Sabbath School and the Book of Isaiah: Is there Anything New to Learn?

One of the perks of living in the preeminent Adventist university “town” of Berrien Springs, MI, is that it hosts the church’s only theological seminary on the campus of Andrews University, and by default a significant number of the church’s theologians. Consequently, a good number of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (ASSBSG) Principal Contributors have, over the years, been resident scholars at Adventist Theological Seminary. This means that if you live in Berrien Springs and are so inclined, you could have a front row seat to a weekly class or two taught by one of these contributors, during the quarter the world church studies lessons they authored. And if you’re luckier still and attend my Sabbath School class, which always manages to leverage this home court advantage and gets these local authors to lead class sessions, you savor the privilege and enjoy the treat.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11128

Perhaps you’re missing the point of SS studies. It’s not about new and more contemporary perspectives, but, to reinforce the foundational and doctrinal beliefs from the 19th century Bible studies, a la EGW.

5 Likes

A very interesting article. I would like to see an answer/s to the question that were raised. Hopefully there are ways that we can still learn.

1 Like

Apocalyptical interpretation, no matter whether done by biblical authors or by 21st century authors is based on two basic premises: 1)What an ancient author wrote was not written for their contemporaries but for those living at the End of the Age. 2) The apocalyptic authors write to those who, like themselves, live at the End of the Age. The authors of Isaiah, of course (as you indicate), wrote for their contemporaries, not for future readers, and should be read in those terms. The authors of the New Testament who quote Isaiah were apocalyptic interpreters.

6 Likes

Conservative evangelical Bible scholarship is a fundamentally different discipline than non conservative evangelical Bible scholarship. As such, the “overwhelming scholarly consensus” of the latter is entirely irrelevant to the former. While they may not acknowledge this, and there is some confusion due to a lot of overlap between the two, the two disciplines are fundamentally different in key ways. Conservative evangelical Bible scholarship starts with the assumption that the 66 books of the Bible form a unified and infallible revelation from God. Non-evangelical approaches each book of the Bible as an independent piece of ancient literature that should be studied like any other piece of ancient literature regardless of claims about supernatural revelation. This will obviously lead to different conclusions.

Just to give one example, “2nd Isaiah’s” mention of Cyrus by name, definitively settles that the book should be dated at or after the time of Cyrus from the perspective of historical-critical scholarship. According to the cannons of secular history a source mentioning a historical figure, proves that said source written after said historical figure, discussion closed. Likewise, Isaiah chapter one’s claim to have been written by Isaiah in the 8th century definitively settles that the book was written by Isaiah in the 8th century BCE from the perspective of conservative evangelical scholarship. It’s pointless to have a debate between the two because they’re two different projects founded on different assumption and asking different questions.

That said, Isaiah is a sufficiently large enough book that there is certainly enough material even just from conservative evangelical perspective to not need to just recycle the same lesson.

8 Likes

Unfortunately, this is the mark of a church that continues to place the premium on being right over everything else, including growth. How many years have I read through Sabbath School Quarterlies where the there is no intellectual investigation required by the participant, only the need to find the one word missing and fill in the blank, so that the quarterly can tell me everything I should believe from that verse? I want growth. Growth in my own spiritual development and growth in the church community around me. Growth requires exploration, care and feeding.

6 Likes

Wonderful article! The sabbath school quarterly is about indoctrination, not investigation. The Adventist scholars generally toe the party line. Consequences have been historically meted out to those who haven’t.

This also applies, as was briefly alluded to, to our historicist approach to Revelation, which renders the bulk of the book nonsensical to its original audience. They, the seven literal churches in 1st c. Asia, are identified at the beginning of the letter, and are told that they will be blessed if they understand and keep it, at the end. It explicitly states to whom it was written, to whom its content was directed, and that it was to be applied by them. In real time. But, it can’t mean what it says according to the party line, because it conflicts with the identified historicist Adventist bogeymen, and Adventist self identification in the book.

The same malady, different biblical addresses.

Thanks…

Frank

12 Likes

The quarterly bypassed Isaiah chapter 35 altogether. Behold the coming Kingdom as recorded chapter 35:1, 2, 5-10

1 Like

Thank you for your clarification of the difference between evangelical and non-evangelical scholarship. These two approaches must be asked two questions. 1) Is the inspiration of the Bible something to be determined a priori, or something to be determined after having considered its contents? 2) Is the method adopted for its interpretation after answering the first question being used consistently throughout?

5 Likes

Good observation. Perhaps it is more that a premium is placed on being consistent rather than right. There is much inertia in church dogma and many in the church would rather maintain an erroneous teaching from years past than to update it with a correct teaching, for this would require admitting than one was once wrong.

