How Healthy is Adventist Hermeneutics? Misconceiving the Text (3)

Each historical period, and each Christian community within that period, works with a particular understanding of what the Bible is. That understanding is certainly legitimate and necessary because the Bible is for everybody and persuasively reaches every historical period. But at the same time that understanding is also necessarily limited and unilateral. This principle of analysis then can’t be applied only to medieval times and the catholic church. It’s applicable also to Protestantism, to Adventism and to modernity. In other words, we shouldn’t see only the misconceptions and not the benefits of a catholic reading of the Bible, any more than we shouldn’t see only the benefits and not the misconceptions of a protestant reading of the Bible.

Protestantism is not only about “Reformation” but, after some centuries, is also about “De-formation”. And some anomalies facilitated by the protestant approach to the Bible are, for instance, the individualistic, rational or pragmatic reading that tends to dismantle a sense of solidarity, belonging, mystery and contemplation woven into its very structure. But probably the major anomaly caused by the protestant approach is its obsession with clarity. The Bible would be, according to this protestant “vulgate” approach – “clear” and “immediate” in its meaning. This is for instance what the major protestant German word for the Bible means: “Offenbarung” (Revelation) – i.e., to make it completely open, manifest, clear. The Latin word for the Bible: “revelation”, doesn’t imply this quasi obsession with clarity. Revelation means to manifest or unveil, but also to remain partially veiled. This noble commitment to clarity has gone astray in protestantism, to the point of giving birth to a “biblical positivism”. And this protestant anomaly is as pernicious as medieval biblical obscurantism. And “biblical literalism”, or its harder version of “biblical inerrancy”, are only two extreme forms of a more diffuse and growing biblical positivism that has become the soft and gentle heresy of our times.

Adventism has, and is developing today, a sophisticated form of this typical protestant anomaly about the sacred text. The average Adventist already believes, with unstoppable conviction and spiritual zeal, that: 1) the Bible not only speaks about everything, but also 2) is immediate in its meaning. Otherwise it wouldn’t be the Word of God. And this deep conviction is hardened and radicalized by the additional erroneous belief that the Bible is Adventist in its general perspective – otherwise we wouldn’t be the end-time Church. The major efforts of our church’s leaders today are unfortunately oriented to reinforce these two evident misconceptions.

This is what I call the typical Adventist misconception of the Bible as a Text. We have developed a very static and substantialist approach to theology. Adventist theology is certainly not the only possible biblical theology. And understanding this, besides corresponding better to the Bible’s inclusive spirit, would also be healthy for Adventism itself. This view is biblical because the Bible is God’s testimony that allows various possible readings. To elevate one’s own biblical interpretation to be unique – is idolatrous. But it’s also healthy for Adventism because this beneficial partial dissociation between Adventism and the Bible can help us to be healed, at least partially, from a seriously detrimental attitude. One that compulsively pushes us, using the Bible, to make absolute and definitive that which is in fact relative, transitory and circumstantial.

Adventism and the Bible certainly need to be maintained in a close relationship, as our pioneers have done, but not symbiotically. A symbiotic relationship dishonors the Bible because it diminishes its universality and openness. But it also damages Adventism because it perpetuates subcultural biases, contradictions and fears by giving them a biblical endorsement. And we need to remember that a community’s fears, tensions and uncertainties do not always manifest themselves through insecurity and vulnerability, as we might expect. Often they manifest through arrogance, an unassailable certainty, an exclusive spirit and even aggressiveness – articulated as unconscious, social and detrimental religious defense mechanisms.

“Biblical positivism” basically tends to ignore and then dismantle the structural complexity of the Biblical text. And this complexity is not given just by the transitional and reconcilable pluralism of authors and ideas. More essentially it manifests in the irreducible heterogeneity and intentional limitedness of the sacred text itself.

Let’s briefly consider each of these two characteristics.

  1. Heterogeneity of the Text

First, the biblical text is structurally heterogeneous because it is plurivocal. It necessarily has various possible meanings. What interpretation does is to choose one meaning among the various

possible meanings – but just temporarily. In that specific interpretive moment the text is invested only with one meaning. That is necessary in order to personalize the meaning and make it applicable. The other possible meanings are not abolished by this reading procedure, just put “in parentheses”. The heterogeneity expressed in this latent plurivocity of the text remains intact. The various meanings are not transitional or just preparatory to some “one final meaning”, but rather the other way around. The synthetic “one final meaning” is just transitional and circumstantial. What remains, in fact, are all the various meanings, because only together will they express the full essence of the text. This is the reason why the Bible’s literary form is not like a univocal mathematics or philosophy, but rather the multifaceted and polymorphic form of poetry, narrative, metaphor or prophecy.

