In church this past Sabbath, I listened to a sermon about the United States in biblical prophecy. The sermon was part of a prophecy series (Unlock/Unlocking Revelation) that is being preached across the Lake Union Conference, not just in our single congregation (Media: WNEM5, MLive). I was told there are over 170 locations running the series simultaneously.
I like our local pastor. I respect him. My frustration with the sermon is not about him (I don’t believe he wrote the sermon). My frustration is about a very white-centric view of U.S. history. For context, the pastor is white, I’m white, and the majority of the small congregation is white (more so now than when we began attending three years ago).
After writing an initial draft of this blog post, I shared it with him so he could comment before I posted it. I’ve made a few revisions based on that hour-long conversation.
The basic theme of the sermon—and this is an overly simplified summary—was that the U.S. started as a good Christian nation, but now our laws are becoming bad, which is clear since we are losing our Christian freedoms. The breakdown of the family and laws that allow this were the key example of the current problems. Presumably this related to same-sex marriage, but this wasn’t stated outright. This degradation was paralleled with the second beast of Revelation 13, the one that has horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon.
So what the sermon was really saying by describing a fall from good to bad was that slavery did not discredit the early great Christian version of America. The U.S. was still godly. But today U.S. laws don’t support a certain version of Christian ideals relating to the family, so now we’re falling. However, this disregards the generations of families in slavery who were ripped apart as they were bought and sold (more than 10 million ^arrived^ in the New World, plus those born here; besides all those who died or were killed while crossing the Atlantic). How’s that for “Christian family values”? The abuse of those families didn’t invalidate the great Christian start to this country, but gay marriage does?
If our biblical interpretation demands that we disregard the violent injustice experienced by millions of people, then based on the centrality of justice to God’s Word, I propose that we reconsider our interpretation, or at least add a bit of nuance.
If one accepts the overall Adventist understanding of Revelation 13, then I propose a simple alteration of the sermon’s message: understand both features (lamb-like horns and dragon-like speech) throughout its history instead of saying one was earlier and the other was later. That is, at its start the U.S. had an appearance of godliness (lamb-like appearance), but it spoke like a dragon (slaves not treated as humans, at best counted only as three-fifths human). Injustice in word and action despite a religious appearance have continued in different forms ever since, and these require a persistent critique. To this end, I shared a small book with the pastor—Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
This approach is in line with early Adventist views (not that early is necessarily right or best, but merely demonstrates that my proposed interpretation is hardly novel). Adventist historian Doug Morgan writes about those Adventists:
Challenging the prevalent postmillennialist conception of the United States as an instrument of progress toward the millennium, they asserted that apocalyptic Scripture cast the Republic as a persecuting beast. They pointed to slavery and the Protestant establishment’s intolerant treatment of dissenters as evidence of the fulfillment of prophecy. (Adventism and the American Republic, 2001, p. 11).
After our conversation, the pastor decided his interpretation could have been kept in place while being supplemented with the admission that the ideals expressed in the nation’s founding documents are the key point while also admitting we have not done a good job of living up to those ideals.
This racial issue was my main disagreement with the way U.S history and God’s values were portrayed, but there were three other points that were less central to the sermon’s main arguments. First, and I don’t remember the exact wording, the violent entrance of Columbus and the conquistadors was greatly minimized (something like: they joined the people already here).
Second, yes the Bible says there will be persecution, but I’m frustrated when American Adventists accept the view that American Christians are being greatly persecuted today. Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry is not persecuting Christians; Christians are still free to worship however we like. There is a difference between being persecuted and simply not being able to force one’s values or morals on others. We want our civil and religious freedoms, so let’s extend that concern to all others as well.
Third, the quick rise of U.S. power was described as a blessing from God. I cringe a bit when I hear this argument because I believe slavery was a key factor in our economic development. Later military dominance became another unjust tool for economic expansion. For starters, consider Smedley Butler,* John Perkins, or the case of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala (Wiki, GWU). To say that growth of the U.S. economy and our subsequent place of power in the world is simply because of God’s blessing is to sweep too much history under the rug.
In conclusion, if the Adventist interpretation of prophecy is correct, then surely it can be presented in balanced and meaningful ways that don’t (a) ignore gross injustices such as slavery and imperialism and (b) accept popular definitions of Christian victimization in the U.S. that ring hollow compared with true persecution seen in other times and also in other places today.
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*My favorite Smedley quote: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
Note: This article was originally posted on Adventist Peace Fellowship blog under the title “Unlocking Revelation & U.S. History”. It has been republished with permission.
Jeff Boyd is the managing editor of Adventist Today and the director of the Adventist Peace Fellowship. Formerly, he was the research coordinator at Tiny Hands International, a non-profit fighting human trafficking in Nepal. Jeff has undergraduate degrees in religion and psychology from Union College, an MBA from Andrews University, and an MA in peace studies from the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Jeff lives in Flint, Michigan (USA), with his wife and son.
The law of God, and namely the Ten Commandments, often takes a beating for being legalistic, old covenant, etc. But Biblically, God’s commandments are simply a summing up of His character. God is love (1 John 4:8). The commandments are meant show what it means to love (Matthew 22:36-40). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Exodus 20 begins with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” As Vara Prasad Deepati writes, “A recovery from bondage, a symbol of redemption, lies at the foundation of the Ten Commandments. Therefore, the Decalogue is not a legalistic code given to Israel, but a redemptive tie that defines the relationship of love that should exist between Israel and their mighty God”*
Yes, what if, instead of a list of commands, these ten statements are more meant to show a “redemptive tie,” a promise, a covenant… Not of what we are going to do, but what HE is promising to do for us? The church is described as Christ’s bride in scripture (Eph. 5:22-23, Rev. 19:7-10, etc.). And while attending a wedding, I listened as the couple made beautiful, personally written, vows to each other. I think that’s when it dawned on me: God has made vows to us too! And while we’re probably all familiar with them, we may have missed them altogether. (Disclaimer, this is not meant to be Biblical exegesis, but maybe some food for thought 😉
And God said, I’m the God who brought you out of your bondage, out of those dark places that only you and I know. I, that same God, vow to you this covenant:*
You shall have no other gods before me. I promise to be faithful to you, and to help you to be faithful to me alone.When other things or people threaten to get between you and I, I will help you. I want to be the one who occupies the first spot in your thoughts, your affections, and your dreams. While I created you to love others, you do not need to furiously seek them to fill the void in your life. I long to show you that I am enough for you, that when I am your first love, everything (and everyone) else will fall in place. You will be satisfied.
You shall not make for yourself any idols. I promise to jealously protect your freedom. You can get rid of those things that remind you of the life you left. The things of this earth are here to serve you, not to trap you into service to them. The sins of your past, and even your family’s past may weigh heavily on you. But don’t make memorials to them in your mind and heart. I have freed you in my mercy. What ties you to the old life? Money? Entertainment? Culture? Unhealthy relationships? Anger? I want to free you from those idols.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. I promise to give you my name. And when I talk about my name, I don’t just mean the letters in my titles. My name is who I am – it is my character. When you become mine – my spouse – you take my name too. You are a representative of my character. It’s not a light thing. Many have rejected me because of those who claimed to be my followers. But not so with you. I want to make it so that you actually become like me! When people see you, they will see me through you. You have entered into a royal position. I want to show you what it means to be royalty.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. I, the God and Creator of the universe, promise to set aside holy time just for you and I. In order for you to be faithful, filled, and united to me, we need our time together. Yes, we can spend time together everyday, but on the seventh day I have set aside the whole day just for you. Please choose to spend it with me too – it’s irreplaceable. This is the day when I remind you that just as I created you, I am recreating you. I have purchased you, and married you. I long to renew you – mind, body, and spirit. Every Sabbath, I will be there waiting.
Honor your father and your mother. I promise to provide honor and care for your earthly parents. Because I love you, I love your family too. You are my gift to them. Just as you love and respect me, they also deserve your love and respect. Show your parents that you care. Help them with their needs. Help to preserve their lives, just as they were commissioned to preserve yours when you were a child. Even if your parents have fallen short in fulfilling their commission, I will bless you for blessing them anyways. Your longevity and inheritance are in my hands. As you bless, you will be blessed.
You shall not murder. I promise to make you a fountain of life. Don’t just avoid causing death, but do everything you can to preserve life. Protect the innocent. Fight for the oppressed. Stand up for what’s right. As the Creator, I value life – I value your life – and I value the lives of those around you. You can give or take life by not only what you do, but also by what you don’t do. And life is not just physical. I’m empowering you to give life to people’s hearts and souls. That’s why I said that hate is like murder in your heart. Instead of death and hate, I want to make you an agent of life and love.
You shall not commit adultery.I promise to be faithful to you. And just as you have promised to be faithful to me, so you also are to be faithful in your human relationships. When you commit to your earthly spouse, you are committing to them alone. This doesn’t just mean physically, but in your heart and mind as well. Show your spouse the beauty of the faithfulness that I show you – in your relationships with others, what you look at, and even what you think about. Even before marriage, be faithful to that future spouse. Save yourself for me and them alone. I want to give you a sexuality of the utmost purity. In a world that sells sex, I use marriage as an analogy for my relationship with you. What the world has attacked, I long to redeem in you.
You shall not steal. I promise that as you give yourself away, I will give you all you need.While people may take from you what is not theirs, you can give because I give to you. Really, all that you have is mine. So even trying to cling to what’s “yours” instead of using it as I ask you is really stealing. Let me have your stuff – your possessions, your money, your time, your whole life. I promise that if you don’t withhold it, I will make better use of it than you ever thought possible. So give – to the poor and needy, the hungry, the spiritually destitute, and even your enemies, as I lead you. It’s all mine anyways, and I always provide for you. Don’t steal from the world the world the blessing I designed you to be to it. Give your life away – as I gave mine for you.
You shall not bear false witness. In a dark world, I promise to make you a beam of pure, truthful light. In what you say, and what you don’t say, let it shine the true light of my glory. Remember again that you are a witness of my character. And a ‘witness’ has seen or experienced something first hand – like you do in relationship with me. It’s not just what you say, but who you are that gives a true or false witness. Your neighbors are watching you. Your lack of truthful testimony hurts them – when you fail to share me with them, you lie and steal from them. Don’t be afraid to stand. Don’t be afraid to be a witness of our relationship. I am with you. I will help your life to shine.
You shall not covet. I promise to fill you so much that you do not need to be envious of others’ things, relationships, spirituality, or anything else that someone else has and you do not. Don’t set your mind on these things. In doing so you take your eyes off of me and start walking by sight instead of faith. You are bound to get tripped up. Instead, thank me for what I’ve given you. Claim my promises! You don’t have because you don’t ask. Seek me, and I’ll add everything else. I am the God who gives all that you need – and more. Remember that these are my promises to you – my covenant. Will you commit to me? Even beyond death, I will be faithful.
*Deepati, Vara Prasad. “The Ten Commandments: A law to be obeyed or promises to be celebrated?” Ministry Magazine, June 2012.
They are the “others” of the New Testament; the outcasts, the untouchables. They appear here and there in the Gospels and Acts as the people the Jews wanted nothing to do with. So naturally Jesus went out of his way to spend time with them. They are the Samaritans.
Some of the most famous, and most intriguing, episodes in the New Testament revolve around the Samaritans. There is the famous parable of the “Good Samaritan”; the Woman at the Well, James and John asking to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan town that refused them hospitality, and Simon Magnus trying to buy the Holy Spirit from Peter. In all of these stories, the Samaritans are characterized as being viewed as second-class citizens by all the Jews except Jesus, who clearly played by his own rules. But who were the Samaritans? Why did they and the Jews not get along?
Nestled between the Galilee and Judea, the region of Samaria was in the heartland of the former northern kingdom of Israel, gone for over 700 years by the time Jesus came on the scene. Indeed, Samaritans and Samaria get their names from the city of Samaria, the old capital of Israel founded by Omri, the father of Ahab and by whose name the Assyrian kings would refer to Israel (Bīt Ḫumria, House of Omri). It is from disposed northerners that the Samaritans descend.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the break between the Samaritans and the Jews occurred. The northern tribes and Judah were always a bit out of sync; often in Joshua and Judges you will see the phrase “Israel and Judah” as if they aren’t quite one entity. Things came to a head during the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor, when he not only refused to lighten the tax load but threatened to make it heavier. The northern tribes rebelled, following Jeroboam and became Israel while Judah stayed with Rehoboam. The two sides never really gotten along after that. Indeed it was King Ahaz of Judah buying off Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria that led to Israel’s ultimate demise.
For the Samaritans, the schism took place even before there was ever a king. According to them, it began when the High Priest Eli, whom they do not like, going so far as to call him “the insidious one,” moved the Tabernacle from its rightful place on Mount Gerizim to Shiloh. For the Jews, the split happened on the other end of history’s spectrum. After the destruction of Samaria and the end of Israel 722/720 BC, the Assyrians initiated a massive and complex deportation program: a majority Israelites were mostly moved to Harhar and Kiššesim (western Iran), whose people were then moved to Assur (northern Ira q/Kurdistan), whose people were moved to Hamath (Syria), whose people were moved to Samaria. Get all that? (In truth, none of that is really necessary; I just really wanted to write that so humor me).
The point is the people living in Samaria were a mixture of Israelites and foreigners and they began mixing, both racially and religiously. Thus the Jews viewed these people as half-breeds, which led to tensions after the Babylonian Exiles had returned (see Ezra and Nehemiah).
It should be noted, however, that none of these people are called or identify themselves as Samaritans. This simply provides the backdrop for the blood feud, showing that tensions between the north (Samaria) and the south (Judea) had existed for quite some time.
Religiously, the main (and virtually only) point of contention between the two was where the temple ought to be. The Samaritans believed it was supposed to be on Mount Gerizim, hearkening back to the Pentateuch’s command to read the Blessings and Curses from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, sister hills that sandwich Shechem in between. Meanwhile the Jews held the temple ought to be in Jerusalem, pointing out their Davidic tradition (see Jesus discussion with the Woman at the Well in John 4). For several centuries after the return of the Exiles, the two lived in an uneasy peace with a temple on Gerizim (the remains of which can be seen today) and a temple at Jerusalem. However, in 110 BC during the Hasmonean period (started by the Maccabees), John Hyrcanus launched a campaign against the Samaritans which ended up destroying the Gerizim temple. Needless to say, the Samaritans never forgave the Jews for that and the Jews continued to look on the Samaritans as second-class, half-breeds.
One would think from reading the New Testament, the Samaritans and Jews were totally different. In reality, however, they were virtually identical. The Samaritan religion is, for all intents and purposes, a sect of Judaism although neither side will admit it. The Samaritans have their own Pentateuch which is remarkably similar to the Jewish version, with the differences mainly orienting the place of worship to Gerizim over Jerusalem. The Samaritans do not accept the Prophet and Writings, nor do they accept any rabbinic literature. They do have their own synagogues which are identical in layout to the Jewish version, except they orient towards Gerizim, instead of Jerusalem. Fundamentally, the only real difference between the two is over where one ought to worship, something Jesus pointed out as being rather silly since God’s believers worship him in spirit anyway.
It is odd how such simple differences can drive massive wedges between people so similar. Blood feuds are the nastiest and the Samaritans and Jews are no exception, disdaining each other to the point of refusing to interact if at all possible. Petty and pathetic; thank God Jesus doesn’t care about the petty stuff.
But are we so different today? Churches split over the silliest of things, like worship style, ordination, or carpet color. As one who has seen the fallout from these splits, it seems the pettier the reason, the greater the animosity between the two sides. Somehow we seem to forget the Spirit of Christ is to rise above such differences. After all, if Jesus doesn’t care, why should we?
The Samaritans still exist today, about 500 or so in number, centered around Nablus where the woman went to the well and Holon, which is a suburb of Tel Aviv. And so the blood feud lives on.
