Inspiration of Ellen G. White

Inspiration of Ellen G. White
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Seventh-day Adventists believe church co-founder Ellen G. White (1827–1915) was inspired by God as a prophet, today understood as a manifestation of the New Testament "gift of prophecy", as described in the official beliefs of the church.[1] Her works are officially considered to hold a secondary role to the Bible, but in practice there is wide variation among Adventists as to exactly how much authority should be attributed to her writings. With understanding she claimed was received in visions, White made administrative decisions, gave personal messages of encouragement or rebuke to church members. Seventh-day Adventists believe that only the Bible is sufficient for forming doctrines and beliefs.



Supportive views:

  • Infallible, inerrant or verbal dictation. Some Historic Adventists in the church argue that she is inerrant. Various contemporaries of Ellen White argued for the even stronger view of verbal inspiration.
  • Confirming doctrinal developments. The mainstream and most common Adventist view is that White's writings had a "confirming" not "initiating" role in the doctrinal development of the church, following the group's conclusions based on Bible study.[2]

Official beliefs

One of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the church is

"18. The Gift of Prophecy:
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White. As the Lord's messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Joel 2:28,29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)"[1]

Fundamental number one, "Holy Scriptures", states in part,

"The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are… the authoritative revealer of doctrines…"[1]

The Adventist baptismal vows do not mention Ellen White specifically yet the set of 13 vows include:

"8. I accept the biblical teaching of spiritual gifts and believe that the gift of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church."[3]

See also the General Conference Session statements from 2010, 2005[4] and 1995.[5] The 2005 one says,

"Her writings continue to be a most positive influence in the life of the Church, providing for it comfort, guidance, instruction, correction, and theological stimulus. Their study will constantly lead the Church back to the Bible as the very foundation of faith and practice."[4]

Prior to the 28 Fundamentals, an earlier list of 22 foundational beliefs was not official, yet did serve as the de facto standard. They were first printed in 1931, and the item on spiritual gifts put less emphasis on White:

"19. That God has placed in His church the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. That these gifts operate in harmony with the divine principles of the Bible, and are given 'for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.' Eph. 4:12. That the gift of the Spirit of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church. (1 Cor. 1:5–7; 1 Cor. 2:1–28 Rev. 12:17; Rev. 19:10; Amos 3:7; Hosea 12:10, 13.) They recognize that this gift was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White."[6]

White's own views

Ellen White stated...

"I speak that which I have seen, and which I know to be true." [7] She states "In all your communications, speak as one to whom the Lord has spoken. He is your authority." (Ellen White, Letter 186, 1902) "Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her lifework God has been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light, that God has graciously given His servant to be given to the world." [8] "I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision--the precious rays of light shining from the throne." [9] "Weak and trembling, I arose at three o'clock in the morning to write to you. God was speaking through clay. You might say that this communication was only a letter. Yes, it was a letter, but prompted by the Spirit of God, to bring before your minds things that had been shown me. In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me." [10] I conclude, after reading these statements, that she claims that she is not the source of her articles and her letters. That does not mean that she could not have used materials from other writers in writing out the messages God had given to her. We are concerned here about the source, the originating point of her messages. Did they come from God, or did they come from her own opinions or the ideas of others? She expressly says that her messages come from God, that the originating point is God. So let us remember that her claim is that the messages she writes are God's messages, not her messages.

However, her claim becomes clear and specific. "God is either teaching His church, reproving their wrongs and strengthening their faith, or He is not. This work is of God, or it is not. God does nothing in partnership with Satan. My work... bears the stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy. There is no halfway work in the matter. The Testimonies are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil." [11] Ellen White states that she is willing to say that we have to make up our own minds about her writings. She lays out a specific principle to guide our decision here. She says that this work is either God's work or it is Satan's work, because if Satan were operative in the prophet God would cease speaking. God does nothing in partnership with Satan—that's the principle.[11] This means that her writings must either come from God or they must come from Satan.[11] They cannot be partly from God and partly from Satan, or even partly her own opinions.[11] She is either controlled by God or by Satan.[11] Let us be sure that we are evaluating her own claims. We must not put another claim in the place of the one she has made herself. She has asked us to judge her work and then attribute it to either God or Satan, and I believe that we must accept her challenge.

"Many times in my experience I have been called upon to meet the attitude of a certain class, who acknowledged that the testimonies were from God, but took the position that this matter and that matter were Sister White's opinion and judgment. This suits those who do not love reproof and correction, and who, if their ideas were crossed, have occasion to explain the difference between the human and the divine. If the preconceived opinions or particular ideas of some are crossed in being reproved by testimonies, they have a burden at once to make plain their position to discriminate between the testimonies, defining what is Sister White's human judgment, and what is the word of the Lord. Everything that sustains their cherished ideas is divine, and the testimonies to correct their errors are human--Sister White's opinions." [12] This crucial statement expresses again the principle she is asking us to take seriously. If we say that her messages did come from God, but that mixed in with these messages are Ellen White's opinions and judgments, that means we become the final arbiter of what is inspired and what is not inspired in the writings of Ellen White; we define what is her human judgment and what is the word of the Lord. Whether we decide on an emotional or an intellectual basis, we are determining which parts of Ellen White's writings are authoritative because they are messages from God, and which parts of Ellen White's writings are not authoritative because they are simply her own opinions.

