Why Hermeneutics is Our Biggest Problem

During the General Conference Session in San Antonio, David Ripley, Ministerial Secretary for the Northern Asia-Pacific Division, made a speech noting that the Adventist Church lacks a unified biblical hermeneutic (methodology for interpreting Scripture). Ripley said that this more than any other issue divides the Adventist Church, and he insisted that the church conduct a study of hermeneutics to clarify the denomination’s method of biblical interpretation. The following day, it was announced that the steering committee had considered Ripley’s recommendation, and in collaboration with the Biblical Research Institute, the General Conference would study the issue during the next quinquennium.

Spectrum asked Ripley to tell us more about his concern and proposal.

When did you start feeling that biblical hermeneutics is an issue in the Adventist church, and why?

Twenty-five years ago while pastoring a church I met a challenge over eschatology, and the understanding of Daniel and Revelation. It became clear that we were reading the same Bible, but arriving at very different conclusions. We were using different tools for the understanding of the Scriptures. Therefore we started at separate points and so our ending points were very far apart. It brought church leaders and a group of church members to such different understandings of end time events that they actually left the church because they could no longer believe as Adventists.

Through my years of pastoral ministry, several years of conference and division service, I have seen many occasions that have brought strange and unusual beliefs because people started their journey into Scripture with a different set of hermeneutics and presuppositions.

People say, “I am staying close to the Word! Sola Scriptura. So my conclusions must be right!” But when people start with a different toolbox, the end results will be vastly divergent.

That is why it is so critical that Adventists use the same hermeneutical approach. There will still be differences, and still be disagreements of understanding, but we will at least be arguing from the same points of reference to reach a conclusion.

Who had you spoken to and what processes had you followed already to bring this issue to the forefront before the GC Session in San Antonio?

I had spoken about this to others around me in the months and even years before GC session. I discussed with other pastors and administrators, and of course I discussed with the three other pastors in my family. My brother is a retired pastor, my wife is a Commissioned Minister who works as the Associate Ministerial Secretary of the NSD, and my daughter is an experienced pastor working in the Potomac conference in the USA.

In the training I bring to pastors in the NSD and in the places I have been asked to share in other parts of the world, I have attempted to make it clear that where we begin and what we believe, or presuppositions, and hermeneutical tools, will make the difference between success and failure in mission. The greatest obstacle to successful mission in the local church is not the community, conference, finances, or infrastructure, but what we believe in our minds — the presuppositions we bring to the challenge of mission.

Now this may sound like a different subject, but it is the same phenomenon that brings us to such inability to see the conclusions of others in understanding Scripture. Where we begin is just as important as our conclusions, because the place we begin is what drives us to predicable conclusions.

When and why did you decide to bring the issue of the study of hermeneutics to the floor of the GC Session?

After the presentations on Wednesday [July 8, 2015] over whether divisions can decide on their own about ordaining women it was clear that we were very polarized. Both yes and no speeches were coming from sincere Seventh-day Adventist Christians reading the same Bible, but their conclusions that were worlds apart.

I also felt that the same thing was happening with other issues, such as the creation and marriage topics we touched on in the discussions about the Fundamental Beliefs and the Church Manual. All these divergent conclusions were showing we were not beginning with the same toolbox — or at least not using the same tools. Starting in different places gets you to different conclusions.

I felt that if we as a church did not get a better grasp of the starting point — our hermeneutics — then we would continue to be polarized; instead of arguing in the same ballpark we would be shouting from locations farther and farther apart until we could not even hear each other.

In your speech, you said that "this issue more than any other divides the Adventist church.” Why? How?

I was concerned about the polarizing effect happening in the church over the issues that would come to GC session. Most of the discussion has been about the end conclusions that each side has believed to be Bible-based. I think it would be helpful to step back and take a look at where each side is beginning its journey in the Scriptures. They are not the same place.

I have come to believe that the journey through the Scriptures can be represented by a straight line, so in order to end with the same conclusions we must start in the same place, or nearly so. This is where hermeneutics and presuppositions come in.