Pummer, Reinhard. 1997. Samaritans. Vol. IV, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, edited by Eric M. Meyers, 469-472. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
First, begin your study with a prayer for guidance and understanding. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the work of prophets across the ages, is the only one who is in a position to unlock the meaning in their writings.
Second, we need to approach our study with an open mind. Most of us realize that no person is free of bias, no one is completely open-minded. We also recognize that bias enters into every area of our lives. But that reality doesn’t mean that we need to let our biases control us.
A third healthy mind-set in the reading of Ellen White is that of faith rather than doubt. As Mrs. White put it, “Many think it a virtue, a mark of intelligence in them, to be unbelieving and to question and quibble. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 255). “God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe; but he who turns from the weight of evidence because there are a few things which he cannot make plain to his finite understanding will be left in the cold, chilling atmosphere of unbelief and questioning doubts, and will make shipwreck of faith” (ibid., vol. 4, pp. 232, 233).
If individuals wait for all possibility of doubt to be removed, they will never believe. That is as true of the Bible as it is of Ellen White’s writings. Our acceptance rests on faith rather than on absolute demonstration of flawlessness. Ellen White appears to be correct when she writes that “those who have most to say against the testimonies are generally those who have not read them, just as those who boast of their disbelief of the Bible are those who have little knowledge of its teachings” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 45, 46).
Focus on the Central Issues
A person can read inspired materials in at least two ways. One is to look for the central themes of an author; the other is to search for those things that are new and different. The first way leads to what can be thought of as a theology of the center, while the second produces a theology of the edges. Doing a theology of the edges may help a person arrive at “new light,” but such light in the end may look more like darkness when examined in the context of the central and consistent teachings of the Bible.
What makes the teachings of many apostles of “new light” so impressive is their obvious sincerity and the fact that much of what they have to say may be needed truth. How can we tell when we are on center or chasing stray geese near the edges of what is really important? In her bookEducation, Ellen White wrote, “The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the Word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, of God’s original purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy, and of the work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two principles that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their working through the records of history and prophecy, to the great consummation. He should see how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience; how in every act of life he himself reveals the one or the other of the two antagonistic motives; and how, whether he will or not, he is even now deciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found” (p. 190; italics supplied).
A similar passage on the “grand central theme” of the Bible defines the central theme of Scripture even more precisely. “The central theme of the Bible,” we read, “the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God.” “Viewed in the light” of the grand central theme of the Bible, “every topic has a new significance” (ibid., p. 125; italics supplied).
In such passages we find our marching orders for the reading of both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. Read for the big picture; read for the grand central themes. The purpose of God’s revelation to humanity is salvation. That salvation focuses on the cross of Christ and our relationship to God. All our reading takes place within that context, and those issues closest to the grand central theme are obviously of more importance than those near its edges.
It is our task as Christians to focus on the central issues of the Bible and Ellen White’s writings rather than on marginal ones. If we do so, the marginal issues will fit into place in their proper perspective within the context of the “grand central theme” of God’s revelation to His people.
Account for Problems in Communication
The process of communication is not as simple as we might at first suspect. The topic was certainly at the forefront of James White’s thinking as he watched his wife struggle to lead the early Adventists down the path of reform. In 1868 he wrote that “What she may say to urge the tardy, is taken by the prompt to urge them over the mark. And what she may say to caution the prompt, zealous, incautious ones, is taken by the tardy as an excuse to remain too far behind” (Review and Herald, Mar. 17, 1868; italics supplied).
As we read Ellen White’s writings we need to keep constantly before us the difficulty she faced in basic communication. Beyond the difficulty of varying personalities, but related to it, was the problem of the imprecision of the meaning of words and the fact that different people with different experiences interpret the same words differently.
“Human minds vary,” Mrs. White penned in relation to Bible reading. “The minds of different education and thought receive different impressions of the same words, and it is difficult for one mind to give to one of a different temperament, education, and habits of thought by language exactly the same idea as that which is clear and distinct in his own mind. . . . The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea. The Bible was given for practical purposes.
“The stamps of minds are different. All do not understand expressions and statements alike. Some understand the statements of the Scriptures to suit their own particular minds and cases. Prepossessions, prejudices, and passions have a strong influence to darken the understanding and confuse the mind even in reading the words of Holy Writ” (Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp. 19, 20; italics supplied).
What Ellen White said about the problems of meanings and words in regard to the Bible also holds true for her own writings. Communication in a broken world is never easy, not even for God’s prophets.
We need to keep the basic problems of communication in mind as we read the writings of Ellen White. At the very least, such facts ought to make us cautious in our reading so that we don’t overly emphasize this or that particular idea that might come to our attention as we study God’s counsel to His church. We will want to make sure that we have read widely what Ellen White has presented on a topic and studied those statements that may seem extreme in the light of those that might moderate or balance them. All such study, of course, should take place with the historical and literary context of each statement in mind.
Study All Available Information on a Topic
When we read the full range of counsel that Ellen White has on a topic, the picture is often quite different than when we are dealing with only a part of her material or with isolated quotations. Many times in her long ministry Ellen White had to deal with those who took only part of her counsel. “When it suits your purpose,” she told the delegates of the 1891 General Conference session, “you treat the Testimonies as if you believed them, quoting from them to strengthen any statement you wish to have prevail. But how is it when light is given to correct your errors? Do you then accept the light? When the Testimonies speak contrary to your ideas, you treat them very lightly” (ibid., p. 43). It is important to listen to all the counsel.
Along this line we find two approaches to the Ellen G. White writings. One assembles all her pertinent material on the subject. The other selects from Mrs. White only those sentences, paragraphs, or more extensive materials that can be employed to support a particular emphasis. The only faithful approach is the first. One important step in being true to Ellen White’s intent is to read widely in the available counsel on a topic.
But not only must we base our conclusion on the entire spectrum of her thought on a topic; our conclusion must harmonize with the overall tenor of the body of her writings. Not only bias, but also unsound premises, faulty reasoning, or other misuses of her material, can lead to false conclusions.
Avoid Extreme Interpretations
The history of the Christian church is laced with those who would place the most extreme interpretations on God’s counsels and then define their fanaticism as “faithfulness.” A leaning toward extremism seems to be a constituent part of fallen human nature. God has sought to correct that tendency through His prophets.
Even though balance typified Ellen White’s writings, it does not always characterize those who read them. Ellen White had to deal with extremists throughout her ministry. In 1894 she pointed out that “there is a class of people who are always ready to go off on some tangent, who want to catch up something strange and wonderful and new; but God would have all move calmly, considerately, choosing our words in harmony with the solid truth for this time, which requires to be presented to the mind as free from that which is emotional as possible, while still bearing the intensity and solemnity that it is proper it should bear. We must guard against creating extremes, guard against encouraging those who would either be in the fire or in the water” (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 227, 228).
Nearly four decades earlier Mrs. White had written that she “saw that many have taken advantage of what God has shown in regard to the sins and wrongs of others. They have taken the extreme meaning of what has been shown in vision, and then have pressed it until it has had a tendency to weaken the faith of many in what God has shown” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 166).
Part of our task in reading Ellen White is to avoid extreme interpretations and to understand her message in its proper balance. That in turn means that we need to read the counsel from both ends of the spectrum on a given topic.
A case in point is her strong words about playing games. “In plunging into amusements, match games, pugilistic performances,” she wrote, the students at Battle Creek College “declared to the world that Christ was not their leader in any of these things. All this called forth the warning from God.” A powerful statement, it and others like it have led many to the conclusion that God frowns on all games and ball playing. But here, as on all extreme interpretations, one should use caution. After all, the very next sentence reads: “Now that which burdens me is the danger of going into extremes on the other side” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 378).
As the following statements demonstrate, Ellen White did not hold for either extreme on the topic of ball playing and games. Speaking of parents and teachers, she wrote: “If they would gather the children close to them, and show that they love them, and would manifest an interest in all their efforts, and even in their sports, sometimes even being a child among children, they would make the children very happy, and would gain their love and win their confidence” (ibid., p. 18).
As we noted in the preceding section, it is important to read the full spectrum of what Ellen White wrote on a topic before arriving at conclusions. That means taking into consideration what appear to be conflicting statements that not only balance each other but may at times even appear to contradict each other. Of course, as shown in the next two sections, the historical and literary contexts generally hold the reason for Ellen White’s extreme statements. When we understand the reason she said something a certain way, we can see how what appears to be contradictory bits of advice often balance each other out. With those understandings in place we will be ready to examine the underlying principles of the particular topic we are studying.
When we read the balancing and mediating passages on a topic, rather than merely those polar ones that reinforce our own biases, we come closer to Ellen White’s true perspective. In order to avoid extreme interpretations, we need not only to read widely regarding what Mrs. White said on a topic, but we need also to come to grips with those statements that balance each other out at each end of the spectrum on a given subject.
Take Time and Place Into Consideration
We need to take the time and place of Ellen White’s various counsels into consideration. She did not write them in a vacuum. Most of them met problems faced by specific individuals or groups in quite specific historic contexts.
For example, in the 1860s Ellen White suggested that women should shorten their skirts. Why? Because in her day skirts dragged on the ground. In the process they picked up the filth of a horse-and-buggy culture among other things. Such skirts also had other problems that Ellen White and contemporary reformers of her day repeatedly pointed out. Thus she could write that “one of fashion’s wasteful and mischievous devices is the skirt that sweeps the ground. Uncleanly, uncomfortable, inconvenient, unhealthful–all this and more is true of the trailing skirt” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 291).
But what was true of her day is generally not true of ours. Of course, one can think of some traditional cultures that still mirror the conditions of the nineteenth century. In those cultures the counsel fits without adaptation. But we must adapt it for most cultures today.
Part of the needed adaptation is reflected in The Ministry of Healing quotation we read above. If the problem with trailing skirts was that they were unclean, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unhealthful, then it seems safe to assume that some of the principles of correct dress in this case would be that it is clean, comfortable, convenient, and healthful. Such principles are universal, even though the idea of shortening one’s skirt has roots in time and place. Further reading in the Bible and Ellen White furnishes other principles of dress that we can apply to our day. Modesty, for example, comes to mind.
It can’t be too heavily emphasized that time and place are crucial factors for our understanding as we read Ellen White’s writings. One way to use her writings improperly is to ignore the implications of time and place and thus seek to apply the letter of each and every counsel universally.
In Ellen White’s writings such counsels as those urging schools to teach girls “to harness and drive a horse” so “they would be better fitted to meet the emergencies of life” (Education, pp. 216, 217); warning both young and old in 1894 to avoid the “bewitching influence” of the “bicycle craze” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 51, 52); and counseling an administrator in 1902 not to buy an automobile to transport patients from the railroad station to the sanitarium because it was a needless expense and would prove to be “a temptation to others to do the same thing” (Letter 158, 1902) are clearly conditioned by time and place. Other statements that may also be conditioned by time and place are not so obvious (especially in those areas we tend to feel strongly about), but we need to keep our eyes and mind open to the possibility.
Another aspect of the time and place issue in Ellen White’s writing is that for many of her counsels the historical context is quite personal, since she wrote to an individual in his or her specific setting. Always remember that behind every counsel lies a specific situation with its own peculiarities and for an individual with his or her personal possibilities and problems. Their situation may or may not be parallel to ours. Thus the counsel may or may not be applicable to us in a given circumstance.
Study Each Statement in Its Literary Context
In the preceding section we noted that it is important to understand Ellen White’s counsel in its original historical context. In this section we will examine the importance of reading her statements in their literary framework.
People have too often based their understandings of Mrs. White’s teachings upon a fragment of a paragraph or upon an isolated statement entirely removed from its setting. Thus she writes that “many study the Scriptures for the purpose of proving their own ideas to be correct. They change the meaning of God’s Word to suit their own opinions. And thus they do also with the testimonies that He sends. They quote half a sentence, leaving out the other half, which, if quoted, would show their reasoning to be false. God has a controversy with those who wrest the Scriptures, making them conform to their preconceived ideas” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 82). Again she comments about those who by “separating . . . statements from their connection, and placing them beside human reasonings, make it appear that my writings uphold that which they condemn” (Letter 208, 1906).
Ellen White was repeatedly upset with those who pick out “a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 44). On another occasion she observed that “extracts” from her writings “may give a different impression than that which they would were they read in their original connection” (ibid., p. 58).
W. C. White, Ellen White’s son, often had to deal with the problem of people using material out of its literary context. In 1904 he noted that “much misunderstanding has come from the misuse of isolated passages in the Testimonies, in cases where, if the whole Testimony or the whole paragraph had been read, an impression would have been made upon minds that was altogether different from the impression made by the use of selected sentences” (W. C. White to W. S. Sadler, Jan. 20, 1904).
The study of literary contexts is not an optional luxury on inspired statements–it is a crucial part of faithfully reading Ellen White’s writings. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of studying Ellen White’s articles and books in their contexts rather than merely reading topical compilations or selecting out quotations on this or that topic through the use of indexes or computer printouts. Such tools have their places, but we should use them in connection with broad reading that helps us to be more aware not only of the literary context of Ellen White’s statements but also of the overall balance in her writings.
Recognize Ellen White’s Understanding of the Ideal and the Real
Ellen White often found herself plagued by “those who,” she claimed, “select from the testimonies the strongest expressions and, without bringing in or making any account of the circumstances under which the cautions and warnings are given, make them of force in every case. . . . Picking out some things in the testimonies they drive them upon every one, and disgust rather than win souls” (Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 285, 286).
Her observation not only highlights the fact that we need to take the historical context of Ellen White’s statements into consideration when reading her counsel, but also indicates that she put some statements in stronger or more forceful language than others. That idea leads us to the concept of the ideal and the real in Mrs. White’s writings.
When Ellen White is stating the ideal, she often uses her strongest language. It is as if she needs to speak loudly in order to be heard. One such statement appears in Fundamentals of Christian Education. “Never,” she exhorted, “can the proper education be given to the youth in this country, or any other country, unless they are separated a wide distance from the cities” (p. 312; italics supplied).
Now, that is about as forceful a statement as she could have made. Not only is it adamant, but it appears to imply universality in terms of time and space. There is no stronger word than “never.” In its strictest meaning it allows no exceptions. She uses the same sort of powerful, unbending language in terms of location–“in this country, or any other country.” Once again a plain reading of the words permits no exceptions. We are dealing with what appears to be a universal prohibition regarding the building of schools in cities. But the statement is stronger than that. Such schools are not merely to be out of the cities, but “separated a wide distance” from them. Here is inflexible language that does not suggest any exceptions.
At this point it is important to examine the historical context in which she made the statement. According to the reference supplied in the book (p. 327), this counsel was first published in 1894. But by 1909 the Adventist work in large cities was increasing. And those cities had families who could not afford to send their children to rural institutions. As a result, Ellen White counseled the building of schools in the cities. So far as possible,” we read, “. . . schools should be established outside the cities. But in the cities there are many children who could not attend schools away from the cities; and for the benefit of these, schools should be opened in the cities as well as in the country” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 201; italics supplied).
By this time you may be asking yourself how the same woman could claim that proper education could “never” be given in Australia “or any other country, unless they [schools] are separated a wide distance from the cities” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 312) and yet still advocate the establishment of schools in the cities.
The answer is that rural education for all children was the ideal that the church should aim at “so far as possible.” But the truth is that the hard facts of life make such education impossible for some. Thus reality dictated a compromise if Christian education were to reach children from poorer families. Ellen White understood and accepted the tension between the ideal and the real.
Unfortunately, many of her readers fail to take that fact into consideration. They focus merely on Mrs. White’s “strongest” statements, those that express the ideal, and ignore the moderating passages. As a result, as we noted above, “picking out some things in the testimonies they drive them upon everyone, and disgust rather than win souls” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 286).
