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  1. Stephen Ferguson
    12 June 2012 @ 3:46 am

    Stephen, much thanks for your very interesting article.  My sincere apologies, but just a few things were not entirely clear to me (when I read the word ‘specificity’ it reminds me of a certain ex-Australian Prime Minister, so I have trouble following):

    1. What do you mean by the word ‘mean’ or ‘meaning’?

    My reading of the Oxford Dictionary is that ‘mean’ means ‘convey or express, signify, intend, or result in’.  The meaning of ‘meaning’ in turn means ‘explanation or interpretation, the significance, point, value, worth or importance.’ 
    Fowler’s Modern Usage (the official authority on English grammar; 2000 ed. @ p.485), defines it as a verb, stating ‘This is often legitimately used to introduce an explanation of what has just been stated.’
    Did you mean ‘mean’ to have this meaning?

    1. What do you mean by ‘regarded’?

    The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘regard’ to ‘think of in a particular way; to look on, view, think of, deem, judge; watch, look at, gaze at, stare at, observe, study, scrutinize, eye; care, consideration, heed, attention, thought’.
    To be honest, I am struggling to understand what you mean when you compare ‘regarded’ with ‘means’.  I would have thought it is important to both study and scrutinize scripture (‘regard’) as well as look at is significance, point or value (‘meaning’).  In fact, ‘regard’ appears to be similar to the question about genre and setting, ‘meaning’ about purpose and intention – both being sub-questions of form criticism.

    1. Are you in effect saying that people are confusing the notion of biblical genre (i.e. what type of text is used) compared with the text’s setting in place (sociological function or Sitz im Leben) and purpose (what the text intends to mean)?  Are you saying all these issues, which are sub-questions of form criticism, might be getting jumbled when they attempt to ‘interpret’ a passage?

    For example, we can talk about what a parable ultimately means, but first they need to identify it indeed as a parable.  We can also talk about Nebuchadnezzar’s multi-metal statue, but first we have to establish that it is of a genre of a dream, its setting within the sociological phenomena of his palace in the ANE, within a Babylonian culture, and its purpose was twofold (to provide an immediate response to the king’s question, and a prophecy with future theological meaning, which even Daniel did not understand at the time).
    Similarly, re Gen 1, there seems to be confusion and debate (even within those who promote theistic evolution) re whether this passage should be read allegorically (i.e. the word ‘day’ is meant be read as a 24-hour period but is only a symbolic number) or literally (where some argue the word ‘day’ can be read literally as meaning more than a 24-hour period, and is not merely an allegorical or symbolic number)?
    How would you apply the principle you are trying to make to say the 144,000 in Revelation?  Or Peter’s vision of eating the unclean meats?  Or Jesus story about hell?

    1. What do you mean by ‘science’?

    The Oxford Dictionary defines science to mean ‘study or knowledge of the physical or natural world, based on observation and experimentation’.  I would take that to include history, archaeology, ancient near eastern literature, anthropology, linguistics, political science, gender studies etc etc – they are all types of ‘social sciences’.  Do you agree with that characterisation?

    1. Are you saying: i) science can be a lesser light ever, ii) science can be a lesser light; or iii) can only be a lesser light when it confirm scripture but not when it leads away from scripture? Are you saying, for example, we can rely on science when it confirms hygiene laws, because it supports the Bible, but must reject science when it seems to contradict or abrogate the Bible?

    If so, are you really just saying – look at science when it supports the Bible, but simply ignore science when it doesn’t support the Bible? Furthermore, isn’t there a difference between saying science doesn’t support the Bible – full stop – compared with science not supporting one’s interpretation of the Bible?
    I do agree that science must remain subordinate to scripture, but isn’t there a danger of confusing our reading of scripture with scripture itself?  Didn’t the Roman Catholic Church wrongly say science should be ignored because it contradicts scripture, which says the world is flat, where they were really saying science contracted their interpretation of scripture?   

    1. When you say ‘When should their beliefs ever inform/influence ours’ are you saying we can’t use science, including social sciences, if the authors are not fellow believers?

    First of all, what do you mean by ‘our beliefs’ – another believer in God, another Christian, another SDA, another SDA who believes all the 28 FBs, or another SDA who believes all the 28 FBs in exactly the same way as you do?  At the smallest level, only you the individual shares all the same beliefs as yourself – at the largest level, the greatest majority of earth believe in God and a bare majority are still Christians. 
    Furthermore, didn’t Ellen White in the introduction to the Great Controversy mention she relied on certain historians – and not all of whom would have shared the same beliefs as her?  Isn’t much of our view about the Ancient Near East, including about the historical Jesus, derive from non-Christian sources, including Tacitus, Josephus and other ‘scientists’ of the time?

    1. For arguments sake, how do we know Gen 1 isn’t a parable (I don’t personally believe it), that was actually told to the Children of Israel by the literal person Moses, but where the story was always intended to have a non-literal meaning?

    I note ancient Christian writers, such as Origen and Augustine, always held that Gen 1 was never intended to be understood literally.  Furthermore and by analogy, according to some within Jewish tradition, isn’t the entire Book of Job possibly one large parable, not a factual account?  Moreover, although Jesus told the story of the person in hell reaching out to Abraham, wasn’t the story meant to be allegorical, even if we can attest that Jesus literally told that story?
    Sorry, I perhaps am missing the whole point of your article.  I have read it three or four times through, but perhaps I am still confused at what you are getting out.  Apologies again.

  2. Kevin Riley
    12 June 2012 @ 6:03 am

    I think I have questions on this, but to be honest all I understand is that Stephen probably has brought up some important issues, I think.  I did have trouble following this.  Perhaps we need a 300 word abstract so we can follow the blog better.

  3. William Noel
    12 June 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    Interpreting, defining and regarding are all useless exercises in argument, spiritually impotence and ineffectiveness at doing the work God has asked us to do for Him.  Instead, what we need is to find ways to relate to a story so we receive guidance that is applicable in our life.  That relation comes from the power of testimony, whether it is in the account of a person in the Bible in a specific situation, or the testimony of a friend who becomes our role model and guide when we are facing a challenge. 

    The trap of debating what is or is not correct interpretation or definition has lured many Christians into a form of godliness utterly lacking in the power of God.  This condition is preserved and perpetuated by sermons packed with Biblical facts but void of testimony about real life application.  It is time to quit parsing phrases and arguing definitions and time to start experiencing the power of God to guide and empower us in the same ways as the people described in the Bible. 

    • Stephen Ferguson
      12 June 2012 @ 2:47 pm

      Noel I kind of agree – it is all becoming very academic. But Adventism itself is very much founded on the idea that we have the 'Truth' to share with the world, which does require a proper understanding of how to understand the Bible.  

      What you seem to be suggesting could be considered dangerous by some – like that it ultimately doesn't matter if the world was created in 6 literal days or 6 epochs.  Or that it doesn't matter why we keep the seventh-day Sabbath as long as we keep it.

      • William Noel
        12 June 2012 @ 7:23 pm

        Dangerous only to those who have a form of godliness but none of the power.

        Academics are worthless unless a person first has a relationship with God and is allowing Him to lead and empower them.  What matters is not us pushing people to accept certain doctrinal points but nurturing their relationship with God so they will learn from He who is the ultimate source of all knowledge and truth.  Being able to nurture that relationship in others requires that we first have such a relationship so we can teach and encourage from our experience.  The lack of such a relationship in so many is why the church has become so powerless.

        • Ervin Taylor
          14 June 2012 @ 3:41 pm

          May I ask Mr. Noel, what he means by "power" in the phrase ". . . have a form of godiness but none of the power?" He suggests that the church has become "powerless."  Again, what kind of "power" are we talking about here?  

  4. Elaine Nelson
    12 June 2012 @ 8:51 pm

    It is evident that with Adventism doctrines have been preeminent.  How many have told of their "conviction and conversion" to Sabbath or SDA eschatology, but no mention of Christ?  With that as the major emphasis, Christians became the targeted audience for SDA evangelistic efforts.  Few, if any such efforts were directed to non-Christians.

    That must change if Adventism is to increase membership outside Christian nations.  The Muslims are fast growing and so is atheism.  A completly different message will be necessary to effect changes in these populations.

  5. Rudy Good
    12 June 2012 @ 11:30 pm


    I will be interested in your responses to Stephen's comments/questions. I must confess I found your first several paragraphs pretty confusing, and consequently it was difficult to understand the rest of your points.
    I think it would be worth your time to contemplate how much is involved in the conveyance of meaning. You make it sound like all you have to do is read the scripture with an honest intent and you will come away with the accurate meaning. I am sure you realize there is more complexity to accurately conveying meaning through the written word than your comments might suggest, but my problem with your perspective is much more fundamental.

    You seem to presume that the primary purpose of scripture’s communication is to convey precise spiritual knowledge and insights. This predisposes one to a literal interpretation. If the goal is to get the facts right then it is easier if the facts are literally stated with little room for ambiguity. But, what if the purpose of the scripture is very different from that? What if scripture is intended to convey meaning and truth at more fundamental level where facts subordinate to the meaning?

    It seems to me, if one looks at the scripture as a whole, it is primarily the record of human experiences in relationship to God. God intended for us to derive His meaning from the experiences. The words are important not for their precise meaning, but for their ability to convey the experience. It is possible to miss the meaning of the experience because of misinterpreting the words, but we are much more likely to misinterpret the meaning by trying to derive precise knowledge and never understanding the experiences.

    Knowledge has increased greatly and this includes knowledge of the scriptures, history, and a great many of other things. But, it could be that our modern obsession with knowledge often interferes with our really absorbing the meaning of scriptures. Doesn’t it make sense that God would choose a method to reach to human hearts that transcends human wisdom and understanding?

    With our modern perspective and breadth of knowledge we can know for sure that we have not inherited inerrant scriptures. The copying discrepancies in the manuscripts prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. All the explanations in the world do not change the fact that for centuries our modern translations have included some of these discrepancies. But, if God is God we can rely on Him to choose a reliable method to accomplish His purposes.

    God never intended that we will become part of his kingdom by passing an exam on the scriptures. We become part of His kingdom by embracing the "meaning" He gives to our existence. That meaning can be absorbed through the Spirit's illumination fo the experiences recorded in scripture. God does not need the inerrancy of the scriptures in every detail to convey His meaning to human hearts.

    The scriptures claim that God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. This proposition is either true or not true. It is a proposition that every human being can test with their own experience.

  6. Stephen Foster
    13 June 2012 @ 10:20 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful questions Stephen Ferguson!

    1. What do I mean by the word ‘mean’ or ‘meaning’?

    In the context of interpreting/interpretation I am juxtaposing explanation with a labeling or categorizing of genre. Meaning then would be the explanation of what has been written, as opposed to a categorization of the type of literary form. Meaning refers to what Scripture is saying. Categorization refers to how something, whatever it is or may be, is being said.

    1. What do I mean by ‘regarded’?

    This again relates to labeling, or categorization, or classification; and is in the spirit (no pun intended) of the second definition of interpret that I cited from How something is regarded in this context represents how literature is categorized by genre.

    1. Am I in effect saying that people are confusing the notion of biblical genre (i.e. what type of text is used) compared with the text’s setting in place (sociological function or Sitz im Leben) and purpose (what the text intends to mean)?  Am I saying all these issues, which are sub-questions of form criticism, might be getting jumbled when they attempt to ‘interpret’ a passage?

    Yes, to a significant extent I am saying that there is considerable confusion between biblical genre and interpreting what the text is literally meaning, given the text’s Sit im Leben and purpose. I do not shy away from the word literal because Scripture purposes to convey an understanding of what it actually says.
    My issue with form criticism relating to interpretation is just this, that “interpretation” conflates classification of genre with what is being conveyed or what is to be understood. What is being conveyed or understood is one thing, what genre is being used from a literary perspective is something else.

    1. What do I mean by ‘science’?

    By science I mean the systematic accumulation and organization of information and/or knowledge, independent of, and without regard to, Divine inspiration.

    1. Am I saying: i) science can be a lesser light ever, ii) science can be a lesser light; or iii) can only be a lesser light when it confirm scripture but not when it leads away from scripture? Are you saying, for example, we can rely on science when it confirms hygiene laws, because it supports the Bible, but must reject science when it seems to contradict or abrogate the Bible?

    I am saying that science can be a lesser light when it does not in any way contradict what we understand the Bible to have said.
    Yes, I am in fact saying that “we can rely on science when it confirms hygiene laws, because it supports the Bible, but must reject science when it seems to contradict or abrogate the Bible.”
    This is where it is more important to have an interpretation—what you determine Scripture to actually be saying—than not. (Reread the last paragraph in the blog.)

    1. When I say ‘When should their beliefs ever inform/influence ours’ am I saying we can’t use science, including social sciences, if the authors are not fellow believers?

    By “ours” I mean Christians generally and SDA Christians particularly.  I am not saying that “we can’t use science, including social sciences, if the authors are not fellow believers.” I am saying that we can’t use science if the scientific conclusion, including social science or whether the authors be Christian or not, is contradictory to or in conflict with what our understanding/interpretation of Scripture’s actual meaning, statement and purpose is.

    1. For arguments sake, how do we know Gen 1 isn’t a parable (I don’t personally believe it), that was actually told to the Children of Israel by the literal person Moses, but where the story was always intended to have a non-literal meaning?

    If Genesis 1 is indeed merely a parable (which of course I personally do not believe to be the case) told by Moses to the children of Israel but not intended to have been understood as literal occurrences, then how would you explain Exodus 20:1 and 11?

    • Stephen Ferguson
      13 June 2012 @ 10:59 am

      Ok thanks Stephen. 

  7. Kevin Riley
    13 June 2012 @ 11:28 am

    So, to summarise: if and when science agrees with our interpretation of Scripture, it is reliable and we can use it in support of the truthfulness of Scripture.  If and when it disagrees with our interpretation of Scripture, it is unreliable, and no one can use it to attack our understanding of Scripture. 

    If you cannot see epistemological and philosophical problems with that, then I don't know what else to say.

    I really should leave it at that, but I will ask just one question: if we were wrong in our interpretation of Scripture, short of God sending a prophet to point it out, how would we know?

    I don't think I will read this blog again tonight.  The implications of what you have said will make sleep difficult if I think too much about it.  Maybe in the morning I will read this again and discover you didn't say or mean what I think you just said.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      13 June 2012 @ 2:04 pm

      Sorry, to add further, my understanding is that Stephen was not merely saying we should only trust science when it supports Scripture, but we should only trust science when it supports our interpretation of Scripture.  Is that right Stephen?  I would have thought that is really a little self-serving. 

      And again 'science' also means social sciences.  For example, many early Adventists believed the 'King of the North' in Daniel 11 was the Ottoman Empire, based on Uriah Smith.  Some even point to Ellen White's supposed endorsement of that interpretation.  But when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, most Adventists did away with or seriously altered that interpretation of scripture.  Thus, Adventists have used 'science' as a lesser light to alter an interpretation of the Bible. 

      • Stephen Foster
        13 June 2012 @ 5:30 pm

        In summary, especially when in doubt, it would be best to use my words or, as close to my words as practicable, when summarizing my position (for understanding). (Of course, I would suggest that this applies for summarizing anyone’s position, for understanding.)
        For instance, I never said “…and no one can use it to attack our understanding of Scripture,” because that’s not reasonable. Scientists who understand and acknowledge that the Bible is the standard by which all other knowledge is measured (and not the other way around) may well discover something which would necessitate that our understanding of Scripture yield to another understanding of Scripture—but not to a disbelief of Scripture or a self-serving euphemistic reclassification of Scriptural genre.
        If, hypothetically, a legitimate reevaluation of genre—from literal to allegorical—is warranted, then Scripture must reveal (interpret) an understanding of what the allegorical is saying and meaning; and science that acknowledges Scripture to be the gauge by which all human knowledge is measured will have been legitimized.

        • Rudy Good
          13 June 2012 @ 9:51 pm


          This post makes a lot of sense to me. Not sure why in your original post you choose wording that (IMO) sounds out of sync with these more recent statements. I am not supposing you have changed your position, but perhaps you are trying to hard not be identified with the "liberals".


          • Stephen Foster
            14 June 2012 @ 2:05 am

            Rudy Good,
            I would like to know how any of my posts differ in your mind from what I’ve previously written. I answered a question (or questions) prompted by my blog. Where is the contradiction?
            Perhaps you missed a few key points: 1) that science, when undertaken (conducted) and understood properly, will not contradict Scripture, but is measured and corroborated by Scripture; 2) “another” understanding of a passage of Scripture that can theoretically result from (godly) scientific study would also be elsewhere scripturally corroborated; 3) science cannot lead to an “understanding” that Scripture is not to be believed; 4) another understanding of scriptural passages would itself have to be eminently explicable; and 5) just because it is theoretically possible that a legitimate reevaluation or reclassification of genre could eventually be in order doesn’t necessarily mean that it has ever occurred.

          • cb25
            14 June 2012 @ 2:38 am

            Stephen Foster,

            I read this explanation of your post with my mouth open in disbelief. Based on your conclusions: 1, 2 & 3 there is absolutely nothing to be gained by discussion with you.

            Your position is an utterly dogmatic stance that the Bible is the ultimate ruler in all points. If anything – repeat anything – contradicts the interpretations/truth of the Bible you have reached through any of the means you use and describe – it is wrong.

            Your position is completely indefensible from a standpoint of reason. To repeat a point I made before: A muslim does with their "Book" exactly what you do with yours.

            A mormon does with their "Book" exactly what you do with yours…and so on.

            If you/we have to base y/our faith and belief in God on a source of authority so indefensible and flimsy – God help us. Is there no better reason to believe in God than "Oh, yeah, there is a God cause my book said so".  Seriously?

          • Rudy Good
            14 June 2012 @ 12:08 pm

            There seem to be two major differences. Based on your original blog you didn't leave room for science to influence Biblical interpretation. You seem to have softened that position for the Bible believing scientist. It is clear that you are giving that ground reluctantly with that last caveat.

            However, Truth is truth, so why can't a Bible believing non-scientist take the discoveries of a non-believing scientist as a consideration for Biblical interpretation. There can be no logical objection to this possibility.

            I suspect the problem comes in deciding what is a discovery vs a speculation. I would agree that using speculations to change Biblical interpretation is not a wise approach. Obviously, ther will be varying opinions about what is a discovery. But, then the debate should be  about the weight of the scientific evidence. If we conclude (are highly suspect) that something qualifies as a scientific discovery then it simply must be a consideration in our Biblical interpretation. It has just as much value in interpretation as does a new theological explanation. The point is that no one can claim infallible interpretation and cannot arbitrarily reject a source of correction and legitimately claim to be a truth seeker.

            Your recent comments seem to acknowledge that scientific discovery can be a legitimate influene on Biblical interpretation. That appears to be missing in your original blog.

            Second, your original statement seemed to suggest that you must determine meaning before determine the type writing. Your more recent statement seems to reverse that. The original position is silly an indefensible and I question you really meant to take the position your words convey. How would one determine the meaning of Revelation or the Lazurus parable with out first determine the type of writing.

            Frankly, I think you are inclined to dogma. That interferes with your ability to articulate a rational position. Unless, you learn to resist the temptation to dogma you will rarely persuade anyone except those that share your dogma. I really would like to dialog with you on the issues you write about, but I get tired of the times when dogma replaces the rational. Don't misunderstand. I know the difference between dogma and passion. Passion I like. But, passion that becomes dogma is an enemy to the truth.

          • Stephen Foster
            14 June 2012 @ 3:43 pm

            Rudy Good,
            Let’s start where you ended, shall we, and work our way back to where you began (if that’s OK).
            There is no doubt that I am dogmatic about Scripture being the rule of faith and practice for the Christian worldview. That is unlikely to change anytime soon.
            We are not in negotiations. We are sharing worldviews and our approaches to them. Those frustrated by unyielding opinion must be trying to persuade those who frustrate them. We also don’t all think alike; so what seems rational to you may not seem rational to me, and vice versa. Personally, I have no problem with that.
            We will have to agree to disagree about our chicken/egg view of genre, because my opinion on that is based on an approach with which you may disagree; namely, that the Bible is its own interpreter and will inform what is what. (Don’t worry, I’m not trying to persuade you of this, but that’s my approach; and you certainly signal that it may not be yours, since you believe my position on this “is silly and indefensible.”
            However, once again, you need to tell me where my explanatory responses in this regard are different than the blog’s message. Remember, just because something theoretically can happen, doesn’t mean that it ever has happened. Understanding relating to literary form can be reevaluated if a lesser light leads to greater light, but an understanding must precede either the original evaluation or the reevaluation.
            You actually make a very good point about distinguishing between scientific discovery and speculation. In any case however, unbelief cannot neither inform nor influence belief about inspired revelation.

        • Stephen Ferguson
          14 June 2012 @ 1:12 am

          Stephen, if you are saying science can yield to another understanding of Scripture, but not to a disbelief in Scripture itself, then I would wholly agree with you.  In fact, this is what many Christians have argued for thousands of years (although perhaps forgotten by many), going right back to Clement of Alexandria who claimed philosophy (i.e. science) must be the 'handmaiden of theology'.  This is my understanding of what sola scriptura or even prima sciptura is all about:

          "The Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from scripture. However, sola scriptura is not a denial of other authorities governing Christian life and devotion. Rather, it simply demands that all other authorities are subordinate to, and are to be corrected by, the written word of God." (emphasis added)

          • Joe Erwin
            14 June 2012 @ 12:31 pm

            If I understand the quotation above correctly, it indicates that the "Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness," not all the knowledge that can exist on any topic at any time, even on the topics that are mentioned or addressed in the Bible.

            It seems to me that science has very little to say about what is necessary to "salvation and holiness." Those topics seem to me to be somewhere beyond the reach of scientific investigation. It seems to me that topics which modern science can address, and which empirical evidence indicates that the scriptural descriptions are not valid, just indicates that accepting the Biblical perspective on those topics is just not essential to "salvation and holiness."

  8. Stephen Foster
    14 June 2012 @ 3:15 am

    Let’s hope there are no flies in your vicinity, because your mouth will likely remain open for quite some time, Chris.
    Coincidentally, I just cited John 5:46, 47 on another thread (Sabbath and “Old Age”) on this site. From my perspective, this passage is dispositive for Christians regarding Scripture; although verse 39 puts Scripture in perspective (and verse 42 is a universal indictment).

  9. Stephen Ferguson
    14 June 2012 @ 12:52 pm

    I think I understand where Stephen is coming from, if he is saying science can be useful as long as it is subordinate to scripture.  To the extent there are disagreements, perhaps they are like all those pointless discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of pin.

    But Chris, what exactly are you saying?  What do you believe in the Bible, and not the Koran or Book of Mormon – or do you not believe in the Bible? You seem to disagree with those who have a very rigid and literal interpretation of the Bible; you also seem to disagree with those who do believe in science, including allowing science to illuminate different interpretations of scripture, but what to ensure scripture itself stays dominant.  What do you believe?

  10. Joe Erwin
    14 June 2012 @ 2:01 pm

    Ah, interesting, isn't it? It seems to me that Chris is saying that both scripture and "science" must be viewed critically and skeptically–not swallowed whole in whatever manner they are presented.

    That is also my view. The thing is, most scientists and science is quite open to revision on the basis of evidence, while some/many religionists cling dogmatically to beliefs they do not need to have or defend. 

    Of course, one COULD substitute absolute belief in scripture for absolute belief in science, but doing that with science is not even consistent with science itself. People who have tightly held rigid and literal views that are not subject to revision in the light of new evidence have serious problems doing science. 

    • Stephen Foster
      14 June 2012 @ 11:55 pm

      Joe, one significant difference between our separate approaches to Scripture and science is that “at best” you have given, and/or now give, them both some relative equivalence of…something; or you have given, and now give, science the clear role of reality arbiter.
      Either way, this is quite obviously opposed to an approach whereby Scripture is preeminent.
      Frankly, it seems to me that the logical conclusion of your approach appears to be a failure of faith in the existence of the God described in Scripture.

  11. Joe Erwin
    14 June 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    Perhaps there is a neuroscientist among us who could do an essay on "What is a brain for, anyway?"
    I get the impression that some of the disagreements here have to do with whether brains are "intended" to be used to carry out blind obedience or to generate social cooperation and independent thought and action.

    Some of my experiences have been in remote areas where the national language is not the first language
    of any of the people. They do speak it, but their first language is their local language, and they claim it to be VERY local. "We have our language, and the people over there [2 km away] have their language. We don't want them to learn our language and we don't want to learn their language." The local language seems to be exclusively for private "in group" communication. So, learning the national language has limited value. When it is known or suspected that you can understand the national language, the local people simply use their local language when they do not want you to understand what they are saying.

    This sort of local/tribal language thing is common in many parts of the world. It might even be universal, but I do not like to claim that something is universal without more evidence than I have.

    I understand that it is not uncommon for siblings, especially twins, to invent their own private language. It seems that most brains naturally generate some sort of language, and, whatever the linguisic context is tends to guide that process.

    • Elaine Nelson
      14 June 2012 @ 10:50 pm

      Language and thinking are intimately associated.  Children learn to talk at an early age and while they are learning new words, they also recognize how certain words and phrases are used and it affects their thoughts.  One cannot "think" without words" or pictures which are located in our brains with our memories. 


      Oriental children, unlike American children, are raised to respect the entire community, unlike America where individualism is honored.  America honors an individual who succeeds; in the Oriental culture, the family and community, rather than the individual becomes the entity. 


      How that translates into religious ideas and conversion is left for others to determine, but we often read of an entire community that has been converted to a new religion; in the U.S. we praise recognized individuals who convert to Adventism.

    • Kevin Riley
      15 June 2012 @ 1:04 am

      It wasn't universal from what I understand, but for at least some tribal groups in Australia language and land went together.  You did not speak your language outside your tribal boundaries.  Almost everyone could get by in the languages spoken by the neighbours, so it worked OK.  Even recently it has sometimes taken a long time to get permission from the elders to allow the language to be taught outside the tribal area.  Frustrating for linguists who want to save the language from extinction.