By the way, these are driven strongly and influenced powerfully by culture. Now I know that when I say the word “culture” I could be getting into trouble. When I use the word culture in this sense, I am not talking about American, Korean, German, or Kenyan culture, but organizational culture. While organizational culture can be driven by our national culture, it is separate from and often, in the Adventist church, is counter national culture.

A culture in the context of a group is the system of values and beliefs a group holds that drives actions and behaviors and decisions. Our way of life — our organizational culture — is constantly with us; yet, it operates largely outside of our conscious awareness. We automatically participate in it. This culture is largely hidden from and invisible to the people within the system. It is like air: we do not notice it until it is gone.

The good news is that the hermeneutics can be the same for the different cultural groups. It is the presuppositions that drive what tools we will bring out of the hermeneutical toolbox, which hand we will hold them in, and how we will apply the Scripture. We will surely be better off if we all start with the same hermeneutical toolbox and then bring our presumptions to a conscious level.

What do you envision for the study of hermeneutics you proposed? Something like the Theology of Ordination Study Committee? What do you think would be ideal?

I hope we don't go the TOSC route. First, it is too costly, and second it takes so much energy away from mission. Third, even after we spent a lot of money getting people together for TOSC, and a lot of time and energy, its conclusions were not used and only briefly mentioned during the discussion about ordination at the GC session. The people — delegates of the session who had not had the benefit of years of close study of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy — were asked to make a decision based on their personal study that did not take into account the TOSC years of work. I wonder what percentage of the delegates actually did an extensive study of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy? It was evidently quite low based on the content of the two-minute speeches I heard.

Also we had a great document on a Theology of Ordination that was not used at all to guide the discussion, either. If we collectively could not remember to use these documents only created recently, it indicates how hard it is for a document from 21 years ago to influence us.

Now my memory may be faulty, but I think I tried to emphasize the need to educate on Adventist hermeneutics, not necessarily the need to reinvent the wheel! I was a little flustered by the desire of the chair to push aside my concern, but he was just trying to get the business assigned to him done.

So you are referring to the 1986 Rio document. I was going to ask you why you feel this study of hermeneutics is important, since it seems that the church already addressed this issue with the Rio document. Is there something that still needs to be decided?

The Rio document is really an exceptional document. I recently went back and re-read it. What we need is for it to become a document that is not just a statement, but a living document that is more fully understood and used as our starting place.

When you read the document you can see that it was designed as counsel to both lay members and experts in studying the Scriptures. It is comprehensive and useful — if used.

If I could speak again to the world church on this proposal I would emphasize that we have a great document that is unknown to much of the world church. We are 21 years from Rio and it is time to develop a plan to bring this document to the radar of everyone in the church.

The document should be discussed in college and seminary halls, in conference, union, mission, division, and General Conference offices, as well as in local churches. Perhaps even a curriculum of some kind could be developed to be shared with the different levels.

It is obvious that we have different conclusions. We should focus our attention on the starting point so that our conclusions will begin to end up in the same local arena instead of worlds apart.

Can you give us a specific example of when different understandings of biblical hermeneutics caused difficulties in a congregation you pastored, or a group you worked with?

One memorable time was when I was pastoring a local church and there were some church leaders who were teaching that the Bible revealed that Jesus was coming in 1996. They based this on their hermeneutic that Daniel is all about before the cross and Revelation only talks about things after the cross. Just think for a moment what that presupposition would do to so many Adventist conclusions interpreting Daniel and Revelation.

The Rio document spells out a different approach.

“(6) There are two general types of prophetic writings: non-apocalyptic prophecy as found in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and apocalyptic prophecy as found in Daniel and the Revelation. These differing types have different characteristics.”

The document goes on to explain fully the difference between apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic prophecy.

Well, we are still here. If they had understood the Rio document it would have saved them from this and many other unusual interpretations from Daniel and Revelation.

Why is a "unified" biblical hermeneutic important? Isn't it okay to disagree?