Second, the biblical text, in addition to this implicit linguistic heterogeneity, also becomes heterogeneous because, although a literary artifact, it tries to preserve the different and even contrasting visions of a same event. While in the Koran the stories are synthetically narrated by a unique narrator, in the Bible we find various versions by various authors that the final editor just put together with some bridging mechanisms. That’s visible for instance in the two narratives of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2, but this occurs throughout the Bible. Consequently, truth in the Bible doesn’t becomes multiple and differentiated only with subsequent interpretations. It’s already multiple and differentiated from within, in the Bible itself, at its very origin. The biblical truth is never monolithic or compact. It always includes healthy alternative versions from within.

  1. Limitedness of the Text

But biblical complexity is not due to its heterogeneity alone. Paradoxically is also because of its intentional limitedness. First, the Bible intentionally renounces the temptation to say everything. If it tried to say everything it would not immediately become a better text, but instead a heavy plethora of words that is meaningless and anonymous because it pretends to say all. There are some texts that can be considered great – because they give up the obsession with unattainable completeness. A good text often says more when says less. This is the magic of poetry but also of the short, powerful texts like some great political Constitutions.

Second, this beneficial limitedness of the Bible is also tied to the character of its eventual readers. In order to really involve and include the reader, a good text must remain simply evocative. Only a partial description of reality, typical of evocative texts, is able to wake the attentive reader’s imagination. And without imagination it is impossible to evoke any ethical or religious learning process. So the Bible is limited and partial because it targets the reader as a participant in the creation of meaning. This is what the concept of “hermeneutical circle” really means. Text and reader go together. A perfect and exhaustive text would in fact be bad because it would exclude the reader as superfluous. A good text, such as the Bible, is good because it makes the reader necessary – not only as depository of an existent meaning, but as a co-participant in the creation of a new meaning.

This is what Gregory the Great in the 6th century tried to express when he wrote: “The Word of God (Bible) grows together with the one who reads it”. In this he expressed an incredible understanding of what the “hermeneutical circle” really means.

Today it is not enough to say we are “biblical”. When we say this we must specify what we understand it to mean, and particularly which kind of text we are referring to. The Bible has certainly been a blessing for Adventism in the past. Unfortunately it can’t be said that it will be the same in the future. We hope it will be but there are worrying signs. It would be a disconcerting paradox if Adventism became impoverished and caricatured by an insolent two-fold “biblical positivism” – both grotesque, and refined.

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

in simple terms, I read the author as saying that the church has made up its mind and then attempts to search the Scriptures to find authority which in most cases is not there. The witch hunt over WO is one on point. Certainly to claim that the GC is the highest authority of God On earth is outright blasphemy.


That, in essence, is the definition of poetry as well. The less said, the better. This means the Bible can set principles - the broad landscape upon which the reader paints his own portrait.

This way of understanding the Bible can’t work within a “remnant” reading of it, as has been proven. If a faith community believes itself to be the final arbiter of what the Bible means to say, it closes the door for even the Holy Spirit to speak further.


That claim was Ellen White’s claim. She later recanted but for many years it was her proclamation that gave that idea power. People in a recent article what can be done for the hurt the church has done. Well that particular piece of blasphemy did a powerful lot of hurt and I doubt any President or council can fix that hurt.


The Greatest Problem we have as a church in relation to Ellen White and
what is in print, either in already printed books, or on whatever is still in the
vaults, not shared, is this.
It is assumed that EVERYTHING written by pen on paper, or in print with
words on paper, is meant to stand Forever. And is ALWAYS meant to be
Current and spoken NOW.
So this means, that any NEW thoughts or ideas that the reading of the Word
inspire, HAVE to be tested by Ellen White. If her writings do not agree then
that thought or picture in the mind is False. And Should NOT be shared.


The bible is tested by EGW…not the other way around as it should be. That’s a big problem! Do you see a solution, Steve?


I fully agree with Hanz Gutierrez on the structural complexity of the Biblical text. I am puzzle by the way in which he elaborates on this notion saying that “this complexity is not given just by the transitional and reconcilable pluralism of authors and ideas. More essentially it manifests in the irreducible heterogeneity and intentional limitness of the sacred text itself.” Does not the text itself reveal that the pluralism, the heterogeneity and the limitness of the text is due to the cultural situation of the biblical authors and that therefore it is not intentional, transitiona and easily reconcilable?

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I’m not following this.

What are you referring to here, Ron?