Ellen White has more balance than many of her so-called followers. Genuine followers must take into account her understanding of the tension between the ideal and the real in applying her counsel.
Ellen White had more flexibility in interpreting her writings than many have realized. She was not only concerned with contextual factors in applying counsel to different situations, but also had a distinct understanding of the difference between God’s ideal plan and the reality of the human situation that at times necessitated modification of the ideal. For that reason it is important that we don’t just operate on the “strongest expressions” in her writings and seek to “drive them upon everyone” (ibid., pp. 285, 286).
Use Common Sense
Seventh-day Adventists have been known to differ and even argue over some of Ellen White’s counsel. That situation is especially true of those statements that seem so straightforward and clear. One such statement appears in volume 3 of the Testmonies: “Parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age” (p. 137; italics supplied).
That passage is an excellent candidate for inflexible interpretation. After all, it is quite categorical. It offers no conditions and hints at no exceptions. Containing no “ifs,” “ands,” “ors,” or “buts” to modify its impact, it just plainly states as fact that “parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age.” Mrs. White first published the statement in 1872. The fact that it reappeared in her writings in 1882 and 1913 undoubtedly had the effect of strengthening what appears to be its unconditional nature.
Interestingly enough, however, a struggle over that statement has provided us with perhaps the very best record we possess of how Mrs. White interpreted her own writings.
The Adventists living near the St. Helena Sanitarium in northern California had built a church school in 1902. The older children attended it, while some careless Adventist parents let their younger children run freely in the neighborhood without proper training and discipline. Some of the school board members believed that they should build a classroom for the younger children, but others held that it would be wrong to do so, because Ellen White had plainly stated that “parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age.”
One faction on the board apparently felt that it was more important to give some help to the neglected children than to hold to the letter of the law. The other faction believed that it had an inflexible command, some “straight testimony” that it must obey. To put it mildly, the issue split the school board. An interview with Mrs. White was arranged.
Early in the interview Mrs. White reaffirmed her position that the family should ideally be the school for young children. “The home,” she said, “is both a family church and a family school” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 214). That is the ideal that one finds throughout her writings. The institutional church and school are there to supplement the work of a healthy family. That is the ideal.
But, as we discovered in the previous section, the ideal is not always the real. Or, to say it in other words, reality is often less than ideal. Thus Ellen White continued in the interview: “Mothers should be able to instruct their little ones wisely during the earlier years of childhood. If every mother were capable of doing this, and would take time to teach her children the lessons they should learn in early life, then all children could be kept in the home school until they are eight, or nine, or ten years old” (ibid., pp. 214, 215; italics supplied).
Here we begin to find Mrs. White dealing with a reality that modifies the categorical and unconditional nature of her statement on parents being the only teachers of their children until 8 or 10 years of age. The ideal is that mothers “should” be able to function as the best teachers. But realism intrudes when Ellen White uses such words as “if” and “then.” She definitely implies that not all mothers are capable and that not all are willing. But “if” they are both capable and willing, “then all children could be kept in the home school.”
During the interview she remarked that “God desires us to deal with these problems sensibly” (ibid., p. 215). Ellen White became quite stirred up with those readers who took an inflexible attitude toward her writings and sought to follow the letter of her message while missing the underlying principles. She evidenced disapproval of both the words and attitudes of her rigid interpreters when she declared: “My mind has been greatly stirred in regard to the idea, ‘Why, Sister White has said so and so, and Sister White has said so and so; and therefore we are going right up to it.’ “ She then added that “God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things” (ibid., p. 217; italics supplied).
Ellen White was anything but inflexible in interpreting her own writings, and it is a point of the first magnitude that we realize that fact. She had no doubt that the mindless use of her ideas could be harmful. Thus it is little wonder that she said that “God wants us all to have common sense” in using extracts from her writings, even when she phrased those extracts in the strongest and most unconditional language.
Discover the Underlying Principles
In July 1894 Ellen White sent a letter to the denomination’s headquarters church in Battle Creek, Michigan, in which she condemned the purchase and riding of bicycles (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 50-53). At first glance it appears strange that such an issue should be considered important enough for a prophet to deal with. It seems especially odd when we note that the bicycle issue had been specifically revealed in vision.
How should we apply such counsel today? Does it mean that Seventh-day Adventists should not own bicycles?
In answering that question we first need to examine the historical context. In 1894 the modern bicycle was just beginning to be manufactured, and a fad quickly developed to acquire bicycles, not for the purpose of economical transportation, but simply to be in style, to enter bicycle races, and to parade around town on them. In the evening such parading included the hanging of Japanese lanterns on the bicycles. Bicycling was the “in” thing–the thing to do if you were anything or anybody on the social scale.
Extracts from an article entitled “When All the World Went Wheeling” will help us get into the historical context of the bicycle counsel. “Toward the end of the last century,” we read, “the American people were swept with a consuming passion which left them with little time or money for anything else. . . . What was this big new distraction? For an answer the merchants had only to look out the window and watch their erstwhile customers go whizzing by. America had discovered the bicycle, and everybody was making the most of the new freedom it brought. . . . The bicycle began as a rich man’s toy. Society and celebrity went awheel.
“The best early bicycle cost $150, an investment comparable to the cost of an automobile today. . . . Every member of the family wanted a ‘wheel,’ and entire family savings often were used up in supplying the demand” (Reader’s Digest, December 1951).
In the light of the historical context, Ellen White’s statement in 1894 regarding bicycles takes on a new significance. “There seemed to be,” she wrote, “a bicycle craze. Money was spent to gratify an enthusiasm in this direction that might better, far better, have been invested in building houses of worship where they are greatly needed. . . . A bewitching influence seemed to be passing as a wave over our people. . . . Satan works with intensity of purpose to induce our people to invest their time and money in gratifying supposed wants. This is a species of idolatry. . . . While hundreds are starving for bread, while famine and pestilence are seen and felt, . . . shall those who profess to love and serve God act as did the people in the days of Noah, following the imagination of their hearts?
“There were some who were striving for the mastery, each trying to excel the other in the swift running of their bicycles. There was a spirit of strife and contention among them as to which should be the greatest. . . . Said my Guide: ‘These things are an offense to God. Both near and afar off souls are perishing for the bread of life and the water of salvation.’ When Satan is defeated in one line, he will be all ready with other schemes and plans which will appear attractive and needful, and which will absorb money and thought, and encourage selfishness, so that he can overcome those who are so easily led into a false and selfish indulgence.”
“What burden,” she asks, “do these persons carry for the advancement of the work of God? . . . Is this investment of means and this spinning of bicycles through the streets of Battle Creek giving evidence of the genuineness of your faith in the last solemn warning to be given to human beings standing on the very verge of the eternal world?” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 51, 52).
Her counsel on bicycles is obviously dated. Within a few years bicycles became quite inexpensive and were relegated to the realm of practical transportation for young people and those without means, even as the larger culture switched its focus and desires to the four-wheeled successor of the humble bicycle.
While it is true that some of the specifics of the counsel no longer apply, the principles on which the specific counsel rests remain quite applicable across time and space.
And what are some of those principles? First, that Christians are not to spend money on selfish gratification. Second, that Christians are not to strive for mastery over one another by doing things that generate a spirit of strife and contention. Third, that Christians should focus their primary values on the kingdom to come and on helping others during the present period of history. And fourth, that Satan will always have a scheme to derail Christians into the realm of selfish indulgence.
Those principles are unchangeable. They apply to every place and to every age of earthly history. Bicycles were merely the point of contact between the principles and the human situation in Battle Creek during 1894. The particulars of time and place change, but the universal principles remain constant.
Our responsibility as Christians is not only to read God’s counsel to us, but to apply it faithfully to our personal lives. The Christian’s task is to search out God’s revelations and then seek to put them into practice in daily living without doing violence to the intent of their underlying principles. That takes personal dedication as well as sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Realize That Prophets Are Not Verbally Inspired, Nor Are They Infallible or Inerrant
“I was led to conclude and most firmly believe that every word that you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the ten commandments. I held that view with absolute tenacity against innumerable objections raised to it by many who were occupying prominent positions in the [Adventist] cause,” wrote Dr. David Paulson to Ellen White on April 19, 1906. Deeply concerned over the nature of Ellen White’s inspiration, Paulson wondered whether he should continue to hold such a rigid view. In the process he raised the question of verbal inspiration and the related issues of infallibility and inerrancy. Since a correct understanding of such issues is of crucial importance in reading Ellen White and/or the Bible, we will examine each of them in this section.
Mrs. White replied to Paulson on June 14, 1906. “My brother,” she penned, “you have studied my writings diligently, and you have never found that I have made any such claims [to verbal inspiration], neither will you find that the pioneers in our cause ever made such claims” for her writings. She went on to illustrate inspiration in her writings by referring to the inspiration of the Bible writers. Even though God had inspired the Biblical truths, they were “expressed in the words of men.” She saw the Bible as representing “a union of the divine and the human.” Thus “the testimony is conveyed through the imperfect expression of human language, yet it is the testimony of God” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 24-26).
Such sentiments represent Ellen White’s consistent witness across time. “The Bible,” she wrote in 1886, “is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. . . . The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen. . . .
“It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God” (ibid., p. 21).
We see the problematic nature of the issue of verbal inspiration illustrated in the life of D. M. Canright, at one time a leading minister in the denomination, but its foremost critic between 1887 and 1919. Canright bitterly opposed Ellen White. His 1919 book against her asserted that “every line she wrote, whether in articles, letters, testimonies or books, she claimed was dictated to her by the Holy Ghost, and hence must be infallible” (Life of Mrs. E. G. White, p. 9). We have seen above that Ellen White herself took just the opposite position, but that didn’t stop the damage being done by those with a false theory of inspiration.
Before we go any further, perhaps we should define our terms. Webster’s New World Dictionary describes “infallible” as “1. incapable of error; never wrong. 2. not liable to fail, go wrong, make a mistake, etc.” It renders “inerrant” as “not erring, making no mistakes.” It is essentially those definitions that many people import into the realm of the Bible and Ellen White’s writings.
As to infallibility, Mrs. White plainly writes, “I never claimed it; God alone is infallible.” Again she stated that “God and heaven alone are infallible” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 37). While she claimed that “God’s Word is infallible” (ibid., p. 416), we will see below that she did not mean that the Bible (or her writings) were free from error at all points.
To the contrary, in the introduction to The Great Controversy she sets forth her position quite concisely: “The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will” (p. vii). That is, she did not claim that the work of God’s prophets is infallible in all its details, but that it is infallible in terms of revealing God’s will to men and women. In a similar statement Ellen White commented that “His Word . . . is plain on every point essential to the salvation of the soul” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 706).
W. C. White treats the same issue when he observes: “Where she has followed the description of historians or the exposition of Adventist writers, I believe that God has given her discernment to use that which is correct and in harmony with truth regarding all matters essential to salvation. If it should be found by faithful study that she has followed some expositions of prophecy which in some detail regarding dates we cannot harmonize with our understanding of secular history, it does not influence my confidence in her writings as a whole any more than my confidence in the Bible is influenced by the fact that I cannot harmonize many of the statements regarding chronology” (Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 449, 450; italics supplied).
In summary, it appears that Mrs. White’s use of the term infallibility has to do with the Bible being completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation. She doesn’t mix that idea with the concept that the Bible or her writings are free from all possible errors of a factual nature.
Thus the faithful reader’s belief is not shaken if he or she discovers that Matthew attributed a Messianic prophecy, written centuries before Christ’s birth, to Jeremiah when it was actually Zechariah who inferred that Christ would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (see Matt. 27:9, 10; Zech. 11:12, 13). Nor will one be dismayed over the fact that 1 Samuel 16:10, 11 lists David as the eighth son of Jesse, but 1 Chronicles 2:15 refers to him as the seventh. Neither will faith be affected because the prophet Nathan wholeheartedly approved of King David’s building of the Temple but the next day had to backtrack and tell David that God didn’t want him to build it (see 2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17). Prophets make mistakes.
The same kind of factual errors can be discovered in Ellen White’s writings as are found in the Bible. The writings of God’s prophets are infallible as a guide to salvation, but they are not inerrant or without error. Part of the lesson is that we need to read for the central lessons of Scripture and Ellen White rather than the details.
What is important to remember at this point is that those who struggle over such problems as inerrancy and absolute infallibility are fighting a human-made problem. It is not anything that God ever claimed for the Bible or Ellen White ever claimed for the Bible or her writings. Inspiration for her had to do with the “practical purposes” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 19) of human and divine relationships in the plan of salvation. We need to let God speak to us in His mode, rather than to superimpose our rules over God’s prophets and then reject them if they don’t live up to ourexpectations of what we think God should have done. Such an approach is a human invention that places our own authority over the Word of God. It makes us the judges of God and His Word. But such a position is not Biblical; nor is it according to the way Ellen White has counseled the church. We need to read God’s Word and Mrs. White’s writings for the purpose for which He gave them and not let our modern concerns and definitions of purpose and accuracy come between us and His prophets.
Avoid Making the Counsels “Prove” Things They Were Never Intended to Prove
In the previous section we noted that Ellen White did not claim verbal inspiration for her writings or the Bible, nor did she classify them as either inerrant or infallible in the sense of being free from factual mistakes. In spite of the efforts of Mrs. White and her son to move people away from too rigid a view of inspiration, many have continued on in that line. Down through the history of the denomination some have sought to use Ellen White’s writings and the Bible for purposes for which God never intended them. Likewise, claims have been made for prophetic writings that transcend their purpose.
As a result, we find individuals who go to her writings to substantiate such things as historical facts and dates. Thus S. N. Haskell could write to Ellen White that he and his friends would “give more for one expression in your testimony than for all the histories you could stack between here and Calcutta” (S. N. Haskell to E. G. White, May 30, 1910).
Yet Ellen White never claimed that the Lord provided every historical detail in her works. To the contrary, she tells us that she generally went to the same sources available to us to get the historical facts that she used to fill out the outlines of the struggle between good and evil across the ages that she portrays so nicely in The Great Controversy. In regard to the writing of that volume, she wrote in its preface that “where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject.” Her purpose in such books as The Great Controversywas “not so much . . . to present new truths concerning the struggles of former times, as to bring out facts and principles which have a bearing on coming events” (p. xii).
That statement of purpose is crucial in understanding her use of history. Her intention was to trace the dynamics of the conflict between good and evil across time. That was her message. The historical facts merely enriched its tapestry. She was not seeking to provide incontrovertible historical data. In actuality, as she put it, the “facts” she used were “well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world” (ibid., p. xi).
What is true of Ellen White’s use of facts in post-Biblical church history is also true of her practice when writing of the Biblical period. As a result, she could ask her sons that they request “Mary [Willie’s wife] to find me some histories of the Bible that would give me the order of events. I have nothing and can find nothing in the library here” (E. G. White to W. C. White and J. E. White, Dec. 22, 1885).
“Regarding Mother’s writings,” W. C. White told Haskell, “she has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority on history. . . . When ‘[The Great] Controversy’ was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as an authority on historical dates and use it to settle controversies, and she does not now feel that it ought to be used in that way.” (W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, Oct. 31, 1912; italics supplied; cf. Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 446, 447.)
Twenty years later W. C. White wrote that “in our conversations with her [Ellen White] regarding the truthfulness and the accuracy of what she had quoted from historians, she expressed confidence in the historians from whom she had drawn, but never would consent to the course pursued by a few men who took her writings as a standard and endeavored by the use of them to prove the correctness of one historian as against the correctness of another. From this I gained the impression that the principal use of the passage quoted from historians was not to make a new history, not to correct errors in history, but to use valuable illustrations to make plain important spiritual truths” (W. C. White to L. E. Froom, Feb. 18, 1932).
Not only do we need to avoid using Ellen White to “prove” the details of history, but the same caution must be expressed in the realm of the details of science. In saying this I do not mean to imply that there is not a great deal of accuracy in the scientific inferences of Ellen White’s writings–and the Bible’s, for that matter–but that we must not seek to prove this and that scientific detail from them.