A unified Biblical hermeneutic is important. But we also need to educate on the presuppositions and organizational culture and how they influence how we will use our hermeneutical toolbox.

It is okay to disagree. It has always been a part of our church history, and I suspect will continue to be. In fact discussion about our disagreements should be encouraged and supported. But it is also obvious to me that the disagreements are coming from positions farther and farther apart. This should be a concern and we need to look at the beginning of the study of Scriptures not only the conclusions. This means knowing our hermeneutics.

Would a unified biblical hermeneutic help you in your ministerial association work?

In this information age the differences of the church are not all home grown in the local churches but almost any discussion we have about issues in the church are reaching everywhere. When I visit a remote area of our division I am asked about the same questions that are being discussed across North America, across Europe, or in Africa.

Independent ministries and even independent employees of the church are driving many discussions. Sometimes, especially in remote areas, the sense of reality of what the church teaches and believes is driven by others, often on a different continent. The church needs to train its members, pastors, and leaders to carry the same hermeneutical toolbox and how to use it to ask critical questions about the many voices they hear.

A unified Biblical hermeneutic, or better, a unity of awareness, understanding, and application of a unified Biblical hermeneutic would go a long way toward allowing the church to pull together for mission and not look across the aisle with an eye full of suspicion. This suspicion of each other keeps us from focusing on mission. Perhaps that is the plan of the enemy of God and man.

As a pastor, when I found a theological divide I had to heal that wound before the church could even think of mission and vision. After that is mended, then the church can go forward to accomplish great things for God.

My wife, Lynn, and I have had the privilege of pastoring several amazing churches that have sometimes doubled in size. But it was after dealing with issues generated by differences in hermeneutics that we saw great blessings and growth.

Do your colleagues agree or disagree with you about the importance of this issue?

For the most part, most of the people who have come and talked to me have thanked me for speaking up and trying to steer the church towards the problem instead of the symptom. Of course there are those who say, “What about Rio?” But when I ask them what the Rio document says and they really do not know, then it dawns on them that it is time for us to revisit it, and make it truly our working approach to Scripture as a world church.

You were also prepared to speak on the floor of the General Conference session during the discussion about ordination, but time ran out and you did not have the opportunity to speak. What were you going to say?

I had not written it out, but I had notes. I was going to share from Acts 11 the story of Peter going to the Gentiles, seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. When Peter returns to the brethren he is confronted for spending time with them. It was against their theology, practices, and beliefs. Peter shares how the Holy Spirit worked in the Gentile lives and says, "Who am I to go against the Holy Spirit?"

The brethren then went silent. They changed their theology, practices, and beliefs.

Then I was prepared to share that over 50% of those leading churches in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division are women — more than 3,000. The best church planters in the world are Adventist church leaders who are women in China. Several of the largest Adventist churches in the world are led by women in China. The men are doing a mighty work there, but the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the women leading churches is overwhelming and is an applicable witness to the argument.

I have witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit and who am I that I would oppose the Holy Spirit? Only a vote “yes” would have been according to the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. How can we stand against the Holy Spirit working in the lives of these courageous workers for the Kingdom’s growth? It is beyond my comprehension how we can, and how we did vote “No” on July 8, 2015 in the Alamodome.

In his career as a Seventh-day Adventist minister, David Ripley has pastored a number of churches, primarily in the Texas Conference, as well as served in the administration of the Minnesota and British Columbia Conferences, before joining the Northern Asia-Pacific Division as Ministerial Secretary.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7034

I agree that our divisions are at their root, in part hermeneutical in nature. However, the desire for a ‘unified hermeneutic’ is well-meaning but unlikely for the same reason that folks were in such disagreement during TOSC: because one’s hermeneutic is not just about methodology, but theology and philosophy. Further, the Rio document’s assertion that all Bible students ‘must be willing to submit all presuppositions, opinions, and the conclusions of reason to the judgment and correction of the Word itself’ is a noble one. However, it is arguable that it betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of personal presuppositions and whether they can be winnowed by Word and the Spirit into some sort of idyllic uniformity.

