“Rome Alone”—An Alleged Contradiction

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Section Titles
The Context of the Disputed Passage
What Is Meant by Babylon?
Various Writers Cited
A Distinguishing Mark
No New Theology in 1911 Edition
A Controversy With Himes
An Editorial in 1880
What Mrs. White Stressed in Old Edition
One Critic's Final Argument

Charge: “In the revision of some of her [Mrs. White's] books she directly contradicts what she had previously written. Thus, in all editions of her book, ‘Great Controversy,’ page 383, from 1888 up to 1911, of the fall of Babylon referred to in Rev. 14:8, she said, ‘It can not refer to the Romish Church.’ She applied it altogether to the Protestant churches. But in the revised edition of 1911 this statement was changed to read: ‘It can not refer to the Roman Church alone.’ Before this it could not refer to the Roman Church at all; but now she says it does apply to that church, and to that church particularly, but not to it alone. It includes others. Here is a contradiction if ever there was one.”

The apparent contradiction involves a passage which reads differently in the old edition of The Great Controversy from what it reads in the current, or new, edition.* Before examining the “contradiction” a word should be said about the revision, lest the reader gain the impression that the revised edition is filled with statements that set forth new beliefs and positions, possibly in conflict with earlier stated views. The facts about the revision are these:

The plates from which the book had long been printed had quite worn out. This necessitated a resetting of type in order to make new plates. The relationship of this fact to the revision of the text is set forth by Mrs. White thus:

“When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages.

“As a result of the thorough examination by our most experienced workers, some changing in the wording has been proposed. These changes I have carefully examined, and approved. I am thankful that my life has been

* The old edition was first printed in 1888, the new in 1911.


spared, and that I have strength and clearness of mind for this and other literary work.”Letter 56, 1911.

Here is a frank statement of the purpose in such revision as was made. And that purpose was to secure maximum clarity of expression.

Every reasonable presumption is against there being a contradiction between the two editions of The Great Controversy. Thousands of Adventist homes contained copies of the old edition, and no slightest attempt was made to recall these copies. Why should Mrs. White invite trouble and doubt among Adventists by boldly reversing her teaching concerning Rome, when there was nothing in the original statement that demanded Change? By this we mean that the original statement was an exposition of a symbolic, prophetic passage, and thus no one could ever successfully prove—as we prove an error in historical statement—that her original exposition was erroneous. Then why did she revise her words regarding Rome and thus risk the charge of contradiction? The answer again is: So that her whole presentation of the subject should be “stated in the very best manner” to remove all ambiguity.

The Context of the Disputed Passage

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Let us give, with ample context, the disputed passage as it appears in the old edition of The Great Controversy:

“In Revelation 14, the first angel is followed by a second, proclaiming, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ The term Babylon is derived from Babel, and signifies confusion. It is employed in Scripture to designate the various forms of false or apostate religion. In Revelation 17, Babylon is represented as a woman, a figure which is used in the Bible as the symbol of a church, a virtuous woman representing a pure church, a vile woman an apostate church.

[There follow three paragraphs that refer to the spiritual Significance of marriage as a symbol of our relationship to Christ, and then the prophetic explanation continues thus:]

“The woman, Babylon, of Revelation 17, is described as ‘arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness…. And upon


her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots.’ Says the prophet, ‘I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.’ Babylon is further declared to be ‘that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.’ The power that for so many centuries maintained despotic sway over the monarchs of Christendom, is Rome. The purple and scarlet color, the gold and precious stones and pearls, vividly picture the magnificence and more than kingly pomp affected by the haughty see of Rome. And no other power could be so truly declared ‘drunken with the blood of the saints’ as that church which has so cruelly persecuted the followers of Christ. Babylon is also charged with the sin of unlawful connection with ‘the kings of the earth.’ It was by departure from the Lord, and alliance with the heathen, that the Jewish church became a harlot; and Rome, corrupting herself in like manner by seeking the support of worldly powers, receives a like condemnation.

“Babylon is said to be ‘the mother of harlots.’ By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing the truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world. The message of Revelation 14 announcing the fall of Babylon, must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt. Since this message follows the warning of the Judgment [that is, the first angel's message], it must begin in the last days, therefore it cannot refer to the Romish Church, for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries.”—Pages 380-383.

In the new edition, the text is the same, except that the clause, “it cannot refer to the Romish Church,” is revised to read, “it cannot refer to the Roman Church alone.” (See new edition, p. 383.)

It is evident from the extended passage quoted that in the old edition Mrs. White emphatically includes Rome as a part of Babylon, indeed, makes her the “mother.” Therefore, her statement, “it cannot refer to the Romish Church,” might easily appear to be at variance with her declaration that Rome is an integral part of Babylon. That apparent variance is removed in the new edition.