      Religious ceremonies were likewise connected to the land and could only be conducted at the 'right' places.  Most of the stories also could only be told in the right place at certain times.  Quite a contrast to our beliefs and practices, where we are impatient with restrictions of any kind.

  12. Joe Erwin
    14 June 2012 @ 6:45 pm

    Timo, I'd like to read some of this guy's work. Can you point me to it? Thanks.

  13. cb25
    14 June 2012 @ 10:36 pm

    Stephen Ferguson,

    Re your question above. Joe is correct. I am "saying that both scripture and "science" must be viewed critically and skeptically–not swallowed whole in whatever manner they are presented. " Thanks Joe for that good summary for me, and yes, welcome back:)

    Stephen, you may find it of interest to look up a blog I did in 2011. It is titled "Shift the Way You Think". It may give you an insight into how I think we should approach both scripture and science in an enquiring way in our search for meaning/truth/answers etc.


  14. Stephen Ferguson
    15 June 2012 @ 1:58 am

    Chris and Joe,
    Thanks for your recent comments.  I get where your criticisms of those who seem to take a dogmatic view of scripture and then try to get evidence to fit their interpretation, discarding anything that doesn’t fit.
    However, isn’t your own approach itself a little relativistic and postmodern – you seem to be without any real foundation?  I am more than willing to have my own interpretation of scripture abrogated and modified by scientific discoveries, but I am not willing to have scripture itself abrogated – a slight but important distinction.
    For me ultimate Truth (capital T) is found in Jesus Christ, and I admit all other formative factors, including scripture, logic, experience, culture, tradition and science are only lesser truths (lower case t).  But given scripture gives us the clearest picture of Jesus, although it is indeed not infallible and should be viewed critically, in my view it should be give pride of place as the premier formative factor. That is my “posteriori that we have valid and defendable reasons for doing so” (to quote from your blog).
    It still isn’t clear to me how you would answer your own previous question – why not believe in the Koran or Book of Mormon? What if your posteriori for believing in the Bible at all, and not these other sacred scriptures?  Why believe in any sacred scriptures at all? What is your posteriori for believing in God?  Do you ultimately believe in anything as ultimate Truth, or is everything relative to you?
    It is also very difficult to see how your own views are tethered to anything with any sort of foundation?  Your own faith would appear open to fluttering in the wind. One can be critical about everything, and question everything, and believe nothing, but that is really no approach to life. 
    To take a Kantian approach, when one all boils down to it, nothing can be ‘proved’ by empirical evidence except that you exist – and some philosophers would even challenge that notion of personal existence.  Thus, given you don’t know whether you are actually reading this comment on a computer, or whether you are in reality a brain in a jar or plugged into a Matrix system, you must demonstrate a certain amount of faith.
    Science can tell us some things but it is admittedly limited.  It can’t tell us what existed before the Big Bang, or what will happen when the universe comes to an end.  The Bible isn’t perfect or infallible, but it does tell us there is a God who exist and who loves us, who became a man, who lived, died and rose again, and who has prepared a place for us in the future.  
    If we are totally honest, God’s existence cannot be proved either way by empirical evidence.  That may seem a priori position (to quote your blog), where evidence is used to support my pre-existing position that God exists.  The reality is in life some things do require a priori view.  At the end of the day, we must all have faith in something that cannot be satisfactorily proved by empirical evidence – and I choose Jesus, who is described in the Bible.   
    Chris and Joe, what do you choose to have faith in?  

  15. cb25
    15 June 2012 @ 3:49 am

    Stephen Ferguson,

    I'll pick up a point or two now, and more when time permits.

    You note: "I am more than willing to have my own interpretation of scripture abrogated and modified by scientific discoveries, but I am not willing to have scripture itself abrogated – a slight but important distinction."

    I see this differently. I find no "a posteriori" reason that the Bible should hold this position. If you take that position "a priori", I can understand that because that is how I grew up: It was taken for granted the Bible held this position. As I came to understand more I realized this position could not be defended a posteriori

    You ask also how or why I would choose the Bible over Koran etc. I would not. Having said that, there are perhaps some defendable reasons why I think the Bible has potentially more "spiritual truth" within it.

    I have no a posteriori reason to believe in God. As noted someplace else – my belief that there is a God are purely subjective. There are some "hints" throughout human culture that there is a spiritual dimension and possible spiritual reality, but belief in such is certainly outside that which is scientifically demonstrable and most likely also outside that which is a posteriori arguable.

    It is a faith statment.

    I would be interested what your a posteriori defendable reasons for giving the Bible pride of place in formative function.

    I would also point out that the reality of Jesus as Son of God and most facets of that package are also subject to serious doubt from a historical perspective, so even that ground is not as firm as one might first think. If you dare to do some research be prepared for a shock.

    What are my views "tethered" to? 🙂 The answer my friend is blowing in the wind!! No, not quite.

    I do critically examine and question everything, but I am not without foundation even so. Let's face it: A Christian view of reality: Great controversy theme; Gospel; imminence of second coming; interventionist God etc etc – are ALL collective answers from the breeze that people have brought together as "the best" "answers" to reality. Whatever one's view of inspiration – the bottom line is they are man's words "about" God/god – through a dark glass.

    Through reason and observation I and you have no less right nor capacity to look through that same glass from as wide a perspective and resource of information as we possibly can – AND reach our own conclusions about reality.

    I would suggest the glass is less dark now than at any time in the past.


    • Stephen Ferguson
      15 June 2012 @ 5:09 am

      Chris, I kind of hear what you are saying, but it does seem awefully grim and all postmodern.  I take it your question everything then – God, Bible, Jesus, life after death, love – possibly as just human constructs?

      Just because there are glimpses of God found in human culture does not make God real – it just makes God and love human constructs, which serves a sociological purposes, derived from biological (genes) and cultural origins (memes).  It was this sort of stuff I learnt years back studying anthropology at university (at a state secular one by athiest professors), that God was probably just a social construct representing society as a whole in the Emile Durkheim fashion (don't correct my spelling, I haven't bothered to re-look it up). When we worship God, we really worship the collective of us all.

      If scripture is sacred just because a community of faith says it is, then so what – is God a Big Brother contestant?  If we are honest, whilst Christianity is a good religion, arguably Ba'Hai and Jainism are better religions, and Buddhism isn't too bad either. 

      I am sorry, but I can't personally live my life that way.  I have to believe in something real and absolute, and greater than myself.  I can't just go around and tear everything down, question everything, and say everything is relative.  If you can live your life with that little certainty, with no real certainty of God, Jesus, an afterlife and love, then you are a far better man than I am.

      I do question a lot of things, and I don't know all the answers, but I do have faith in Jesus Christ.  It may be an idiot's faith, or the faith of a small and naive child, but so what? 

  16. Stephen Ferguson
    15 June 2012 @ 5:19 am

    "You ask also how or why I would choose the Bible over Koran etc. I would not….

    I would also point out that the reality of Jesus as Son of God and most facets of that package are also subject to serious doubt from a historical perspective, so even that ground is not as firm as one might first think. If you dare to do some research be prepared for a shock."

    Chris, would it be fair to say then that you would describe yourself as an 'agnostic' rather than 'Christian' and certainly not a 'Seventh-day Adventist'?

    You probably don't like labels, if indeed you adhere to a very relative post-modern way of thinking, but 'science' in effect, including social sciences, is very much dominated by the process of dividing and labelling things.  Scientists do that to enable them a more expeditious way of understanding something or someone or a group of someones. 

  17. Stephen Ferguson
    15 June 2012 @ 5:35 am

    The other thing I think it relevant to the views of people like Chris, is that he may be sharing philosophical religious opinion but I doubt he is sharing a theological opinion – or at least not a Christian theological view. It is again a slight but important distinction.
    Theology can be understood in different way, but the modern consensus appears to be that:
    “Theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflect upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available… Again, whereas the theologian speaks out of the community of faith, the philosopher of religion is an individual investigator”: John MacQuarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1966), 1,2.   
    The reason I bring this up is, I do not always agree (in fact often don’t) with Stephen Foster.  It appears I don’t agree with everything he has said in this post.  However, we can have a theological dialogue, because we are both participating in and reflection upon a religious faith as understood within a religious community of faith – a  community that does hold the Bible up as either the sole authority (sola scriptura) or at least dominant (prima scriptura) rule of faith.
    There is nothing wrong with Chris sharing his comments, and I certainly not trying to dissuade him.  I am just pointing out that Chris is actually having a very different type of discussion, which may not be on the ‘same page’.  It is like someone saying they think a three pointer (in basketball) is the hardest type of shot to make, when other people are talking about football.  The point is interesting, and it may be kind of relevant in a certain type of way, but it isn’t really within the discourse of the subject.    

    • Stephen Ferguson
      15 June 2012 @ 5:43 am

      Another way of saying this is if I told Stephen Foster that I disagreed with his method of biblical interpretation, because it did not conform to principles of Islamic jurisprudence.  Those principles of Islamic jurisprudence may be interesting, and kind of relevant in a very round about kind of way, but I don't think they in any way answer the question of the proper approach to biblical intepretation. 

      In the same way, I personally feel trying to challenge Stephen Foster's approach to biblical interpretation by saying everything is relative, and that the Koran could possibly be as authorative to the Bible, and that God is only real because of hints in human culture, to be a stance, whilst interesting, does not actually engage the merits of Stephen's argument.  In effect, to challenge Stephen's argument, they must be in accordance to the same discourse or rules, not by suggesting that a different game should be played altogether.

      Just my opinion, and no doubt I will be hounded for dare saying it.

  18. cb25
    15 June 2012 @ 6:05 am


    You and I and whoever wishes here can have a theological dialogue because we are both participating in and reflection upon a religious faith as understood within a religious community of faith – of which I happen to be a part!

    I believe the Bible can have an input on that discussion, and I also believe that as someone who believes in Christian principles whether I view the Bible with the same glasses as you, Stephen Foster, or anyone else is not relevant to my ability to have usefull or valid input.

    As for the theme of the blog above, I was bouncing off things within the subsequent thread. Personally I found the blog confusing in its logic and approach. If I was feeling slightly more rude atm I would say it was confused and trying to construct an argument out of necessity. It has sparked of some interesting comments.

    I happen to think that if Christianity is going to stay relevant it must reshape its way of expressing faith and spirituality.

    Also, I don't give much care to "postmodern" and other titles. They only confuse issues imho.


    • Stephen Ferguson
      15 June 2012 @ 6:22 am

      Ok no worries and apologies – I was certainly not trying to be rude – just trying to understand the position you are coming from, especially whether it was from an agnostic, Christian or SDA viewpoint.  I just thought from reading your previous thread that you didn't really believe in the Bible as authorative, or believed say the Koran could be just as valid, or even necessarily in God or Jesus Christ?  I was just trying to say that if that is the case, then it really isn't a 'theological' response but merely a 'philosophy of reglion' response. 

      As such, it was a critique that Stephen Foster would be well within his rights to completely ignore. Whilst others are trying to discuss Stephen Foster's understandings of the rules, you appeared to be suggesting we all play another game altogether. When that happens, it gets difficult to address the scope of the issue, as saying we shouldn't consider the Bible authorative is a very different type of discussion than saying how we should read the Bible as authoratative.

      To be honest, I still am struggling to grasp how your views are said to be 'Christian' and 'Seventh-day Adventist' – and yes I have read your own article from 2011.  I am not asking a rhetorical question but an actual open question.

      • Kevin Riley
        15 June 2012 @ 6:37 am

        I am still waiting to see exactly what Stephen Foster is saying.  It's hard to agree or disagree with someone when every post seems to be coming from a different POV.  I have no doubt it is mostly clear in Stephen's head, but in that case, I am not sure it is translating well to the written page.  Not an uncommon problem 🙂

        • Stephen Ferguson
          15 June 2012 @ 6:48 am

          What I believe is pretty crystal clear to me 🙂

          • Stephen Foster
            15 June 2012 @ 7:38 am

            Well Kevin, you could consider doing what Stephen Ferguson did, or even Rudy Good.
            Stephen posted a number of questions to me that apparently cleared some things up as to from where I am coming. This is not to say that he agrees with every, or any, aspect of my point of view; but he understands. (Or at least appears less unclear than do you, who haven’t asked any questions.)
            Likewise Rudy, who certainly disagrees with me, at least is seemingly now sufficiently conversant with what I am saying to disagree.

          • Rudy Good
            15 June 2012 @ 12:36 pm


            Please read carefully.

            I'm sorry but your assumption about my perspective is wrong. I have written several lengthy responses, but tossed them away because I'm not really sure what to say that will not come across as confrontational and/or offensive. I will be frank. It doesn't appear you are very aware of the logical implications of many of the things you write and I agree with Kevin.

            It is very frustrating to try to dialog with you. I gave a pretty good hint at that in my last post, but apparently you didn't absorb that. Also, I think I pretty clearly described two conflicting points of view in your different posts, but you didn't really try to explain how I was wrong. You just said you still didn't see. It didn't appear you gave any real thought to the points I made.

            Here's another odd thing. You always seem to conflate our differences making it even harder to dialog. For example I share your conviction " about Scripture being the rule of faith and practice for the Christian worldview." But, you made this puffed up statement about your not changing that point of view as if I were saying something to suggest you should.

            You also made another puffed up comment that "we are not in negotiations". I have no idea what you thought I was trying to negoitiate. I had suggested your approach would not be very persuasive to which you responded you weren't trying to persuade anyone. That also seems to conflate our differences because I don't see how you can honestly say you are not trying to persuade anyone without splitting hairs.

            It seems to me that at the very least you are very determined to repel any contradictions or objections to your point of view. So, you are at least trying to defend your point of view. What is the point of doing that if you don't hope to persuade someone of legitmacy of your point of view. You may not be trying to convince them to adopt your thinking, but you are trying to persuade them that you hold a defensible point of view.

            You also made some claim that we are exchanging world views. IMO that statement is a great misrepresentation of the dialog. No doubt our world views have an influence on the points being made in the dialog. But, the fine points of Biblical interpretation that you introduced in your original comments do not provoke an exchange of world views.

            I do not say any of this to be insulting or hurtful. It seems to me you are a committed Christian and I respect that. But, I also believe that all committed Christians are sinners with woeful short falls. Pride is chief among these and I am no exception. However, I have concluded that we impune our God by behaving as if in our sinful condition we become qualified and authorized to dispense truth. Probably few of us would make this as a conscious claim, but we may still behave and act that way.


            I am sure that everyone is over confident of some point of view due to human pride. But, we can also adopt postures that build that pride and over confidence into our basic assumptions. It is possible to convince ourselves we are standing by God's principles when in fact we are refusing to consider new evidence and improve our understanding of God. IMO you habitually refuse to give adequate consideration to objections to your point of view.

            I can respect that you hold different points of views. What I do not respect is your expectation for people to accept inconsistent and illogical arguments as a reasonable defense of your positions. I know that you probably will not like that assessment, but I think that is what Kevin is saying and I agree.

          • Stephen Foster
            15 June 2012 @ 10:24 pm

            I’ll try again to pick up where you ended, again if that’s OK.
            It’s really not about me—at all. That’s why I try not to take offense personally; which may seem somewhat insensitive.
            While I would certainly love everyone to always agree with me, I simply realize that this is never going to happen. I am at peace with that too.
            This is why I am not technically trying to persuade. I am, if anything, defending a worldview. If everyone agreed with it there would be nothing to defend.
            I can see that it is somewhat frustrating to some that their arguments do not seem to get the consideration from me that they think these arguments deserve. However, I do read, take seriously, and try to understand all the reply comments to my blogs; and have great respect for all of the writers of them.
            Now approaches to, or definitions of, Biblical interpretation may not in and of itself qualify as a worldview. But (to your point?) one’s worldview may inform one’s approach to Biblical interpretation almost as much as one’s approach to Biblical interpretation may inform one’s worldview (in my opinion).
            I would suggest that although it is flattering that you occasionally spend time drafting and disposing of commentary to/about me, that you might do well to focus more on what and where you understand or don’t understand, agree and/or disagree with what I’ve said.
            We all bring our personal baggage to practically everything we do, say, think, or write; and that, of course, includes me.

          • Rudy Good
            15 June 2012 @ 11:46 pm

            Well Stephen,

            It seems that when I write a lot you absorb very little of it. So I'll try a different approach to dialoging.

            Can you define the world-view you are trying to defend?
            (Or what are the key components of your world-view?)

      • cb25
        15 June 2012 @ 7:48 am

        Stephen Ferguson,

        No apolgies needed. btw. The issue of bible authority is relevant to what I was saying. I don't claim to understand what Stephen was saying in his blog, but have a suspicion that underlying his thesis is an attempt to shore up the authority of the bible by defending an approach to how it should (in his opinion) be understood.

        I think in the past I have noted that the bible is "an" authority. Some have big trouble with that:) That "authority" would be very much related to the purpose for which I am using it. ie spiritual and faith issues. Stories of how others have experienced God, if you like. When it comes to seeing through that glass in relation to physical reality there are far better lenses: nature, the stuff I walk on, geology, fossil record etc, etc. Dare I say it, science even!

  19. Stephen Foster
    15 June 2012 @ 8:21 am

    I have a question (for anyone): In John 5:46, 47, did Jesus mean that Moses was to be literally believed in order for Him to have been literally believed? If not, what did He mean?

    • Rudy Good
      15 June 2012 @ 1:02 pm

      Sorry, for the double entry and I also edited the question wrongly.

      Before I give my view I would like to know if word "literally" is intended to change the nature of the question to what it would be without that word?

  20. cb25
    15 June 2012 @ 11:35 am

    Stephen Foster,

    🙂 Well I'm glad you chose Moses for your trap question and not someone like Noah who was probably a largely mythical figure!

    The context of your passage suggests that Jesus' listeners had a massive problem with interpetation and understanding. They studied the scriptures diligently, yet did not see Jesus fitting what they read in them.

    Why? Could it in fact have been because they read the scriptures too literally? They certainly believed Moses was a real, literal figure – it was Moses in whom they hoped – too literally!

    So, how did they not believe in what Moses wrote? Because they read it black and white – knew it jot and tittle – but missed the sublte, missed the allusion, missed the hint, missed the mythical:) Moses was not literally believed because he was (too) literally understood!

    I wonder what Jesus would say today to those among us who interpret scriptures so literally that they may not hear the still small voice saying "I'm here". (paraphrase: "you find me here, in your heart, before you will find me in a book, and if I'm not heard in the former I will not be found in the latter").

    Jesus said they had never heard his voice. Sad.

    • Rudy Good
      16 June 2012 @ 10:57 am

      Well, said.

  21. Joe Erwin
    15 June 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    Stephen Foster, I think one can take the words you cite at face value and simply believe that John accurately reported what Jesus said and that Jesus meant what he said. But one can also wonder what the meaning was of those words was to Jesus, and whether what the words seem to mean to you or me is what he meant. I think your questions flow naturally from the verse you cited. At the same time, there is a sense in which it makes me wonder whether this points to Jesus as mainly having a "good news" message to people from the Jewish tradition–telling them that they are no longer condemned under the Eden myth or Mosaic law.

    But, I am not a theologian. When I was an SDA theology student, I thought the key to answering such questions might be in learning the languages of early manuscripts and in reading many different translations of biblical scripture. I found that, for the most part, ambiguities in the KJV were pretty accurate translations. Eventually, it seemed clear to me that the Truth of salvation (etc.) had to be accessible to everyone. It seemed to me that deep scholarly knowledge and understanding could not fairly convey any spiritual advantage over simple faith. And I still think that is pretty close to what the message of Jesus was.

    The message, I think, was pretty simple, and it went something like this: "You come from a tradition in which God has been portrayed as a tough guy who makes a lot of rules and will hurt you if you don't obey him. If you believe that you are condemned from the beginning, that you are in bondage, and that you are a slave to this tradition, I'm here to tell you that is not true. Actually, God loves you more than anything, and He wants you to be free of these cumbersome traditions that just make you feel bad. So, the reason I am here is to let you know that you are free. Believe me when I tell you that." Or something like that. And that is enough. Beyond that, I do not see much point in Christianity. The message attributed to Jesus was a paradigm shift for Judaism.

    But people could not allow the message to be as simple as it was. As Christianity became institutionalized, much of  the joy went out of it, and many human traditions were added back into it, some Judaic, others from elsewhere. Now we have a couple of thousand years of add-ons, and in many cases, most cases, this takes us back to the sort of tradition that it seems to me that Jesus condemned.

    Unlike Chris, I am no longer an adventist or Christian. If that means I should be ignored by the remnant righteous, fine. I'm okay with that. Like Chris, I feel that physical reality provides a much firmer foundation than anything in an unknowable spiritual dimension. So, I guess I think there is some objective Truth or ultimate Reality of which we can sense some evidence–not all the evidence that is theoretically possible, so the knowledge is never total, entire, or complete, but we can get closer and closer through successive approximations, using the methods devised to acquire and evaluate evidence–and those methods are the methods of science. It is a pretty good foundation. As far as I can tell, it is as good as it can get, because, if you figure out some new or better way to examine evidence you are free to do so. Completely free. Free indeed.

    Maybe this is just what Jesus meant. The truth will make you free.



  22. Rudy Good
    16 June 2012 @ 12:34 am

    Ok, I'll add my two cents worth regarding John 5:46 without my question answered.

    I am going to answer the question as if the word "literally" were not in the question because I have no idea what is meant by putting that adverb before "believe".

    The Jewish scriptures of Jesus day were divided into three parts. The law, prophets, and writings are one way of identifying them. (The Jewish religion still divides their scriptures into these three divisions).

    The law (Pentateuch or Torah) was the foundation of the Jewish nation, culture and religion. Since the Pentateuch was written by Moses, the Jewish leaders to whom Jesus speaking in the passage took great pride in their devotion to Moses. They claimed to understand and comply with (obey) the teachings of Moses.
    The Pharisees and other sects of that time were especially careful to take the law very literally and obey it very carefully because they did not want to repeat the errors of the ancestors that had led to their exile and the destruction of Jerusalem and their Jewish homeland.
    Jesus is obviously saying that despite their reverence and devotion to Moses and his teachings, they do not really believe what Moses taught. The evidence is that they don’t believe in Him. Jesus is claiming that Moses taught about Him and had they understood and believed what Moses taught about Jesus then they would understand and believe Jesus.
    Stephen, I am surprised that you draw attention to this scripture because I think it is warns us about the danger of narrow human interpretations of the scripture. In their zeal to be right and meet every expectations of God as literally as possible they had advanced to a place where they could tell the Christ that He was not meeting God’s expectations.
    They knew the scriptures, but not the character and nature of the God of the scriptures they claimed to obey. They knew the scriptures, but would not acknowledge the incredible demonstration of God’s character and power in their midst because He didn’t meet the preconceived ideas they had of God.

  23. Joe Erwin
    16 June 2012 @ 12:35 pm

    Rudy, it seems to me that you have given a very cogent and compelling explanation. Bravo!

  24. Bill Garber
    16 June 2012 @ 6:33 pm

    To give or provide meaning … and that is always where the rub comes in … the meaning arises from within the interpreter, not from within, in this case, the Bible.
    The writers of scripture where themselves interpreting, not scripture, but their experience, if occasionally referencing other writers, by in and beyond scripture.
    In the case of scripture, here are levels as often sequenced.
    1. God.
    2. Genetics
    3. Observational elements, whether behavioral or emotional.
    4. Interpretation.
    5. Authoring.
    6. Copying by preservationists.
    7. Translating by seekers.
    8. Reading.
    9. Interpreting.
    10. Commenting on AToday or Preaching or such.
    11. Trying to make sense within the context of one's emotional and rational and observational life experience.
    Of course, it is just as reasonable and some would say more reasonable to suggest a different order.  Namely …
    1. Genetics
    2. Observational elements, whether behavioral or emotional.
    3. Interpretation.
    4. God.
    And often because stages 1-11 are so laborious and fraught with uncertainty, no matter the sequency, we commonly start with where we are in the present at Level 11 and look for a Level 10 advocate of our Level 11 sense of reality, thus avoiding steps 1-9.  It is the conservative approach, whether one is conservative or progressive … whatever those terms may imply.
    To affirm that we have differences in interpretation, then, is to not only have said something, it is quite possibly to have said everything that needs to be said about the experience one has with scripture.
    But not everything that needs to be said about our experience with each other.

    In short, all meaning is personal.

    Then, what?
    Operating at Level 10 here, it is really hard to concede that the only benefit of my rehearsal is how I sense it, rather than it somehow connecting me with other Level 10’s who affirm my sense here. A personal interpretation, if you will.
    It is instructive that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 were distinguished from not only from one another but from those within their culture, rather than spiritually homogenized.  Faith is not, it seems, about uniformity.  Indeed.
    There is a grander theme than often conceded to Roman’s 14:5 “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Paul appears to be writing about the utter individuality of every life, not to isolate us but to bring us together in the truth of his interpretation, if you will; an effort not by any means having succeeded.  
    As he notes “22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.”

    In short, getting specific in the service of uniformity or unity serves no noble let alone social or spiritual good.  The goal is to be like minded, not about the details of life, but toward one another.
    As Paul notes shortly following, (Romans 5) “4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
    5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:
    6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.”  As John 3:17 notes, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”


    • Stephen Foster
      22 June 2012 @ 5:40 pm

      Quite possibly, that which was “written aforetime…for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” was intended for us to understand it (“…our learning”).
      I don’t think it was meant for us to all understand it differently, Bill.
      With all respect, it appears that you are using some verses out of context. What you have cited in Romans 15 is preceded by the concept of “[bearing] the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves…For even Christ pleased not himself;” and is directly followed by
           6That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
         7Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
      So, I suppose what I am suggesting is that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, for example, all believed alike; or, more precisely, believed the same thing.
      It seems to me that this is quite different than understanding, or interpreting, or (dare I even say it) believing according to our own individual/varying experiences and backgrounds.