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"one of two questions submitted by the group who planned the protest was, “What are you doing to remedy the hurt that has been caused by the church through discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation?”

Afterall if you are going to deal with hurt in the church why not choose things that are less common then the things all churches have in common.

The discrediting and hidden 1919 Bible Conference and the subsequent election of Spicer to be president of the GC gave imperial power to the GC with the elevation of Ellen White as a modern day prophet. this remains operative even with the multiple exposures of her extensive unacknowedge use of others work. The withdrawl of the Life Of Paul should have been enough to down play Her authority and claims of divine inspiration. Even James White came to reject her claims of authority. It is fine to have corporate worship on Sunday but that does not release the essence of the Fourth Commandment Of rest.If fact a five day work week have been proven to be most effective and productive. this was learned in at least two episodes WWII and Intrrns and resident workloads beyond 40 hours caused greater mistakes in judgment and therapy.

I see no solution.
It is the “natural” progression of becoming an Adult SDA and maintains membership
in the progression of Sabbath School classes.

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The best way to kill that myth is for TW to stop actng like it is true. If you want people to stop believing a myth, the object of the myth has to stop behaving like it is true. If you act like it is true, then even if it is not people will believe.

Acting like it is true? How is that done? Does he say that the GC is the God’s highest authority on earth or does he say that the GC is the authority in the administration of the SDA church. If you are going by “acting like” how do you tell the difference between those two? It seems too many people place their views on other people regardless of whether they are true or not.

But it is true that TW has embraced the Headship Heresy. If he would embrace the ordination and spiritual leadership of both women in ministry and women as ordained as elders, affirm those women who are being authorized as pastors, offer a prayer of blessing at a service (Australia) that includes a woman, uphold our ordained women pastors in China and affirm their work, those actions would indicate his leadership intents. In addition, the maneuvers TW used in Autumn and Spring Councils to try to pass a discipline policy by not pre-releasing the document for reading, prayer, legal analysis, and geographical processing, not allowing enough time for discussion, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. for a vote–these are obvious leadership techniques to hurry something through.

He also led in the creating of “the question” to be voted on Wednesday in San Antonio, 2015. He allowed booing and hissing of his predecessor during Jan Paulsen’s speech, and has continued to push (yes, push through) compliance committees.

This, Ron, is how he has been acting or not acting like.

It’s obvious where he stands. It’s obvious how he could change. We can tell the difference between those two.

This is the truth, not the views of “other people.” These are his own actions or lack thereof.


But not one of those indicates he is saying that the GC is God’s highest authority on earth. They are merely political actions. By the way I always think it is funny that people think the headship myth is something new that just came into the SDA church recently. It has a long history in the church, it just got a new title headship myth.

The fact is GC was never God’s highest authority on earth. It was not when EGW said it. So the church tries to just ignore that their prophet was wrong. What would happen to Ted Wilson if he said EGW was wrong…that would be interesting.

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I doubt that the Adventist church would even exist without its current hermeneutic - “healthy” or not. That world view was and is the very reason for it’s existence among so many other denominations. It is that same hermeneutic or certainty, that gives urgency to the message that causes such rapid growth in Africa and South America and it is the reason that there is any growth at all in North America. Would the same rapid growth (“healthy” or not) have happened if the church had given a “maybe we’re right, maybe we’re wrong” message? While individual followers of Jesus will indeed benefit from more humility in regard to the interpretation of scripture, the Adventist denomination (incorporated, all rights reserved) would likely atrophy.

I would just offer that authority plays out in political actions (which are not necessarily “merely.” The “bully pulpit” represents authority and words spoken from it–whatever they are–carry the authority of that position, especially the president of an entity.)

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Well, we know what happens to others who say EGW is wrong…specifically Des Ford. And a long line before him.

The SDA church can’t say that EGW was wrong on the main distinctive SDA doctrines that she saw in vision…the Sabbath (and all the unbiblical teachings about that), the IJ, that they are the remnant and have the SOP, the MOB is going to church on Sunday. The whole SDA church is built on EGW. To make any retraction, or say that she was wrong on even one of these beliefs, would be the end of the SDA church. And we all know, the SDA church is more important than truth.


Actions are driven beliefs. The authoritative behaviour is a reflection of a chain of belief. The SDA Church is the remnant, therefore the GC the head of the church is the highest authority on earth, therefore as president of the GC it is my responsibility to protect the church at all cost. Change any one link in that chain and the behaviour has to change.


I agree with you. However, staunch Adventists will deny that and claim that Adventism is built on the Bible alone.

Does anyone have an idea what can lead them to see that it’s a deception?