The Authority of Scripture: A Personal Pilgrimage

I have not always held the view of Scriptural authority that I now maintain. My personal pilgrimage has, I believe, helped me understand at first hand the major viewpoints now held both outside and within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Having journeyed through a different perspective on the authority of Scripture and then returned to the position I now hold, I feel that my present convictions are not just a result of what my fathers and pastors and church leaders and the Adventist pioneers taught me. Instead, they are the result of my own wrestling with God and His Word.

I am now convinced that the issue of the authority of Scripture is basic to all other issues in the church. The destiny of our church depends on how its members regard the authority of the Bible.

Please let me share my experience. I was born in a conservative Adventist home and given a solid grounding in historic Adventist teachings and practice under godly parents and academy Bible teachers. But in college I found myself confronted with a crisis over the authority of Scripture. In a class entitled "Old Testament Prophets" the professor (who is no longer teaching Bible in our schools) systematically went through the traditional Messianic passages of the prophets and explained how they really did not foretell the coming of the Messiah. He then went through the passages Adventists have regarded as referring to the end of time, arguing that they really applied only to local situations in the time of the prophets. Then he took the passages in the prophets that are quoted in the New Testament and insisted that the New Testament writers misinterpreted and twisted them.

By the end of that course, my faith in the authority of Scripture was greatly shaken. My teacher had not explained the method by which he had arrived at his conclusions or the presuppositions that underlay his method, and his conclusions were devastating to me. I was confused, and for some time I preached little on the Old Testament.

My seminary experience in the late 1960s served to confirm the conclusions of my college Bible teacher. In an Old Testament course (taught by someone who is no longer teaching in Seventh-day Adventist schools), I was given an assignment that amounted to half of my grade. The assignment consisted of reading a scholarly debate over the proper method of approaching the Bible, and writing a critique that had to reveal my decision as to which side in the debate was right.

This assignment was a watershed in my hermeneutical pilgrimage. I agonized over the two positions for weeks. I was not told in class which way to cast my vote, but the general tenor of the lectures, I now see, was designed to lead me in the direction of the historical-critical method. At last I decided. I cast my lot with what the article called the "descriptive approach," a veiled name for the historical-critical method.

The paper defending this position was written by the dean of the Harvard Divinity School. (How could I argue against Harvard?) It pointed out that the "descriptive method" was free from the subjective bias associated with a "confessional" approach to Scripture. I became convinced that if I sharpened my tools of exegesis enough, I would confidently and dispassionately decide on the correct meaning of any scripture. I could accurately describe what its author meant, I could dissect the biblical text, conjecture about its original form and intent, and reconstruct its life-setting and the process that gave rise to its final form. If I studied hard, learned appropriate languages, and mastered all critical tools, I would be in charge. I could scientifically determine without any "faith bias" what was the most probable meaning, authenticity, and truthfulness of any given Bible passage.

For several years while I served as a pastor, I was an avid proponent of the historical-critical method. It was a heady experience for me. I felt good wielding the critical tools and making decisions on my own as to what I would accept as authoritative in Scripture and what was culturally conditioned and could be overlooked.

Then came the Bible Conference of 1974, sponsored by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference. While attending that conference, I awoke as from a dream. I came to realize that my approach to the Scriptures had been much like Eve's approach to God's spoken word. She was exhilarated by the experience of exercising autonomy over the Word of God, deciding what to believe and what to discard. She exalted her human reason over divine revelation. When she did so, she opened the floodgates of woe upon the world. Like Eve, I had felt the heady ecstasy of setting myself up as the final norm, as one who could judge the divine Word by my rational criteria. Instead of the Word's judging me, I judged the Word.

As the basic presupposition from which I had been operating dawned on me, I was jolted to the core of my being. I became eager to understand more deeply the issues in hermeneutics and the proper approach to Scripture. That passion eventually drove me back to the Seminary for doctoral studies. This time at the Seminary I was delighted to find that most of the teachers were coming to the Scriptures from a different perspective from the one I had encountered in the 1960s. The first class I took in the Th.D. program was "Principles of Hermeneutics." Out of it came a settled conviction, one that blossomed into my doctoral dissertation in the field of hermeneutics with special implications for the authority of Scripture, a conviction that has grown more intense as I have myself been teaching the class "Principles of Hermeneutics" for several years.

I have become convinced that on the most fundamental level there are only two major approaches to the authority of the Scriptures in the discipline of biblical studies and in the church. One is the historical-critical method along with its daughter methods which employ similar critical presuppositions. This method arose during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and is still very much alive and well. The other is the grammatical-historical biblical interpretation which rejects critical presuppositions. Revived by the Reformers after a period of eclipse during medieval times and continuing until the present among conservative Christians, this approach also is alive – but perhaps not so well, for many, even among Evangelical Christians, have recently been rejecting it in favor of a modified form of the historical-critical method.

Conflict in the Adventist Church

In Adventism at the present moment, I believe I can say safely though very regretfully, these two approaches toward Scripture are locked in a life-and-death struggle.

I do not want to be an alarmist, and it is not in my nature to seek to stir up controversy or polarization. But I cannot pretend that the problem does not exist. There are many who feel that a discussion on this issue involves merely semantics, that there really is no clear-cut and radical distinction between the two approaches.

But my own experience, based on my own hermeneutical pilgrimage, has convinced me otherwise. I believe that there is a true division on this issue even within Adventism and that the ultimate authority of Scripture is at stake. The subtle but radical difference between the two approaches can perhaps most graphically be shown by placing the main features side by side, and by giving illustrations from real life as I have personally observed them.

The outline below presents the basic differences between the historical-critical method and the traditional Protestant (and Adventist) approach, which we may call the "grammatical-historical" or "historical-biblical" interpretation.1 This is of course schematic and cannot represent fully every variation.

A Comparison of the Two Methods

Historical-Critical Method

A. Definition

The attempt to verify the truthfulness and understand the meaning of biblical data on the basis of the principles and procedures of secular historical science.

B. Objective

To arrive at the correct meaning of Scripture, which is the human author's intention as understood by his contemporaries.

C. Basic Presuppositions

1. Secular norm: The principles and procedures of secular historical science constitute the external norm and proper method for evaluating the truthfulness and interpreting the meaning of biblical data.

2. Principle of criticism (methodological doubt): the autonomy of the human investigator to interrogate and evaluate on his own apart from the specific declarations of the biblical text.

3. Principle of analogy present experience is the criterion for evaluating the probability of biblical events to have occurred, since all events are in principle similar.

4. Principle of correlation (or causation): a closed system of cause and effect with no room for the supernatural intervention of God in history.

5. Disunity of Scripture, since its production involved many human authors or redactors, Scripture cannot therefore be compared with Scripture ("proof-texts") to arrive at a unified biblical teaching.

6. “Time-conditioned” or "culturally-conditioned" nature of Scripture; the historical context is responsible for the production of Scripture.

7. The human and divine elements of Scripture must be distinguished and separated: the Bible contains but does not equal the Word of God.

D. Basic Hermeneutical Procedures

1. Historical Context (Sitz im Leben): Attempt to understand the reconstructed hypothetical life setting which produced (gave rise to, shaped) the biblical text (often quite apart from the setting specifically stated by the text).

