SDA Fundamental Belief Number 1 (Holy Scriptures)

“The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.” (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)

As my colleagues and I looked at this fundamental, a number of things stood out. First of all, was the word “infallible.” For some of us, that suggested eerie echoes of the Papacy and the inerrancy positions of some of our Evangelical colleagues. But in fact, when this fundamental was voted (1980), the word was carefully chosen to be a step short of “inerrant.” Adventists wanted a more flexible approach to Scripture than that of “inerrancy in the original documents,” but they didn’t want to imply that the Bible was full of errors, either. There is a balance in the Bible between the divine and the human. While the “Word of God” would be infallible by definition, the Bible was written by human beings and exhibits human characteristics, cultural differences, and at times grammatical mistakes (Book of Revelation). If you’re not familiar with the last point, ask me about it.

In formulating our view of the Bible it is important not only to take into account the assertions about the Bible made by the biblical authors (such as the texts included with the Fundamental above), but also the evidence of the Bible itself. Whatever we mean by inspiration, it does not preclude inspired writers from disagreeing on the order of events in Jesus’ life, writing in different styles and quality of Greek, or emphasizing different metaphors of the atonement. In the Bible God meets us where we are and where we are is rarely the perfect venue for expressing the infinite truth of God. So we need to test our understanding of inspiration, not only against the statements of the Bible on inspiration, but also against the phenomena of how God chose to reveal Himself to human beings.

Example: I would not have expected, on the basis of this fundamental, for God to use an idol as a means of revelation. But then I read Daniel 2 in the original language! Nebuchadnezzar recognized the “image” (Aramaic: tsemel) as something that could and should be worshiped (see chapter 3—also tsemel). In the dream of Daniel 2, therefore, God described the future of the world by means of an idol image. God met Nebuchanezzar where he was in order to move him a step or two in the right direction. We would not expect that on the basis of an absolutist reading of Isaiah 8:20 or John 17:17.

Another important distinction comes in how we read the Bible. It is easy to say, “I take the Bible as it reads.” But then the question arises, “Whose reading is the correct one?” One common way of reading is to understand the Bible to be a static document. Every statement of Scripture expresses exactly what God would say in every other situation as well. In the static understanding, I just need to take the Bible at face value and apply my understanding everywhere. Some call this type of reading “literal,” taking the Bible literally, as if it was not given in a particular language, culture and historical situation. But if we insisted on taking the whole Bible literally, we would still have slaves today, we would execute our children for rebellion against their parents, and we would never wear clothing with a mixture of fibers (to list just a few examples). The reality is, no one takes the whole Bible literally. To read it literally means to pick and choose the texts you wish to emphasize and that is not really taking it literally any more. The texts you choose to emphasize determine the outcome of your study.

But if God meets people where they are, we would not expect the Bible to be static. We would not expect every statement of the Bible to be God’s absolute will for all time. Instead, we would expect to see God meeting people where they are and seeking to move them in the direction He wants them to go. For example, God chose not to confront the issue of slavery head on in the context of the brutal Roman Empire. But through Paul He taught people how to treat slaves the way God treated people in Christ (Philemon). That was a huge and revolutionary step that inevitably led to the recognition that if all people are equal at the foot of the cross, then slavery is not the will of God.

When Paul told wives to submit to their husbands, he was not endorsing spousal abuse, he was radically modifying the marital relationship in the light of the self-sacrificing love of Christ. Submit to a man who would be willing to die for you the way he submits to the Christ who died for him. While the language of the text adopts the common language of submission, it transforms that language in the light of Christ. If all are equal at the foot of the cross, then God’s aspiration for women may be higher than the direct statements of Scripture would suggest. God meets us where we are and seeks to move us toward a goal. This means reading the Bible as a dynamic text that enables our understanding of God’s will to grow along with our capacity to understand. As Jesus said, “I have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now.” (John 16:12, my translation)

Loma Linda University is certainly committed to the primacy of the Bible in determining what is truth. But it is also committed to the integration of all knowledge, and this can only happen when submitted human reason is carefully applied to the evidence of both Scripture and nature/science. As such, the Loma Linda perspective seeks to understand the Bible in its original context, and is observant of distinctions between poetry, narrative, history, prophecy and apocalyptic. It takes the Bible seriously as it reads, but as it reads in a whole Bible. The richness of Scripture is a continual source of developing truth.

But above all else, the Loma Linda approach to the Bible sees in it a “larger view” of God and the cosmic conflict that is an essential context for all 66 books of the Bible. This “larger view” was stimulated by broad reading of Ellen White’s books like Steps to Christ and the Conflict Series. Ellen White encourages the biblical reader to see the entire Bible in the context of the conflict between Christ and Satan. But this is not a reading imposed on the Scriptures. Through history, many great readers of the Bible have also seen this, from Origen, to Dante, to Milton to C. S. Lewis. While not always on the surface, the cosmic conflict is the essential undercurrent of Scripture, without which it addresses merely the human point of view on God and the problem in the universe. Seeing Scripture through the lens of the cosmic conflict is the reason Scripture at Loma Linda is seen more through a healing lens than a legal or punitive one. But the healing side of Adventism must not be used to negate the other (apocalyptic, end-time approach). They are rather like two sides of a coin. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

2 thoughts on “SDA Fundamental Belief Number 1 (Holy Scriptures)

  1. Nikita

    “…the Bible was written by human beings and exhibits human characteristics, cultural differences, and at times grammatical mistakes (Book of Revelation). If you’re not familiar with the last point, ask me about it.”
    Hello. I’m not familiar with the last point. Could you please explain me what do you mean?

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      The book of Revelation is written in something like fifth grade Greek (we have discovered school assignments from the first century!), with the kind of grammatical mistakes that fifth grades naturally make. There are two major ones in Rev 1:4 alone (hard to explain either unless you have learned some Greek).

      Reply

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