Chapter 36

Hermeneutics/5

Authority and Relationship to the Bible

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Ellen White’s Relation to the Bible and to Bible Study
Biblical Principles Worthless Unless Internalized
“Gifts” Tested by the Bible, Not the Bible by the “Gifts”
Primarily a Commentator, Not an Exegete
Additional Details to the Biblical Story
Practical Purpose of Bible Study
Ellen White’s Understanding of How Inspiration Works
Unfolding, or Progressive Revelation
Endnotes
Study Questions


“The Spirit of God rests upon me with power, and I cannot but speak the words given me. I dare not withhold one word of the testimony. . . . I speak the words given me by a power higher than human power, and I cannot, if I would, recall [retract] one sentence. In the night season the Lord gives me instruction in symbols, and then explains their meaning. He gives me the word, and I dare not refuse to give it to the people.”1

Seventh-day Adventists have believed for more than a century that Ellen White was inspired in the same manner and to the same degree as Biblical prophets. At the same time, they do not make her writings another Bible—her writings differ in function and scope, not in authority.

But how did Ellen White understand her authority? From her teenage years to her final days, she was clear about her divine assignment. Hundreds of times she prefaced her messages with “I was shown,” or “The Lord showed me.” She reflected on those early moments: “When the Lord first gave me messages to deliver to His people, it was hard for me to declare them, and I often softened them down and made them as mild as possible for fear of grieving some. It was a great trial to declare the messages as the Lord gave them to me.”2

The usual response to all prophets, even to Jesus Himself, has been to ask several basic questions: “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”3 What is your work? Who sent you?

Ellen White answered these questions often. The Lord sent her “for the comfort of His people and to correct those who err from Bible truth.”4

Mrs. White often felt rejected. During the dark hours of Dr. Kellogg’s 1902 confusion in theology, she wrote to her brother-in-law, S. T. Belden: “I am not to be depressed, but am to speak the words of the Lord with authority, and leave with Him all the consequences. I am instructed by the Great Physician to speak the word that the Lord gives me, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.”5

To her son, W. C. White, she wrote: “The awful sense of my responsibility takes such possession of me that I am weighted as a cart beneath sheaves. I do not desire to feel less keenly my obligation to the Higher Power. The Presence is ever with me, asserting supreme authority and taking account of the service that I render or withhold.”6

During the Ballenger confrontation in the early 1900s, she reflected: “The question is asked, How does Sister White know in regard to the matters of which she speaks so decidedly, as if she had authority to say these things? I speak thus because they flash upon my mind when in perplexity like lightning out of a dark cloud in the fury of a storm. Some scenes presented before me years ago have not been retained in my memory, but when the instruction then given is needed, sometimes even when I am standing before the people, the remembrance comes sharp and clear, like a flash of lightning, bringing to mind distinctly that particular instruction. At such times I cannot refrain from saying the things that flash into my mind, not because I have had a new vision, but because that which was presented to me perhaps years in the past, has been recalled to my mind forcibly.”7

To Evangelist W. W. Simpson, serving in southern California in 1906, she wrote: “I am thankful that the instruction contained in my books established present truth for this time. These books were written under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit.”8


Ellen White’s Relation to the Bible and to Bible Study

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We have elsewhere noted Ellen White’s undeniable submission to the Bible as the test of faith and practice.9 She understood herself as “a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light [Bible].”10 She made it clear that her testimonies would not have been needed if people were studying earnestly to understand the Bible.11 She urged people to “cling” to their Bibles, and stated that none who believe and obey the Bible would be lost.12

Not another Bible. Neither Ellen White nor the pioneers of the Advent movement ever considered her writings another Bible. No one made that clearer than she herself. No writer ever exalted the Bible more!13

Bible study precedes inspired confirmation. A real life incident occurred in 1888 when thoughtful leaders were in conflict over the law in Galatians. Some remembered a position that Ellen White was supposed to have taken some years before—and they wanted to find that manuscript! Ellen White indeed tried to find the manuscript, but with all her many moves it could not be located. She was troubled by its absence.14