After Ellen White says that some make their own decisions about what is her human judgment and what is the word of the Lord, she concludes her statement with this crucial sentence. "They [the ones making these distinctions] make of none effect the counsel of God by their tradition." Remember, these are the ones that acknowledge that the testimonies are from God. They say, "Yes, Ellen White is an inspired messenger from God. I believe in the inspiration of Ellen White." But when it comes to a specific point that Ellen White makes, many people say, "Well, that was just her opinion. That was her own idea." Ellen White says that this attitude makes of none effect the counsel of God. Do you remember that she also said that the last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the messages which have come through her? [13] Not to deny, please notice, but to make of none effect. Perhaps the greatest danger we face is not from those who deny the inspiration of the Spirit of Prophecy, but from those who profess to believe in the inspiration of Ellen White. When it comes to specific points, they take great pains to declare that these were her judgments and opinions. This is the last deception of Satan—making God's testimony of none effect by attributing parts of it to her opinion and accepting only those parts which square with our opinions.

Once again she warns us, "Do not by your criticisms take out all the force, all the point and power, from the Testimonies. Do not feel that you can dissect them to suit your own ideas, claiming that God has given you ability to discern what is light from heaven and what is the expression of mere human wisdom. If the Testimonies speak not according to the Word of God, reject them. Christ and Belial cannot be united." [14] We dare not make distinctions between messages from heaven and her opinions. But if her opinions are mixed into these writings, if in fact she does present her own ideas as the word of God, then her counsel to us is very clear. We are to reject the testimonies, not just those parts which we feel are her own opinions, but all of the testimonies, because Christ and Satan cannot be united.

Higher Authority

As a messenger speaking for God, a prophet claims a higher authority than an interpreter trying to understand the word of God. A prophet claims to have direct revelation from God, direct communication from God, regarding God's will for our lives. Thus we must decide whether a prophet's writings come from God or from Satan. We cannot credit part of the writings to God and part of the writings to human opinion. "In the testimonies sent to __________ I have given you the light God has given to me. In no case have I given my own judgment or opinion. I have enough to write of what has been shown me, without falling back on my own opinions." Please notice "In no case have I given my own judgment or opinion." (Testimonies to Battle Creek Church, 1882, p. 58, Emphasis supplied) "Permit me to express my mind, and yet not my mind, but the word of the Lord." [15]

This means that part of a prophet's responsibility is not to speak when the Lord has not spoken. In one instance, Ellen White said, "I have no light on the subject [who would constitute the 144,000]. Please tell my brethren that I have nothing presented before me regarding the circumstances concerning which they write, and I can set before them only that which has been presented to me." [16] That is a major responsibility of a prophet. A prophet cannot give his own opinion. A prophet cannot suggest what he thinks is true, because his listeners would assume that his opinion is the word of the Lord on that subject. So if the Lord has not spoken, the prophet must not speak.

In writing to an individual wanting guidance, she said, "I am not at liberty to write to our brethren concerning your future work. . I have received no instruction regarding the place where you should locate... If the Lord gives me definite instruction concerning you, I will give it you; but I cannot take upon myself responsibilities that the Lord does not give me to bear." [17] Once again, she had to remain silent when the Lord had not spoken. She could speak only when the Lord had spoken. If a prophet speaks with prophetic authority when the Lord has not spoken, then the prophet must be rejected as a false prophet. "This morning I attended a meeting where a select few were called together to consider some questions that were presented to them by a letter soliciting consideration and advice on these subjects. Of some of these subjects I could speak, because at sundry times and in diverse places many things have been presented to me... As my brethren read the selections from letters, I knew what to say to them; for this matter has been presented to me again and again... I have not felt at liberty to write out the matter until now." [18] Notice her words, "Of some of these subjects I could speak." She could only speak when the Lord had spoken.

The bottom line of this discussion is that we cannot pick and choose what we think is inspired out of her writings and leave the rest alone. The same principle applies to her that applies to Bible writers. If John and Paul were inspired, then their writings were totally inspired, and they brought us messages directly from God. There are no degrees either of inspiration or revelation. If Ellen G. White is inspired, then her writings are totally inspired, and her messages come directly from God.

There is one more point we must address. If Ellen White includes her own messages among God's messages and thus confuses God's people as to when God is speaking and when He is not, then the movement she guided—the Seventh-day Adventist Church—is also suspect because of her tremendous impact upon this movement. In that case, this movement may not be the remnant church at all.

If you find anything in her writings which contradicts the Bible, it is your responsibility to reject her as a messenger of God. In light of her dramatic claims, it is impossible to accept her as a good woman while believing that certain things she wrote are contrary to the teachings of the Bible. I recently came across the opinion that Ellen White could be a prophet and yet be in error on doctrinal matters of some consequence. Then how would we make our judgments as to what is error and what is truth?

If we determine that Ellen White or any other claimant to the gift of prophecy is teaching error on any significant Bible doctrine, then we must follow the Biblical counsel that there is no light in that messenger. Ellen White must stand or fall on the basis of her agreement with Scripture, which means total harmony with previous revelation. If she is in error on one Biblical doctrine, then it is unsafe to follow her on any doctrine. If her messages are not from God, then we must reject her work, and it is imperative that we take a second look at the movement that she was so prominent in guiding.

