Chapter 40

Understanding How the Books Were Prepared

[Return to the Table of Contents]
[Return to the Homepage]

Deepening Insights by a Maturing Prophet
What About Plagiarism?
Impact of Message
A Potential Problem Developing
Master, Not the Slave
What About Ellen White’s Denials?
Study Questions

“Sources seemed to be employed more often to provide background and descriptive comment than for devotional and evangelical content. . . . One is more apt to find Ellen White’s independent comment in the moralizing or theologizing commentary.”1

Some have wondered whether the expansion of Ellen White’s original work on the life of Christ from approximately fifty small pages in Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, to the thousand or more pages in The Desire of Ages, Christ’s Object Lessons, and Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing was due to an extensive use of other sources. After six years of study, Fred Veltman, the author of the research study on the literary sources in The Desire of Ages, concluded that there was “no evidence” that the enlarged commentary on the life of Christ was due “to a greater use of the sources.” He readily saw that the broader treatment of the life of Christ—which included more narrative-incidents, combined with the greater accumulation of material written by Ellen White through the years from which the finished product was compiled—easily accounted for the increased number of pages.2

Another question some have raised relates to who did the “using” of other sources—Ellen White or her editorial assistants, including Marian Davis. The evidence reveals that Ellen White herself utilized the sources which were brought into her published writings. No evidence has been found that Marian Davis or other assistants were responsible for the materials Ellen White adapted from other religious writers.3

Ellen White maintained extensive diaries or journals. Not only did she (generally) keep daily records but often she amplified her thoughts, seemingly without any particular reason except to let her mind flow out on paper. These entries included both personal impressions and thoughts from her reading. At such times, without any attempt to organize under specific headings, Mrs. White copied or paraphrased those items from her extensive reading that she wanted to remember. From these journals her editorial assistants would gather material for periodical articles. As time passed, many of these early jottings became part of her published books.4

Some of these copied or paraphrased materials were used not only in her book production but in letters, sermons, and even in expressing herself better in her diaries. On rare occasions she used borrowed language to express thoughts directly impressed upon her in vision. To one accepting verbal inspiration, such borrowing in reporting a vision might be a problem, but not to one who recognizes that God’s messengers relate inspired messages in words of their own choosing.5

W. C. White recalled that when his mother was actively engaged in preparing her Life of Christ “she had very little time to read. Previous to her work of writing on the life of Christ and during the time of her writing, to some extent, she read from the works of Hanna, Fleetwood, Farrar, and Geikie. I never knew of her reading Edersheim. She occasionally referred to [Samuel] Andrews, particularly with reference to chronology.”6

Fred Veltman concluded that qualifying expressions such as “minimal borrowing,” “wholesale borrowing,” or references to percentage estimates are “relative and imprecise terms.” He believed that those who use such terms are either attempting to dismiss “Ellen White’s use of sources or are stressing the unusual amount of borrowing.” Both emphases are misleading.7 It is more accurate “to speak of her creative and independent use of her own writings and that of others than to minimize the amount of her borrowing.”8

For those, however, who seek percentages of dependency, Veltman found that 31 percent of the sentences in the fifteen random chapters he studied, indicated at least one word or more of literary dependency.9

Deepening Insights by a Maturing Prophet

[Top of Document]

Truth does not change, but a person’s appreciation for, and understanding of, truth does. Even prophets experience a deeper understanding of truth as time passes. In His humanity, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). When we study Peter’s life, we have a clear picture of a maturing prophet after Pentecost.

In 1906 Ellen White testified that for “sixty years I have been in communication with heavenly messengers, and I have been constantly learning in reference to divine things, and in reference to the way in which God is constantly working to bring souls from the error of their ways to the light in God’s light.”10 (Emphasis supplied.)

Mrs. White understood this human matrix through which the Word of God must pass in God’s communication system.11 In her Introduction to The Great Controversy she alerted readers to the “diversity” of Biblical writers, not only in style but in the unique insights of a writer who “grasps those points that harmonize with his experience or with his power of perception and appreciation.”12

When Mrs. White spoke of “constantly learning,” she was not thinking in evolutionary terms “that leaves God out of consideration, but rather a process of spiritual growth that is directly under the guiding hand of God.”13 The same principle of growth is emphasized throughout Christ’s parables and the New Testament epistles.14 The principle of growth underlies the wonder and excitement of the redeemed—the process begun on earth will be unending: “As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character.”15

The principle of growth affected Ellen White’s ministry in two ways: (1) Prophets can lead people only as fast as they can comprehend instruction.16 This may mean that God will lead the prophet with His instruction only as fast as people would understand the prophet’s message; or (2) God will speak to prophets only in terms that can be understood by the prophet. As prophets grow in knowledge, Christian discipline, and experience, their capacity to understand more about God’s plans increases proportionately.

