How Healthy is Adventist Hermeneutics? An Historical Imbalance (2)

Christianity at its core is structurally a hermeneutical religion, for two fundamental theological reasons. First, because Christianity follows a book – the Bible – for understanding of itself and its mission. The Christian God is not only historically incarnated but is also scripturally incarnated. And God has chosen to dialogue with humankind, not exclusively but particularly, through a text we Christians call “The Holy Scriptures”. Not all religions have a book as a foundation, and not all those who do necessarily understand their book to be as foundational as Christianity does. Christian communities may vary in adding “external” elements – explicitly (Catholicism) or implicitly (Protestantism) – which are intended to accompany their biblical understanding. And they also may differentiate themselves in privileging specific and sectarian “internal” parts of the Bible above others. But no Christian community really breaks from the shared presupposition that religious faith starts with the foundation in God through a divine written word. For this reason Interpretation in Christianity is not a usurpation, misuse, or prohibition, and even less a sin. On the contrary, it’s a necessity. It responds to a divine command. No faith can really emerge without Interpretation. Structurally then, Interpretation is not alien, but is deeply infused in a healthy process of spiritual growth, as understood in Christian terms.

Second, Christianity legitimates Interpretation, not as an external event but as an internal one. In a certain sense there is not an original, pure and un-interpreted founding word in Christianity, because the words of Jesus himself are in fact already an “Interpretation” of the preceding Old Testament text. It would be better then to say that Jesus’ founding Word is in reality a “founding Interpretation”. In other words, legitimate interpretation doesn’t only exist outside the Bible but within the Bible itself. The Bible already has an interpretation. Jesus himself is, ontologically speaking, the Interpretation of his Father, and linguistically he is the marvelous heir and interpreter of his Father’s word. This fact radicalizes the hermeneutical vocation of Christianity even more. Interpretation then in Christianity is not just “tolerated”. We really can’t do differently. And it is required as the distinctive sign of what it means to be genuinely Christian. A Christian believer, even before being a coherent and reliable applier, is essentially an Interpreter. His or her experience depends on a preceding founding Scripture which must be read and understood before being applied. The nature and destiny of this founding word of Christianity lies then, not in being kept pure or aseptic, but rather in being positively contaminated with countless new interpretations. The Christian Scripture, for these two theological reasons, is not and cannot be “Interpretation-phobic”. On the contrary, it’s structurally “Interpretation-philic”.

Let’s now briefly review how this hermeneutical vocation has been articulated in history, with a particular focus in two periods: pre-modern and modern Christianity.

I. Pre-modern Hermeneutics: a “text-centered” Hermeneutics

Pre-modern interpretation is heterogeneous and diversified, according to the different historic and human contexts where Christianity emerged. We have had, since the very beginning, a consistent hermeneutical difference between the Jewish-Christian church and the Gentile-Christian church. The first understood its hermeneutics more in continuity with the Old Testament while the second privileged some important breakups. This is similar to a subsequent difference between the Alexandrian school, which privileged an allegoric interpretation, while the Antiochene school went the opposite way in underlining the primordial importance of an historical interpretation. Such differences gave contrasting theological results concerning our understanding of the Church, Christ and Humankind. And the same could be said in contrasting Medieval Hermeneutics, based on the traditional fourfold sense of biblical reading (literal, moral, allegorical [spiritual], and anagogical) which privileged a more symbolic approach to the text, with the more historic and pragmatic approach introduced by the Reformers.

But despite all these important differences we could nevertheless say that pre-modern Hermeneutics was homogeneous in its implicit understanding of the nature of the text. For this reason I will describe it as being thoroughly a “text-centered Hermeneutics”. It may sound paradoxical because, at that time, there didn’t exist what we call today a “critical edition of the text” – i.e. a text of the Bible based on the scientific analysis of the Majuscule (Uncials) and Minuscule manuscripts. What then does a “text-centered” Hermeneutics mean? Fundamentally it means that the reader could be very active in application of the text but was rather passive in the creation of new meaning. This was because the main cultural presupposition understood that the meaning of the text was “already there”. It was just matter of disclosing it. People were just asked to discover what already existed. The Bible was perfect because it had already-made answers for everything. In this sense the reader was subordinated to an existing meaning and was not allowed to touch or deform it – as it was already perfect. They were only called to receive it. This way of understanding a text, in this case the Bible, was part of a deeper cultural paradigm, which we might call “Cosmo-centric”. A “Cosmo-centric” paradigm is characterized by the stability of identities, roles and meaning. For them what persons, things and events are – was evident and stable. The difficulty was to be coherent when enmeshed in all these pre-established meanings.

