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 Articles: Raymond Cottrell on Dr. Ford
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Exegesis of Daniel

by Raymond Cottrell

Sola Scriptura Versus Article 23

In his investigative judgment discourse at Pacific Union College Ford had indicted the sanctuary doctrine as incompatible with the sola Scriptura principle. In his formal defense of this incompatibility, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment, he set forth at length his reasons for considering the sanctuary doctrine unscriptural, and his own understanding of the passages of Scripture at issue.

Like nearly all Adventist Bible scholars today, Ford understands that the prophecies of Daniel were originally addressed to ancient Israel under the covenant, with fulfillment to them not later than approximately the first century of the Christian Era. God's ultimate purpose was unconditional, but the people through whom, the time when, and the historical circumstances within which fulfillment would eventually take place were conditional on Israel's continued faithfulness to the covenant.13 Because Israel rejected the Messiah the covenant anticipated, and thereby automatically withdrew from the covenant relationship, the prophecies of Daniel became subject to a later, apotelesmatic fulfillment, and Ford considers 1844 to be such a fulfillment.

At Glacier View the church charged Ford with dissent from the sanctuary doctrine, recently reformulated as Article 23 of the Dallas Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, and made it the norm by which to test his views. Appealing directly to the Bible as his norm, he besought his inqulsitors Thursday afternoon to point out wherein his views departed from Scripture, but no one attempted to do so. In administrative minds the Issue was not whether he was teaching error (of that they were already certain), but would he recant and submit to Article 23? As Wilson's petulant indictment of Ford Tuesday afternoon made crystal clear, the intended role of the conference was to bring the peer pressure of Ford's fellow scholars to bear in an endeavor to persuade him to do precisely that.

The sanctuary and its investigative judgment constitute a primary doctrine of the church. Doctrine is what the church understands to be the import if not the explicit teaching of Scripture. Accordingly, the integrity of Article 23 as an authentic teaching of the Bible was the real point at issue, and the task of the Sanctuary Review Committee should logically have been to evaluate his claim that the traditional doctrine of the sanctuary cannot be derived from the Bible by recognized principles of exegesis, and to determine whether his views on Daniel 8:14, the sanctuary, and the investigative judgment are, or are not, biblical. A resolution of both aspects of the Issue requires careful, detailed, accurate exegesis--which the Glacier View conference did not attempt.

At the opening session Dr. Hammill acknowledged that "one of the crucial problems the church faces today is the need for better answers to the contextual problems" to which Ford was calling attention, but he went on to say that the conferees were to evaluate Ford's views, not the teachings of the church. Unfortunately Glacier View did not provide any of the "better answers" to which he alluded. It did not find Ford's views out of harmony with the Bible but with Article 23 of the Dallas Statement--a fact Ford had always acknowledged. Evidently those who planned and orchestrated Glacier View either did not understand the real issue involved or intentionally avoided it--as the Committee on Problems in the Book of Daniel had done twenty years before.14 As a result the Glacier View conference neither proved the traditional interpretation scriptural nor Ford's view unscriptural. By officially excluding an examination of the biblical validity of the traditional sanctuary doctrine, the conference automatically prescinded from an examination of Ford's contention that it is not biblical. Instead, the conference simply elaborated a defense of the traditional interpretation, and thus did not achieve its announced objective!

Instead of answering Ford's contention that the sanctuary doctrine is not biblical, administration assumed Article 23 to be an accurate formulation of the teaching of the Bible on the points at issue, and at the opening session Sunday night directed the conferees, in effect, to accept it a priori as such and as the basis on which to evaluate Ford's views: "The Seventh-day Adventist Chruch has a very clear position on certain points," the keynote speaker declared, "and the church is not on trial here. We are not here searching for a position." As a matter of fact, key sections of Article 23, including the points at issue, rest on the teaching authority of the church and not on explicit, or even implicit, teaching of Scripture.15 Either by intent or default, Glacier View left this dichotomy between the Bible and the official teaching of the church unresolved, and as a result the simplistic, diversionary answers it did provide were irrelevant for those who rely on accurate exegesis for answers to such questions.

