The Black Swan

This is probably an apocryphal tale… but, dear reader, bear with me.

All swans are white. So went the conventional wisdom in 18th century France. The great and the good of the scientific community in the giddy rush of enlightenment progress were making observations and pronouncements on all manner of things. And one such announcement was that all swans were white.

Except they weren’t. A black swan was discovered. In Australia. It may have been the solitary black swan in a world of millions of white swans, but its solitary and singular existence made the statement false.

As Einstein reportedly said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

“Truth” is like that. Things are or they are not. There is no “maybe.” You cannot be a vegetarian who eats chicken every now and again. That would not be a vegetarian. That would be someone who tries to be a vegetarian or has vegetarian tendencies. Neither of which actually are a vegetarian.

But this article isn’t really about black swans or vegetarians. It’s about hermeneutics. Or, as my dictionary says, “the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially that of scriptural text.”

***

In the current existential dispute in the church — the ordination of women — the anti-ordination camp frequently uses a particular hermeneutic to underpin their argument. A hermeneutic that goes “the Bible says X, and I believe the Bible, so let’s do X.” Or, as the old song puts it, “God said it, I believe it, and that’s good enough for me.” Let’s call this the “plain reader” approach. God has given us the Bible which contains advice and instructions as to how to conduct life. If an instruction is given in the Bible, then we need to do it. Essentially the simplest reading of the actual words on the page is most likely to be the correct reading.

Unfortunately for the pro-women’s ordination camp, the Bible has a number of fairly clear statements on the subject. “Women should remain silent in the churches… it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14). “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be quiet” (1 Tim 2) and, as we all know by now, there are others.

Let’s say that you consider yourself a plain reader. In those quotes above, Paul speaks plainly and you have no choice but to obey. Women have to be quiet in church and not instruct men or tell them what to do. Thus, women cannot be ordained.[1] The discussion is over, the problem is solved. A plain reader hermeneutic has delivered the goods.

But what about those places in the Bible where a plain reading of the text doesn’t deliver the goods? Where, if we were to enact the actions dictated by the words on the page, we would quite possibly end up in jail?

If you claim to be a “plain reading” Adventist then let me ask you the following questions:

When did you last take part in a stoning of an adulterous person?

Do you check your clothing to ensure that you’re not mixing two threads?

If you are male do you shave your beard?

If you are female do you take yourself to a tent in the garden once a month?

Can you really rape a woman and pay her father 50 pieces of silver to make everything alright?

If you claim to be a “plain reader” and you don’t do, or permit, the above, then you are not a plain reader. It’s that simple. And thus, you need to explain why a plain reading of Paul’s words on the role of women is appropriate, whereas a plain reading of Moses’ instructions regarding rape isn’t.

I’m about to celebrate my 60th birthday and I’ve been an Adventist all my life. I’ve never met a “plain reader” Adventist. I’ve met “plain reader” Jews and “plain reader” Muslims, but the current count of practicing “plain reader” Adventists in my life is zero.

***

Let us return to the singular case of The Black Swan.

All the swans in the world are white. A black swan is found. Thus, all the swans in the world are no longer white. The truth of “all swans are white” tolerates no exceptions.

You are a plain reader and follow all plain biblical instructions. A text is found that, read plainly, you do not follow. Thus, you do not follow all plain biblical instructions. The truth of “I follow all plain biblical instructions” tolerates no exceptions.

The best you can say about your hermeneutic is that you have “plain reading tendencies” or “when in doubt I go for the plain reading.” But, like the vegetarian who eats the chicken, you lose the right to claim the term “vegetarian.” You are practicing a different hermeneutic from the one you assert. And you really do need to be honest with yourself about that. You are not a plain reader; you are something else.

At this point in a typical discussion, dear reader, you’d expect me to go on to propose a “New! Improved!” hermeneutic that allows me to believe whatever it is that I want to believe. And you would then attack that new hermeneutic and miss my point. This article isn’t about inconsistencies in what I think (many and varied though those inconsistencies may be), it’s about inconsistencies in what you think.

Let me leave you with a straightforward accusation!

If you claim to be a plain reader and don’t do, promote, or permit all those baffling things in the Old Testament, then you are telling yourself a lie.

Notes & References:

[1] I’m ignoring all the arguments about “ordination” being anti-biblical in the first place, or in any nuanced discussion on what it means to be “ordained.” Let’s just accept that ordination is a thing within Adventism and is currently reserved for men and that Paul’s words apply directly to the women’s ordination issue. A plain reading.

Steve Logan, PhD, is an engineering consultant specializing in fluid mechanics software. He is a member of the Crieff Adventist Church in rural Scotland and a trustee of ADRA-UK.

Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10432
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Great article…thank-you!

"If you claim to be a plain reader and don’t do, promote, or permit all those baffling things in the Old Testament, then you are telling yourself a lie".

The “inconsistencies” are overlooked/ignored to allow the “plain reader” to resolve their cognitive dissonance.

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Thank you for making the point so "plainly’ :grinning:
Of course, the same applies to a reading of Ellen White. My first car journey to see and play in snow as a 5 year old is embedded in my memory, and not for the obvious reason. As a 5 year old girl, I was in a dress, because Ellen said women should not wear trousers… When the cold became intolerable my enterprising mum turned a spare wooly sweater upside down and dressed me in these improvised, not-quite trousers. I’ll never forget the itchy agony, but lived to tell the tale and learned very early the foolishness of plain reading.

