WCAS Principles of Action #4

Kent Knight

Vol. 2, No. 13

Principle #4: Participants learn Protestant biblical interpretation—the historical-grammatical method.

Imagine no “hot potato” issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church to wreak havoc and disunity.  In this brief consideration of Protestant biblical interpretation my purpose is to make what might seem bookish anything but.

One of the necessary outgrowths of engaging in sound biblical interpretation is an able presentation and defense of the gospel via the doctrines of the Bible.  In other words, every Bible doctrine informs our understanding and appreciation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  A specific discipline that is dependent upon sound principles of biblical interpretation is spoken of as "apologetics."

Biblical students and scholars who focus on defending Christian faith and doctrine can be characterized as apologists.  Contrary to the western use of this word, an apologist does not offer an apology, i.e., “I’m sorry,” for his hope and confidence in the teachings of the Bible.  No, he offers a defense.  In fact, the Greek word for defense is "apologia", thus, apologetics (see I Peter 3:15).

To draw our readers into the importance of biblical interpretation, and thus apologetics, I offer you what should not be thought of as a controversial statement from one of the most oft-quoted Christian apologists of the 20th century—C.S. Lewis:

“Equality of the sexes does not mean interchangeability: and ability really isn’t the issue here but rather God’s design for the family and the Church.”  (1948---Notes on the Way).

Wow!  My mind is racing to the many Bible passages that Lewis’s statement is founded upon-- but this is not the time or place to expand on this.  Though many Adventist leaders who advocate for women’s ordination frequently draw upon Lewis’s pithy, biblically- based maxims, I have never heard one of them cite the above quotation. Why?  After all, our commitment to sound biblical principles of interpretation should keep us above the spirit of this age with its shifting, societal norms and sanctification of sin.  In the church, failure here results in the Bible being used as a subjective tool to help innovative theologians achieve predetermined goals; but at what cost?

C.S. Lewis’s statement would not be controversial to many Seventh-day Adventists if we were all committed to the principles of biblical interpretation that we are on record as having embraced, as God has so led us (see “Methods of Bible Study” document adopted at the Annual Council of 1986).  The issues briefly touched on here make it clear why WCAS sees the need to uphold Protestant biblical interpretation. The biblical foundation for these principles is seen in the following passages:

  1. Isaiah 28:9-10 (vs. 10):  “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.”
  2. I Corinthians 14:32:  “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” “It is for prophets (inspired writers) to control prophetic inspiration….” NEB . Then from  1 Corinthians  2:13:  “These things  we also speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but what the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing  spiritual things with spiritual.”
  3. Luke 24:27:  “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded  to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning  Himself.
  4. John 10:35b:  “(and the Scripture cannot be broken).” This verse with others speaks to the organic whole or unity of the Bible [we are not to set aside, ignore certain portions, or have our reading of one portion conflict with how we understand another portion].
  5. Isaiah 8:20:  “To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (an “acid test” principle to steer us away from false conclusions)

I close with two statements from the 1986 “Methods of Bible Study” document:

“Human reason is subject to the Bible, not equal to or above it….God intends that human reason be used to its fullest extent, but within the context and under the authority of His Word rather than independent of it.”
“The Bible is its own best interpreter and when studied as a whole it depicts a consistent, harmonious truth….Although it was given to those who lived in an ancient Near Eastern/Mediterranean context, the Bible transcends its cultural background to serve as God’s Word for all cultural, racial, and situational contexts in all ages.”