"The Untold Story of the Bible Commentary"

Raymond Cottrell spent 15,000 hours studying every verse of the Bible. This was his job — as an associate editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, which was published in the 1950s. And with it, Cottrell suggests, Adventist Bible study "came of age."

About halfway through the compilation process, editor Francis Nichol figured that the editorial process alone required 77,175 work hours for the seven volumes and that if one person did all the writing and editing, it would take almost 100 years! Fortunately, there were 37 writers, three full-time and six part-time editors, copyeditors, and over 100 non-editorial readers.

In August of 1985, Cottrell's 13-page "The Untold Story of the Bible Commentary" was printed in Spectrum. In this article, Cottrell reflects on and explains the various aspects of the project. He tells the stories of project commander-in-chief J.D. Snider and editor Nichol. He recounts how rigorous guidelines for writers requested that manuscripts be first and foremost "exegetical" and that, where appropriate, they could also be "homiletical." Nichol insisted that the Commentary was not "to crystallize once and of all a dogmatic interpretation" nor to "give sanctuary or support to the pet theories of any individual." It was, Cottrell writes, "to be written for ministers, Bible instructors, Sabbath school teachers, local elders, missionary-minded lay persons and those who 'have a special love for the Bible and who wish to study it with greater thoroughness.'"

Cottrell explains how the team had to integrate the Commentary's reflection of Adventist teaching with faithful exegesis.

"Inasmuch as this was to be a Seventh-day Adventist Bible commentary, we considered it appropriate, always, to take note of historic Adventist interpretations of a passage. Where two or more interpretations have been held by a significant number of responsible persons within the church, it was our purpose to represent all of them fairly, but to favor an interpretation on which an informed consensus had crystallized… In instances where our collective judgment could not conscientiously support a particular traditionally held interpretation, we sought in an inoffensive way to present the evidence and give the reader an opportunity to make up his or her own mind. At times the expression 'Seventh-day Adventists have taught that…' or it equivalent was our ironic way of expressing collective editorial judgment that the interpretation so characterized is not exegetically valid. Accurate exegesis was our primary concern."

A theologian, missionary, teacher, writer, editor, Cottrell was a significant figure in Adventism; and one of his areas of contributing dialogue in the church would spring from one of these editorial challenges he faced working on the Commentaries.

In a thorough paper called "The 'sanctuary doctrine' — Asset or liability?" presented at a meeting of the San Diego, California, chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums in 2002, Cottrell addressed a topic sparked by his work with the Commentaries. "I first encountered problems with the traditional interpretation of Daniel 8:14, professionally, in the spring of 1955 during the process of editing comment on the Book of Daniel for volume 4 of the SDA Bible Commentary," Cottrell wrote. "As a work intended to meet the most exacting scholarly standards, we intended our comment to reflect the meaning obviously intended by the Bible writers. As an Adventist commentary it must also reflect, as accurately as possible, what Adventists believe and teach. But in Daniel 8 and 9 we found it hopelessly impossible to comply with both of these requirements."

Cottrell conducted a poll of Adventist Bible scholars regarding the topic and was appointed by the General Conference president to the Committee on Problems in the Book of Daniel (which adjourned after five years without consensus). He embarked on his own "unhurried, in-depth, spare-time, comprehensive study of Daniel 7 to 12 that continued without interruption for seventeen years (1955-1972), in quest of a conclusive solution to the sanctuary problem," he wrote in his "Asset or Liability" paper. But he decided not to publish "until an appropriate time" his resulting 1100-page manuscript, which he edited down to 725 pages.

In this, as in his many other projects, Cottrell's aim was to contribute constructively. "My objective was to be fully prepared with definitive, objective, biblical information the next time the question should arise during the course of my ministry for the church," he wrote regarding his study of Daniel.

In a series of posts here in the Book Reviews section, we will present four sections from Cottrell's '85 article on the Bible Commentary. You can also read Cottrell's full article (and the ensuing four pages of index materials) in the Spectrum archives.

We will save the comments and discussion to follow the final posting.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2217

Regarding the following portion of this article, has anything been published from that five-year committee or seventeen-year study?? How much of Raymond Cottrell’s research might’ve ended-up in Desmond Ford’s books and lectures?? I’m wondering if they uncovered HUGE Issues – of which Ford’s material was just the tip of the iceberg?? One more thing. This article seems to be exceedingly-important – yet there has been absolutely zero discussion!! Why??

Cottrell conducted a poll of Adventist Bible scholars regarding the topic and was appointed by the General Conference president to the Committee on Problems in the Book of Daniel (which adjourned after five years without consensus). He embarked on his own “unhurried, in-depth, spare-time, comprehensive study of Daniel 7 to 12 that continued without interruption for seventeen years (1955-1972), in quest of a conclusive solution to the sanctuary problem,” he wrote in his “Asset or Liability” paper. But he decided not to publish “until an appropriate time” his resulting 1100-page manuscript, which he edited down to 725 pages.

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You didn’t say how long you’ve been associated with Adventism, but if you have more than a nodding acquaintance, you can probably understand why this was never publicized. There are other such stories in the SdA institution which never get beyond the strict boundaries that officials have set.

Why was the theologians response to Glacier View not published, but another was? Is the church built on honesty and trust? Are its leaders devoted and loyal to the institution or to truth?

