Behold Your God
Fred T. Wright
tory statements. Therefore, while the dictionary must be retained for determining the meaning of words used to describe human activity, it is to be discarded when the knowledge of God’s procedures is being sought.
Having determined that these alternate definitions are not written in the dictionary, the question arises as to where they can be found. The Bible is to be used as its own dictionary. Only when we have learned to use it as such can a correct comprehension of its messages be obtained.
God understood the problems facing the human being and because He intended His Word to be an understandable message to His people, He carefully incorporated within the Scriptures, means whereby a clear definition of the words as He uses them in describing His own behavior can be found. Thus there is no excuse for anybody not obtaining the Scriptural definitions. They are there. God has provided them and it is our duty to search them out and, having found them, to apply them to the study of God’s Word.
The great second Advent Movement was the mightiest spiritual undertaking this side of Pentecost. It was brought into existence by the revelation of truth and it was built upon a foundation of truth. That truth was arrived at by correct principles of Bible interpretation, giving us a tremendous endorsement of the system laid out in the above paragraphs. When the founding father of the Advent Movement first began the systematic study of the Bible, he did so, not according to dictionary interpretations of words, but according to Bible definitions of those words.
We turn now to the account of that man’s method of Bible study.
“Miller publicly professed his faith in the religion which he had despised. But his infidel associates were not slow to bring forward all those arguments which he himself had often urged against the divine authority of the Scriptures. He was not then prepared to answer them; but he reasoned that if the Bible is a revelation from God, it must be consistent with itself; and that as it was given for man’s instruction, it must be adapted to his understanding. He determined to study the Scriptures for himself, and ascertain if every apparent contradiction could not be harmonized.
“Endeavoring to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and dispensing with commentaries, he compared Scripture with Scripture by the aid of the marginal references and the concordance. He pursued his study in a regular and methodical manner; beginning with Genesis, and reading verse by verse, he proceeded no faster than the meaning of the several passages so unfolded as to leave him free from all embarrassment. When he found anything obscure, it was his custom to compare it with every other text which seemed to have any reference to the matter under consideration. Every word was permitted to have its proper bearing upon the subject of the text, and if his view of it harmonized with every collateral passage, it ceased to be a difficulty. Thus when ever he met with a passage hard to be understood, he found an explanation in some other portion of Scrip-
tures. As he studied with earnest prayer for divine enlightenment, that which had before appeared dark to his understanding was made clear. He experienced the truth of the psalmist’s words, ‘The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.’” The Great Controversy, 319, 320.
Miller’s method of Bible study is strongly endorsed as being the correct one in two ways. Firstly, while the religious world of his day was using anything but this method of study, he alone, by using it, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, arrived at the great, timely, saving truth of the advent message. It is safe to say that if Miller had not used these methods of Bible study, he certainly would never have arrived at the truths he did. The second endorsement comes from the fact that here in The Great Controversy, the whole system is laid out as a guideline for all who will follow it.
Let notice now be taken of the main points in this system. Firstly, there is the mental approach. Miller reasoned that the Bible, being a revelation from God, must be consistent with itself. The necessity on the student’s part of recognizing that there is no such thing as a contradiction in the Word of God cannot be overemphasized. When this conviction is firmly established, no effort will be made to wrench or twist Scriptures to fit in with other Scripture. Rather, the student will study with care, patience, and perseverance until the principles are so well understood that the statements are brought into perfect harmony with each other.
Secondly, Miller recognized that inasmuch as the Bible is expressly written for man’s instruction, it must be adapted to his understanding . In other words, he was convinced that the Bible was not beyond the reach of man’s intellectual grasp. It was written for man, therefore it could be understood by man. Again, when a student has this conviction, he will not dismiss as impossible to comprehend, those aspects of Scripture which do not fit in with his initial concepts.
Thirdly, Miller endeavoured to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and, dispensing with commentaries, he compared Scripture with Scripture by the aid of the marginal references and the Concordance. There can hardly be a more serious barrier to arriving at saving truth than that provided by preconceived opinions and ideas. There is no person alive today who is not to a larger or lesser degree, afflicted with this problem. During the entire span of our past lives, we have been absorbing concepts, ideas and information. We have come to think along certain lines and these thought processes have mostly been erroneous so far as our concept of God’s kingdom is concerned.