But in her last spoken message to the 1888 General Conference session she referred to the incident: “Why was it that I lost the manuscript [on the law in Galatians 3] and for two years could not find it? God has a purpose in this. He wants us to go to the Bible and get the Scripture evidence. . . .This investigation must go forward. All the object I had was that the light should be gathered up, and let the Saviour come in.”15

In other words, even as in 1848 when Adventist Bible students grappled with salient Biblical teachings, Ellen White emphasized the Adventist principle of Bible study first, and then, when needed, the confirmation of prophetic revelation. In that order!16 No prophet since Enoch and Moses has had a complete understanding of truth. All prophets have had to wait for the Lord to reveal His mind, not only through visions but also through Bible study. When God wants truth confirmed, He makes His mind known to His messengers.


Biblical Principles Worthless Unless Internalized

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Attitudes. One of the most important lessons to be learned from the 1888 experience is that Ellen White was more concerned with living the truth than in discussing it. She made that clear on many occasions. If an unChristlike spirit motivated a Bible student, that suggested for her that there might be something wrong with his/her theology!17

Another emotionally laden event occurred the day before the 1901 General Conference session in Battle Creek. Many were the challenges that the delegates faced, but probably the greatest was the need to reorganize the General Conference which, for many years, involved only a few leaders with too much authority. Ellen White called it “a king-like, kingly ruling power.”18 Close to this root problem, the leaders had to face the enormous denominational debt, the amount and kind of commercial printing being done at the Review and Herald publishing house, and the growing contention with Dr. Kellogg.

Yet, underneath all these visible problems flowed a stream of inertia to change. This inertia not only resisted improved policies of church governance, it also resisted openness to present truth and to a deepening of spiritual attitudes. Ellen White reminded the leaders of her counsel she had been giving them for years: “Enough has been said, over and over and over again, but it did not make any difference. The light shone upon them, just the same, professedly accepting it, but they did not make any change. That is what frightens me.” The root of this spiritual problem was that Mrs. White’s counsel, though often used, was misapplied to suit one’s point of view, and the principles were ignored: “He [God] wants you to eat His principles: to live His principles;—but those that are there now [present church leaders] never will appreciate it. They have had their test, . . . they have had their warnings, and now there must be a change.”19

Ellen White wanted no more lip service to her counsel: “Lay Sister White right to one side. . . . Do not you ever quote my words again as long as you live, until you can obey the Bible. When you take the Bible and make that your food . . . and make that the elements [sic] of your character, when you can do that you will know better how to receive some counsel from God. But here is the Word, exalted before you today. And do not you give a rap any more what ‘Sister White said’—‘Sister White said this,’ and ‘Sister White said that,’ and ‘Sister White said the other thing.’ But say, ‘Thus saith the Lord God of Israel,’ and then you do just what the Lord God of Israel does, and what He says.”20

She wanted the church leaders to live out the principles of the gospel—not to hide behind quotations from her as if meeting some of her counsel on church work could make up for their lack of Christian character. Her many testimonies regarding the seamless union of medical missionary work with the ministry had been generally ignored. Her counsel regarding the relationship of the mind and a healthy body had also been largely disregarded.21

In this 1901 setting at Battle Creek, Ellen White was not discussing the relationship of her writings in the development of doctrine when she said further: “Do not you quote Sister White. I do not want you ever to quote Sister White until you get your vantage ground where you know where you are. Quote the Bible. Talk the Bible. It is full of meat. . . . Carry it out in your life, and you will know more Bible than you know now. . . . And I ask you to put on the armor, every piece of it, and be sure that your feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel.”22 She was simply telling these church leaders that appeals to her writings for whatever purpose was missing the mark when they were not, generally speaking, internalizing the principles of the gospel found either in the Bible or in her writings. Living the gospel was more important than “playing church” no matter how many quotations about the gospel were in their heads.