3 Likes

I loved this article. But there is something missing which could be helpful. When I agreed to lead an adult SS class, in my mind I became implicitly empowered to: 1) call out what I consider to be inaccuracies or misrepresentations in the quarterly; 2) deviate substantially from the specific lesson of the week if I feel the class is better served in a different direction; 3) focus on only one thing of significance in the lesson if it is singular in nature; 4) bring in other commentators with differing views, and 5) choose another study guide on a different topic if I feel the subject of choice is not useful to my group.

Just because they publish the same thing over and over, does not chain me, as the teacher, to the text of the quarterly. And having to use Zoom for our class over the last year also enables me to prepare little Powerpoint slides to show varying views from other commentators…I can’t imagine going back to the ‘old way’.

7 Likes

When I led out in the Sabbath School lesson, I once had a pastor who was adamant that the principal role of the teacher was not to allow an exchange of ideas and opinions, but to steer the discussion to the “correct” conclusions and to be prepared to give the “correct” answer to any question any participant could ask.

2 Likes

YES–WE’VE BEEN MISSING SOMETHING! And it’s so important that the Holy Spirit impressed it to be covered twice, not only in Isaiah 37 but in 2Kings 19, nearly the same, word-for-word. I arrived at this from Rev 3, the key of David, which is put on Eliakim’s shoulder in Isa 22:22, and we see Eliakim as a central figure in Isa 37 when Sennacherib’s general mocks the God of israel. The king is in sackcloth and sends Eliakim to Isaiah to learn if there is any hope. He returns with the message, “The daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head at [Sennacherib] whom you have reproached and blasphemed.” v 22,23.
That night 185,000 Assyrians were dead outside the gate. She was God–blasphemy is a sin of speaking against God. She is the daughter of Jerusalem. Paul tells us that “Jerusalem which is above is the Mother of us all.” Gal 4:26. A city cannot be a mother, but cities are named for important Persons.
Paul said, Whatever may be known about God may be understood from the things that are made–even…[the] Godhead." Rom 1:20. If we can understand the Godhead from the things that are made, and we see SEVEN times, that we are made in Their image and likeness, male and female, (Gen 1:26,27; 5:1,2) then They are male and female, even as a heavenly Father begs a heavenly Mother. Wisdom is personified as “She” in Prov 8 where she is “brought forth” [imagery of childbirth] “before Creation, vs 23,24. She was Christ’s Sister, “as one brought up with Him…daily His delight rejoicing always before Him” Prov 8:30
The Song of Songs is not about Solomon, but about Christ, the wisest king of Israel and His love for His Sister. He says “Open to Me, my Sister, my dove, my love, my undefiled.” SS 5:2
She was the dove that descended on Him at His baptism, and gave Him wisdom to answer the Pharisees. She is seen in Rev 1:13-- “One like the Son of man…girt about the paps [Greek word *mastos” means female breast, with a golden girdle.” She is walking among the candlesticks and in the next two chapters, She says to each church, He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
The Catholic Church has counterfeited nearly every truth and they say Mary is co-redemptrix but Mary is dead in the grave. “The Spirit makes intercession” in our hearts, Rom 8:26 as the necessary counterpart of Christ’s intercession in heaven for us. They put their marriage on hold to involve themselves in our redemption, and when the last person makes their decision and is sealed so She can withdraw, She can regain Her heavenly form when "the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” The “and” is an epexegetical kai which means “that is to say.” So “The Spirit–that is to say the Bride, says Come!” Ellen White has it right–we can be the guests at the wedding, For more, readers may visit http://Godhead7thSeal.wordpress.com

I taught SS for many years in various levels, but mostly the adult class. I never followed the quarterly, but would take, either the title of the lesson, or the text of scripture - they seldom coordinated. - and would then, go to the Bible and make up my own lesson. It worked beautifully. Just once, I was told, “This isn’t the place to deal with that.”

I hadn’t attended SS for years, but I did pop in once and got the impression I was at a “pep rally” for Adventism.

4 Likes

I would always focus on a biblical text or theme from the lesson, and teach directly from the scriptures. Far different results from following the indoctrination agenda of the quarterly.

Thanks…

Frank

3 Likes

I don’t teach. Instead I lead a Bible discussion. Meaning everyone who wants brings something “to the table” like observations in the text, what puzzles her/him, questions, some other bring commentaries, some other put ancient cultural background “on the table”, others how they see the texts differently now after all these years and how that influences their view of God, many bring hints about Christ in the text (Christocentric reading), others bring applications, and others biblical motives and metaphors in the text and their connection to other biblical texts. Quite frankly, we have all that “on our table”, no censorship, and then we see how that influences us and how this points to our God and His ways with us humans and how we can see the gospel in it. Sometimes what I bring “to the table” is something I read here in the Forum.