However, if her messages are from God, then it is extremely dangerous to reject her work. "It does not become anyone to drop a word of doubt here and there that shall work like poison in other minds, shaking their confidence in the messages which God has given, which have aided in laying the foundation of this work, and have attended it to the present day, in reproofs, warnings, corrections, and encouragements. To all who have stood in the way of the Testimonies, I would say, God has given a message to His people, and His voice will be heard, whether you hear or forbear. Your opposition has not hindered me; but you must give an account to the God of heaven, who has sent these warnings and instructions to keep His people in the right way. You will have to answer to Him for your blindness, for being a stumbling block in the way of sinners." [19] "I saw the state of some who stood on present truth, but disregarded the visions,--the way God had chosen to teach in some cases, those who erred from Bible truth. I saw that in striking against the visions they did not strike against the worm--the feeble instrument that God spake through--but against the Holy Ghost. I saw it was a small thing to speak against the instrument, but it was dangerous to slight the words of God. I saw if they were in error and God chose to show them their errors through visions, and they disregarded the teachings of God through visions, they would be left to take their own way, and run in the way of error, and think they were right, until they would find it out too late." [20]

If God is speaking, and we slight God's words, we're not really slighting the prophet, we are rejecting God. "What reserve power has the Lord with which to reach those who have cast aside His warnings and reproofs, and have accredited the testimonies of the Spirit of God to no higher source than human wisdom? In the Judgment, what can you who have done this, offer to God as an excuse for turning from the evidences He has given you that God was in the work?" [21]

One Adventist Scholar states "We must take Ellen White's challenges seriously. If her messages do not come from God, then we must reject her claim to be a messenger of the Lord. But if her messages are from God, then we must listen very, very carefully to what God says, because to reject her message is to reject God's message."[22]

Some of White's statements on how inspiration or revelation from God works are found in the introduction to The Great Controversy and pages 15 to 23 of Selected Messages volume 1.[23]

Role As Modern Messenger

Ellen White has stated:

"Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light."[24]

There is debate in regards to what she means when she uses the term lesser light, to explain her relationship to the Bible. "The written testimonies are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed. Man's duty to God and to his fellow man has been distinctly specified in God's word, yet but few of you are obedient to the light given. Additional truth is not brought out; but God has through the Testimonies simplified the great truths already given, and in His own chosen way brought them before the people to awaken and impress the mind with them, that all may be left without excuse." [25] She understands her role to be that of bringing out more clearly the truths already contained in the Bible, and simplifying the great truths already given. Her purpose is to lead to the Bible as the basis of all truth.

But she also says, "In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue."[26] So lesser light does not mean less important light. God is not less serious today when He speaks through a prophet. This means that we must carefully define lesser light and greater light so that we will understand what the words mean and what they do not mean.

Lesser light is not God being less serious in communicating with His people. Lesser light is not God speaking less clearly. Lesser light does not mean dimmer light, or unreliable light, or unimportant light, or untrustworthy light. Lesser light does not refer to an inferior quality of inspiration. The messages that came through Ellen White were just as much the word of God as the messages that came through Isaiah or Ezekiel, but Ellen White's purpose is different.[27]

Uriah Smith stated "Suppose we are about to start a voyage. The owner of the vessel gives us a book of directions, telling us that it contains instructions sufficient for our journey, and that if we will heed them, we shall reach in safety our port of destination. Setting sail we open our book to learn its contents. We find that its author lays down general principles to govern us in our voyage, and instructs us as far as practicable, touching the various contingencies that may arise, til the end; but he also tells us that the latter part of our journey will be especially perilous; that the features of the coast are ever changing by reasons of quicksands and tempests; 'but for this part of the journey,' says he, 'I have provided you a pilot, who will meet you, and give you such directions as the surrounding circumstances and dangers may require; and to him you must give heed.' With these directions we reach the perilous time specified, and the pilot, according to promise, appears. But some of the crew, as he offers his services, rise up against him. 'We have the original book of directions,' say they, 'and that is enough for us. We stand upon that, and that alone; we want nothing of you.' Who now heed the original book of directions? those who reject the pilot, or those who receive him, as that book instructs them? Judge ye… What we do say is distinctly this: That the gifts of the Spirit are given for our pilot through these perilous times, and wherever and in whomsoever we find genuine manifestations of these, we are bound to respect them, nor can we do otherwise without insofar rejecting the word of God, which directs us to receive them. Who now stands on the Bible and the Bible alone?" It is the one who "will receive the pilot according to its directions. We do not, then, discard, but obey, the Bible by endorsing the visions; while we should just so far reject and disobey it, as we should refuse to receive the provisions it has made for our comfort, edification, and perfection." [28]

Modern Interpretations & Viewpoints

Roy Graham, an Adventist scholar has explained his interpretation of what Ellen White's statement on being a lesser light means. He writes "The moon is called in Scripture the 'lesser light'. We know that it shines with 'borrowed light' from the sun. But this does not make the moon any less 'authoritative.' It has its sphere and its appointed task in God's creation. So when Ellen White uses this term to describe her work, she is not just being modest or humble; she is not saying that she is a second-class prophet; she is not saying that her messages are of a less important or less urgent nature than those of the Biblical prophets. Rather, she is emphasizing the function of her role and her messages. The work of any one prophet cannot be compared to the cumulative light that shines across the centuries from the many prophets whose works are found in the Holy Scriptures. But the source of her ministry is the same as theirs, and while her work was primarily for the Seventh-day Adventist church, this in no wise diminishes the importance of her role to that people. . . . She is one and the canonical prophets are many. But both she and they were commissioned by the Holy Spirit to accomplish specific tasks for God's people. It is important to discern the distinctive function of both." [29]

Amazing Facts evangelist Dennis Priebe states "Ellen White must be tested by the Bible, but what does this mean? When Paul was writing his letters how could the Christians of his day be sure that his letters were from God? Paul commended some Christians who studied the Scriptures to see if he was teaching truth. What did they study to test his messages? Obviously, the Old Testament, which was their Scripture. Paul's letters would be accepted if they were in agreement with the Old Testament. Now we must remember that Paul did take some new directions which seemed to conflict with currently held beliefs. But the crucial question was, Did he contradict what the Old Testament taught? As long as Paul did not contradict the Scriptures, then he could take some new directions. So we see that Paul's writings were tested by previous revelation. Now, what happened when Paul's writings were accepted after passing the test? They became part of the standard to test future claimants to the gift of prophecy. Paul's writings, along with the other writings of the New Testament, are now used to test anyone who claims to have the gift of prophecy."[30]

Would it not also be true that Jeremiah's message or Isaiah's message or Ezekiel's message would have to be tested by the writings of Moses? If they passed the test, they would then become part of the Scriptures which would test later writings. Could it be that Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel were lesser lights, individually, pointing back to the greater light which was given through Moses? As individual prophets spoke and wrote, were they not being tested at all times by previous revelation? But when they were accepted, having passed the test, did they not function authoritatively for the people of God? When Ellen White's writings pass the test, do they not function in the same way? If she passes the test, then she is a genuine prophet, and she becomes as authoritative as any Biblical prophet.

