In 2019, I immersed myself in a transformative spiritual assembly tailored to address the challenges within the Seventh-day Adventist Church across the South Pacific. Orchestrated by the Trans Pacific Union Mission, this unique conclave summoned more than 200 pastors to the idyllic shores of Vanuatu.
At the heart of our spiritual dialogue was the enigmatic Greek term Orthotomeo, drawn from Paul’s poetic ink in his second epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15). Often rendered as “rightly dividing” or “skilfully navigating” the Word of Truth, this term beckons to mind a meticulous, even surgical, method of deciphering God’s sacred text. It advocates for an intellectual and spiritual deep dive into the Scriptures, far beyond a mere surface-level perusal. While the concept might seem deceptively simple, many a soul has stumbled by not “slicing” through the Scriptures with due care and precision.
As you embark on your odyssey through the biblical tapestry, consider these three cornerstone principles when wrestling with the enigmas and mysteries tucked within its verses.
1. Pay attention to the overall counsel of the Bible on the topic
Revelation 1:7 declares, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.” Some Adventists have inferred from this verse that the “righteous dead” and those “who pierced Him” will be resurrected during Jesus’ second coming. However, this interpretation seems at odds with the more comprehensive biblical teaching on the “first” resurrection.
Revelation 20:6 elaborates that individuals included in the “first” resurrection won’t experience the “second death”, essentially implying eternal life for them, free from final judgement or destruction symbolised by the “second death”.
This creates a theological quandary if we assume that those “who pierced Him” (often interpreted as wicked or unrepentant individuals) would also be resurrected alongside the “righteous dead” during Jesus’ second coming. Passages like 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 suggest that those resurrected at Jesus’ return would be granted eternal life. Therefore, including the wicked in this resurrection would suggest they, too, receive eternal life, a notion conflicting with the broader biblical teachings about judgement and the fate of the unrighteous.
The more reasonable interpretation is that those “who pierced Him” are resurrected at a separate time, distinct from the resurrection of the righteous. This leads us to our second guiding principle, which further elaborates on the sequencing and purpose of the resurrections, ensuring they align with the broader biblical doctrine.
By meticulously studying and reconciling the biblical text with the larger context, we can deduce principles that harmonise with the overall biblical narrative. Such analysis underscores the importance of distinguishing between the resurrections of the righteous and the wicked, thus preserving the consistency and integrity of biblical teachings on eternal life and judgement.
2. Always consider the Bible’s time, place and context on the subject
Revisiting Revelation 1:7, the time is clearly stated as “Behold, He is coming”, marking the actual return of Jesus. Regarding location (place), Jesus appears in the sky, surrounded by clouds, while the saints are on earth. The central theme of this verse focuses on the fact that “every eye will see Him”. It’s important to note that the emphasis here isn’t on the resurrection of the dead but rather on who will witness Jesus’ return. This group includes not just the righteous but also some of the wicked, specifically those “who pierced Him”.
So, how does the Bible address this complex issue? The answer can be found in the prophecies of Daniel, which provide additional context and clarity.
“At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the rightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3, NKJV).
In the prophecy of Daniel, the time and location are identified as the moment “Michael shall stand up” to protect the saints during a unique “time of trouble”. This aligns with Revelation 7:1-3, where divine mercy for humanity will one day end, and probation closes. Following this, the world enters a period of significant upheaval.
The situation Daniel described occurs briefly between the end of this probationary period and Jesus’ second coming. During this time, Daniel foretells a “special resurrection”. The righteous and some of the wicked will be resurrected: the righteous to “everlasting life”, and some to “shame and everlasting contempt”, as further detailed in Mark 14:61-63. This explanation offers a coherent interpretation that aligns with the broader context of the Bible on the subject.
3. Always pay attention to the general principle of the Bible on the subject
The third principle aims to prevent misinterpretation of biblical texts. It’s crucial not to formulate an entire doctrine based on a single verse or isolated text. Any interpretation of a challenging passage should align with the Bible’s broader teachings on the subject.
Biblical teachings are interconnected and consistent; they don’t contradict each other. If our interpretation clashes with other biblical teachings, it’s a sign we’ve either drawn incorrect conclusions or misunderstood the text. The Bible is internally consistent, so this principle encourages us to thoroughly study, compare and evaluate to ensure our understanding aligns with the Bible’s overarching messages.
Moreover, our interpretation should also be consistent with the Spirit of Prophecy. For an in-depth exploration of the “special resurrection”, you can refer to Ellen White’s The Great Controversy, specifically chapter 40, titled “God’s People Delivered”. The “special resurrection” event is distinct from the general “resurrection of the saints” discussed in 1 Corinthians 15 and
1 Thessalonians 4, which occurs at Jesus’ return.
By steadfastly anchoring ourselves to these three cardinal principles as we voyage through the labyrinthine corridors of the Bible, we greatly minimise the chances of veering off into the weeds of misinterpretation. The Greek term Orthotomeo, an eloquent kernel of wisdom tucked into Paul’s second letter to Timothy, beckons us to embark on a rigorous, spiritually-minded scrutiny of God’s divine script. It urges us not just to skim the surface but to plunge into the text’s depths and unravel its complexities while ever seeking celestial guidance.
In essence, Scripture becomes not just text but a dialogue—conversations with God frozen in ink that we thaw through study and contemplation. One might liken this to an intricate jigsaw puzzle, where each biblical verse is a piece that snaps into a grander tableau. Only by cross-referencing one part of the sacred tapestry with another can we “rightly divide” or accurately decipher the full spectrum of biblical teachings.
In adhering to these guidelines, we accomplish twofold: first, we fortify our understanding, constructing a sturdy scaffold of faith and knowledge. Second, we act as responsible stewards of God’s Word, mitigating the peril of leading fellow seekers down convoluted pathways of misunderstanding. This is the essence of Orthotomeo—a term that captures the spiritual rigour needed for exploring the divine text, thus ensuring that our understanding aligns harmoniously with the celestial symphony of the Word.
Dr Limoni Manu O‘Uiha is the head of theology, Fulton Adventist University College, Nadi, Fiji.