  25. Stephen Foster
    18 June 2012 @ 7:50 am

    Sorry for the delay folks, I had company in from out of town for the weekend; and had to resist being rude (if you know what I mean).
    My question, Rudy, can be read either with “literally” or without, as far as I’m concerned. I am cognizant how problematic the concept of a literal reading of any scripture is for some individuals.
    If you’d prefer to take “literally” out of the question(s), it isn’t a problem.
    The key to the question isn’t the word “literally;” it is the word “believe.” What did Jesus mean by “believe” when it came to the words of Moses?
    We know that the Pharisees were labeled by Jesus as hypocrites, and that they presumptuously added rules to the laws of Moses, to suit their own purposes; as with the numerous Sabbath restrictions for example. We know that the Sadduces, though adherents to the written Torah, were not subscribers to the oral law/tradition; but more to the point, they (“literally”) did not believe. It was with the Sadduces that Jesus had the more pointed controversy as to interpretation.
    According to Wikipedia, the New Testament describes incidents which “hint at hostility between the growing Jesus movement and the Sadduceean establishment. These disputes manifested themselves on both theological and social levels…Jesus challenges the reliability of the Sadducees’ interpretation of Biblical doctrine, the authority of which enforces the power of the Saduccean priesthood.”
    “The Sadducees rejected the traditions of the Pharisees. They professed to believe the greater portion of the Scriptures, and to regard them as the rule of action; but practically they were skeptics and materialists.
    The Sadducees denied the existence of angels, the resurrection of the dead, and the doctrine of a future life, with its rewards and punishments. On all these points they differed with the Pharisees. Between the two parties the resurrection was especially a subject of controversy…The Sadducees rejected the teaching of Jesus; He was animated by a spirit which they would not acknowledge as manifesting itself thus; and His teaching in regard to God and the future life contradicted their theories. They believed in God as the only being superior to man; but they argued that an overruling providence and a divine foresight would deprive man of free moral agency, and degrade him to the position of a slave. It was their belief, that, having created man, God had left him to himself, independent of a higher influence. They held that man was free to control his own life and to shape the events of the world; that his destiny was in his own hands. They denied that the Spirit of God works through human efforts or natural means. Yet they still held that, through the proper employment of his natural powers, man could become elevated and enlightened; that by rigorous and austere exactions his life could be purified.
    “Their ideas of God molded their own character. As in their view He had no interest in man, so they had little regard for one another; there was little union among them. Refusing to acknowledge the influence of the Holy Spirit upon human action, they lacked His power in their lives. Like the rest of the Jews, they boasted much of their birthright as children of Abraham, and of their strict adherence to the requirements of the law; but of the true spirit of the law and the faith and benevolence of Abraham, they were destitute. Their natural sympathies were brought within a narrow compass. They believed it possible for all men to secure the comforts and blessings of life; and their hearts were not touched by the wants and sufferings of others. They lived for themselves.
    “By His words and His works, Christ testified to a divine power that produces supernatural results, to a future life beyond the present, to God as a Father of the children of men, ever watchful of their true interests…”
    As regards the resurrection, “In answer to their questions, Jesus lifted the veil from the future life. ‘In the resurrection,’ He said, ‘they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.’ He showed that the Sadducees were wrong in their belief. Their premises were false. ‘Ye do err,’ He added, ‘not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.’ He did not charge them, as He had charged the Pharisees, with hypocrisy, but with error of belief.”
    “The Sadducees had flattered themselves that they of all men adhered most strictly to the Scriptures. But Jesus showed that they had not known their true meaning. That knowledge must be brought home to the heart by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit…
    “They were seeking to bring the mysteries of God within the compass of their finite reasoning. Christ called upon them to open their minds to those sacred truths that would broaden and strengthen the understanding. Thousands become infidels because their finite minds cannot comprehend the mysteries of God. They cannot explain the wonderful exhibition of divine power in His providences, therefore they reject the evidences of such power, attributing them to natural agencies which they can comprehend still less. The only key to the mysteries that surround us is to acknowledge in them all the presence and power of God. Men need to recognize God as the Creator of the universe, One who commands and executes all things. They need a broader view of His character, and of the mystery of His agencies.
    “Christ declared to His hearers that if there were no resurrection of the dead, the Scriptures which they professed to believe would be of no avail.”

    The Desire of Ages, pp. 603-606

    • Stephen Ferguson
      18 June 2012 @ 10:05 am

      Yes, an interesting analogy Stephen – I enjoyed it.

      I think the five major Jewish movements at the time of Christ, being the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots and Christians (which in turn then comprises the two sub-groups Judaizers and Gentiles) offers a very interesting analogy.  I suspect the SDA Church certainly has its own version of all of these groups today – I think all those factions are represented in these discussions.   

      The interesting question is who is which today?  I don't think it is an obvious as it seems. 

      The Zealots and Essenes were the most extreme by far, yet the early Christians seemed to adopt some of their practices (such as baptism, communalism, a kind of apocalyptic fanaticism through a belief in an imminent millennium end). 
      The Pharisees are most well known by Christians today, but modern scholarship suggests Jesus was most closely aligned to that faction personally, especially the Hillel school.  Many of the anti-Pharisee comments by Jesus, whilst no doubt real, were certainly chosen and effectively emphasized by later Christian writers.  The Pharisees are also quite interesting because they in effect ‘won’ the battle for Judaism after the destruction of the Temple (Christians lost the Jews but won the far greater prize of the Greco-Roman world).  Ironically, for a group that are lambasted as traditionalists, they were actually some of the most adaptive Jews after the destruction of the Temple. Thus, they could be seen to correspond to our historical conservatives; however, they could equally be seen to correspond to liberals, especially if the notion of the ‘oral law’ was seen as a correlation to say ‘science’ as an additional lesser light to guide the interpretation of the written word.
      The Sadducees are indeed probably the most interesting group, because they were the power group that ruled the Temple, had the priestly lineage, but were indeed skeptics of a lot of supernatural beliefs.  In fairness to them, the OT was pretty silent or vague at best on some of these beliefs, such as the existence of an afterlife or belief in Satan as a personal being (both issues that orthodox Jews today are still uncertain of). I think they certainly do correspond to some of our more liberal theological viewpoints today; however, equally one could argue they correspond to some of our traditionalist elite, who are not willing to adapt new beliefs as required.   
      Keeping that all in mind, my understanding is the early Christians in effect came from all backgrounds, including all of these various Jewish factions.  I think that offers some hope and a sense of unity.  We can all have these sorts of disputes, and indeed I think we probably are all wrong in certain ways, just as all of these groups had problems with their approach.  However, we should remember that we all still belong to one People of New Israel.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      18 June 2012 @ 10:08 am

      And that is why I always feel a little uneasy when people take a view point as if there is no place for science in the interpretation of scripture (even if it is denied), or in effect science is seen to try and replace scripture (again even if it is denied).

      • Stephen Foster
        18 June 2012 @ 1:41 pm

        Stephen Ferguson,
        Science, in order to be considered a lesser light in interpreting Scripture, or more precisely in aiding the interpretation of Scripture, cannot deny the supernatural claims of Scripture; but instead should point to and/or elucidate the supernatural power of God.
        I should hasten to remind that this, of course, is merely my personal opinion.
        I agree, Stephen, that these same factions continue to exist, and that Jesus was philosophically and ideologically more aligned with one.
        It is interesting, but I would tend to analogize the oral law/tradition more with EGW, as opposed to with Godless science.

        • Stephen Ferguson
          18 June 2012 @ 2:04 pm

          I don't think science has to deny supernatural claims.  Rather science is merely what human beings can observe.  That is why science can be helpful but is only limited.  Even the most athiestic scientists admit they just don't know where space and time came from.  Even if science can work that out, such as the endless multiverse argument, then that still leaves open of how that all began. Ultimately, you are just left with the thing I personally like to call God (and what athiests have to admit is the Ultimate Question Mark ? but prefer not to use that term).

          You are also probably right re the Pharisees, the oral law and Ellen White.  Of course, Jesus did not always agree with how they used the oral law, especially when it heaped extra biblical requirements on people as burdens that the scriptures themselves didn't require – such as ritually washing hands before eating.  Again, we all have factions, which is somewhat natural and expected.  As long as we keep Christ as our focus, I think there is no reason why Adventism can't remain a big enough tent for all of us (even those we strongly disagree with).

          • Joe Erwin
            18 June 2012 @ 3:32 pm

            The term "godless science" has some appeal to those who wish to downplay the importance and value of science. I think it is unfortunate that some scientists or science writers assert or suggest that science has disproven the existence God. It simply is not so. It is not so, because science has no tools to address whether or not God exists. Science is "godless" only in the same sense as it does not employ magic or superstition or hearsay as evidence. Scientists are, of course, free to speculate about how and which natural processes occur. They are not really free to invoke or embrace supernatural explanations as a part of their scientific work. They are, of course, free to be as devoted to God as anyone else in their private life, on the basis of their private experience and convictions.

            On the "ultimate question mark," what happened a very long time ago is difficult to figure out on the basis of natural, physical, tangible evidence. It is easiest to just make up an answer or accept one provided by someone else. But one really does not need to invest much in the various explanations. My own opinion on cosmology is that there is no ultimate edge, either of space or time. When I was 7 or 8 years old and trying to understand how God could have always existed and would continue to exist forever, I just accepted that there really was no beginning nor would there be any end. Despite the evidence of a "BIG bang," nearly 14 billion years ago, I've always anticipated that humans would continue to find more space the farther they are able to see. If we ever found a place in space where no matter existed, wouldn't there just empty space forever beyond that? Also, I see no problem with molecules gaining complexity and gaining the function of serving as a template, of sorts, for assembly of other molecules, eventually to the point of developing a self-replicating mechanism. It is plausible, to me, but I was not there. So, when I describe that sort of thing, I am speculating and suggesting possibilities, I'm not claiming to know that this scenario is demonstrated fact. As more is learned about the behavior of molecules, evidence adds up. Plausibility is strengthened.


          • Stephen Ferguson
            19 June 2012 @ 2:24 am

            I think the best way to think of science and its place as a lesser light for interpreting scripture is to acknowledge science can include social sciences, including archaeology, ancient history, linguistics etc. 

            For example, these social scientists can tell us some things about the historical Jesus and the type of society and culture in which he lived.  In this way, these social sciences can give us valuable insights as to what the Gospel writers thought and the context at which they were writing (both the history of the text and the history in the text).

            However, these social sciences ultimately can tell us nothing about the supernatural claims that Jesus was God incarnate, that he died and rose again from the grave.  For these things, the Gospels give us a better view of this Ultimate Truth found in Jesus.  However, even the Gospels are limited, which the end of the book of John acknowledges, noting not all the books in the world could describe everything Jesus said and did.

            Again, science is not 'godless' and it does have an important point in helping to interpret scripture.  Adventists have long used both social scientists every time we held a Daniel seminar and argued the ten toes of iron and clay represent the ten main barbarian tribes of Western Europe.  We have also long used physical sciences every time we ran a medical evangelistic seminar, which you still see in every publication of Adventist World, where a church doctor gives some medical advice espousing the latest research about alcohol, diet, good living etc.

          • cb25
            19 June 2012 @ 2:37 am

            Stephen Ferguson,

            Why is science the "lesser" light? Why not place nature/al things we see, can observe and study as the greater light?

            How can you place a "book" written by men and full of mostly unverifiable claims as the greater light? And of course as noted before – why "that" book and not some other?

          • cb25
            19 June 2012 @ 2:54 am

            btw I should point out: not only is the bible full of many unverifiable claims – it has a great number of claims which are verifiably false. That is a huge complication in trying to justify giving it position of "greater light"

          • Stephen Foster
            19 June 2012 @ 5:03 am

            Correct me if you disagree, it seems to me that your position that humanly observable natural things should be considered as the greater light instead of the Bible is a logical extension of doubting the historicity of Jesus (especially as relates to legitimate claims of Divinity), and your position of not believing that God intervenes in human affairs, and your position that scriptural accounts of displays of supernatural power are, at best, unverifiable, or verifiably false.
            It also seems to me that the logical conclusion of your positions is that there may be no God at all.

          • cb25
            19 June 2012 @ 6:44 am

            No. Any questions I have about the historicity of Jesus are an extension of my view that humanly observable natural data should be given a higher relevance than the bible. The opposite of your suggestion above:)

            The logical conclusion of my position is that belief that there IS a God must always be a subjective, faith statement – that is until or if some verifiable event data provide concrete evidence. Nobody through history to date has yet provided such.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            19 June 2012 @ 5:33 am

            Chris, only Jesus Christ is The Truth and the Word.  I would say Bible is the first amongst equals as formative factors leading to that truth in Jesus. 

            The reason why I would put the Bible first, even though it is fallible and yes may contain errors (and yes it was written by inspired but very human beings), is because it gives us the clearest picture of Jesus.  Every other lesser light, including science, logic, tradition, culture, reason etc is still very helpful, but I submit they do not tell us as much about the nature of Jesus, who is the reflection of God incarnate.

            Science tell us a lot of things, and in some ways one could argue more than the Bible.  For example, science tells us how the laws of physics work.  But science is limited.  It can't tell us why the laws of physics work. 

            Science can't tell us what existed before space and time, if there is an afterlife, if love is just an evolved emotion or an eternal principle.  The Bible explains these ultimate questions better – although, I am not saying the Bible gives us a complete or perfect anwer either. 

            The Bible provides the best explanation of the truly biggest questions in life. When one reads or listen to scientists talk about some of these really big issues, such as what existed before time and space, one notes they start to talk in virtual theological terms.  Even famous athiests like Dawkins and Hawkins adopt near theological language.

            That is what nearly two thousand years ago, Clement of Alexandria called philosophy (i.e. science) the 'handmaiden of science'.  That is why thousands of years ago, theology was seen as the premier faculty of a university.

            We have all had these same debates before – thousands of years ago in fact.  Nother is new under the sun.

          • cb25
            19 June 2012 @ 6:51 am

            So, Jesus is the center of everything: the greatest light. Based on what a posteriori evidence or validated authority? The Bible? Circular reasoning?

            I have no problem with "theological type language" being used about the dim past. Not sure what that proves though?

            The Bible explains the "ultimate questions better"? mmm many other religions would say thiers do better. So "best explanation" is purely subjective, based on a subjective decision by your or I to "give" the Bible that authority.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            19 June 2012 @ 7:22 am

            Indeed Chris it is subjective.  We call it faith.  When it all boils down, that is all we have, because we can't prove anything, except that we exist – and even some philosophers deny there is such a thing as personal existence. 

            No one can prove you are really sitting in your chair reading this email and not simply plugged into the Matrix.  You ultimately take it as faith that you really exist and are reading this on a computer screen. 

            No one can ultimatley prove or disprove the existence of God.  No one can ultimately prove or disprove whether Jesus of Nazereth was God incarnate and is resurrected from the dead.  I make a choice to believe that based soley on faith. That is indeed circular reasoning – I admit it.

            But are you saying you don't believe…

            That would be a very sad and lonely life without hope in my book…

          • cb25
            19 June 2012 @ 8:36 am


            No. I am not saying I don't believe. What I am saying is that there are a vast number of things in life that are essentially not subjective. (yes I understand your matrix comment)

            That the sun got up yeserday and to believe it will do so tomorrow is not a subjective belief. It is based on observable reality. That summer will follow winter is likewise not subjective belief.

            I do not believe that the idea I cannot "prove" anything in the ultimate sense that therefore gives me reason to state that therefore everything is of equal weight in trying to find answers to the big questions. Everything is not equal. eg the sunrise, sunset, summer winter, noted above.

            That observable reality to me is the greater/greatest source of testabel data and information. That reality must take pride of place in seeking answers.

            Whatever I believe must do one or both of two things: 1. Be confirmed by observable data. 2. Not contradict observable data.

            For example: a Young earth creation/life does contradict observable data. Claims of a Noachic (global) flood contradicts observable data. Belief in a highly interventionist God contradicts observable data.

            Personal, subjective belief that the IS a God does not contradict observable data – unless and until I make claims for Him that in the face of reality are or would be outragiously contradictory of observable reality. We are good at that!

          • Stephen Foster
            19 June 2012 @ 11:24 pm

            OK, I stand corrected Chris, thank you. Your position of doubting the historicity of Jesus as regards any legitimate claims to Divinity is a logical extension of your position that humanly observable natural things should be given higher relevance than the Bible.
            So, you saying that “nobody through history to date has yet provided” verifiable event data of God’s existence is tantamount to saying that you do not believe that the stories of either Lazarus’s resurrection or Jesus’ resurrection were actual (and factual) occurrences.
            If they are true, those stories would constitute at least contemporaneously verifiable/verified event data of God’s existence; especially the Lazarus resurrection.
            So, while you are hesitant to say that you do not believe, you at least do not believe those particular stories.
            Please correct me if I misunderstand you. Or should I simply ask you this question: do you believe those resurrection stories?

          • Stephen Ferguson
            20 June 2012 @ 1:15 am

            'No. I am not saying I don't believe. What I am saying is that there are a vast number of things in life that are essentially not subjective

            That observable reality to me is the greater/greatest source of testabel data and information. That reality must take pride of place in seeking answers.'

            Yes, to echo Stephen Foster, do you believe:

            – Jesus was God incarnate?
            – That Jesus was resurrected from the grave?
            – That Jesus performed miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead?

            You say you believe, and you say you believe because of observable data, but where is the observable data for these three questions except in the Bible?

            If the answer to the above three questions is no, then I do indeed struggle to see how you could consider yourself a Christian and a Seventh-day Adventist more particular.  People are free to believe what they want, but they would be more consistent with an agnostic. 

            To say that belief in God is not contradicted by observable data is not the same you believe because of observable data. At the end of the day, observable data is not enough to prove God or Jesus.  There must be an element of faith.

          • cb25
            21 June 2012 @ 6:28 am

            To the 2 Stephen's.

            I take it this is the question I missed.

            I am not prepared to say I do not believe those stories. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. You both know that.

            What we all need to take very seriously is this: If in fact these resurrections took place why is there absolutely NO hisotorically recorded data outside of the Bible? These activities as with many others Jesus is said to have carried out are extremely newsworthy. We DO have significant extant information about the Roman civilization at that time. There is absolutely no coroborating/confirmatory data. Why?

            Yes, I know all the reasons we give to grant the writers of the NT, none of whom were eye witnesses, the right to be the sole declarers of fact, so please don't re-run those.

            I simply ask you a question: Why is there absolutely nothing in historical records outside the bible about these events? (resurrections that is – they are big stuff)

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 8:14 am

            Why is it Chris that you won’t directly answer this “Yes” or “No” question.
            You have previously said that “I am not saying I don’t believe;” and now you say “I am not prepared to say I do not believe those stories.”
            This is what’s known in American political circles as “wiggle room” (for “plausible deniability.”)
            Do you believe those stories or not? (I would appreciate if you could hone your answer to a yes or no.)
            As to your question, I would say that the New Testament is historical literature. It may not be accepted In toto as historical; but it is significantly historical.
            As you know, there has always been an interest in denying the Jesus’ Divinity; that is to say, that there have always been parties interested in this denial.
            What (other) documentation would suffice for you? This goes to the Bible’s overall purposes.

          • cb25
            21 June 2012 @ 8:56 am


            I will not give a "yes" or "no" because there is an element of doubt. I will tell you categorically I believe we are here because of an evolutionary process – the evidence is overwhelming. BUT, while the absence of evidence is compelling that Jesus and the events are not what we think they were – there is an element of doubt. So, get used to it.

            Perhaps you would do well to hold some of your dogmatics in a little more open a manner too!

            As for wiggle room – you've done pretty politically well with "significantly historical"!

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 2:06 pm

            A few points Chris: not to worry, there is sufficient dogmatism to go around.
            Apparently there is no element of doubt for you but that mankind and life as we know it are here as a result of an evolutionary process; because you do not hesitate to proclaim your categorical belief that this is a fact.
            Apparently you discount the entire New Testament as historically legitimate, in any practical way, with regard to biographical information about Jesus of Nazareth; because you specifically cite the absence of evidence about Jesus and the events of His life to be “compelling.”
            Believe it or not, what may or may not have happened 2,000 years ago with one Man about whom much had been written (and subsequently discovered) within 100 years of His life is more compelling to some of us than what may or may not have happened hundreds of millions or multiple billions of years ago. What is overwhelming to me is underwhelming to you, and vice versa.
            Overwhelming evidence and dogmatism can apparently both be subjective.
            I would maintain that, for a Christian, where you are, and the weight that you have given to humanly observable natural “evidence” is the logical extension of a certain approach to the Bible and “interpretation.”  There is nothing new under the sun.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            21 June 2012 @ 2:15 pm

            I have no personal problems with Chris believing (or not believing) what he wants.  A huge majority of the world thinks the same and they are usually called 'agnostics'.  I guess my earlier point was that I find it difficult to see how Chris calls himself a 'Christian' and a 'Seventh-day Adventist' to boot.

            I have a lot of agnostic friends and love and respect them. I just don't feel the need to debate with them concepts which because neither of us can prove or disprove debate is rather pointless.  At the end of the day, either you believe Jesus was God incarnate and rose from the dead as the Bible says or not – you won't prove it any other way.

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 3:11 pm

            To be clear, I too have no personal problems with Chris believing (or not believing) what he wants. (Although there are many agnostics, I would question that they represent a huge majority of the world).
            What I was attempting to elicit is what it is he does or does not believe (regarding those two particular resurrections).
            Would you agree that what Chris believes and does not believe (or is in doubt about) is a logical extension of his approach to the Bible and “interpretation” (even if he has taken the logic of his approach further than others have)?
            I'm supposing that I know what your answer will be; but I’m interested nonetheless.

          • cb25
            21 June 2012 @ 9:49 pm

            Stephen Foster,

            You seem to keep making this point about my beliefs being a "logical" extension of how I approach the Bible and interpretation.

            Be clear on this: I once viewed the Bible exactly as I hear you describing your view of it. Perhaps even more dogmatically than you!

            I am a keen observer of geology and nature. (also very analytical) Bit by bit the things about this world that suggest it and life are very, very old began to stack up. Take just one example, the salt under the dead sea, multiply that by a thousand similarly strong indicators for ancient ages and you may get my point.

            When THIS weight of data became too much (dissonance) something had to give. Either what I saw was wrong – or the Bible was. It was a shocking journey, but denail only goes so far.

            So…my point: No this does not flow from my way of seeing the Bible. Other way around!

          • Stephen Ferguson
            22 June 2012 @ 2:14 am

            I am not prepared to say I do not believe those stories.

            Chris, to be clear, to me this appears to make clear that you are not a 'believer' but rather an agnostic.  To not disbelieve something is not the same as believing something.  I don't necessarily disbelieve in Santa Claus, paralell universes, UFO abductions or that Herman Cain and Dr Pipim were set up by ellaborate conspiracies, because I can disprove those things, but I don't believe them either.

            In my respectful view, your agnostic views of biblical interpretation are no more relevant here than my views of Islamic jurisprudence, or how Richard Dawkins might interpret a biblical passage.  You also conveniently can always argue that a passage of the Bible, which you don't like, is simply not authorative. 

            Theology is the discussion about the communication of ideas about God through a community of faith, which holds certain writings as sacred scripture.  As you do not appear to hold those writings, being the Bible, as sacred scipture, you are entitled to your private views as a philosophy of religion, but they are not comments of Christian and Adventist theology.

            Thus, they offer little assistance to other Christians generally and Adventists in particular who may or may not agree with Stephen Foster's approach to interpreting the Bible as sacred scripture.  

          • cb25
            22 June 2012 @ 2:28 am

            Stephen Ferguson,

            On Dr Taylor's first FB6 blog you had this to say:

            I "…would have that a very wise stance would be for SDA theologians to be exploring that IF evolution was later 100% proven by science, then HOW can the SDA church adapt its beliefs and practices to this revelation in such a way that it will not undermine our mission.

            Brave words my freind. Perhaps I am just one little voice attempting to discuss things with the same attitude you encouraged above.

          • Kevin Riley
            22 June 2012 @ 3:31 am


            you are aware that most theologians spend a lot of time dialoguing with people outside their confessional boundaries?  Most also keep up with developments in philosophy, psychology and social science, among other areas, that inform theological discussion.  I suspect that, at least on an academic level, Chris knows as much, if not more, about SDA theology than you.  I am not sure what exactly you hope to accomplish with your comment, as I would not have expected you to be in the camp of those who try to silence voices of disagreement by declaring them to be outsiders and therefore not worth listening to.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            22 June 2012 @ 5:27 am

            I am not trying to discourage Chris.  Of course, I do welcome his comments.  However, I do think it important to stress they are philosophical in nature, not necessarily theological. 

            I quite strongly disagree with how Stephen Foster approaches the interpretation of the Bible.  However, I also think some of the rebuttals against him have been unfair because they fall outside what I would consider a 'legitimate rebuttal'.  I say that because adopting Chris' approach, I could onto every post on AToday and make the same type of argument that 'the Bible is simply wrong.'

            I personally don't feel that approach is at all helpful. One needs to understand that Adventists do see the Bible as authoritative as sacred writings.  As such, answers really need to fall within the discourse of that framework, otherwise they are unlikely to assist.

            For example, to say the Bible is simply not authorative on the issue of human sexuality simply provides fodder for those who would use the Bible to persecute people, such as homosexuals.  You may disagree with me strongly, but that is where I am coming from.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            22 June 2012 @ 5:36 am

            And Kevin, you and Chris might know a lot more than me about sport.  You might know a lot more about basketball than both Stephen Foster and I.  The problem is, we are talking about football. 

            Our discussion is premised on the understanding that the Bible is sacred writings for a community of faith.  If you or Chris want to say otherwise, that is fine, but we are entitled to ignore those comments as academically interesting but relating to 'another game'. 

