Is Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) theology focused on the defense of traditional biblical interpretations? Or is it focused on an ever-increasing reformation of traditional interpretations? More specifically, how is the increase of our biblical knowledge related to the increase of our scientific knowledge? Does scientific knowledge threaten or complement biblical knowledge?
In this post, I suggest some answers to these questions by briefly presenting an interpretation of a text from the book of the Daniel which is a favorite among SDAs. Then I compare my interpretation of Daniel with the writings of Ellen White, who is a SDA thought leader.
The Writings of Daniel
Science-theology relations may be illuminated by the message of the book of Daniel about an end-time increase of knowledge. Daniel records the words of an angel who says: “O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan 12:4, KJV).
A number of questions arise in my mind when I read this text. Who are the many who will increase knowledge in the end-time? Do they increase knowledge by acquiring and/or by sharing knowledge? What does going to and fro mean? Is this a reference to travel from one place to another? Is it a reference to different methods for increasing knowledge? What kind of knowledge will increase? Is it theological knowledge and/or scientific knowledge?
The book of Daniel provides answers to these questions. First, the primary reference is not to an increase of scientific knowledge, but to an increase of theological knowledge through understanding the prophecies of Daniel. This is evident in that “wisdom” is associated with those who “turn many to righteousness” (Dan 12:3; see also 9:3). This results in some conflict between the perspectives of those who are unrighteous and those who are righteous. This is because “none of the wicked will understand, but the wise [who are by implication, righteous] will understand” (Dan 12:10; see also 11:33-35).
Second, at the same time, the increase of theological knowledge is compatible with the increase of scientific knowledge. The young Hebrew captives were so skilled in knowledge and wisdom that they not only mastered the science of the University of Babylon–they also graduated at the top of their class! (Dan 1:4, 17, 20; 2:14). It is important to note that the same words (knowledge and wisdom) which are used to identify the science of Babylon are used to identify the sacred science of God. For example, after receiving the spiritual interpretation of Nebuchadnezzer’s dream, Daniel blessed God as the giver of “knowledge” and “wisdom” (Dan 2:21; also 20-23; 5:11-14; 8:16-17; 9:23, 25; 10:11, 12, 14).
This brief survey of one part of the book of Daniel suggests that, in the end-time, just before the second coming of Christ, those who will go “to and fro” to increase and to share knowledge include God’s people. In addition, the process of increasing theological knowledge is compatible with the process of increasing scientific knowledge. How does Ellen White’s perspective on science and theology compare with this interpretation of Daniel?
The Writings of Ellen White
Ellen White emphasizes the increase of theological knowledge which results when we go “to and fro” between the Old Testament (OT) book of Daniel and the New Testament (NT) book of Revelation. “The [OT] book of Daniel is now unsealed, and the revelation made by Christ to John [in the NT] is to come to all the inhabitants of the earth. By the increase of knowledge a people is to be prepared to stand in the latter days” (Selected Messages, 1:105, emphasis supplied).
Daniel’s theme of the increase of knowledge is repeated frequently by Ellen White in connection with both theological and scientific knowledge. “‘What need is there,’ say they [the end-time Laodiceans], of an increase of knowledge” (Testimonies, 5:265, emphasis supplied). Therefore, “well-organized work must be done in the church, that its members may understand the manner in which they may impart light to others, and thus strengthen their own faith and increase their knowledge” (Review, 7 March 1893, emphasis supplied). “Every grain of knowledge is to be regarded as of high value . . . . The students should improve every moment to increase their knowledge” (Manuscript Releases, 13: 145-146, emphasis supplied).
“God desires His workers to gain daily a better understanding of how to reason logically from cause to effect, arriving at wise, safe conclusions. . . . We cannot afford to make mistakes that are the result of our cherishing erroneous ideas. . . . There is need of knowledge that is the fruit of experience. We should not allow a day to pass without gaining an increase of knowledge in temporal and spiritual things. We are to plant no stakes that we are not willing to take up and plant farther on, nearer the heights we hope to ascend. The highest education is to be found in training the mind to advance day to day” (Letter 164, 1903, 4; Manuscript Releases, 10:300).
This increase of knowledge involves the study of Scripture and nature. “Nature still speaks of her Creator. . . . [At the same time,] we need the fuller revelation of Himself that God has given in His written word” (Education, 16-17, emphasis supplied). Similarly, “as we observe the things of the natural world, we shall be enabled under the guiding of the Holy Spirit, more fully to understand the lessons of God’s word” (120, emphasis supplied). “The book of nature and the written word do not disagree; each sheds light on the other. Rightly understood they make us acquainted with God and his character by teaching us something of the wise and beneficent laws through which he works. We are thus led to adore his name and to have an intelligent trust in his word” (Signs of the Times [March 20, 1884]: 177, emphasis supplied).
- Is science a threat to theology?
- Can science and theology help each other?
- Are the perspectives of Daniel and Ellen White helpful in answering these questions?
Martin Hanna has previously written for Memory, Meaning & Faith on: