The Southern Asia Pacific Division (SSD) Youth Bible reading project which was founded to lead youth to love Scripture as their standard of living while reflecting a Christlike character, held a Biblical interpretation webinar from December 3-4, 2021, via Zoom. It was organized to motivate and assist the youth of the SSD to have a better understanding of Biblical text and context and grow in Scripture. The webinar consisted of 14 lectures presented by 12 renowned professors of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists.
Former associate director of the BRI, Kwabena Donkor, Ph.D., began the webinar by delineating the role of presuppositions in Biblical interpretation. He said, “Interpretation is a mental process we go through, as we try to make sense of things… In order that the Bible might be read correctly, a discipline has developed in theology that we call hermeneutics - the process [by] which we try to understand a [Biblical] text correctly…God’s thoughts are high above our thoughts, and we should come with humility…the very nature of presuppositions should teach us to be humble as we approach theological issues and texts that sometimes challenge [us] and are difficult [to understand].”
The next speaker, Frank Hasel, Ph.D., associate director of the BRI demonstrated the elements of Biblical hermeneutics in harmony with Scripture’s self-claims. He stated, “Every object that we study should determine the method by which that object is studied…Our method for Biblical interpretation should be determined by the Bible itself…The interpretation of the Bible is not just a matter of mastering a few hermeneutical exegetical skills. The Bible is a book that does not just want to be interpreted by us. It has a message that wants to be practiced… We should approach the Bible with an open mind and a willingness to learn and follow whatever we discover…Our engagement with the Word of God does not require a sacrifice of our intellect. It requires sanctification of our intellect”.
Clinton Wahlen, Ph.D., associate director of the BRI of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists explained the variants, Bible translations, and trustworthiness of Scripture. He assured the viewers as to why they should put their trust in the Bible saying, “The Bible is by far the best-preserved book in history. No other ancient book even comes close. The Old Testament is well attested in several medieval Hebrew manuscripts that are quite well done…We have more than 6,000 cataloged manuscripts of the New Testament…More important now are the differences in translation methods. That is why it is important to look carefully at the introduction to the translations and what they say in the introduction, how they went about [putting together] these translations.”
Michael G. Hasel, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Archaeology and professor of Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology at Southern Adventist University, expounded on the topic of History, the Bible, and Hermeneutics. He shared, “One of the things that make the Bible unique when compared to any other religious text of any major world religion is the fact that the Bible is constituted in history…The idea of a personal God who is working in history is unique to the Judea-Christian faith and to the Biblical faith…We may not have everything that we find in the Bible present in the archaeological record, but we have more than probably any other ancient book that exists in the world today, and we certainly have good evidence to go by''.
Wagner Kuhn, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of World Mission at Andrews University, together with Clinton Wahlen, Ph.D., shared on the topic of Culture, Hermeneutics, and Scripture: Discerning What is Universal. Dr. Wahlen opened the discussion by saying, “The Bible itself is a cultural book, it speaks to every culture on the planet”. Dr. Wagner added, “Culture is a by-product of human interactions. So we need to be focusing, first and primarily [on how] the Word of God, the Gospel, goes into the community, into the life of a person, that person is transformed. And as that person is transformed, that family, that community is transformed and is living out the principles of the Word of God. Then the surroundings will be transformed as well. The culture will then be transformed, it will be reshaped. We will have a culture that is more Biblically shaped because the Word of God is full of life and is able to transform”.
Leonard Brand, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and Paleontology of Loma Linda University, addressed the topic of faith, science, and the Bible. He explained, “I routinely allow the Bible to help me to understand what I’m doing…It is more and more obvious that the Darwinian theory of Random Mutations and Natural Selection cannot make something new…So thus you have this conflict growing within science…The evidence for Creation is growing stronger, the evidence for Darwin’s theory is fading”.
Associate director of the BRI, Ekkehardt Mueller, Ph.D., expounded on the topic, principles of Biblical interpretation. He emphasized, “We are very much focused on the Biblical text, which is good, but there are issues which you cannot solve with the Biblical texts alone, or at least not directly…languages are dynamic. They change constantly. We see that in English if you read the King James Version, there are expressions we would not use any longer. Actually, we could misunderstand them…The problem is, those who accept Jesus as well as those who reject Jesus have the same Scriptures…The problem is that they come to different conclusions”.