By way of example, I have just finished reading Fernando Canale’s book, Vision & Mission: How a theological vision drives the mission of the emerging remnant. Here, Canale advocates the use of a sanctuary-based hermeneutic; a phrase/approach absent from the Rio document. He is critical of evangelical and postmodern approaches to interpreting the Bible… approaches, of course, adopted by some Adventists. How such differing views can be engineered so as to come under a unified hermeneutic would be interesting to watch.

However, at the end of the day, the ‘real’ issue is that we need to be mature enough to agree to disagree and still live together as a spiritual community without losing a sense of what calls us together in the first place and constitutes identity. That is the challenge that folk from all ends of the spectrum have to contend with.


We can study hermeneutics 'til the cows come home, but our biggest problem is “what to do with Ellen White”. Those various theological “cultures” within the church will never come to the same “starting point” because they will forever disagree about the authority of Ellen White as they do the hermeneutics. We can just look at the debate on Genesis to see how that all will go. As discussions develop even here, at Spectrum, all sides will point to the “clear” word of the Bible only to come up with totally opposite statements. This same problem accounts for the many denominations floating around the Christian community.

The real problem is TRADITION; and for the SDA church, that’s spelled EGW. As is quite often clear, beliefs do not change with added information, be it scientific or hermeneutic. Not until the older generation gets diluted enough to be replaced with the younger, more open to be educated, will there be a change in how we read the Bible and what we believe. Of course, if another couple of hundred years go by and the Catholic church disappears off the face of the earth, and carnivores end up living longer than vegans, there might be a slight shift in things. The other problem with that is will there be any younger population left to grow old with a new hermeneutics?

In the meantime, if agreement isn’t going to be on the horizon - and I don’t see how there can be, given San Antonio - maybe we could “agree to disagree”. To do that, the Seminary is going to have to train pastors to become more liturgical in character, and let the congregation do the interpreting - which seems to be more open to the guidance of the “HOLY SPIRIT”. As it is now, many of the churches strewn around the countryside, only hold weekly pep rallies instead of worship services.


The primary authors of the Rio document seem to have accepted what several have called a “presuppositional methodology.” Translation: We must begin “presupposing” or “assuming” certain things about scripture and use them as our method for interpreting it. This approach is a “deductive” one, meaning that our assumptions determine our conclusions, unless those conclusions are almost impossible to sustain. Moreover, the complexity of engaging an ancient text whose language, culture and thought processes differ markedly from our own, is simply brushed aside by the “plain reading of Scripture.” What amazes me, picking up on Sirje’s comment, is that if we pay attention to Ellen White’s ministry, we learn that she borrowed from other authors, had editors, wrote a considerable amount of counsel unrelated to visionary experiences, did not pretend to know geology or other scientific disciplines, relied at times on the best information available to her at that moment, and still convinced those closest to her that God was using her to guide this movement. We now know that this is equally true of the biblical writers, yet resist the hermeneutical implications of these findings.

Ripley’s appeal was a master-stroke of insight and he is to be commended for it. But the larger issue is: How will the effort to unravel this issue be structured and who will be invited to participate?


Since one of the key elders at the church I attend is a high profile individual who rubs shoulders with the GC staff, I pick up some institutional pep rally presentations. What I sense most from sermons and Sabbath school are remedial , damage control , rebuke/chew out exhortations. However, without surveys or feedback of large sample sizes no one knows what is taking place in any geographical area, never mind the world church in general. The denomination is handicapped by a lack of communication between pastors and members and between pastors and conference staff. As long as the majority of communication between individuals at church is not much more than…“happy Sabbath” one can only speculate what the main issues are facing congregations in general. My opinion is that most SDA don’t care much about the issue of ordination or the 2nd coming. They are interested in news, war, crime, weather, celebrities, politics, the economy, families, their health and jobs.
How can it be otherwise when so little time of the week is spent at church services?