It could not have been different, because their way of reading and interpreting a text couldn’t be in contrast with the predominant cultural world-view. A Hermeneutic is always the daughter of its own historical time. A culture of stability and order could only correlate to a Hermeneutics with the same characteristics, one which conceived the Bible as already containing stable and predetermined meanings. Thus a reader only had to respect and obediently copy and apply them. Pre-modern Hermeneutics could differ in understanding of accents, specifications or applications, but not in the nature of the text.

II. Modern Hermeneutics: a “reader-centered” Hermeneutics

What changes with the arrival of modern Hermeneutics? Modern Hermeneutics is not just a chronological classification. In fact it represents a new foundation. There is large agreement in considering Friedrich Schleiermacher as the father of Modern Hermeneutics. And it is thought that his main contribution was in unifying the formerly diversified hermeneutics (biblical, classical, juridical), and giving it a common methodology. In this sense, Hermeneutics emerged with Schleiermacher as a modern discipline. As a discipline deeply committed to rationality and methodological order, as was modern sociology, psychology and all the other disciplines that might have maintained old names, but in fact meant something new. What changed was the orientation. Modern Hermeneutics is “reader-centered Hermeneutics”. This may also appear paradoxical because no earlier time paid so much attention to the Text. But behind this attention, accuracy and even obsession with the Text, is hidden the main presupposition. And this implicit presupposition is the new centrality given to the Reader.

This paradoxical fact is understandable only if we again analyze modern Hermeneutics in the context of modern culture. Modern culture introduces a radical shift from a “Cosmo-centric” view, based on stability, to an “Anthropo-centric” view of life, based on movement and change. In this new perspective of the world, life, identities, events and meanings don’t exist as finished and fixed realities. They are only ingredients that each individual is called to use in the construction of any particular chosen project. The world, the family, the State etc. are not homes to be inhabited, but rather materials to be used in new constructions. The modern, and its twin sister the post-modern world, are “Constructivist” in spirit and intention. The Hermeneutic could not escape this entanglement. In this sense when Schleiermacher makes, not the various texts, but the “Understanding” itself the center of the new Hermeneutics, he is just applying, in the field of Interpretation, what Kant himself had introduced in the theory of human knowledge. Kant's most original contribution to philosophy is his "Copernican Revolution" that, as he puts it, it is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible. By this he introduced the human mind as an active originator of experience rather than just a passive recipient of perception. But the new centrality given to the Reader automatically changes the understanding of the Text itself. Even if we physically read the same Bible, our Bible is actually different in nature to the Bible that the Apostles and even the Reformers read. Our constructivist understanding of reality and the Bible pushes us to see only the inspired ingredients of a “Cake” that is not given but we must make ourselves. And even those who refuse to adapt themselves to this current worldview in biblical interpretation, in fact already apply a Constructivist approach in all other levels of their lives.

And here is what I call the “Historical Imbalance” of Adventist Hermeneutics. We still have not accepted our own historical time. We try to live as we were in the apostolic times committing two raw mistakes: 1) excessively over-idealizing apostolic times; and 2) undervaluing our own time. Nobody can escape his/her own time. And it is not a sin to be born in and belong to a particular historical time. This is what Incarnation really means. To be modern or post-modern is just an historical fact and not an existential handicap. In this sense the Bible gives us the perspective and the ingredients, but certainly not all the answers. The nature, not just the application, of the Bible has changed in this “Reader-centered Hermeneutics” historical period.

What then should we to do with our bodies, with our personal identity? How should we respond to new situations and dilemmas such as homosexuality, women’s ordination, the age of the Earth or the ecological crisis? These can’t be answered unilaterally with an “It’s Written”. Together with the Bible we need to positively welcome and take care of our own individual and communal contributions. We must understand that we are living today in a religious subculture that is structurally fallible and unilateral, but these limitations don’t invalidate the dignity God gives us in this particular historical period, which has discovered the value of personal reflection and autonomy. Our Hermeneutics should take seriously into account the Bible, but also the important questions of the today’s Reader. Our questions, perplexities, disappointments, doubts, our critics as much as our aspirations, do matter today. And they are positive signs of a living Faith nurtured by the Bible itself.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at:

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

When I arrived at the Medical College Of Georgia the Chair of psychology was a man whose wife was also a member of his faculty. I asked him when you ask her a home please pass the butter does she respond Whatbdo you mean by that? He said oh, Tom we leave all that stuff at the office.

As an old Dutchman, I think I just read don’t read into the Bible what you want it to say in confirmation.Such as WO or the dating of creation ala Ussher/White. The bottom line is to read the bible to learn what it has to say to us. To me it says Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Thus Grace is my comfort zone. I can go to bed on that, yes even the grave.


Thank you, Hans, for this thoughtful description. Your words are a treasure.

The Bible has 2 Guiding texts for reading the Bible and only one is often Used.