What Is Meant by Babylon?

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Why should Mrs. White have said in the old edition, “it cannot refer to the Romish Church” when she clearly reveals in the context that she considers Rome the “mother” of all the Babylonish churches? We believe the answer is to be found in a study of the


question that held the attention of Adventists in the earlier days; namely, What is meant by “Babylon” in the book of Revelation?

When the second angel's message (Rev. 14:8) first began to be the subject of special study and sermons by the Adventists in the 1844 movement, the question was: What is Babylon? The long-established Protestant position was that Babylon represented exclusively the Papacy. No, replied most of the Millerite leaders, it must include various Protestant churches. On the strength of this belief, coupled with the conviction that the time had come to announce that “Babylon is fallen,” Millerite ministers called upon the members of Protestant churches to “come out.” It was this call, coupled with the message that Christ would soon come, that set apart as a distinct company some fifty thousand people in the summer of 1844.

Shortly after the great disappointment of October 22, 1844, many Millerite leaders, along with the laity, began to doubt various of the prophetic positions that had distinguished the movement. Among the first positions to be questioned was that regarding the meaning of Babylon. Miller himself had never actively endorsed the idea that Babylon embraced Protestant churches as well as Rome,* though he seemed to be about the only Millerite leader who had not. The reversal of belief on this point led the principal Millerite group, under Miller and Himes, to revert to the position that Babylon represents simply Rome. And, of course, for this view they had the long-established Protestant interpretation.

This reversal of belief as to Babylon, and thus the surrender of the second angel's message, by the major part of the Adventists, early constituted a point of contention between them and the little Sabbathkeeping group. The latter group held firmly that the original Millerite preaching of Revelation 14:8 was correct, that Babylon includes Protestant churches. The soon-crystallized

* See William Miller's Apology and Defence, pp. 25, 30.

For example, an editorial in the Review and Herald, January 13, 1852, p. 76, vigorously declares that if it had not been for the first and the second angel's messages there never would have been an Adventist movement in 1844, and that to repudiate the first or the second, or both, was simply to give up the “original faith” that had made the Adventists a distinct people.


Seventh-day Adventist view regarding Babylon may be summarized thus:

1. Babylon, as the term is used in the Revelation, consists of three main parts: paganism, Roman Catholicism, and apostate Protestantism.

2. The second angel of Revelation 14, who declares that “Babylon is fallen,” is speaking specifically of the third part, apostate Protestantism. The principal reasons given for this, are:

a. That the second angel's message follows along with the judgment-hour message, and thus could not be given until the time of the ending of the 2300-day prophecy. But in 1844 it would hardly be accurate to announce that Babylon is fallen, as applied to paganism or Roman Catholicism, for they had been in that state for long centuries. Therefore, the word “Babylon,” in Revelation 14:8, must apply very particularly to Protestantism.

b. That when the call was made, “Come out of her, my people,” it was answered chiefly by those who held membership in various Protestant churches. As Mrs. White declares in The Great Controversy:

“In the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation, in a message which is yet future,* the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon. According to this scripture, many of God's people must still be in Babylon. And in what religious bodies are the greater part of the followers of Christ now to be found? Without doubt, in the various churches professing the Protestant faith.”—Page 383, old edition.

Various Writers Cited

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In the light of these reasons it is easy to see how different writers among us might appear to be expressing divergent views, or how even the same writer might appear to express contradictory views regarding Babylon. If the discussion dealt with the broad question of what constitutes Babylon, a Seventh-day Adventist writer would certainly speak of Rome as prominent. But if the writer had in his mind the historic controversy that had been carried on for decades, both with Protestants in general and other Adventist bodies in particular, as to the meaning of Babylon and its fall, he would

* The clause, “in a message which is yet future,” is deleted from the new edition.


almost certainly declare that the revelator, in chapter 14:8, is not only not speaking particularly of Rome, but rather is speaking solely of Protestantism.

It is this fact that explains the wording, not only of Mrs. White's statement in The Great Controversy, but that of other of our denominational writers through the years. The apparent contradictions prove to be merely illustrations of how misunderstanding can arise when a special emphasis is placed on one aspect of a truth. Take this statement by J. N. Andrews in 1851. After quoting Revelation 14:8, he says:

“This angel follows or comes after the judgment hour cry. That such a message has been given, all are aware who have in any manner heeded the mighty work of God through the land….

“That a work worthy of being noted as the fulfillment of prophecy, could ever be accomplished by calling the people of God out of Rome, no one can seriously pretend.”—Review and Herald, May 19, 1851, p. 81.