One Adventist author states "Some object immediately that this is making her part of the canon. No, the canon is closed and we have no desire to add her to the Canon, but does this mean that she has less authority than the canonical prophets? What about Nathan and Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptist? They were not part of the canon but were they authoritative? The authority of a prophetic message depends upon revelation and inspiration, not canonicity. The messages of these prophets came directly from God and were authoritative, yet they never became part of the canon. An extremely important principle here is that a writing is canonized because it is authoritative; it is not authoritative because it is canonized. The authority of a prophetic writing precedes the canonization of that writing. So the question we're really interested in is not if Ellen White is canonical, but is she authoritative? It is the question of authority that is crucial".[31]

American radio broadcaster Paul Harvey quoted Ellen White in his broadcasts. Though not an Adventist, he was friends with Adventist evangelist George Vandeman, and attended an Adventist church for two decades.[32][33]

Sola Scriptura and Ellen White

The Seventh-day Adventist position does not deny Sola Scriptura, because Scripture itself points to the continuance of prophecy in the church. Scripture says that we will have further messages coming from God in the same way that messages came through Bible prophets. First Thessalonians 5:20-21 clearly states, "Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (KJV)

How, then, should we approach our study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy? The Bible must remain first in our study. When we study any topic, we must go to the Bible first to understand God's will. We will go next to Ellen White to understand God's will on the topic under study. Only after we have done this study of the messages of God can we form our opinions and our own interpretations of what God is saying. We dare not place our opinions before the Bible or before the messages of Ellen White. The Bible must be first as the source and the foundation of our message. Ellen White's writings come after that, to illuminate and to amplify that message, and only then may we make judgments about doctrines, God's will, and our responsibilities.

Sometimes it is suggested that Ellen White herself said that her writings were not necessary for our salvation. This statement may clarify her meaning. "If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the ten commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses." (PP 364) What she is saying is that God gives messages according to man's need. If man would have been obedient to God's law in its unwritten form, we would never have had many of the specific directions given by Moses. Each of these messages was given because of need, because God's people needed additional information. Does that mean that the ten commandments were unimportant? Or does that mean that the additional information given by Moses to the people of Israel was unimportant because it need not have been given?

Dennis Priebe states "It is safe to say that the messages of Isaiah and Jeremiah came to Israel because of their unfaithfulness in obeying God's will as expressed through the writings of Moses. Their messages should not have been given, but because of Israel's unfaithfulness, we have them. Does that mean that they are less important? Are they not extremely important for God's people to study and to follow? Just so, Ellen White's writings would not have been given if God's people had been faithful to the messages contained in Scripture. God would not have needed to send more messages. But because God's people did not understand and obey the messages of Scripture, her messages were sent. Does that make them less important? Or of less authority? When God speaks, He speaks for a purpose. And whenever He speaks, we must listen, just as it was important for Israel to listen to Isaiah or Jeremiah speaking for God. We must be alert to God's word and willing to obey it wherever we find it."[34]

Degrees of Inspiration regarding Ellen White's Writings and Doctrinal Authority

(Debate concerning whether to divide between the inspired and uninspired)[citation needed].

Critics have debated between whether Ellen White is authoritative on devotional and counseling levels, but not on the doctrinal level. Adventists believe that as a prophet, Ellen White was able to give direction at many levels and tend to follow Ellen Whites counsels. In early Adventist history one record states, "When they came to the point in their study where they said, 'We can do nothing more,' the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labor and teach effectively. Thus light was given that helped us to understand the scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. A line of truth extending from that time to the time when we shall enter the city of God was made plain to me, and I gave to others the instruction that the Lord had given me." [35] When the brethren were at an impasse in their studies because they held contradictory opinions, the Spirit of the Lord would take Ellen White off in vision and explain Scriptural passages regarding Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. This was certainly doctrinal material, and it was very authoritative when she returned from vision and told the brethren what God had told her. Obviously some who held a contradictory view would have to give up their opinion about truth and believe when her message came through vision. It seems that one of the functions of the prophetic gift was to establish which Scriptural interpretations were correct and which were not, such as on the Sabbath, as many Adventist had come from Sunday-keeping churches, the End Time or issues arising out of the events of 1844.

"The Lord showed me in vision, more than one year ago, that Brother Crosier had the true light on the cleansing of the sanctuary, etc., and that it was His will that Brother Crosier should write out the view which he gave us in the Day-Star Extra, Feb. 7, 1846. I feel fully authorized by the Lord to recommend that Extra to every saint." [36] Certainly we are dealing with doctrinal material here. "At this time, a few days before the new time set in 1845, Ellen was with the band at Carver, Massachusetts, where she saw in vision that we should be disappointed, and that the saints must pass through the 'time of Jacob's trouble,' which was future. Her view of Jacob's trouble was entirely new to us, as well as herself." [37] The time of Jacob's trouble certainly impinges on doctrine.