In reference to Ellen White’s central theme—the great controversy story—we have found an expanding, more insightful unfolding of that theme from 1858-1911, through the various publications as noted above.17 Something like a pencil sketch in 1858, the “theme-picture” was outlined in about 219 small pages. The picture was filled in with further details in the larger, 1,600-page, four-volume Spirit of Prophecy series. With the publication of the Conflict of the Ages series and its 3,757 pages, the sketch of 1858 had now become a four-color, 3-D rendition of the original story.

Do we find any evidence for the principle of growth in the mind of Mrs. White as she amplified the Great Controversy Theme from 219 small pages to the present 3,757 full pages? Much in every way. But the deepening insights are not in conflict with the original sketch in 1858, only the filling in of details. Readers can make the study for themselves by comparing how Mrs. White described key people and events in each of the three renditions—Spiritual Gifts, The Spirit of Prophecy four-volume series, and the Conflict of the Ages five-volume set.

For example, the expansion of thought, the filling in of details in Patriarchs and Prophets and The Desire of Ages, is dramatic. One senses no contradictions in the amplification; yet, the expansion is profoundly compelling.18

The expansion of insights is not merely a matter of descriptive details. Clearer theological insights are apparent. For example, emphasizing the readiness principle (see pp. 34, 282, 304, 311, 422) God seemed to wait until Seventh-day Adventists were ready for His prophet to speak more clearly about the deity of Christ. In both Spiritual Gifts and The Spirit of Prophecy set, little was said about the deity of Christ. But in Patriarchs and Prophets (1890) and The Desire of Ages (1898), Ellen White wrote clearly and in-depth regarding the eternal preexistence of Jesus.19 This fresh emphasis became a distinct turning point for denominational thinkers on the deity of Christ.20

In her earlier writings, Ellen White reflected a prevailing Protestant understanding that emphasized God and His law in arbitrary, non-personal terms: if sinners are to be saved from the angry wrath of the Father, then Christ must die. The analogy of the courtroom (Judge) eclipsed the analogy of the family (Father). Although this early picture is correct in rough outline, both Patriarchs and Prophets and The Desire of Ages richly filled in the picture that added significant details to the traditional Christian interpretation of the atonement most often reflecting Calvinistic thought. To move from picturing an offended God, who needed to be placated, to a God who was willing to endure misunderstanding and deception in order for His creation to see the awful results of rebellion, is a magnificent unfolding in understanding the central issue in the great controversy.21

Ellen White’s growth in knowledge regarding practical duties and God’s patience in waiting for her to be ready to understand visions that would unfold additional truths may be demonstrated by the following examples. For years she agreed with other Adventists such as Joseph Bates that the Sabbath begins and ends at 6:00 P.M. In November 1855 she had a vision that affirmed John N. Andrews’s Bible study on the previous Sabbath—that the Sabbath begins and ends at the setting of the sun.22 In 1858 she wrote Stephen Haskell that he was inappropriate in making an issue over the use of pork. After her vision in 1863 she made clear that pork was indeed a prohibited article.23

Note that in neither case was Ellen White contradicting light given to her in vision. As she grew older, she grew in knowledge. Visions, from time to time, when God knew she was ready, confirmed her Bible studies in such a way that fellow Adventists were impressed with her spiritual authority.

What About Plagiarism?24

[Top of Document]

The legal aspect of the charge that Ellen White plagiarized was reviewed by Attorney Vincent L. Ramik of the law firm of Diller, Ramik and Wight, Washington, D.C. In his August 14, 1981 report, after spending more than 300 hours researching about 1,000 relevant cases in American legal history, he concluded that “Ellen G. White was not a plagiarist and her works did not constitute copyright infringement/privacy.”25

Ramik observed: “Nowhere have we found the books of Ellen G. White to be virtually the ‘same plan and character throughout’ as those of her predecessors. Nor have we found, or have critics made reference to, any intention of Ellen White to supersede . . . [other authors] in the market with the same class of readers and purchasers.”