          • Kevin Riley
            22 June 2012 @ 11:03 am

            OK, but I still don't follow exactly what you mean.  As my wife has said often when I am having trouble understanding something "it takes a great deal of intelligence to be that stupid", so it could be all my fault.  I don't see why it is necessary to accept a religious belief in order to enter into a discussion about it.  I disagree with Chris on his views of the Bible, just as I did 20+ years ago when he was a conservative SDA, but I still would welcome him into the conversation.  If we cannot understand and rebut his POV, then that should make us work harder.  I find it hard to discuss with Stephen Foster because his answers often seem not to follow from what he is answering.  Of course, he is not alone in that, an I have no doubt I do the same sometimes.

          • Kevin Riley
            23 June 2012 @ 2:28 am


            I think I can see my discomfort with your post now.  It is preceisely at the philosophical level that we get into most of our difficulties.  Underlying all theology is philososphy.  Especially the areas of epistemology and hermeneutics.  As a church we have never dealt with those areas much.  Some of our theologians have, but many haven't.  If our understanding of how we know, and how we understand, and how language works, is flawed, how can we expect our theology to be otherwise?  We can deal with interpretation and get nowhere if we have not understood and dealt with the deeper levels.  Stephen is defending classic C20th biblicism.  The flaws with that theory lie at the philosophical level, which is why trying to turn it into a dispute over interpretation or faith does not work.  It isn't about beleiving in God, or accepting what he says, it is about how we know, how language works, and how we understand language.  The main objection to Stephen Fosters approach to interpretation is simply that it doesn't work in the real world, and the main piece of evidence of that is the extreme difficulty of finding one theologian who supports the theory as a theory who also uses it consistently in his/her work.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            19 June 2012 @ 5:35 am

            A simple analogy.  Jesus Christ is the Sun.  The Bible is the moon.  The other lights are stars.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            19 June 2012 @ 2:38 am

            "Despite the evidence of a "BIG bang," nearly 14 billion years ago, I've always anticipated that humans would continue to find more space the farther they are able to see. If we ever found a place in space where no matter existed, wouldn't there just empty space forever beyond that?"

            Joe, I don't think that is correct.

            I am no scientist myself, but I am not sure if it is correct to think of the universe as just endless space.  Rather, if you could theoretically travel fast enough in one direction you would actually end up back in the same spot you are now.  A 2D varient that is easier to understand is that if you chose a direction on earth and kept travelling in that direction you would again end up in the same spot eventually.  The universe is the same on a massive, 3D scale, because time and space are themselves warped.

            Bill Bryson's a Short History of Everything explains this best in layman's terms.

            Some ancient pagan scientists used to believe the universe always existed; whereas, Christian and Jewish philosophers argued that God created the entire universe out of nothing – creation ex nillio.  Modern science actually supports the Christian and Jewish view, not the pagan view. 

            In short, there is not endless infinite space out there because even space and time is limited.  The only thing that exists infinitely outside of space and time is God.  That is why God's ancient name is I AM.

          • Elaine Nelson
            20 June 2012 @ 12:09 am

            Some ancient pagan scientists used to believe the universe always existed; whereas, Christian and Jewish philosophers argued that God created the entire universe out of nothing – creation ex nillio.  Modern science actually supports the Christian and Jewish view, not the pagan view. 

            In short, there is not endless infinite space out there because even space and time is limited.

             There you have it folks.  That should end any questions.  But do astronomers agree that space and time are limited?

          • Stephen Ferguson
            20 June 2012 @ 9:49 am

            My understanding is that astronomers do agree that space and time is limited.  That is why they talk about the universe itself expanding – i.e. not merely the matter in the universe, but time and space also expanding. Another common analogy physists give is to say everywhere is the centre of the universe. That is what David Suzuki said anyway on the documentary I watched.

            Here it is from Wikipedia (which of course must be correct):

            The cosmological principle is an extension of the Copernican principle which states that the universe is homogeneous (the same observational evidence is available to observers at different locations in the universe) and isotropic (the same observational evidence is available by looking in any direction in the universe). A homogeneous, isotropic universe does not have a center.

            And further:

            Supposed an immortal observer left Earth and traveled off into space, traveling continuously in a perfectly straight line. There are two main possibilities for what that observe might experience:

            1. The observer could experience an infinitely-novel voyage, never seeing the same place twice.
            2. The observer could, despite traveling in a straight line, wind up revisiting a place that they had previously visited.

            By analogy, consider a person on the surface the earth trying to decide between a flat earth and a spherical earth. In the flat earth model, if they travel indefinitely in a straight line, they would never retrace their steps. In a spherical earth model, a person traveling in a "straight" line would eventually return to a place they have visited before.


        • Kevin Riley
          19 June 2012 @ 1:49 am

          I would agree that EGW parallels tradition/oral law.  I am not sure we really know what to make of that, though.

  26. Rudy Good
    18 June 2012 @ 10:32 am


    You added some interesting information to consider as the context for Jesus comments.

    I do wish you would leave aside the childish taunting. My asking about the word literally has nothing to do with any difficulty taking scripture literally. It seemed meaningless in the sentence and I think it was added to simply drag in the idea of literal interpretation in a place that was not only irrelevant, but potentially confusing.

    That is my problem with your ideas regarding interpretation. You have such an ax to grind regarding literal interpretation. IMO anyone who takes scripture seriously should be very committed to knowing what should be read literally and what should not. It seems the surest way to guarantee misinterpreting scripture is to introduce personal prejudice. It is just as wrong to be interpret something as literal that is not intended that way as the reverse.

    • Stephen Foster
      18 June 2012 @ 3:43 pm

      Rudy Good,
      Again, working up (if that’s OK), we have found some common ground in that I agree that it is as erroneous to interpret Scripture literally that God intended to be symbolic or allegorical as it is to interpret Scripture as symbolic or allegorical that God intended literally.
      We may also agree that I have an ax to grind regarding what is to be literally believed/interpreted, and what’s not.
      You may have missed some of the conversations and threads regarding interpretation on Some individuals really do have a problem with a literal reading of Scripture, Rudy. So, in addressing your question with regard to “literally” I was recognizing this reality. I apologize for apparently having offended you.
      This leads to your previous question about what is the worldview that I’m defending. This is/was an excellent question, my brother.
      I would say that I am defending an historical Judeo-Christian Protestant Seventh-day Adventist worldview.
       It is based or predicated on the proposition that The Holy Bible is entirely inspired by the true and living God through the instruments of Personally chosen men; and that much of it, especially including its supernatural claims of God’s power in the origins and affairs of men, is to be understood as being literally true.

      • Rudy Good
        20 June 2012 @ 1:33 am


        Not offended even a little. Frustrated, yes. I think most progressive liberal minded folks who may come to AToday with some skepticism about Christianity deserve more thoughtful arguments (defenses). You seem to be proud of being dogmatic and having and ax to grind. Unfortunately these factors make it almost impossible to eliminate prejudice or at least the appearance of it. It is not the most convincing posture when defending any position.
        Regarding world-view, I am sure it is challenging to give a succinct definition in a few words, but I was hoping for something that helped me understand your world-view. Simply identifying your world-view with Adventism does noy really define your world-view. It is akin to what politicians do that is described as wrapping yourself in the flag. It provides a great way to stimulate sympathizers, but a poor way to communicate a cogent set of ideas.
        I consider your statement about scripture as the basis for world view to be informative and well stated. You might be surprised that I would not have a problem embracing the statement. At the same time I may not interpret the statement to be as restrictive as you intended it.

        • Stephen Foster
          20 June 2012 @ 9:26 am

          I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. We simply have different approaches to the Bible and perhaps different views of it.
          Further, we apparently disagree that progressive liberal minded skeptical- about-Christianity visitors to this site “deserve” anything different than do the conservatives.
          If you don’t think my “arguments” are thoughtful or “convincing,” then so be it. Why should that be frustrating to you?
          Perhaps another way of viewing anyone’s “dogmatism” is that one is unapologetic about one’s beliefs. Apologetics need not necessarily be apologetic.  It is understandable that this appears frustrating.
          In my view, the basis for the Judeo-Christian Protestant Seventh-day Adventist worldview is the proposition that The Holy Bible is entirely inspired by the true and living God through the instruments of Personally chosen men; and that much of it, especially including its supernatural claims of God’s power in the origins and affairs of men, is to be understood as being literally true.
          Hopefully that better explains the “worldview” thing.

          • Kevin Riley
            20 June 2012 @ 1:40 pm

            I am not sure just what the 'Judeo-Christian Protestant Seventh-day Adventist worldview' is.  I think that is one reason I have trouble with this conversation: I keep seeing words I am familiar with, but they don't seem to be attached to any concept I am familiar with. 

          • Stephen Ferguson
            20 June 2012 @ 1:53 pm

            The whole conversation is difficult is because it is about technical definitions of English words.  It reminds of that Monthy Python sketch where they dispute about the Judean Peoples Front and the People Front of Judea, and then one of the Jews gets confused as to what group they belong to exactly.  

            A real life example might be the early (and to a 21st audience rather pointless) technical debates about the exact nature of Christ (which no one could actually prove either way, not even really from Scripture): MonophysitismMiaphysitism, Docetism and Nestorianism, Arianism, Tritheism, Modalism and Trinitarianism.

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 12:18 am

            I should have said, as I did initially, that it was “a” Judeo-Christian Protestant Seventh-day Adventist worldview, predicated on the belief, concept, idea that The Holy Bible is entirely inspired by the true and living God (provided) through the instruments of Personally chosen men; and that much of it, especially including its supernatural claims of God’s power in the origins and affairs of men, is to be understood as being literally true, that I have been attempting to defend. This isn’t every Adventist’s perspective (thus the article “a” instead of “the”).

          • cb25
            21 June 2012 @ 2:03 am

            Stephen Foster,

            It is beginning to sound to me as if you have used the past several months or discussions here on AT to hone the wording of your position and definitions of your position.

            I do wonder if this "honing" has come at the expense of really hearing and listening to the many and varied challenges presented to you and the concerns by many that you are off line. Perhaps seriously so.

            I get the same impression with many others who post from time to time. The "tape" just keeps on playing the same old tune, just with more definitions, caveats, clauses, clever words etc etc.

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 6:05 am

            “It is beginning to sound to me as if you have used the past several months or discussions here on AT to hone the wording of your position and definitions of your position.”
            Nice try Chris, but such “honing” is a necessary part of effective communication, especially if one is defending a point of view (and/or worldview) via answering questions related to it.
            “I do wonder if this "honing" has come at the expense of really hearing and listening to the many and varied challenges presented to you and the concerns by many that you are off line. Perhaps seriously so.”
            You probably lost track, but this particular example of “honing” was precipitated by a question as to what is the worldview that I am defending. In the pursuit of understanding each other, we ask each other questions requiring “honing.”
            Again, you may have missed it, but I have asked you a question on this thread in pursuit of an understanding that has, to this point, gone unanswered.

          • cb25
            21 June 2012 @ 6:19 am

            mmm question? I'll go look for it.

            Re defending a point of view. Honestly, it seems to me that is all you do do. Have you ever considered (seriously considered) that that point of view may be wrong and in fact not need defending but deleting?

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 6:48 am

            The answer to your question is “No.” But it certainly is no mystery as to why you would prefer it deleted.

          • cb25
            21 June 2012 @ 7:05 am

            mmm. I guess no suprises there Stephen. I would have hoped whatever ones position was that I or you or anyone else would have the wisdom to consider that any position should always be held open to scrutiny/consideration re its validity. Mine certainly are and have been. I guess that's why I am currently where I am:)

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 8:10 am

            You’re attempting to move the goal posts. I never said that my position is not, or should not be, held open to scrutiny regarding its validity; because that is what skeptics do, is it not?
            I understood you to have asked me if I ever considered that my (current) point of view may be wrong and may be in need of deletion; which is an entirely different question or proposition.

          • Rudy Good
            21 June 2012 @ 2:03 am


            I am sure we could be friends without any problem even with our differences, but I don’t feel comfortable in the wonderful category. I know far too many other people more deserving of that label.
            It is apparently true we have different approaches or views of the Bible. I am not uncomfortable with that. The difference I am uncomfortable with is the different level of respect we seem to have that God’s word and the truth about God should be defended with less presumption. The reason I am frustrated is that presumptuous apologetics do more harm than good.
            I didn’t mean to imply that liberal-minded skeptics deserved something different than others. I assume that everyone deserves the same. My statement was intended to convey my belief that they in particular would benefit the most from carefully formulated apologetics.

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 6:33 am

            Could you please “hone” or expand upon what you mean by “presumptuous apologetics?”
            Suggesting that liberal-minded skeptics would particularly benefit from carefully formulated apologetics assumes that their position is particularly deficient on some level. (Again, we may have found common ground.)

          • Rudy Good
            21 June 2012 @ 2:53 pm


            There you go again. Putting words in my mouth. Some liberal-minded skeptics may in fact be particularly deficient on some level, but so are some of the conservative minded IMO.

            The reason I believe that liberal-minded skeptics would benefit the most, is because I think they will appreciate the effort the most. I think you tend to see skeptics as the weak in faith. I don't assume that. I see them as seekers who realize that there are passionate pulpit pounders associated with a multitude of conflicting points of view.

            Frequently, skeptics are people who care enough about the truth to really want to know which if any position people hold can be supported by a reasoned approach. Now, I know we cannot assume that human reasoning is 100% reliable in any case and maybe there are times when truth has to be discerned in some other way, but the best way to become just one more pulpit pounder with nothing more than another conflicting view is to abandon reasoning.

            I used to the term presumptuous apologetics to refer to poorly constructed arguments that PRESUME a foundation has been made for our conclusions. An apologetic is only effective when it addresses the objections of it audience. I realize not all objections are legitmate and substantive, but we should always do our best to honestly address them.

            One of the keys to honestly addressing them is to respect them. You must consider when at all possible that any objection has the potential to force a change in you conclusion. You cannot know this unless you make a honest effort to understand the objection.

            I don't find you take objections very seriously. You make some dogmatic statements and then proceed as if you have honestly dealth with them when you have not. Also, I frequently can tell from your responses that you did not really comprehend the objection. Your response does not really address the issue.

            I am not suggesting that anyone is presumption free with flawlessly conceived arguments or objections. What I am saying is that YOU do profess to represent the truth of God, not everyone here does. YOU are the one who profers your thoughts on interpretation for everyone elses consideration. So, I think YOU should have a much greater commitment than you do to squeeze the presumption out of your rhetoric.

          • Stephen Foster
            21 June 2012 @ 5:37 pm

            Undoubtedly we would benefit from some ground rules or at least some stipulations.
            Get this straight, the Bible represents the truth of God; Stephen Foster does not.
            I represent my own views and convictions. I was very skeptical at one time. Actually I was cynically skeptical. Not now.
            I “profess” to believe or subscribe to a certain view of the world that is predicated on a belief that the Bible is entirely inspired by God and is provided by way of God-chosen men; and that much of it, especially as relates to man’s origins and God’s supernatural intervention into human affairs is literally true.
            Although I take (or consider) objections seriously; in dealing with them, I am more likely to repel them than absorb them. In other words, I am unlikely to agree with you just to be agreeable; especially when in defense of this worldview.
            Perhaps the dogmatism label doesn’t have its intended derogatory effect because I understand that everybody is dogmatic about their opinion; depending, of course, on the subject matter involved.
            This is a unique website (d‘ya think?). “Skeptics” who frequent this site have previously been exposed to all of these views.
            I respect liberals/skeptics and their opinions, but there is no chance of me agreeing with them unless they agree with me; because I am irreversibly convinced about Scripture.
            Objections in matters of faith and/or regarding the acceptance of the Bible as a primary one of God’s chosen methods of data dissemination regarding both Him and how we relate to Him are themselves likely to be met with questions and objections; especially when said objections come from SDAs.
            Label that as you may, my brother.

          • Rudy Good
            22 June 2012 @ 3:52 am


            You said a lot and my natural inclination is to try to respond to it. But, I will just say this IMO you do NOT take objections seriously. I said you don't comprehend objections. I did not suggest you should absorb them, whatever that means.

            Do you really you can answer an objection you have not bothered to comprehend? Your answers to objections always appear to be responses to a poor facsimile of that objection, for example I complain that you not take time to comprehend the objection, but your response to that seemed to imply I think you should absorb them.

          • Stephen Foster
            22 June 2012 @ 2:48 pm

            If it would ameliorate the frustration some, I will stipulate that, of course, it is possible that I do not understand some objections, and that it is also possible that I do not take other objections seriously; and that some of these may overlap to some unknown extent.
            It appears to me however that, on some level, you actually want some concessions on some objections; and that you would consider that as taking the objections seriously.
            I think that I can take an objection seriously while not agreeing with it; but perhaps it is a fine line.
            In any case, I hope to understand (as opposed to agree with) your perspective; as I hope you likewise understand mine.

          • Rudy Good
            22 June 2012 @ 10:29 pm


            We share a common goal …. Better understanding.

            I don't expect concessions on the objections. What I hope for is that you will respect and comprehend them and give answers that actually try to answer them.

  27. Joe Erwin
    19 June 2012 @ 2:41 am

    I'm not sure I have anything to add here, maybe it has already been said, or maybe enough has been said. BUT, it seems to me that "interpretation" implies identification and description of the meaning of something, and if something actually has meaning, that usually, I think, may/might/must be the meaning intended or invested in it by whomever contrived the message. So, interpretation often involves attempting to ascertain what was meant and intended by the source. So, sometimes the message is ambiguous. If the message was written by someone other than the individual attempting to convey a message, one must recognize that the message as written was not the intended message. But one of the most difficult parts is knowing the mind of the source–especially after thousands of years.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      19 June 2012 @ 2:55 am

      Yes Joe, I think I agree – if I understand what you are saying.

      Isn't an important point to add to that as we the reader actually have several layers between us and the 'author' being the Holy Spirit.  For example, God is the real author, then there is the prophet who had the vision or was inspired, then there was the scribe who wrote down the message (not always being the same as the prophet) and then we have any compilators of that message (e.g. Church fathers who chose what books made it into the Cannon) and then finally there is us. 

      Each of these layers is in turn affected by their own culture and situation.  For example, many of the Gospel writers probably had a very large number of stories and sayings of Jesus to recount.  However, they deliberately often chose anti-Pharisee ones, given by that time the Pharisee faction and Jesus-follower factions were challenging each other for the hearts and minds of Judaism. 

      Moreover, often the human prophet didn't even understand what they were describing, which is the case with a lot of messages in Daniel and Revelation.  Thus, the Bible writer may indeed have thought they were describing something literally, no knowing that it was meant to have a deeper symbolic meaning that they themselves would not understand but only future audiences would.

      Furthermore, sometimes the message had double meanings.  For example, when Jesus talked about the signs of the end of the world, he was talking to the disciples directly, about the destruction of Jeruslaem in 70 AD, but also to future audiences thousands of years later at the end of time.  Or for example, I have often heard how other very literal and historical situations in the Bible, such as Daniel and his friends' refusal to eat the Babylonian wine and meat, or to bow down to the gold idol of the kings, is then applied by eschatological analogy to we Christians at the end of time.  A final example might be how the letter to the 7 Churches in Revelation were no doubt real Churches with those real situations as described, but how they are also applied by eschatological analogy by Adventists to 7 Church periods.

      So yes, interpreting the Bible is very difficult indeed.  Even if Moses and the children of audience read the creation account in Genesis at 6 literal days, that does not necessarily mean that God didn't want a future generation thousands of years later to read it differently.  As I said, Adventists read the Bible exactly that same way all the time when it suits us.  That is the mystery and longevity of the Bible.

      • Kevin Riley
        19 June 2012 @ 4:02 am

        If we believe the Holy Spirit is still active – that God still speaks and acts today – how does that change how we approach the Bible?  I suspect we are still approaching the Bible much like William Miller and missing the fact that his 'mechanical' approach to the Bible probably owes more to his deism than to Christianity.

        What does the Bible 'mean'?  Well, if it is God's book, anything he wants it to 'mean'.  Can any of us really say to him "that isn't what it means"?  If he wanted Moses to write as if the days of creation were literal, expected the Israelites to understand it in that way (with some swipes at common pagan ideas), but wants us to see it differently, can we say any of that is 'wrong'?

        There are a lot of questions we all prefer not to face.  How much did the visions shown to the prophets actually reflect reality?  How much did God accommodate to their limited understanding?  How well did their written accounts capture what they saw?  How much of what they wrote was from God, and how much from their own thoughts?  How much editing and redaction went on, and how much of it did God directly supervise?  How much of that applies to Ellen White? 

        Then there are all the epistemological and philosophical questions.  How is meaning 'made' and how is it communicated?  How 'real' is 'reality?'  So many questions, so few answers …

      • Joe Erwin
        19 June 2012 @ 10:02 am

        We may be able to trust our private experience with the Holy Spirit and have confidence that the Holy Spirit has shown us a correct interpretation. It is considerably more difficult to trust that the Holy Spirit guided contemporary others, when all we may have in support of that is the report of their subjective impressions that they were guided. So we trust those we trust and doubt or distrust others. Those who believe in the inerrency of scripture seem to believe that the words were essentially dictated and then guarded throughout history by the Holy Spirit, and, that suggesting anything to the contrary is blasphemy. Believers know when they are on very dangerous ground, and when they risk losing all credibility with those who matter to them.

  28. Elaine Nelson
    19 June 2012 @ 3:43 am

    Proving that the Bible says what anyone wants it to be.  Long ago it meant this; but today the same passage means something else; how will it be interpreted a thousand years from now?  That's the meaning of a timeless book:  interpret it to suit the audience.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      19 June 2012 @ 3:50 am

      That is how it has to be interpreted, otherwise, it is a very irrelevant book only interesting to academics.

      • Kevin Riley
        20 June 2012 @ 12:12 am

        Asking 'what is the Bible for'/'why was the Bible given' is a good question because it focuses our ideas.  I think those who answer 'to tell us how to live' experience a different Bible to those who say 'to tell us about God'.

        • Rudy Good
          21 June 2012 @ 2:10 am

          Kevin, your comment makes a lot of sense. How can one take seriously that the Bible is a communication from God without trying comprehend the purpose for the communication. Elsewhere, I tried to make the point that scripture appears to be more aimed at preserving the experiences of people relating to God for the benefit of others than to provide others with a body of knowledge about God.

  29. Stephen Ferguson
    22 June 2012 @ 5:19 am

    I think it worth repeating that theology, as compared to philosophy of religion, means as follows: 

    “Theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflect upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available… Again, whereas the theologian speaks out of the community of faith, the philosopher of religion is an individual investigator”: John MacQuarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1966), 1,2.   

    There is a spectrum of beliefs within Christianity generally and within Adventism specifically.  Within that spectrum of beliefs, there are a range of ways to approah and interpret the Bible.  Stephen Foster has made some comments about how he thinks it should be approached.  You may not agree with him.

    However, to see Stephen Foster at a different place on the spectrum of beliefs and approaches within Christianity and within Adventism is very different from advocating a position that is off the spectrum altogether.  Christians generally and Adventists especially hold the Bible as authoritative sacred writings, as understood by our community of faith.  If one's argument is that the Bible is not authoritative as sacred writings, then that is a legitimate position to take, but it is only a philosophical position – it isn't theological.  As such it is rather a pointless argument to make within the discourse here, being about as useful in asking Richard Dawkins to interpret biblical passages.

    I am not suggesting people leave Christianity or SDA Church.  I am suggesting some have already left.  I might call myself a Muslim, a Native American or the Queen of England, but it won't make it so.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      22 June 2012 @ 5:31 am

      And in anctipation of the ongoing broadside against me, let me just repeat – I am not trying to stop anyone form commenting – Adventist or not – White, Green or Purple. However, I do think it important to stress some comments are philosophical in nature, not necessarily theological. What I mean by that is they might be academically interesting, but offer limited use for a community of faith that does see the Bible as authoritative. 

      I quite strongly disagree with how Stephen Foster approaches the interpretation of the Bible.  However, I also think some of the rebuttals against him have been unfair because they fall outside what I would consider a 'legitimate rebuttal'.  I say that because adopting Chris' approach, I could onto every post on AToday and make the same type of argument that 'the Bible is simply wrong.'

      I personally don't feel that approach is at all helpful. One needs to understand that Adventists do see the Bible as authoritative as sacred writings.  As such, answers really need to fall within the discourse of that framework, otherwise they are unlikely to assist.

      For example, to say the Bible is simply not authorative on the issue of human sexuality simply provides fodder for those who would use the Bible to persecute people, such as homosexuals.  You may disagree with me strongly, but that is where I am coming from.

      • Kevin Riley
        22 June 2012 @ 11:14 am

        "For example, to say the Bible is simply not authorative on the issue of human sexuality simply provides fodder for those who would use the Bible to persecute people, such as homosexuals."

        I need you to unpack this a little bit.  I really don't follow.

        We also could talk a little about what it means for a text to be 'authoritative'.  Can a text be 'authoritative' and still be wrong in some areas?  I suspect Stephen Foster would say 'no'.  But then you have to ask 'what do we do if it seems that that authoritative text is wrong?'  We can adopt the fundamentalist approach and simply declare that the text can't be wrong, so anyone who points out an apparent error is simply wrong, but there are obvious problems with that approach.  There is also the good question that Stephen Foster will ask (or wish he had) if I don't, which is 'who decides when an authoritative text is wrong, and how?'

        • Rudy Good
          23 June 2012 @ 5:02 am


          You have raised a really critical question. What does it mean to say a text is authoritative?

          And there are related questions. How do you determine if it is authoritative? Is all of its content authoritative? What is the scope of its authority (subject-wise)? How does the claim of inspiration effect these answers? Which will introduce a host of question regarding inspiration.

          Actually I think ones view of inspiration usually has a lot to do with how we view the Bible authority.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            23 June 2012 @ 9:11 am

            The answer to what texts are 'authorative' IMO is simply – all of them:

            'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' (2 Tim. 3:16)

            I think we are confusing each other (and that is partly my fault) between the notions of accepting scripture as authorative, in the sense of being God-breathed and useful, compared with saying scripture is not authorative, in the sense of questioning whether it is in fact God-breathed and not necessarily useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training.  My understanding is that Chris was not merely disagreeing with how Stephen Foster was interpreting the Bible, he was questioning whether the Bible itself was God-breathed and useful for teaching and training in righteousness. There is a world of difference.