Both are from Paul and neither conflict with the other.

Rightly dividing is often ignored.
2Ti 2:15
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.


2Ti 3:16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

The take away is that while we can all learn from Scripture not all scripture is instructions for us today.

By Rightly dividing scripture we can Establish that say… the Covenant ten commandments were given to Israel 430 years after Abraham to Israel.

They were not given to Gentile nations who had no covenant relationship with God and No hope without going through Israel.
Eph 2:12
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

Of Course today there is neither Jew or Greek but all are one in Christ.
Gal 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

We live in the dispensation of Grace and Moses did not.
Eph 3:2
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

So when we read the Bible in context any seeming contradictions dissolve in the rightly dividing of Scripture.

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The main problem with sermons is due to inept homiletics, not hermeneutics. (Though that is an issue as well)

Clue: Sermon on mount in Matt 5-7 .

The sermon announced for the local SDA church I attend will be a topical sermon which springboards off of Valentine’s day and a few verses from 1 Cor 13.

Q. Are the SDA ministerial secretaries clueless as well?
A. Without a doubt.

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Adventist read the Bible through the lens of The trauma of Ellen White’s disappointment of Oct 1844. She spent a lifetime on counsel on how to get ready as if the return of Jesus was getting ready for prom nite. Free ye have received freely give is lost in volumes upon volumes of advice until even James White was full of it.


How does one “get ready”?

I remember hearing an SDA preacher mention that JESUS was coming real soon at a camp meeting usually attended by around 15,000. A lady in the audience voiced that she thought He was going to come that day. Even the speaker said he didn’t expect it to take place that soon.

This happened 25-35 years ago…

The thing is that many at that camp meeting have already passed away.

So they needed to be “ready”

I am not aware of any place in the Bible where Jesus directed that “the Bible” as we know it be created! We do know that is a compilation of “sacred” writings from a span of thousands of years, and how the decisions as to what would be included in the Bible were made. In reality, it was not literally written by [God]) and passed to mankind. The disciples did not leave a “defined” set of books as the Bible. Not until the 4th C did a Roman Catholic “synod” decide what writings would constitute the NT. Christian denominations still differ as to what books are part of the “Bible”, and the books do not always appear in the same order. THUS - I find no foundation to see the “Bible” as a code book sent from God, although it is a guide book developed through God’s inspiration over many centuries.I no longer believe, as my mother taught me, that no other book should be placed on top of a Bible. I don’t see Adventist pastors kiss the Bible (literally) after reading from the Gospels - as Roman Catholics and Episcopalians have often done. Yet Adventists have tended to use the Bible rigidly and punish anyone who understands it differently than the “official” church does (28 fundamentals, etc.).


One statement of Ellen White sticks in my mind… She wrote soon after the Corn field episode that she saw Jesus leave the Holy Place and moved intto the Most Holy Place.That the non-believing churches were still praying to Jesus in the Holy Place and of course Jesus easn’t There and thus could not hear or answer.The I read Hebrews and found that Jesus entered within the veil at His ascension. Her role as a latter day prophet was demolished. A core belief was of non effect. That is why Glacier View was so important to Neal Wilson. It was the third rail.

It is also interesting that out of the Great Awakening arose many false Gospels. Christain Science, Mormonism, Scofield, Jehovah Witnesses, latter Ron Hubbard. It is interesting that TV money grubbers are in the main Scofield oriented.,

It is interesting that aged Wilson has a thing about the drift as he sees it away from Ussher by Adventist scholars.


[quote=“tjzwemer, post:9, topic:17872”]
She wrote … that she saw Jesus leave the Holy Place and moved into the Most Holy Place.

BUT: Lev.16 says that order of cleansing and atonement was the Most Holy, the Holy, then when the High Priest left the Outer apartment on the Day of Atonement, he went into the courtyard to cleanse and make atonement for it [the altar in the courtyard].

  1. And he shall make an atonement for the holy place , … because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins:

  2. and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

  3. and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: (Lev 16:20-22, KJV)

“When Aaron has finished making atonement for

  1. the Most Holy Place,
  2. the tent of meeting [Holy Place]
  3. and the altar, (Lev 16:20-22, NIV)

How did Ellen White get it wrong? She almost always restricted her reading to the King James version, and at the casual glance, “and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation,” appears to be a recap reference to the Most Holy Place. Most people aren’t aware that "the tabernacle of the congregation’ is the KJV Old Testament term for the outer apartment, never the inner apartment.

Evidently, she pretended to have been shown what she misread. (She did this from time to time.)

This is a very grave blunder, because it resulted in her description of Jesus failing to cleanse two-thirds of the sanctuary (the outer apartment and the altar/courtyard).