“Gifts” Tested by the Bible, Not the Bible by the “Gifts”

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In 1883 George I. Butler, president of the General Conference, spoke for his generation and for Adventists to this day: “We do not hold them [Ellen White’s writings] to be superior to the Bible, or in one sense equal to it. The Scriptures are our rule to test everything by, the visions as well as all other things. That rule, therefore, is of the highest authority; the standard is higher than the thing tested by it. If the Bible should show the visions were not in harmony with it, the Bible would stand, and the visions would be given up. This shows plainly that we hold the Bible the highest, our enemies to the contrary, notwithstanding.”23

Ellen White never swerved in her submission to the Bible: “The Word of God abounds in general principles for the formation of correct habits of living, and the testimonies, general and personal, have been calculated to call their attention more especially to these principles.”24


Primarily a Commentator, Not an Exegete

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Early in her ministry Mrs. White understood her role as “the Lord’s messenger” and was told: “Strange things will arise, and in your youth I set you apart to bear the message to the erring ones, to carry the Word before unbelievers, and with pen and voice to reprove from the Word actions that are not right. Exhort from the Word. I will make My Word open to you. It shall not be a strange language.”25

Throughout her writings, but primarily in her Conflict of the Ages series, Ellen White “commented” on the Biblical story from the entrance of sin in heaven to its final removal from the universe after the millennium. Her Great Controversy Theme is the integrating thread that ties all her thoughts together in a straight line of truth.26 She opens the Word to her readers through typologies,27 moralisms,28 and character sketches.29 The space she devotes to Biblical events and persons is not always proportional to the space given in the Bible. Her emphasis on certain events or persons depends on how she believes those events and persons contribute to the unfolding of the Great Controversy Theme.30

Many have discovered Ellen White to be a helpful commentator on Bible texts. W. W. Prescott recalled how, after studying the eighth chapter of Daniel for several years, he still felt the need for more clarity. He made his concern a matter of special prayer. Then the strong impression came to him, “Read what it says in Patriarchs and Prophets.” He reached for the book, turned to the appropriate chapter, and found it to be “exactly the thing I wanted to clarify my mind on that subject. It greatly helped me.”31

Mrs. White quoted Bible verses thousands of times. In her sermons as well as letters, testimonies, and books she speaks to young and old by focusing the Biblical texts on human situations. This type of ministry is more pastoral and devotional than what we often think of as Biblical exegesis. Millions of readers have learned to appreciate the Biblical narrative by reading her commentary.

On other occasions Ellen White speaks with doctrinal emphasis. She gives a double application to Matthew 24:4-14 as New Testament writers did for Old Testament prophecies.32 In tracing the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, she makes specific applications, especially in reference to Daniel 7-9 and Revelation 6-17.

Mrs. White did not attempt to comment on every verse in the Bible. She focused only on those passages that had special significance in unfolding the working out of the Great Controversy Theme. On some passages she expressly said she had no special light, such as on the meaning of the “daily” in Daniel 8:11-13. Her only comment regarding the “daily” referred to the timing of that prophecy, not to the application of the “daily” itself.33

She did not identify the composition of the 144,000 (Rev. 14:1-5). Nor did she provide definite instruction regarding many other Biblical questions that are still discussed by sincere Bible students. She wrote on those texts that seemed to be most salient in the unfolding of the Great Controversy Theme.