"I beg leave to state.. . . what I have seen in vision relative to these things on which you have written. I fully agree with you, that there will be two literal resurrections, 1000 years apart. I also agree with you, that the new heavens, and the new earth, will not appear till after the wicked dead are raised and destroyed, at the end of the 1000 years. . . . You think that those who worship before the saints' feet (Rev. 3:9) will at last be saved. Here I must differ with you; for God showed me that this class were professed Adventists. . . . In the 'hour of temptation' . . . they will know that they are forever lost; and overwhelmed with anguish of spirit, they will bow at the saints' feet. You also think that Michael stood up, and the time of trouble commenced, in the spring of 1844. The Lord has shown me . . . that . . . Michael's standing up (Dan. 12:1) to deliver His people, is in the future.[38] Here Ellen White is speaking authoritatively on issues that are clearly doctrinal.

During one of the early conferences Ellen White writes. "Our first conference was at Volney in Bro. Arnold's barn. There were about thirty-five present, all that could be collected in that part of the State. There were hardly two agreed. Each was strenuous for his views, declaring that they were according to the Bible. . . . Bro. Arnold held that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 were in the past, and that the 144,000 were those raised at Christ's resurrection. . . . And as we had the emblem of our dying Lord before us, and was about to commemorate His sufferings, Bro. Arnold arose and said he had no faith in what we were about to do, that the Sacrament was a continuation of the Passover, to be observed but once a year. These strange differences of opinion rolled a heavy weight upon me, especially as Bro. Arnold spoke of the 1000 years being in the past. I knew he was in error, and great grief pressed my spirits. . . . The light of Heaven rested upon me. I was soon lost to earthly things. My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. That these discordant views, which they claimed to be according to the Bible, were only according to their opinion of the Bible, and that their errors must be yielded, and they unite upon the third angel's message. Our meeting ended victoriously. Truth gained the victory." [39] She was given specific information about the doctrinal errors of the people in that meeting and also the truth in contrast with these errors. She was told by God which was which. The brethren meeting together accepted the message from God on doctrinal issues, and some had to yield their erroneous positions. She continues to write...

"At that time one error after another pressed in upon us; ministers and doctors brought in new doctrines. We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. Sometimes whole nights would be devoted to searching the Scriptures, and earnestly asking God for guidance. Companies of devoted men and women assembled for this purpose. The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error. As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. I would be taken off in vision, and explanations would be given me. I was given illustrations of heavenly things, and of the sanctuary, so that we were placed where light was shining on us in clear, distinct rays." [40] Once again, she defined truth and error on points of doctrine, by means of the messages given to her in vision.

"The foundations of our faith . . . were laid at the beginning of our work by prayerful study of the Word and by revelation." [41] Notice the two phrases, "by prayerful study of the Word and by revelation." God's Spirit speaking through His messenger helped to lay the foundations of our faith. "Serious errors in doctrine and practice were cherished... God revealed these errors to me in vision and sent me to His erring children to declare them." [42] The evidence is clear that she did understand her writings to have full authority in doctrinal areas.

"The Lord has given me much light that I want the people to have; for there is instruction that the Lord has given me for His people. It is light that they should have, line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. This is now to come before the people, because it has been given to correct specious errors and to specify what is truth. The Lord has revealed many things pointing out the truth, thus saying, This is the way, walk ye in it." [43] She also stated "I was sent by the Lord from place to place to rebuke those who were holding these false doctrines." [44]

The issue to be decided is not whether she is speaking on doctrinal issues or on pastoral issues, but whether she is speaking for the Lord at all. If she is speaking for the Lord, then the Lord will speak pastorally, He will counsel, He will direct, He will encourage, and He will speak doctrinally. It is totally improper to make a distinction between doctrinal and pastoral authority.

We must be sure that we understand the full implications of her inspiration, and what that means for us. Ellen White stated "In my books the truth is stated, barricaded by a 'Thus saith the Lord.' The Holy Spirit traced these truths upon my heart and mind as indelibly as the law was traced by the finger of God upon the tables of stone." [45] She also says, "There is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written." [46]

She says, "All who believe the Lord has spoken through Sister White, and has given her a message, will be safe from the many delusions that will come in these last days." [47] "What a magnificent promise. Her messages can be a tremendous blessing if we will accept them and not try to dodge their full impact on our lives. God has chosen to speak clearly and authoritatively to His people in these final days of earth's history. Praise His name!"[48]


Adventists think of her inspiration as a manifestation of the spiritual gift of prophecy described in the New Testament. In particular, the 18th fundamental belief, titled "The Gift of Prophecy," mentions Ellen White's ministry.[49]

White recounts one situation where she said before a large congregation that she "did not claim to be a prophetess."[50] (emphasis in original) This statement generated much discussion and has been misunderstood since, to which she replied,

"Some have stumbled over the fact that I said I did not claim to be a prophet; and they have asked, Why is this? I have had no claims to make, only that I am instructed that I am the Lord's messenger... Early in my youth I was asked several times, Are you a prophet? I have ever responded, I am the Lord's messenger. I know that many have called me a prophet, but I have made no claim to this title."[50]
"Why have I not claimed to be a prophet? — Because in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word 'prophet' signifies."[50]

However she did not object to others calling her a prophet. Instead, she preferred the term "messenger" because her task involved many lines of work.[50][51][52] This is also the term used in Fundamental Belief #18.