Let me illustrate. Some claim that John Calvin, the great sixteenth-century Reformer, resisted Copernicus’s discovery that the earth rotated around the sun by quoting Psalm 93:1: “The world also is stablished; that it cannot be moved.” In a similar vein, many have pointed out that the Bible talks about the four corners of the earth and the fact that the sun “comes up” and “goes down.” In such cases, the Bible is merely making incidental remarks rather than setting forth scientific doctrine.
Remember that the Bible and Ellen White’s writings are not intended to be divine encyclopedias for things scientific and historical. Rather they are to reveal our human hopelessness and then point us to the solution in salvation through Jesus. In the process, God’s revelation provides a framework in which we can understand the bits and pieces of historical and scientific knowledge gained through other lines of study.
Make Sure Ellen White Said It
A fair number of statements are in circulation that apparently have been falsely attributed to Ellen White. How can we identify such statements? The first clue that they are apocryphal for those who are familiar with Ellen White’s writings is that such statements are often out of harmony with the general tenor of her thought. That is, they seem strange when compared to the bulk of her ideas, appear to be out of place in her mouth. Strangeness, of course, is not proof that we are dealing with an apocryphal statement. It is merely an indication.
The safest way to test the authenticity of an Ellen White statement is to ask for the reference to its source. Once we know where it is found, we can check to see if Ellen White said it and also examine the wording and context to determine if it has been interpreted correctly.
The issue of supposed statements also came up in Mrs. White’s lifetime. Her fullest treatment of the problem appears in volume 5 of Testimonies for the Church, pages 692 through 696. It can be examined profitably by all readers of Ellen White’s writings:
“Beware,” she says, “how you give credence to such reports” (p. 694). She concludes her discussion of the topic with the following words: “To all who have a desire for truth I would say: Do not give credence to unauthenticated reports as to what Sister White has done or said or written. If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works. . . . Do not eagerly catch up and report rumors as to what she has said” (p. 696).
While we can no longer send supposed statements to Ellen White for her verification, we can contact the White Estate office at the General Conference headquarters or visit the nearest SDA-Ellen G. White Research Center to verify the authenticity of a statement or to inquire about other questions we might have.
[Condensed and adapted from George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1997), pp. 43-123. Available from Adventist Book Centers: 1-800-765-6955 or Review and Herald Publishing Association: http://www.rhpa.org]
Note: This article was originally published at the official White Estate website. It has been republished with permission. To access the article at its original location click here.
[box_holder background_color=”] There is a true story told of an Indian missionary. The young man was in India during a great festival in which all of the Hindus travel to the river Ganges to wash themselves for the forgiveness of sins. Thousands of Hindus traveled for miles to wash themselves in this river. The story goes that this missionary was crossing a bridge over the river when he saw a woman weeping uncontrollably. He approached her to see what was wrong.
My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.
She told him that her husband was unable to work. They had no money to provide for the family. She told him that her sins were so many that no one knew about. She was burdened with guilt and shame. She needed forgiveness and blessings. In order to receive the blessing and forgiveness of the goddess Ganges, she said, “I have given her the most valuable offering I could give her. My six month old baby boy. I just threw him into the river.” The missionary proceeded to explain the gospel to her. To tell her that she didn’t have to kill her son. God had sent his son in order to save mankind. When he was done the woman looked at him. “Why didn’t you come a half hour sooner?” She asked. “I didn’t have to kill my son.” And with that she began weeping again.[i] She’s not the only one you know. There are thousands. Millions are crying out “why?” Longing and searching for an answer to the void in their heart. Looking for forgiveness and salvation. Their religion tells them that salvation can only be gained by working hard to earn Gods favor. Their religion tells them that they have to climb, struggle, work, sweat, bleed, and suffer in order to enter the Kingdom. But the Bible says something else. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,
“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.”[ii]
The Bible teaches that it’s not what we do that saves us, but what God has done. In other words, this whole salvation thing is never about what we do; it’s about what He did. But what exactly does that mean? Before I explain it, I want to back track a bit. The book of Ephesians, which I just quoted, reveals God’s mysterious purpose for what we call “church.” Now, what does church have to do with salvation? Well, lets find out. Paul, the author of the book, paints a picture of a secret weapon that God had planned from the beginning of time in order to defeat evil. That secret weapon is the church. Why church? I mean. Isn’t church boring? Irrelevant? Hasn’t the church caused more evil than good in history? How could this be God’s secret weapon to defeat evil? That answer is found in Ephesians 1:22-23. Here Paul says,
“God has placed all things beneath His [Jesus’] feet and anointed Him as the head over all things for His church. This church is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all.”
According to this verse, Christ is the head of the church which is his body. However, there is something powerful here. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia” which means congregation or assembly. According to the Bible “church” is not a building, it’s a community of people. So God’s secret weapon to defeat evil is a community of people. But what kind of people? Ephesians 2:1-2 answers that question. It says,
“As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience.
Did you catch it? God’s secret anti-evil weapon from the beginning of time was a community of people. But not good people. Bad people! People who were rebellious, wicked, and selfish. People who were slaves to sin. God’s mystery of the church is that He was going to get these “evil people” and use them to defeat evil. However, in order for God to do this He would have to get these people to be on His side. But how? The answer is found in the story the Bible tells about salvation.
If only Jesus had set me free from sin I wouldn’t have had to go through those dark nights of shame and guilt that nearly choked out my life. But Jesus wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had come to view Him, not as a savior, but as a ticket and tickets have no power.
Now of course, there are many different versions of this story floating around. Even though the Bible only tells one salvation story, this story has been retold in countless ways. However, we can boil down all of those countless versions into four. 1) The most common is that you are saved by works. This means you have to be good and if you are good enough you are allowed into heaven. This is the version that forms the foundation of paganism. I call it the “performance” version of salvation. 2) The second is that you are saved by grace, but in order to stay saved you have to work. In other words, Jesus covers your past sins but your future is uncertain. You are saved, but not really. There is still something you have to do in order to earn the right to stay saved and enter heaven at last. This is the foundation of religions such as Catholicism and Mormonism. I call this the “but” version of salvation (you will soon see why). 3) The third is that salvation is a ticket to heaven and nothing more. No change takes place in the life. But because you once believed you now have a ticket that guarantees you access into eternal bliss. This is the foundation for some (though certainly not all) evangelical churches and is often referred to as “once saved, always saved”.[iii] I call it the “ticket” version of salvation. Being raised Adventist, I was too smart to fall for the “performance” version (most Christians are). However, that didn’t make me immune to being duped by “but” and “ticket” versions. For many years I viewed the salvation story though those two lenses. The “ticket” was useless. While I didn’t have any anxiety over my eternal security, I had no victory over sin. Since I knew I was going to heaven, I had no rush to find victory. But I was depressed, always feeling defeated and filthy, and eventually my sin caught up with me and the consequences were extremely painful. If only Jesus had set me free from sin I wouldn’t have had to go through those dark nights of shame and guilt that nearly choked out my life. But Jesus wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had come to view Him, not as a savior, but as a ticket and tickets have no power.
From there I fell into the “but” version of the salvation story. This is the version that teaches that Jesus forgives and saves but in order to stay saved you have to perform at a certain level or else you are out. This version was instrumental in showing me that victory over sin was possible, but as time went on I found this to be nothing more than a baptized version of the “performance” model. Even though I was saved by grace I always felt I hadn’t done enough to stay saved and that I had to do more. I had to be a vegetarian or else I would lose my salvation. I had to keep the Sabbath perfectly and be nice to people and do everything right or else I would lose the free gift of salvation. And I was miserable. I call this the “but” version of salvation. Why? Because anytime someone spoke about the grace of Christ, I always felt the need to add “but” at the end of their conversation. “We are saved by grace!” They would shout. “But!” I would shout back, “don’t forget you still have to do A, B and C!” For some reason I couldn’t just enjoy the grace of God for what it was. Instead, I always had to add the “but” at the end just to make sure everyone knew what the requirements were. During this time I knew some of rest that is to be found in Jesus, but there was always a voice in the back of my mind that prevented me from having full assurance. I experienced spiritual growth and victory over sins that had long controlled my life, but something was missing. However, I refused to admit there was a problem with my salvation story because in my mind, the only alternative was the “ticket” version and I sure wasn’t going back to that.
But I did it anyways because I wanted to make sure that God wouldn’t have any reason to not let me into heaven.
4) Eventually, the “but” version of salvation led me to the fourth version of the gospel. It is a subcategory of “but” known as the “light switch” version of the gospel. The light switch version nearly killed me. This version (which was nothing more than the logical result of the “but” version) teaches that a person is justified freely by Gods grace but must, from then on, continue to perform well enough to keep their salvation. That’s pretty much what the “but” version is, only in the “light switch” version every time you sin you lose your salvation until you confess and repent and then you are saved again. It’s as if God is in heaven flipping a “light switch.” Every time you sin, the light switch goes off (you have lost your salvation), and every time you confess and repent the light switch goes back on (you are saved again). When I believed in “light switch” I was always worried about whether I had sinned or not and often times found myself debating myself over whether or not I had just sinned, almost just sinned, or thought I just sinned but hadn’t really. The situation was worse when I felt that God wouldn’t forgive me for a sin I committed if it involved another person. I would suffer for weeks and months over a supposed sin that I needed to confess to someone else and at times found myself confessing things that were not only unnecessary but ridiculous. But I did it anyways because I wanted to make sure that God wouldn’t have any reason to not let me into heaven. I was daily and hourly tortured by my conscience and became so hypersensitive that I eventually found myself at a counselors office diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. God was my enemy desperately trying to keep me out of heaven. And I was responsible for changing his mind, but no matter how hard I tried one plaguing accusation remained: “Never good enough.”
Negative as this experience may have been I do thank God for it because if it weren’t for my hopelessness and despair I would never have turned to him for answers. I would never have studied and researched and explored. I would never have asked those deep, gut wrenching questions that many people never think to ask. My defeat paved the way for my victory and though I have much to learn I eventually discovered that none of those previous versions were the true salvation story. When I did in fact discover the Biblical story of salvation my entire soul was enraptured with a joy and conviction I have never before experienced. I was free! The 4 versions were false, but there was a fifth. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it the fifth. Instead, I prefer to call it the only. The true. The genuine. All the others were counterfeits, but I had finally discovered the beauty of the gospel and the overwhelming joy it brings.
But more on that next time.
[i] A paraphrase of the story as told by Indian missionary KP Johannan.
[ii] All Bible verses quoted from The Voice.
[iii] Contrary to what I believed growing up “once saved always saved” is not a universally accepted teaching in the evangelical world. Adventists are in the company of Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Free-Will Baptists and others in denying this teaching. Most Protestants who embrace the theology of Martin Luther, Jacobus Arminius, or John Wesley are likely to also reject the concept of “once saved always saved”. [/box_holder]
Some years ago I had the privilege of studying under professor Jud Lake, Adventist historian, Ellen White apologist, and author of Ellen White Under Fire. Part of the class was learning how to respond to criticisms leveled against Ellen White. Although I was already aware of this, I was able to see that nearly every single Ellen White criticism rests on a denial, and or violation, of the literary and historical context of her statements. As I read many of these criticisms I was reminded of the fact that the same arguments and insults can be made against the Bible writers – and I am not refering to the Old Testament here but to the New. As a result I have created a small list of Bible verses I am glad did not originate with Ellen White, for if she had, the critics would have a hay day. Here is the list along with what the critics would say if Ellen White had been the first to say these things. Enjoy!
10 Things I Am Glad Ellen White Did Not Say
1) Women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. – 1 Tim. 2:15
What the critics would say: Here Mrs. White clearly shows she has no knowledge of the true gospel. According to Mrs. White a woman can be saved through having children. However, the Bible is clear that we are saved only through Jesus. This “salvation through child-bearing” heresy is just another example of how legalistic this woman was. I feel sorry for all of those Adventist women who havent had children for according to Mrs. White, they will not be saved.
2) For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. – Romans 2:13
What the critics would say: If you ever had any doubt if Ellen White was a legalist, doubt no more! We are clearly told from her own writings that in order to be declared righteous we must obey the law! However, the Bible says that all of our righteouesness is as filthy rags and that in order to be declared righteous we must be covered by the blood of Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists do not know the freedom of the gospel because they follow the teachings of Ellen White who says in order to be saved they must keep the law. Mrs. White must have never heard of the book of Romans which clearly teaches that we cannot be saved by keeping the law. She contradicts the gospel and is thus a false prophet!
3) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ… – 2 Cor. 5:10
What the Critics would say: This statement plays perfectly well into the anti-gospel Adventist teaching of the investigative judgment. Ellen White writes to believers that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” This heresy robs the Christian of the assurance of salvation and is the reason why Adventists care so much about the law. They have no assurance! And how can they if they believe that they will be judged? The bible is clear that believers are not judged! How can Ellen White and the entire Adventist church contradict such a plain teaching of holy scripture? It is simple: They don’t follow scripture, they follow the false prophet Ellen White.
4) If your hand causes you to sin cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched… – Mark 9:43-47
What the critics would say: Here we see a perfect example of how fanatical Ellen White was. Adventists try to say she was balanced, but would a balanced person ever tell you to cut off your hand so you wont sin? This is clearly extremism and legalism at its worst! Not only that, but it is clear from this statement that Ellen White does not have an accurate understanding of temptation and victory over sin. We do not cut our hand off so we wont be tempted to steal because the problem is not the hand but the heart. The only solution then is to be born again and receive a new heart. Of course, Ellen White did not teach this because the Adventist church is her own cult and she used fear tactics like this one to keep Adventists under her thumb.
5) A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. – James 2:24
What the critics would say: Blasphemy! Doesnt the bible plainly teach that we are saved by grace through faith? Has this false prophet ever read Ephesians 2:8-10 which plainly teaches that we are saved by grace through faith alone and not of our works so that no man can boast? The teachings of Ellen White are pure legalism. We must pray for those under her bondage!
6) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left… – Hebrews 10:6
What the critics would say: Adventism is a black hole of hopelessness that fills one with anxiety and fear and makes it impossible for believers to have assurance of salvation. Here Ellen White clearly says that if you are not perfect once you have been saved and you sin again then you are cast out for good and can never return to favor with God. But doesnt the Bible say that we can never be separated from the love of God? This is pure heresy.
7) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling… – Philippians 2:12
What the critics would say: Here is more evidence that Mrs. White was a legalist. Salvation, rather than the gift of Gods grace, is something we have to workout and figure out on our own. But not only that! It must also be done “in fear and trembling”! What a terrible way to live the Christian life!
8) And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. – Rev. 22:19
What the critics would say: According to Ellen White a believer can lose his/her salvation. This is a false teaching of Mrs. Whites used to gain control over her naiive followers. So long as she could keep them from having assurance of salvation she could control them into living the ultra-strict life she advocated.
9) Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 1 Corinthians 7:27 NASB
What the critics would say: Notice the way Mrs. White describes marriage. Rather than a joy she speaks of being “bound” to a wife as though marriage was some sort of prison. She even goes so far as to suggest that single men should not seek a wife! What is this? Some Adventist version of celibacy? Does the SDA church have an order of male nuns? This negative view on marriage clearly reflects her own dysfunctional marriage to James White.
10) So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Luke 14:33
What the critics would say: Here we see evidence that Ellen White sympathized with the communist/ socialist movement and even advocated a communal type of living arrangement for Adventist believers. This idea of surrendering ones personal property is a clear identifying marker of cults. Beware!
Bonus: As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. – Timothy 5:11-12
What the critics would say: Ha! Can you believe this statement? According to the Adventist prophet, if a widow remarries she isforfeiting her dedication to Christ and bringing judgment on herself! Adventist wives had better pray their husbands never die on them or they will be forced into a lonely and celibate life lest they enter into judgment!
