but in place of, mandated theological study. At the 2015 General Conference (GC) in San Antonio, the GC Biblical Research Institute (BRI) was charged, together with the GC leadership, with preparing a new document on Hermeneutics in time to be voted on at the 2020 Indianapolis GC session.

The usual way such assigned studies develop is that, in the intervening years before a GC session, the committees preparing the documents provide periodic updates to designated groups, including Annual Council delegates and even the SDA public. A recent fine example was the process followed by the Theology of Ordination Study Committees (TOSC) prior to the 2015 GC session. In that decidedly hyperactive example, each Division of the world church had its own committee which independently studied the topic and reported its findings. In San Antonio the administration, having learned its lesson from the TOSC experience of how not to relegate “power” to the grassroots in policy making, ensured that the Hermeneutics study would be a tightly controlled affair. This is how the assignment was given to an unenthusiastic BRI.

So far, over the last 54 months, nothing remotely similar to the TOSC process has emerged with the Hermeneutics study. And it isn’t because there hasn’t been a clamor for information. Almost exactly two years ago, at the midpoint of the five-year assignment, I lamented the slow process and lack of transparency in my column Forgotten Homework: The 2020 Study in Hermeneutics. Six months ago in his Spectrum article Can this be Adventism?, former Adventist Forum board chair Charles Scriven described in painful frustration the refusal of the main stakeholders of this project – BRI, GC, Andrews University Seminary – to publicly discussing the study’s status.

I don’t know how else to characterize the way Chuck was treated by these leaders than see an entitled group of administrators eschewing contact with a general laity that does not appear to know its place. But if governance in Adventism purports to be a representative democracy, even vaguely, then the membership is entitled to know what is done in its name. And in an open forum. When a study is commissioned publicly, those bringing it about shouldn’t do so behind closed doors, which so far has been the story.

So we are now in the home stretch of an assignment, given almost five years ago, to craft the church’s position on how to interpret and thus understand scripture. Yet we have no public idea who is writing these positions, or the selection process that qualified them to do so for us. If such notable Adventist Hermeneutics experts like Alden Thompson were not even invited to contribute papers for this assignment, one wonders about the breath of voices crafting this document in our name. Yet the projected posture, based on how Chuck was treated when attempting to ask questions, smacks of co-mingled arrogance and indifference.

But suddenly a eureka moment – and with it the clarifying insight. The intersection between the 2020 second quarter Adult SS lesson study and the 2015 “commissioned” Hermeneutics project. The subject of the 2020 second quarter SSQ is – Hermeneutics. Dr. Frank Hasel of the BRI is rumored to be the principal contributing editor. So do we now finally have an emerging administrative strategy? Is the SS lesson study on Hermeneutics set up to be the substantive replacement for the “commissioned” Hermeneutics study? If so, and I don’t see how to construe this differently, then it stands the whole process on its head.

When Elder David Ripley proposed the Hermeneutics study at the last GC session, it was billed as “our most important need”, the study that would help heal the church’s bitter polarization. Elder Ripley’s motion was adopted presumably because the 1986 Rio Hermeneutics document, currently guiding the church’s understanding of biblical interpretation, is no longer adequate and needs updating. So how do we have a Sabbath School lesson study on this topic before the body designated to work on the new and improved version has even presented its report for ratification? This whole process puts the cart before the horse.

What this infers is that the GC leadership, because it couldn’t be done without their involvement in collaboration with the SSQ production team, is effectively sidestepping the GC session mandated Hermeneutics study in favor of Sabbath School lesson guides on the same subject. The former requires input and vetting by knowledgeable experts; the latter is essentially a principal contributor’s conception, potentially rubber-stamped by a likeminded GC and SS editorial board.