Continuing, Ramik pointed out that Mrs. White “modified, exalted, and improved” the writings of others in an ethical, as well as legal, manner.26

Ramik came to his conclusions after many hours of reading Ellen White’s books, as well as those used in her writing. Further, he read the material written by critics, from D. M. Canright to the present. He began his study with a prejudiced mind, due to certain newspaper articles of the late 1970s and early 1980s. But he turned 180 degrees after reading her own books, those of critics, and case law: “It was reading her messages in her writings that changed my mind. . . . I believe that the critics have missed the boat badly by focusing upon Mrs. White’s writings, instead of focusing upon the messages in Mrs. White’s writings. . . . Mrs. White moved me! I am a Roman Catholic; but, Catholic, Protestant, whatever—she moved me. And I think her writings should move anyone, unless he is permanently biased and is unswayable.”27

When asked what he meant by “message,” Ramik replied: “The message is what is crucial. The critic reads a sentence, and receives no meaning from it—he may, and often does, even take it out of context. But read the entire message. What is the author’s intent? What is the author really saying—where the words come from is really not that important. What is the message of this? If you disregard the message, then even the Bible itself is not worth being read, in that sense of the word.”28

In response to a question concerning the ethics of Mrs. White in using materials of others without publicly stating where she got them, Ramik responded, after noting some legal precedents: “Ellen White used the writings of others; but in the way she used them, she made them uniquely her own, ethically, as well as legally. And interestingly, she invariably improved that which she ‘selected’! . . . She stayed well within the legal boundaries of ‘fair use,’ and all the time created something that was substantially greater (and even more beautiful) than the mere sum of the component parts. And I think the ultimate tragedy is that the critics fail to see this.”29

Ramik found it interesting and “absurd” that, at times, critics charged Ellen White with plagiarizing books “that she publicly urged her readers to get . . . and read . . . for themselves.”30

And yet questions remain. Has the church been silent until recently regarding Ellen White’s use of sources? Has anyone deliberately been trying to hide the facts? Would it have been better to have known this information through the years? Does proving that Ellen White did not violate plagiarism laws settle all questions regarding her integrity and authority as a divinely used messenger?

Regarding the silence or hiding of facts, the record shows that the church through the years has attempted to convey the facts to its membership.31 However, for various reasons, the information either did not get out effectively or it was received with indifference. As in most other areas, it is always easier to look back and fault others than it is to help resolve present concerns.

However, the record is not silent. At the 1899 General Conference session held at South Lancaster, Massachusetts, A. T. Jones summed up his remarks regarding Ellen White’s method of writing: “There are statements that are true which God has led man to write. The Spirit of prophecy [as manifested in Ellen White] picks out of surroundings that are not all true these gems of perfect truth, and sets them in the setting that is all true, so that they can shine in their own true luster.”32

At the 1913 General Conference, W. C. White spoke clearly about many aspects of his mother’s writing ministry, including how The Desire of Ages was written.33

W. C. White and Dores Robinson, representing the E. G. White Estate, tried to explain what we all see more clearly today. In a 1933 document, “Brief Statements Regarding the Writings of Ellen G. White,” they wrote of how Mrs. White had been counseled by the Lord to seek out books that would provide “gems of truth tersely expressed.” Further, she had “divine assurance that she would be guided in distinguishing the true from the false.”

In fact, they told how Mrs. White “made no effort to conceal the fact that she had copied from other writers statements that exactly suited her purpose. And in her handwritten manuscripts, most of the passages that she had copied word for word, were enclosed in quotation marks.” They then reviewed the printing process and noted: “The question arose, How shall these passages be handled? Much time would be required to study each passage and mark it consistently. The printers were waiting for copy, and the public were waiting for the book. Then it was decided to leave out quotation marks entirely. And in that way the book was printed.”34 We today would have given more attention to the use of quotation marks.35

Probably the lack of discussion among Seventh-day Adventists regarding Ellen White’s indebtedness to certain literary sources was due, in part, to a lack of understanding of how inspiration worked, both in Bible writers and in the ministry of Ellen White. The prevailing concept among conservative Christians in the nineteenth century (as it is among many modern conservative Christians) was that prophets were verbally inspired and not thought inspired.36 To think otherwise probably never occurred to most ministers and church members. But only an unconscious half step separates verbal inspiration from the greater error that “inspiration” means no human input—that the prophet speaks only “divine” words.

Another reason was that earlier Adventists were living with the prophet. They heard her speak often, followed her instruction at key intervals in the establishment of most denominational enterprises, and were greatly blessed with her “messages” contained in their periodicals.