I suppose I could go on and on but by now I think you get the idea. All of you are reading my criticisms of these Bible texts and thinking “thats such an unfair criticism because it misrepresents what the Bible is actually saying!” That is true, and yet I have done it on purpose to demonstrate how the same exact method is used to attack Ellen White. It is not only unethical and unfair but speaks volumes to the lack of genuine scholarly work done by the critics of Ellen White.For a great source on Ellen White apologetics visit ellenwhiteanswers.org
There are two Bible stories every kid learns growing up in Sabbath School: Daniel and the Lions’ Den and David against Goliath. The story of David and Goliath is arguably the most iconic story in the entire Bible, one that is told and retold in a million different ways. We even use the saying “a David and Goliath story” to describe an underdog beating all the odds to come out victorious.
The antagonist of this epic is the Philistine Goliath, who is emblematic of his people. The Philistines are viewed as the Bible’s primary villains and their struggles with the “good guy” Israelites are depicted in remarkable detail throughout the Bible’s pages. Although not nearly a powerhouse nation such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or Rome, they interact (almost always antagonistically) with the Israelites more than anyone else. They are portrayed as the bad guys and we tend to view them as such. Often our image of the Philistines is colored by the Bible’s attitude toward them. We see them as rough, beer-drinking, pig-eating, uncultured thugs. In fact we even call people a “Philistine” if they are behaving in a rude way.
But who were the Philistines really? Were they truly these rough and tumble barbarians? Or is the reality a bit more nuanced than our perception?
The Philistines were not native to Canaan, or as archaeologist prefer, the southern Levant (referring to the region that predominantly comprises modern Israel). The Bible in both Amos 9:7 and Jeremiah 47:4 refers to them as having hailed from “Caphtor,” which Hebrew scholars equate with the island of Crete. Essentially, they were Greek in origin, specifically a culture known as Mycenaean, coming from the Aegean Sea and migrating to the southern Levant in the early part of the 12th century BC.
This requires a little further background. At the end of what archaeologists call the Late Bronze Age (roughly 1550-1200 BC), the entire Mediterranean world suffered a massive cultural collapse. During the Late Bronze, the Egyptian New Kingdom (of Thutmose III and Rameses II fame) controlled lands as far north as modern northern Lebanon and Syria. In Mesopotamia, the Mitanni Empire was thriving; the Hittite Empire controlled most of Turkey and south, coming into conflict with Egypt.
In Greece, the Mycenaean culture was booming. Crete and its palace at Knossos formed one of the nexuses for Mycenaean power as a loose confederation of city states expanded their sea trade and military power. If anyone has read the Iliad or knows the story of Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Hector, Priam, Paris, Helen, or the famed wooden horse, these were the Mycenaeans. Their pottery, examples of their trading network are found in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Canaan, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.
Then, around 1200 BC, everything fell apart. Why this happened is not entirely clear. Various reason have been offered ranging from climate change, to overexpansion, to warfare. But whatever the reason, unilaterally the great powers of the Mediterranean world collapsed. Egypt began losing control over conquered territories as the nation became fractured. The Hittite Empire’s leadership fell apart. The Mitanni Empire simply ceases to be. The Mycenaeans faced invasion from a group of barbarian tribes called the Dorics. As a result, many of them fled east and among them were the Philistines.
Around this time, records begin to show a group of marauding pirates labelled the “Sea Peoples” that were ransacking cities up and down the eastern Mediterranean coast. They were the Tjeker (or Sikils), Shekelesh, Denye, Weshesh, and Peleset, or Philistines, according to Egyptian records. They started in the north along Turkey, sacking the city of Tarsus (where Paul would later hail), and began moving steadily south. The great city of Ugarit was destroyed by the Sea Peoples. The island of Cyprus was conquered. The city of Dor fell as well. Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza were taken over by the Sea Peoples as well. Eventually they made it as far as the Nile Delta itself where Ramses III repelled them (according to him) in an epic sea battle.
It seems this battle more or less stopped the Sea Peoples’ rampage as they had run out of places to attack. The Denye (or Danaoi for Homer fans), took over Cyprus. The Tjeker settled in Dor as well as sailing west to Sicily (which derives its name from the Sikils). The Sherden took over Acco. And the Peleset, or Philistines, settled along the southern coast of Canaan and established their famed pentapolis of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza.
These cities formed the political and economic centers of Philistia and ought to be viewed as their own, independent entities. Unlike other nations, the Philistines did not have a king, although English translations of both the Bible and Assyrian records use that title. Instead, each city was ruled by a “seren” in Hebrew, which seems to be a loan word from an Aegean language and has no known cognate in any Semitic language. These five serens formed a right enough alliance with each other that they are viewed as a single entity. They shared a culture and heritage and as such traded together, fought together, and lived in harmony with each other. Yet as far as we can tell, they were viewed as equals
Exactly how one became a seren is unclear. The Bible never explains it and the Philistines were not exactly known for their record keeping. Not that it would matter; almost all the inscriptions from the first two hundred years or so from Philistine sites are in the cryptic Linear A Aegean language and these are rare enough. It is possible serens were elected officials like the leaders of Athens some 700 years later, although most likely it was a hereditary position. Still, the Philistine pentapolis is the closest we get to democracy in the southern Levant, particularly in a major military and political force. It should be also noted while large houses have been found, no palaces have been uncovered.
Upon settling down, the Philistines took advantage of their location and began building up a trade based economy. Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza are all cities built on the coast were major trading hubs during the Bronze and Iron Ages, Ashkelon in particular. Since they had begun this migration with Sea Peoples settled in major ports across the Mediterranean, they had a ready-made trading network which they exploited. While most of the world declined economically during the 12th and 11th centuries, Cyprus, Dor, Acco, and Ashkelon thrived, as indicated by the prolific amounts of foreign pottery found at these sites.
The land the Philistines took over was the best in all of the southern Levant. Rainfall in the Shephelah (foothills to the Judean hill country) washed rich soil down to the Philistine plain. Being on the coast, they rarely, if ever, lacked for adequate rainfall. The region was particularly good for growing grapes and wine was the chief export of the region. Industrial wineries have been found at Ekron and Ashkelon, indicating they mass produce the drink and Philistine wine jars have been found all over the Mediterranean.
In addition to wine, the Philistine territory was great for growing wheat and olives. By the 7th century, Ekron had become the oil capital of the southern Levant. More than a hundred oil facilities supplied the demands of enormous markets such as Egypt who could not grow olives. Regarding wheat, the Philistines grew enough of it to make Dagan, the Canaanite god of wheat, their primary deity.
Like the Israelites and Canaanites, the Philistines raised sheep and goats. However, uniquely they raised pigs as well. In fact, during the Philistine settlement, there is a sharp spike in pig bones found while definitively Canaanite and Israelite sites have few to none. The contrast is so sharp, the presence of pig bones is one of the diagnostic markers in determining whether or not a site was Philistine or Israelite/Canaanite.
Not only were the Philistines in prime sea trade real estate, but the international coastal highway, the primary trading route from Egypt to Mesopotamia, ran right through the middle of Philistia. They controlled the land and sea trade through the southern Levant.
As a result of this, Philistine cities were tremendously cosmopolitan. Cypriot, Greek, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and even the occasional Italian item have been found in their cities. The Philistines stood at one of the nexuses of international exchange. At first, they made efforts to preserve their Aegean heritage. Their temples were built in Aegean style. They had unique hearths in the middle of their rooms, similar to hearths found in Greece and Crete. Their pottery, in particular the bichrome (two-colored), preserved Mycenaean motifs such as birds and deer. Even their language, the aforementioned Linear A which still has not been cracked, is Aegean.
But as time went on, the Philistines grew to absorb the various cultural elements of the myriad of people they came in contact with. Eventually they adopted the Canaanite/Hebrew language with their own variation. Their pottery was Greek in style, with elements of everyone else thrown in. Toward the beginning of their occupation, they adopted Egyptian style coffins with their own unique twist. They were as diverse a people as one can find in the ancient world as they had a little bit of everyone. Not only were they not uncultured, but their massive cities served as the cultural capitals of the Levant. They introduced art to the Levant, as well as new pottery forms such as the krater and a bell-shaped bowl used as for serving wine and drinking cups. If you wanted to hear a new idea or find out what the latest fashion trends were, you went to the Philistines.
As their trading network increased, so did their population, doubling with in a century. Tapping into their warrior roots, the Philistines began pushing into the highlands, bringing them into conflict with the Israelites. Militarily, the Philistines were vastly superior to the Israelites. They brought new weapons, such as the Aegean long sword (referred to as a spear in the Goliath account) and powerful iron chariots who were complimented by an elite infantry.
Initially, the Israelites were overwhelmed by the Philistine onslaught, culminating in the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Ebenezer where Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas were killed and the Ark was captured. Although not recorded in the Bible, shortly after this, Shiloh, where the Tabernacle was located, was sacked by the Philistines.
This threat was something entirely new to the Israelites. The Philistine confederacy coupled with their control of trade, new technology, and strange political organization was different than the petty Canaanite, Ammonite, and Moabite kings the Israelites had fought before. It is most likely this threat that prompted the Israelite leaders to come to the aging Samuel and request a king to truly unite and lead them.
Saul had some success in slowing the Philistine advance on the highlands, who had entrenched themselves as far east as Michmash (located in the modern-day West Bank, on the east side of the highlands). Saul and Jonathan managed to expel the Philistines for a time back down to the Shephelah but all of this was reversed at the catastrophe on Mount Gilboah. After this battle, the Philistines controlled the entire Jezreel Valley, which connected the coast with the Transjordan and Mesopotamia and cut Israel in two.
This was the high point for Philistia. David and Joab’s rise to power in the power vacuum left by Saul lead to a series of crushing defeats for the Philistines, resulting in the destruction of Philistine cities such as Tell Qasile (on the Yarkon River near modern Tel Aviv), Timnah in the Shephelah, Dor, and even Ekron itself. Militarily and politically, the Philistines never quite recovered and spent the rest of their history as Israel and Judah’s little brother to the point Hezekiah forced Ekron and Ashkelon to go along with his ill-fated revolt against Sennacherib, likely against their will.
While politically and militarily weakened, the Philistines continued to flourish economically. Their ports continued to be major hubs of trade for the region and their exports of oil and wine were sought after all over the world. Eventually they, like everyone else in the Levant, fell under Assyria’s control but they continued to thrive, with the exception of Sennacherib’s campaign.
But with Assyria’s demise at the end of the 7th century, so too died the Philistines. Nebuchadnezzar did not give the Philistines a chance to side with him against the Assyrians and utterly destroyed their cities in his rampage of 604 BC. Ashkelon, Gaza, Ashdod, and Ekron all met fiery ends at the hands of the Babylonian king (Gath had been destroyed some two hundred years earlier at the hands of Hadadezer, king of Aram). After that, the Philistines vanished from history.
So who were the Philistines? They were pirates, conquerors, traders, farmers, and connoisseurs of culture. Far from being uncultured thugs, they operated the cultural capital of the southern Levant. They brought new art and technology to the region and were the agents of change in Israel. Without the Philistines, there might never have been a David.
There was a lot here and so if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask away. That’s what I’m here for, after all. Next up will be the Samaritans, unless anyone has a specific request, in which case let me know.
Stager, Lawrence E. “Forging an identity: the emergence of Ancient Israel.”The Oxford History of the Biblical World (1998): 123-75.
Stager, Lawrence E. “The impact of the Sea Peoples in Canaan (1185-1050 BCE).” The Archaeology of society in the Holy Land (1995): 332-48.
On October 22, 2015, the 171st Anniversary of the Great Disappointment of 1844, Spectrum Magazine published an article entitled, “1844 – Pillar of Faith or Mortal Wound.”
According to the author, “…the viability of 1844 as a prophetic marker continues to depend heavily on isolated proof-texts. It seems Adventist scholars who defend 1844 as an unmovable rock are satisfied with finding tiny hooks in a few chosen verses that appear to (albeit remotely) support our position.” Moreover, “…we have been given in to the temptation to hold on to tradition instead of continuing to study Scripture. We have overstated our case and stretched the evidence in order to confirm our “prophetic identity.” And frankly, that is all 1844 really is, it only massages our corporate ego, it does little for the individual believer. I can believe that Jesus has been my perfect intercessor since the ascension without jeopardizing my standing with God.” Therefore, “We should have the humility to accept that we may have been wrong all along about the nature and timeline of Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven.”[i]
This article is just one of hundreds that have been written over the years by non-Adventists, former Adventists and, church members alike, questioning the validity of this unique Adventist doctrine. Objections have been raised that:
-The Investigative Judgment (IJ) is nothing more than a feeble face-saving attempt to address the mistake of 1844.
-It is an extra-Biblical doctrine invented entirely by Ellen White.
-It cheapens the Reformation gospel of Salvation by grace through faith.
-It robs Adventists of the assurance of salvation and causes them to live in constant fear.
-No other denomination has seen any value in this doctrine and hence all have rejected it.
-A good number of Adventist ministers and theologians secretly know the doctrine to be false but are afraid to admit it.
Adventists have repeatedly refuted each of these claims. Nevertheless, the critics do not relent. If we respond with a humble and open mind on these issues, we are interpreted as being uncertain. If we reply with perfect confidence, we are accused of being dogmatic and intransigent. It seems no matter what answers Adventists can come up with they appear to always be interpreted as reactionary inventions cooked up to keep ourselves from having to bury a dead concept; one that depends on the KJV translation for its veracity, on isolated and dubious texts such as Daniel 8:14, on the day/year principle, or on the translation of some uncertain Greek or Hebrew terms.
In light of these attacks, one would think the debate was over. Nevertheless, as we will now demonstrate, the debate is far from over. While critics may pride themselves in their long list of seemingly conclusive arguments, the truth is they have no argument. But if they have no argument then why do they continue to press the matter?
The answer is simple. Over the decades, Adventists have allowed the critics to portray the IJ as a sort of theoretical concoction that is entirely dependent on the veracity of a long series of prerequisite assumptions (such as day/year, Daniel 8:14, etc.). And if there is any doubt regarding any of these assumptions, the entire theological structure collapses like a house of cards.
However, the IJ cannot be refuted this way (as the author of the Spectrum article and other critics have gone about it). Their approach, in essence, has been a futile attempt to kill a tree by plucking off the leaves. This doctrine is not dependent on the day/year principle, Dan. 8:14, Leviticus or some passage in Hebrews – that is only the route by which Adventists came to discover it. In reality, the IJ is much broader and rests first of all on an Arminian understanding of the Protestant gospel.
Classical Arminianism and Free Will
During the Protestant Reformation, two distinct camps emerged under the banner of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and Sola Gratia with conflicting views regarding the human will. The first, Calvinism, rejected the idea of free will in favor of predestination.[ii] This perspective was later articulated as five distinct points using the mnemonic T.U.L.I.P. (see chart below for more info).
(P)erseverance of the Saints
In contrast, the second camp, Arminianism, fully supported the concept of human free will and therefore rejected each one of the five points above. Please take a look at the following chart for a more detailed explanation of the differences, paying special attention to point number five:
Now here comes the tricky part and, incidentally, the most important part:
Over time, a third camp emerged that took something of a hybrid approach. They adopted the first four points from the Arminian side and the fifth point from the Calvinist side giving rise to what is popularly referred to as the concept of Once Saved Always Saved (hereafter O.S.A.S). What’s tricky about this is that they still call themselves Arminian even though, in discussions about the IJ, how they feel about point number five of the TULIP formula is the single, most important factor. (For the remainder of this paper I will be using the labels “Classical Arminianism” vs. “O.S.A.S. Arminianism”)
Therefore, in any discussion about the IJ, before any mention is made of Hebrew terms in Daniel or Greek terms in Hebrews or the validity of the day-year principle, two questions should be asked of any critic:
1) Are you a Calvinist?