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“Women should remain silent in the churches… it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14). “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be quiet” (1 Tim 2)

This is where the anti-women’s-ordination clique often talks out of both sides of their mouth. Sure they use these texts to deny women’s ordination, but they won’t use them to deny women a speaking role in the church. In these texts Paul wasn’t referring to “ordination” (ordination wasn’t a thing in the NT); Paul was referring to speaking in church - not just preaching, not just being an elder, not just being a member of the professional clergy.

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This is likely a worse reading on hermeneutic than any Fundamentalist holds! First, it is based upon some assumed Plain Reading person, who apparently does nothing other than a plain reading and simply ignores everything else. This is a straw man argument, so the author takes down the straw man at the end of the article by saying what they really mean is they have plain reading tendencies. Which, I would wager that with every hermeneutic there are plain reading tendencies. I dare say even the author sometimes uses a plain reading! Ultimately this article adds nothing to the pro-ordination view or takes anything away from the anti-ordination view. It is in effect Granpa Simpson yelling at a cloud! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ-LivK4-78

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" First, it is based upon some assumed Plain Reading person, who apparently does nothing other than a plain reading and simply ignores everything else."

Yes, there are many of these “Plain Reading person(s)” in the SDA church.

Really I can’t think of even one. I mean with Adventism so into Daniel and Revelation it is pretty much certain they are not taking a plain reading of those. And oh how many Adventists use Gen 3:15 as if it is about Jesus. Not a chance they are plain reading that! This indicting the anonymous is truly one of the weaker idea people use in writing. After all if there were so many of these folks it should not be hard to point them out and demonstrate that is what they are doing. If I just point to someone that is using a plain reading somewhere that does not mean they always use it, Just as someone could say most of it was symbolic but sometimes used plain reading. These kinds of assumed generalizations are simply logical fallacies.

"Really I can’t think of even one."

Most churches are filled with them.

"These kinds of assumed generalizations are simply logical fallacies."

And you have made some of your own…

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Whether it is the stoning of Sabbath breakers or dispbedient children or forbidding to allow women to have a voice in church, why are theologians and others reticent to apply reason and reject the appliciability of some Scriptural directives on the basis that they don’t seem reasonable or ethical?

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Again if that is the case then why not give specific examples of people who state that their only interpretation technique is the plain reading? If I have made some assumed generalizations point them out. Really if you want to make a point citing an example is the only way to do it. The “oh yeah you too” does not really do much. The reason I said this article is likely worse than any fundamentalist is that they will at least have a hermeneutic and not just a straw man argument. . .

Thank you for a great article. I too have never met a true ‘plain reading’ Adventist but I have met many who claim they take a literal reading of scripture but fail to recognise all of the times when they actually do not.

As for the black swans, I’m not sure about what the wisdom was in 18C France but the phrase “it may have been a solitary black swan in a world of millions” could never have been suggested, swans tend to hangout together and if you see one you have seen many. I have personally never seen a white swan, do they really exists? :smiley: But I have seen many many black swans, in fact there is a family living in the local park. I have distinct memories of our oldest son at a sabbath picnic in the Melbourne botanical gardens. He was unusually quiet and we turned around to see him sharing his watermelon slice with a black swan, one bite for him then one for the swan.

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"Again if that is the case then why not give specific examples of people who state that their only interpretation technique is the plain reading?"

Because it isn’t a scientific article and it doesn’t have to be written as such.

"If I have made some assumed generalizations point them out."

It is enough for me to point out that you made them.

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It is not scientific it is simply logic. Likewise, logic is not satisfied by making an accusation with no specifics involved. After-all if it was just “enough for me” why attack someone’s hermeneutic since it well may be enough for that person. arguments that don’t follow any logical progression are as useful as yelling at a cloud.

"It is not scientific it is simply logic."

Yes…you have decided this.

It takes multiple steps to present a logical argument for a thesis. It takes one logical flaw to prove the thesis wrong!

You may think that because you agree with the thesis nothing else is needed. However that is confirmation bias.
" Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true." https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201504/what-is-confirmation-bias

Ron, you have done your best to “reframe” this into a simple “logic” sequence. This is an opinion piece in which no scientific or “logic” (as you may determine it to be) is necessary.

The author has very clearly stated why he believes/thinks that SDAs are not really “plain reading”. You clearly disagree and that, of course, is your own opinion.

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Really…That is what you think an opinion piece is?

Let’s look at the instructions for writing say:

"Opinion writing takes a stand on a topic and supports opinions with facts, definitions, and details.

Persuasive writing focuses on convincing the reader to agree with the author. The author uses logic and facts to persuade the reader.

Argument writing is used to support claims in an analysis of a topic. The writer uses facts, evidence, and reasons to develop claims and opposing claims. "http://wjhlibrary.weebly.com/uploads/1/3/1/9/13197742/writing_chart.pdf

Maybe you are confusing an opinion article with a rant.

"Maybe you are confusing an opinion article with a rant."

Thank-you for confirming your “bias”. :laughing:

Case is CLOSED!

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Ok, case is closed…even though I would say that this is meant to be a persuasive article and not just an opinion! But maybe that “you” that is being referred to is really meant as a “ewe”, I am pretty sure that “you” is not addressed to me!

You have this right, Ron.

Psychoanalytic criticism is an emerging literary critical approach to biblical understanding and seeks to approach the Bible as “the product of a psychological process in which both unconscious and conscious factors are at work.” It tries “to explain religious phenomena and biblical personalities from a psychological perspectives, and tries to elucidate both pathogenic and therapeutic elements of the scriptures.”

Since behaviors and beliefs at times are used as defense mechanisms, there is more than meets the eye. And the Bible is a rich mine.

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