            Stephen Foster and I can strong disagree with how to interpret the meaning of 'day' in Gen 1.  Yet we both would agree Gen 1 is 'authorative' in the sense of being God-breathed and useful for teaching and training in righteousness.  By comparison, asking what an athiest thinks of Gen 1 might be academically interesting, but it would not be the same kind of discussion because they would not believe Gen 1 was authorative.  

            In order to have a meaningful conversation about how to interpret the Bible, which after all is what Stephen Foster's article is about, it requires certain assumptions.  Those assumptions include believing in God, accepting that Jesus was God and did raise from the dead, and that the Bible, which talks about him, is authorative, meaning God-breathed and useful for teaching and training in righteousness.  These things cannot be categorically proved by fact, but require acts of faith.  

            If someone who does share these assumptions has contributions to make, they are very welcome, and they may indeed add something interesting to the discussion. But at the end of the day they are not 'talking the same language'.  Their critiques of certain approaches to how to interpret the Bible, again Stephen Foster's article, are only of limited assistance.

            That is all I am saying.

            (AD) and is useful for teaching,(AE) rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

          • Stephen Ferguson
            23 June 2012 @ 9:24 am

            Sorry, that last bit should have said:

            If someone who does not share these assumptions that all scripture is God-breathed, and that person has contributions to make, they are very welcome, and they may indeed add something interesting to the discussion. But at the end of the day they are not 'talking the same language'.  Their critiques of certain approaches to how to interpret the Bible, again Stephen Foster's article, are only of limited assistance.

        • Stephen Ferguson
          23 June 2012 @ 5:25 am

          Kevin, I will answers your question is you answer mine first:

          1. Do you positively believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead?
          And to merely say one doesn't necessarily disbelieve is the answer of an agnostic, not a believer.  Even Richard Dawkins admits he doesn't necessarily disbelieve in God, any more than he necessarily disbelieves in the Flying Spagetti Monster – but it doesn't make Dawkins a believer.

          2. Why?
          Chris has given a very good answer as to why he doesn't positively believe but merely doesn't necessarily disbelieve. If you do positively believer – why?

          • Kevin Riley
            23 June 2012 @ 7:54 am

            I believe Christ rose from the dead.  I believe, because if I didn't, then nothing in Christianity makes sense.  There are, IMO, certain things that need to be facts for Christianity to be true.  The resurrection is one of them.  The existence of God and Jesus is another.  We could be wrong about many things – virtually all of the FBs – and Christianity could still be true.  But if Jesus never lived, and/or never rose from the dead, then we should either give up on the Bible or become Jews.  I believe God exists, I believe he wants me to be a Christian.  So I guess you could say I choose to believe more than I am compelled to believe. 

          • Kevin Riley
            23 June 2012 @ 8:08 am

            Just in case it got lost somewhere, I do believe that the Bible is inspired, and that God claims it as his, but I find it difficult to accept some of the conclusions people draw from that about what the Bible must be and how it must be interpreted and used.  Mainly because I do not see what they claim actually in the Bible.

            I also accept that if God inspired the Bible and created this world, that the message of the two will be in essential harmony.  What I don't accept is that our understanding of the Bible is necessarily right, and therefore anything which disagrees with that must be wrong.  I prefer to leave inerrancy and infallibility as divine attributes and not attribute them to anything that is even partly a product of humans.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            23 June 2012 @ 9:00 am

            Kevin, I believe exactly what you just said!

          • Rudy Good
            23 June 2012 @ 11:52 am

            FWIW I'm exactly on the same page, also.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            23 June 2012 @ 9:22 am

            Kevin, you approach this issue with certain prerequisite assumptions, notably that Jesus did rise from the dead and that the Bible is God-inspired.  You can't categorically prove these things – they require certain elements of acts of faith.  When you disagree with other Chrisitians, it is how the Bible is to be interpreted, not that the Bible itself isn't authorative in terms of being God-breathed and useful for teaching and training in righeousness.  For example, you might dispute whether Gen 1 is a parable, or a metaphor, or literal, but you still believe it is God-inspired.  Is that correct – because that is how I approach it?

            Chris on the other hand doesn't merely disagree with how the Bible is to be interpreted, he questions those underlying premises itself – that Jesus rose from the dead and that the Bible itself is God-breathed and useful for training and righteouness. Whilst he doesn't necessarily disbelieve these things, that is only the position of an agnostic, not the position of a believer.  As such, he isn't merely disputing how to use the Bible, he is disputing whether the Bible should be used at all.  That is a very different approach.  Is that right Chris?

            Both please clarify if I misunderstand your positions.

          • Kevin Riley
            23 June 2012 @ 1:28 pm

            "All Scripture is God inspired (or, more accurately, 'expired') and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness" seems like a text most Christians would acknowledge .  But it doesn't answer the question of what 'inspiration' is, or how far, if at all, the authority of the Bible extends beyond those things listed.  To me, to say the Bible is inspired is to say that God was part of the process that led to the Bible we have.  That also makes it foundational to a life of faith – both belief and practice – because God gave it and stands behind it. 

            But there is still room for disputes over how the Bible is authoritative.  Is it the foundation on which we build, or is it God's final word to which we must submit and go no further?  Interpretation follows authority.  If we see the Bible as God's final word, to which the only response is 'I hear and obey' (very much a Calvinist response), we will approach it differently and interpret it differently to if we see the Bible as a record of God's activity in the human story, both the story and activity being ongoing.  Or if we see it as an invitation to a dialogue, a tool to bring us to God and enter into a conversation with him – authoritative but not the final word – then again, we will approach it differently. 

            Perhaps the most important question is not whether Gen 1 is literal or metaphor, but what is God saying to us today through it?  That doesn't mean the question of how Moses intended Gen 1 to be read is not important, but it is not the end of our study.  I am concerned that too many people see the Bible as the final authority, rather than as a tool that the Ultimate Authority uses to communicate with us.  In practice, that view makes God irrelevant.  All we need is the text of the Bible and the 'key' to understand the 'code', and we've got the 'secret' knowledge that saves us.  A rationalistic gnosticism has always been our greatest temptation.  I suspect we inherit it from the Millerites who also took a rationalistic view of Scripture.  Ellen White tried to move us away from that, but I am not sure it was her most successful venture.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            23 June 2012 @ 2:34 pm

            Kevin, I do agree.  I would only further ask you, whilst there is debate, ambiguity or further discussion about how parts of the Bible are 'inspired' exactly, and what that means, that is still very different from questioning whether parts of the Bible are 'inspired at all.'

            My concern with the approach of the approach of Chris is that it seems to be like carrying a 'Get out of Jail Free Card' around.  We were are confronted with difficult Bible texts, we have to face those difficulties face on.  We have to struggle with those questions about how much God is part of that process and how much is human, effected by society, culture and experience.  Again, that is still a very different question from simply arguing that texts we don't like are not 'inspired' at all, where one says God is no part of the process.

          • Kevin Riley
            24 June 2012 @ 12:07 am

            Yes, there is a difference.  Ellen White strongly attacked those who tried to separate the Bible into 'inspired' and 'non-inspired' sections.  But many of the pioneers were quite creative in their exegesis of texts.  James White argued that Paul's command for women to keep silent must refer – not to church services where they obviously had something to say – but to business meetings, because, as we all know, women simply have no head for business.  I think that shows up one major difference between then and now: James White was focused on what God was saying then, and trying to understand the Bible in his context, today we focus on what Paul meant when he wrote those words.  Perhaps we need to teach people to do both.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            24 June 2012 @ 3:01 am

            Yes very much agree.

  30. Stephen Foster
    23 June 2012 @ 4:49 pm

    As you know, there are a number of contradictory, paradoxical positions which, in my view, (unintentionally?) serve as escape hatches for deniability in what you have said Kevin.
    You “believe that Christ rose from the dead… [and in] the existence of God and Jesus… [and that] he wants [you] to be a Christian.”
    You say that you “choose to believe more than [you are] compelled to believe.”
    You “believe that the Bible is inspired, and that God claims it as His.”
    You “also accept that if God inspired the Bible and created this world, that the message of the two will be in essential harmony.”
    There are some disconnects which need reconciling. Stephen Ferguson asked you if you believe Christ literally rose from the dead, why you would believe this to be true.
    Your answer essentially is that you believe it because you choose to believe it (since if not, Christianity wouldn’t make sense). Nothing actually compels you to believe it more than your decision to believe it. (This may be the root of our disagreement in our approaches to scriptural interpretation.)
    You are not as much compelled as that you have decided to believe, yet you “believe that the Bible is inspired, and that God claims it as His.”
    The faith that is engendered by “hearing” is from Jesus—as a result of hearing (i.e. understanding) the word of God. That which was inspired by Him, and that which testifies of Him, represents Him. Scripture was given to men, and through men, in order so that it could be, and would be, understood by men.
    To say that we misunderstand is meaningless without providing, or pointing to, an understanding. Saying we don’t “necessarily” understand is akin to, if not indistinguishable from, Chris’s stance (wherein he won’t say he doesn’t believe).
    Again, why would God claim and inspire something to be written but not understood? If we don’t necessarily understand it correctly, then someone must, because it is written to be understood (“…is profitable for doctrine.”)
    It is indeed gratifying to read that you “accept that if God inspired the Bible and created this world, that the message of the two will be in essential harmony.”
    Yet you find that although God claims the Bible as His, you “find it difficult to accept some of the conclusions people draw from that about what the Bible must be and how it must be interpreted and used.  Mainly because [you] do not see what they claim actually in the Bible.”
    The Bible is inspired by God and is indeed His; “…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” That’s how it’s supposed to be used. Isaiah 28:10 is how it’s to be interpreted, “…line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little…”

    • Kevin Riley
      24 June 2012 @ 12:01 am


      What proof do you have that the Bible is correct?  Don't you also accept by faith that it is?  And how do you prove that Isaiah 28:10 is Isaiah's words on how the Bible should be interpreted and not part of his attack on his opponents and therefore what should not be done?  I presume you do realise that most Hebrew scholars – and many theologians – view those words as essentially meaningless syllables?  What do you have, apart from your belief, that tells you that you are interpreting the Scriptures correctly?

      • Stephen Foster
        24 June 2012 @ 4:15 am

        Now we’re getting into a delicate area. If I tell you how my faith came about, which is what I am supposed to do, I run the risk of being misunderstood by others as professing to represent the truth of God or of being exclusively self-righteous (or some nonsense).
        First of all, suffice it to say that my faith, if anything, is insufficient. That is to say, that I don’t have anywhere near the faith I should.
        The faith that I do have is largely a result of having witnessed demonstrations that God is who and what the Bible says He is; which is Love, and the creative Spirit of Love. I have witnessed Him do that which, through the Bible, He has promised to do, for those who trust and love Him. I have seen His love reflected in others who love Him and have demonstrated that love by loving their fellow man.
        These things and the redemptive Scriptural narrative have actually compelled me to believe that the Bible represents His words to us. The longer I live, the more compelling; as evidence is continually piled on evidence. I see prayers answered, guidance given, wisdom granted, character developed, lives changed, prophecy fulfilled.
        It’s faith I suppose; but it isn’t blind or arbitrary faith, that’s for sure.
        As for Isaiah 28: 9-13, Scripture simply interprets itself; it’s all in there. (I would recommend perhaps referencing the Amplified Bible.)
        As for knowing whether I am interpreting Scripture correctly; if I am not, then tell me what the correct interpretation is. Scripture is certainly meant to be understood. Suggesting that anyone isn’t, or may not be, interpreting Scripture correctly is legitimate; provided a correct interpretation, meaning, understanding is provided.

        • Rudy Good
          24 June 2012 @ 4:02 pm

          I have complained about your responses in the past. So, it is only fair to acknowledge when my complaint is no longer applicable. This response seems to take Kevin's questions seriously and make a genuine effort to answer them.

        • Kevin Riley
          27 June 2012 @ 11:59 am

          So, basically, you find yourself in the same position I am, and as the disciples were nearly 2,000 years ago.  You have your experience that tells you there is a God who is still at work, and you have a sacred text with which to make sense of your experience.  Your belief in the Sacred text is as much the result of your experience as it is of what you read there.  I doubt that is very different to where most people are.  To pick up on another conversation, our shared worldview [there is a God, the world is real, God is invovled in the real world] tells us that God exists and the Bible is a useful tool from which to make sense of the world and our experience.  But because of the differences in our experience, and partly in our culture, the belief system we build, while it has many similarities, also has differences.  What the church demands is that we all agree on a few basic beliefs.  I think we do agree on most.  Even on FB6.  We just have different ways of arriving at that agreement.

          "The faith that I do have is largely a result of having witnessed demonstrations that God is who and what the Bible says He is; which is Love, and the creative Spirit of Love. I have witnessed Him do that which, through the Bible, He has promised to do, for those who trust and love Him. I have seen His love reflected in others who love Him and have demonstrated that love by loving their fellow man.
          These things and the redemptive Scriptural narrative have actually compelled me to believe that the Bible represents His words to us. The longer I live, the more compelling; as evidence is continually piled on evidence. I see prayers answered, guidance given, wisdom granted, character developed, lives changed, prophecy fulfilled.
          It’s faith I suppose; but it isn’t blind or arbitrary faith, that’s for sure."

          I can agree with this.  It just leads me to a different understanding of how Scripture works, even though I agree it is the foundation on which the Christian life is built.  It would be interesting to see how our differences actually play out in real life, and whether there actually are any significant differences.

          • Stephen Foster
            27 June 2012 @ 11:52 pm

            As much as I would like to find agreement with you, and I do see important agreement, there’s a significant difference between the positions wherein we find ourselves.
            You are so very right about my experience telling me that “there is a God who is still at work, and [that I] have a sacred text with which to make sense of [my] experience.”
            The major difference could possibly be that the basic beliefs of “our faith” (those that we apparently agree that “our church demands”) in my view includes the sanctity of the seventh day of the week; while this may not necessarily be such a basic requisite belief in your view.
            This could be cultural to some extent but this goes to why I initially prefaced the description of my ‘belief system’ as a Judeo-Christian Protestant Seventh-day Adventist one. Most Christians, of course, do not view the sanctification of the seventh day of the week in Genesis 2:3 as meaningful. This cannot be said for Seventh-day Anythings.
            Without the six day creation narrative, there is simply no reason to observe Saturday. Yeah, we can spin some rationale about the benefits that its observance brings, or those surrounding entering some nebulously explained (and understood) “rest;” but there is no reason. I therefore conclude that any agreement on a core set of basic beliefs for Seventh-day Adventists must include the six days.
            Of course, there is no Scriptural reason to believe that the six days are not literal earth-rotating, evening and morning days. There are cultural, intellectual, educational, scientific community peer pressure, and/or (similar) evidentiary reasons for coming up with some alternative interpretation; but there is, of course, no Biblical rationale.
            This is why, in my view, an alternative view of Scriptural authority, and particularly some other (heretofore undetermined) interpretation for the creation and seventh-day sanctification narrative, is perceived/“needed.” The difference between how we think the Bible works is likely based on this.
            My admittedly limited observation has been that those who don’t agree with the Biblically provided reasons for the Sabbath also do not agree with the prophetic eschatological implications of the Sabbath (and its observance) from an historical (Judeo-Christian) Protestant Seventh-day Adventist perspective. These same individuals “agree” with Seventh-day Adventist culture but disagree with Seventh-day Adventist theology.
            I resist attempts to change Adventist theology.

          • Elaine Nelson
            28 June 2012 @ 1:57 am

            Without the six day creation narrative, there is simply no reason to observe Saturday.

            The original command to observe the seventh day is first revealed in the Ten Commandments, and in either account (Ex. and Deut.) the reasons are not the same.  In Exodus the reason for resting on the seventh day is because of God resting after creating this earth.  In the Deuteronomy account, it is given to the Israelites to remind them of their freedom from Egypt–and no mention of creation.  Evidently, it didn't occur to the Israelites to differentiate the reason as long as they were given a day of rest, something never enjoyed as slaves.

            IF Moses wrote the Torah (this is tradition, and cannot be proved), he wrote this approximately 2,000 years AFTER the creation was thought to have occurred.  He could not rely on any evidence of all the patriarchs since Adam who observed the sabbath or that it was ever mentioned until the Exodus.
            For those who observe the seventh day it should be important to understand its history and the reasons for holding it sacred.  There have been so many reasons given, many which cannot be supported by Scripture and based on tradition and what was taught, perhaps even from childhood.  Tradition plays an important part in all religions, and Adventism cannot be excepted.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            28 June 2012 @ 2:02 am

            "Without the six day creation narrative, there is simply no reason to observe Saturday."

            Stephen, you may see it that way, but some don't.  I for one am not expecting you to change your beliefs – I would just like you to accept that those who don't believe in a 24hrx6 creation, but can still find reason to observe the Saturday as the seventh-day Sabbath, are still worthy of remaining within the 'broad church' of the SDA Church as your brethren in Christ. 

            I am personally not convinced either way re the whole evolution-creation debate, but I don't like it either when people like Goldstein publish articles in the Adventist World saying people who accept evolution should leavethe Church.  Just because you and Goldstein can't find a theological reason to reconcilling the views of 99% of scientists with the Adventist theological framework doesn't necessarily mean others can't. 

            My view is that the seventh-day Sabbath is more important, not less, if one accepts evolution is likely to be true.  This is because if evolution is true, the position and role of God as Creator, and whether creation itself is 'very good', given the suffering of the Darwinian struggle, is in some doubt. 

            The Sabbath command effectively reinforces God's creative role and inherent goodness.

            I believe that if evolution is true, it means that the Great Controversy in 'heaven' happened much longer and is much older than we initially thought.  Whereas Creationists admit in rapid evolution, in the idea that Satan corrupted the evolution of established species (i.e. otherwise why do lions have sharp teeth), I believe the same idea, but that the corruption started at the beginning of the evolution of the Universe itself.     

            As I have said before, all the first 4 commandments are found in Genesis account and involve man immitating God.  For example:

            • #1 Commandment: Sovereignty of God as ruler of the Universe – limited sovereignty to Adam and Eve as rulers of the fish, fowls and animals.
            • #2 Commandment: Prohibition on creating images of God – mankind created as a living image of God.
            • #3 Commandment: Prohibition on taking the Lord's name in vain – Adam told to name all the animals.
            • #4 Commandment: God's rest – mankind's rest.

            An image is not the same as the real thing.  It is an inferior copy.  In the same way you and I are inferior copies of God, our Sabbath-keeping is an inferior copy of God's rest.  That is not to say a copy is not important.  God intended us to exist as His copies on earth, and He expects us to copy Him in our Sabbath-keeping.

            God's Sabbath is not the same as mankind's Sabbath.  God's rest effectively started and has continued ever since He gave over dominion of this world to human beings.  Mankind keeps every weekly seventh-day Sabbath as a perpetual reminder that whilst mankind has been given limited sovereignty over the world, that we are 'creators' and 'images of God' of a sort, we should never forget the true Creator and God.

            Therefore, keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is not 'some rationale about the benefits that its observance brings, or those surrounding entering some nebulously explained (and understood) “rest”'.  Keeping the Sabbath is fundamental to true worship of God as good and as creator, which as I said, is more, not less important if evolution were true.


            You may all disagree with my interpretation but it doesn't matter.  What matters is if I believe there is a theological reason for Sabbath-keeping.  Somewhat reflecting what Kevin, Jack and others have said, we often believe the same FBs but often for slightly different reasons and rationales.  The difference between the Sabbath command in Exodus compared with Deuteronomy shows is a biblical example of this approach in action.   

            Question: Are you willing to call someone a brother in Christ if they believe in evolution but do have a theological reason to keep the seventh-day Sabbath, even if you don't believe in that same rationale the same way?

          • Kevin Riley
            28 June 2012 @ 2:08 am

            I view celebrating the Sabbath as a memorial of creation as legitimate no matter how long creation took.  It would not worry me if creation took six days.  I have no problem with that.  But however long it took, the Sabbath is a good memorial of creation.  And also of the Exodus and of Christ's resting between Easter Friday and Easter Sunday.  Neither of those took 6 days.  I also believe the Sabbath is a good symbol of the rest that follows the 2nd Coming, which does not seem to be associated with 6 days at all.  I have never followed why anyone would believe the Sabbath becomes irrelevant as a symbol of creation just because we can't prove it happened in 6 days.  The Sabbath is actually a symbol of rest, not of the 6 days, anyway.  That is why it is called "Shabbat" – because on that day God rested.  Insisting on working 6 days as a symbol of God's six days of work would make sense, but most people don't seem so keen on that.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            28 June 2012 @ 2:14 am

            But don't you think the key point is just because Stephen and Goldstein can't find a theological justification for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath and accepting evolution is not to say other people can't?  Should such a person be told to leave the SDA Church, as Goldstein often publicly writes, even if in practice they keep the seventh-day Sabbath, but have a slightly different theological rationale for doing so? Can we believe the same FBs but for slightly different reasons?

            I would say yes we can.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            28 June 2012 @ 2:21 am

            Also, the Sabbath isn't just a symbol of rest but a symbol of work.  The Commandment is also actually a positive command to work 6 days. In other words, for 6 days of the week, mankind imitates God by attempting to creating, dividing and changing the space around us.  We do this because mankind is an image of God – so we imitate Him. 

            However, on the 7th day, we come to realise that mankind is ultimately a weak and inferior being, because whilst mankind can dominate space, we cannot dominate time. A person can conquor the globe, but they can barely add an extra day to their life.  Likewise, pagan gods are expressions of dominance over space and matter, but they pale in comparison to YHWH, the 'I AM', who alone is above time.

            I express it poorly but I really suggest reading 'The Sabbath' by famous Jewish theologian Abraham Herschel'.  He argues that whilst other gods and religions could conquor space, only the God of the Jews was the God above Time itself. 

          • Kevin Riley
            28 June 2012 @ 5:58 am

            I have read Heschel – and many others – and I doubt most of them would insist the Sabbath becomes meaningless if creation wasn't a literal 6 days.  But, to your first question, I do not believe we should ever allow ourselves to be limited by someone else's lack of imagination.  I long ago concluded that when someone says "I can't imagine how anyone can believe 'xyz'" that that says far more about their lack of imagination than it does about whether 'xyz' is actually true.

            Personally, I prefer to believe in creation rather than in evolution as the origin of everything.  I see no reason why anyone should be a Christian (or anything else) if they are convinced we are here merely by chance.  Evolution as the tool by which God created does not really fill me with joy, but I have no problem with those who believe that. 

          • Stephen Ferguson
            28 June 2012 @ 6:57 am

            Yes I agree, except I never said Heschel or anyone esle suggested the Sabbath became meaningless if creation wasn't a literal 6 days.

          • Stephen Ferguson
            28 June 2012 @ 7:04 am

            And the quote from Heschel that comes to mind is the following:

            “Pagans project their consciousness of God into a visible image or associate Him with a phenomenon in nature, with a thing of space.  In the Ten Commandments, the Creator of the universe identifies Himself by an even in history, by an event in time” (page 95).

  31. Stephen Foster
    28 June 2012 @ 7:54 am

    Stephen Ferguson,
    It will come as no surprise to you that I don’t find much with which to agree about your theology. That being the case, I really don’t know where to go with this.
    I don’t understand from where you get the concept that the seventh-day “Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” of which Jesus Himself expressly claimed that He was “Lord,” and which He said “was made for man,” and not vice versa, is “an image…an inferior copy…and not the same as mankind’s Sabbath.” This is certainly not scriptural. The Lord’s Sabbath was made for man.
    It appears that your theological reason for keeping the Sabbath is just that…your reason. Of course you are entitled to have your own reason, and I’m not God; so I certainly am not your judge.
    We are members of a faith community with its own theological doctrine about this. I am a brother in Christ with Christians who do not recognize or observe the Sabbath at all. I can likewise be a brother with those who do. My issue is that I am a Seventh-day Adventist because I agree with its theology; and believe that those who do not should not try to change it.
    Theological Seventh-day Adventism is a prophetic movement with a prophetic eschatological message Brother Ferguson. That message is based on things such as an image to the beast, and the mark of the beast; both of which have scripturally based, Sabbath related implications.
    It is dubious how cultural Adventism and theological Adventism might coexist with this reality; largely because cultural Adventists perceive different ‘realities.’
    (I do resonate with the idea of God as the God of space and time, which ‘explains’ His carving out and specifying a time to “remember” this; lending credence to a literal understanding of Genesis. This is my personal take on that.)

    • Stephen Ferguson
      28 June 2012 @ 8:05 am

      Just so I understand, are you saying that whilst you are prepared to accept someone who believes in evolution within the broader invisible Church of Christ, you feel that someone who believed in evolution should not belong to the SDA Church?  This is even if they kept the seventh-day Sabbath and all the FBs as good as you do (or perhaps more strictly)?

      • Stephen Foster
        28 June 2012 @ 8:30 am

        I never said that “[I] feel that someone who believed in evolution should not belong to the SDA Church. This is even if they kept the seventh-day Sabbath and all the FBs as good as [I] do (or perhaps more strictly).”
        Why would you even ask this question?

        Let me repeat, my issue is that those Adventists who agree with SDA culture but who do not agree with SDA theology shouldn’t try to change SDA theology.

        • Stephen Ferguson
          28 June 2012 @ 9:20 am

          Stephen I have no problems with the notion that those who believe in YEC should be allowed to keep believing that.  However, that isn't the problem in the SDA Church at the moment – it is the opposite problem.  The problem is that those in official power are trying to say those who don't accept YEC should leave the SDA Church – Goldstein has said it on several occassions in the Adventist World.  Pres Wilson has formed a committee to officially change FB#6 to explicitly enshrine YEC.

        • Stephen Ferguson
          28 June 2012 @ 9:26 am

          And I should just say, the notion of not changing SDA theology is a fallacy.  There is no historic Golden age of SDA theology.  SDA theology has, since its inception, been evolving as new light becomes available.  Doctrines such as the Trinity only became official SDA beliefs relatively recently.  Doctrines such as the Shut Door were embraced and then abandonned as present truth only. 