2) If not, do you believe in Once Saved Always Saved?
Why does this matter? Because all Classical Arminians reject the idea of Once Saved Always Saved, they all believe that a person who has experienced a genuine new birth can still be lost, and therefore, all believe in some form of IJ differentiating between believers, even though they don’t call it that.[iv] However, most Arminians also believe that when a person dies, they are carried directly into the presence of God for judgment. At this moment, it is determined if they were faithful or not and the sentence is pronounced for either reward or punishment.[v] Adventists, on the other hand, believe that people rest in their graves until the resurrection. Thus, there is no longer a necessity to force-fit the IJ immediately after death; we don’t need to rationalize away all the Biblical passages that speak of the judgment as being in the future. Since we believe Jesus will bring His reward with Him at His coming, the judgment needs only to take place shortly prior to that.
In essence, the Adventist doctrine of the IJ is the natural outgrowth of Arminianism and Soul Sleep. All the other elements (1844, the Hebrews passages, the day-year principle) are useful in understanding the judgment and its relevance, but they are not essential.[vi] In other words, the IJ does not stand or fall on any of those issues. Its necessity stands or falls on the validity of Classical Arminianism and its eventuality stands or falls on the validity of Soul Sleep theology. Since Adventists correctly affirm both of these foundations to be true, we are therefore correct about the nature of the IJ. At this juncture, the likelihood that we are also correct about all these other elements, including the timing, is extremely high before the conversation even starts.
In summary, if a person believes that:
1) Salvation can be lost,
2) That God judges,
3) That the souls of men sleep until the resurrection
4) And, that this reward/punishment is not received until the resurrection,
Such a person will very likely come to believe in an Adventist-like pre-advent IJ irrespective of any other factors. If salvation can be lost, this matter must be objectively decided before the church goes to heaven. If God judges, then part of his judgment work would be to determine the faithful from the apostate (the nature of the IJ).[vii] At this point, we have the basic building blocks for the IJ. And while 3rd and 4th propositions do not lead us to 1844 (the timing of the IJ) they leave the door comfortably open for such a possibility.[viii] And, this is why those who attack this doctrine on peripheral issues like Greek or Hebrew terminology are, quite honestly, wasting their time. If critics would like to tear the IJ down as a theological concept the only way to do it would be to deny its Classical Arminian foundation and the Mortal Soul concept which naturally gives birth to the IJ as Adventists understand it (Appendix A). However, the critics have not and cannot do this which is why, after many decades of effort, they have failed in their attempts to refute this doctrine.
Johnny, Jim, and Bob
For the sake of clarity, let’s take a brief look at how each of the three theological traditions views salvation.
Before the foundations of the world, God decreed that Johnny would be lost, and Jim saved for reasons having nothing to do with them. So, for example, Johnny might be a relatively good person and Jim a criminal. Nonetheless, because God ordained it, Johnny would never come to recognize his need of a Savior or repent of his sins. Jim, on the other hand, at some point in his life, will come to repent and experience a genuine new birth.
Moreover, even if Jim falls away after being born again, some time before his death, he will come back to Christ and die having made peace with God. Again, all this for no other reason than that God has decreed it to be so; neither Johnny nor Jim chose any of it or could change their fate if they wanted to. Therefore, an IJ in such a case would be pointless.
Under this paradigm, both Johnny and Jim are offered the gospel invitation. They are both free to accept or reject that invitation, and God does not interfere with this choice. Johnny, of his own free will, chooses to reject it and Jim to accept it. However, having accepted the invitation and having experienced a genuine new birth, his salvation is secure and can no longer be lost. It does not matter if after being born again he turns away from God, becomes more evil than Hitler himself, or longs with all his heart to undo his former decision to come to Christ. His salvation is sealed; he no longer has free will in this respect. So a pre-Advent IJ in this situation would be pointless since there is, in a technical sense, no such thing as an apostate.
To understand this perspective, we need to introduce Bob. As before, the gospel invitation is still being extended freely to all. Johnny, as usual, rejects it. Both Jim and Bob accept it. They both open their hearts to Christ; they are both born again, sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, pardoned of their sins, declared to be the sons of God, and there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels on behalf of both. However, only Jim makes it to heaven while Bob ends up lost in the end.[ix] So it is evident that an IJ, in this case, is far more complex a process than simply whether a person has accepted Christ or not.[x]
Again, Arminian Protestants would argue that this IJ of sorts takes place when Jim and Bob die. Both would be ushered into the presence of God where their case would be reviewed either for heaven or hell. Jim would make it to heaven by virtue of his faith in Christ. Bob, on the other hand, having decided to turn his back on Christ, would be turned away. Since, as Adventists, we do not believe in the immortality of the soul and therefore that God has to have a place ready for the soul immediately after death, there is no need to enter into this judgment then and there. In fact, there are even some Christians who, recognizing that the judgment takes place in the future, attempt to harmonize this by proposing some type of “holding cell” where people don’t immediately get their reward but only await their day in court. To support this, they make reference to Peter’s “spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19 KJV) and to the example of the fallen angels whom “he has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6). All these being workarounds Adventists don’t need because we don’t believe the dead are conscious. Nor does God need to judge each person one at a time but instead “has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31).
For over a century and a half, the Adventist church has been challenged by critics from inside and outside the denomination, insisting that the doctrine of the IJ is unbiblical at best and cultic at worst. These voices have called us to discard this teaching if we wish to remain orthodox. Nevertheless, we remain unconvinced by the many peripheral attacks made against this doctrine for we see it, not as dependent on a long list of small exegetical presuppositions, but as the natural outgrowth of Classical Arminianism and Soul Sleep. In light of this foundation we concur that many critics of the IJ are, quite possibly, either:
1) Concerned with Classical Arminianism, a debate that was raging centuries before Adventism came around.
2) Concerned with non-essentials (day/year principle, Daniel 8:14, 1844, the meaning of chatak in Daniel 9, the connection between Daniel 8 and 9, Leviticus, the book of Hebrews, etc.) in which case, we are free to disagree without having to discard the entire doctrine.
3) Concerned with a pseudo IJ in which case they are really attacking a straw man.
4) Unaware of the real theological issues at hand such as the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, and their development throughout the centuries.
In conclusion, the Adventist church will not discard the IJ because we have no need to do so and critics have failed in providing us with one. Therefore, our message to the critics of the IJ is as follows:
1) If you are a Calvinist/ OSAS Arminian, you need to be upfront about this. At this juncture, the debate is not so much about the IJ peripherals as much as the IJ foundation – Classical Arminianism. So rather than expending valuable time debating non-essentials let’s get to the core of it.[xi]
2) If you are a Classical Arminian, then we invite you to re-explore the topic with an open mind. There are countless resources that conclusively demonstrate that the IJ doctrine is scripturally sound.
3) If, regardless of anything the Adventist church does, you maintain that the IJ is heretical and false then we have no burden to enter into controversy with you. The church cannot consume valuable time and energy in attempting to satisfy the accusations of those whose minds are made up beyond reason.
Moreover, we have a message to the Adventist church as well. As a church, we need to be more proactive in confronting people of influence (counter-cult apologists, Christian leaders, etc.) who continue to either misunderstand or misrepresent our views. There is no reason to keep struggling against the current when taking our message to the general public because a few key people continue to incite prejudice and superstition. We have a solid foundation for the IJ and we can stand firm on it as we continue to explore and perfect our understanding of the details that make this doctrine so unique in the Christian world.
Appendix A: Possible Objections
The Classical Arminianism/ Soul Sleep combination gives Adventism a strong philosophical basis for believing in an IJ. However, some may continue to argue that while this combination may leave the door open to an IJ as the church understands it, it does not necessarily demand that such a conclusion be reached. In light of this objection, this appendix will explore each of the alternative views of judgment that are logically possible under the Arminian/ Soul Sleep combination and demonstrate how the official SDA understanding on the matter continues to be the most satisfactory conclusion.
The IJ Cannot possibly be true because it is anti-gospel/ perfectionistic in nature.
Little needs to be said regarding this attack. While we wholeheartedly agree that this doctrine has been abused to promote legalism and perfectionism, Adventist theologians and scholars have repeatedly demonstrated that this is a perversion of the doctrine, not its essence. The fact that critics continue to make this claim demonstrates that they are either Calvinists who think Classical Arminianism is anti-gospel, OSAS Arminians who think the doctrine of eternal security is a test of gospel orthodoxy, or they remain ignorant of Adventism’s soteriological heritage. Needless to say, any student concerned with the implications that the IJ has for a proper understanding of the gospel can find numerous resources that answer this question to the satisfaction of anyone who acknowledges the legitimacy of Classical Arminian soteriology. We recommend some in our resource page below.
God knows who is saved without a judgment
One might argue that while Classical Arminians reject once saved always saved it does not necessarily follow that a judgment is necessary for “God knows those who are his”. In this argument then, the need for any judgment of any sort remains unnecessary due to the omniscience of God. While the Arminian/ Soul Sleep combination may, in fact, leave the door open for a concept such as the IJ, it does not necessarily mandate such a conclusion. Because God knows who has turned their back on Christ, there is no need for him to perform a work of judgment to determine who has been faithful and who has not. God can simply allow the faithful in and reject the apostate on the basis of his own perfect knowledge.
Such a conclusion, while certainly permitted within the Arminian/ Soul Sleep framework, is nevertheless lacking in various aspects. The most obvious would be that such a position is more in keeping with Calvinism than Classical Arminianism. Part of Classical Arminianism’s meta-narrative is that God is benevolent. This benevolence of God opens the door for a fairness, transparency, and general other-centered concern that is not self-evident in Calvinism. Because Christians acknowledged that the sin-drama has affected the entire universe, including angels, it is only fair and transparent for God to allow the finite creation into his all-knowing judgments. However, the idea that God would judge everyone based solely on his omniscience denies this other-centered concern and does not fit the Arminian framework. Again, such a position is more logically consistent with Calvinism, which elevates the sovereignty of God to such a height that God becomes, in the estimation of all Arminians, arbitrary and aloof. In Calvinism, God acts according to his desires with no input or apparent concern for the thoughts of others. This makes perfect sense for Calvinism denies the freedom of the will. Thus, within this framework, a God who acts according to his omniscience without any benevolent concern for the thoughts of his created beings is perfectly in keeping. However, Arminianism is a denial of Calvinism, which, while maintaining the sovereignty of God does so by paradoxically balancing this with the freedom of man thus resulting in a much different picture of God. The picture that emerges from the Arminian concept of God is that of a God is certainly omniscient but likewise benevolent. Thus, to suggest that God would judge the world based on his omniscience alone is to deny his benevolence toward the angels who have been involved in the same drama over humanity’s salvation and the sin problem. Sadly, many Classical Arminians, in their desire to refute the IJ doctrine switch their God-picture from Arminianism to Calvinism in order to raise this objection without even realizing it. Thus, while it is true that God does know who is saved without a judgment, it is equally true that the judgment is not intended to be based solely on Gods omniscience but on his benevolence as well. As a result, it makes much more sense to see God as participating in a work of judgment that is transparent for the benefit of all creation.
Thus, while it is certainly permitted to argue against a judgment on the basis of God’s omniscience in the Arminian/ Soul Sleep framework Adventist theologians are under no obligation to do so and in fact, are more internally consistent by not switching their view of God from Arminian to Calvinist for the sake of arguing against a particular doctrine.
God judges through unconscious soul sleep.
One might likewise argue that while Adventists reject the immortal soul doctrine, it does not necessarily follow that the judgment must be a corporate event that begins at some point in human history. God could just as easily judge each person while they are unconsciously asleep. According to this view, the only difference between Adventists and other Arminians is that the human is not consciously present at their judgment but is nevertheless judged at the moment of their death.
This is certainly a viable position to take. However, those who take this position are still affirming that believers must be judged and that Christ’s ministry did not end at the cross. In addition, they still have to explain why God would have to judge if he is omniscient, what benefit the judgment has for creation, why the judgment has gone for so long, what the judgment actually means for believers, the relationship of that judgment to assurance, the relevance/ importance of such a judgment and the relationship of the day of atonement to the judgment (since every believer would face their own “day of atonement” where the faithful were separated from the apostates after death so to speak).
In other words, if a person affirms the need for an IJ they may continue to deny the validity of 1844 by suggesting that the judgment takes place at each individual person’s death. However, at this point, they would have to embrace all of the concepts of the IJ doctrine with the exception of its structure or timing. If a person decides to go this route, the entire debate has shifted from two fronts (soteriological and eschatological) to just one – the eschatological. By affirming the need for an IJ under the Arminian / Soul Sleep framework, we eliminate the soteriological debate and find ourselves in need of an IJ of some sort. At this point, the only question that remains is: How does God choose to perform the judgment? Does he do it individually? Or, has he ordained a day in history in which he will begin a judgment process? (We will address this question in more detail in a future article. Appendix B briefly explores this.)
Because Adventists do not believe in the immortal soul, we are under no obligation to force the judgment onto each individual at the moment of death. Such a judgment would be unnecessary since the person would rest in the grave until the second coming anyways. Thus, there would be no need for the judgment to take place at each individual death. As a result, Adventist theologians are free to take the Biblical texts pointing to a judgment day future of the cross but prior to the second coming as literally pointing to a judgment process that begins at a certain point in human history.
God may in fact judge, but has not revealed how.
Finally, one may attempt to argue that while the Classical Arminian + Soul Sleep combination may lead to an IJ of some sort the Bible does not reveal any details on how. In other words, the foundation for the IJ may be solid but everything else we believe about the IJ is false because scripture simply does not reveal the details of the IJ as much as Adventists claim it does. With this argument in mind, a critic may insist that the best we can do is affirm that all will be judged but will still have to discard all of the peripheral details which Adventists believe about the IJ leaving us with a similar pre-advent judgment theology to that of the United Methodists who, – in reference to the judgment – refuse to enter into specifics. Adventism’s IJ is, therefore, still false because it claims to understand more about God’s judgment than scripture actually reveals. To borrow the words of Andre Reis (the above cited article), “We have overstated our case and stretched the evidence…” A critic who raises this argument may, in fact, go on to say that the foundation for the IJ does not help the SDA case at all because all it does is give us the basics – but it’s not the basics that are the problem it’s the details that we foolishly claim to have ironed out.
However, this argument also fails. For starters, it’s really not that different to the previous “God judges through unconscious soul sleep” argument. And because it’s not that different it leads to the same conclusions. If we are agreeing to an IJ of some sort logic alone would lead us to the same questions as if we were talking about Adventism’s detailed IJ. Questions such as, “Why does God need to judge?” “Does this judgment deny assurance of salvation?” and “When does this judgment begin?” With these, and many other questions, Adventist theologians would have two options: 1) Opt for a “We don’t know and the Bible doesn’t say” or, 2) In typical Adventist fashion, go back to the scriptures and search for answers. It would be ridiculous to assert that the most noble course would be to evade the question and Adventist theologians and scholars are under no Biblical obligation to ignore the many texts that clearly answer the natural questions that would arise from a basic IJ motif. And it is by answering those naturally arising questions that we arrive at Adventism’s IJ doctrine. In addition, Adventist theologians and scholars have repeatedly demonstrated that the way in which we comprehend the details of the judgment are exegetically and theologically sound. Critics are free to disagree but our challenge would be that they not simply disagree but come up with a better IJ doctrine than what Adventism has discovered. And the truth is, they cannot do this. The best they can do is evade the question by claiming that scripture does not reveal these things.