2. Literary (source) criticism: The attempt to hypothetically reconstruct and understand the process of literary development leading to the present form of the text, based on the assumption that sources are a product of the life setting of the community which produced them (often in opposition to specific Scriptural statements regarding the origin and nature of the sources.)

3. Form criticism: The attempt to provide a conjectured reconstruction of the process of pre-literary (oral) development behind the various literary forms, based upon the assumption that the biblical material has an oral pre-history like conventional folk-literature and like folk-literature arises on the basis of traditions which are formed according to the laws inherent in the development of folk traditions.

4. Redaction criticism. The attempt to discover and describe the life setting, sociological and theological motivations which determined the basis upon which the redactor selected, modified, reconstructed, edited, altered or added to traditional materials in order to make them say what was appropriated within his new life setting according to new theological concerns; assumes that each redactor had a unique theology and life setting which differed from (and may have contradicted) his sources and other redactors.

5. Tradition history: The attempt to trace the precompositional history of traditions from stage to stage and passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation to the final written form; based upon the assumption that each generation interpretively reshaped the material.

Historical-Biblical Approach

A. Definition

The attempt to understand the meaning of biblical data by means of methodological considerations arising from Scripture alone.

B. Objective

To arrive at the correct meaning of Scripture, which is what God intended to communicate, whether or not it was fully known by the human author or his contemporaries (1 Pet 1:10-12)

C. Basic Presuppositions

1. Sola Scriptura: The authority and unity of Scripture are such that Scripture is the final norm with regard to content and method of interpretation (Isa 8:20).

2. The Bible is the ultimate authority and is not amenable to the principle of criticism. Biblical data are accepted at face value and not subjected to an external norm to determine truthfulness, adequacy, intelligibility, etc. (Isa 66:2).

3. Suspension of the compelling principles of analogy to allow for the unique activity of God as described in Scripture and in the process of the formation of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19-21).

4. Suspension of the principle of correlation (or natural cause and effect) to allow for the divine intervention in history as described in Scripture (Heb. 1).

5. Unity of Scripture, since the many human authors are superintended by one divine author; therefore Scripture can be compared with Scripture to arrive at biblical doctrine (Lk 24:27; 1 Cor 2:13).

6. Timeless nature of Scripture: God speaks through the prophet to a specific culture, yet the message transcends cultural backgrounds as timeless truth (John 10:35).

7. The divine and human elements in Scripture cannot be distinguished or separated; the Bible equals the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16, 17).

D. Basic Hermeneutical Procedures

1. Historical Context (Sitz im Leben): Attempt to understand the contemporary historical background in which God revealed Himself (with Scripture as a whole the final context and norm for application of historical background to the text).

2. Literary Analysis: Examination of the literary characteristics of the biblical materials in their canonical form.

3. Form analysis: An attempt to describe and classify the various types of literature found in (the canonical form of) Scripture.

4. Theological analysis of Biblical books: a study of the particular theological emphasis of each Bible writer (according to his own mind set and capacity to understand), seen within the larger context of the unity of the whole Scripture that allows the Bible to be its own interpreter and the various theological emphases to be in harmony with one another.

5. Diachronic (thematic) analysis: The attempt to trace the development of various themes and motives chronologically through the Bible in its canonical form; based on the Scriptural position that God gives added (progressive) revelation to later generations, which, however, is in full harmony with all previous revelation.

Contrasting Definitions

Edgar Krentz, in his recent but classical treatment, The Historical-Critical Method, clearly indicates how the historical-critical method is "based on a secular understanding of history"2 which approaches Scripture "critically with the same methods used on all ancient literature."3 "The methods are secular."4

We must ask, is secular historical science with its accompanying presuppositions, appropriate for the study of Scripture? Can we approach Scripture solely from "below," from the naturalistic level, in light of the Bible's own claim that it originated from "above," from divine revelation. Can the scientific method dictate how to approach Scripture, or should the method of studying Scripture come from principles found in Scripture alone?

Contrasting Sets of Objectives

In the contrast between the two sets of objectives outlined above, we see a radical divergence between historical-critical studies and historical-biblical ones. The objective of the historical-critical method in ascertaining the correct meaning of Scripture is to arrive at the human author's intent as it was understood by his contemporaries in relation to their local setting.

On the other hand, the objective of historical-biblical interpretation (the classical approach of Adventists and the Reformers) is to determine the correct meaning of Scripture as a message sent by God, whether or not it was fully understood by its human writer or his contemporaries. According to 1 Pet 1:10-11 NIV, "The prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the suffering of Christ and the glories that would follow." The prophets did not always understand fully. They searched intently. They tried to understand the import and the fullness, but it was only as Jesus came and explained the Scriptures that the full light of what had been prophesied was understood. They, or rather, Christ is still unfolding their meaning today.

There is a growing tendency even within Adventism to go along with the stated objective of the historical-critical method. Recently I was discussing the appropriate objective of exegesis with an Adventist doctoral student at a secular university He was quite candid with me. He argued vociferously that exegesis has as its goal an understanding of what the human author's intention was, as understood by his contemporaries.

I replied, "But what about 1 Peter 1:10-12?" My friend was quite aware of the passage but answered, “Well, that particular writing – and I don't believe it's Peter's – is culturally conditioned by the time when it was written; therefore, I can no longer go along with Peter's particular understanding."

I'm not trying to say that every historical-critical scholar would use this student's evasive maneuvering. But I find a trend in our circles to see the meaning of the Scriptures only as they were interpreted and understood by the human authors' contemporaries in relation to their immediate setting.

At a recent meeting of Seventh-day Adventist scholars a lecture was presented on the book of Revelation. The major thrust of the lecture was that the book of Revelation can only be understood in the light of its first-century context, and that it refers only to a first-century situation. The book was intended to bring comfort to those being persecuted or oppressed at that time. Although we may make some later reapplications, these are not the accurate and true meaning of the text.

At another session I heard Adventist scholars discuss the Messianic psalms. The thrust of the discussion was that there are no Messianic psalms. New Testament writers misinterpreted certain psalms as Messianic. But, I ask, how does this square with the specific declarations of New Testament writers concerning the original Messianic intent of their authors (as, e.g., in Acts 2:25-35)?

The Role of Basic Presuppositions

Above I list seven presuppositions underlying each approach to Scripture. Number one is the basic orientation point; two, three, and four are crucial principles, and five, six, and seven are the outworking of these principles. Let's begin with the first and most basic presupposition underlying each approach.

In the historical-critical method the principles and procedures of secular science constitute the external norm for evaluating the truthfulness and interpreting the meaning of biblical data. We recognize at once that the ultimate issue here is: Who has the final word? What is the ultimate norm? Is Scripture to be judged by the principles of a secular historical method or is the method to be judged by Scripture? Do we still believe in sola scriptura? – in the Bible only? (I must say I have been shocked to find that this belief seems to be waning in the Seventh-day Adventist church.)