I’ve never seen this mentioned anywhere before :astonished:, so I invite critique.


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The main problem with sermons is that they neglect to reveal the character of God in what they preach, so there is no salvationary power in what they have to say. I have heard hundreds of sermons that say absolutely nothing because God is not in what they preach.

What I understand is there were a number of books held to be “the Bible” by all christians even before our current bible became “the Bible” in the fifth century. At that time, all the books that did not make the cutoff list were destroyed. Some were later discovered and were published as the Gnostic Scriptures.

Those christians who held the other books to be their Bible were no less christians than the current christians. What makes you think the “current” bible version makes christianity instead of a group of christian believers agreeing to a set of books as their bible?


Language is rectilinear like a train. It is created by assembling words (or cars) into a line that creates a sentence (like creating a train). Once created, the train moves from point A to point B intact in the way a sentence travels from writer(speaker) to reader(listener).

There is often an assumption that the words are the meaning, in and of themselves. The meaning is IN the word. Simply assemble the right words (train cars) and you can transfer the meaning.

Within a close community, that has ‘some’ useful validity, as the speaker and hearer have very similar experiences that help to closely define the meaning of words for both. This allows those words to convey meaning between them because the words are similarly understood by both. Of course, even here there are nuances of even the same experience that alter the experience for those who are there and the words they use to convey that event. This is so because the world outside one’s head is only partially (or worse) collected into one’s own internal world of experiences, thoughts and ideas.

But we need to understand that words are containers for meaning. They are not the meaning but the means of transferring meaning. Where there is separation of time & experience, the exact meaning that was loaded by the speaker may not be readily unloaded by the hearer. The words may be loaded and strung together correctly for the writer to communicate within their own close community, but once that language train is sent elsewhere the meaning that the reader unloads can be confusing due to the words having differing meaning between that writer & this reader.

Not only that, when writing/speaking of theological concepts, words (the shape of the train car) tend to constrict the writer’s ability to load it with the necessary nuance or vastness of the experience of the Almighty. Words often fail to capture the experience in sufficiently meaningful ways.

It is sometimes more important for words to describe a process or condition in which the theological experience can be actively re-experienced so that the true meaning can be a visceral experience rather than simply an idea verbally conveyed. Personal experience of the Almighty is often the goal of the biblical writers for their readers and not simply the transmission of ethereal or esoteric ideas.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” (Psalm34:8.KJV)


Scott, what Elmer is saying may not be what you want to be the truth, but that doesn’t keep it from being the truth.


Are you aware that OT passages quoted by Paul are taken from the Apocrypha, not the Masoretic Text that the KJV uses? EGW called the Apocrypha the Hidden Bible, also her large “undefiled” Bible. I take it that she referred to the defilement of separating the Hidden Bible from the “standard” Bible.

Iv’e got a hunch that you don’t feel that your slighting of the “Hidden Blble” (if you do) justifies anyone questioning your Christianity.


It is usually not wise to put words into someone’s mouth in an accusatory manner, Scott! I think you should have asked whether that is what I think.

Actually, I believe the compilation of writings we call the Bible is VERY important. It has guided my life for 70 years and still does. And I find your accusation that my thoughts are a “direct attack on all Christianity” to be an unfortunate exaggeration. Remember the command, “Judge not that ye be not judged”?

I will always be a dedicated Adventist. You see, there are many dedicated Adventists who don’t see things as you do. Please don’t be harsh and judgmental when you disagree with someone. That will usually not help you.


I remind you again: “Judge not”! That is a Biblical command. Your thoughts here are your perception, but not necessarily fact.


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If I can summarize what I believe Hanz is saying:

Modern interpretations mean that instead of relying on what the words meant for people in the past, the Reader takes the words and decide what they mean regardless of any previous meaning:

(it is the representation that makes the object possible rather than the object that makes the representation possible) and (the human mind as an active originator of experience rather than just a passive recipient of perception).

I’m afraid I’m too literal of a person to make that leap. It’s like saying that 1+1 doesn’t equal 2, because I don’t believe they should or because I don’t want them to.

I’m okay with the idea that understanding the “what” written has changed over time. I’m okay with the idea that cultural viewpoints of the past don’t reflect cultural viewpoints of now (it’s not okay for me to own slaves even if there were circumstances in the past that the Bible allowed that, or that I have to marry my brother’s wife if he dies). I’m okay with rejecting certain verses as being incorrect, or unacceptable today within my understanding (1 Tim 2:12). I’m okay with trying to understand them based upon my belief’s and values. I’m even okay with debating the worthiness of the Scriptures as God’s word (written by man, clear conflicts throughout, etc.).

But I’m not okay (for me personally) that I get to decide what the words mean just because I’m the Reader.

That’s just my 2 cents.

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