In summary, there are four primary objections that can be raised against the philosophical foundation of the IJ doctrine within the Arminian/ Soul Sleep framework. Those four arguments, while permissible, nevertheless fail to account for the meta-narrative of both Arminianism and Soul Sleep. And while other arguments can be raised we are convinced that these four constitute the most plausible alternatives. Thus, we conclude that to believe in both Classical Arminianism and Soul Sleep heavily demands a judgment narrative that begins at some point in human history between the cross and the second coming. The only way to deny such a powerful foundation is to deny Classical Arminianism. However, at this point, a person is no longer debating the IJ but the age old Calvinism, Arminian, OSAS debate that has raged from centuries past until this very day. In addition, if a person takes this position they are certainly free to label Adventists as heretics so long as they are ready to label all Classical Arminians heretics alongside us. And if that is the case, I speak on behalf of many Adventists that I know when I say we will gladly accept the label.
The IJ stands strong, not based on little verses here and there, but on the logical outworking of the Arminian and Soul Sleep meta-narratives coming together into one cohesive theological system. While this certainly does not settle all of the questions it gives the SDA church a foundation for believing in the IJ from which we can confidently debate, discuss, and explore the sanctuary, Hebrews, and the eschatological ramifications of Daniel 8-9. It is to some of these themes that we now turn.
Appendix B: Common Objections
We will now briefly explore some of the more common objections raised regarding the details of the IJ doctrine. Keep in mind that all of the following arguments are incapable of refuting the IJ for they deal with details, not foundation. In addition, none of the thoughts included here are exhaustive. They are not intended to be the final word on the matter. These are simply some brief thoughts on the common objections that we feel can aid the conversation regarding the details of the judgment that often come under attack.
The fact that there is an IJ that takes place shortly prior to the second coming brings the yearly Hebrew festivals into perspective:
In the spring, the Israelites celebrated the Passover, the feast of Unleavened Bread, the First Fruits and Pentecost. In the fall, they celebrated the feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. Our critics insist that the Day of Atonement was fulfilled at the cross. Does that mean that all the other feasts were also fulfilled at the cross? The Adventist perspective where the spring festivals represented Christ’s death, resurrection, and Pentecost while the fall festivals events at the end of the world (Pre-Advent Judgment, the second coming, etc.) is a far more sensible interpretation than anything our critics have been able to produce. The Adventist understanding of the pre-Advent Judgment makes for a perfect fit.
The Book of Hebrews
Some Bible translations say that Jesus went straight into the Most Holy place immediately after His ascension. How does this line up with the Adventist understanding?
Thousands of hours have been spent by scholars debating whether the Greek terms translated “Holy Place” in the King James should have been more accurately translated “Most Holy Place” or rather “Holy Places.”
However, why would we assume that the point of the Earthly Sanctuary was to teach us about heavenly geography? Was the ‘pattern’ given to Moses really intended as an exact architectural blueprint of heavenly real-estate?
Consider for a second what the sanctuary service would have looked like if every minor aspect was intended to be an exact representation of the real thing:
– there should have been just one sacrifice instead of many
– the ceremonies should have been conducted just once instead of year after year
– the altar should have been a cross
– and, since the high priest represented Christ, he should have offered himself instead of a lamb as the sacrifice, etc., etc.
It is never a good idea to take a model and expect it to reflect the real thing perfectly in every specific.
In the Old Testament, the priests were sinful human beings. As they ministered daily in the Holy Place, they needed a veil to shield them from the Shekinah Glory in the Most Holy place. Jesus, however, doesn’t have that problem; He is holy, undefiled, separate from sinners. As such, He could enter directly into God’s presence and even sit down at His right hand. None of this in any way detracts from the fact that there was a ‘daily’ ministry and a ‘yearly ministry’ (Day of Atonement) and that the anti-type of the yearly ministry more sensibly starts in the recent past rather than immediately at the ascension.
What about the 1844 date itself?
There is much that has been written on this already that will carry far more weight now that the reader understands the solid foundation of the Investigative Judgement. I will just share a few thoughts here:
The Day-Year Principle
If there is one idea that really doesn’t need defending is the day-year principle, as much as the critics might disagree.
The fact that there is a passage that says,
‘from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince’ Dan. 9:25
And that there is a decree in Ezra 7 given in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes (the dates of whose reign I can quickly pull up on Google), and that if I add the specified time to this date I get to the time of Jesus, is overwhelming evidence that these are not meant to be taken as literal days but as years. There are very few things in Scripture that can be demonstrated as persuasively as this.
For a more thorough exploration of this topic (Historicism) and of the challenges posed by Futurism, Preterism, and Idealism we invite the reader to avail themselves of the numerous resources published by SDA scholars and theologians.
The Spectrum article we started this discussion with mentioned that ‘when in doubt, it is best to let the prophetic text lie in its original, unadulterated state without trying to impose an interpretation on it’ and that there’s a place ‘where questioning takes preeminence over believing. It is most of all, a place where humility replaces interpretative assertiveness.’
In the Bible, there is one time period that appears seven different times:
– Daniel 7:25 He shall speak great words against the most high, and shall wear out the saints of the most high, and think to change times and laws — and they shall be given into his hands until a time and times and the dividing of a time.
– Daniel 12:7 It shall be for a time, times, and half a time that he can scatter the power of the holy people.
– Revelation 11:2 The holy city they tread under foot forty and two months.
– Revelation 11:3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophecy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.
– Revelation 12:6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and sixty days.
– Revelation 12:14 And the woman was given wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
– Revelation 13:5 And there was given to the beast a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and power was given to him to continue fourty and two months.
It seems to me that if God is going to hammer us over the head seven times with a time period, then it probably means that at least in this one instance, God does want us to exercise “interpretative assertiveness.” So even if nothing else, we can, at least, be certain about the prophetic significance of 1260 years somewhere between 500 and 1800 A.D.
According to the apostle Paul,
…we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled… as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. 2 Thess. 2:1-3 KJV
Thus, according to Paul, there was something that needed to happen before the second coming, which, according to the book of Daniel lasted until about the 1800s. We already expected the judgment to start a short time prior to the second coming, but Daniel tells us specifically that it would start after the 1260 years. Therefore, even if for some reason Adventists are mistaken about 1844, they are only off by a few years or decades.
Appendix C: Why it Matters
Another question that was raised by the Spectrum article is why the individual Christian should care about doctrines like the Investigative Judgement, the Sanctuary, 1844, etc. Here are some of those reasons:
1) An understanding the Old Testament sanctuary service provides strong confirmation that the Classical Arminian perspective is, in fact, the correct one.
2) The sanctuary also confirms the Adventist view that Sanctification plays an important role in the Christian’s life.
3) The sanctuary reinforces our view of the prominent role of the Ten Commandments since they were placed right underneath the Mercy Seat representing God’s throne.
4) The prominent role of the Ten Commandments in the sanctuary becomes an additional confirmation of the importance of the Sabbath.
5) The sanctuary perspective, although thought to rob Adventists of security, actually provides a firm basis for the assurance of salvation. Although Calvinists believe in predestination and the perseverance of the saints, if they happen to fall into serious sin, they often question whether they were elected to begin with. O.S.A.S. Arminians, theoretically do have a firmer basis for security than Calvinists. However, they stiff face the same conundrum as Calvinists. In addition, the psychological instinct for guilt tends to overwrite in most cases whatever theological assurance there might be. And, Classical Arminians always did struggle with assurance.
Adventists, however, saw in the sanctuary that Jesus participated in two distinct ministries, that of intercessor and that of judge. And, that these two ministries were separated in time. What this meant was that Jesus did not need to judge the sinner every time he sinned since there would be plenty of time for that during the IJ at the end of time. Throughout the person’s life, therefore, Jesus could focus His entire attention towards extending the sinner love, mercy, and grace; whatever necessary to save them if at all possible. So while the Calvinist or O.S.A.S. Arminian, having committed some grievous sin, might wrestle with doubt, the Adventist could still come boldly to the throne of grace knowing that, while there will be a judgment in the future, at this point there is no condemnation and Jesus is ready to receive with open arms. In addition, Adventists saw in the judgment the continued presence of Jesus intercessory ministry and his desire, not to condemn, but to vindicate. Therefore, the picture of a God who ever lives to vindicate his people, never to condemn, gives the IJ believer a stronger sense of assurance without erroneously leading them to the brinks of antinomianism or universalism. See this article for a more detailed explanation:
6) The doctrine of the IJ anchors us in time. Today, most evangelical Christians believe that we are very close to the second coming. However, they have no idea why they believe this. If you ask them why it is that Jesus promised the disciples to go prepare a place and come back to for them but then didn’t show up for 2000 years, the most they can say is that God does everything in own His time.
Through this doctrine, and through our understanding of the Great Controversy, Adventists came to understand that God allowed sin to continue on this earth for several thousand years because He wanted to ensure the security of the universe throughout the rest of eternity. He wanted to collect enough evidence regarding the destructive nature of sin such that no one would ever dream of taking that path again. Because of this, God had set a date in history prior to which it would be premature for the Great Controversy to end. Once that time was fulfilled, however, the IJ would start, and preparation would begin for the second coming.
Because of this understanding, Adventists could preach the soon return of Christ with a level of certainty that no other denomination has.
7) This doctrine clarifies our mission.
Throughout history, the average individual has had a lifetime of opportunities to come to Christ. When Jesus returns, however, there will be a generation of people whose probation will be cut short. If they happen to be 10 or 20 or 50 when Jesus comes, that is all the time they will get to make their decision. And, to offset the fact that an entire planet full of people will soon have their opportunities cut short, God has sent out a message of warning, a gospel invitation coupled with the additional sense of urgency. He has called us to help prepare the world for the close of probation so that Christ could return at last.
8) And finally, the IJ doctrine gives us the most powerful tool to prepare the world to reject the man-centered religion (Babylon) of the beast of Revelation 13. A brief explanation follows:
1) There is a little horn who will oppose God (Daniel 7-9).
2) This little horn is a religiopolitical power who will blaspheme God (claim to forgive sins/ alternate system of salvation).
3) This little horn would war against God by attacking his people.
4) This little horn would war against God by taking away the daily sacrifice (an OT type of Jesus sacrifice since at this point in history no cultic sacrifices were being made).
5) This little horn would trample the sanctuary (an OT type of the Gospel-narrative since no literal temple would exist during the time of this horn).
6) According to the angel, the little horn would get away with this for 2300 days and then the sanctuary would be restored (Daniel 8:14).
In other words, the predicted work of this little horn would be to establish an alternative system of salvation that would counter the gospel and sacrifice of Jesus. The horn would get away with this but 2300 days from the time of Daniels vision the sanctuary would be restored meaning the process of judgment would begin, and the horn would be condemned.
A study of history demonstrates that this is precisely what the little horn – the Roman church – did. Ultimately, the church developed its own system of salvation which replaced the true gospel (sanctuary was cast down). The restoration of the sanctuary is judgment against the horn. However, this judgment is not simply a reply to the horn but the predetermined time in which God would commence judgment. Nevertheless, this judgment has direct implications for the work of the little horn. The simplest demonstration of this is in the preciseness of the judgment. According to both Scripture and EGW, this judgment is so precise that no one can escape it, and nothing can be hidden from it. This reality proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the system of salvation the little-horn implemented (man-centered) would not be enough to attain salvation. Thus, the IJ doctrine is the strongest refutation of Romes legalism and priestly gospel abuse/ indulgences, etc. The only way to face this judgment with assurance of salvation is to trust only in the merits of Christ. Man-centered religion (Babylon) falls in light of the proclamation of this message.
In short, the IJ is such a strict and precise process that it forever undoes Rome’s alternative method of salvation and indeed – all alternative methods of salvation – by calling us to trust in the blood of Jesus alone as our only hope for time and eternity. He alone can satisfy the requirements of the law and thus, covered by him alone can we be declared innocent during the judgment. In light of the fact that the final crisis will see a resurgence of this religiopolitical power with its man-centered system of salvation, this message could not be any more urgent.
The relevance of the IJ could not be any clearer. With the second coming of Jesus so near and the final assault of Satan’s deception upon the world, Adventists have been called to take the torch of the Reformation to its ultimate conclusion – there is no salvation in any other method of salvation save Jesus-only. This is an urgent message that needs to be proclaimed especially now as the beast prepares to engulf the world once more in its false counter-narrative gospel.
The Case for the Investigative Judgment by Marvin Moore: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Investigative-Judgment-Marvin-Moore/dp/0816323852
The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism by George R. Knight: http://www.amazon.com/The-Apocalyptic-Vision-Neutering-Adventism/dp/0828023859
The Judgment and Assurance by W.W. Whidden: http://www.amazon.com.au/The-Judgment-Assurance-Woodrow-Whidden-ebook/dp/B0088HJJEA
The Pre-Advent Judgment by Marcos Torres: http://www.pomopastor.com/p/books.html
Facing Life’s Record (An Analysis of the Great Controversy’s Scariest Chapter) by Marcos Torres: http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/08/facing-lifes-record-analysis-of-great.html
[ii] While technically Lutheranism classifies as the first camp to emerge during the protestant reformation it failed to answer certain questions which then gave birth to Calvinism and Arminianism. It is these two camps that are most relevant to our discussion.
[iv] Some may argue that if all Arminians believed in a type of IJ differentiating between believers that they would A) have produced a parallel theology to the IJ by now or, B) have embraced Adventism’s IJ. However, these propositions can be rejected for the following reasons. A) Just because an IJ is logical within a Classical Arminian framework does not mean the theologians will willingly go that route. For example, in regards to the question of what happens at death (judgment, holding cell, etc.) United Methodists refuse to take a stance even exhibiting a level of uncertainty regarding their own immortal soul theology and using this as the basis for refusing to answer the question of the judgments eventuality. [http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-happens-after-a-person-dies] In addition, their rejection of Adventism’s IJ is most likely due to the way in which we as a church have failed to properly present this doctrine to the world. We elaborate on this in Appendix C which explores the relevance of the IJ but will elaborate in more detail in future articles.
[v] There are a variety of views in the protestant world regarding judgment. Some believe that the dead are judged right away. Others believe in a “holding cell theology” in which the dead are placed on hold until the return of Jesus at which point they receive their reward. With regard to the living some believe that they are judged just prior to the secret rapture.
[vi] Some might argue that Arminianism and Soul Sleep are not enough but that we also need the Great Controversy theme in order to arrive at the IJ. However, we would counter by saying that without Classical Arminianism the Great Controversy theme would not exist. While the Great Controversy theme is instrumental in making more sense of the IJ it is not essential for its foundation and is, in reality, yet another outgrowth of Classical Arminianism.
[vii] Some are entirely at variance with the idea of God having to engage in a judgment process that would determine the faithful from the apostate by virtue of his omniscience. However, such a judgment must necessarily take place. It is of no consequence if this judgment takes place in God’s mind, at death, a judgement prior to second coming or a judgement at or after second coming, or even if the knowledge of the faithful and the apostate has eternally existed in God’s foreknowledge. These are nonessentials. The point is, God necessarily engages in a judgment process that separates the faithful from the apostate. The timing of this judgment is a separate, non-essential (albeit relevant) issue.
[viii] By saying that the door is left comfortably open for the possibility of 1844 we do not intend to portray 1844 as an uncertain teaching. A future article will deal with the philosophical and exegetical foundations of the timing of the IJ and demonstrate that Adventists have no need to question this conclusion either.