As far as being led by the Holy Spirit…evidently it is not happening, because I constantly hear that we must pray for the infilling of it. This will never happen as long as there is the large scale disobedience in churches (evidenced by the sermon topics) and the usual neglect of scripture exposure in church presentations.


It is most definitely differences in hermeneutic which lead to the divisions in the church today.

May I suggest that there are effectively only two ways the Bible is being interpreted? May I also suggest that (largely, but not entirely) the Pro-WO people are more likely to accept or tolerate reading the Bible in a way that can make the 6 days of creation 6 indeterminate periods of time, make the worldwide flood a local one or none at all, make Adam not necessarily a real person, allow death before sin, not to mention allow for practising homosexuals to be accepted into church fellowship alongside unmarried heterosexual couples living together?

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Perhaps the author of this article will be happy to know, since it appears he may have forgotten, that the “Rio document” argument was specifically addressed in precise detail at the General Conference TOSC meetings. Here’s just one example from TOSC Position #1 that should help clarify the facts behind what David Ripley refers to as Adventism’s “exceptional document,” which of course is our denomination’s official method of interpretation, one inherently presupposing that there are indeed distinct endgame hermeneutics for “each side” (see Complementarian PREXAD Presentation, April 2014, pp. 1-3):

Issues of Hermeneutics

“Before we look at the textual arguments for women’s ordination, we need to consider the question of hermeneutics. Jiri Moskala, dean of the theological seminary at Andrews University, correctly noted, “the issue of the ordination of women is first of all a hermeneutical issue.” Seventh‐day Adventists generally use the historical‐grammatical method of interpretation. In 1986, the Annual Council in Rio de Janeiro approved the Methods of Bible Study document which outlines the components of the historical‐grammatical method. It states that the student should “seek to grasp the simple, most obvious meaning of the biblical passage being studied” (4c). It further advises: “Recognize that the Bible is its own interpreter and that the meaning of words, texts, and passages is best determined by diligently comparing scripture with scripture” (4e). The principles of the grammatical‐historical method, enunciated in the Rio document, are not new; they have been used by Protestants since the time of the Reformation.

“Recently, I read part of the NAD Theology of Ordination Report. I was surprised to see that it introduces a new method of interpreting the Bible which is described as a “principle‐based, contextual, linguistic and historical‐cultural” method, or for short the “Principle‐based Reading” of Scripture. One of the principles on which this method is based is “the complete reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible in terms of its salvific message. . . .” That means, the Bible is only completely reliable when it comes to the message of salvation, in matters of history, science, or the male/female roles, it is not completely trustworthy. This method sees the Bible as culturally conditioned, at least in those texts that deal with gender issues, and in some cases it denies the plain reading of the text and abandons the Scripture‐interprets‐Scripture principle.

“I say in some cases because the report states: “A plain and literal reading strategy would be sufficient to understand most of the Bible. Yet the committee believes that there are occasions when we should employ principle‐based reading because the passage calls for an understanding of the historical and contextual setting.” According to the Rio document, whenever we interpret (exegete) a text we need to take into consideration the context and the historical circumstances. It states: “In connection with the study of the biblical text, explore the historical and cultural factors. Archaeology, anthropology, and history may contribute to understanding the meaning of the text.” Adventists generally use this method when interpreting Scripture. So, why is there a need for a new method? The differences between the two methods, in my opinion, are twofold. In contrast to the grammatical‐historical method, the “Principle‐based Reading” of Scripture sees the Bible as reliable and trustworthy only in matters of salvation, and there is a strong emphasis on Scripture as culturally conditioned. In regard to the ordination of women, it is clearly stated that “with the use of this approach, no conclusive evidence prohibiting the ordination of women can be found in the Bible.” In other words, with the help of the “Principle‐based Reading” method all the texts that are used by complementarians against the ordination of women are reinterpreted and explained away.”

Let’s just hope David Ripley sincerely believes that the Rio document is worthy of further study, which one must presume he does, because complementarians wholeheartedly agree with him, that it is in fact “time to develop a plan to bring this document to the radar of everyone in the church.”