A few years ago, while on a sabbatical study leave, I was invited to a seminar at which Adventist professors discussed inspiration. They asked me what I thought. When I mentioned something about sola scriptura, a colleague sitting next to me, who had once been a classmate of mine at the Seminary and had since taken doctoral studies elsewhere, responded, "Do you still believe in sola scriptura? That's passé. We no longer take it as our norm." He added, "I believe in inspiration, of course. I believe that the Bible is inspired. So was Mahatma Ghandi. So was Martin Luther King. So is Mother Theresa. If they all were inspired, how can we determine what is true and what is not true among writings that claim to be inspired? We have to develop certain rational criteria which we can apply to each text to determine its truthfulness and authenticity"

Edgar McKnight clearly points out the rationalistic basis of the historical-critical method: "The basic postulate [of the historical-critical method] is that of human reason and the supremacy of reason as the ultimate criterion for truth."5

To me the response to this position is plain: "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa 8:20). The Bible and the Bible only is the ultimate authority Yes, we have other "authorities," but the Bible is the only supreme authority. In the historical-biblical approach the authority and unity of Scripture are such that Scripture is its own final norm rather than secular science or human reason or experience.

The Principle of Criticism

The principle of criticism is the heart of the historical-critical method, even in its modified forms. Edgar Krentz acknowledges that "this principle [of criticism] is affirmed by all modern historical study."6

When critical scholars talk about biblical "criticism" and the historical-critical method, they do not mean critical in the sense of examining a thing rigorously, neither do they intend to connote the negative idea of fault-finding, nor do they mean "crucial," as in the expression "this is a critical issue." The technical meaning of "criticism" in the historical-critical method is that "historical sources are like witnesses in a court of law: they must be interrogated and their answers evaluated. The art of interrogation and evaluation is called criticism." In this process "the historian examines the credentials of a witness to determine the person's credibility (authenticity) and whether the evidence has come down unimpaired (integrity)."7

In its essence, such criticism is the Cartesian principle of methodological doubt.8 Nothing is accepted at face value, but everything must be verified or corrected by reexamining evidence. In everything there is an "openness to correction" which "implies that historical research produces only probabilities."9

In effect, this principle makes "me" the final determiner of truth and exalts "my" reason as the final test of the authenticity of a passage. "I" judge Scripture; Scripture doesn't judge "me."

The heart of the matter as I see it is this: Criticism is appropriate for everything in the world except the Scriptures. God asks us to develop our critical powers so that we will not accept anything we hear, see, or experience unless it is in accordance with what He tells us in the Bible. I am not opposed to the critical spirit; I just refuse to use it on the Word of God, which is the critical authority by which I am to be judged. The proper approach, I believe, is found in the grammatical-historical biblical interpretation, which claims that the Bible is the ultimate authority and is not amenable to the principle of criticism. Biblical data are to be accepted at face value and not subjected to an external norm that determines their truthfulness, adequacy, validity, or intelligibility.

Gerhard Maier, a noted European biblical scholar who broke with the historical-critical method, writes in his book The End of the Historical-Critical Method that "a critical method must fail, because it presents an inner impossibility. For the correlative or counterpart to revelation is not critique, but obedience; it is not correction of the text – not even on the basis of a partially recognized and applied revelation – but a let me be corrected."10 The proper stance toward Scripture is captured by the prophet Isaiah: "This is the man to whom I will look: he that is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word' (Isa 66:2).

Ellen White clearly rejects the principle of criticism in approaching Scripture:

“In our day, as of old, the vital truths of God's Word are set aside for human theories and speculations. Many professed ministers of the gospel do not accept the whole Bible as the inspired word. One wise man rejects one portion; another questions another part. They set up their judgment as superior to the word; and the Scripture which they do teach rests upon their own authority. Its divine authenticity is destroyed. Thus the seeds of infidelity are sown broadcast; for the people become confused and know not what to believe... Christ rebuked these practices in His day He taught that the word of God was to be understood by all. He pointed to the Scriptures as of unquestionable authority, and we should do the same. The Bible is to be presented as the word of the infinite God, as the end if all controversy and the foundation of all faith.”11

The presence or absence of the fundamental principle of criticism is really the litmus test of whether or not the historical-critical methodology is being employed. For this reason I rejoice that the Methods of Bible Study Committee Report rejects the classical historical-critical method and warns that "even a modified use of this method that retains the principle of criticism which subordinates the Bible to human reason is unacceptable to Adventists."12

The Principle of Analogy

In close relation to the principle of criticism is the principle of analogy. Edgar Krantz observes that "all historians also accept Troeltsch's principle of analogy"13 The principle of analogy is simple: Present experience is the criterion for evaluating the probability that events mentioned in Scripture actually occurred, inasmuch as all events are in principle similar.

In other words, we are to judge what happened in biblical times by what is happening today; and if we do not see a given thing happening today, in all probability it could not have happened then. The implication has been felt in Adventist circles. Some Adventists say that because we do not see special creation taking place now, but only micro-evolution, we therefore have to adopt some theistic macro-evolution to explain the past. We do not see universal floods today, so there cannot have been a universal flood in the past. We do not see miracles, so we have to find natural explanations for the so-called miracles reported in the Bible. We do not see resurrections, so we have to explain away the resurrections recorded in the Bible.

The advocates of historical-biblical interpretation, on the other hand, suspend the principle of analogy in order to allow for the unique activity of God as described in Scripture.

The Principle of Correlation

The principle of correlation is somewhat similar to the principle of analogy. It states that there is a closed system of cause and effect with no room for supernatural intervention. Events are so correlated and interrelated that a change in any given phenomenon necessitates a change also in its cause and effect. Historical explanations rest on a chain of natural causes and effects. A recent article argued, "If the divine cause plays a role then it can't be explained or analyzed historically, and therefore we must assume that any divine cause has made use of only this worldly means."14

This is not to say that Seventh-day Adventists who employ the historical-critical method do not believe at all in the supernatural. Indeed the historical-critical method as such does not necessarily deny the supernatural. But it involves a willingness to use a method that has no room for the supernatural. Scholars using it are required to bracket out the supernatural and seek natural causes and effects. So they look for natural explanations for the Exodus, for the Red Sea, for Sinai, and for how the Scriptures came into being. They look at the way folk literature came into existence in Germanic and other cultures and decide that the Bible came into existence in the same way, through a natural process of oral development, editing, correction, manipulation, and redaction.

Some Adventist teachers currently teach the "JEDP hypothesis" of how the Pentateuch came into being. They show their students how to dissect the Pentateuch and describe the stories of Genesis as simply mythological and poetic rather than historical. Some parents have come to me weeping and have said, “We've set aside thousands of dollars for years to send our children to an Adventist institution and now, as a result of their Adventist education, they have become agnostic. They no longer believe in Christianity, let alone the Adventist church. They no longer accept the authority of the Bible. What can we do?"

What we can do is to suspend the principle of correlation and allow for divine intervention in history as described in the Scriptures. When the Bible speaks of a divine event, we will not bracket it out and try to seek for merely natural and human causes.

Resultant Principles

There are several resultant presuppositions that follow as corollaries from the basic ones we have looked at so far. One result is the conclusion that Scripture is not basically a unity, because it is the product of different human authors. Consequently scripture cannot be compared with scripture to arrive at a unified biblical teaching.