That is how we go from needing a study on the theology of Hermeneutics, because our current one is deemed inadequate, to the global church applying the “recommendations” of a nonexistent study in a full blown SSQ study. All this before we know what our Hermeneutics theology is supposed to be. And before it is voted on. Why then was the Hermeneutics study even embarked on? Why are we studying Hermeneutics from April through June 2020 just before the Indianapolis GC session? One plausible reason could be that the administration has a preferred Hermeneutics direction which they want to push the delegates into adopting in Indianapolis. And since the people involved with the SSQ study are also connected with the Hermeneutics project, the SS lesson is being used as leverage for votes in Indianapolis. It is a stacking the deck of sorts, a scheme not unlike what the president used in the middle of the TOSC meetings when he abruptly redefined the rules.

The question is not so much why we go through the exercise at GC sessions of voting to have studies if the administration won’t abide by the rules, but why we allow this administration to orchestrate such maneuvers? To resort to this approach is unacceptable.

The SSQ studies are probably the most unifying of all Adventist “institutions”. Go anywhere in the world, on any given Sabbath where Adventists meet, and no matter the setting or language spoken during the SS hour, the subject matter is always the same. Our takes on the topic might differ once class begins, but the subject studied is presented globally. There is nothing else like this in the Adventist subculture, not vesper hours, not “divine” service, because those presentations follow individual scripts. The SS hour is almost at the level of a liturgy within Adventism. That is why it is dangerous for this singularly unifying medium to be tainted by the perception of manipulation for ideological advantage. If members begin to feel that the quarterly lessons are propaganda they will feel used and controlled. Then what has so far been an enviable unifier within the church, will likely polarize us. The GC needs to exercise restraint and keep its hands off of the SSQ.

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/author/matthew-quartey.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10153
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At WHAT Educational Level Is The Adult Quarterly written for???
Newspapers used to say they wrote for the 12-year old Level.
That is 6 and 7th grade level of reading and understanding.
If one is looking at the Dulch Word Lists for 12 year old, there are
a LOT more words that one meets in High School and College and
are expected to understand them and understand what they are
describing in a sentence.

Perhaps THIS is Another Reason why Young Adults are bored with
the SDA church and find it Painful to sit through S.S. and Church
Sermons.

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“If members begin to feel that the quarterly lessons are propaganda they will feel used and controlled.”

We have already been there for years now, brother.

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It is very clear that that is exactly what they are. I haven’t bothered with the Quarterly in a decade or more. Its content is not worth my time, or yours.

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Stephen and Tim –
100% correct.
the S.S Lesson Quarterlies for a number of years do NOT promote
asking Questions of the Bible and Do NOT promote thinking processes
of Adult minds.
They mostly say – Here are the ANSWERS. No NEED to Ask Questions.
And IF there IS a Question, there is an EGW response to answer it at the
bottom of the page.

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We found some quarterlies from the early nineteen thirties in a family estate. They consistently followed the pattern of a highlighted question followed by a reference to a Bible verse (Matthew 7:12) or verses followed by a quotation from the writings of Mrs. White. Decades of this is bound to have an effect.

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I doubt that there will ever be a consensus on hermeneutic orthodoxy in the SDA church - ever. Vigilance is needed here, for sure, but certain people with specific views and agendas having exercised editorial control over the SS quarterly is nothing new.

Ask most any contributor over the past several years and they will tell you that, many times, what these writers intended to say has been tweaked into something different by the editorial team of the SS quarterly. This situation need not render the SS quarterly useless, though.

Intelligent people will take an intelligent approach to the SS quarterly material. Diligent study of each topic is needed by Sabbath School teachers and discussion leaders so that they test every statement, viewpoint, and premise and take nothing for granted as to the integrity of each presentation. Letters to the editor are always useful to keep editors and their teams accountable to the readership.

I have always believed there is a blessing to the global Adventist population as they study various topics all at the same time. There is not a single topic of discussion in the quarterly that is inappropriate for the membership. But true study is needed by each member rather than a casual reading of the material during the week and a slavish recounting on Sabbath morning of the material as it is presented in the quarterly. Consequently, I consider the lesson quarterly to be just an “appetizer”; the classroom discussion is the “meat”; the discussion around the dining table afterward is the “dessert”.