The outstanding example of this is found in the experience of Christ’s apostles. They were born into a Jewish world wherein the prevailing expectations for the coming of the Messiah was the advent of an all-conquering king. As those boys grew, they heard this conversation around them. It was
preached to them in church and taught to them in school. The result was the building up of strong, preconceived notions of Christ’s work and ministry. When the real Saviour appeared, those ideas formed a fearful barrier which for a long time made it impossible for Christ to bring to them the truth regarding His ministry and mission. Only when He was finally able to sweep away those preconceived ideas, could He teach them the truth.
So with us today. Every one of us should humbly recognize that we are not possessed of accurate wisdom, knowledge, concepts, and ideas and that these erroneous thought patterns are indeed a great problem.
“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, 1:20.
“The Scriptures are not to be adapted to meet the prejudice and jealousy of men. They can be understood only by those who are humbly seeking for a knowledge of the truth that they may obey it.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 112.
Some may feel that earnestness and sincerity compensate for accuracy. But Jesus plainly said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32. It is the truth and not error which saves us. For this reason, God is continually seeking to send us clearer and more advanced revelations of His truth so we may correspondingly ascend into greater heights of religious experience. Many a person will fail to enter the kingdom of heaven because prejudice has barred the door to their receiving the truth.
Notice carefully the solemn warnings laid out in this next quotation, which begins with the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” The answer provided is an unexpected and solemn one.
“Do you ask, What shall I do to be saved? You must lay your preconceived opinions, your hereditary and cultivated ideas, at the door of investigation. If you search the Scriptures to vindicate your own opinions, you will never reach the truth. Search in order to learn what the Lord says. If conviction comes as you search, if you see that your cherished opinions are not in harmony with the truth, do not misinterpret the truth in order to suit your own belief, but accept the light given. Open mind and heart that you may behold wondrous things out of God’s Word.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 112.
There are a number of answers which could have been given to the question “What shall I do to be saved?” Elsewhere those answers are given, but here the point is made that our salvation does depend upon laying aside preconceived opinions, hereditary and cultivated ideas. William Miller did
this and, because he did, arrived at saving truth. If we will do the same, we likewise will arrive at saving truth.
Note by Ron Beaulieu: William Miller was first to be credited with what Ellen White later adopted as his weight of evidence formula, which summarizes Wright’s methodology, to wit:
Weight of Evidence Formula: "1. Every word must have its proper bearing on the subject presented in the Bible 2. All Scripture is necessary, and may be understood by diligent application and study 3. Nothing revealed in Scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, not wavering 4. To understand doctrine, bring all the scriptures together on the subject you wish to know, then let every word have its proper influence and if you can form your theory without a contradiction, you cannot be in error 5. Scripture must be its own expositor, [interpreter] since it is a rule of itself. If I depend on a teacher to expound to me, and he should guess at its meaning, or desire to have it so on account of his sectarian creed, or to be thought wise, then his guessing, desire, creed, or wisdom is my rule, and not the Bible." E.G. White, Second Advent Review and Herald, 11-25-34, pr. 24. End note.
Pains are being taken to emphasize this thought because in the field of knowledge dealing with the character of God, wrong concepts are prolific. Any emergence into this truth must be from a background of dark error and misconception. The whole world lies in ignorance of God as He really is, and we who have lived in that world have been unconsciously influenced by this atmosphere. There is no subject, then, in which the need to lay aside preconceived ideas and opinions is more critical than this one.
We come now to a key point in William Miller’s approach to Bible study. As he proceeded from verse to verse, he came inevitably upon a Scripture which baffled his understanding and which, in turn, appeared to contradict what he had already learned in other parts of the Word. How did he solve this problem? Discarding commentaries and dictionaries, he used the Bible as it own dictionary. “Thus whenever he met with a passage hard to be understood, he found an explanation in some other portion of the Scriptures.” The Great Controversy, 320.
He followed “his rule of making Scripture its own interpreter.” ibid., 324. By doing this, he avoided the perilous pitfall of private or human interpretations, which can only lead astray. The one thing which cannot be permitted in the quest for truth as God sees it, is the use of private or human interpretation of God’s revelations. It would be far better not to study the Bible at all, than to search it with the wrong method. Make the Scriptures their own dictionary, their own interpreter. Do this under the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the assurance is there of the certainty of arriving at an accurate, comprehensive, and harmonious knowledge of saving truth.
This will take time so it is not to be expected that every error will be immediately swept away. While Miller arrived at tremendous concepts of saving truth, he did not live long enough to find deliverance from every preconceived error of the past. This does not deny for an instant the validity of his method of study. It only underlines the truth that it takes time, even with correct methods of study, to come to an accurate grasp of divine revelations. After all, God’s truth is the expression of the mind of the Infinite. Eternity will never exhaust it. Therefore, it is too much to expect that a person using perfect methods of study would emerge in a few short years from deep darkness to a correct understanding of the great verities. Appreciation should be felt for the tremendous progress Miller made in breaking away from the erroneous teachings of his day.
