The Uniqueness of the Bible

We tend to read the Bible through the lens of modernity; that is to say, we read the Bible as a book. Often people read it as a book that came from the world of textbooks with various authors. But the Bible is not just a book. The Bible was written before there were books. First the Bible was written on papyrus. This method was used in Egypt from about the third millennium and by 1100 BC it had been exported to Phoenicia. The word byblos or biblos became the ancient Greek word for “book,” a term still used.[1]

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Having read the Sabbath School Lessons for the second quarter 2020 and this nice review of Lesson Number 1, I notice that one important question is ignored: What is the Bible?

Seventh-day Adventist readers, most of whom are woefully ignorant of hermeneutics and phenomenology, can be persuaded that the essence of the Bible is not the leather covering or I-phone or other material that holds the Bible together or conveys the divine revelation. In our eidetic reduction of the Bible, we can agree that the materiality of whatever Bible we are holding in our hands is not in essence the Bible. Whatever material we use, the essence of the Bible remains the same.

Let’s continue this eidetic reduction of the Bible. What about the words? The words are like the material described above. Linguistics, a subsidiary discipline of hermeneutics, falsifies the notion that words can be divinely inspired. Not even the words written or spoken by God are divinely inspired. Language is a human construct. Words do not have fixed meanings; the meaning of a word is derived from the word’s paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations with other words, which themselves do not have fixed meanings. Words do not have a divine origin but are conventional. Words do not have a natural relation to what they signify, except in the rare case of onomatopoeia, but are arbitrary. Ellen White prayed to the Lord when stumped about what words to use. She could have walked to the local tavern and asked the patrons, “What words should I use here to communicate what I am trying to say?” The words provided by the patrons would not be in any respect inferior to the words provided by the Lord, because again, language is a human construct. And if Ellen White were to use synonyms of whatever words the Lord were to provide her, that would not alter the meaning of what she wrote, because the meaning of what she wrote is determined not by the words she used but by her authorial intent. The meaning of a text is not what the words say but what the author intends to say. We could switch out all of the words of the Bible and substitute different words and not change in any respect the meaning of the biblical text. Accordingly, the words of the Bible are like the material of the Bible in that neither is what the Bible in essence is.

(Alberto Timm wrote an essay that chronicles 150 years of Seventh-day Adventist struggle with Ellen White’s famous quotation about word/thought inspiration. Having read this quarter’s Sabbath School Lessons, I see that this struggle continues. Why is it so hard to learn linguistics? Why is it so hard for the Lessons’ authors or any other theology teacher to walk across campus and ask the teacher of linguistics, “Please allow me to sit at your feet. What do I need to know about language and words in order to fully understand and appreciate Ellen White’s famous quotation about word/thought inspiration?”).

Our eidetic reduction of the Bible continues. What about the biblical message? What about the teachings and doctrines set forth in the Bible? The Bible is historically conditioned. We do not worship a Platonist deity but a personal God who has inserted Himself in our time and space. The essence of the Bible is not what God communicated to the ancient Israelites and NT Christians but what He is communicating to us today. There is a lot of overlap, but the two are not the same. Our historical context has many commonalities with the historical contexts of the ancient Israelites and the NT Christians, respectively. But our historical context is different. Accordingly, God’s revelation for us is different than His revelation to the ancient Israelites and the NT Christians. And it is His revelation to us today that constitutes the essence of the Bible, at least for Christians who believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and purposed for our salvation. This concludes our eidetic reduction of the Bible.

There is one more reduction to undertake, the phenomenological reduction of the Bible. Our interpretation of the Bible is affected by our presuppositions. In order to “go back to the things themselves” and clearly discern the essence of the Bible, we must free our mind of presuppositions. But this is dangerous. The phenomenological reduction is a rigorous meditative practice. It is mysticism, in which one empties the mind. Eradicating our mind of presuppositions might be throwing out a lot of good with the bad. We are warned not to engage in mysticism. How a Christian approach to phenomenological reduction should be undertaken is an issue we can discuss at another time.

My plane is landing. Thank you for this essay.