The term "pen of inspiration" has been used as a colloquial phrase for White's writings, although the church's news body recommends against it for public usage.[53]

Spirit of prophecy

The term "spirit of prophecy" is sometimes used by Adventists to refer to Ellen White, her ministry, and her writings. (Adventists also accept it refers to the Holy Spirit). An article by the White Estate gives the two definitions of (a) the Holy Spirit, or (b) the essence or heart of prophecy.[54]

The term appears just once in scripture, in Revelation 19:10, "...for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." However Gerhard Pfandl argues it was well known to the readers of John's day, via Aramaic translations of the Old Testament ("targums"). He defines, "For the early Christians the “spirit of prophecy” was a reference to the Holy Spirit, who imparts the prophetic gift to God’s messengers." Comparing Revelation 19:10 and 22:8,9, the parallel passages compare "your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus" with "your brethren the prophets".[55]

Ellen White's enlargement of Spiritual Gifts was titled Spirit of Prophecy (four volumes), which in turn became the Conflict of the Ages series (five volumes) (see also: The Great Controversy). However the title was chosen by the editors, not by White herself.[56]

The official statement "A Statement of Confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy" applies the term to White. Also the segment of Adventist World which reprints an Ellen White article is titled "Spirit of Prophecy".

See also "The Spirit of Prophecy" by James White[57] and "Spirit of Prophecy" in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia.

Sources and plagiarism charges

Ellen G. White’s status as a modern day prophet has often been criticized. A common criticism of Ellen White, widely popularized by Walter T. Rea, Ronald Numbers and others, is that she plagiarized material from other authors.[58][59][60] A Roman Catholic lawyer, Vincent L. Ramik, undertook a study of Ellen G. White's writings during the early 1980s, and concluded that they were "conclusively unplagiaristic."[61] When the plagiarism charge ignited a significant debate during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Adventist General Conference commissioned a major study by Dr. Fred Veltman. The ensuing project became known as the "'Life of Christ' Research Project." The results are available at the General Conference Archives.[62] Dr. Roger W. Coon,[63] David J. Conklin,[64] Dr. Denis Fortin,[65][66] King and Morgan,[67] among others, undertook the refutation of the accusations of plagiarism. At the conclusion of Ramik's report, he states:

"It is impossible to imagine that the intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected in her writings and the unquestionably prodigious efforts involved therein, was anything other than a sincerely motivated and unselfish effort to place the understandings of Biblical truths in a coherent form for all to see and comprehend. Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind's understanding of the word of God. Considering all factors necessary in reaching a just conclusion on this issue, it is submitted that the writings of Ellen G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic." [68]

Critics have especially targeted Ellen White's book The Great Controversy arguing in contains plagiarized material.[69] However in her introduction she wrote...

In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works.

The Great Controversy, p. xi.4 1911 edition

Miracles and tests

Supportive arguments which are used include claims of miraculous physical signs which were present, the accuracy of her health message, predictions, character of her life, and so on.[70]

George I. Butler stated that when going into visions, "...there is no appearance of swooning or faintness", yet "...Often she loses her strength temporarily and reclines or sits; but at other time she stands up."[71]

The White Estate wrote, "Such experiences should not be considered proof of divine inspiration, as prophets must meet the tests set forth in the Scriptures; but this experience, as well as other remarkable physical phenomena, were seen as evidence by many early Adventists that Ellen Harmon's visions were of supernatural origin."[72][73]

White made no claims to work miracles. One claim was to White's prayers enacting healing.[74]

History of views

There has been much debate regarding the nature of her inspiration, both within and without the Adventist church. There have been many particularly significant developments since the 1970s when the discussion was particularly fierce. Throughout the history of the debate both more progressive/liberal and more conservative factions are clearly identifiable.

White's lifetime

James and Ellen White

Ellen White's support from the early Sabbatarian Adventists grew over time, although there were major detractors also.[75] Even during Ellen White's lifetime Adventists had different views regarding the nature of her prophetic ministry. She corrected both people who downplayed her writings, and those who elevated them too highly. She rebuked both those who downplayed or rejected her writings, such as A. T. Jones and also those who elevated her writings too high, such as Dr. D. Paulson (see above) During her life she constantly fought for her followers to focus on Scripture, and not to use her writings as the arbiter of truth.

One opponent to White during her lifetime was the "Marion Party" in the 1860s, led by B. F. Snook and W. H. Brinkerhoff, which split from the church in 1866. In the same year, they published the first book critical of White's prophetic ministry – The Visions of E. G. White, Not of God.[76] (Together with others, they constituted the forerunners of the Church of God (Seventh Day)). Uriah Smith replied with The Visions of Mrs. E. G. White: A Manifestation of Spiritual Gifts According to the Scriptures (1868), "thus beginning the vast repertoire of apologetic literature defending the ministry of Ellen White", according to one historian.[77]

Her first vision was in December 1844. She also experienced powerful dreams, including two earlier in 1842.[78][79]

J. N. Loughborough's early history Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists (DjVu format)[80] is one of the early Adventist historical books documenting the rise of the movement.

Tension between fundamentalism and liberalism

F. C. Gilbert edited Divine Predictions of Mrs. Ellen G. White Fulfilled in 1922.[81]

In 1926 the General Conference even published a college textbook that argued for so-called verbal inspiration, while rejecting verbal dictation and Ellen White's several statements of thought inspiration.[82] Daniells, Prescott and Willie White were sidelined. The loss of the moderate position has caused problems for the church that continue to the present day.[83] Prescott expressed some serious concerns in a letter[84] to Willie in 1915. H. M. S. Richards saw her as fallible, and when accusations such as plagiarism arose decades later, he reported that he was not disturbed because he had heard them all before at the 1919 Conference.[85]

Willie White addressed faculty and students about "How Ellen White's Books Were Written" in 1935.[86]