When she commented on the Bible, how reliable was she? Understanding the limitations of finite human nature, one would expect some discrepancies.34 Not to have made a few mistakes would have been a first for prophets! For that reason, she never expected anyone to consider her the Bible’s infallible commentator or interpreter.35

Further, she wanted to wean Christians away from leaning on her for quick, mistake-free decisions regarding their personal lives. She encouraged her contemporaries to become secure in their relation to God as He spoke to them individually.36

On rare occasions Ellen White commented on a Bible text in a manner that may seem to be out of harmony with its context. Such was done also by Biblical writers.37

An interesting occasion developed at times when Ellen White would comment on a text in two ways—in harmony with the context, and then in a manner that would seem to be contrary to context but for a homiletical purpose. For example, commenting on John 5:39 in The Desire of Ages she focused on Jesus’ accusers as rejecting the Word of God because they were rejecting Him, as the context would suggest.38 But in a 1900 letter she made a homiletical point by using that text to encourage serious Bible study. It is interesting to note that the King James Version favors the homiletical approach but later versions translate the passage with the alternate meaning, “Ye search the scriptures,” which seems to be in harmony with the context.


Additional Details to the Biblical Story

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Every reader of the Conflict set, for example, knows the stimulation of reading further details of many Bible stories furnished by Ellen White. However, she wrote that her writings “are not to give new light,” and that “additional truth is not brought out.”39 What should we make of these statements?

A big difference exists between “new light—additional truth” and additional details. If prophets do not provide additional details, what would be their purpose? “New light,” in Ellen White’s vocabulary, refers to the truths of salvation. “Additional truth” intimates that which is needed for a person’s salvation. One of the prophet’s functions throughout the Bible, and surely in the endtime, has been to give additional details about salvation truths and the character of God. In other words, Mrs. White does not introduce doctrines that are not already in the Bible. But she does add details and insights so that those truths are seen in greater clarity, with deeper understanding—such as we find in her understanding of the Great Controversy Theme.40


Practical Purpose of Bible Study

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In her writings, Ellen White stated that the “Bible was given for practical purposes.”41 She urged her readers to join her in taking “the Bible just as it is, as the Inspired Word” and that in “obey[ing] the Word . . . not one of you will be lost.”42

And what are those “practical purposes”? Mrs. White’s ministry, from start to finish, continually focused on the place of the Bible in bringing salvation to its readers. Studying the Bible is not primarily an academic, intellectual venture; the Bible is a rich mine from which honest people discover the truth about God and how best to relate to Him. In respect to “higher education,” she wrote: “The true higher education is gained by studying and obeying the Word of God. But when God’s Word is laid aside for books that do not lead to God and the kingdom of heaven, the education acquired is a perversion of the name.”43

The purpose of the Bible, in Ellen White’s thinking, is to help honest seekers relate to the cosmic conflict in such a way that God’s purpose to restore sinners will be achieved. For her, Bible study and character development are inseparable.

This conceptual consistency, this linkage between the Bible, character development, and the Great Controversy Theme, is one of the primary characteristics of Ellen White’s writings. This threefold linkage defines the way her writings should be understood in relation to her use of the Bible. She never saw herself as an exegete. Or as a historical scholar. Thus her readers should not look to her, primarily, as an exegete or historian. Part of her job description was to serve as God’s messenger in these last days to help prepare a people to meet the Lord. The Bible was her textbook in defining what that preparation means. It was her personal guide for her close walk with God. In her hands it became the textbook for others as she exhorted them to join her in this life-changing relationship.


Ellen White’s Understanding of How Inspiration Works

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No half-way inspiration. Ellen White was forthright: “God is either teaching His church . . . or He is not. This work is of God, or it is not. . . . There is no half-way work in the matter. The testimonies are of the Spirit of God or of the Devil.”44 Other than the obvious distinction between the common and the sacred, Mrs. White’s work cannot be divided between the inspired and the less inspired: “The Holy Ghost is the author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy [a metonym for the writings of Ellen White]. . . . These are not to be twisted and turned to mean what man may want them to mean.”45

This sense of divine direction kept Ellen White from commenting on matters on which she had no special light. In 1909 a minister felt he needed counsel. Mrs. White answered him, in part: “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.”46

Often divinely helped in writing and speaking. In the oft-quoted introduction to The Great Controversy, Ellen White wrote regarding revelation: “One writer is more strongly impressed with one phase of the subject; he grasps those points that harmonize with his experience or with his power of perception and appreciation; another seizes upon a different phase; and each, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, presents what is most forcibly impressed upon his own mind—a different aspect of the truth in each, but a perfect harmony through all.”47