The sound and solid foundations laid down by William Miller were continued and developed by later Adventist expositors. To establish this point we could bring as evidence, the development of such truths as the two laws, the Sabbath question, and so on. Our choice falls upon the subject of the final punishment of the wicked. It is common understanding in worldly
churches that the fires of final purification will unceasingly burn the unrepentant wicked who will suffer unending torture and torment within those unquenchable flames. The advent message denies this concept, teaching, rather, a short consumption of the lost to render them as though they had never been.
In the early days of Adventism, the truth on this subject had not been developed. It was not developed by William Miller but by the people who came after him. As the new idea was advanced, it met with serious objection and opposition. It is a difficult subject to present because there are certain Scriptures which make it appear that the wicked do burn forever and ever. Just as it is possible in the subjects of the two laws, the Sabbath, and the character of God, to gather two completely different sets of statements, with one apparently supporting one side, and the other seeming to present an opposite view, so it is in the question of the final punishment of the wicked.
It hardly seems necessary to quote the many statements from Scripture which tell us that the wicked will be as though they had not been, that we shall tread down their ashes, that they shall burn, leaving neither root nor branch. We know the Scriptures tell us that the dead know nothing, that their very thoughts are gone. This is one side of the question, but, on the other side are statements which clearly say that the wicked will burn forever. The most noteworthy reference of this nature is in Revelation 20:10. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
As an exercise in the correct principles of Bible study, let this verse be taken and interpreted according to dictionary definitions of the key words to show us the wrong way of Bible interpretation.
The important key words in this particular verse are the words “for ever and ever.” In our minds there already exists a clear definition of this word which is in harmony with the written definition in the published dictionary reading as follows, “Forever means for a limitless time or endless ages, everlastingly, eternally, at all times, always, continually, incessantly.” If this dictionary definition of the word “forever” is taken and Revelation 20:10 understood according to it then the only possible understanding of this verse would be that the wicked suffer eternally. One could only believe that there would never come a time when their agonies would end. It is hoped that no one will miss the point that a certain method of interpretation will yield its corresponding idea of what the truth is.
Serious doubt of the validity of this method is gendered when it is seen that it brings this text into sharp contradiction with other Scriptures. Here are two examples.
“For as ye have drunk upon My holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been.” Obadiah 16.
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Malachi 4:1.
It is obviously impossible for the wicked to be as though they had not been, and to be burned up leaving neither root nor branch, and yet, at the same time, exist eternally. That is a contradiction, which will exist in our minds and will continue to exist until the understanding of the messages of these verses is changed, wherever it needs to be changed. Let it be strongly emphasized that the Scriptures themselves must not be changed. It is the understanding of the Scriptures which must be changed until there is perfect harmony.
This is a very different approach to the problem from that employed by those who do use dictionary definitions for these words. Their procedure is to carefully collect all statements supporting their chosen side of the question, and as carefully, to ignore those which speak contrary to their accepted ideas. This is no way to study the Bible, yet it is the most commonly accepted method.
The only safety lies in discarding dictionary definitions of words wherever those words are a problem and to seek for a revised understanding of the meaning of the statements. The only way to discover that other meaning is by making the Bible and the Bible only, its own dictionary, and therefore its own interpreter. The Advent people, in determining the message of the verse, Revelation 20:10, which speaks of the wicked burning eternally, found it necessary to discover the Bible meaning of those words. They learned that, in Bible usage, the word has a different meaning from what it has in everyday usage. We quote now from the book Answers to Objections by F.D. Nichol, 360, 361.
“We read of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them . . . suffering the vengeance of eternal [aionios] fire.’ Jude 7. Are those cities, set ablaze long ago as a divine judgment, still burning? No; their ruins are quite submerged by the Dead Sea. The Bible itself specifically states that God turned ‘the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes.’ 2 Peter 2:6. Now the fate of these cities is declared to be a warning to all wicked men of the fate that impends for them. Therefore if the “aionios fire” of that long ago judgment turned into ashes those upon whom it preyed, and then died down of itself, we may properly conclude that the “aionios fire” of the last day will do likewise.
“When we turn to the Old Testament we discover that ‘everlasting’ and ‘for ever’ sometimes signify a very limited time. We shall quote texts in which these two terms are translated from the Hebrew word olam, because olam is the equivalent of the Greek aion.