The 1919 Bible Conference[87] was a significant theological milestone, arguably the first scholarly conference in Adventist history (its attendees were the best-trained group of leaders and educators up to that time),[88] but the significance of the discussions about Ellen White were not recognized until the rediscovery of the conference transcripts in 1973. Led by A. G. Daniells, the discussion occurred within the context of issues related to prophetic interpretation, and how to relate to change after her death. What has become known historically as the Fundamentalist movement had a influence on the 1919 Bible Conference as it was reaching its heyday during the 1920s. Many members held fundamentalist views and at conference it served to polarize Adventist theology into what some call "liberal" and "conservative" camps that continue to impact the church today.[89] Today's views were evident at the 1919 Conference and remain today.[90]

Detailed study of Adventism by doctoral candidates has been occurring since at least Everett N. Dick's 1930 dissertation.[91]

Other books published during this period include The Abiding Gift of Prophecy[92] by A. G. Daniells (1936) and Believe His Prophets[93] by Denton E. Rebok (1956). In 1951 Francis D. Nichol published the classic apologetic work Ellen G. White and Her Critics.[94] According to the White Estate, this book

"…after 50 years is still the most comprehensive response to various charges against Ellen G. White. Though on a few points it may not reflect the current state of our knowledge, its reasoning is incisive and its perspectives helpful."[95]

In 1955 Thomas Jemison published A Prophet Among You,[96] which became a standard college textbook for decades.

Conservative scholar Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, and Historic Adventists Colin and Russell Standish, produced self-published works around 1991.

The first quarter 2009 Adult Bible Study Guide covers the gift of prophecy, particularly as it relates to Ellen White.[97]


Several media productions have made an impact since the late 90s. (See also the Ankerberg show, and Paul Harvey's radio broadcasts, mentioned above).

Allen Lindsay hosted the documentary series Keepers of the Flame (2005), of which the last half primarily concerns White.[98]

The video Prophetic Inspiration: The Holy Spirit at Work (2006) was produced by Avondale College theology lecturers.[99]

