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The Ear: Theologian at Work 2


Roy E. Gane is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary of Andrews University.  Originally from Australia, he earned his undergraduate degrees (B.A. in Theology and B.Mus. in piano performance) at Pacific Union College and completed M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in biblical Hebrew language and literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Gane has published many articles and seven books.  These latter include Ritual Dynamic Structure; Leviticus, Numbers (NIV Application Commentary); and Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy. He also contributed the Leviticus portion of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (2009) and the Leviticus and Numbers portions of The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary (2012).  In addition, he was the primary translator of Leviticus for the Common English Bible (2011).

Gane’s work has included a stint as president of the Adventist Theological Society, the more conservative of the two primary organizations that serve Seventh-day Adventist religion scholars.  Until his presidency, ATS and the Adventist Religious Studies Society (ASRS) had not met jointly for scholarly interaction.  While he was leading ATS, the organizations’ respective leaders offered their “presidential addresses” at a venue featuring food as well as conversation.  This joint session, with addresses from the presidents or both ATS and ASRS, has become a November tradition.

Question: What theologians say or write may seem abstract, theoretical.  How do you connect your work with the actual battle front of human existence, where we confront not only dreams and joys but also disappointments and extreme suffering?

Answer: To anyone who reads the uncensored Bible as an authentic record, this ancient classic grapples with basic realities of life and joy versus misery and death in contexts that are often harsh, raw, and extreme. There is nothing naive about the Bible as it exposes enduring human nature and experience in contrast and interaction with God. In this way, the old book (really a library) propels through the centuries its message of hope for a better life by grace through faith in Christ, transcending differences of culture, science, and technology. Recognizing this, I gain rich practical benefit and personal transformation from my research on biblical texts against their ancient Near Eastern backgrounds by placing all the details and abstract concepts within the framework of the overall picture that speaks to the needs of people I encounter all around me.            

Question: People expect that as an Adventist Christian you will take Scripture as the highest written authority for your work.   How do you respond when the Bible seems to have various perspectives on a topic—on, say, marriage, the disciplining of wrongdoers, the use of violence or some other matter?  What principle of biblical interpretation helps you make sense of all this, and come up with insight applicable to Christian life today?

Answer: At first glance, the biblical claim that the Lord does not change (Malachi 3:6) seems to be untrue if He is the ultimate author of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), which presents diverse approaches to various topics. However, I am finding that these approaches tend to address somewhat different situations (taking into account complexities of human experience and response) or similar situations at different stages of progressive revelation, or they come at problems from different angles. While God’s character of love = justice plus mercy (Exodus 34:6-7, etc.) remains consistent, He takes into account the diversity of His human children and their free choice for or against Him, working with unparalleled sophistication to save as many as are willing to be saved.

Question: Many church members believe Adventism is dealing with an identity crisis, driven, perhaps, by anxieties concerning our eschatology or our relationship to scientific knowledge.  Those who read widely and otherwise interact with the wider intellectual culture see our church going through intense self-analysis about who we are and what our role is.  Where do you think this discussion ought to take us?

Answer: If we take the time and effort to patiently listen to each other’s concerns and learn from different perspectives, we can come out stronger and more unified. I am currently involved in intense discussions regarding issues such as those mentioned in the question, and I can see frank but friendly communication narrowing gaps among experts from various disciplines and leading to greater collective wisdom and deeper faith, even if we may never completely agree or have all the answers. We need safe places for free discussion, which seems to be best obtained by small groups of dedicated, searching people who invest in each other, learn to trust each other, and then take the benefits of their shared insights to others. This is how our church began and flourished.  

Question: You belong to the Adventist Church; you were born into a church-member’s family.  But why do you remain Seventh-day Adventist?  In a conversation with, say, your child or a close friend, what would you offer as the most important reason?

Answer: My first loyalty is to God as He is revealed in various ways, especially in the Bible. I remain a Seventh-day Adventist because the people of this faith community are uniquely committed to learning from God and living in harmony with His will as it is revealed in the Bible. We don’t have all the truth yet and we have plenty of problems, but I have found through decades of research that the SDA message enjoys a degree of biblical richness, purity, and potential for spiritual power (although not yet adequately fulfilled) that is unmatched in other theological systems.

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