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Bible Commentary: “Long-term Influence”

Part five on the Bible Commentary, excerpted from Raymond Cottrell’s 1985 Spectrum article, “The Untold Story of the Bible Commentary.” You can also read the intro and earlier posts. Commenting is open on this post for the series.

Though not by design on the part of those who convened it, the 1952 Bible Conference opened the door to a 15-year climate of openness and freedom to study the Bible objectively rather than apologetically, during which the church made rapid progress in its understanding of the Scripture. Elder Nichol often commented that except for the 1952 Bible Conference it would not have been possible to produce the Commentary because the editors could not have operated with sufficient freedom to make it objective and therefore worthwhile. In turn, the Commentary consolidated the openness and freedom that began in 1952 and continued for several years.

As a result of this climate of openness and freedom it was possible to build into the Commentary advanced principles of Bible study that set the Commentary free from the outmoded proof-text method of study. These advanced principles make the Scriptures in the original languages, the ancient manuscripts, the context in which a statement occurs, and the historical setting normative for its meaning. The purpose of this method of study is to ascertain what the inspired writers, guided by the Holy Spirit, intended their words to mean, and thus to give the Bible an opportunity to interpret itself. It avoids the common proof-text method of reading into the Bible whatever the would-be interpreter may imagine it means.

Inevitably, the editors found that certain passages of Scripture, taken in context, do not support the traditional proof-text concepts usually attributed to them. As editors we would have been unfaithful to the Bible if we had not set forth what we conscientiously believed to be the true meaning of a passage. At the same time, with appropriate pastoral concern, we included the traditional interpretation, and were thus able in most instances to be faithful to the Bible and at the same time recognize a historic Adventist position. By offering more than one interpretation of a passage we made clear to Commentary readers that we were not freezing Adventist theology into a creed, despite fears in some quarters that we would attempt to do so. We realized also that some church members, used to the dogmatic, proof-text approach, would feel uncomfortable and threatened by the openness of the Commentary, but we believed that in time the church would come to appreciate the virtues of openness and that our endeavor to be faithful to the text of Scripture would have a corrective effect.

Publication of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary was an ephochal event in the history of the church, one whose full import is yet to be perceived. With the clearer and more complete understanding of the Bible reflected in the Commentary as a basis, together with continuing study of the Bible by sound principles, competent Adventist Bible scholars of a future generation will be able to improve on what we were able to do.

An editors’ note that followed Cottrell’s article noted significant 1976 revisions of a few articles in the first edition of the Commentary. The revisions were begun by Ray Cottrell and completed under Ray Woolsey’s supervision and included revisions regarding Creation and the flood, editing of biblical manuscripts, historical maps, metric measurements, and the comparable value of coins.

Raymond F. Cottrell (1911 – 2003), was an Adventist theologian, missionary, teacher, writer and editor. He was an associate editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary and the Adventist Review. He was one of the founders of Adventist Today and was a consulting editor for Spectrum magazine.

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