          Churches that don't change their theology quit the Reformation process and die.  If we do that, God will have to raise up a sucessor Church, as we did for our Protestant brethren going right back to the Roman Catholic Church, and then to the Jews who originally rejected Christ.  I certainly don't believe or want that to happen, or believe it will happen – but there are certainly plenty of people (usually on the conservative wing of the Church) who do.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      28 June 2012 @ 9:13 am

      Re the notions of the Sabbath as an image or memorial, you seem to fail to grasp the difference between the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, created for mankind, and God’s own eschatological rest.  The Bible and even the GC’s BRI acknowledge they are not the same types of Sabbaths!
      God’s continuous Sabbath since the creation of the world
      Do you agree that in Gen 2:2 when it says God 'rested' it literally meant God 'Sabbathed' (i.e. that ‘rest’ and ‘Sabbath’ are effectively from the same word in Hebrew)?  You should, because this is a common Adventist argument used to support Sabbath-keeping.
      And do you believe God has been resting (lit. ‘Sabbathing’) since that day He finished creation and gave dominion to mankind as His living images on earth (i.e. inferior copies created a little lower than the angels)?  And far from being without scriptural support, the notion that God has finished His creative activity and is now resting is exactly what it says in Heb 4:3-5:

      Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”(emphasis added)

      No evening and morning the seventh-day of creation
      This is also why the seventh-day Sabbath in 2:1 has no ‘morning and evening’ refrain. It signifies that God is not going onto the next creative activity but has finished – He has finished His work and His rest (literally His Sabbath) continues forever from that time into the present.
      Why God’s eschatological rest in Gen 2:1 is not the same as mankind’s weekly rest
      Hebrew 4 also makes clear that the notion of the weekly seventh-day Sabbath does not equate to God’s ultimate eschatological rest – that is Paul’s whole point.  Equally, Paul is not saying the seventh-day Sabbath is no longer important (as most Sunday keepers try to argue).  Rather, he is simply making the point that the weekly seventh-day rest is not the same concept as God’s rest.
      Why the GC BRI admits an eschatological Sabbath and weekly Sabbath are different
      The GC’s BRI makes it very clear that Paul is drawing this distinction between mankind’s rest and God’s eschatological rest:
      Hebrews is not equating the Sabbath rest with the eschatological rest. It states that God’s eschatological rest, like the Sabbath, has been available since He finished His work of creation. The Sabbath rest also illustrates the nature of the rest that is still available as a cessation from one’s works. Hebrews 4:10 uses the Sabbath of Genesis 2:2 as a model for its understanding of the eschatological rest. The enjoyment of both the eschatological rest and the Sabbath require ceasing from work. The works Hebrews refers to are not specifically identified, but it could be suggested that contextually they are not the works of the law.’
      Perhaps Paul’s Hebrew audience in Heb 4 were in much the same mindset as you are, by wrongly confusing the weekly seventh-day rest (lit. Sabbath) created for mankind, compared with God’s own rest (lit. His Sabbath)?
      Why the ‘Sabbath’ in Gen 2:1 is probably a reference to God’s eschatological rest; not a weekly seventh day Sabbath
      Therefore, if the Gen account is perhaps metaphorical, it is certainly possible that God’s Sabbath in Gen 2:1 is a reference to God’s eschatological rest, which we imitate through the weekly Sabbath established by God for mankind.  As the BRI seems to concede, the weekly Sabbath is arguably a model for the rest in Gen 2.
      Why the seventh-day in Gen probably isn’t a 24-hour day – Adam and Eve
      Further evidence for that concept is the fact that there is no evidence of Adam and Eve actually resting on that seventh ‘day’. If that day was a literal 24-hour period, then it doesn’t make sense why it doesn’t mention Adam and Eve resting.  However, if that ‘day’ is in fact an epoch of time (as Augustine and Origen thought), or a metaphor, then it makes much more sense why Adam and Eve are not recorded as resting on that ‘day’.
      The continued importance of the weekly seventh-day Sabbath as a sign of true worship within Adventist eschatology
      Writers such as John Haught (a Roman Catholic) have likewise noted that the Gen account is not so much a story of history but one of eschatological prophecy, and the notion of an eschatological Sabbath in Gen 2:1 certainly fits within that idea.  Thus, far from detracting the Adventist importance of the seventh-day Sabbath to eschatology, the seventh-day Sabbath is indeed arguably the very seal of that true worship – the ultimate test before the Parousia.
      Mark 2:27 and the Sabbath created for man, not man for the Sabbath
      The statement of Jesus in Mark 2:27, far from disproving my point, only supports it.  If God has finished His work since the creation of the world and thus been resting (lit. Sabbathing) ever since, then why do we keep the weekly seventh-day Sabbath?  It was created especially for mankind. 
      The notion that Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath also fits with the whole ‘image’ concept.  Whilst the Pharisees were trying to attack Jesus for working on the Sabbath day, a day made especially for mankind, Jesus is not a mere man, He is the Son of Man. 
      Image as a representation of the Real
      Stephen, you are an image of the Most High God – but you are not God.  Contrary to what Sunday-keepers say, God wants you rest every seventh day – God made the Sabbath for you, not you for the Sabbath.  But to suggest that the rest made for mankind is the same as God’s own rest, is just as absurd as suggesting mankind’s work (also mentioned in Ex 20:8) is the same as God’s creative work.  Thus, to equate our work and rest (lit. Sabbath) with God’s work and rest (lit. Sabbath) is arguably a type of idolatry. 
      I am not saying I have it all worked out or that I am 100% correct.  I am just starting to think out loud about some of these concepts, including what place the seventh-day Sabbath would have if evolution were true (I am not saying I 100% believe in evolution either).  However, contrary to what you suggest, I think the seventh-day Sabbath takes on more importance, not less, if evolution were true. 

      • Stephen Ferguson
        28 June 2012 @ 10:49 am

        Sabbath, Evolution and the Lord's Supper

        And another way to describe this, which you may understand, is the Lord's Supper.  When Jesus said the bread was His body and the wine His blood, and keeping in mind He cannot as God lie, was He talking literally, as the Roman Cathlic's teach?  Or was perhaps these mere symbols (or memorials or iamges), which Jesus established as a perpetual act of worship?  And if you reject the Roman Catholic's literal interpretation, does that mean that the ordinance of the Lord's Supper has no foundation and relevance – God forbid!

  32. William Noel
    28 June 2012 @ 6:09 pm


    Let me stimulate your righteous brain just a little.  In that judgement scene where Jesus tells those on his left hand that he never "knew" them, what does "knew" actually mean?  Casual acquaintance?  Never met them? Or, what? 

    I no longer carry a print Bible with me to church, instead preferring my notebook computer with a Bible software program that allows me to do searches and find contrasting or corroborating texts.  When our teacher mentioned that statement from Jesus, I started into a search for how "knew" is applied.  Let's just say the results were an eye-opener and put an emphasis on the meaning I had never heard described before.  "Knew" is used in the same sense of intimate relationship that is also used to describe the relationship between a husband and wife. 

    Do you remember the scene where Jesus has sent out his disciples to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and they come back all excited telling about how the sick were healed, demons cast out, etc.  Jesus basically tells them they've only gotten started.  Putting that scene together with the judgement scene and the meaning of "knew" in a relationship and several things became apparent to me. 

    First, merely knowing about God doesn't even bring a person close to doing what God wants them to do or ministry in the ways He wants them to minister for Him.  Unfortunately, that's the state of the vast majority of Christians I know (Adventists included).  They can talk the talk.  They can debate the inconsequential to make themselves feel important and think by doing it they're doing what God wants.  But they're wrong.  Dead wrong.

    Second are those who have touched the power of the Holy Spirit and are able to minister to some degree, but haven't grown into the intimate relationship with God that He wants us to have with Him.  This is the status of the goats on the left hand of God in the judgement.  They've tasted the power but haven't let it mature them.

    Third are the few who have become totally dependant on God and so focused on ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit that they can't think of doing anything else.  It is their normal existence.  That is why they are surprised when they are commended for all they did, yet can't see that they did anything great.  

    Talk about a sober warning about where we are today and how much growth God has ahead of us! 

  33. Stephen Foster
    29 June 2012 @ 12:47 am

    I suggest that it makes sense to consider Hebrews 3 and 4 as representing the same teaching; and that it relates to faith and belief more than anything.
    As I understand it, the “rest” to which you refer is a spiritual rest. This isn’t referred to anywhere as the Sabbath, but is (to your point) juxtaposed to the Sabbath for purposes of illustration.
    “The rest here spoken of is the rest of grace…” (MS 42) Hebrews chapter 3 actually makes Hebrews chapter 4 understandable.
    I agree that the Genesis 2:2 reference does indeed mean that God ‘Sabbathed’ following the completion of His work and sanctified or set apart the seventh day  for us, and for us to remember what He had done the previous six days. His ‘Sabbathing’ simply refers to a cessation of His creative activities when it happened.  
    I’ll try it this way; His rest and His Sabbath are not the same. His rest is a spiritual rest of grace, through faith. His Sabbath is a weekly appointment with man, as a memorial.
    Your point about Adam and Eve resting—or not resting—on the seventh day, and therefore the preceding evening and morning days were not 24 hour days is, shall we say, completely lost on me. With all respect, from my perspective this seems like an inductive leap of logic.
    If the Seventh-day evolutionists aren’t trying to get ‘troglodytes’ like me to open our minds to the ‘certainty’ of evolution being the way God created mankind—which would effect a revolutionary change in our theology—you could certainly have fooled me. While you seemingly are denying that this attempt is underway, you simultaneously make the case for being willing to do so.
    New light does not contradict, it illuminates. This is why I have insisted that if a given meaning is rejected, an alternative meaning must be available and elucidating.
    Forgive me, but it appears that the ‘evidence’ for evolution is perhaps somewhat more compelling to you than is a literal understanding and belief of the Genesis narrative (which of course is totally your prerogative). So you are now trying to formulate an interpretation of scripture to accommodate evolution.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      29 June 2012 @ 1:35 am

      If the Seventh-day evolutionists aren’t trying to get ‘troglodytes’ like me to open our minds to the ‘certainty’ of evolution being the way God created mankind—which would effect a revolutionary change in our theology—you could certainly have fooled me. While you seemingly are denying that this attempt is underway, you simultaneously make the case for being willing to do so.

      Stephen to accept evolution will no doubt result in a change of theology – of course it will – and yes it could be a bit of a theological revolution.  To accept evolution causes all sorts of theological problems, as I have openly admitted on this site before, including: were Adam and Eve real people, how can we reconcile the idea of a loving God created through billions of years of suffering, is God even 'creator' then and is His creation 'good', if Adam and Eve are not literal people why would God become a literal man Jesus and die on a cross – to name just a few.

      However, my point is that whilst the 'road' to our FBs might change, the endpoint doesn't necessarily have to change that much.  In other words, our rationale for keeping the Sabbath might slightly change from how it is being taught now, but practically the seventh-day Sabbath would be kept just as it is, and it would retains its eschatological importance (perhaps more so, as I have argued).  As Jack gave an entire article on, you see this in the difference between the rationale for sabbath-keeping in Deut vs Exodus. 

      The ability to theologically adapt is not just something Adventists can do, and do well, it is why we exist!  Our group was formed as a theological adaption to the failed prophecies of William Miller, when Jesus did not return in 1844.  Our entire early history was effectively one long series of theological advancements, from clean and unclean foods to the formal adoption of an orthodox Trinitarian position in the early 20th Century. 

      Stephen I don't actually 100% believe in evolution and I actually tend by faith towards YEC.  There is a lot in science that was supposedly true at the time, which has turned out to be bonkers.  However, the longer this debate has been going on – now 150 years – and the more research done across a multitude of fields, the more likely this is not just another Y2K conspiracy but actually has something to it.

      The only real difference between you and I is that I am willing to explore the WHAT IF theologically if evolution were true. Just assuming hypothetically IF evolution were true, can you see a way for our FBs to survive?  I can.   

    • Stephen Ferguson
      29 June 2012 @ 1:46 am

      Stephen can you please also answer for me whether the bread and wine are literally the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ, as taught by the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation?  If not, why not? 

      I believe that IF evolution were true, there is a good case for drawing an analogy between the two.  As the Lord's Supper is to Jesus' death on the cross, the seventh-day Sabbath is to the Lord's Sabbath rest at creation.  No where does Jesus explictly say the bread and wine are not his literal body – we only come to that conclusion through logic, science (because transubstantiation is absurd) and inferred from other Bible texts.  Just because the bread and wine are not literally the same as Christ's body and blood does not make the worship ceremony less important – it remains a perpetual memorial or image of the true event in history.

      • Stephen Foster
        29 June 2012 @ 8:21 am

        Obviously I don’t believe in transubstantiation, but I think I see the point you are trying to make relative to symbolism.
        As I don’t believe that the Sabbath and His Rest is the same thing, I don’t agree with your symbolic parallel.
        Here’s the parallel I see: the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic memorial representation of Jesus’ life and sacrificial death on our behalf. The Sabbath is a memorial representation of the completion of His Creation Week activities and of His historic redemptive acts.
        Evolution is simply a non-starter with me.

        • Kevin Riley
          29 June 2012 @ 12:35 pm

          So observing communion achieves nothing except to jog our memory? 

          Let's not forget that the play on words with 'rest' and 'Sabbath' does not work in Greek, but when Hebrews says there remains a 'sabbatismos' – a 'sabbath-keeping' – for God's people and then exhorts us to 'enter into his rest' I think we have to see a connection betwen the Sabbath and God's rest. 

  34. cb25
    29 June 2012 @ 1:48 am

    mmm… "New light does not contradict, it illuminates."


    Shut door becomes open door (see Present Truth 1849.p64) – there never was a shut door: Contradiction.

    EGW Early Writings "The Plan of Salvation". No plan in place to save man until Jesus pleads 3 times with the Father/Patriarchs and Prophets "The Plan of Redemption" p 63 – Plan was laid from foundation of world. Now only struggle to yeild up as per plan: Contradiction.

    Earth only 6k old – earth extremely old: Contradiction
    Earth flat – Earth sphere: Contradiction

    I could go on….

    • Stephen Foster
      29 June 2012 @ 8:33 am

      Without getting into any of these for now, allow me to ask if there is a point relative to Biblical authority and interpretation that you are hereby making?

      • Rudy Good
        29 June 2012 @ 9:07 am

        This is extremely lame. You just used the statement cb25 quotes to shore up your position on scriptural interpretation. But, I guess that because you can now see it for the false statement it is, you want to pass it off as inconsequential. Lame, lame, lame. A very self serving approach to defending your belief system.

        • Stephen Foster
          29 June 2012 @ 9:43 am

          I realize that everyone doesn’t agree, but this really isn’t about me; except perhaps to the extent that I too reserve the right to occasionally ask questions.

          Chris and I have engaged in numerous conversations before; something you may have missed. (You may have also missed “for now.”)

          Some people disagree with what I have to say, other people disagree with me. You are apparently in the latter category. (Or perhaps you may be in both:)

          • Rudy Good
            29 June 2012 @ 10:08 am


            I guess it appears I am picking on you. The truth is you are the author of a blog and a frequent commenter on many AToday blogs. You represent a more traditional point of view. My views were once more closer to yours. My views have gradually changed because I didn't find a way to honestly defend some those positions. I guess I am till sympathetic to people who hold more traditional beliefs, but I find it very disappointing when those positions are defended in unconvincing ways. I don' t think you realize that sometimes a poor argument only buttresses the opositions point of view. My attempt to push you to make better arguments does not come from a hostile motive.

          • Stephen Foster
            29 June 2012 @ 9:49 pm

            Let me get this straight. Although you no longer hold more “traditional views”—because you could not “honestly” defend some of them—you are (in your words) apparently “picking on” me because you remain somewhat sympathetic to those (like me) who hold what you classify as more traditional views, and you simply want us to make our case (with which you disagree) more convincingly; because our weak arguments only serve to buttress the positions of those who oppose us (which would presumably include you).
            Uh, well, OK man; whatever you say.
            I’ll use a quote from my favorite movie in which Virgil Sollozzo says to Tom Hagen, “Let me worry about Luca.”

          • Rudy Good
            30 June 2012 @ 2:39 am


            Usually when someone says it appears they do not mean it is really the case. So, I was trying to say I was not intending to pick on you. In fact, I was trying to say I am sympathetic because I once tried to defend similar points of view. I have said many times during our exchange I do not have a problem that we hold different opinions. I have been hoping for an exchange with someone who believes as you do and seriously tries to answer the objections. I guess I am looking for you to care enough about your beliefs to offer your most persuasive defense. We may disagree after all. But, I would hope that our arguments demonstrated respect for each others reasoning. What I have been saying is that frequently your response don't make any effort to address the counter arguments offered. That is disappinting and disrespectful IMO, I have been assuming you are not disrespectful by intent.

          • Kevin Riley
            30 June 2012 @ 3:49 am

            Many, if not most, opponents of Christianity see Stephen's view as representative of Chrisatianity as a whole.  Liberal church leaders in Europe complain that most people there take their understanding of Christianity more from US TV shows than they do from the church in their town or suburb.  I know of one Anglican priest who was busy working for the legalisation of same-sex marriages in the UK who constantly had to argue that his church was not anti-gay, while at the same time much of the Anglican church is threatening to split with Canterbury because the Anglican church is pro-gay. 

            Those of us who are not in the ultraconservative group still have an interest in conservative Christinaity being presented well simply because that is what most people see to be representative.  When conservative apologists present weak arguments that are easily dismissed, it means that many people do not give any form of Christianity a hearing.  Conservative Christians have the right to hold their views, but, if they are going to put them forward in public forums, they have just as much an obligation as anyone else to argue well.  An honestly held view deserves to be defended well.

          • Stephen Foster
            30 June 2012 @ 4:30 am

            Rudy and Kevin,
            I apologize if you feel disrespected in any way, but if you don’t think that my views or arguments are sufficiently well thought out or articulated, then so be it. I can (indeed must) live with that.
            I would think that if you disagree with a particular viewpoint, then you should indicate as much and then present or argue an alternative point of view that is perhaps better reasoned, crafted, and articulated.
            To respond by simply insisting that the point of view with which you disagree is not well defended or argued is not in itself a strong counter argument.
            Then again, I’m not hoping to encounter a strong argument from those with whom I disagree. A weak counter argument suits me fine.
            I know it’s hard to believe, but I am doing the best I can. You may have to accept my limitations. (Besides, remember it isn’t about me anyway.)

          • Rudy Good
            30 June 2012 @ 10:57 am


            I accept you and I both have limitations and we may not always be able to present an eloquent defense. You are still missing the point. It doesn't take anything more than respect to acknowledge an objection and try to address it. Frequently your response ignores the key point others are trying to make.

            If it takes several exchanges for us to understand each other, so be it. But, when in a discussion of differences you IGNORE a point that is intended to invalidate a point that you made, it is disrespectful and that disrespect has nothing to do with limitations. It has only to do with how much respect you will show when dealing with another limited creature that God has endowed with the power to make reasoned choices. Scripture clearly teaches there should be reasons for what we believe and we should be prepared to share them. So if we are respectful of one another we will exchange reasons and respectfully clarifying those reasons.

            You keep saying "its not about me". OK, we hear what you are saying, but does that mean you are not accountable to represent Christianity as something that thoughtful rational people believe. Everyone who professes to be a Christian has times and places where what they say and do will reflect on Christianity. At that those times and places there is a very significant way in which it is about us.

          • Stephen Foster
            30 June 2012 @ 1:44 pm

            Clearly, for some reason, you are not prepared to take my word for it that I do the best I can. I can only speculate as to what that reason may be, but I doubt that would be conducive to anything constructive.
            I keep repeating that it’s not about me because it is so very true.
            At some point, despite the above statement, you eventually may notice that I do spend considerable time answering comments and questions. I may not get to every comment in as timely a fashion as you or others may like, and occasionally I have gone back and discovered posts that I simply have missed, but I do try to address most of the comments.

            Like I said, all you have to do is present your (opposing) viewpoint and the strength of your argument should suffice.

          • Rudy Good
            30 June 2012 @ 9:02 pm

            I think I acknowledged previously that you do respond. Let me reiterate that because I do think is commendable that you spend as much time as you do answering many of the responses, you may ocassionally miss some, but I am impressed how consistently you do respomd

      • cb25
        29 June 2012 @ 9:32 am

        Stephen Foster,

        I was simply picking up your point in the comment re Heb 4 that "new light does not contradict". My point? It often does. Simply put, many times "new light" can demonstrate that that which was innitially considered "light" can, in the presence of "newer" light be considered wrong. 

        In the bigger sense, true light will be illuminated, but all too often light/truth can be shown to be error by greater understanding. ie: never light in the first place, but only seen to be so by previously limited understanding.

        If you want to take a point from that re biblical interpretation – welcome to.

        • Kevin Riley
          29 June 2012 @ 12:45 pm

          Rolf Pohler wrote a very interesting dissertation and then book on change in SDA theology.  While we think our theology has grown by addition only, there has in fact been some subtraction as well as some alterations.  Not everything God has revealed to us has confirmed what we thought we already knew.

          • cb25
            29 June 2012 @ 8:43 pm


            That last line raises some interesting questions.

            Some things we thought we already knew we understood God had revealed. (eg EGW "shown" "saw" about shut door etc. see also "A Word to The Little Flock" 1847) Yet, it is now clear this was wrong. What did she "see"? What was she "shown"?

            Stephen Foster is correct: These points do have relevance to interpretation and biblical authority. He would do well to read again my blog on "Thank God for Ellen White". I could show dozens of places where light from EGW has been changed or ignored to the point it is clear such light was not light at all.

            Only desperate theology can invent ways to demonstrate that the Bible came to us with any "better" or more "reliable" a manner than did EGW. If some of her light can be so transient – why not so the Bible?

            Now, having dropped that red rag – I am away for the next week or so and may not be able to respond to questions:)

          • Kevin Riley
            30 June 2012 @ 3:54 am

            Pöhler's dissertaion is worth reading.  At some point we do have to take into account the contradictions and discrepancies in both the Bible and Ellen White – and in SDA theology.  We seem to be in no hurry to do so.

  35. Stephen Foster
    29 June 2012 @ 9:41 pm

    “In the bigger sense, true light will be illuminated, but all too often light/truth can be shown to be error by greater understanding. ie: never light in the first place, but only seen to be so by previously limited understanding.”
     It may come as a surprise to hear that, insofar as it relates to new light, I essentially agree with this statement, Chris. New light can only illuminate true light. True light will not be contradicted by new light. We differ on true light.
    I asked about what point you were making as relates to Biblical interpretation because 1) the conversation and blog was about Biblical interpretation, and 2) it wasn’t clear as to whether your principal concerns were scriptural, or doctrinal, or traditional, or what.
    Here is also where our cultural differences may come into play. I am a lifelong Adventist and consider EGW as the recipient of a prophetic gift; yet I haven’t reviewed her writings for discrepancies, largely because I do not view those writings in the same ‘light’ as the Bible.
    I do not have problems with her writings, but if I had a hypothetical ‘problem’ with an Ellen White passage, which is theoretically possible, I’d pray about it. It’s possible that I wouldn’t notice it. (It’s also possible that I’d ignore it.)
    For example, I had always considered her description of the workings out of the plan of salvation to have taken place before the foundation of the world, so I never noticed or recognized any discrepancy. (To tell the truth, I still don’t.)
    In all likelihood we start with different assumptions about White and what is inspired. There is also a difference in how we process and prioritize information; and what we consider to be the ‘Big Picture.’ This is the stuff of another blog/thread.

  36. cb25
    29 June 2012 @ 10:04 pm

    Stephen Foster,

    I also grew up within Adventism and subscribed to the views of EGW you describe. Perhaps the paragraph explaining how you would deal with a "hypothetical" discrepancy highlights a difference between you and I. "pray about it"; "ignore it". I refuse to put my head in the sand.

    If you have never looked for discrepancies in EGW you are in fairy land. Also, if you think you can validate any substantive reasons why you or I should consider the bible in any different light to EGW or any other supposed "inspired" writings – I am all ears.

  37. Elaine Nelson
    30 June 2012 @ 12:14 am

    The only way to ignore discrepancies is to ignore them.  This is the method most
    EGW believers choose.  Curiosity compels others to be fully informed; for some, "what you don't know you don't want to know."

    • Stephen Foster
      30 June 2012 @ 2:41 am

      You sure pay a price around here for being candid; but, so be it.
      I admit that I might either not notice or ignore a hypothetical EGW discrepancy. So what? Do evolutionists notice and account for every discrepancy or apparent scientific contradiction?
      Ah, but of course, White, and by extension SDA’s are held to different standard because of the prophetic claim of inspiration.
      That’s fair, I guess; but didn’t I also say that I’d pray about it? (Well, that is, I hope I would.) Presumably then something even trumps White for those of us who might be challenged by an apparent discrepancy or detail contradiction.
      Therefore, when in doubt, it always pays to go to the Source. John 16:7-15

      • Kevin Riley
        30 June 2012 @ 3:58 am


        I think I asked you this before, but, what would you do if you found two – or more – Scripture passages that just cannot be reconciled?  We will assume, for the purpose of discussion, that we both believe the Bible is inspired and that we believe in God.  So the Bible, whatever it contains, remains the word of God.  On that basis, how would you handle a contradiction?

        • Stephen Foster
          30 June 2012 @ 2:17 pm

          Forgive me if indeed you have asked this before and I have missed it.
          I am not a theologian Kevin, so you may well be asking the wrong person. (Maybe this is why you find my answers wanting; sorry about that. I am merely an opinionated layman, nothing more.)
          First off, I don’t read or study the Bible nearly enough, so I know that something that appeared in contradiction to me might simply be answered through more diligent study and prayer; especially if the apparent discrepancy was particularly troublesome or bothersome.
          Frankly, in lieu of more study, I would use the crutch of other commentary and study of the Bible to see if anyone else has a satisfactory resolution.
          Lastly, as in the case of the apparent discrepancy about the destruction of Satan (as to whether he will eventually be consumed/destroyed or eternally tortured), and other things that have not as yet occurred, I personally am of the opinion that some of these things are not understood by everybody at the same time, including/especially me.