Note how emphatically he excludes Rome from his thinking as he comments on Revelation 14:8. But listen to his words in the immediately following paragraph:

“We regard Babylon as the professed church united with the kingdoms of the world. In other words, ‘Babylon is the apostate churches.’—We cannot restrict the term to the Papal church, for it evidently includes all those religious bodies which have become corrupt like the ‘mother of harlots.’”

A Distinguishing Mark

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This apparent lack of harmony in discussions of Babylon seems to distinguish our writers through the years. The simple explanation is that at one moment the writers are thinking of the special application of Revelation 14:8; at the next moment, of the fact that Rome is nevertheless a most important part of Babylon, and will continue to be until the day of judgment.

An editorial in the Review and Herald of December 9, 1851, reasons thus regarding the application of Revelation 14:8:

“God's people, who heard the first angel's message, and came out under the message of the second, were, prior to their coming out, in Babylon. Were they in the Catholic Church? And did they come out of that church? Certainly not. But we know that many thousands did come out of the Protestant Sects.


As the Catholic Church has not morally fallen, being always about as low as it possibly could be, and as God's people were not there, we say that it cannot be the Babylon mentioned by the second angel.”—Page 64.

But the editor reprinted in the same issue an article from The Voice of Truth, September, 1844, entitled “Come Out of Babylon,” which declared, in part:

“The mother represents the Catholic Church the eldest member of the family; and we believe the daughters symbolize the Protestant sects…. The ‘whole family’ most strikingly represents that city. Take the whole and the figure is perfect; leave out the children and it is imperfect.”—Ibid., p. 58. (Italics his.)

We should remember, as we note the emphasis, first on one aspect and then on the other, that the Review and Herald writers were sometimes thinking of the claim made by Protestants in general, and by their former Millerite brethren, in particular, that Babylon signifies Rome exclusively.

The apparent conflict between the broader and the narrower view of Babylon that may properly be held at the same time is further indicated in this passage from an 1852 editorial entitled “Babylon”:

“If the term Babylon be applied to the Roman Catholic church alone, then we inquire, When did she morally fall? The fact that she has always been corrupt, and about as low as she possibly could be, forbids the application of this moral change, or fall, to that corrupt church. Again, Babylon, signifying ‘confusion, or mixture,’ cannot be applied to the Roman church, she being a unit.”—Ibid., June 10, 1852, p. 21.

No New Theology in 1911 Edition

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The construction of this 1852 editorial reveals a striking similarity to the disputed passage in the new edition of The Great Controversy! This much, at least, is already evident, that the new edition is setting forth no new theology!

J. H. Waggoner, writing in 1854 under the title “Babylon Is Fallen!” declared:

“Babylon is said to be fallen, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Rev. xiv, 8. This I understand to be at the period when the fall of the whole family has taken place; and is it


not a fact that the daughters are allied to the nations as well as the mother?”—Ibid., Sept. 5, 1854, p. 29.

In an article in the Review and Herald in 1862, Uriah Smith comments on Revelation 17:1-5. The proposition is set down: “That this apostate woman is a symbol of the Roman Catholic church, all Protestant commentators are agreed.” After discussing this point Smith declares:

“This woman is explicitly called Babylon. Is then Rome Babylon to the exclusion of all other religious bodies? No; from the fact that she is called the mother of harlots, which shows that there are other independent religious organizations, which constitute the apostate daughters, and belong to the same great family.”—December 9, p. 12. (Italics his.)

This statement, taken in conjunction with the preceding one by Waggoner, once more reveals how the two thoughts regarding Babylon—a primary emphasis on Rome, and a final emphasis on the Protestant sects—balance in the minds of our Seventh-day Adventist writers. When attention is first called to Rome's long historical relation to certain Bible prophecies, Smith seeks to protect against a mistaken conclusion by inquiring: “Is then Rome Babylon to the exclusion of all other religious bodies?” When the particular prophecy of the fall of Babylon, in Revelation 14:8, is before him, Waggoner wishes to make sure that attention is focused on Protestantism: “This I understand to be at the period when the fall of the whole family has taken place.”

A Controversy With Himes

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In the Review and Herald in 1864, Uriah Smith, now the editor, examines the claim of Joshua V. Himes, who had been prominent in the 1844 movement, that the Roman Catholic “church alone constitutes Babylon.” The emphatic rejoinder is: “The papal church does not alone constitute Babylon.” In support of this the editor sets down a series of propositions:

“1. That the papal church is only that portion of Babylon represented by the mother. 2. That there are harlot daughters, which are all included under the term Babylon. 3. That these daughters are the various degenerate Protestant sects, which are bound by human creeds, and, cherishing many of the


heresies of the papacy, are following in its footsteps. 4. That the Scriptures seem to speak of Babylon under the two divisions of mother and daughters, Rev xvii, dealing specially with the mother, or Papal Babylon, and chap. xviii, with the daughters, or Protestant Babylon. That this conclusion is necessary, from the fact that the testimony taken together, must embrace them both; and there are statements in chap. xvii, which cannot apply to Protestantism, and others in chap. xviii, which cannot apply to the Papacy. 5. That scattered through these various Protestant sects, the people of God were to be found almost exclusively, prior to the proclamation of the Advent doctrine, or first angel's message from 1840 to 1844. 6. That in consequence of their rejecting the doctrine of the Advent, those churches met with a change, grieved God's Spirit by shutting their eyes to the truth, and suffered a moral fall.”—November 29, p. 4.