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yes, it is different than it used to be, but it isn’t a problem…on the top right hand corner of your screen, immediately to the left of your circular logo (which for you would be a white D with a military green circle around it), is a little square consisting of three horizontal lines…click onto it, then click onto the “latest” option…here you will see the most recent articles commented on, by who, and how long ago…

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I’ve periodically checked this topic for a couple of years now, and I’ve noticed no new posts on what would seem to be of great interest to Academic-Adventists. Volumes 3 and 4 of the SDA Bible Commentary (1 Chronicles to Malachi) combined with Prophets and Kings might be a profitable alternative New-Testament Version of the Old-Testament. In some ways, Adventists seem to simultaneously ‘know too much’ and ‘know too little’ which often seems to make our ‘road less traveled’ a ‘rough and rocky road’. I have more questions than answers as the information-war reaches epidemic-proportions.

I’ve recently become interested in focusing-upon 1 Chronicles to Malachi (which coincides with Volumes 3 and 4 of the SDA Bible Commentary). This study coincides with Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment by Desmond Ford. I recently acquired a very-rare book titled The End of the World: A.D. 2133 by Lucio Bernardo Silvestre (published in 1985) which places the beginning of the 2300 days/years at 168 B.C. and the termination at A.D. 2133. There is also an interesting book called God’s Day of Judgment: The Real Cause of Global Warming by Douglas Vogt which suggests the Beginning of the End occurring in A.D. 2046 due to a Solar-Phenomenon!! Isaac Newton suggested that the End of the World might occur sometime around A.D. 2060 (if I remember correctly). What if the Internet ends-up being the Foundation of an Investigative Judgment – with an Executive Judgment terminating in or around A.D. 2133?? What Would Raymond Cottrell, Desmond Ford, and F.D. Nichol Say??

I’ve been wondering what understanding one might achieve if they read Job through Malachi straight-through, over and over, in a variety of translations, without openly discussing their study?? This implies Job through Malachi interpreting Job through Malachi (plus nothing). Has anyone done this?? The SDA Bible Commentary utilizes a Whole-Bible, Ellen White, Grammatical-Historical Scholarly-Approach, which isn’t the approach I just mentioned. What sort of church might emerge from such a study (when the diligent student eventually took the show on the road)??

What do you think about 1 Corinthians 15:24-28?? How readest thou?? I was shocked!! I couldn’t initially find any Ellen White statements concerning this passage. Take a look at what the SDA Bible Commentary (Volume 6) says about this quotation. What Would Dr. A. Graham Maxwell Say?? He did the section on Romans, but what about 1 Corinthians?? He advocated the straight-through, over and over approach to the Whole-Bible, and I simply narrowed this study to Job through Malachi, but I have yet to follow through on this concept.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

I won’t trouble Israel regarding all of the above. I’ve been posting on another website for several years, and I vowed to not post on it throughout 2018, so I decided to make a couple of posts on this site to wind-down. I would deeply appreciate some responses to the posts under this article. Again, the silence throughout the years is puzzling to me.

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The silence is the sound of the masses who are not interested in true Bible study. Most want to be spoon fed with q/a and proof texts. The type of struggle you desire can be fulfilling but it is also scary as such a Bible study can be disruptive. Yet, I go back to the notion that the SDA church was meant to be a movement. I think God wants a dynamic group of scholars. This type of journey does not lead to a specific destination but a progression toward truth. Such a study leaves room for our “message” to be current and relevant to culture.

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Thank-you Carmen. People want what they want. If people don’t like what the preacher says, the preacher gets a call from the conference-office, and gets moved, especially if they’ve angered those with the dough. Biblical-Research might be a can of worms which is not relevant to the upwardly-mobile, who want religion to help them, rather than being a genuine search for truth in the context of the Bible and Antiquity.

The Roman Catholic Church basically invented a New Religion, removed the Bible from the Public, and resorted to Violent-Persecution, to attempt to keep the worms in the can, and the peons in the pews, saving their souls with ritual-observance and salvation4sale. More recently, Peale and Schuller invented a New Religion of Positive-Thinking and Self-Esteem, avoiding all the nasty-problems Biblical-Research confronts one with. Dr. Walter Martin was tougher and nastier than a Junkyard-Dog regarding Biblical-Studies and Controversial-Topics.

The real backbone of many church-organizations (including the SDA Church) seems to be Pluralistic-Education and Money-Making, which may simply be the Way Things Are in an increasingly fast-paced technological-society with no patience for Serious Biblical-Research. The SDA Bible Commentary might be attractive to very-few people. It’s too long, too scholarly, too old, etc. But I wonder how all of the above will be dealt with in a Final-Judgment (Investigative or Otherwise)?! As Ellen White and Desmond Ford pointed-out, “The Bible is yet but dimly understood.”

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Please consider what the New Testament says regarding ‘COMMANDMENTS’ especially in the context of the Writings of Ellen White, the SDA Bible Commentary, the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, SDA Publications and Sermons (since 1863), the Roman Catholic Church, Luther’s Works, and Evangelical Christianity:

Matthew 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

12:29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

Luke 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

18:20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

Acts 1:2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:

1 Corinthians 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

Ephesians 2:15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

Colossians 2:22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

4:10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

1 Thessalonians 4:2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

Titus 1:14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

1 John 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

3:22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

3:24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

2 John 1:6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.

Revelation 12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

My ultimate question extends into what the Old Testament says regarding ‘COMMANDMENTS’. What is ‘The Perfect Law of the Lord’?? Does the Torah perfectly illustrate how to perfectly keep the Decalogue?? What does Joshua through Revelation do with Genesis through Deuteronomy?? Please read the chapter in Patriarchs and Prophets, titled ‘Satan’s Enmity Against the Law’. Does the Sabbath predate the Garden of Eden Story in Genesis?? Does the Sabbath extend throughout the Universe?? Dr. A. Graham Maxwell suggested to me that what God said in the Old Testament was more important than what Jesus said in the New Testament. I suggested to Dr. Maxwell that Adventism was a ‘Religion of Responsibility’ and he liked the idea. I think this world might have a Legal-Problem of Biblical-Proportions.