“The Passover was to be kept ‘forever [olam].’ Exodus 12:24. But it ended with the cross. (See Heb. 9:24-26) Aaron and his sons were to offer in
cense ‘for ever [olam].’ (1 Chron. 23:13), and to have an everlasting [olam] priesthood.’ Ex. 40:1, But this priesthood, with its offerings of incense, ended at the cross (See Heb. 7:11-14). A servant who desired to stay with his master, was to serve him ‘for ever [olam]’ (See Ex. 21:1-6). How could a servant serve a master to endless time? Will there be masters and servants in the world to come? Jonah, describing his watery experience, said, ‘The earth with her bars was about me for ever [olam].’ Jonah 2:6. Yet this ‘for ever’ was only ‘three days and three nights’ long. Jonah 1:7. Rather a short ‘for ever.’ Because Gehazi practiced deceit, Elisha declared, ‘The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee [Gehazi], and unto thy seed for ever [olam].’ 2 Kings 5:27. Should we conclude, therefore, that Gehazi’s family would never end, and that thus leprosy would be perpetuated for all time to come?
“Thus by the acid test of actual usage we discover that in a number of cases aion, aionios, and olam have a very limited time value.”
Now that you have read the above statement from Nichol, it would be helpful to answer the following questions.
1. How much reference did F.D. Nichol make to standard dictionaries when seeking the definition of “everlasting,” and “for ever,” as those words are to be used in the Scriptures?
The answer is: No reference at all.
2. What then did he use as his dictionary when seeking the definition of those words as used in Scripture?
The answer is: The Word of God and that alone.
3. Did he find the words meant the same in Scripture usage as they do in every day usage?
The answer is : No! The meanings are very different indeed. That means that “everlasting” and “forever,” have one meaning when used in our everyday speech but a different meaning when used in the Scriptures.
4. What is the meaning in everyday speech and as found in the dictionary of “everlasting” and “for ever?”
The answer is: These words mean eternally; without ever ceasing at all.
5. What is the meaning when the same words are used in Scripture?
Answer: It signifies time in unbroken duration so long as the nature of the subject allows. Thus in the case of the wicked, their sinful human nature does not allow a very long time in the fire before they are reduced to ashes; but be assured that the fire will go on for ever, that is, in unbroken duration, until they are consumed. On the other hand the nature of God and of the redeemed is that they go on forever as long as their immortal natures allow, and that will be eternally without ever ceasing at all.
It should now be clear that when the words “for ever and ever” are interpreted according to dictionary definitions, a certain understanding of that verse will emerge, while if the Bible is used to uncover its usage of the words, then a very different understanding will result. In other words, ac-
cording to the system of interpretation used will the resulting conclusions be. Set the method right and the desired objective of knowing saving truth will be naturally forthcoming.
A sound test of the true method is that it removes impossible contradictions and replaces them with harmony and cohesion. There will be no need to ignore statements which otherwise do not fit.
Once the correct method has been found, it is to be applied with unfailing consistency throughout the entire study of the Bible. One system cannot be used in one area and a different one used in another. It has been astonishing to see people having no trouble in believing that the wicked do not burn forever, and then rejecting the principle that God destroys only by trying to save. Yet exactly the same methods of interpretation used to arrive at the former were the only means of arriving at the latter.
This does not mean that every word will have other than a dictionary definition when used in the Scriptures. Many will have the same meaning, but there will always be key words which do not. They are readily recognized, for whenever a word, when understood according to its common everyday usage, creates a serious problem, then it is time to search out its Scriptural meaning as against its common one.
Throughout this book, with strict consistency, we will adhere to the Scriptural method of interpretation. When we find ourselves confronted with two statements or more, which, on the surface, stand in sharp contradiction to each other, we shall follow this procedure:
· Faith shall retain firm hold of the truth that there is no contradiction in the Word of God.
· Every endeavour will be made to lay aside old preconceived ideas and opinions.
· No reference will be made to a dictionary to solve the problem.
· The Scriptures alone will be consulted for the answer as to what these words mean when they are used in them.
This line of approach will be continued until every disharmony of thought disappears and every statement tells the same message.
Therefore, for anyone to deny the message of this book, he will have to prove firstly that these methods of interpretation are false. If, however, he should agree that they are true, then he will have to show wherein we have not adhered to these principles. We confidently challenge anyone to prove either or both if they can.
We believe that we stand upon solid ground in our approach to the subject and that what is written herein is a true statement of the character of God.