Impact of Message

[Top of Document]

For those who listened with open minds and hearts, their confidence in her ministry constantly deepened. It never occurred to most that contemporary sources, at times, were adding literary force to her writings—the impact of her messages was too compelling for them to think about the mechanics of how the messages were, at times, put into words.

But what about those who, beside W. C. White, knew how the Spirit of prophecy worked with the human prophet in finding appropriate verbal vehicles? These leaders, admittedly few, knew that verbal inspiration without the inclusion of human research is a mental and spiritual straitjacket.

The issues that surfaced at the 1919 Bible Teachers Conference were fundamental, yet deeply divisive.37 The same issues had divided the Christian church for centuries. The question was not whether Ellen White was authoritative. The problem surfaced when church members were divided as to how to understand her messages when she was not available to explain her statements, or when her literary sources, at times, were “discovered.”

Church leaders in 1919 knew that most church members, including ministers and teachers, had learned through experience to trust the messages of Ellen White—even though, at times, that trust was built on some unconscious variation of verbal inspiration. Knowing how divisive it was to discuss this subject even among Bible teachers and ministers, most leaders apparently hesitated to bring the whole church into the discussion. For the most part, they chose the “practical” way of putting their energies into evangelism and institutional development. The fruits of positive activity overshadowed the basic, even more “practical” question, of how prophets composed their human part in God’s communication system.

Deception was not intended: the immediate issue was denominational unity. Pastoral concern for the quiet trust and confidence that church members had for the writings of Ellen White overshadowed the academic time bomb that quietly ticked behind the energetic evangelistic activity.

A Potential Problem Developing

[Top of Document]

But did not the option of being pastoral and practical set up church leaders for the potential charge of “cover-up”? By avoiding a clear, wholesome discussion of how revelation/inspiration works, did they not plant the time bomb that would burst within the Adventist Church in a future generation? When it is not made clear for generations that prophets do change with personal growth, that prophets do use other sources for bringing precision and force into their messages, rigid minds experience a terrifying awakening when the truth is brought forth. Assurance built on words and not the central message, begins to collapse.

The “cover-up” charge has affected church members in two ways: (1) Some who were avid supporters of their prophet have been shocked to learn that Ellen White used other sources in her messages. They have been shaken because they did not understand the process of revelation/inspiration. (2) People who were not committed to the basic messages of Ellen White have used her “borrowing” as one more “reason” to disregard her authority. This attitude is also the result of a misunderstanding of the revelation/inspiration process. Whenever anyone thinks in either/or terms, many other subjects besides the process of inspiration will be misunderstood—the eventual awakening will be frightening.38

What, then, do we know about Ellen White’s use of literary sources?

Mrs. White read more widely, and enriched her writings with choice thoughts from her reading, more extensively than many were aware of.

For those who think in terms of verbal inspiration, “plagiarism” aims at the foundation of their confidence in inspired writings. For thought inspirationists, “plagiarism” is considered from other standpoints, such as intent, fair use, quality of selectivity, and ultimate originality of the author’s contribution.

Mrs. White’s use of literary sources is evident in almost all of her books.

Her literary sources enriched all phases of her writing, including historical and geographical details, theological concepts, and even insights into extra-Biblical matters such as activities of God, Satan, and the angels.

By promoting books by D’Aubigné, and Conybeare and Howson, it is obvious that Ellen White did not attempt to conceal her use of literary sources.

Master, Not the Slave

[Top of Document]

Ellen White used literary sources to amplify or to state more forcefully her own transcending themes; she was the master, not the slave, of her sources.

In her use of literary sources, Ellen White revealed her transcending ability to select those thoughts that harmonized with her theological principles while avoiding erroneous concepts. She did not copy wholesale or without discrimination. What she selected or did not select, and how she altered what she selected reveals the overriding purpose in her broad reading.

Mrs. White’s main purpose in all her writings was to present a correct picture of God as seen through Jesus Christ so that the way of salvation was not only clear but winsome. All her writings must be seen in the light of her primary purpose.39

Ellen White’s later writings, especially as the Conflict of the Ages series developed, were more complete than her earlier writings. Apparent discrepancies exist, as they do in the Bible, revealing the human touch—but the larger purpose is always clear.

Witnesses beyond number attest that in no case has anyone been misled by following Ellen White’s counsel, when properly understood. Some may question the cogency of her reasoning at times that supports the counsel, but the counsel has always been sound.

Neither Marian Davis nor any other editorial assistant was responsible for inserting into Ellen White’s writings material adapted from her reading.40

The charge that most of Ellen White’s writings, especially the Conflict of the Ages series, have been copied from others is false and without merit.