All of us, reading any material from any source, need to assume that some very pointed agendas can be at play and that fundamental errors in scholarship can be present. Prove/test all things; hold fast to that which is good.

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Agreed! Other than the recent (and astounding, perhaps accidently slipped by the GC editors) quarterly on Social Justice I haven’t used one, or attended a class that uses one, in 20+ years.
The idea of closed-door, top-down “solutions” to hermeneutics in Adventism is laughable on its face. It will almost certainly be fundamentalist - and thereby rejected by most thoughtful members.

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Do Sabbath School teachers ASK – Who studied their lesson 7 times?
Indicating one page for each day.
It has been decades since I have heard that question.

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This is what I expect to find in the Sabbath School Lessons on hermeneutics:

  1. There will be an uncritical and naïve endorsement of the hermeneutics of the Protestant Reformers. The Reformers deserve a lot of praise for being the modern founders of hermeneutics, but much has happened during the last five hundred years.
  2. The transformation of hermeneutics from hermeneutica sacra to a multi-disciplinary science of interpretation and art of understanding that we have known hermeneutics to be since Schleiermacher will not be acknowledged or discussed.
  3. The turn in hermeneutics from methodology toward philosophy/ontology that occurred around the beginning of the 20th century will remain unknown to readers.
  4. The premise of hermeneutics, that there are many manifestations of distance that impede our understanding, will be downplayed for paternalistic reasons. Readers do not want to be told that their understanding of the biblical text is impeded in many different and unknown ways.
  5. The standard literature on hermeneutics will not be read, cited, or discussed. Instead, there will be an ideological commitment to the notion that we only need the Bible and the writings of Ellen White to understand hermeneutics.
  6. That hermeneutics is an umbrella over which all of the human sciences reside will not be set forth. Accordingly, readers will never comprehend the herculean endeavor involved in learning about all of the human sciences’ contributions to hermeneutics.
  7. The rejection of Higher Criticism set forth in the Rio document will be appropriately emphasized.

Frank Hasel is a logical choice to be principal contributor, as his terminal degree is in systematic theology. Systematic theology is theology’s poor man version of hermeneutics. What he actually knows about hermeneutics remains to be seen.

It will be fascinating to read the Sabbath School Lessons, not for the purpose of learning anything about hermeneutics but in noticing what the current posture of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is with respect to hermeneutics. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is still experiencing a dawn of hermeneutical consciousness, but this has been ongoing since the 1970s. We should be progressing. Maybe the Sabbath School Lessons will catalyze an impulse toward greater understanding. I am inclined to be affirming of this choice of topic for the Sabbath School Lessons and I think our faith community will be blessed by the thought and effort undertaken in putting these Lessons together.

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Sorry to disappoint you but the topic was chosen, and not by GC leadership, in 2010. Get your facts straight next time, ok?

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Having our own set of rules for interpreting the Bible is much like having our own SDA Bible.
Put another way. If we use a Bible that has been translated by non-SDAs who have used the best of critical skills then why can’t we use interpretative skills that the same non-SDAs used to give us the Bible? Why does the BRI have to forge a set of hermeneutics tailored to suit SDAs. Are SDAs so ‘peculiar’ that they need a ‘peculiar’ set of hermeneutics? For me it looks like the reasoning is, “Let’s decide on what we believe, then let’s decide on the rules to achieve that position.” The BRI chaps are not stupid. They can see through this phony reasoning. No wonder they approach the task as if they are walking to the dentist.

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Questions are to be avoided in Adventism. They of course require answers, and before answering people need to think. Adventism discourage thinking. Following, obeying, and parroting are much preferred behaviors. The SSQ appears to be a good control tool, from the top down of course

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Funny enough I have learnt to think for myself partly because of those lessons which I have been reading since 1984 and teaching others since 1988. I can pick some which had a deep impression on me like the Refiner’s fire.