Of course there is an illegitimate proof-text method that takes the work of the human authors, there must be a basic unity to Scripture. Therefore, scripture can be compared with scripture in order to arrive at biblical doctrine. Jesus did this on the way to Emmaus. "Beginning with Moses and the prophets He expounded to them from all the Scriptures those things concerning Himself" (Lk 24:27). That was the proof-text method at its best. Unfortunately, there is a trend within Adventism to pit Paul against Peter, Old Testament against New Testament, etc., positing major divergences and contradictions in theological positions. This historical-critical principle is opposed to the Bible's own claim to unity and harmony of teaching.

Cultural Conditioning

This leads us to our next corollary, that Scripture is time conditioned and culture-conditioned, and therefore many of its statements have no universal or timeless validity. Many, even within Adventism, argue that in the first chapters of Genesis we find simply a time-conditioned, cultural statement of mythological/poetic/theological understanding but not a detailed statement of how creation actually took place. The details of cosmology can be expunged as long as the basic truth, the kerygma, of the passage, is preserved, namely that God created. The rest is culture-conditioned.

Recently an Adventist professor talked with me about angels. He said that the very mention of angels in the Bible bothers him. "In fact," he stated, ''I'm beginning to conclude that the mention of angels in Scripture is simply a time-conditioned way to get something across to people who believed in such beings in Bible times. Now we live in a secular world in which we no longer have a society that believes in such beings, so we can move away from those time-conditioned statements to the simple fact that God is present."

It is true that God does speak through the prophet to a specific culture. We must understand the prophet's times. Yet God's message transcends cultural backgrounds as timeless truth. "Scripture cannot be broken" (Jn 10:35).

Can the Human and the Divine Be Separated?

A final corollary in the historical-critical method is that the human element can be separated and distinguished from the divine, inspired element.

I listened recently to a tape of a public lecture by an Adventist scholar who argued that the Bible picture of the wrath of God reflects the human element of the writer. Such a picture of God's wrath was not a part of divine revelation, but God allowed it to come into Scripture. The lecturer proposed that as we move from the Old to the New Testament, we see the teaching about the wrath of God counteracted by the picture of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But, to the contrary, I find as we move to the New Testament that the understanding of the wrath of God deepens. The wrath of God is just as real as the love of God, if we understand fully what the Bible means by the wrath of God.

Can we pick and choose? Can we separate the human from the divine in the Bible? Ellen White spoke forcefully to this point:

“There are some that may think they are fully capable with their finite judgment to take the Word of God, and to state what are the words of inspiration, and what are not the words of inspiration. I want to warn you off that ground, my brethren in the ministry. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." There is no finite man that lives, I care not who he is or whatever is his position, that God has authorized to pick and choose in His Word…I would have both arms taken off at my shoulders before I would ever make the statement or set my judgment upon the Word of God as to what is inspired and what is not inspired.15

Do not let any living man come to you and begin to dissect God's Word, telling what is revelation, what is inspiration and what is not, without a rebuke… We call on you to take your Bible, but do not put a sacrilegious hand upon it and say, "That is not inspired," simply because somebody else has said so. Not a jot or tittle is ever to be taken from that Word. Hands off brethren. Do not touch the ark…When men begin to meddle with God's Word, I want to tell them to take their hands off, for they do not know what they are doing.”16

Hermeneutical Procedures

We cannot comment in detail on each, but we observe that the same study tools are used in the latter as in the former: the same careful attention is given to historical, linguistic, grammatical-syntactical, and literary details. There is no intention in the historical-grammatical approach of lowering the standard of excellence or de-emphasizing the diligent and accurate study of the Scriptures. But there is an intent in historical-biblical study to eliminate the critical element that stands as judge upon the Word.

As one examines various procedures of the historical-critical method – historical criticism, literary criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and tradition criticism – three basic steps in each procedure emerge. First, there is a dissection of the Word into various sources, oral traditions, and smaller units. Then there is a conjecture about the life setting and original source were. Finally, there is a reconstruction of what the scholar decides the original must have been like.

In light of these three common procedural steps in historical criticism, a statement by Ellen White is very much to the point. It seems Ellen White knew quite well what was involved in the historical-critical method. In her day it was called "higher criticism." Note her pointed indictment:

As in the days of the apostles, men tried by tradition and philosophy to destroy faith in the Scriptures, so today by the pleasing sentiments of higher criticism, evolution, spiritualism, theosophy; and pantheism, the enemy of righteousness is seeking to lead souls into forbidden paths.

She continues, focusing on higher criticism:

To many the Bible is a lamp without oil, because they have turned their minds into channels of speculative belief that brings misunderstanding and confusion. The work of higher criticism, in dissecting, conjecturing, reconstructing, is destroying faith in the Bible as a divine revelation. It is robbing God's word of power to control, uplift, and inspire human lives.17

Ellen White put her finger on the method, and upon the three basic steps in its application, and revealed the baleful results.

Providentially; a growing number of Bible students who were once convinced of the validity of the historical-critical method are awakening, as I did, as from a dream to learn what they have been doing. Many have shared with me how Scripture had lost its vitality in their lives, how they no longer were able to preach with power from the whole Word. They always had to stop and think, "Is this portion of Scripture really authoritative?" With joy they have rediscovered the power of the Word as they have renewed their confidence in its full authority. I would like to see every Seventh-day Adventist, every Christian, possess absolute confidence in the Word!


This critique and discussion of the two conflicting approaches to Scripture should not be regarded as an attempt to slander or impugn sinister motives to any of my colleagues inside or outside the Seventh-day Adventist church who practice the historical-critical method. Although I have considered it crucial to indicate by concrete examples the inextricable link between the historical-critical method and its methodological presuppositions, I have sought to preserve the integrity and the anonymity of those whose views I have used for illustration.

It must be recognized that virtually every non-Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher learning which teaches biblical studies (except for a few evangelical seminaries and the fundamentalist Bible colleges) is steeped in the historical-critical method. Exposure exclusively to this method on a day-in-day-out basis in every class and from every professor is likely to produce its effect, even if only subtly. I believe that some who have been trained solely in the historical-critical method and have not had an opportunity to hear a fair presentation of both sides, may be open to a clarification of the issues. This is why I have shared my personal pilgrimage toward a clearer understanding of the full authority of the Scriptures.


1. Conservative biblical scholars have usually called this approach the "grammatical-historical method," more recently (and accurately) the "grammatical-historical-literary method" (see William Larkin, Jr., Culture and BiblicaPHermeneutics [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988], p. 96). I prefer to avoid referring to this approach as a single unified "method"; instead, I refer more generally to the basic "historical-biblical interpretation" that rejects critical presuppositions.

2. Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method, Guides to Biblical Scholarship (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), p. 1.

3. Ibid., p. 4.

4 . Ibid., p. 48.

5. Edgar V. McKnight, Post-Modern Use if the Bible: The Emergence if Reader-Oriented Criticism (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988), p. 45.

6. Krentz, p. 56.

7. Ibid., p. 42.

8. See McKnight, p. 45.

9. Krentz, pp. 56, 57.

10. Gerhard Maier, The End if the Historical-Critical Method, trans. Edwin W Leverenz and Rudolph F Norden (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977), p. 23.

11 . Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 329. Italics supplied.

12. "Methods of Bible Study Committee (GCC-A): Report," Adventist Review, January 22, 1987, p. 18.

13. Krentz, p. 57.

14 . Seth Erlandsson, "Is There Ever Biblical Research Without Presuppositions?" Themelios 7 (1978):24.