Note that the editor, in refuting the claim that Babylon is Rome “alone,” first declares that “the papal church does not alone constitute Babylon.” Then he moves on until in point 5 he uses the term Babylon “almost exclusively” to describe the “various Protestant sects,” because in them, he says, “the people of God were to be found almost exclusively” in the early 1840's, which is the time of the fall of Babylon to which Adventist ministers referred in their preaching.

An Editorial in 1880

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An editorial in the Review and Herald, in 1880, sums up, in similar manner, the two aspects of the subject that seem to create an apparent Contradiction: (1) the general definition and application of Babylon, and (2) the specific application in relation to Revelation 14:8. The editorial ends thus:

“The message of Rev. 14, while using the term Babylon without limitation, did not declare that the pagan and papal divisions which had been corrupt during their whole history, then fell, but, the last division having fallen; the announcement could be made respecting the whole, that it ‘is fallen.’

“By this view we are not obliged to plead for any embarrassing limitation of the term Babylon, and the delay of the announcement of the fall to the present generation is easily accounted for.”—June 10, p. 376.

What Mrs. White Stressed in Old Edition

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In the light of all these quotations it is easy to see how a writer, by focusing at one time on one aspect of Babylon, and at a later time on another aspect, could be considered contradictory. Yet no


contradiction really would exist. Mrs. White wrote The Great Controversy in the 1880's, when our Seventh-day Adventist writers were still much in controversy with other religious bodies as to the meaning of Babylon. The need was not to prove that Rome was involved, but that Protestantism was, and that very particularly Protestantism was intended in Revelation 14:8. Undoubtedly Mrs. White in her writing at that time focused on that point. The result is revealed in the wording of the old edition, first published in 1888.

But the years rolled on, the older days of controversy ended, particularly with other Adventist groups, and the passage in The Great Controversy became susceptible of misunderstanding. The misunderstanding was not due to any new theological view adopted by Seventh-day Adventists, which would be embarrassed by the passage. Let us mark that well! No; the misunderstanding was due to an apparent contradiction resident in the passage itself, the kind of apparent contradiction that we have found resident in the various quotations given in this chapter. In other words, Mrs. White, after quoting Revelation 14:8, immediately proceeds for two pages to discuss Babylon largely in terms of Rome, only to follow with the statement that “Babylon,” in Revelation 14:8, “cannot refer to the Romish Church.” The revision in the new edition, first published in 1911, simply sought to remove the apparent contradiction within the passage itself, by making the disputed line in the passage read: “It cannot refer to the Roman Church alone.”

One Critic's Final Argument

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In the light of the foregoing facts let us look at what a critic presents as an unanswerable argument against Mrs. White's inspiration, in terms of the change in wording regarding Babylon.

“Which was inspired, the revelation of 1888 or the revelation of 1911? Some of her defenders claim that this [change in wording] makes no change in the meaning. If you were acquitted by a court jury of a crime for which you had been charged, and the jury should bring in a verdict, ‘The prisoner is not guilty of the crime charged against him,’ would it make any difference


to you if the clerk inserted the word ‘alone’ and thereby made it read: ‘The prisoner is not guilty alone of the crime charged against him’?”

But Mrs White, sitting as a jury of one in 1888, did not acquit the “Romish Church” of the “crime” for which it “had been charged.” On the contrary she renders against it, and at great of guilty of all that the Bible declares that Babylon commits. But the case before Mrs. White involves more than one defendant. The revision of the text of her verdict sought only to make clear the relationship of one defendant to the other, in the matter of the timing of their crimes!

To the question, “Which was inspired, the revelation of 1888 or the revelation of 1911?” we would return another: Which is inspired, Paul's letter to the Romans, c. A.D. 60, that speaks of certain persons predestined to salvation; or John's Revelation, c. A.D. 96, that offers salvation to “whosoever will”? Rom. 9:17-23; Rev. 22:17. The answer, of Course, is that they both are, and that there is really no contradiction. Paul is simply stressing one great truth, the sovereignty of God, and John is stressing another, the free will of man. Even so with Mrs. White and the disputed passage before us; there is no real contradiction.

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