  38. Elaine Nelson
    30 June 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    How is it that we accept that Revelation is a book based on symbols and cannot take literally, yet one jumps to factual when reading about hell fire?  Or the mark of the beast?  Or the literal sighting of the second coming?  How can one make
    a positive assertion that in one sentence it is literal, and the second sentence is purely symbolic?

    • Stephen Foster
      01 July 2012 @ 12:05 am

      Because Revelation 1:1 indicates that these things will happen in the future; so that which John was shown and was told were about things that hadn’t yet occurred.
      Revelation 1: 19, 20 indicate that John was shown things that represent other things. Prophetic symbolic descriptions are of real things, as is the “seven stars,” the “seven candlesticks,” and the “mark of the beast.”
      Things like hell fire and Jesus’ return are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture as literal.
      Now, of course I’m not sure if you are asking this while stipulating that you consider the Bible as God’s inspired words (as Kevin did, for sake of discussion) or asking as an agnostic skeptic.

      • Rudy Good
        01 July 2012 @ 2:19 am

        You seem to once again betray a prejudice for lteral interpretation. It appears to me that the lake of fire certainly must be viewed in some sense as symbolic because it doesn't make sense to literally believe that death and Hades can be consumed by fire or that they can be literally thrown anywhere.

  39. Elaine Nelson
    01 July 2012 @ 4:21 am

    Somewhere in the middle of the text, it is switched from literal to symbolic and back again.  Rudy is right:  what is the reason for thinking that fire is literal any more than that the streets of the New Jerusalem are paved with gold?  EGW says some will take longer to be consumed–what a revolting picture! 


    And the seven churches:  literal or symbolic, or both?  How can they be affixed to any certain date?  The descriptions could fit any church at most any time.
    Anyone that believes he has the key to Revelation for correct interpretation is selling others a bill of goods.

    • Stephen Foster
      01 July 2012 @ 9:29 am

      I seem “to once again betray a prejudice for literal interpretation” only because I have a prejudice for literal interpretation; so I’m not sure where the “betray” comes from, because I have made this clear.
      That said, I agree that there seems to be some sense in which a non-literal interpretation of “death and Hades” is applicable in that death and the grave are not perceived (by us) as being things that can physically be “cast” anywhere. The “second death” that their casting into the lake of fire represents is indicative that all death is finalized in it.

      (I again disclaim any pretense of being a theologian.  I am an opinionated layman in basic agreement with my church’s doctrine.)

      Elaine, you’ve essentially answered my question as to the underlying presupposition of your question.

      • Rudy Good
        01 July 2012 @ 10:14 am


        You may be a laymen and might not be an academic or intellectual. I am the same. But, I do know that prejudice is not something to be glad about. To pre-judge or judge based on mere personal preference is to predispose one's self to ignorance. Predjudice, pre-judging, is to draw conclusions without adequate thought and consideration. As I said much earlier in this discussion, a truth seeker wants to know truthfully whether something should be understood as literal or symbolic (or anything else). Truth seekers are not predisposed to a conclusion. This is simple and fundamental. To continually argue that any kind of prejudice is righteous is an affront to Christian principles IMO.

        My guess is that if you ever grasp the significance and real meaning of some of the positions you take you would realize that you are unwittingly contradicting your own value system. Remember, there are people reading your comments who are asking the question."is it necessary to sacrifice one's intellectual integrity to embrace a Christian belief system?" The answer your positions appear to give to this question is far more important than your defense of literal interpretation.

        • Stephen Foster
          01 July 2012 @ 10:49 am

          You may be right, perhaps I should have used “predisposition” as opposed to “prejudice.”
          The point I was clumsily making (while trying to use your words so as not to misconstrue or misrepresent what you were saying) is that I do not feel a need to shy away from the world literal, or the concept thereof.
          Occasionally I am chided for repeating in mantra fashion my positions, but this illustrates why I perceive it to be necessary. You may recall, when asked about the worldview or belief system that I defend, I have said that it is a (Judeo-Christian Protestant) Seventh-day Adventist one that is predicated on the belief that the Bible is wholly inspired by the true and living God, and provided to us by means of God-chosen holy men, and that much of it, particularly as regards God’s displays of supernatural power in the creative and redemptive acts in human affairs is to be understood as being literally true.
          That is not the same thing as saying that every word in the Bible is to be interpreted literally, Rudy. I frankly give the visitors to this site and the readers of my comments more credit than that—and for good reason.

          • Rudy Good
            01 July 2012 @ 12:01 pm

            I genuinely appreciate your trying to avoid misrepresenting what I am saying. But, it just seems we can not find away to communicate effectively. I don't see an appreciable difference between prejudice and predisposition. They both imply you make up your mind in advance. I don't know why it is important to say you don't shy away from a literal interpretation. I don't shy away from it either. But, if I did I woiuld be guilty of a predisposition in the opposite direction. I don't understand how you read my last post and did not realize that I am proposing that predjudice and predispositions are a bad thing when it comes to interpretation. Let me hasten clarify that is not the same thing as having already previously evaluated the evidence and have formed a preliminary conclusion. Perhaps this is the distinction we are lacking. Let me use your term. It is my intent in interpreting scripture to neither shy away from a literal or non literal interpretation. If I shy away from either, I am more likely to draw the wrong conclusion. Shying away from sin is a good thing shying a way from a legitimate interpretation of scripture is a bad thing.

        • Elaine Nelson
          01 July 2012 @ 3:54 pm

          This was the tipping point for me:

          "is it necessary to sacrifice one's intellectual integrity to embrace a Christian belief system?"

          For my own mental health as well as personal integrity, I made a decision that has stood with me for most of my life, a motto from my dad:  Integrity is the one attribute that cannot be taken from you; if it is sold, you will gain nothing, but lose everything.

          There was far too much cognitive dissonance in the Bible beliefs I was taught that did not meet my standards for truth; and many were based on very faulty and selective uses of scripture.  When they began piling up it was a weight too heavy to bear and I removed that burden and am now free to live my life by my own standards, guided by the Golden Rule and love.  No longer do I live by a specific set of rules written  thousands of years ago.

          • David Langworthy
            01 July 2012 @ 4:52 pm

            Well stated, mon ami.

  40. Joe Erwin
    01 July 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    Elaine and David, I agree. Perhaps I was taught to value honesty and integrity too much, but it was an honest search for truth, and the apparent inability of the church to accommodate my honesty, that led me elsewhere.

    • David Langworthy
      01 July 2012 @ 7:41 pm

      As it was for me, mon homme.  :]

  41. Stephen Foster
    01 July 2012 @ 8:55 pm


    We may have difficulty communicating effectively because we may fundamentally be in disagreement.

    You have read how I perceive my belief system as relates to the Bible. Forgive me if I have missed it, but—in that it goes a long way toward explaining my approach to what I read in the Bible—I don’t recall you rendering an opinion on it.
    Another reason why we may have trouble communicating is that, while I try to be direct, I try not to offend. Here’s what I mean: the problem we face is not so much to do with interpretation as it is with disbelief. Interpretation is used essentially as a euphemism.
    For instance, those who choose not to believe that which is scientifically impossible (to have literally occurred) must “interpret” the Bible as largely allegorical and metaphorical. The approach, the predisposition, is determinative of the interpretation.
    This is why they will not allow faith to trump what they perceive to be intellect. They are too intelligent to believe things that are simply not possible.
    Now you claim to approach the Bible with a neutral predisposition as to what is to be believed as literal and what is to be interpreted as allegorical.
    Theoretically, this is what we all claim. Practically, of course, it is not possible.
    How would you “interpret” John 10: 30-39? I don’t require an answer. You and others may feel free to ask yourselves.
    My point is that the displays of supernatural power were performed for a reason. They are recorded in Scripture for the same reason, having to do with belief. That is, belief as opposed to “interpretation.”

  42. Elaine Nelson
    01 July 2012 @ 9:51 pm

    "those who choose not to believe that which is scientifically impossible (to have literally occurred."

    That's me you're describing.  But since you believe the scientifically impossible did literally occur, answer this:
    Do you believe that there was a literal serpent, literally talking and seducing Eve?  Was it a one time event, or do you believe it is possible today?  At least the snake handlers have never professed that snakes talked.

    • Stephen Foster
      02 July 2012 @ 5:25 pm

      Of course, you make my point Elaine. By faith, I do believe the serpent talking to and beguiling Eve in the Garden of Eden is literally (effectively) true.
      (I say “effectively” because we can’t determine in what anatomical form the “serpent” appeared.)
      I have no way of knowing if it was a one time event; and I do believe such things remain possible.
      There is a spiritual and/or supernatural realm. You have not seen, experienced, or perceived sufficient evidence of a God who can hear and answer inaudible prayer; and neither can I prove His existence to you. (Then of course, some days you appear to believe more than on other days.)
      You are nearly 90 years old and have been blessed with a great mind. If you have concluded that there is no spiritual realm and no supernatural power, it is because you have chosen not to believe this; having exercised your prerogative.
      Having said that, if indeed there is a God who can hear and answer inaudible prayer, and if the Bible informs of and about this God, then what?
      I would say that those things that this same Bible tells us that this God has done, can do, and will do are things to be taken seriously.
      I would also say that the logical conclusion of not believing what the Bible says about this God is: that we are too intelligent to believe in things that our God-given intelligence and man-discovered knowledge tells us are not at all possible.
      Wait a minute…did I say God-given intelligence? It is, of course, scientifically impossible for any God to have given us intelligence.

  43. Joe Erwin
    02 July 2012 @ 5:51 pm

    Speaking only for myself, and not intending to speak for Elaine or anyone else, I have not concluded that it is impossible for there to be a spiritual realm. Indeed, I accept the notion that ANYTHING is possible. Also, while I believe that humans (in general) are endowed with remarkable intellectual abilities, I do not consider myself to be the brightest bulb on the tree. I feel fortunate to have a brain, and I try to make good use of it to acquire and evaluate evidence, rather than simply believing anything I read or am told.

    I am aware that humans have natural inclinations to seek knowledge and understanding, but also to deceive themselves and each other. We humans are pretty good at making stuff up and summoning all our intellectual abilities to defend what we have decided to believe. I have found it useful to try to examine what I think or accept quite critically, to try to ensure that I am not fooling myself. It seems to me that this is quite different from the sort of self-important hubris you attribute to people who deliberately think critically.

    There certainly are people who are quite puffed up about their own intelligence and intellectual rigor, but I don't really see that those people are all on one side of these discussions. We can all use a dose of humility, I'm sure. Science usually claims that things range from very likely to very unlikely, rather than that they are impossible or immutable. True, if something is established as VERY, VERY unlikely, that approaches "impossible," but it is not a declaration that something absolutely cannot possibly be.

    That is one reason I do not accept the term "atheist" as applied to myself, even though I am not a believer in what many people describe as God. 

    • Stephen Foster
      02 July 2012 @ 6:39 pm

      “I have found it useful to try to examine what I think or accept quite critically, to try to ensure that I am not fooling myself. It seems to me that this is quite different from the sort of self-important hubris you attribute to people who deliberately think critically.”
      Joe, please correct me if I am misunderstanding this statement, but the implication here is that the critical thinkers among us are those who like you are perhaps not believers “in what many describe as God.”  They “try to examine what [they] think or accept quite critically, [and] try to ensure that [they are] not fooling [themselves]”…and that they (likewise) “…deliberately think critically;” whereas those who believe certain things that are “VERY, VERY unlikely” (by all known scientific information to have occurred) to have actually taken place are among those who do not deliberately think critically and indeed are “simply believing anything” and fooling themselves.

      • Rudy Good
        02 July 2012 @ 10:00 pm


        I suspect that from reading past posts that Joe is more naturally skeptical of the ideas proposed by others regarding the spiritual realm than I am, but he just said anything is possible including a spiritual realm. IMO as believing Christians we have an obligation to respect that position and his desire to to think critically. As a matter of fact, I think that is exactly why scripture counsels us to be able to give a REASON for our faith. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that Christian beliefs are something more than philosophical opinions that nieve people embrace, but are rooted in the realities of God’s creation. But, that opportunity is lost when you abandon reasoning and condescend.
        I believe that many consider C.S. Lewis as perhaps the greatest Christian apologist because he never abandoned critical thinking and he put thought into justifying that one can believe in the supernatural and still be a very careful critical thinker. C.S. Lewis believed in the Virgin Birth, the supernatural healing of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the reality of a relationship to the resurrected Christ. And he defended that with the most careful critical thinking and reasoning.

        Most everyone seems to acknowledge that we must study and seek to understand spiritual truth, including those who consider the Bible to be an inspired revelation from God. We understand that humans are finite and fallible and do not have the capacity to instantaneously grasp all truth. In fact, it becomes obvious from observing only a few people that we can be easily deceived by dishonest teachers and by our own self serving perspectives.
        It appears to me that the God who emerges from the Bible is more concerned that our search for truth is honest. We really want to know the truth and we will not abandon the search because we have reached a point where our ideas of truth are fulflills some selfish desires of our hear. Certainly, a prolonged search may be nothing more than an effort to avoid inconvenient truth, but unexamined professions of truth may be deceptions posing equal or greater danger. If one is going to claim to be standing on the moral high ground then they better make sure it’s not sand that will be washed when God reveals what is in human hearts. For those who take the scripture seriously it probalby worth reflecting on what truth is being taught in Hebrews 4:12.

        • Stephen Foster
          03 July 2012 @ 12:08 am

          There is no doubt Rudy that condescension is never conducive to effective, meaningful communication.
          I respect Joe, among others, and his position, and have often previously said as much. If nothing else, those who have chosen not to believe “in what many people call God” are certainly entitled to be respected for their intellectual coherence (and integrity).
          Maybe Joe did not mean to imply that critical thinking is more clearly demonstrated by those who don’t necessarily believe, as opposed to those who possibly do. (This is why I asked for clarification.)
          Such an implication would be nothing short of condescending if it was indeed intended.
          You make an excellent point about claiming to stand on "moral high ground;" as self-righteousness (‘holier than thou’) is prima facie evidence of what is in the heart.
          Finally, since neither of us are C.S. Lewis, or at least since I’m certainly not, we have to tolerate each other and the limitations that this reality affords.
          (Perhaps you might weigh in on my previous post addressed, to you, regarding belief/interpretation.)

          • Rudy Good
            03 July 2012 @ 9:21 am


            I was not suggesting that we should be CSL, I was suggesting CSL demonstrates the feasibility of being committed to critical thinking and reasoning. Making that commitment does not preclude believing in the supernatural or having a powerful persuasive witness.

            You are probably more familiar with Joe's positions than I, but I would not expect your approach to overcome his skepticism or anyone else 's.  You might be right in suggesting Joe or others have chosen not to  believe, but I don't know how you can be sure of that. You can be sure that proffering opinions instead reasoned defenses will only promote skepticism with a large portion of the AToday audience.

            You seem to assume that everyone who challenges your presumptions about what is literal does so because they do not want to believe the supernatural. Many (not necessarily Joe) are simply trying to match what they observe in God's creation with God's word. I respect their commitment to do that.  There are many who believe in an old earth and a divine creator, God.  Because you cannot reconcile those two ideas, you are constantly lumping old earth folks in the same category as atheists. And you relate to those who interpret the Bible different than you as if they doN't really believe the Bible. These diatortions  raise question about the fairness and integrity of your thinking.

            IMO you are just as guilty of making an arbitrary belief decision as anyone else. You have this deermination to interpret the Bible a certain way no matter what the evidence.

            I don't share your assumptions about unbelief of a lot your audience, but even if I did it would not change my expectation that Christians must continually articulate the reasoning behind their beliefs. 

            I don't know what point you are making regarding John 10. I read and interpret the passage literally, if that is your question. 

  44. Elaine Nelson
    02 July 2012 @ 11:44 pm

    We should always modify faith, belief, and "spiritual realities" as being very subjective.  They are usually referred to as being universal and without need for clarification.  Everyone may, or may not experience spirituality like everyone else.

    Why not define "spiritual"?  Then we could address what is being discussed rather than the premise that it is understood by everyone just as I understand it.
    It is an abstract term, just as is beauty, love, and even religion.  Different meanings for different people.

  45. Stephen Foster
    04 July 2012 @ 7:38 am

    The point I was attempting to get across is that making a commitment to critical thinking and reasoning is not necessarily demonstrated by skepticism; and that, contrary to the implication I perceived, faith is often the product of critical thinking and reasoning. On this we just may be in violent agreement. (“Making that commitment [to critical thinking] does not preclude believing in the supernatural or having a powerful persuasive witness.”)
    We have all chosen to either believe or not to believe Rudy; it can be no other way for human beings. You can’t believe or not believe without the conscious making of a decision. Belief is invariably an individual and unilateral choice.
    You apparently feel compelled to advise me. You may even feel “impressed” to do so for all I know; which would then actually be a blessing to me.
    Perhaps then you would appreciate some advice to you. Because we are different, my approach is not your approach, because I am not you and you are not me. My assumptions are not necessarily your assumptions. My answers to the challenges to my way of thinking are not necessarily the answers you would provide to those challenges—undoubtedly, even more so because we have somewhat different assumptions to begin with, Rudy.
    As I have previously indicated, what may be helpful is for you to counter my argument (or case, or position) with a stronger and better reasoned argument, or case—especially if you disagree with me.
    Merely insisting or "proffering opinions" that an apparently opposing viewpoint is not well reasoned or presented, or that a particular “approach” is not persuasive is one thing; but presenting a better reasoned argument is another.
    My advice is that whenever you disagree with a particular perspective, make your case; as opposed to complaining about the “approach” of the person with whom you disagree.
    Now then, you have said that I can’t reconcile an old earth and a divine Creator God, therefore I lump those who can “in the same category as atheists [and that I] relate to those who interpret the Bible [differently than I] do as if they don’t really believe the Bible [and that] these distortions raise questions about the fairness and integrity of [my] thinking.”
    The fact of the matter is that I have stipulated that I am an agnostic regarding the age of the earth, because the Bible does not offer any indication as to how long “the earth was without form, and void.” So the age of the earth is not an issue for me to “reconcile” (except to the extent that I don’t believe that anyone can possibly tell how long the earth has been in existence).
    Of course it is well documented that I cannot reconcile a belief in “a divine creator, God,” with a disbelief in what the Bible does say about Him, and what He has said and done.
    More to the point still, it is those who claim to interpret the Bible differently (than I do) with regard to what the Bible says about God and what He has said and done with whom I am having a reconciliation problem. It is, quite frankly, the fairness and integrity of their thinking that I question. I do, in fact, believe that “interpreting” the Bible as not meaning what it literally says about God and what He has said and done is a euphemism for not believing what the Bible says about God and what He has said and done—especially when no alternative meaning/explanation is provided. On that I plead guilty.
    As for John 10: 30-39, this account appears, of course, directly before the account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus; and Jesus was talking to people who didn’t believe what He said about Himself.
    He said “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that you may know and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in Him.” This is immediately followed by the Lazarus story. In John 11: 15, 42 it is clear that this took place in order for there to be evidence of Him being who He said He was.
    The reason the scripturally recorded displays of supernatural power exist is for us to literally believe; and therefore believe God. That’s why Jesus performed this particular miracle.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      04 July 2012 @ 8:24 am

      "The point I was attempting to get across is that making a commitment to critical thinking and reasoning is not necessarily demonstrated by skepticism; and that, contrary to the implication I perceived, faith is often the product of critical thinking and reasoning."

      "The fact of the matter is that I have stipulated that I am an agnostic regarding the age of the earth, because the Bible does not offer any indication as to how long “the earth was without form, and void.”"

      "The reason the scripturally recorded displays of supernatural power exist is for us to literally believe; and therefore believe God."

      Stephen, I would say that I would agree with these statements.  Learning the historical-critical method (higher criticism) of biblical interpretation (which I have formally done), it always worried me that there was an automatic assumption by many 'liberal' theologians, as if that were the only 'critical thinking' approach, to say miracles in the Bible must not be literally and factually true but just a higher metaphorical 'truth' – say like the stories of the Greek gods. 

      The problem is who says?  Just because you and most people haven't witnessed miracles doesn't mean that can't and won't occur.  That is in itself a statement of faith but on a lack of evidence and does ultimately come down to a choice. There is a whole lot of things we pesky human beings haven't seen or understand and it is the height of arrogance to say something we haven't personally observed must simply not then exist.

      We don't know how the universe exists, what existed before it, and by all observation nothing in the universe should exist – and yet it does exist. It all somewhat reminds me of Gideon, who complained to God that he had never seen these so-called miracles that his ancestors supposedly saw during the exodus.  I love God's effective response in Judge 6 was – Am I not sending you as my miracle? 

  46. Joe Erwin
    04 July 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    Why "shouldn't" the universe, the solar system, the earth, and you and I exist? We DO exist. No "should" or "should not" is relevant.

    Who is saying that everything that exists is observable? Or even, that everything that IS observed, is what it seems?

    I always kind of liked the perspective given in Judges 6 that everything is miraculous. That is a kind of appealing perspective–but not quite the same as convincing people of one's powers by doing magic
    tricks, which was a pretty common practice of humans for several thousand years that we know of. 

  47. Elaine Nelson
    04 July 2012 @ 6:03 pm

    Why must one's belief in God also become belief in the Bible?  The Bible is only one book that writes ABOUT God, but there are others, and books are not the only source of information.  Long before the Bible, people believed in a god, or gods because of what they observed in the natural world.

    How can we be certain that the Bible is the only true description of God?  On what basis? 

    It is on the basis of personal choice that one accepts the description of God that was written in the Bible.  Unfortunately, as there were multiple writers, and they all described God in different, often very contradictory ways, choosing among those various ways is simply a matter of choice as all the various beliefs can be equally proved from the same book!

    • Stephen Ferguson
      05 July 2012 @ 6:58 am

      Elaine why believe anything? 

  48. Rudy Good
    04 July 2012 @ 6:56 pm


    I guess you are right I feel impressed to give you a different perspective. I would not describe it as advising you. Yes, it is true I am saying your approach needs some adjustment, but I'm telling you why I do not think it works and not exactly how it should be fixed. That is for you to figure out. And it is not true that I expect you to follow the approach I do. I know we are two different people. In fact, that is part of why I have been so dogged about pursuing this issue. I think it will be great if someone with more traditional perspectives can express those views and give a credible defense.

    I agree that faith can and hopefully is the product of critical thinking and reasoning. For some of us that will be faith in God and for some it may not. Some may think that faith in God is a "slam dunk". I do not think so, and believe that God did not intend it to be so. IMO opinion, often those who believe it is a "slam dunk" have not arrived there by reasoning and may have faith hurdles later in life.

    I agree skepticism is not proof of critical thinking and reasoning. But, this whole issue requires some clarification. Skepticism is often thought of from two perspectives. Religious people often call those who do not share their beliefs skeptics. And some of the time they actually may mean skeptics, but often they are refer to people who are prejudiced toward naturalism and very reluctant to acknowledge there is a supernatural as skeptics.

    IMO, to have real faith you must begin with as few assumptions as possible and weigh the evidence objectively. Seeking the truth from this perspective may appear skeptical to some. Many religious people have not had the opportunity to objectively determine their beliefs. They grew up in a religious culture that has stacked the deck for them (not saying that is necessarily a bad thing). I believe these are the people who tend also to believe their God beliefs are a "slam dunk".

    People for whom the deck has been stacked often do not realize the assumptions they make that have been part of their thinking for the majority of their lives. Consequently, they expect other people to swallow those assumptions with little or no real evidence.

    We both agree that faith can be the product of critical thinking and reasoning. In order for this to be true one must begin with a degree of skepticism. If you do not, it is not faith that is produced, but presumption. Many people mistake presumption for faith. They have strong convictions and beliefs they enthusiastically embraced, but often those beliefs have not really been tested. Until faith is tested, it is weak faith (or worse, presumption).

    The way we avoid presumption and build faith is to maintain an appropriate level of skepticism. If we are not willing to subject our beliefs to careful scruitiny then we do not have faith we have presumption.

    Let's return to the topic of your original blog. You said a lot of things I have no problem agreeing with, but IMO you eventually try to lead your audience out on the thin ice of presumption. The concerns you express about Biblical interpretation are obviously inspired by your objections to those who propose that the Genesis creation story is allegorical.

    It appears that your reasonable comments about Biblical interpretation lead up to a very unreasonable hermanutic. You suggest in many ways that interpretation that is not focused on finding the meaning is misguided. I would agree, this is the reasonable part. The unreasonable hermanutic (thin ice) is the presumption that you can determine meaning without knowing whether what you reading is literal prose, allegory, poetry, prophecy, or a wide array of types of writing.

    I presume as an Adventist you believe that some prophetic writings really mean a year when they refer to days. What rational would you have to make this assumption if you first read and understood this passage as literal prose. If someone asked you why you were not taking the passage to be referring to literal days, you would explain that it is prophecy and you would go on to explain the reasons why you cannot get the correct meaning from reading it as literal prose.

    If those same people refused to consider that the prophecy as a type writing may have some implication about how to interpret it, what would you say? Ok, now why can't that same principle apply to what is allegorical. You have lost your healthy skepticsim and the product of your thinking may be in part faith, but it is also presumption.

    You have lost me in your believing disucssion. I thought I understood what you were trying to say until this last post. Now, I have no idea how to interpret what you are saying.