Ellen White recognized that the Holy Spirit “guided” her in the writing process even as He was “impressing” her in the revealing process, although in a different way. She explained: “Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.”48

Sometimes she struggled for the appropriate words. In a 1901 letter she shared her gratitude for her Lord’s help: “He works at my right hand and at my left. While I am writing out important matter, He is beside me, helping me. He lays out my work before me, and when I am puzzled for a fit word with which to express my thought, He brings it clearly and distinctly to my mind. I feel that every time I ask, even while I am speaking, He responds, ‘Here am I.’”49

The time to present the message is not always under the prophet’s control. Ellen White wrote: “I cannot call [the vision] to mind until I am brought before a company where that vision applies, then the things which I have seen come to my mind with force. I am just as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in relating or writing a vision, as in having the vision. It is impossible for me to call up things which have been shown me unless the Lord brings them before me at the time that He is pleased to have me relate or write them.”50

Interpreting symbols. The Bible frequently employs symbols to teach lessons that otherwise would not have been understood or remembered. The prophet usually explained the symbols in some literal fashion.51

Ellen White recalled how “in the night season the Lord gives me instruction in symbols, and then explains their meaning.”52 In describing the future of the publishing work (1894), she wrote that “the work has been presented to me as, at its beginning, a small, very small rivulet. The representation was given to the prophet Ezekiel of waters issuing ‘from under the threshold of the house eastward . . . at the south side of the altar.’ . . . This work was represented to me as extending to . . . all parts of the world.”53 The symbol conveyed the meaning that otherwise would have required many words.

On another occasion, she wrote to Dr. Kellogg during his crisis years that he was represented in a vision as “trying to push a long car up a steep ascent. But this car, instead of going up the hill, kept running down. This car represented the food business as a commercial enterprise.”54 Very graphic, saving her many words that otherwise would have been needed.

Most symbols were given, not to create mysteries, but to convey truth in a graphic manner, using an economy of words. To try to interpret most symbols literally would falsify or mystify truth. Some symbols in the Bible pointed to reality, to literal events or places. The sanctuary service given by God to Moses is an example of the literal symbol pointing to a literal place. Regarding the sanctuary lessons, Mrs. White wrote: “We all need to keep the subject of the sanctuary in mind. God forbid that the clatter of words coming from human lips should lessen the belief of our people in the truth that there is a sanctuary in heaven, and that a pattern of this sanctuary was once built on this earth. God desires His people to become familiar with this pattern, keeping ever before their minds the heavenly sanctuary, where God is all and in all.”55

Harmony in a straight line of truth. In looking back over the years in 1905, Ellen White encouraged her readers to note that “there is one straight line of truth, without one heretical sentence” in her many pages of instruction.56 The key to this harmony is the unfolding of the Great Controversy Theme, especially as developed in the sanctuary doctrine. She said that “the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God’s hand had directed the great Advent Movement, and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people.”57


Unfolding, or Progressive Revelation

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On pp. 34, 282, 304, and 311 we noted that truth comes to prophets and others only as fast as it can be understood or desired.58 Further, truth comes to prophets and others only as fast as it is obeyed.59 These are fundamental facts of God’s communication system.

Because of God’s plan to unfold truth as fast as His people are able to understand it, each generation is blessed with additional truth. Thus, we know more today about God’s will than did earlier generations. Not that truth is evolving in some kind of evolutionary scheme, but our perception of truth is continually progressing.60

Within the Bible story we find a built-in “capacity for self-correction of understanding.” The Old Testament understanding of God’s plan for this world and how He will intervene and create a “new world” was clarified in later revelations, in the New Testament. This is a practical example of how God always “meets people where they are, yet knows all along where He is going!”61

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a forward-looking church. Its members and leaders have not let the past be the measure for the future. The primary value of the past has been in its unique ability to reveal the leading of God and His “big picture” that He is constantly unfolding.62