[ix] Lest the reader be tempted into thinking that Classical Arminianism is inherently lacking in providing assurance of salvation observe the challenges that Calvinism and OSAS Arminianism have in this respect as well. In Calvinism God elects those he saves with no choice of their own. You can only become aware that you were elected. You cannot actually choose to be saved. But what happens when a seemingly born again Christian apostatizes? Calvinism only has two answers. Either he will repent again in the future (at which point you have a person whom God has elected for both salvation and apostasy and then salvation again) or you were never really elected for salvation to begin with. Thus, many Calvinists who struggle with a post-conversion fall have been left wondering if they are eternally reprobate or not. OSAS Arminianism faces the same struggle. Either your apostasy is proof you were never saved to begin with or you will forever remain saved despite your apostasy. In the end, believers are left having to wonder which one is true of them. Classical Arminianism teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and that we remain saved, not by works, but by continued grace through faith. Likewise, a Classical Arminian can potentially experience a lack of assurance knowing that its possible for he/she to apostatize and be judged accordingly. Thus, all of these systems fail to provide “air-tight assurance” meaning in the realm of assurance none can confidently claim to be superior to the other. Nevertheless, an Arminians hope never rests on his/her performance or ability to be “faithful” but on faith in Christ as their only hope. This faith can be rejected for either legalistic reasons (such as the book of Hebrews) or carnal reasons. But so long as that faith (a gift of God) is maintained we are secure in the one in whom we put our trust.
[x] Let’s be clear here that this has nothing to do with Adventists but applies to all Classical Arminians such as Methodists and Pentecostals. And again, while not in either category Lutheranism also rejects Perseverance theology and OSAS leaving the possibility of a genuinely born again person to turn their back on God and be lost wide open.
[xi] The article cited in the opening claims that “We should have the humility to accept that we may have been wrong all along about the nature and timeline of Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven.” However, its nature is derived from Classical Arminianism and its timeline is firstly based on Mortal Soul theology. The timing is discussed in Appendix B and a future article will tackle it in greater detail.
Mike Manea studied theology at Andrews Theological Seminary and has served the church for over twenty years as youth pastor, missionary, Bible worker and teacher. He is currently a senior partner at Zahid|Manea LLC, a marketing and management consulting firm based in Southern California. He runs several theology and philosophy sites and podcasts and is cofounder of Intelligent Adventist. In his free time he enjoys spending time in nature with his wife and four year old son. You can follow his blog at mikemanea.com
Originally from New Jersey, Marcos now lives in Australia with his wife and children. His dream is to share the story of Jesus with the post-modern culture that pervades the continent. Marcos’ greatest passion is to help others realize that Christianity is a passionate and committed relationship with God, not a religion. He also runs his own blog at pomopastor.com
Christmas is here! Aren’t you excited? I hope so, because this is seriously “the most wonderful time of the year”. And as we all enter our celebration modes, I would like to take a moment to share a devotional article to help keep your gaze on Jesus during this festive season.
Sadly, the Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus first words as a baby were. I would love to know, but something tells me none of the biographers thought it was that important. However, the first recorded words of Jesus give us a lot to think about as we celebrate his birth.
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49
Chronologically speaking, these are the first words Jesus ever spoke recorded in scripture. At this time, Jesus was only twelve years old. His parents Mary and Joseph had taken a trip from their home town in Galilee up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Now what was the Passover? It was one of the many festivals that the Jews celebrated throughout the year. The Passover began when they were slaves in Egypt. The story goes that the nation of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for about 300 years. Then one day, the Egyptian Pharaoh decided to kill of the male Hebrew newborns because he wanted to control the Israelite population. However, one mother hid her son in a basket and placed the basket in the Nile River. That sons name was Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter ended up finding Moses and he became her son. God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses became Gods ambassador to Pharaoh and requested that Pharaoh set the people free but Pharaoh refused. Every time Pharaoh refused God sent a plague on Egypt. First, all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Then swarms of frogs invaded the country. After that the dust in Egypt became gnats and tormented the people. This was followed by swarms of flies, diseases on the livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts and darkness. After all of this Pharaoh still refused to let Israel go so God had to resort to something He never wanted to do: Death. God instructed the people that He would come and all of the first born in Egypt would die irrespective of persons. The only way to avoid this was to take the blood of a lamb and paint the door posts of the house with it. When the Lord came through and saw the blood on the door posts He would pass over that house and nobody would die. If He didn’t see the blood the first born would die. Moses then told Israel, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” Shortly after this final plague Pharaoh let Israel go.
Over a thousand years had passed and the Israelites still celebrated the Passover. It was a reminder of Gods power to save. However, it was also a reminder of something more profound. God didn’t show up to kill the firstborns of the Egyptians. No. Anyone who had the blood on the doorposts of their house was passed over. If an Egyptian believed this and put blood on the door posts of their house God would pass over them. If an Israelite didn’t believe this and refused to put blood on the door posts of their house their first born would die. In other words, God didn’t choose who to bless and who to curse based on their race or nationality. No. God chose who to bless and who to curse based on who had the blood. In reality, it’s more accurate to say that God didn’t do the choosing. The people did. Those who chose to accept the blood chose life. Those who chose to reject the blood chose death. God simply carried out the result of the choice. However, the message remains the same: the only hope was the blood. But not any old blood. It had to be the blood of a lamb.
According to the Bible, that lamb in Egypt represented Jesus. And in the same way, as God judges this world He doesn’t do so based on race or ethnicity. He does so based on the blood. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior the blood He spilled on the cross covers you like the blood covered the door posts. When God judges you, you don’t have to be afraid because of the blood. However, there was one more thing. It wasn’t just about putting the blood on the door posts. It was about eating the flesh of the lamb as well. While the angel of death was searching in Egypt, those who had put the blood on their door posts were also instructed to cook the lamb and eat it. So what does this mean for you and me? We can’t use the blood of Jesus as “magic” to escape judgment. When we claim the blood of Jesus we automatically claim his flesh as well.
Now what in the world does that mean? I’m going to use an old word to explain it. The word is “partake.” To partake means “to be active in. [To] have, give, or receive a share of.” When we accept the blood of Jesus over our life we automatically chose to partake of him as well. He is the lamb that was slain so that others could live. He is the God who gave his life so that I could have it and have it forever. When I choose Jesus, I don’t just choose a ticket to heaven. I chose an experience. I partake of him. I walk with him, talk with him, share with him, grow in my relationship with him, and become the kind of person he created me to be. A lot of people want the blood to cover them but they don’t want to eat the lamb. In other words, they want Jesus to forgive their sins but they don’t want Jesus to live inside of them. But it doesn’t work that way. You cant have the blood without the flesh. You can’t have the forgiveness without the experience of Jesus within, This is salvation. It’s God covering me with his own blood and then coming inside of me and changing my life for his glory.
Back to the Story
The time for the Passover had come. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate as they did every year. However, something was different this year: Jesus was now twelve years old. For a Jew, this is a really big deal because at the end of the twelfth year they pass from childhood to youth and are given more responsibility. So Jesus is now on the verge of a new experience. With that in mind, the family goes to Jerusalem and celebrates the Passover with countless other Jews. When the festival is over they head back home. On the way home however, Mary and Joseph are shocked to discover that Jesus is not with them. Now allow me to clarify. It’s not that Mary and Joseph were blind. When they went to Jerusalem for the Passover they didn’t just go in the family minivan. No. They walked there with their families which probably numbered high in the double digits. Joseph most likely walked with the men and Mary with the women. All the uncles, aunts, and cousins were there along with many other relatives like Joseph’s other sons. Under such circumstances it would have been easy to leave Jesus behind. Mary could have assumed he was with Joseph, and Joseph could have assumed he was with Mary. Or perhaps they both figured he was with his cousins or half-siblings. Whatever the case, when they had gone a day’s journey they found out he wasn’t with them at all. Immediately mom and dad did a 180 and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem. The story says that they looked for him for three days. I can’t imagine what those three days would have been like. The stress. The anxiety. The sleepless nights.
Then finally on the third day they found him in the temple sitting with some of the religious leaders listening to them and asking them questions. The Bible says that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Can you imagine? A group of seasoned religious scholars and theologians who were amazed at what a twelve year old boy, who was the son of a carpenter and lived in a small town, had to say. This isn’t because Jesus was God though. When Jesus (who is God the son) came to this world and became a man he emptied himself of all the power and knowledge he had beforehand. He never stopped being God, but all the advantages available to him as God were put aside. Jesus mother Mary had to teach him the Bible and tell him who he was and what his mission was. Therefore, Jesus’ astonishing answers in the temple that day were partly due to how Mary had raised him.
But now we come to the climax of this story. Here is Jesus at his first Passover. The Lamb represents Him. The blood represents his blood. The entire feast is a celebration of his future death for the sins of mankind. He is the son of God, the spotless lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Now I don’t know how. Maybe Mary told him. Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. Maybe he discovered it by studying the Bible for himself. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but somehow at twelve years old Jesus got it. He figured it out. He was the lamb. All throughout the festival Jesus watched as the lamb was killed. He pondered as they ate the flesh of the lamb. He stayed up at night staring at the stars and talking to God. It all made sense now. People in town said he was an illegitimate child. They said Joseph wasn’t really his father. They made fun of Mary’s so called “angel” story. But Jesus knew her. He knew she wouldn’t lie. Joseph wasn’t really his dad. So who was? Now as he lay in Jerusalem during the Passover festival it finally made sense. His father was God – not in a literal sense because He was God too – but in a temporary sense. The Holy Spirit had miraculously implanted God the son into the womb of a human woman. How? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. Jesus probably didn’t know either. But he believed it by faith. Just as you and I have to accept that he is Gods son by faith, he also had to accept that he was Gods son by faith. Once Jesus had this epiphany he couldn’t wait to go and talk to the religious leaders. He probably wanted to know how much they knew about the prophecies and types concerning the savior. He also remembered that in the Bible it said that Gods presence was in the temple. In his twelve year old mind he probably figured, maybe I can find my father if I go to the temple. He was so enthused by this he didn’t even notice his family leave. God was his father. He wanted to be in his Father’s house. He wanted to meet him. Jesus was probably disappointed to find that Gods presence wasn’t in the temple as it had been in the old days. Wanting to know why he approached the religious leaders and asked. From there the conversation progressed. I don’t know where Jesus slept that night. Most likely he slept somewhere around the temple grounds, but he hung around the temple for at least five days. Why five? Well, he was there during Joseph and Mary’s journey back. They had gone for a whole day when they noticed he wasn’t with them. Then, they came back which would have been another whole day. Then it took them three days to find him which adds up to five. When they finally found him Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus turned. He smiled. Immediately after, his very first words recorded in the Bible are spoken. I bet he said them with confidence. With joy. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Why Should I Care?
These are the very first words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament and they say something powerful about Jesus: That he was the son of God. Deity. God made man. He was and is and will forever be God. How amazing that God would make himself a man, empty himself of all his power, and live with humankind in order to win them back to him. What other god is like that? What other god has ever gone so far to save mankind? What other god has ever gone so far to save me?
The words of Jesus also show us something else. When Mary asks him why he had gone missing, Jesus’ reply was, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” In other words: “It shouldn’t have been hard to find me. You know this is the only place I would be.” Why? Why was Jesus so fascinated with the temple? Because in Jewish times the temple wasn’t a place to go sing songs and hear a sermon. The Jewish temple was specifically designed to reveal to the world the entire plan of salvation. The Jewish temple announced the foundational reality of salvation and it’s this: “You can’t save yourself. I will do it. So I’ll come down. Become a man. Live a perfect life. Die a sinner’s death. And by doing so, I will make salvation available to everyone who believes.”
This was the message of the Jewish temple. And Jesus was its fulfillment. The lamb came down and gave his life for mankind. Before sin even entered the world God had a plan to save humanity. Jesus was that plan. He was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”
So as you celebrate Christmas this year, keep in mind the little baby boy, born to live, to conquer, to suffer, to die, and to rise again – the perfect sacrifice that makes our eternal salvation secure.
And the list goes on when one’s inquired about why they are a Seventh-Day Adventist.
In light of the recent notoriety the denomination has been getting through media and news networks, I had to revisit this question myself:
“Why are YOU a Seventh-Day Adventist, Kevin?”
I am not going to lie. This was a tough one. When I reflected on my 25 short years as an Adventist, however, I was able to boil it down to a single reason onto a single sentence.
The only reason I am a Seventh-Day Adventist is because I believe that we have the clearest, richest, and fullest picture of the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
How we understand the Scriptures ( the Bible ) presents Jesus as a serious BOSS. He is the Writer, Editor, Compiler, Creator, Presenter, and Protector of this meta-narrative that my friend calls the “God-Story.” The Old Testament points forward to the coming of Jesus and the New Testament looks back at the Jesus who’s already come.
How we understand the Trinity exalts Jesus as One with the Father and the Spirit – distinct yet equal in authority. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit live out their lives in each other, through each other, and this other-centered love has been poured out full strength to the human race through the person of Jesus Christ.
How we understand creation presents Jesus as One through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. I believe that He is the soundtrack of all nature, and the sustainer of all life.
Howe we understand the seventh-day Sabbath reminds me of what was created through Jesus and what was redeemed by Jesus. This is a time where I can fully rest from my need for validation and rest in the love of God.
How we understand the nature of humanity let me know that I am known, valued, understood, appreciated, and enjoyed because I’ve been created by Jesus. Because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, my life finds its purpose, joy, and function in and through Him.
How we understand the “God-Story” or the Great Controversy, presents Jesus as the conquering hero who has successfully completed the ultimate rescue mission in earth’s history. I find my place in this story as a beloved, victorious son of God who’ll one day see the face of his Creator, Redeemer, and Friend.
How we understand the life, death and resurrection of Jesus elevates Christ as the theme and song of all Biblical history. We believe that His account isn’t localized within just the first four books of the New Testament, but from Genesis to Revelation, every chapter and every verse, echoes His love ultimately manifested through His sacrifice on the cross.
How we understand salvation magnifies Jesus as the Author, Provider, and Finisher of our salvation. We are justified by His blood, sanctified through His Spirit, and will one day be glorified through his grace.
How we understand our spiritual growth transforms every waking moment of our existence as a spiritual experience through the spirit of Jesus. The dichotomous relationship between the “sacred” and the “secular” is decimated through Him. The more I’m aware of His presence in my life, the more I grow into his likeness so I can treat others as He did – with compassion, justice, and mercy.
How we understand the church honors Jesus as the foundational ‘adhesive’ who unites all His children together. This is a context where everyone is entrusted with embodying and telling someone the God-Story. It is a refuge in the midst of this stormy world where we pray together, play together, and process together all the while praising Him who has our back.
How we understand the mission of God’s remnant finds its reason and method in Jesus. We are to introduce others to His love, experience joy in Him, and live out our lives in him as we approach the end of this sojourn on earth.
How we understand Baptism as a symbol of our new birth, finds its impetus and rubric in the life and death of Jesus. As I raise up from the ‘watery grave’, it’s an outward expression of an inward change that has taken place because of Him.
How we understand the Lord’s Supper as an emblem of Jesus’ experience invites all His friends to authentic service, brotherly love, and faithful community in Him.
How we understand the gift of prophecy highlights Jesus as its theme of contemplation and admiration. The ministry of this prophetic gift through Ellen White has brought me closer to Jesus than anyone has ever done.
How we understand the law of God honors Jesus as the mode and purpose for relational faithfulness between God and us. Because of what He did for me on the cross, I no longer work towards victory but from it.
How we understand stewardship acknowledges Jesus as the Provider of my time, talents, and resources. I am entrusted with them to better the environments I find myself in, whether it be within the community of God or outside of it.
How we understand marriage as a heavenly institution finds its reason for existence in Jesus. His selfless love poured out to his bride – the church – gives me a model from which I can learn to love my spouse.
How we understand Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary elevates Jesus as not only my Savior and Friend, but also as my Judge, Advocate, and High Priest who prays for me even right now!
How we understand the end of life honors Jesus as the Conqueror of death! Death is not the end, but a sleep! The real and living hope of reuniting with loved ones energizes my life’s pursuits.
How we understand the millennium, the new earth, and the second coming lauds Jesus as the King of a new kind of existence – one where there will be no more sickness, no more pain, no more death, and no more sorrow. A place filled with inexpressible joy and unfathomable happiness and peace. A place where I can finally see my ever faithful Friend face to face.
There it is. The package and its contents.
I don’t have 28 reasons as to why I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist.