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Sabbath School for a New Generation

Among Seventh Day Adventists, Sabbath School is a time for discussion and learning. It is the belief of this site that Sabbath School should be an exciting venue for the discussion of new ideas, instead of rehashing old arguments. So welcome to a virtual Sabbath School, a Sabbath School for a new generation.

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I am an Electrical Engineer, working at Intel in the Portland area. I received my undergraduate degree from Walla Walla College and graduate degrees from the University of Southern California. The views expressed on this website are my own and do not reflect the viewpoints of anybody else. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Principles for Biblical Interpretation

CQ has posted a set of guidelines for Biblical interpretation. How we read the Bible is important and we will come away with different assumptions based on our preconceptions. So here are the five principles presented by Gerhard Pfandl.
  • The Canonical Principle
  • The "Unity of Scripture" Principle
  • The Literal Interpretation Principle
  • The Spiritual Discernment Principle
  • The Christological Principle
While I find myself in agreement with the last two, the remaining principles are problematic. I will start with the third principle. My main issue with literal interpretation principle is that in our over reliance on the literalness, we sometimes miss the whole point of the story. For example, in the book of Jonah we are told that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. So I have seen Sabbath Schools spend an hour talking about what kind of fish it was or how it was possible for Jonah to stay alive for three days inside it. In the process, we forget about the point of the whole story, which speaks of God's radical forgiveness. In fact Jonah initially fled, not because he was afraid of going to Ninevah, but because he knew that God would show mercy. Jonah wished that the whole city would rot in hell for what they had done to his people. In terms of the lesson of the story it doesn't matter whether the events in Jonah actually happened or didn't.

In terms of scriptural unity, I could list pages of contradictions or link to someone else who has already done the work (Be aware that I disagree with most of the conclusions reached at the Skeptics Annotated Bible.) Most of these are minor concerning dates and other trivia. Some of them are more significant. This principle ignores the progression in ideas among the Isrealites. For example, Satan does not appear in books written before the exile.

The canonical principle is based on the principle of "Sola Scriptura." The Bible is read by people, each with their own preconceived ideas, worldview, and biases. It was written for people in a culture that is far different from ours. We need to be aware of this, because it is impossible for us to read the Bible apart from our culture. In the book of Revelation, many of our conclusions of end time events are based on our Adventist traditions. Someone else would not necessarily come to the same conclusion. This is why the fourth principle is extremely important, if you are concerned about coming up with the "correct" Biblical interpretation.

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