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Revised Daniel and the Revelation in Relation to Denominational Doctrine

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Archives / 1945 / May

 

 

Revised Daniel and the Revelation in Relation to Denominational Doctrine

Merwin R. Thurber

By MERWIN R. THURBER, Secretary of "Daniel and the Revelation" Revision Committee

 

Perhaps the most difficult and potentially dangerous problem which faced the committee appointed to revise Daniel and the Revelation lay in the relation of their work to denominational doctrine and fundamental beliefs. This was recog­nized by denominational leaders everywhere, and , expressed to committee members frequently by word of mouth and by letter. Even before the committee was appointed, denominational thinkers recognized the difficulties and endeavored to dis­cover a proper path through the maze.

Foremost among the considerations was a desire to avoid anything like an official pronouncement on doctrine. It is no secret to the readers of The Ministry that there are those who hold divergent views in regard to certain aspects of prophetic interpretation. On the fundamental prophecies, the foundational doctrines, Seventh-day Adventists are united as one man. The Sabbath, the second coming of Christ, the nature of man in death, the outline prophecies, the signs of Christ's coming, and the last great movements of earth's history—all are firmly fixed in denominational thinking and belief. But on minor items of prophetic applica­tion there are a few points of understandable dif­ference in view.

Would the revision of Daniel and the Revela­tion at this late date, either by what was changed or by what was left untouched, constitute an official pronouncement of denominational belief ? The answer was No. As the president of the General Conference has publicly stated, "We do not estab­lish our doctrines by vote of a committee, how­ever official it may be." The Adventist Church from its very beginning has accepted the Protestant pronouncement that the Bible, and the Bible only, is the authority for faith and doctrine. Revelation of truth is progressive. As long as time shall last new views of God's truth will be discovered in the Scriptures. Says Mrs. E. G. White:

"We are not safe when we take a position that we will not accept anything else than that upon which we have settled as truth. We should take the Bible, and investigate it closely for ourselves. We should dig deep in the mine of God's Word of truth."—Review and Herald, June 18, 1889.

"New light will ever be revealed on the Word of God to him who is in living connection with the Sun of Righteousness. Let no one come to the conclusion that no more truth is to be revealed. The diligent, prayerful seeker for truth will find precious rays of light yet to shine forth from the Word of God. Many gems are yet scattered that are to be gathered together to become the property of the remnant people of God." —Counsels on, Sabbath School Work, p. 34.

The book Daniel and the Revelation, according to these standards, did not contain all the light for God's people. Neither does the revised edition.

It is entirely possible that the book may still present inaccurate views on minor points. Mrs. White remarked, "The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not proof that our ideas are infallible."—Review and Herald, Dec. 20, 1892. It would be extremely dangerous and entirely out of harmony with de­nominational principles for anyone to take the po­sition that the revising of this book constitutes an official statement of belief.

Fortunately, we have specific instruction for just this contingency. I quote again part of an extract used in a, previous article : "Let such matters [the correction of published books] be considered by those regularly appointed to have the oversight of our publications."—"Preach the Word," Elmshaven Leaflets, No. I, p. 7. Thus an official pronouncement is avoided. Because it was considered best for the three major publishing houses in the United States to co-operate in repub­lishing Uriah Smith's book, the General Confer­ence Committee, and more particularly the officers of the General Conference, gave special study to the project and appointed a revision committee.

That committee was given power to act. It has never reported to anyone the details of the revision. Its decisions have not been subject to review by the body which appointed it, and its work could in no sense be considered official.

The revision committee itself as a whole was entirely in harmony with these principles. The members approached their task with a keen sense of their personal limitations, and the heavy respon­sibility which had been laid upon them. As one of the first principles of action, it was agreed that the committee had not been appointed to settle denominational doctrine. It was also agreed that the revised book should still be essentially the work of its original author. He must not be made to teach a view he did not hold. Because of this, some things in the book remain untouched—things which many might wish had been changed. The committee took the position that disputed doctrines and interpretations should be left as they were, since there is no unanimity of opinion to dictate new expositions. And after all, the book bears the signature, and is the writing, of Uriah Smith.