I find that from time to time I disagree with certain things therein, but to call it a control tool would be a bit far-fetched in my opinion. Admittedly, I have seen some elders who want to read every word verbatim as if it is inspired. Remember that it is called Sabbath School Study Guide and not manual.

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Hermeneutics should be a unifying feature among SDAs rather than a divisive feature. Right?

But things are not as they should be. Allow me to give an example of hermeneutics for your consideration.

The principle of First Mention indicates that
The Judgment of Adam was not based on literal time.

God warned him “In the day that you eat of it you will die”
Genesis cites literal time in the creation story and the first mention of Judgment.
Adam did not die in literal time

Nor was the Judgment of Adam based on a day for a year (Ezekiel 4:6).
Adam did not die in the year that he ate of the forbidden fruit.

The Judgment of Adam was based on millennial time.
“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8)
“And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Genesis 5:5.)

Adam’s judgment was based on millennial time.
So how long should a judgment hour be based on millennial time?
In the Day of Atonement services established by Moses:
All of the Day of Atonement services in the Temple were in the Daylight hours.
Jesus asked: " Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (John 11:9).

1000 year day divided by 12 hours = 83 years 4 months
The math reveals something interesting.

“judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17)
Christ started the Christian Church after Israel rejected Him.
The gospel went to Rome
“I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (Romans 1:15)
The church at Rome (House of God) became the dead church in 1798.

“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write;
These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars;
I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1)

The dead Roman church (House of God) that died in 1798 was still dead on 22 October 1844.
“Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:14)
“Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come” (Revelation 14:7)

Judgment Hour of the dead RCC from 22 October 1844 to 22 February 1928 (83 years 4 months)
The Church of Rome was dead for the entire hour.
A perfect alignment! Coincidence or prophecy fulfilled?

Mussolini began reviving the Roman Church in Feb 1929 (thru June 1929).
The Day of Atonement came on 14 October 1929 at which time the Roman Church was alive again.
After a brief tarrying time (Hab 2:3) from 22 February 1928 to 14 October 1929
The judgment hour (83 years 4 months) of the Living Roman Church could begin
How does the 83 year 4 month hour (14 October 1929 to 14 February 2013)
compare to the living RCC?

The First beast in Rev 13 (papal beast that was healed in 1929) had 7 popes (heads)
Pius XI & XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John-Paul I & II, And Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI resigned February 2013
at which time the solo papacy that Mussolini established ended.
The 83 year 4 month Judgment Hour of the Living papacy
aligns with 14 October 1929 to 14 February 2013
Another perfect alignment! Another coincidence or prophecy fulfilled?

The prophecies of Daniel and of John are to be understood; they interpret each other. They give to the world truths which everyone should understand. These prophecies are to be witnesses in the world. By their fulfillment in these last days, they will explain themselves (PH135 5.1).

There are now 2 living popes (because Benedict did not die in office.)
As ancient Babylon had 2 kings reigning together just before it fell
Babylon was toppled by King Cyrus, who was a type of Christ
Does the fall of ancient Babylon foreshadow modern spiritual Babylon?

Babylon is fallen is fallen because of her fornication!
Ancient Babylon fell while it was having an orgy
Spiritual Babylon is in the midst of a fornication scandal of epic proportions.

Noah was in the ark for 7 days awaiting the flood
A day can be a year in Bible prophecy.
From the end of the time allotted to judge the living 14 February 2013
Seven years will end in 2020

We are in the final sealing time that will climax with the
implementation of the Mark of the Beast
Will a 7 year sealing time end when the National Sunday Law is in force in 2020?

President Obama set up an abomination that desolates 20 September 2016
From that day the 1290 days of Daniel 12 will end 2 April 2020

In the 7 year from 14 February 2020 to 2 April 2020
we should expect rapid events to take place.