  49. Stephen Foster
    05 July 2012 @ 2:44 am

    Well Rudy, I really don’t know what else you could be looking to understand. Perhaps you might read Stephen Ferguson’s previous post in that he may be more understandable to you than I have been.
    This isn’t to say that he agrees with each position, but he certainly seems to understand what I have been saying. So consequently you may find his post easier to interpret than you do me/mine.
    The fact that you disagree with my approach may have gotten in the way of your understanding what I am saying.
    Nevertheless I will try again. When in doubt, the Bible is its own interpreter. It will explain itself when diligently studied. When we choose not to believe what the Bible says about what God can do and claims to have done, we sometimes euphemistically chalk it up to interpretation.
    Whether someone best comes to faith from skepticism or from indoctrination is not something I can determine—because everyone is different. Besides, it’s the work of God’s Spirit. What is indisputable is the importance of coming to faith by any means necessary. (Actually, I should say this is indisputably what the Bible teaches—by any interpretation.)
    Even for Biblical luminaries such as Elijah, David and Peter, faith can be a slam dunk one day, and seemingly delusional the next; so some perspective is in order regarding “faith hurdles later in life.”
    As for people for whom the deck has presumably been culturally stacked I would think that this would certainly have included Samuel and Jesus (who began with more than a few assumptions). On the other hand it also included Cain and Samson.

    I’d venture a guess that it includes the vast majority of our readership.

  50. Rudy Good
    05 July 2012 @ 11:19 am


    Maybe you are growing weary. That would be understandable. We have discussed your approach at length. In my last post I returned to the original subject of the blog and gave the "prophecy" example. I think this example illustrates a case were you will be forced to recognize the interpretation (meaning) you take from some passages is dependent on the type of writing which invalidates an important point in your original blog.
     Once again you did not address my challenge to the logic of your original position.  My reason to pursue our secondary discussion has always been about your discounting or ignoring objections and challenges. I thought the whole point of this blog was to have a discussion of the issues. I give you credit for staying engaged and responding at length, but I think you still exhibit an inclination to ignore or trivialize objections and challenges to your ideas and the logic of your conclusions.
    I have not engaged in the discussion just to beat you up. So, I’ll let it go.

  51. Rudy Good
    05 July 2012 @ 6:02 pm

     "but I do believe when the deck is stacked and we do not dare question it, we may be accepting a counterfeit of faith. It is my belief this is evidenced by stoic reticence to engage."

    Timo, this was a point I was trying to make in an earlier post, but your statement is much clearer and succinct.

    I suppose people could interpret the "stacked deck" in different ways. I was not assuming that being exposed to information about God can always be equated to a stacked deck. I think some people and cultures do a much better job of leading people through the process of examining the evidence and making real decisions about what is reality and truth. For me the stacked deck is when people are taught to be afraid of examining the evidence and urged accept some form of a prepackaged belief system.

    I would have a really hard time believing that the deck was stacked for Moses. He was educated in the courts of the Pharoah, hardly the place were the deck is stacked in favor of believing in the God of his ancestors. In fact, one might conclude that the leader that God prepared to establish the nation of Isreal was deliberately removed from the possibility of the stacked deck. It would certainly appear that his Israelite parents still had some influence on him, but it can hardly be thought of as the opportunity to stack the deck.

    Also, scripture gives the impression that Jesus was exceptionally astute when he met with the leaders in the temple at age 12. However, there are hints that his training and understandings did not conform to that expected of youth trained in the tradition of the day. I have a hard time believing that the deck was stacked for Jesus.

    My suspicion is that if we were to continue examining the nature of the background and training for great spiritual leaders there would be a correlation between great faith and those who found the freedom and/or courage to truly question the truth and meaning of life.

    • Stephen Foster
      06 July 2012 @ 12:50 am

      Tired? Well, perhaps not more than what a few (more) hours of sleep might cure; but then again, maybe not.
      I answered your previous post as I did because you indicated that you were lost with regard to my belief/interpretation point.
      I see your point about prophecy, but I thought we have already addressed it. (I actually previously discussed symbolism with Stephen Ferguson, with regard to the Lord’s Supper.)
      When for instance Daniel is said to have been interpreting a dream and tells Nebuchadnezzar that the dream is about the future and what the images of the dream represent or symbolize, then it seems to me it’s clear we’re reading prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar already knew he had been dreaming (classification) but he wanted the dream interpreted.
      When John is “in the Spirit” and says that He is writing about things that He was shown (by Jesus, while “in the Spirit”) that “must” occur in the future, it is clearly about prophecy. The categorization or classification of the subject at hand was self-explanatory, it would seem. (The prophetic interpretation or meaning is discoverable only via that which precedes The Revelation.)
      Again however, I do see your ‘chicken and the egg’ point as regards interpretation. This is why, other than the obvious examples of prophecy, I have been specific in framing this within divine displays of supernatural power and things that God has Himself claimed to have said and done.
      I’m glad that you seem to acknowledge that Jesus was clearly very well versed in Jewish cultural/scriptural history by age 12. What’s more is that He also knew who He was and what His “Father’s business” was by this age as well. This suggests that someone—perhaps his mother and Joseph who had been visited by angels informing them of His incarnation—did what they could to stack the deck.
      It’s true that, as opposed to His contemporaries, He saw the Big Picture and not just tradition. But that He was predisposed to believe rather than disbelieve cannot seriously be doubted; certainly not by me.
      I’m not saying that every admirable Bible character came to faith via a culture of faith, or that everybody does nowadays. Personally, I was able to voice and vent my cynical skepticism to my father and anyone else who would suffer me. (In this way my father represented how God is in His mercy and longsuffering.)
      It’s not that I am exactly disinclined to engage. (Do you have me confused with Erv?:) I think that, to the contrary, I have displayed a willingness to engage over the past three years. It’s just that, quite frankly, you are among those who seem to disagree with me more than (or at least as much) you disagree with what I have to say; and that we have differing writing/communication styles which often makes it difficult for me to decipher what you’re saying—other than it appears that you are persuaded that you have something to teach me about Christian character, love, and tolerance.
      Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have much to learn about Christian character, love, and tolerance, and that you may well have something to teach me. Sometimes it’s best to learn while silent.
      As for Adam, I would say that while he was perhaps a blank slate, He was nonetheless hand-formed by God Himself and had direct unobstructed access to God. If the stack wasn’t stacked in his favor, we most definitely need to redefine what on earth we are talking about.
      Then again, perhaps he didn’t truly appreciate his circumstance; and took God for granted.
      Finally, in all candor, I am not positive what the objective of is. I have indicated that my objective is to present a worldview and defend a belief system. I consider it an honor and privilege to do this on

  52. Elaine Nelson
    05 July 2012 @ 7:03 pm

    If Moses lived in the desert for 40 years after fleeing Egypt, there is almost nothing we know about his time spent there other than herding sheep.  Assumptions?  Yes, but only that.

    Just as following Adam's creation:  a few sentences around which hundreds of books have been written–all fictional assumptions, yet many have believed that they were all as literal as Scripture.  (Actually, we cannot know what is literal.)
    On what basis is the Bible story of creation accepted but the Babylonian one is pagan?  Nothing but personal decision.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      06 July 2012 @ 1:30 am

      The Problem

      I agree this is the toughest question.  It is easy to have a debate with another Christian and argue that your beliefs are the best reflection of the teaching of the Bible.  It is also possible to have a debate with a Jew and argue that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT prophecies.  It is even possible to have a debate with a Muslim, a Mormon or a Christian Scientist, and argue that there beliefs do not build upon but are contrary to the 'precedent' built up through the OT and NT.  Ultimately, most religions in the world can be reduced to accepting Moses Torah/Pentateuch as from God. 

      However, it is very difficult to have a conversation with say a Hindu, Buddhism or Shinto priest, and argue they should adopt our beliefs if they do not accept that original starting point of Moses. 

      Similarly, when I read Dawkins the God Delusion, I was not at all convinced re his arguments against the existence of God.  In fact, principles such as the anthropomorphic principle and goldilocks zone actually imply there is a God.  But by contrast, his attacks on the Hebrew God as 'The God' were much more convincing. 

    • Stephen Ferguson
      06 July 2012 @ 2:14 am

      Why I believe in the Hebrew God as described by the Torah

      As discussed above – this isn’t about whether God exists – that is a much easier different issue, which requires different sorts of answers and evidence.  The much more difficult question for me is, assuming God exists, why worship the Hebrew God as described by the Torah. The follow-up question re why believe in Jesus Christ, as described in the Bible, is similarly difficult. 
      This is indeed a very difficult question and it does somewhat require a leap of faith.  It arguably would just as legitimate to argue the Hindu gods as recorded in the Hindu scriptures are 'The Gods' we should all follow.  However, the best I have come up with are the following, which may or may not be sufficient for you:
      #1. The Jews:  If you look at the history of the world, there is not a bunch of people more likely to be extinguished from the face of the earth – and their unique monotheistic god with them.  Yet the ancient superpowers of Egypt and Babylon are long gone – but the Jews remain.  As Jesus said, ‘Salvation is of the Jews,’ and I always find it very freaky that over 2-3rds of the world’s population now worships the Jewish God.
      #2. Israel as center of the world:  It is also really weird but just looking at Earth’s geography from outer space, it does appear that Israel is the ‘center’ of the world.  Most cultures say they are the centre (I believe China in Chinese means the Middle Kingdom) but only Israel is in the actual centre.  It is almost as if someone (a higher Being) had chosen this juncture between the three largest continents as ground zero for His Revelation to mankind.
      #3. Monotheism: One could argue that the fact the Jews survived (against all the odds) and that Israel happens to be in the geographic centre of the world are just coincidences.  But it all starts to get a little too coincidental when you add in the weird notion of monotheism to this little people in the dusty, resource-starved environment.  As you may know, Egypt arguably had monotheism first with Pharaoh Amenhotep – but it didn’t stick.  Most ancient cultures, including the Romans, couldn’t quite worked out how this small, weird group of people could worship just one God – and called the Jews and early Christians ‘atheists’ as a result.  The fact that monotheism lends itself to a universal, human-wide god, not merely a localised deity as the pagans have, is also quite unusual.
      #4. World-wide believers: I also find it more than a coincidence that the majority of the world now believer in this same Hebrew God (despite all the many internal divisions and conflicts).  To many of you that may be sufficient, as numbers don’t necessarily equate with truth, but if we assume God does exist and somehow is guiding humanity, then it stands to reason that He is or is associated with the Hebrew God, which almost everyone now believes it.  It makes no sense for ‘The God’ to be Marduk, the Babylonian deity, given virtually no one believes in that god anymore.
      #5. God in 3-Dimensions: If you look at virtually every religion in every culture in every period of history, they almost always come down to one of three views of God – i) God who is transcendent (God is nowhere); ii) God who is pantheistic (God who is everywhere); and iii) and God who is anthropomorphic (God who is here in the flesh).  Hindus have a type of Trinity, but they worship these different aspect of God separately (i.e. as if we had separate Churches devoted to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.)  To me, Christianity is the only religion I know that combines these different aspects of God but still worships just 1 God.  We truly do see 1 God in 3 dimensions.
      #6. Fulfilled prophecy: You may personally think it is bonkers, but the fulfilment of biblical passages such as the ‘70 weeks prophecy’ in Daniel, which seem to predict to the year the arrival and then death of the Messiah is quite convincing to me. 
      #7. The radical message of Jesus: If you also look at virtually every religion in every culture in every period of history, they almost always seem to suggest a ‘works-based’ model where good people will go to heaven (or whatever equivalent, including higher reincarnation) and bad people to hell (or equivalent). Christianity is the only religion that I know that teaches that your own personal works, however good or bad, are actually irrelevant because they are all not enough to warrant salvation. 
      Conclusion: These reasons may not be enough for you.  However, for me, there is certainly a weird series of coincidences that suggest (even if they don’t prove) that if God exists, and if He is guiding humanity, then He is or is associated with the Hebrew God of the Torah.  Once you accept that concept as a common denominator, then you can establish a basis for dialogue with fellow believers in this God – whether Jew, Christian or Muslim.  

      • Stephen Ferguson
        06 July 2012 @ 2:24 am

        And after reading Rudy's post below I would add:

        #8. Recording of history:  The Bible is often lambasted today as being historically inaccurate. But even if we assume that it exaggerates some things, which may in fact be a problem with how we are reading the Bible, not with the authors (such as numerical figures), the Bible has in fact turned out to be exceptionally accurate as a recording of history.  A well quoted example were the Hittites, which archaeologists said did not exist and who claimed the Bible was just making it up – that is until they found the archaeological evidence for the Hittites – proving the Bible was true all along.  Again, being historically accurate or inaccurate problem is not enough to convince many of you either way – but I do again find it all more than a coincidence.

  53. Rudy Good
    05 July 2012 @ 8:46 pm


    I agree that much is assumed to be part of scripture that is not actually part of the narrative or text. On the other hand there is plenty of reason to consider the Biblical text different and potentially authoritative compared to other ancient texts.

    Much of the Old Testament is reasonably accurate history of the Israelite nation. One cannot escape that the Hebrew Scriptures emerge from a different scenario than any of the other ancient writings. There are a great many things that could be proposed and reasonably defended regarding the Hebrew Scriptures that cannot be for other texts.

    I can never tell from your comments how you view the Bible. You seem to quote it as authoritative at times and other times you seem to view it as the equivalent of other humanly produced writings. Presumably, you put less confidence in some parts than others. However, if one presumes that any part of the scriptures provide special insight into a truly existing God, then one has to ask why, and consider the plausibility of the claims made for the scriptures as a whole.

    All in all the Hebrew Scriptures are a very unusual perspective on the Israelite nation. One cannot view it as the typical work of historians (even though ancient historians were probably not the same as modern historians). Beyond all the particulars contained in the Hebrew Scriptures there is a consistent claim throughout the writings that the nation of Israel had unique connection to the true God.

    Even if one assumes that there is a great deal of human perspective in the Hebrew Scriptures we must still decide what to do with the claims of the divine connection. Long ago I concluded that there is sufficient evidence for me that the Hebrew Scriptures are unique in a way that I can only attribute to divine inspiration. That does not mean I assume that every word or idea in the Bible is divine revelation or instruction. In fact, it seems it preserves the perspective of a people who believed they had a unique relationship to God.

    The belief that the Hebrew Scriptures are a bona fide witness to the workings of God has a profound effect on the way I view those scriptures. I do not find it hard to accept that a divine providence is at work in inspiring and preserving the scriptures for all of the human creatures. Having once accepted this providential influence, I find it impossible to assume that any of the scriptures are the same as other human sources ancient or otherwise.

    So, while I can accept the possibility that there are probably mythic sources reflected in the early Genesis narrative I do not think they are part of the Hebrew Scriptures by accident. I believe they are those which provide the perspective suited to God’s purposes in related to human creatures.

    One last point for now, I am not sure I would care much about the Hebrew Scriptures if they and their story were not such a remarkable prelude to the New Testament. Obviously, someone in Paul’s day accused the apostles of cunning devising fables. I can see what might have provoked this accusation, but I have concluded the New Testament is beyond cunning and represents a sequel to the Old Testament that is more than human minds could contrive. It is truly evidence of a divine being who truly has a remarkable interest in humankind.

    So, I can’t define the precise nature and extent of the authority of scripture, but I believe it reveals insights that transcend human experience. It is a witness to a reality that does transcend our life on this planet. I have faith that what literary sources found their way into Genesis can be presumed on the basis of divine providence to provide better insights than Babylonian myths.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      06 July 2012 @ 2:33 am

      Rudy, I would probably agree with everything you have just said.

      Re the ancient near eastern creation (ANE) and flood myths, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enuma Elish and Artrahasis Story, at first this was a real challenge to my faith – perhaps many have had the same experience.  But then it dawned on me that if Moses (or whoever was around) was trying to write creation and flood accounts of course he would use language and imagery that the people around him would understand. 

      We see this in the Jesus' parable (using farming and fishing metaphors) or in our old hymns (many of which were actually popular songs of the day adapted to Christian lyrics). Even conservative Christians acknowledge and expect that the flood story to be found in every culture of the world.
      It isn't the similarities to these ANE accounts that is most interesting or important – it is there slight differences. 

      Differences to biblical account in Gen 1-3 in that Enuma Elish being: pantheistic; sun, moon and sea monsters are deified; human beings are created as servants of the gods; creation is chaotic and Darwinian; and there is no moral element to the gods’ actions.

      Differences to the biblical account in Gen 6-9 is that in Artahasis and Gilgamesh: pantheistic; gods are fickle, squabbling and reactive; no moral dimension to the story (humans not wiped out because they are immoral but merely annoying); different periods of rain falling; story ends on a negative and etiological note.

      These Hebrew accounts tell us something very important theologically about the Jewish God – a God very different from the cruel, fickle, pantheistic gods of the pagan nations. A God who rises above the Darwinian struggle of creation, which is found in the ANE pagan accounts.  That message seems more important, not less, in our world today.

  54. Stephen Ferguson
    06 July 2012 @ 1:21 am

    Simple question for those who doubt the existence of God, the utility of the Bible, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God incarnate:
    Why are you here again?

    I know you seem to provide very clever arguments as to why we should not believe in God, the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus.  But the fact that you are devoting so much time to something you don't really seem to believe in suggests to me that you are actually not that convinced yourself of your own disbelief.  To me it suggests you are still searching – and that gives me hope. 

    Otherwise, someone like Richard Dawkins would no doubt think you are even more bonkers than a Bible-believing Believer.  He would no doubt ask why you are bothering to spend hundreds of hours reading and posting comments on a website affiliated with a small Christian sect, whose fundamental beliefs you do not share.
    It is clear why Stephen Foster is here.  It is clear why I am here – even when I disagree with Stephen Foster.  But to you disbelievers and skeptics – why are you here? I welcome your comments as an ‘academic workout’, but I would like to know deep down in your heart, why are you spending so much time on this website if you don’t believe?   

  55. Elaine Nelson
    06 July 2012 @ 3:01 am

    I studied under biblical scholars whose religious affiliation they were careful to hide; that is what a good teacher does:  retain objectivity so a student can discover through personal cogitation what he may choose to accept.  Anything else is indoctrination.

    There is no one who believes, accepts, and practices everything as written in the Bible.  We all are selective in choosing what we practice and what we deem inappropriate or invalid today.

    That the Hebrews  sincerely believed their God had directed them and that they were His Chosen People cannot be validated or examined.  It is not unusual for a group of people to believe they are very special and have a God-given mission:  the JWs, the Mormons, the Adventists, are examples.  All such claims are subjective, as they are not universally accepted, nor were the Hebrews able to convert other groups; Jesus said he was sent to the House of Israel. 

    The Hebrews  were not writing a literal story, nor a universal guide for everyone in the world.  It is recording their religious beliefs, wisdom and prophecies.  It only became part of Christian religion AFTER Jesus died.  He never prophesied or predicted past the Hebrew religion.  It was AFTER his death and the belief in his resurrection (bodily or spiritual?) that Christianity became a distinct religion.  

    The Hebrew prophecies were re-interpreted by the NT writers in an effort to show that Jesus fulfilled these OT prophecies, and each are contradictory in many details and impossible to harmonize.

    The  Bible is a very unique collection of writings spanning at least 1,000 years.
    It has been preserved by the Jewish people and is a most valuable record of their beliefs, how they lived, and more.  But to accept as the best and last model for our lives today is not adopted by anyone.  The one simple motto of the Golden Rule is the best and most complete rule for humans and cannot be surpassed; but it did not originate with the Hebrews but was known long before.


    • laffal
      06 July 2012 @ 3:20 am


      So says you.  Were you there to validate the authenticity of the writers of the Bible ((OT & NT) and their inspiration / resources for doing so?  There are those of us who understand that the way wherein to approach the Bible is matter of faith, believing that it is God's inspired word to those for whom the original writings / speeches were intended, and for those of us who have followed after. 

      Rudy made a pretty clear statement pertaining to how to assess your personal approach / understanding of the Bible, it is not always easy to follow.  But one thing is clear, in following your logic, there is no diffinitive objective resource available to the human family that would enable them to obtain a personal knowledge of God.  Everything appears to be subject to speculation.  The human mind, with the individual thought process is what ultimately matters.  Pick and choose whatever it is one wants to accept / reject based on what criteria?  So says you!  But I personally do not happen to agree with you and any point of your above stated premise.  Then again, I can only speak for myself.


    • Stephen Ferguson
      06 July 2012 @ 5:50 am

      Elaine, I am not sure if that was an attempt to address my comment, and if so, I am not sure if it does.  If it wasn't meant to address it, can you?  Again if you doubt the existence of God, the utility of the Bible, or the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God incarnate:
      Why are you here again?

      Why are you bothering to spend hundreds of hours reading and posting comments on a website affiliated with a small Christian sect, whose fundamental beliefs you do not share? That doesn't make any sense to me.  It makes sense why Stephen Foster is here, and why I am here disagreeing with Stephen Foster because ultimately we are having a discussion within a certain framework. 

  56. Elaine Nelson
    06 July 2012 @ 4:47 am

    Certainly, the Bible must be accepted by faith.  I understand that completely.  But why is it that those who, by faith, accept the Bible as "God's Word" and inspired, wish to prove OBJECTIVELY, that it is a true and accurate account, including multiple supernatural events? 

    Why are supernatural events accepted as real and factual if written in the Bible, but answer this:

    If you heard of a talking donkey in a distant country would you accept it as true?
    If you heard of a serpent talking would you also accept it as a literal fact?
    Would you believe your next door neighbor's daughter is still a virgin but is now pregnant?  Would you, as her physician accept that story?  Why, or why not??  Is something true because it happened long ago and was not verified  by observation.

    Where do you draw the line, or do you believe all stories of miracles that are reported?

    • laffal
      06 July 2012 @ 6:13 am


      As a rule, no I don't believe all stories of miracles as they are reported.  But the key feature when it comes to the Bible is that it is the word of God.  The noted supernatural events are not just stories by which we are to be amused / amazed.  One of the central themes of the Bible is that the battle between the protaganist – God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and the antagonist – Lucifer / Satan – the devil, is a supernatural battle / struggle for the hearts and minds of the human race that God's created world / human race.   Therefore I don't question the noted events in the least.

      Why did the serpent speak to Eve?  The Bible says that the purpose was to deceive her.  Did the serpent speak on its own accord, or was it a medium used by a supernatural being out to deceive?
      Why did the donkey talk to Balaam?  Apparently, in all of the previous discussions Balaam had with God about having the liberty to curse God's people Israel, and to get paid handsomely for it, Balaam kept chasing the $$$.  Yet, why didn't you mention how it is that a donkey can see an angel when we can't.  If Balaam wouldn't listen to God try to stop his foolishness, why not use a donkey to get his attention?  Did the donkey speak of his own accord?  Or was it also a medium used by God to serve His purpose with Balaam?  As for Eve becoming pregnant while yet being a virgin, what's the problem?  The plan of salvation hinges upon God uniting Himself with the human race He promised to save.  Explain that… you can't, and I don't care to try.  Because the same supernatural act that caused a virgin to become pregnant, while yet remaining a virgin, is actualized by each individual that has experienced the new birth.  No, they do not become pregnant, but the Spirit of God brings with Him the life of God for the purpose of reproducing the life of God in the person.

      This situation like all of the others you listed fall under the catagory of a mystery.  For God to be who the Bible says He is, these kind of things are not beyond reasonability… that's what makes Him God.  The Bible makes it very clear that God has the kind of creative power by which He can speak and whatever it is that He speaks, happens, instintaneously.  He has no rivals when it comes to His creative power!  

      Where do I draw the line?  What does the Bible say?  That's about it… for me.  What other resources should I use / depend?  We humans are subject to death, amongst many other things we can do nothing about.  So therefore we are limited in how we can see / understand / explain the truth about our world / universe and what it's all about.  I've learned personally that I can trust the Bible more then I can trust myself.  And to me, it is just as much a mystery when God speaks to me as it was when He enabled the donkey to speak to Balaam.  

      The Bible gives a principle that we would all do well to honor, "let every person be convinced in their own mind."  God does not force anybody to do anything.  That's why He gave us a mind with a free will by which to make decisions for ourselves.  But without a objective information base with standardized critera from which to work with, our decision making process becomes overtly subjective, and therefore suspect.  By that I mean, we have nothing by which to assess to point / place / purpose of our lives / existence in this world outside of what's right in front of us.  And I came to the conclusion a long time ago, if this world and all that here is all that there is… as far as the only reason for living, I want off.  There has to be more to the purpose of life then what we see from day to day, past, present, or future.  But I have hope beyond this world… and in the life I've lived, that is as much of a supernatural event then anything else I've heard, read, or seen.

    • Stephen Ferguson
      06 July 2012 @ 6:17 am

      Miracles and Time Travel – an Analogy

      Why do you approach this issue from an assumption of disbelief?  I assume it is because in your own subjective life you have never observed anything beyond the material, so you naturally assume the material is all there can be.  Isn't that the very height of arrogance, as if your observations of the world are all that there is?

      I don't deny that supernatural events seem – well unbelieveable.  I don't deny that things described as supernatural in the Bible would actually have an explanation in science, which obviously the people at the time may not have understood.  For example, I note a good National Geographic documentary where they show all the plagues of Egypt may have been caused be a series of natural chain of events – such as the last plague having something to do with yeast (which helps explain the feast of unleaven bread at Passover). 

      However, that doesn't discount God's role or the Bible's truth.  We would expect everything God does to exist within the laws of physics God created.  If someone 2,000 years ago saw an plane wouldn't they think that was 'magic' or 'supernatural' even though we understand today that it actually is 'science' that, contrary to perception, doesn't break the laws of nature.

      Let me put it another way.  Science now recognises the possibility of time travel – we see it in action with atomic clocks, where one on earth ticks at a slightly different speed than an equal clock in space.  Many scientists, even athiests, acknowledge the possiblility of time travel.  Some even go so far as to say that there are people in our world today that are actually from the future.

      So let me ask the question – is it scientifically possible that someone in the future could travel back in time and perform things that people in ancient times would observe and record as 'supernatural miracles'?  I am not saying time travel explains the Bible's accounts of miracles.  I am just pointing out that just because you cannot see a reason to distrust your own eyes doesn't mean we should all be like you and assume the Bible must be wrong when it describes supernatural events.

      That is one of the main gripes I have with the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.

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