Mathematicians use different tools than each other - for example: pi can be obtained from calculus and geometry, there are multiple different techniques to integrate equations, you get to choose whether or not to include the axiom of choice in your system - but the end up at the same place .

Scientists use different tools than each other - for example the geneticists and the geologists - but they end up at the same place as each other.

It is not the differences in tools you use. It is whether the tools are valid and being applied to valid data.

The real problem is that SdA can not agree on how to decide whether something is true, optional, or false.

Instead they arbitrarily choose a “truth” based on their personal background and biases, and then accept and reject facts and tools based on whether they lead to, ignore, or refute “present truth”


About two years ago I heard an interview with a writer of Near East origin and upbringing, now writing in German. He spoke of the language of his first decades as a language where the sound of words is more important than the logic of the sentence. (And we translate these languages literally !) Official UN translator for two decades, Susanne Kilinan, just published "Don`t let Me Be Misunderstood!"and for my personal experience we should clear the hermeneutics of German texts, spoken or written in Hamburg, for us here in Vienna - and for Viennese texts - - - for those in Hamburg (I could give plenty of examples!)

But of course WE in Boise, Idaho or Gawler NSW or Mistelbach, Austria have our own, understanding the rest of the world should join !


“Why hermeneutics is our biggest problem?”

I commend Ripley for setting an important agenda. He poses some very important questions.

However, in my view, until the church is willing to engage in a critical encounter with its own, more or less hidden, philosophical and theological presuppositions, and prejudices, the toolbox will be wanting. So far, it seems to me, that the church, when it comes to hermeneutics, has been too preoccupied with technicalities, and methods. Its preoccupation with the battle against the historical-critical-method uncovers a deficiency in its own grasp of biblical hermeneutics. It leaves one with a feeling of emptiness and constant defence.

One example of such an attitude, is also apparent in its recent response to questions of origins. The church’s answer, as voted in S.A., is an answer to its critics, by narrowing its public position to a literal reading of the text to mean 6 consecutive days consisting of a 24 hour cycle, and by adding the qualification “recent”.

By doing this, it gives a clear answer to its critics, but it risks losing the theological (and existential) significance of Gen. 1-3. Why? Because such an approach lets modern scientific discussions govern, and dominate the church’s approach and interpretation of the ancient text, rather than the other way around. This is what creates a deficiency in its treatment of the text, because it blinds the church to capture the quintessential theological meaning of the creation account: What does it mean to be a human being?

I’m afraid that the same “reductive mechanism” is operative in its approach to biblical hermeneutics.


That we lack of a unified hermeneutic is a debate that is only meaningful to those who believe that there should be a unified hermeneutic and what that unified hermeneutic should encompass. This debate is one that the church has been engaged in since at least 1888. The debates of the 1890s, 1919, the church’s foray into the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the 1920s and 30s, the Questions on Doctrine Debate, the great debate over soteriology in the 1970s leading up to the discussions about the heavenly sanctuary in the early 1980s – they all have been variations on the debate over what the “Adventist” hermeneutic should be, while presupposing that there should be an identifiable Adventist hermeneutic.

At this juncture, a debate that spans the Adventist spectrum more broadly and in a more representative manner is whether there should be a unified hermeneutic.

Is a unified hermeneutic desirable? Or is it more desirable to have multiple hermeneutical approaches?

Must Adventism be connected by identical or similar hermeneutics? Or is Adventism a meta-hermeneutical phenomenon – that is, can Adventists with multiple, clashing hermeneutical approaches still be Adventist and identify each other as Adventist?

I would say No to the first question of each pair, and Yes to the second. THAT I choose to read the Protestant Scripture, interact with the Adventist tradition including Ellen White, and engage others within the Adventist community makes my hermeneutic Adventist – regardless of the content, methodology, and conclusion of my hermeneutic. I also interact with Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, and postmodern secular thinkers and writers (to name a few) in thinking about Scripture, the Adventist tradition, and the present community, and I incorporate insights I learned from various sources in shaping my current Adventist experience and participation in the Adventist community. My approach is particular to my own life, but because I live out that approach in the Adventist context and in relation to the Adventist tradition, my hermeneutic is distinctly Adventist.

