Revelation and the Development of the Biblical Concept of God

Speaker: Categories: Sep 14, 1996


[1hr, 10min, 12sec / 47min, 4sec]


As Seventh-day Adventists, we have long contended that the Scriptures provide for us in human language an appropriate portrait of God. We frequently turn to a familiar passage to reassure ourselves and others that the God we serve and worship is a God of love and compassion, of understanding and tenderness toward humankind. Then our senses are jarred, as they were for many of us, in the recent Sabbath School lesson study of the Book of Judges. Here, quite to our discomfort, we found a God who seemed to delight in the destruction of everyone and anyone who was not identified as the chosen -- men, women, children, and even domestic animals. How does this compare with John 3:16 or with Jesus' counsel to love your enemies?

Dr. Dalton Baldwin, our September speaker, notes that two recent best-sellers "accentuate the differences between some early and later concepts of God in the Bible. A History of God by Karen Armstrong and God: A Biography by Jack Miles might leave the impression that God overcomes early blunders when he learns to be more mature in later life. They cite divine approval of human sacrifice, slavery, genocidal war, and divine activity impelling immoral behavior such as placing a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab's prophets."

"There are passages," Dr. Baldwin affirms, "which, taken out of their context in the Bible as a whole, do portray God as requiring human sacrifice, approving the enslavement of aliens, approving genocidal wars of conquest, approving the oppression of women [and more]. One way to deal with these passages is to regard every part of the Bible as without error and, therefore, as accurately describing God in an early stage of his development. Such an approach involves attempting to affirm contradictory notions about God."

Then note what he contends next: "A better approach recognizes that the material in our Bibles has undergone a period of development during which errors from human tradition have been incorporated into the text. [emphasis supplied] These errors may be identified and corrected by paying careful attention to the teaching of the Bible as a whole. The concepts of God in the Bible which are consistent with each other (Isaiah 8:19-20) and which produce good fruit when acted upon (Matthew 7:15-20) portray an eternally loving, just, moral, benevolent God. We should develop a concept of revelation which encourages us to use the Bible to portray such concepts of God."

Such an approach would seem to necessitate something other than reading the Bible through in a year, following the Morning Watch, or even basing our beliefs on that which is suggested in the study of the adult Sabbath School lesson each week! It almost sounds as if we, as mortals, are to make judgments about the Bible, God's Holy Word. Are we, even Forum- types, ready to accept such an assignment? Is the Adventist church worldwide ready for such an approach to Bible study and interpretation? Did what happened at Utrecht suggest an answer to the above?


Dalton Baldwin has a most interesting background of experiences. All the while, he has been engaged in seeking to work out a "scientifically responsible system of theology." His denominational service, in addition to his thirty years serving as a professor at Loma Linda, includes teaching Bible at Shenandoah and Blue Mountain academies and pastoring a three-church district near Philadelphia. His graduate studies thrust him into areas of research which guided him to conclude that all faith decisions should be guided by a carefully reasoned weighing of evidence. In the Sabbath School class at the LLU Church, which he co-teaches with Jim Walters, and in his courses at the University, that conclusion is regularly put into practice.

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