“Systems of Interpretation” - Part 1

Randy Bierwagen

Vol 3,No.11

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

            And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto     fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3,4)


That time has come. Today, there is a tendency to teach for truth the suppositions of man, taking the plain Word of God and turning it into fables.

Seventh-day Adventists have always taken the Bible alone as our rule in determining doctrine. Other denominations claim the Bible as their guide book as well and yet some of their beliefs differ widely from ours. Why? How can each claim the Bible as their rule book and yet come up with different rules? It’s even happening within our own church.


“Is it because the Scriptures are inconsistent and contradictory that ministers differ so widely in their interpretation?--No, the trouble is that men are doing today as they did in the time of Christ, and are teaching for doctrines the commandments of men …”  (ST, June 4, 1894) (all emphasis supplied)


There are several methods of Bible study that are advocated today, but these methods can be categorized in just two systems.

In the preface of his book ‘Daniel and the Revelation’, Uriah Smith says;


“There are two general systems of interpretation adopted by different expositors in their efforts to explain the sacred Scriptures. The first is the mystical or spiritualizing system invented by Origen… The second is the system of literal interpretation, used by such men as Tyndale, Luther, and all the Reformers
According to the first system, every declaration is supposed to have a mystical or hidden sense, which it is the province of the interpreter to bring forth; by the second, every declaration is to be taken in its most obvious and literal sense, except where the context and the well-known laws of language show that the terms are figurative, and not literal; and whatever is figurative must be explained by other portions of the Bible which are literal.
By the mystical method of Origen, it is vain to hope for any uniform  understanding of either Daniel or the Revelation, or of any other book of the Bible; for that system (if it can be called a system) knows no law but the uncurbed imagination of its adherents; hence there are on its side as many different interpretations of Scripture as there are different fancies of different writers.
By the literal method, everything is subject to well-established and clearly-defined law; and, viewed from this standpoint, the reader will be surprised to see how simple, easy, and clear many portions of the Scriptures at once become…”
(1897 UrS, DAR pg. 4)


J.N. Andrews one of our early Adventist pioneers says this about Origen and his system of interpretation;

    “Origen was born about A. D. 185, probably at Alexandria in Egypt. He was a   man of immense learning, but unfortunately adopted a spiritualizing system in the interpretation of the Scriptures that was the means of flooding the church   with many errors. He wrote during the first half of the third century… he says:  "There are countless multitudes of believers who, although unable to unfold methodically and clearly the results of their spiritual understanding, are nevertheless most firmly persuaded that neither ought circumcision to be understood literally, nor the rest of the Sabbath, not the pouring out of the blood of an animal, nor that answers were given by God to Moses on these points. And this method of apprehension is undoubtedly suggested to the minds of all by the power of the Holy Spirit."  Origen asserts that the spiritual interpretation of the Scriptures whereby their literal meaning is set aside is something divinely inspired! But when this is accepted as the truth who can tell what they mean by what they say?” (1873 JNA, TFTC pgs. 83, 84 

A.T. Jones, another early Adventist pioneer writes;

“Accordingly Origen taught and wrote: "The source of many evils lies in adhering to the carnal, or external, part of Scripture. Those who do so will not attain to the kingdom of God. Let us therefore seek after the substantial fruits of the Word, which are hidden and mysterious. The Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written."” (April 24, 1900 ATJ, ARSH 265.1) 

In the continuation of this article in next month’s newsletter, we will learn that this mystical way of interpreting Scripture that Origen adopted, was not really invented by him, but its roots went even farther back in Christian history.


To be continued…