Recently PBS produced The Adventists documentary.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Fundamental Beliefs". Seventh-day Adventist Church. Retrieved 2006-11-01. 
  2. ^ Knight, A Brief History of the Seventh-day Adventists, p.37
  3. ^ Adventist baptismal vows, as quoted in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual. General Conference, 2005, 17th edn., p. 34
  4. ^ a b "Resolution on the Spirit of Prophecy", St. Louis 2005
  5. ^ "A Statement of Confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy", Utrecht 1995
  6. ^ Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1931); and Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 1st edn (1932). As cited in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1976), 10:396–98; as cited elsewhere
  7. ^ (Ellen White, Letter 4, 1896)
  8. ^ (Ellen White,Colporturer Ministry 125)
  9. ^ (51 67)
  10. ^ (Signs Of the Times 67)
  11. ^ a b c d e (Testimonies For The Church Volume 4, Ellen White, p. 230)
  12. ^ (Ellen White, Manuscript 16, 1889)
  13. ^ (1st Selected Messages, Ellen White, p. 48)
  14. ^ (Testimonies For the Church Vol 5, p. 691 Ellen White)
  15. ^ (Counsels to Writers and Editors, Ellen White, p. 112)
  16. ^ (Quoted in a letter by C. C. Crisler to E. E. Andross, Dec. 8, 1914)
  17. ^ (Letter 96,Ellen White, 1909)
  18. ^ (Southern Work, Ellen White-pp. 97,98)
  19. ^ (1st Selected Messages, Ellen White, p. 43)
  20. ^ (1st Selected Messages, Ellen White, 40)
  21. ^ (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, Ellen White, p. 466)
  22. ^ Dennis Priebe
  23. ^ Compiled by the White Estate into the document "Ellen G. White's Understanding of How God Speaks", along with one of her letters. See also chapters from Selected Messages vol 1: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  24. ^ Review and Herald, January 20, 1903. Republished in Colporteur Ministry, p. 125. Chap. 20 - Our Large Message Books
  25. ^ (Testimonies For The Church Volume 5, Ellen White, p. 665)
  26. ^ (Testimonies For The Church Volume 5, Ellen White, 661)
  27. ^ Ellen White Writings - Their Role and Function
  28. ^ Uriah Smith, "Do We Discard the Bible by Endorsing the Visions?" The Review and Herald, Jan. 13, 1863
  29. ^ (Roy F. Graham, "How the Gift of Prophecy Relates to God's Word." Adventist Review, Oct. 14, 1982, pp. 16, 18)
  30. ^ See the view of Dennis Priebe
  31. ^ Ellen White's Writings - Their Role and Function
  32. ^ Adventist Communicators Conference: "Communicating Christ", 16 Oct 2001
  33. ^ American radio legend Harvey's death ends unique era of radio news, 5 Mar 2009
  34. ^ Ellen White's Writings - Their Role And Function
  35. ^ (Selected Messages Volume 1, Ellen White, p. 206,207)
  36. ^ (A Word to the Little Flock, p. 12)
  37. ^ (A Word to the Little Flock., p.22)
  38. ^ (A Word to the Little Flock, Ellen White pp. 11,12)
  39. ^ (2 SG Ellen White, 97-99)
  40. ^ (Gospel Workers, Ellen White, 302)
  41. ^ (Gospel Workers, Ellen White, p. 307)
  42. ^ (5 Testimonies, Ellen White 655, 656)
  43. ^ (Ellen White, Letter 127, 1910)
  44. ^ (Evangelism p. 610, Ellen White)
  45. ^ (Selected Messages Volume 3, Ellen White, p. 122)
  46. ^ (3rd Selected Messages, p. 52)
  47. ^ (Selected Messages Volume 3, Ellen White, p. 84)
  48. ^ Ellen White Writings - Dennis Priebe
  49. ^ Fundamental Beliefs
  50. ^ a b c d White, Ellen (1906-07-26). "A Messenger" (DjVu). Review and Herald (Review and Herald Publishing Association) 83 (30): 8–9. Retrieved 2007-04-12.  HTML version
  51. ^ Chapter 16: Ellen White’s Self-awareness as a Messenger from Messenger of the Lord
  52. ^ Douglass, Herbert E. (1998). Messenger of the Lord (3rd ed.). Nampa, Idaho; Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Pacific Press. ISBN 0-8163-1622-8. 
  53. ^ Adventist News Network Glossary, accessed September 2010
  54. ^ Biblical Basis for a Modern Prophet
  55. ^ "Foundations for Ellen White’s Prophetic Call" by Gerhard Pfandl. Adventist World September 2008
  56. ^ Lewis, Richard B. (Autumn 1970). "The 'Spirit of Prophecy'" (PDF). Spectrum (Roseville, California: Adventist Forums) 2 (4): 69–72. ISSN 0890-0264. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  57. ^ James White, "The Spirit of Prophecy" (DjVu)
  58. ^ Canright, D. M. (1919). Life of Mrs. E.G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  59. ^ Walter, Walter T. (February 1983). The White Lie. Moore Publishing. ISBN 0-9607424-0-9. 
  60. ^ Numbers, Ronald L. (1976). Prophetess of health: a study of Ellen G. White. Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-066325-1. 
  61. ^ The Ramik Report Memorandum of Law Literary Property Rights 1790 - 1915
  62. ^ General Conference Archives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  63. ^ Ellen G. White as a Writer: Part III - The Issue of Literary Borrowing
  64. ^ An Analysis of the Literary Dependency of Ellen White
  65. ^ Ellen G. White as a Writer: Case Studies in the Issue of Literary Borrowing
  66. ^ The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia
  67. ^ E. Marcella Anderson King and Kevin L. Morgan (2009). More Than Words: A Study of Inspiration and Ellen White's Use of Sources in The Desire of Ages. Honor Him Publishers. 
  68. ^ Also appears in Review article
  69. ^ See borrowing or plagiarism
  70. ^ sections "Ellen G. White's Visions" and "The 'Big Bible'". See Eyewitness Accounts. Spiritual Gifts vol.2: Chapter XII. - Meeting at Randolph.
  71. ^ George Butler, Review and Herald 43:201, (June 9, 1874); as quoted elsewhere
  72. ^ Ellen White FAQ, "The 'Big Bible'" section as quoted above
  73. ^ 1919 Bible Conference/History Teachers Council
  74. ^ Letter from Henry Otis to William Miller of April 20, 1846. Reprinted in Ministry October 1991, pp. 9, 11; as cited elsewhere
  75. ^ See Herbert Douglass, They Were There: Stories of Those who Witnessed Ellen White's Prophetic Gift — and Believed. 2005, ISBN 0816321175
  76. ^ B. F. Snook and Wm. H. Brinkerhoff, The Visions of E. G. White, Not of God. Cedar Rapids, IA: Cedar Valley Times, 1866. Other URL:
  77. ^ Michael W. Campbell, "From Complaints to Apostasy". Spectrum website, Sabbath School commentary for October 31, 2009
  78. ^ Ellen White, Early Writings pp. 12, 78–81; Selected Messages 1:76
  79. ^ See Ronald Graybill, "Visions and Revisions – part 1" (DjVu format). Ministry 67:2 (February 1994), pp. 10–13,28 (part II concerns the Testimonies)
  80. ^ Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists by J. N. Loughborough (Battle Creek, Michigan: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1892)
  81. ^ South Lancaster, MA: Good Tidings Press, 1922
  82. ^ Benjamin L. House, ed. Bible Doctrines for Seventh-day Adventist Colleges, Washington, DC: General Conference Department of Education, 1926, 66-67. Also p. 71 of 1928 edn.
  83. ^ Knight, A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 38
  84. ^ The Prescott Letter of April 6, 1915
  85. ^ Robert E. Edwards, H. M. S. Richards. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1998, 35-37, as cited by Bradford
  86. ^ "How Ellen White's Books Were Written: Addresses to Faculty and Students at the 1935 Advanced Bible School, Angwin, California" by W. C. White
  87. ^ Report of 1919 Bible Conference
  88. ^ Michael W. Campbell, "The 1919 Bible Conference and Its Significance for Seventh-day Adventist History and Theology". PhD dissertation, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, 2008. As quoted elsewhere
  89. ^ Michael Campbell's review of More Than a Prophet in Ministry, February 2007
  90. ^ Douglass, 441
  91. ^ Patrick, who quotes Gary Land's assessment favorably. Dick's manuscript William Miller and the Advent Crisis based on his doctoral thesis was not published until 1994.
  92. ^ The Abiding Gift of Prophecy (version in DjVu)
  93. ^ 'Believe His Prophets
  94. ^ Nichol, Francis D. (1951). Ellen G. White and Her Critics. Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald. OCLC 2699734. 
  95. ^ EGW and Her Critics - Table of Contents
  96. ^ Jemison, Thomas Housel (1955). A Prophet Among You. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press. OCLC 2868632. 
  97. ^ It says it is the first one to do so for over 30 years, when the membership was 2.5 million (that would be ~1973). See also the likely related book The Gift of Prophecy by Gerhard Pfandl (Pacific Press).
  98. ^ Keepers of the Flame (DVD). Adventist Media; Hagerstown, MD: CrossView Media, Review and Herald Publishing Association. 2005.  ISBN 0-8280-2021-3 OCLC 74473326
  99. ^

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