15. Ellen G. White comment, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 7:920. Italics supplied.

16. Ibid. Italics supplied.

17. Ellen G. White, Acts if the Apostles, p. 474.

This article appeared in Spectrum, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Summer 2006). (It was reprinted by Spectrum with permission from the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society where it first appeared in issue I, no. I (1990):39–56).It was written by Richard M. Davidson who currently serves as the J. N. Andrews Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

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I appreciate Richard Davidson’s careful articulation of the point he seeks to make. What remains unaddressed is how those who do not use some form of a critical method determine their normative starting point. We clearly do not, and cannot, return to the cosmology that was assumed by many of the Biblical writers (a sun centered solar system does not seem to have been in mind for them), and yet are content to adopt a way of looking at life that was popular in the 1800’s as the norm. On what basis do we do that, and ignore the reality that we all see things from a particular “location” that is not identical to those who wrote scripture. None of that takes away from the inspiration or authority of scripture, but rather helps us to take scripture more seriously, as we listen more carefully, making use of every tool we have in our tool box to listen carefully and well. Each methodology provides a perspective and a window. What we do with what we see does not have to be in conflict with the various places from which we look.


Admittedly, I am quite amazed that Spectrum has printed [or re-printed as the case may be] an article that hints at SDA apologetics. It was just half a year ago that an author here (who is also editor of another Adventist magazine) stated that use of the term “historical-critical methodology” was “name-calling” and a “conservative epithet.” My, my, but it seems like we may be in a wheel in a wheel at this point.

In the clash between historical-critical methodology and grammatical-historical methodology, we can see the metaphysics of certain departures. It should be quite obvious that Preterism as a preferred prophecy interpretation methodology tends to accompany historical-critical methodology. Thus, explaining challenges to Adventist Historicist beliefs derived from Daniel 8, Revelation 10, and self-identification as the Remnant Church – among other challenges. (It would, for instance, explain why a scholarly conference focuses on viewing Revelation through a First Century lens.) It would also explain why so many of the SDA doctrines are under challenge by the more liberal factions.

Furthermore, it would explain recently popular departures among some Adventist theologians from our Historicist interpretations of the Seven Trumpets. In my opinion, departures along this line are perhaps motivated by political preference since it is unpopular in the current post-modern environment to view Islam in any sort of negative perspective – even to the point of ignoring what Muslim theologians say about Islam or what is written in its holy texts. So how could the Bible possibly have any prophetic insight of importance that would deter one from viewing it as a wonderful religion of peace?

Regarding the desire among some Adventists to embrace evolution – theistic or otherwise – one Adventist biologist pointed out that Lucretius (circa 50 BC) was the first evolutionist. So it begs the questions: Why would Christ reiterate and reconfirm beliefs in creation (Mark 10:6), the slaying of Abel (Luke 11:51), and Noah’s flood (Matthew 24:37-39)? Why wouldn’t He, for instance, let the Jews know that Genesis was mythical and that the Romans had figured out that life came about through the random events of the organizing of particles into ever more advanced forms? Why didn’t He instruct the Jews that they should go and study the writings of Lucretius in order to overcome the silly beliefs of their forefathers? And since He did not, was he promulgating a fiction on His own people as a fully aware accomplice and putting Himself in conflict with the 9th Commandment? And if not, then does this negate John 1 and 8:58? Would it negate His Messiahship and thus put us in the position where as Paul might say we are among men the most miserable?

Anyway, this article reminded me of a better time for this journal. Thanks for the nostalgia.

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In light of the article, would the author please comment on the advice given to Sabbath School teachers in the Adult Teachers Sabbath School Bible Study Guide?

      "Present learners with the biblical information they need to understand the central 
       concept of the lesson. (Such information could include facts about the people; the 
       setting; cultural, historical, and/or geographical details; the plot or what's happening; 
       and conflicts or tension of the texts you are studying.)" p.4

My heart is stirred as I once again revisit this marvelous essay written by my hero Richard Davidson. I first read his writings on hermeneutics seven years ago while composing my open letter to La Sierra University. Thereafter, those writings informed my numerous published comments, written here and elsewhere, that the pedagogical mandate in the GC’s 2004 statement on creation is reflective of a hermeneutic of criticism. I am still stunned by the power of hermeneutics to kick out the legs of the chairs upon which various critics were comfortably sitting. Hermeneutics played a vital role in bringing that controversy to a peaceful resolution.

The first 100 years or so of the Seventh-day Adventist Church can best be described as pre-hermeneutical. Yes, there were William Miller’s 14 fragmentary rules of interpretation. And broad interpretative themes of the Protestant Reformation seeped into Seventh-day Adventist discourse. But the early Seventh-day Adventists did not study hermeneutics or conceive that there is such a thing as the study of hermeneutics. Davidson and his mentor Gerhard Hasel deserve credit for introducing to Seventh-day Adventists a sense of the importance of hermeneutics. There are not more than 10 Seventh-day Adventists in the world who actually understand hermeneutics, who have read the standard literature, who have published writings on hermeneutics. But the sense of the importance of hermeneutics stubbornly remains, and Davidson and Hasel deserve credit for that.

Davidson is primarily responsible for instilling within Seventh-day Adventists the overriding principle he sets forth in his writings that Scripture cannot be criticized. Much of the Rio Document is worthless drivel, but this salient principle Davidson has championed (which is briefly set forth in the Rio Document) has withstood the test of time. Consequently, one can charitably argue that everything Seventh-day Adventists do not understand about hermeneutics pales in importance to this very little that is understood. But I think we should all be inspired by Davidson’s writings to learn without ceasing, to continue our study of hermeneutics. There are still controversies among Seventh-day Adventists that remain unsettled, and hermeneutics has yet to play a role in bringing those controversies to a peaceful resolution.

I have met many of the Seminary professors. I met two for the first time last Sabbath and we had a nice chat. But for some reason Davidson and I have never crossed paths. I have thought about going the way of the Great Gatsby and throwing some parties to see if he would show. Our meeting together would be Paris 1981. But I hasten to add for the benefit of the 4 or 5 readers who know what I am talking about that I would expect to do more listening than talking, and be more affirming than deconstructing, and that we would end the meeting with my understanding intact that he remains the leading authority on hermeneutics in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today.

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Good job describing the two approaches to Biblical interpretation, not so good on sharing your personal pilgrimage to how you came to adopt the “Historical-Biblical” approach. I understand why you rejected the Historical-Critical method, but not what attracted you to (and keeps you with) the other method.

For me my faith was shaken when I learned that Jesus has two quite different genealogies, the Historical-Biblical approach asserts that one of the genealogies is Mary’s, not Joseph’s. Unfortunately that is not what the Bible actually says. And then there are some odd laws in Deuteronomy. In Dt 23:3-8 says that the third generation of children born to Edomites could enter the assembly, but no Ammonite or Moabite even in the tenth generation. The tenth generation? So if one of your Great-great-great-great-greatgrandfathers was a Moabite you were out and so was your son and you grandson. Did God really say that?