Richard M. Davidson, Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, shared his knowledge on the topic of the use of Scripture by Bible writers. He explained, “Inner-Biblical interpretation is simply the use of earlier Scripture by later Biblical writers…In recent decades, it’s been more and more realized that the later Old Testament writers also used earlier Old Testament writers. So now we use this broader term, inner-Biblical hermeneutics, to look at how the later Biblical writers referred to and used earlier Scripture…If there’s not unity between New Testament and Old Testament and the prophets to the earlier prophets, then the messianic prophecies disappear”.
Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D., Retired associate director of the BRI, demonstrated the importance of understanding Biblical apocalyptic prophecies, especially the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation. He shared, “The books Daniel and Revelation contain many different symbols and the scholars differ widely in interpreting them. And various schools of interpretation have developed over the centuries on how to view the books of Daniel and Revelation, how to interpret them…When we interpret apocalyptic prophecy, we must not interpret it with the newspaper. Events in the world have meaning but not always what people ascribe to them. So we need to be careful not to interpret things because we see something happening in the world”.
Director of the BRI, Elias Brasil de Souza, Ph.D., described the conditional prophecies and the role of Israel. He explained “A number of passages in the Old Testament speak about Israel. But when these passages are speaking about Israel, we must keep in mind that we do not understand them as a reference to the state of Israel, but it's a reference to Israel within the framework of the covenant between God and His people at Sinai, with the covenant between God and Abraham…Through the Jewish people we received Scriptures and the Savior of the world…God made a covenant with Israel. They were not chosen to get exclusive rights to salvation, but because Israel was the chosen people and the instruments in God's hands to propagate the truth”.
At his second lecture, Michael G. Hasel, Ph.D., shared on the topic, the Genesis account as a test case for Biblical interpretation. He said, “The first words God says to humanity is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This is extremely important when we realize the foundation for the marriage covenant between a man and a woman is found in the creation narrative…In creation, we can see God's character revealed for the first time. One of the things that Genesis chapter 1 brings out is the order of creation and that God is a God of order…I would say that it's extremely important as we look at the old Creation, that we have hope in a new Creation”.
Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, John C. Peckham, Ph.D., preached on the topic, the prophetic gift and “Sola Scriptura” during the Divine worship service. He delineated, “The “Sola Scriptura” principle, the simplest way of understanding it is that Scripture is uniquely normative, or it has a unique authority or a ruling kind of authority by which other claims, other sources, other theological ingredients should be judged…Recognizing prophets outside [of] Scripture is perfectly consistent with the “Sola Scriptura” principle as long as any prophetic message or prophet outside of Scripture that is affirmed is tested by Scripture and held to be in subjection to the authority of Scripture”.
Denis Kaiser, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Church History at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, shared on the topic of Adventist pioneers and Ellen G. White on Biblical interpretation. He emphasized, “So while as a church we didn’t really have proper ministerial training until the 1930s, there were nevertheless some Adventist pastors who basically taught themselves Hebrew and Greek. Now some Adventist ministers or church workers like Uriah Smith, J. N. Andrews, W. W. Prescott actually learned Latin and Greek when they went to school…But Andrews, he wanted to know more. He dug deeper into some languages. So he taught himself Hebrew”.
At his second and final lecture of the Biblical interpretation webinar, Frank Hasel, Ph.D., expounded on the topic, recent trends in methods of Biblical interpretation. He said, “Human reason and empirical experience have become the norm for understanding the world around us and also for understanding the Biblical text and studying history and the Bible…An official statement of the Seventh-day Adventist church…’Adventists have rejected even a modified use of the historical-critical method that retains that principle of criticism that subordinates the Bible to human reason’…I would say for us Seventh-day Adventists, our approach to the Bible is what I would call a Biblical-historical approach…That’s why the Bible for our Seventh-day Adventist and the text of the Bible, is the final norm that settles the questions that are important to our life and faith”.
At the conclusion of the webinar, Pastor Petronio Genebago, youth director of the SSD reiterated, “We are Seventh-day Adventists, we use the Historical Biblical method and we have heard the reasons why, this is really something we have to thank God for, for leading us to have this kind of methodology that helps us read and interpret the Bible correctly. So dear beloved young people, may you continue to love the Scriptures as your standard of living”.
The participants were blessed by the knowledge shared during the webinar, on how they can access the treasures available to God’s people through His Word. The youth were reminded of the Bible text which is the foundation of the Bible reading project, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).