I’m not sure searching and striving for a unified, magisterial approach – even if I happen to resonate with that approach – is either desirable or healthy.


I hope you will be included, Jim.

Will St Augustine’s hermeneutical principle of love ever be part of Adventist biblical hermeneutics?
“The fulfillment and end of scripture is the love of God and our neighbor… Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.” On Christian Doctrine,


I agree with some concerns listed above. I’m not sure that one hermeneutic is a desired goal. I think it is quite possible too, that going back and revisiting the issue at this time might result in an outcome that the author does not agree with.

Given that more conservative views have been gaining power in the church, opening the door to revisit this increases the likelihood that a more conservative method of interpretation would be favored. It seems to me that calling for one hermeneutic is risky if one favors a way of approaching the Bible that supports WO. I’m sure though, that the author is more plugged into the situation than I am and was willing to take that risk, so perhaps my concerns are overblown.

I wonder though, if he intended just for more attention to be brought to the Rio document, while others see it as an opportunity to tighten the screws.


Comments withdrawn by author.

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And added to that: Why would we assume (in light of both Rio and TOSC conclusions) that a certain finding by a committee would be embraced by the church-at-large, or more specifically, embraced by the voting delegates at the next GC session? Would the study be used to formulate an additional creedal statement? If not, why not? I suppose there are a million other questions that could follow these as well.

Both the quest for a correct hermeneutic of Scripture and the quest for such a hermeneutic to be shared and unifying are already theologically weighty propositions that depend (in part) upon an interpretation of the Bible. What is needed is a more serious engagement with the broader Christian tradition in coming to determine theological norms and how to make theological judgments. The operative assumption that “sola Scriptura,” a slogan of the reformation tradition, can be applied in isolation from tradition, reason, and other theological norms is, apart from being ironically contradictory, a problem that must be overcome. So long as Adventists continue to pretend that their ideas come solely from Scripture, their unacknowledged theological assumptions will reign supreme. Fixation on biblical hermeneutics only further mystifies the situation rather than resolving it.


I applaud what David Ripley says.

To my mind the most important thing he says is that “A unified biblical hermeneutic, or better, a unity of awareness, understanding, and application of a unified Biblical hermeneutic would go a long way toward allowing the church to pull together for mission and not look across the aisle with an eye full of suspicion. This suspicion of each other keeps us from focusing on mission. Perhaps that is the plan of the enemy of God and man. As a pastor, when I found a theological divide I had to heal that wound before the church could even think of mission and vision. After that is mended, then the church can go forward to accomplish great things for God.”

It would appear that Fernando Canale in his book Vision & Mission: How a theological vision drives the mission of the emerging remnant is saying much the same thing.

Also, in 2013 Dr Jan Barna, Senior Lecturer in Systematic & Biblical Theology, Newbold College presented a paper for the Adventist Society for Religious Studies at Baltimore, MD in which he reached a very similar conclusion toi both above-mentioned gentlemen. (Jan Barna did his PhD thesis in which he provided a systematic analysis of the hermeneutics of both the proponents and opponents of WO).

In his 2013 paper Jan Barna stated the following: “While theological unity in the church is always desireable and should be sought, unity of mind cannot be forced by any external process. It appears to me that at the core of this long standing debateon women’s ministry is the issue of very different hermeneutical mindsets. It is not just a matter of theological convictions or cultural sensitivities which divide the sides. It is something more fundamental. The basic assumptions about (1) the nature of inspiration, (2) the nature of the Scripture, and consequently, (3) the nature of interpretation are the core issues that make opponents and proponents tick in their own theological ways. There is therefore no simple theological or administrative patch which can be applied to bring about a desired unity.”

The administrative call to leave the matter of ordination and get back to the mission of the church is wrong headed, as each of these three gentlemen amply illustrate.