Did God really kill 70,000 Israelites to teach David a lesson about conducting a census? Sorry for “judging the word” but that action is unequivocally and irremediably unethical. When I read this I interpret it as an embellished story about a plague in which fallible people attributed actions to God that he did not actually do. Do you think I should think: ordinarily I would consider these actions reprehensible, but since it is God that is acting his action must be ethical even if I can’t understand them?

That just would not work for me and I thank God that I did have teachers who introduced me to the Historical-Critical method of interpretation, otherwise I probably would no longer be a Christian.

In Gotthold Ephriam Lessing’s drama “Nathan the Wise” Nathan is challenged by Saladin to demostrate which the three Abrahamic Religions is the true one. Nathan tells of a King with a magic ring which makes him beloved by his people. The king has three sons and wants to give the ring to each of them, to this end his commissions two replicas made of the ring and after he dies each brother gets what he thinks is the enchanted ring. Much quarreling follows the discovery that there are three rings and they all look alike. The brothers call on an old wise man to help them establish which of the three rings is in fact the original. The wise man says it is not possible to know which, if any, of the rings is genuine by examination, and so the authenticity of their rings could only be truly ascertained by demonstrating its power in their lives.

Instead of continuing the “life and death struggle” I hope proponents of each approach demonstrate the truth by their lives and not by killing their opponents, literally or figuratively.


I think perhaps we have misunderstood what Christ was doing here. He didn’t come to set straight the history of the world; or challenge the property of water, as he walked upon it; nor did He come to heal every human infirmity He came across. Lots of people died from all kinds of diseases while He passed by; and, most lepers remained untouchable. Christ’s mission was to change the human heart - to erase the hold that false religions have over the masses, erroneously, tying meaningless ritual to the love of God. In order to do that Christ was not going give lectures on quantum physics and exactly how God was able to create the universe. All His “miracles” were done as fulfillments of the Jewish hope for the Messiah, as he heals and comforts. Bringing the characteristic of the “coming kingdom)” into the present as the “kingdom of God” was encroaching upon the present. Those hopes morphed into an overthrow of the Roman rule since Israel didn’t understand.

Each generation and each culture has its own unique frame of reference - for EVERYTHING. It’s demonstrated graphically to anyone who has intimately experienced more than one culture and speaks more than one language - fluently. Jesus didn’t come to rewrite the Jewish belief system, or lecture on the cosmos and reality. In touching the Jewish heart, He reference their experiences; their history; their beliefs. Maybe it doesn’t matter if any of us know which laws God used and how, in creating the universe in order to love God and our neighbour".

In making a specific point, or give certain message, we often make analogies to previously written works, or cultural references. The stories of the Old Testament were intricately woven into the Jewish life and thinking. It interpreted their lives. Jesus wasn’t, then, going to wipe all that out and tell them, “how it really is” when it’s not relevant to His message. Jesus did not fix every wrong. That job is ours, through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was here to inaugurate the “new age” and the coming of the “kingdom of God” - not establish new religion - doctrines,- history - or science.

When writing anything, you first have to know what audience you’re trying to reach. Jesus was not going to reinterpret their reality about a flat earth and three heavens in order to deliver His message about God’s love, and our universal need to seek it. Jesus’ immediate audience was a Jewish, and that is what Jesus referenced. If we are going to understand Jesus’ message, we should know the people that provided context for that message.

As it is now, in some theological circles, everything in the Bible can be extrapolated into our current time through interpretation. God’s promises of a “new Jerusalem” becomes an actual “new Jerusalem” descending from the clouds, glowing with golden streets, and introduced by gigantic pearls (from some enormous clams ?).

If we don’t read the Bible within the given context, it becomes a free-for-all when it comes to what is to be read literally, and which is to be interpreted to comply with our specific need for compliance. We then get to jump all over the Bible, connecting verses to comply with our unique message. We can then, also, blindly attribute chapters and verses privately, as we make the Bible “relevant” to our lives. The Bible then becomes our private Ouija board.

Who knows what truths we are missing by refusing to grow - insisting on previous interpretations. Jesus said He couldn’t tell them the whole truth, because they couldn’t accept it at the time. He expected us to grow, to be open to the Spirit’s leading. Maybe we need to re-think the whole thing, without our “private interpretations”.


Now for the “So what?” question.

90% of churchgoers have never read the whole bible.
Most SDA don’t usually spend any, or even 15 minutes, weekly, reading bible outside church.
Most don’t look at their Sabbath school lesson.
Many if not most pastors don’t present expository sermons.
Most pastors do not present verse by verse exegesis sermons covering bible books.
Many if not most scripture readings, before sermons, have very few verses.
Most Catholic churches present way more scripture in their masses than SDA churches.

Do a survey and see what % read 1 & 2 Peter last quarter and who are reading 149 verses of Galatians this quarter.

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I applaud Richard Davidson’s attempt to clarify and outline what he considers to be the main technical features of the “historical-critical” method and what he calls the “historical-biblical” method of interpreting Scripture. The main thrust of his reasoning seems to be that the first implies that the reader elevates himself to be the final “judge” of the text, while the second method implies that the text is allowed to “judge” the reader.

While I appreciate and basically agree with his technical descriptions of the two methods, I am not convinced that the latter method in some mysterious way separates the human mind from the interpretation of the texts, thereby freeing it from the burden of “judging” the text (that is, evaluating the text and its meaning.)

Davidson’s discussion of the two methods does not mention, nor take into account (at least not by discussing the problem), the crucial epistemological issue that by necessity is involved in any cognitive activity, including interpretation of any text, secular or biblical: When a person engages in the process of thinking, reading, interpreting and trying to understand a text, he/she has no other option but to “filter” the whole process through his/her own mind. And that mind is not a blank “tabula rasa.” Even the process of trying to empty one’s mind of its embedded presuppositions, will itself be subject to the workings of those presuppositions. Choosing a certain “method” of interpretation - important as that is - will still not succeed in creating a mind that is emptied of all presuppositional ideas, and therefore open to only the “objective” and “true” reading of the texts. No matter what hermeneutical method the reader chooses to guide his/her reading, the choice itself will be the product of a “judgement” exercised by the person’s mind that will also influence how he/she reads, interprets, understands, and applies the message of the text.

I agree that the divine and the human elements in Christ cannot be separated; neither can they be separated in the origin and tradition of the texts collected in the Bible, nor in the process of reading, interpreting and understanding of its messages. To state, or imply, that using the “historical-biblical” method of interpretation in and of itself subjects the humble and teachable reader to the “judgement” of Scripture, may be a pious ideal, but hardly a reality.

Even when we try as best we can to allow the Spirit to guide us into all truth as we read the Bible, it would be arrogance to say that our conclusions are untainted by the limits and degeneration that sin has caused in our own minds, no matter what hermeneutical method we claim to follow. In principle, to read a text “plainly” and “as it is” as the “words of God,” or even the “Word of God”, also has its dangers, enticing us to complacently and uncritically embrace verbal inspiration and cherry-picking “proof texts,” thereby effectively elevating our own private, often immediate and unreflective, understanding of a text to be the supreme judge of its meaning and its practical application. Until death do us part, there is no way to escape the fact that all we have are imperfect and sin-infected reasoning powers. No hermeneutical theory will free us from the consequences of that fact.

No matter what study method we choose, our conclusions and application of them will always need to heed Paul’s warning and admonition: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. [ … ] For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. [ … ] For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1Cor 13,1-2.9-12 (NIV).