Seventh-day Adventist writers today probably all feel that what they write should be entirely in harmony with what has been revealed through the Spirit of prophecy. But apparently Mrs. E. G. White herself never checked up her brethren on this matter, for there were several places in Daniel and the Revelation where the revisers were able to produce a better harmony with the Testimonies. Concerning one such point, W. E. Howell, the chairman, reported to the Cincinnati Autumn Council on October 22, 1942:

"In dealing with matters of fundamental doctrine in our work, we found only one instance in which it seemed advisable to make a change, namely, in the teaching on the eternity of Christ. It is a matter of record that Uriah Smith once believed that Christ was a created being.* But later he revised his belief and teaching to the effect that Christ was begotten sometime back in eternity before the creation of the world. Since his day, later books of the Spirit of prophecy, such as Desire of Ages. came out in the nineties and later on, making clear with the support of the Scriptures that Christ is coeternal with the Father.t- Since there is some differ­ence of view among us on this point, it seemed to the committee wise to omit this teaching without comment. This was easy to do, because it had no direct bearing on the interpretation of prophecy."

This report raised the question in some minds as to whether this decision did not constitute the settling of a doctrine for the church by a small group of men. In a supplementary statement on. October 28, 1942, W. E. Howell told the assembled Council :

"I want to say a few words in addition to my extem­poraneous talk on the revision of Daniel and the Revela­tion. Apparently I did not make clear to all what I said as spokesman for our revision committee on the doctrine of the eternity of Christ. Let me say it more clearly. Our committee had no thought of making a pronounce­ment on the doctrine for the denomination. But knowing there are some differences of view among us, it was our judgment that it would be better to omit the subject altogether from the book, without comment, and leave the matter open for all to study without let or hindrance."

Other doctrines, or interpreta­tions, not specifically corroborated by the Spirit of prophecy were handled on their merits. Where there was a marked difference of view, the decision was in favor of the author's presentation, with no intention that the decision settle the difference. For this reason the "daily" of Daniel 8 was left almost exactly as the author wrote it. The interpretation of the "king of the north" was unchanged. Some other points, very minor in character, on which there is no current differing, were modified slightly. On this very subject W. E. Howell reported to the church soon after the Autumn Council of 1942:

"In regard to such subjects as the daily, the passing of the Turk, the 144,000, and the seven heads of Revelation, on which there has been some difference of opinion, the author's teachings are left substantially as they were. It is pertinent to remark in this connection that on some points of secondary importance, such as Arma­geddon, the number of the beast, some parts of Daniel ii and Revelation 17, and the lake of fire, Uriah Smith was not so dogmatic as some have thought, nor as some have chosen to be on their own."—Review and 'Herald, Oct. 29, 1942.

In all this the committee members had no thought that they were "settling" anything. They tried to imagine what the author himself would be pleased to do if he were alive today, after having progressed with the denomination through forty-five years of growth and study.

In the field of confirmatory evidence of well-established doctrine, the committee found itself on less difficult ground. Right at the beginning of the work it was agreed that new evidence, better quo­tations, and more up-to-date authorities could be used in the revision without violating the author's rights. It was in such lines that the committee directed most of its time and effort.

As a fundamental guide in dealing with doctrine and prophetic interpretation, the committee decided right at the beginning of its work that no change would be made in the book unless the members were in unanimous agreement. When the com­mittee met for the last time at Cincinnati, the members took a retrospective glance over their weeks together. They joined in thanking God for His blessing and guidance in their work, and rejoiced that they had been able to abide by their decision to make all their actions unanimous. In harmony with this the chairman prepared the following statement and the members all signed it :

"For our mutual satisfaction and for the information of any concerned, we desire hereby to express some­what of the spirit that has prevailed and the method that has been followed in our work as a committee ap­pointed to revise the book Daniel and the Revelation,

"First of all, we wish to say that we have felt the special blessing of the Lord in finding a solution to the problems that have arisen in pursuance of the difficult and delicate task of reviewing and revising a book written sixty to eighty years ago, and in doing our work some forty years after the author's death.

"From the beginning we pledged ourselves to mutual confidence to the end that we might enjoy the utmost freedom of discussion in the progress of our work. We have not knowingly betrayed that confidence in the inti­mate exchanges of views in our co-operative work, over a period of nearly ten months for the most of us, from the first of December, 1041, to almost the end of October, 1942.

"In reaching our conclusions that affected the teach­ings of the book or the rights and privileges of theauthor, while preserving the right of every man to his individual convictions, we have followed the prac­tice of recording no action until our decision could be made unanimous.

"While conscious enough of our shortcomings in the pursuance of a task fraught with difficulties, yet of outstanding importance in a great cause, we have been privileged by the blessing of the Lord to close our work in a spirit of unanimity, with the utmost good will and mutual confidence as brethren. We shall long enjoy the memory of the Christian fellowship and personal respect that prevailed throughout our work."

* Thoughts on the Revelation (1865), p. 9 .

+ Some of the quotations from Mrs. E. G. White which gave the revision committee helpful guidance on this subject will be found on page 14 of this issue of MINISTRY.--Editor.

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