2 Likes

Anything new in Isaiah?
Really?
How about Cro-Magnon Society?
Does MSNBC have anything to report on their theology/eschatology?
Or should we care that no archaeologist has been able to determine the Neanderthal’s “correct” day of worship?
And what about those Essenes?
What was their deal with bathing so much, particularly out in the middle of the desert?
Isn’t there an object lesson for us somewhere in that?
Not having opened an SS Quarterly in 40 years, I’d be disappointed to do so now and find that some part of my tithes and offerings had been spent on remedial lessons I should have been learned 17–or perhaps 2,700–years ago.
Disappointed but not surprised.
SDA’s—like most Christians—take quite literally the old adage about there being nothing new under the sun and so, with very few exceptions, the assumption is that there’s nothing that can or should be edited out of the Bible, nor anything new that need be added to it.
Either would be heresy bordering on blasphemy unless, of course, you’re Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, EGW, LRH, Jimmy Jones, David Koresh, et. als.
Instead, it’s believed that there’s nothing left for modern man other than to stand down, either until such time as Godot miraculously starts talking again (or maybe texting!?!?) in something more “NT” than a “still, small voice”, or to wait for Jesus’ Dad to resend his son who will hopefully be able give us a refresher course on the whole, “love thyself, love thy neighbor” thing.
Being neither a prophet nor the the son of one, it still seems fairly predictable that if and when he does make an encore appearance on this earth, Jesus will probably start with, “I told you I’d be with you always, right? So knowing that you could hear from me at any time, what was the point trying to figure out my ‘good news’ by obsessing over some supposedly holy, 2000-year-old book that neither my dad nor I actually wrote?”

1 Like

I find it ironic that a church founded on the principles of present truth during the latter rains works so hard to ensure present truth means 100+ years old.

3 Likes

Hi Matthew,

It might be helpful to know why Sabbath School lessons are sometimes reused. Due to lots of preparation that needs to be done for making the lessons available to the world church, the Sabbath school lessons are planned many years in advance. Unfortunately sometimes, an author unexpectedly pulls out or is unable to finish their manuscript. This can happen right at the very last moment, and so the only option the GC has is to reuse a lesson from the past that people have found helpful. As this can happen very late in the process, the original author may not even know that they are going to be reprinted, and there is definitely no time to update the material. So even though the author would love to update their quarterly with their latest thinking on the topic, it is simply not logistically possible, due to things like the need to translate. I know this first hand because it recently happened to me. I found out by accident that my lessons are going to be reprinted, and as much as I would have loved to update them—and I really did—it was simply not possible. However, I believe the Holy Spirit is still able to teach us many new and interesting things, even from on an old, and may be even imperfect, text.

2 Likes

A person who cannot draw sustenance from history is like a tree in a dry soil, which has to be watered every day. Such a person’s fate is to live from day to day, blind to the past and to the future. This is a life emptied of humanity and dignity.

---- Ethiopian saying

An Adventist christian is like a tree grown on dry soil that is watered regularly through the SS quarterly. Without programs such as the SS quarterly that constantly water adventists, the codified teachings of Ellen White will slowly fade away into the past and be forgotten.

As a result of the codified adventist teachings such as the Sunday law, adventist communities have been less aware of the problems their generation faces and what they might face in the future. For example, in Africa cases of cancer have been on the rise, adventists are constantly reminded of Ellen White’s teaching that flesh eating causes cancer.

From the light God has given me, the prevalence of cancers and tumors is largely due to gross living on dead flesh.
EGWSCC 1:11

Other proven causes of the increased cases of cancer in Africa eg. the use of harmful pesticides and the aflatoxin contamination of grains, have been given a back bench.

Just like the way trees search for water naturally by developing deep roots that later enable them withstand storms and droughts, christianity has grown over 2000 years as a result of people searching for christ’s truth by themselves. Attempts at codifying christian beliefs or adding teachings has usually resulted in dissent.

From the early church, we have 4 different gospels each giving their version of the life of Jesus. They did not develop one doctrinal story of the life of Jesus and ban the other gospels.

The example we are given of a good christian community in the bible, is a group of christians that questioned Paul’s teachings and searched the bible by themselves. It was not a christian community that was constantly watered with the “accepted codified teachings” that they had to accept for them to be considered part of the community.

Acts 17:11
These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."

3 Likes