It is past time to get serious about Hermeneutics and our walk with God

The agencies of evil are combining their forces, and consol­idating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones (9T 11.1-2).

Though no man knoweth the day nor the hour of His coming, we are instructed and required to know when it is near. We are further taught that to disregard His warning, and refuse or neglect to know when His Advent is near, will be as fatal for us, as it was for those who lived in the days of Noah not to know when the flood was coming (GC88 370.2).

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Good onya George. I like this article because the SS lesson is SO important. SS is the best part of our service. It does not matter so much if we don’t agree with everything written there (except that propagandizing is a dirty trick - Des Ford wrote a SS Quarterly but it was denied publishing), because we can always disagree, or if we are the leader we can take it in the direction we like.

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Where you use the word propaganda, I use the word beliefs held in common by all. This magazine for example, has a policy. If I submit an article which goes against its policy, they won’t publish it, no matter how right I think I am. So when the church does the same, you say its propaganda. Double standards

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You are right that I should choose a different word Lizwi, but as Mathew Quarty pointed out, if the top administrators seem to close off debate on many subjects, but particularly on the critically important matter of hermaneutics, and then announce they will publish a SS quarterly on this very subject, written by one of the men chosen to work on a committee tasked with re-defining our views on hermaneutics, then it walks like an attempt at propaganda, it quacks like propaganda, and so it will probably turn out to be propaganda, which means that our most qualified theologians let alone the bulk of our pastors and laymen will not get a look in.

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I agree, the SS is a very meaningful moment. It’s where people learn the most. My contact with the SS Guide started in the 60s when I was a teenager. Just imagine how seriously I took it when I was in college studying theology! Then in the early 80s I learned so many new “things” about Adventism, about Adventist doctrines, and about EGW that I literally had to take a break.

Once in a while since, very sporadically, I would check a booklet just to see how much it was based on EGW, hoping to see some changes. But could bot see any. The style has changes; in the (remote) past there were many questions but a lot of answers by EGW too. Still now, it seems that every question/issue discussed needs to end with a quote from EGW, as the ultimate word on each subject.

At the end of the day it is all on the teachers. Many churches have now a variety of themes in their SS classes, some follow the Quarterly, others don’t. At LSU Church I attend the “Destination SS,” which is over 30 years old, with an average attendance of 50-60 people, and about 13 different teachers taking turns every Saturday. In an University Church, the variety of teachers will be meaningful.We follow the guide, but very “flexibly.” I usually teach one lesson - except this quarter; I declined because I am very weak on Daniel, Revelation, and Job, so I skip it when the lesson is based on these books. Let more competent people teach it. :+1: :+1:

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Hermeneutics depends on the education level of the readership. The Bible is used and abused in may different ways - all the way from blindly opening it to find answers to personal questions; to bolstering denominational biases. To be totally honest, we have to admit, nothing is read without some degree of preconception. We all come to the Bible from some base point.

Sabbath School is meant to keep the church operating within certain parameters, determine by some undisputed authority. The big issue is who/what is this authority? Jesus said the Holy Spirit was to guide his people into “all truth” once he left the scene. This makes the HS that undisputed authority. But there is a way around that by making specific people/denominations/hermeneutics stand in for the Holy Spirit. For the SDA church it all hangs on Ellen White. In that case individual guidance by the HS is only through one particular person/denomination/hermeneutic… so, the Catholics have the pope and the Protistans have Luther; and Adventists have EGW. Originally, Adventism was labeled as a “movement” - a moving on from the reformation. This assumed that up to this point in time, the Gospel was incomplete; and Adventist teachings were to complete it. Assuming that to be right, (not my personal opinion) little did “they” know time would march on, and the world would change even more; and the HS might actually have more to say. The ultimate truth is, the world has always had enough information to be able to respond to the information inherent in the life and teachings of Jesus.

The one big problem with hermeneutics is the idea that the Bible is a cohesive unit within which we can jump across time and place, without context, making connections that are convenient.

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