At Pacific Union College and in his formal defense document Ford had made his dissent from the traditional sanctuary doctrine unmistakably clear. Why was it considered necessary to spend a third of a million dollars (as Walter Blehm pointed out Thursday afternoon) to bring 115 leading administrators and Bible scholars from around the world to prove his dissent from it?

By prescinding from an examination of Ford's reasons for rejecting Article 23 as the explicit teaching of Scripture and as the norm by which to test his views, this a priori affirmation of it automatically predetermined the result of the conference: he dissented from Article 23 and was therefore guilty as charged. In civil courts, when a person pleads guilty as charged a jury trial is not considered necessary. Whether intentional or not, the arrangements GC made for the conference thus guaranteed in advance that Ford would be held in error and dismissed from the ministry unless he submitted to Article 23. No provision was made for evaluating the evidence on which he based his conclusions or his reasons for questioning the validity of the traditional sanctuary doctrine.

It appeared that administration's real reason for summoning the conferees for a pro forma examination of Ford's views, as "partners" with them, was their recognition of his international repute as a Bible scholar and fear of still further alienating the respect and confidence of a large segment of the scholarly community by dealing with him themselves.

The structure, procedure, and methodology of Glacier View were strictly administrative. A Bible scholar's way of dealing with the theological issue would be to arrange for the best possible presentation of the traditional interpretation and a response that included Ford's reasons for rejecting it as unscriptural. This would be followed by a similar presentation of Ford's interpretation of the passages of Scripture at issue and a critical analysis of it. This procedure would be fair to all of the evidence, bring the strength and weakness of both positions into clear focus, and provide a sound basis for reaching a consensus that would merit the respect and confidence of fair-minded people.

The basic difference in the way the majority of administrators and the majority of Bible scholars study the Bible is that the former follow the prooftext method (which reads it from the modern reader's perspective), and the latter the historical method (which examines it in search of the meaning the inspired writers intended their words to convey). These two methods are mutually incompatible and usually lead to conflicting results--as they do with the sanctuary doctrine. It is futile to seek a valid consensus when some are using the prooftext method, and others the historical method. Ford was condemned for using the historical method, by persons operating by the prooftext method.

Repeated affirmation was made at Glacier View of the sola Scriptura principle, which requires that the Bible be its own interpreter, but the keynote address Sunday night declared that "the bottom line is the role of Ellen White in doctrinal matters." In other words, Glacier View considered her an infallible interpreter of Scripture, and thereby prescinded from the sola Scriptura principle! To affirm either automatically rejects the other, yet Glacier View ambivalently professed both! There cannot be two final authorities, one saying one thing and the other something else! To affirm Ellen White as an infallible interpreter of Scripture contradicts her own consistent insistence that the Bible itself is ultimate authority in all matters of doctrine.16 At least in practice, administrators at Glacier View evidently believed that the Bible and the Bible only as interpreted by Ellen White is our infallible rule of faith and doctrine, even when she quotes it out of context, homiletically rather than exegetically.

Glacier View established to everyone's satisfaction that Ford was guilty of dissent from Article 23 of the Dallas Statement of Fundamental Beliefs--a fact he had acknowledged all along--but it did nothing to prove that his understanding of the Bible is in error. Ironically, the official poll of the conferees at the beginning and again at the close of the conference revealed that 34 percent of them likewise dissent from Article 23 at least to some degree, and the Consensus Statement voted at the close agreed with Ford on seven major points.

In order to be faithful to the sola Scriptura principle in its corporate study of the Bible the church must affirm as the teaching of the Bible only that which the Bible explicitly teaches. It is not consistent to give lip service to sola Scriptura in principle and then violate it in practice--as the traditional interpretation of Daniel 8:14 does. If the church takes the sola Scriptura principle seriously it will delete from its Statement of Fundamental Beliefs every concept and every passage of Scripture cited that conflicts with this principle. It will realize that the prooftext method violates sola Scriptura, and will elect to practice the historical method, which consistently follows the principle. Too often a teaching of the church has been appealed to as a reason for bypassing the plain import of Scripture --as if the traditions of the church are more inspired, authoritative, and reliable than the Bible!

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