Through the years Ellen White “was consistently ahead of the leaders. She had the ideas and the energy to set them before the people.” What was the reason? She understood by concept and experience that God is always leading His people into greater light, as fast as they are able to receive it, as fast as they are willing to obey it.63

Mrs. White was opposed to a creedal approach to Adventist doctrine. During the 1888 General Conference, resolutions were proposed that “nothing should be taught in the college contrary to what has been taught.” She noted that she “felt deeply, for I knew whoever framed that resolution was not aware of what he was doing.”64 Such a resolution would not only perpetuate errors then taught (for example, verbal inspiration of the Bible), but would also slam the door against the Spirit of God who might have further light for honest truth-seekers.

In another letter Ellen White wrote: “I could not let the resolution pass, [that nothing should be “taught in the college but that which had been taught during the past year”], that there was to be special light for God’s people as they neared the closing scenes of this earth’s history. Another angel was to come from heaven with a message and the whole earth was to be lightened with his glory. It would be impossible for us to state just how this additional light would come. It might come in a very unexpected manner, in a way that would not agree with the ideas that many have conceived. It is not at all unlikely, or contrary to the ways and works of God to send light to His people in unexpected ways. Would it be right that every avenue should be closed in our school so that the students could not have the benefit of this light? The resolution was not called for.”65

For Ellen White, “the best way to deal with error is to present the truth.”66 To paper over discussion with resolutions that often conceal opposition to truth and serious discord was not her way.

She spoke also to the present generation when she addressed the 1888 General Conference session: “No one must be permitted to close the avenues whereby the light of truth shall come to the people. As soon as this shall be attempted, God’s Spirit will be quenched, for that Spirit is constantly at work to give fresh and increased light to His people through His Word.”67 Christians until the end of time, and throughout eternity, will be listening to the Spirit as He continues to build on the tree of truth with new branches that extend the broad outlines understood in the past.


Endnotes

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1. The 1888 Materials, pp. 578, 579.

2. Early Writings, p. 76.

3. Matt. 21:23; Mark 11, Luke 20.

4. Early Writings, p. 78. See pp. 170, 171.

5. The Upward Look, p. 279.

6. Letter 197, 1902, cited in MR, vol. 5, p. 142.

7. Manuscript 33, 1911, cited in Arthur White, Messenger to the Remnant, p. 14.

8. Letter 50, 1906, cited in “The Integrity of the Sanctuary Truth,” a shelf document available from the Ellen G. White Estate, March 12, 1981; “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. But will they profit by His teachings?”—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 148.

9. See pp. 170, 175.

10. See pp. 408, 409.

11. Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 605.

12. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 18.

13. “However much one may advance in spiritual life, he will never come to a point where he will not need diligently to search the Scriptures; for therein are found the evidences of our faith. All points of doctrine, even though they have been accepted as truth, should be brought to the law and to the testimony; if they cannot stand this test, ‘there is no light in them.’”—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 575.

14. Bio., vol. 3, p. 388. See p. 197.

15. Manuscript 9, 1888, cited in A V. Olson, Thirteen Crisis Years (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981), pp. 300-303.

16. See pp. 170, 171.

17. “I am forced, by the attitude my brethren have taken and the spirit evidenced, to say, ‘God deliver me from your ideas of the law in Galatians, if the receiving of these ideas would make me so unchristian in my spirit, words, and works as many who ought to know better have been.’. . . The constant dwelling upon the law in Galatians, and not presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ in distinct lines, is misleading souls. The preaching of Christ crucified has been strangely neglected by our people. Many who claim to believe the truth have no knowledge of faith in Christ by experience.”—Manuscript 55, 1890, in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 841, 843. In a gathering of church leaders at her request in March 1890, she again pleaded: “If your views on the law in Galatians, and the fruits, are of the character I have seen in Minneapolis and ever since up to this time, my prayer is that I may be as far from your understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures as it is possible for me to be. I am afraid of any application of Scripture that needs such a spirit and bears such fruit as you have manifested. One thing is certain, I shall never come into harmony with such spirit as long as God gives me reason.”—Letter 83, 1890, Ibid., p. 632. See pp. 373, 374.