Those words are an insistent warning against intellectualism, whether of liberal or conservative stripe, and an invitation to close study of the bible texts, taking into account all the tools at our disposal and all the knowledge we possibly can gather, including searching the Bible for additional insights on any given topic, and pray that the Spirit will guide our efforts, humbly realizing the limits of our reasoning powers, and being open to the possibility that my own study principles may be inadequate and my conclusions always will be imperfect until "when completeness comes."


Although I respect his scholarship and his irenic temperament, Professor Davidson and I see some things differently.

I believe that I was a student at Andrews University about the same time he was and I had a different experience. The more I learned about the Old and New Testaments, the more I marveled and the more I wanted to learn. One can never study Scripture too much and with as little bias as possible! I believed that then and I believe it now.

Because I was reared in a family which had a high regard for the “Spirit of Prophecy” as the “Lesser Light” leading to the “Greater Light,” the distinction Harvard Divinity School Dean Krister Stendahl made between what the text “meant” in the past and what it might “mean” to us struck me as unassailably self-evident. Although I had an intuitive awareness that Ellen White had said virtually the same thing, at the time I didn’t recall where and I didn’t feel any need to look it up. I subsequently ran across it in Chapter 1 in “Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing:”

“Let us in imagination go back to that scene, and, as we sit with the disciples on the mountain side, enter into the thoughts and feelings that filled their hearts. Understanding what the words of Jesus meant to those who heard them, we may discern in them a new vividness and beauty, and may also gather for ourselves their deeper lessons.”

Take a back seat Dean Stendahl!

Using the language of William James, I am a “once born” Christian and not “twice born” one. My experience has not been one of having faith, losing it and regaining it. Much less dramatic, it has been one of gradually and sometimes painfully learning and appreciating more. Putting it another way, my journey has been less like Paul’s and more like Timothy’s. My impression from the outside is that this is true of Professor Davidson as well. I invite him to consider this possibility.

The word “critical” in English has negative or even hostile connotations that it does not necessarily have in German. Although one of the greatest and most difficult books of all times is Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason,” no one thinks that he was hostile to reason. In English his title is closer to “Analysis.” This is why I think that we should all completely stop using the expression “historical/critical” method. It is too misleading in English and always will be.

No SDA that I know of affirms the doubtful presuppositions of the historical/critical method and no SDA that I know of disavows all of the historical and linguistic tools it has developed over the years. To insist on either attacking or defending it in SDA circles is to do something for reasons that are not theological.

A study of Christian thought amply establishes that achieving consensus on the authority of Scripture and the principles of Biblical interpretation doesn’t eliminate theological discord. The bloodiest theological battles are fought between those who agree on these matters.

We don’t have to worry about the Bible. It is by far the most frequently read book, or walking library of books, of all time. As long as people can get their hands on it, this will be true.


Professor Davidson’s story illustrates so well a most-overlooked principle: The choices we make about matters of interpretation are largely the result of our personal needs and human desires along our life journey. Autobiography is interpretation.

I also took the class “Principles of Biblical Interpretation” taught by Professor H at Andrews. My experience was quite the opposite of Dr. Davidson’s. The teacher elegantly displayed the reasons why his new “historical-grammatical” method was superior to both the historical-critical method and the grammatical-historical method. In class we carefully and respectfully questioned the reasons for the choices he supported. A similar thing often resulted: he would answer reasonably until a certain point in the conversation, then become emotionally defensive.

One example: we were discussing Dr Ford’s “apotelesmatic principle”–the idea that certain prophetic passages might have more than one historical fulfillment. When asked why Ford was incorrect with his principal, H became irate and blurted, “Because in Europe I was taught that each prophecy can only have one fulfillment.” It was clear that certain questions placed him in the position of explaining presuppositions that could not be defended.

I eventually wrote my MA Thesis “Yahweh’s Covenant with the Animals: A Study in Religion and the Environment” with Professor H’s assistance. We were both very pleased with it, and I am forever grateful for his high standards of scholarship which, ironically, he had learned from universities which taught “higher-critical” methods. I left Andrews for the University of Chicago with a quality thesis and a strong sense of the non-rational elements and limitations of conservative hermeneutics.


As a physician who never attended a theological college class, I find the word HERMENEUTICS daunting and challenging.

So I looked up synonyms and found CRYPTOGRAPHY (deciphering and decoding cryptic messages) and PALEOGRAPHY. ( deciphering hieroglyphics and other ancient scripts ) as suitable substitute words.

Did God really mean for scripture to be undecipherable except for Oxford dons and those with doctorates in linguistics?

Trying to read Paul’s epistles written in dense, obtuse, convoluted, contorted, interminable sentences ( one sentence goes on for seventeen verses! ) is akin to reading hieroglyphics. Even modern translations have to resort to extensive paraphrasing to make his meaning intelligible.

The few phrases that are clearly stated by Paul are truly abominable!


Paul as a member of the upper echelon of Jewish elite had slave owning friends, and as a sop to his Sanhedrin buddies with unruly, rebellious slaves, he made this unforgivable pronouncement, condoning slavery.

A carte blanche and cover to all subsequent slave traders and slave owners in the ensuing two millennia.

Why would God have allowed such an egregious encouragement to this heinous, horrific, human trafficking---- the ultimate human rights abuse?

The recent Charlottesville episode reminds us of the horror of slavery.
The Duke of York after whom New York City and State was named, was one of the worst slave traders in the British Commonwealth. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. Our Civil War is a travesty of atrocities.

All aided and abetted by Paul’s intemperate pronouncement!


A clear pretext for husbands to beat their wives.

A dear friend, a women pastor, delivered a sermon on wife beating to a large
(1200 member ) largely professional, college degreed congregation.
In astonishment I asked why this was necessary.

She explained that wife beating/spousal abuse was endemic in Adventistism and that the NAD had provided the sermon outline and decreed its presentation.

She told me that many women with tear stained faces had hugged her on exiting the service.

I ascribe all this to Paul’s intemperate misogynist pronouncement.
Hence the heinous, heretical headship dogma permeating our church hierarchy
and causing schism, division and disorder over the woman’s,ordination issue.

Without Paul, we would not be dealing with this difficulty.

I won’t even touch on Paul’s homophobic harangues and homologues.
They have created generations of gay bashing, gay bullying, and gay murder!

, Paul’s emphatic endorsements of slavery, misogyny, spousal subjugation and homophobia, have caused more MISERY on this planet than Hitler and Stalin combined! Those despots only impacted their own generation. Paul has created misery for countless millions over two millennia. ( slaves/abused wives/persecuted gays )

Hence Adventism’s shabby treatment of women and its shameful shunning of our LGBT offspring.

And as to the Old Testament, it is an anthology of awful atrocities, including God ordained genocides. Hardly uplifting, inspiring nor heart warming.

For fireside reading I confine myself to the four gospels, the only scripture that does not require
" hermeneutics ", exegesis, cryptography, nor paleography!


Like Dr. Davidson, over the last several years, I too have been on a sort of pilgrimage to understand God’s word. I was an Adventist for almost twenty years before I got serious about studying the Scriptures. My resulting studies took me out of Adventism. Perhaps you will see why as I am going to use an example provided by one of the commenters to illustrate several points.