Well, something the author ignores is that The Bible wasn’t “the Bible” at certain point of time of any of the progression of these writings.

The authors were not writing “the Bible”. Each of them had more immediate concerns that had very little to do with 20th century Adventist theology.

Likewise, from the broader POV of linguistics, language is arguably an expression more than it is a construct when it comes to what those external symbols end up linking to internally. Language is a process which we tend to abstract into isolated scope of external symbolism, and we ignore the broader continuum of that process that doesn’t begin with us, and it doesn’t end there.

Similarly, the Bible should be a process… much like the process that it always was… until it got appropriated and Canonized.


Any one who writes, “Roughly forty men authored the Bible over a period of 1,500 years. When the sixty-six books of the Bible . . . . are considered, we find perfect unity and harmony in the message they convey. The Bible as a whole communicates one coherent message; on mind planted it all by the mind of God,” has not read the Bible.


This gets my vote for comment of the year!


“Seventh-day Adventist readers, most of whom are woefully ignorant of hermeneutics and phenomenology”…

That’s a rather harsh description of a large group pf people.
I thank the authors for their contributions.
To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, may I humbly say:
Some of us read the bible and conclude that God meets us where He is…
Others believe that we meet God where we are…
I pray that by reading the bible, I will realize that God meets people where they are. He runs the risk of being misunderstood.


Why is it “harsh?” In my opinion, it’s an accurate verbal representation of reality. The statement is not a criticism of people, it’s rather a true description of the majority of church members. I think Phill’s @phil statement is correct and accurate.


I don’t mean to be harsh, but how many Seventh-day Adventists in the world have read the standard literature on hermeneutics and phenomenology? How many Seventh-day Adventists are familiar with the writings and ideas of the following: Luke, Augustine, Flacius, Dannhauer, Ast, Schleiermacher, Georg Friedrich Meier, Herder, Dilthey, Droysen, Hayden White, Heidegger, Husserl, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Antonin Scalia, de Saussure, the Russian Formalists, Roland Barthes, ED Hirsch, Jr., the New Criticism writers, Jauss and Iser? (This is just a partial list). I would be surprised if there are as many as ten (10) Seventh-day Adventists in the world who know anything about hermeneutics and phenomenology. The Lessons reflect that hermeneutics and phenomenology are very much a mystery to those who wrote the Lessons.

Most Seventh-day Adventists, of course, have read what Luke has written, but they are oblivious to his grappling with the science of interpretation and art of understanding. Maybe one of these days Seventh-day Adventists will embrace a deeper study of his writings.

What does it say about Seventh-day Adventists that we think so little of the Word of God that we have never bothered to learn how to interpret it?

Is it easier to learn the material or to declare in polemical fashion that the material is irrelevant? Is it easier to be a hermeneutist or an anti-intellectual know-nothing?

I think we know the answers to these questions.

I think the Lessons can be declared a success if readers experience a dawning of hermeneutical consciousness and begin fervent study of this standard literature.


Seventh-day Adventist readers, … can be persuaded that the essence of the Bible is not the leather covering or I-phone or other material that holds the Bible together or conveys the divine revelation.

Perhaps, but many Seventh-day Adventists I know treat the physical bound printed Bible as an object of veneration. When I was growing up, my mother forbade us to place any other object on a physical Bible.


Phenomenology , a philosophical movement originating in the 20th century, the primary objective of which is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions.

How does that help me understand what the Bible say?
Do we approach the Bible as sola scriptura or prima scriptura?
Most adventists and other christians are not religious scholars. I would hope that we view the Bible not as a holy relic but a book that provides all truth essential for salvation. In that vein, the bible should be the only source for understanding how to interpret the Bible.
I would hope that the Bible is a living, transforming presence in our lives.
I sincerely believe that we should learn how to read the Bible in such a way as to leave open the possibility we might learn something…That’s exegesis and I love it.

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My parents did, too. I hadn’t thought of it for years until recently when disguarding Bibles while clearing out the house of an elderly disceased relative. It would be tricky to apply that custom to one’s Bible-containing Kindle Reader.


