The Great Controversy—A Diatopical Hermeneutics

Contrary to appearance, The Great Controversy is a book of diatopical hermeneutics. It defends the possibility of a plural biblical hermeneutics. Although it interprets the Bible from a particular, Adventist perspective, it also describes synoptically different possible hermeneutics that have emerged throughout the history of Christianity in different topoi (places). Especially from chapters 4 through 17, The Great Controversy deals with history. But beyond that, it describes the history of how the Bible and various hermeneutics were diffused into each of those European territories, linked by a common defense of the Word of God but differentiated by interpretive approaches that are not always complementary.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Just when one hopes for an in-depth article about hermeneutics, Hanz submits one… Thank you!

The Bible is a collection of ancient faith testimonies in written form. It’s basically written theology. I agree that a canon (“rule”) is by definition “a criterion of faith” and “a guide for life.” We Adventists should open an honest discussion about what that means, away from all the stigmatizing and demonizing.

There is a depth of the Bible that the rational mind cannot grasp. Jesus said: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17) With experience and also humility comes faith, not with the mind alone. It’s an unsystematized collection of theological testimonies. I’m not arguing against the use of the mind, of course. But trust (faith) goes beyond that and has a wider perspective.

Luther was complex in his Bible reading. His lens with which he read the Bible was law and Gospel, with a priority for Gospel as faith enabler. I am also impressed by his ablity of a Christocentric reading beyond a literal reading. And also by his desire not to make a law out of the gospels, not to imprison their power.

And there is also us, the people who bring all sorts of things to our reading experience. That’s why we need the community of faith, reading with them, those long gone before us and those living and us personally as valuable members of that community. We all together discover the richness, each generation anew. For me, it’s not us vs. them, but we. I agree with Luther that the Gospel is understandable for all, but I also agree with him about a community experience of mature Christians that brings depths. We don’t have to agree with everyone of this community (“cloud of witnesses” in Heb 12), but we should at least listen to their perception with humility, and they should listen to ours. Reading with but not instead of us. 4 gospels, 4 perspectives of the one Gospel…

If we Adventists continue this hermeneutical way that we have now for a couple of years, we will end up with an Adventist magisterium (consisting of living people and Ellen White). We will shift the responsibility of enabling our faith and guiding our lifes away from the Holy Spirit to an elite and to a literal reading from their perspective. We will cease to read together, but we let them read for us. We “Catholicize” ourselves, ironically voluntarily.


Here’s hoping that I will get to heaven even though I’m a bit foggy (think central valley California tule fog at it’s worst) about understanding “diatopical hermeneutics”. I even had to add the word diatopical to my google dictionary. Learning something new every day, and sometimes relying on the Holy Spirit rather than the written word, the so-called “Holy” Bible.

Huh, wasn’t there a comment? @mwortman1 Why did you remove it? Maybe I get confused.

Anyways, I agree with you. Hanz Gutierrez challenges reliance on an Adventist “magisterium” in a very sensitive yet profound way that I appreciate and also admire. His specialisation in a wide variety of areas is remarkable. I wish more of us would or could be as passionate about reading, researching, thinking and growing as scholars like him are.

No, Kate. You weren’t confused (about that, anyway :slight_smile: ). I had expressed my appreciation for Dr G’s essays previously in another post and didn’t want to repeat myself as forgetful older guys like me sometimes do, so I deleted the post. Like you, I appreciate how Dr. Gutierrez addresses issues straightforwardly yet respectfully.

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That’s how truth can prevail! Our personal commitment to discover and correct our own flawed understanding.

The Great Controversy has an abundance of doctrines that are simply irresponsible. E.g.,it claims that the following proves that a day in prophecy is God’s secret code for a year!

For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. (Num 14:34)

Huh? Talk about non sequitur!


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