Martin Schrattenholzer said,
'Did God really kill 70,000 Israelites to teach David about conducting a census?'
A very good question. Martin went on to say somewhat apologetically that this account forced him into ‘judging the word’ because taken at face value it shows that God’s actions were ‘unequivocally and irredeemably unethical’. I take that as a polite way of saying evil. So, he was forced by his belief system and his concept of God to doubt the veracity of Scripture. (To me, scholars spending innumerable hours defining different hermeneutical principles are really only other ways to cope with this apparent disconnect between how we understand the Bible and how we want to see God.)

One of the Scriptural accounts of this incident reads, 'Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel and it incited David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah." (2Sam 24:1).
The Bible is clear that the punishment wasn’t about teaching David not to conduct an unlawful census. It wasn’t about teaching David anything. The unlawful census wasn’t even David’s idea, it was God’s. In my studies, I was surprised to find many examples of God injecting His ideas into our minds. This truth contradicts the Arminian assumption of man’s inviolable ‘free will’ (one of the pillars upon which rests the great controversy interpretation). No, you don’t have to be a Calvinist to believe this Biblical truth.
The deaths of 70000 Israelites resulted. So, if the census was God’s idea, then God was directly responsible for those deaths. Does it surprise you that God takes responsibility for evil? Is 45:7 says, ‘I am the Lord and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well and creating evil (Heb: ra’a); I am the Lord who does all these.’ (See also Lam 3:38; Job 2:10; Amos 3:6). So, we have a couple of other Biblical truths that Adventists must grapple with. God creates evil (there is a huge difference between that and sinning) and God is sovereign over His creation.
But why then and why 70000? Here you need a very good Bible teacher. I was blessed to find one online named Stephen Jones. The answer has to do with the concept of ‘judged time’ and the fact that since the time the children of Israel conquered Canaan up into David’s reign, Israel had not been keeping their Sabbath rest years nor Jubilees. This was God’s punishment of the nation of Israel. See:

If you are interested in trying to understand some of the things of God such as this, I believe you will have to look in places outside Adventism. No one has all the truth. One suggestion would be to read the entire book referenced above called ‘Secrets of Time’ as well as other associated writings.
My studies have also led me to believe that there is no deadline for redemption and God has not forgotten the 70000.
Of course, no theology can completely and fully describe our ineffable God but I think one reason God gave us the Bible is to encourage us to search for Him, especially in the passages more difficult to understand. This, in turn, helps us to a clearer understanding of Him and His redemptive plan for humanity.


While we may have come from similar backgrounds and apparently came to virtually the same fork in the road, I took the one opposite of Mr. Davidson and for no other reason than intellectual integrity compelled me to do so.

The basic issue is that one cannot prove the text by the text. This logical truism vacates the possibility of falling back on the premise that scripture is the only authority in human affairs. Any return to this premise is mere idolatry; worshipping the words themselves, rather than accepting the ultimate reality of language which is that words are symbols, not the truths they attempt to describe.

To put it most bluntly, The Bible, like any assembly of verbiage, may be inspired bot it, like all books, falls short of expressing the divine or infinite as no word or collection of them can be anything other than a lie. The word “truth” is not The Truth, any more than a statue of George Washington is really America’s First President.

Clearly, most will also assert that this is the road, less travel but the path I’m on has freed me from the judgements of those like Mr. Davidson, EGW and SDA’s whose words sound as tinkling bells to me, given that I find nowhere in them any compassion or honesty, except for the maintenance of the preferred dogma.


The reason I don’t find the hermeneutics to be of any real value is very different from what I suspect is most people’s grounds for rejection of the discipline. That is, I don’t find hermeneutics overly complex or boring. Rather, I see it as being superfluous, or at worst, misguided; like listening to tapes of what a person said, when that person is sitting in the same room with you.

If God is omnipotent and therefore must have the power to communicate directly with any of his creatures, what is the point of spending anytime–much less hours or a even an entire career–parsing the words of what The Creator supposedly said to some one else? Isn’t direct experience with The Source preferable to any other means of learning and/or knowing?


You did exactly what believers in Jesus Christ ought to do: you construct a hermeneutic that models Jesus of Nazareth’s hermeneutic. You search the scriptures, because they testify of Him

I can relate to that. I find the misapplication of hermeneutics frustrating. A process tainted by tradition is taught as the only way to read a scripture and when it is challenged, the tradition is entrenched and the light from God’s throne is challenged and discarded.

Tis interesting how current events mirror ancient history. America is doing its 2020 census and COVID-19 has killed 100,000 Americans. And this is on the heels of prophecy fulfilled. The Judgment hour of the dead was from 22 October 1844 to 22 February 1928. Followed by the Judgment Hour of the living from 14 October 1929 to 14 February 2013. Then as it was in Noah’s day, when God was about to dispense judgment on the wicked, Noah and clan were in the ark for 7 days. When the Judgment hour of the living ended 14 February 2013, a 7 year period of peace and prosperity followed until 14 February 2020: then came a BOMB cyclone that hit Iceland, England, and Europe and the COVID-19 pandemic that is killing millions in spite of our “Advanced Medical knowledge” while America is conducting its census. Interesting to say the least!

I disagree. Traditional Adventism that reinterprets EGW and sets Scripture aside for RCC doctrines like the male priesthood and its abortion theology is not Adventism. It is a counterfeit that has deceived the majority, who have left the pillars of Adventism that God gave to His people. Go back to the basics and Adventism will be the Church that makes it through to the kingdom. The remnant vs the Laodicean church that rejects Christ’s counsel.

That is not a road that should be traveled. It is evident that it is fraught with confusion. The Bible rightly understood will preform the task that God sent it to do! His word will not return to Him void! To rightly understand the word of God, the Holy Spirit of God must impress its meaning upon the heart in what ever application that He chooses at the time of His choosing.


To reiterate, any supposed statement of The Absolute expressed in words cannot be absolute as words cannot rise above the fact that they are words and actually become the thing which they are attempting to describe.

That is, the word “truth” is not The Truth and God’s Truth is necessarily ineffable using any human language due to the inherent limitations of the medium. An oil painting of the sea contains little or no water. This is at once simple and confusing but also irrefutable.

Thus, to insist that mine is necessarily on “The Wrong Road” is not only an unprovable assumption, it is a demonstrably less than authoritative comment and as such is, essentially, what words always were and forever will be, just more untruths and/or lies.

Do you think Ellen White followed her own counsel? Did she know that the man whom she praised so much (Martin Luther) was guilty of this practice?

But we unfortunately allow Ellen White to interpret and have the final word on our beliefs. Let me support my statement with an example from Great Controversy. See what she first said about the misuse of the scripture:
In order to sustain erroneous doctrines or unchristian practices, some will seize upon passages of Scripture separated from the context, perhaps quoting half of a single verse as proving their point, when the remaining portion would show the meaning to be quite the opposite ” (GC, p. 521). In the same book she falls in her own pit:
Bible: “Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. ” – Isaiah 24:6. (Emphasis added).
“Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned” – Isaiah 24:6 (GC, p. 657).
She had left out ‘and few men left’ in order to sustain her point, – the desolation of the earth during the Millennium!