What evidence is there of that? If it were true, Christianity would comprise one denomination. However, a typical estimate that I found is

“…world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations.”



You seem to have an intimate knowledge of the level (or lack thereof) of understanding that SDA members have of the Bible. Curious as to you have come to your expert conclusions (not opinions hopefully) and how you would compare it with similar understanding by RCC members, Mormons (of their book) or Muslims of the Koran. Are we at a critical or even significant disadvantage? and how would training in phenomenology better equip us to discern God and His will for us?

At one time ONLY the King James Version was considered the only
Bible for SDAs to use as their Authorized Version.
I have begun using other ways of saying the Bible since the days of
the Phillips translation. I NOW have 7 different versions of all or parts
of the Scriptures and that has increased my understanding since the
days of just reading the KJV Only.
NOW, SDAs have their own Bible TWO [2] ways. 1. is the Clear Word
otherwise known as the “SDA BIBLE”. 2. are the Bibles published by
SDA sources that have on every page a commentary by Ellen White
so we will READ and UNDERSTAND the words on the page correctly
with little room for other readings.

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i think youssry’s ten rules are excellent, especially this seventh one…there probably isn’t any point in reading the bible without an expectation that something is going to dawn, be gained and strengthened, or be intensely felt…

i find it’s also valuable to read the bible when one is alert, fresh and rested, and when there isn’t the sense that something else is impending…sometimes my best bible readings have happened first thing in the morning…but other times, late night readings facilitate the most valuable sense that god and heavenly beings are all around me, enabling my senses to recognize and comprehend the experiences and wisdom of people who lived, thought and felt so many centuries ago…

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George –
In answer to your “grape juice” comment.
Manachevitz [spelling] kosher wine [purple] does have the best
flavor. White wine is UGH!
Welch’s purple grape juice is stronger than the white grape juice.
For some reason Purple has a much more BOLD flavor.
White is a light delicate sweet flavor.
DID YOU KNOW – Mr. Welch began his business for persons
who wanted to get off Alcohol as a Non-Alcoholic Purple Wine?
I only learned this a short time ago.
Also, if one was at some type of dinner party with friends where
wine was served, the grape juice could be put in a wine glass and
that person could give toasts with all the others.

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"how you would compare it with similar understanding by RCC members, Mormons (of their book) or Muslims of the Koran."

Personally I have found that most Catholics don’t generally have an in-depth knowledge of the Bible but do know stories and concepts (and this is acceptable to them). Mormons generally have as good or better knowledge of the Bible and their “special” books than most SDAs have about theirs. Most Muslims I have known have a very good knowledge of what the Koran says and incorporate their beliefs into their daily lives through prayer, etc.

"Are we at a critical or even significant disadvantage?"

In the sense that most SDAs probably haven’t read even 3 entire EGW entirely through…I would say, yes. I recently saw a graph in the SW Recorder that reported that only 65 percent of the respondents prayed daily. So, I don’t know that SDA’s have any specific “advantage” either.

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Thank you for this article. At first I was a little confused by the many "should"s, anyway, the section about Jesus as the center of the Bible is just awesome. Here’s a continuation of this idea:

As much as I love the Word of God (in all its variety, unity, honesty, sadness, hope), Jesus as The Word is the pure embodiment of all of God’s revelation in scripture and the pure embodiment of God’s character and covenant faithfulness. Therefore, His covenant faithfulness secures our salvation, not our attempts. SS lesson # 1, though not this fine article, forgets this at times.
[For all the cheap grace shouters: Gratitude and a changed heart will follow when one begins to comprehend that.]

Yes, the Bible is unique (though different than people might wish), and yes, God is still talking through its pages. Hallelujah! However, Jesus Christ is greater than the Bible. If there would be degrees of uniqueness, Jesus would be “more unique.”


It is interesting that among your ten points, you don’t include reading the Bible critically.


That is not with the clutch pedal down so that the mind is not engaged. His whole piece shows that he uses the Bible to support an ideology. He does not read the Bible with an open mind.