18. Verbatim report of remarks by Ellen White at a meeting held in Battle Creek College library, on April 1, the day before the Conference officially opened—Manuscript 41, 1901, cited in Spalding and Magan’s Unpublished Manuscript Testimonies of Ellen White (Graham, Wash.: Corner Stone Publishing, 1992), pp. 165-177.

19. Ibid., p. 171.

20. Ibid., p. 170.

21. In this same talk to the 1901 leaders, she said: “What you want is this: You have a body here, wonderfully made, and you want that body should be, oh, so carefully dealt with. . . . God did not make these precious organs to be swelled like a balloon. He never made them for that, and He wants every living soul to deal with this machinery as God’s machinery; they must keep in perfect order to keep the brain power all right. The brain must work, and every burden you put upon your stomach will just becloud the brain. You go into a conference like this—you sit down and eat hearty meals and neglect to exercise, and then come into the conference meeting, and you are all sleepy; your ideas are not good for anything, and you really do not know what you are consenting to.”—Spalding and Magan, Unpublished Manuscript Testimonies of E. G. White, p. 172.

22. Ibid., pp. 176, 177.

23. Review and Herald Supplement, Aug. 14, 1883.

24. Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 663, 664.

25. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 32.

26. “I believe that Ellen White’s genius—that is, her divine inspiration—is revealed in her understanding and presentation of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Here lies the uniqueness of her work. . . . It constitutes the basic perspective from which she interprets the Bible.”—Joseph Battistone, “Ellen White’s Authority as Bible Commentator,” Spectrum, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 37, 38. See pp. 256-263.

27. For example, Ellen White draws a typological significance between the prophet Elijah’s experiences and the experiences of God’s people in the last days.

28. Study Ellen White’s comments on most any Bible character in Patriarchs and Prophets.

29. Note Ellen White’s character sketch of Daniel in Prophets and Kings, pp. 479-548.

30. Joseph Battistone, Great Controversy Theme, provides an excellent review of how Ellen White commented on the Biblical story of the great controversy in her writings.

31. “The Bible Conference of 1919,” Spectrum, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 32. Similar experiences of A. G. Daniells and W. E. Howell were also reported.

32. The Desire of Ages, p. 633.

33. Early Writings, pp. 74, 75; Moon, W. C. White and E. G. White, pp. 415-427; Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 397-399.

34. See pp. 379, 387 for a discussion on Ellen White’s role as a historian and the possibility of occasional errors in dates or chronology. Compare Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 449, 450.

35. “In regard to infallibility, I never claimed it; God alone is infallible.”—Letter 10, 1895, 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1393.

36. Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 118, 119.

37. Compare Matt. 1:21-23 (where Matthew stated that Isa. 7:14 predicted the virgin birth of Christ) with Isaiah’s context wherein the prophet told the Judean king that “the Lord Himself shall give you [Ahaz] a sign.” The word that Isaiah used was not bethulah (virgin) but almah (young woman of marriageable age). Also compare Hosea 11:1 with Matt. 2:15—two different contexts. Or compare Paul’s interesting use of Deut. 25:4 in 1 Cor. 9:9, 10. These rare instances that, at first glance, seem to misapply Scripture, do not invalidate the inspired writer’s messages.

38. The Desire of Ages, p. 211.

39. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 665.

40. Two examples among many wherein Ellen White expands the details and relationships between texts are the special resurrection that occurred simultaneously with our Lord’s (Matt. 27:51-53 and Eph. 4:8), and the special resurrection prior to Christ’s second coming (Dan. 12:1, 2; Matt. 26:64; Rev. 1:7; 14:13.)—Roger W. Coon, “Inspiration/Revelation: What It Is and How It Works,” The Journal of Adventist Education, Feb-Mar. 1982, pp. 24, 25.

41. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 20.

42. Ibid., pp. 17, 18.

43. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 107.

44. Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 230; p. 691. See p. 409 for a discussion of degrees of inspiration.

45. Letter 92, 1900, to J. H. Kellogg, in MR, vol. 2, p. 189.

46. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 51.

47. The Great Controversy, p. vi. See pp. 16, 120, 173, 375, 376 for a further study on thought inspiration versus verbal inspiration.

48. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 37.

49. Letter 201, 1902, cited MR, vol. 2, pp. 156, 157. This is not a reference to verbal inspiration. God used the words in Ellen White’s vocabulary, not in someone else’s. Everyone doing work for God has experienced that gracious touch of the Spirit while seeking right words for the occasion, whether speaking or writing.

50. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 36, 37.

51. “The Infinite One by His Holy Spirit has shed light into the minds and hearts of His servants. He has given dreams and visions, symbols and figures; and those to whom the truth was thus revealed, have themselves embodied the thought in human language.”—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 25.

52. Ms 22, 1890, cited in 1888 Materials, p. 578.

53. The Publishing Work, p. 157.

54. Letter 239, 1903, cited in MR, vol. 1, p. 26.

55. Letter 233, 1904, cited in MR, vol. 14, p. 217. See Spalding, Origin and History, vol. 1, pp. 108-111 for thoughts on how an earthly “diagrammatic pattern” interprets the truth of the heavenly sanctuary.

56. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 52. “There is, throughout my printed works, a harmony with my present teaching.”—Ibid., p. 38.

57. The Great Controversy, p. 423.

58. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). “Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His Word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth.”—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 463.

59. See pp. 273, 274, 310.

60. “Greater light shines upon us than shone upon our fathers. We cannot be accepted or honored of God in rendering the same service, or doing the same works, that our fathers did. In order to be accepted and blessed of God as they were, we must imitate their faithfulness and zeal—improve our light as they improved theirs—and do as they would have done had they lived in our day.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 262. “Our responsibility is greater than was that of our ancestors. We are accountable for the light which they received, and which was handed down as an inheritance for us, and we are accountable also for the additional light which is now shining upon us from the Word of God.”—The Great Controversy, p. 164. “The Word of God presents special truths for every age. The dealings of God with His people in the past should receive our careful attention. We should learn the lessons which they are designed to teach us. But we are not to rest content with them. God is leading out His people step by step. Truth is progressive. The earnest seeker will be constantly receiving light from heaven. What is truth? should ever be our inquiry.”—SDABC, vol. 11, p. 1000.

61. Paulien, What the Bible Says About the End-Time, pp. 57, 58.

62. “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”—Life Sketches, p. 196. See P. Geraard Damsteegt, “Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines and Progressive Revelation,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Spring, 1991.

63. Graham, E. G. White, Co-founder, pp. 414, 415.

64. Manuscript 16, 1889, cited in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 258.

65. Letter 22, 1889, Ibid., p. 239.

66. Testimonies to Ministers, p. 165.

67. 1888 Materials, p. 171.


Study Questions

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1. How do you set forth the truth that Ellen White was inspired as Biblical prophets were inspired, without making her writings another Bible?

2. What was Ellen White’s understanding of her authority as God’s messenger? How did she express that authority in her writings?

3. How did Ellen White urge her ministerial colleagues to use the Bible as well as her own counsel? What differences would there be?

4. How do you explain the phrase, “the ‘gifts’ are to be tested by the Bible, not the Bible by the ‘gifts’”?

5. What was the open secret that kept Ellen White’s message unfolding in a “straight line of truth” for so many decades?

6. Note some illustrations of how Ellen White related to the Bible both personally and in her public ministry.

7. Give examples of how the Bible is given for “practical purposes.”

8. Summarize how Ellen White understood that inspiration works.

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