There must first be a unified theological vision founded on a common Adventist hermeneutic. Canale apparently is proposing a sanctuary based hermeneutic. Barna proposes a method that draws on the unitas sciptuae. Barna makes the point that “Ellen White believed that the unity of Scripture is achievable and a workable undertaking hermeneutically… [thus] readers will get the best value out of their study when reading the Bible as a 'great whole’ with a *‘grand central thought.’… [The] Adventist theological and hermeneutical vision has always aspired to develop a unified biblical-theological paradigm.”

It appears then, that we already have several constructive proposals for further work toward a common Adventist hermeneutical vision.

In fact, Bertil Wiklander in his recent monograph, Ordination Reconsidered: The Biblical Vision of Men and Women as Servants of God has already outlined his hermeneutical vision of the Missio Dieu or the Mission of God. It is from such a foundation that he proposes his thoughts concerning a new ordination paradigm. His final action plan for Adventists as they deal with the ordination issue in its global dimensions is truly enlightening.

Wiklander has it correct. First identify the grand central theme of the Scriptures, that which binds the whole of the Scriptures together as a united whole. From this one may gain a sense of the mission of God to our world. And associated with that ask what the biblical vision of men and women is as servants of God in his mission to the world. From such a theology of the whole people of God, one may procede as Wiklander does to develop a theology of Adventist leadership and of appointment to such leadership. And this includes the development of rites of appointment for our leaders.

From what I observed remotely concerning the discussion of ordination in SA, it seemed that one of the chief objections to some regions utililizing WO and others not is that such a scheme would break the unity supposedly had within the global leadership class. There may be some truth to this.

The way to overcome such an objection may be to stop the practice of ordaining people to such a global leadership class. Why believe in once ordained, always ordained? Afterall, Adventists do not believe in once saved, always saved. If God calls individuals for present duties, surely there may be some merit in conducting a rite of appointment at each point in their life’s journey where God and the church call them to serve in a new capacity.

In practical terms, such a scheme would involve rites of appointment being performed when an individual moves from one administrative entity to another, or when he moves from one role to another. ie from the role of generalist local pastor to an equally valuable specialist resourcing role or indeed to an administrative role of some description. Deacons, deaconesses and elders would also be inducted into their duties with a rite of appointment whenever they are called by God and his church to function in such a capacity. Whenever a person moves from being an elder to the equally demanding role of deacon or deaconess, that individual should receive the rite of appointment to leadership. And the credentials the individual receives would serve as a specific descriptions of that person’s duties they are to undertake. And surely such rites of appointment may not necessarily be uniform globally. In some situations, it may be most appropriate to have a gender neutral rite. In other settings, such a rite would be hugely misunderstood. But since the rite is for the individual in a specific setting, there may be little need for global uniformity.

Thus, when an individual moves from one part of the world to another, people will endorse the calling of God to that individual by the church performing a rite of appointment to leadership. In this way, the need for absolute global transference of leadership will not arise as a stumbling block to the ‘ordination’ of women within settings where it is not appropriate.

Such a scheme may not merit the designation ordination.

Can I just say that wanting something to be true or in error doesn’t make it so.

You have listed a number of outcomes which you are uncomfortable with rather than addressing why, what ever you want to call it, a principle-based interpretive method is not valid. Just because you are uncomfortable sitting next to a gay person in church, isn’t an argument for or against how we should read the Bible.

Neither have you advocated for your preferred method. And I think just saying I follow the “plain” reading of each text and this offers the TRUTH, when scholars and various Christian faiths have been disagreeing for hundreds of years about the Bibles meaning, is one of the most intellectually vacuous descriptions I have heard. As if anyone comes to a passage without any IQ, cultural, familial or other biases already built in.


What we need the most now, and very quickly, is the formation of the TOHSC, Theology Of Hermeneutics Study Committee. The budget should be not less than $2 Mil, to make sure that the 100 participants can enjoy great amenities at the hotels where they will be staying for the meetings from 2016 through 2019.

This should generate great results that will certainly be relevant for the GC Session in 2020.