A person should not lose confidence in either Biblical writers or Ellen White because they did not receive all of their words directly from visions. This may be difficult for those who have previously thought in verbal-inspiration terms or for any who have had a more narrow understanding of how God communicates with His prophets.

A prophet may quote from an uninspired source because of a certain insight that has particular value in enriching a prophet’s message. However, the prophet’s inspired purpose does not protect against possible error, such as in misstating a historical date.

What About Ellen White’s Denials?

[Top of Document]

We have seen in this book many examples of the human element in God’s communication system, both in the Bible and in the writings of Ellen White. We have also seen a few instances that are not readily explained.

Some have pointed to certain Ellen White denials regarding her use of contemporary sources as examples of duplicity. Others look at these examples in context and find Mrs. White void of deceit.41

Robert W. Olson, for twelve years director of the Ellen G. White Estate, summed up the focus on these denials by joining Fred Veltman’s42 conclusion: “It seems clear to me that Ellen White was worried over the danger of emptying the messages of their power through her dependence upon the writing abilities of others. . . . In my judgment it is basically this same burden of Ellen White’s over the reception of her writings as messages from the Lord that led her not to fully disclose her dependence on literary sources.”43

Olson listed ten alleged denials, or nonadmissions, made by either James or Ellen White—most of which presented no problem when seen in context.44 He concluded his article: “In my opinion, she did not want her readers to be distracted from her message because of concentrating on her method. Undue attention to how she wrote might raise unnecessary doubts in some minds as to the authority of what she wrote. If this is the correct explanation . . . let us not allow questions about methodology and inspiration to pull our focus away from the inspired communications God has sent us.”45


[Top of Document]

1. Fred Veltman “The Desire of Ages Project,” p. 900. Fred Veltman, Ph.D., a specialist in languages and source analysis, was chairman of the Religion Department of Pacific Union College, Angwin, California, when he was commissioned by the General Conference to research Ellen White’s use of literary sources in writing The Desire of Ages. This project, spread over a period of almost eight years, involved the equivalent of five years of full-time work. Adventist colleges and universities throughout the world, as well as Ellen G. White Estate research centers, have received copies of the full report of this in-depth study.

2. Ibid., pp. 873, 874, 940, 941.

3. Ibid., pp. 896, 912; Veltman, Ministry, October 1990, p. 6; December, 1990, p. 14.

4. Ibid., pp. 904, 944.

5. For an example of an occasion when she used the language of others to better express her thoughts in relating her visions, compare the following two sentences: Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 141 (1872): “I was shown that one great cause of the existing deplorable state of things is that parents do not feel under obligation to bring up their children to conform to physical law.” “Parents are also under obligation to teach and oblige their children to conform to physical laws for their own sakes.”—Larkin B. Coles, Philosophy of Health (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1855), p. 144. Ron Graybill, in his article, “The ‘I saw’ Parallels in Ellen White’s Writings,” wrote: “Consider, first of all what Mrs. White meant by the expression ‘I saw’ and ‘I was shown.’. . . The terms . . . mean that Ellen White, in vision, either visually witnessed what she described or had the information explained to her orally. ‘I saw’ also can mean that she was led by the Holy Spirit to understand that certain concepts were true even apart from a vision. In any case, the expression always means that what was written was written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God.”—Adventist Review, July 29, 1982.

6. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 459. In a letter to her children in 1885, Ellen White wrote: “Tell Mary to find me some histories of the Bible that would give me the order of events. I have nothing and can find nothing in the library here [Basel, Switzerland].”—Ibid., p. 122.

7. Veltman, “Project,” p. 913.

8. Ibid., p. 948.

9. Ibid., p. 941. “To deny her indebtedness . . . or to underplay their influence would . . . not be a fair assessment of the evidence. . . . But to stress the literary borrowing to such an extent that Ellen White’s special contributions as a writer and as a messenger, for the content she wished to communicate, are severely downplayed or denied, is also in my opinion an inaccurate evaluation of the evidence.”—Ibid., p. 933.

Since 1983, the White Estate has maintained an ongoing project to document passages in Ellen White’s writings known to be verbally dependent upon a prior non-Ellen White and non-Biblical source. As of this writing, these are the titles with the highest percentages of known borrowing. (The Desire of Ages was not included in the study because it was included in the Veltman research.)

Parallel Lines and Percentages

The Great Controversy (in quotes), 3,241—15.11%

The Great Controversy (uncredited), 1,084—5.05%

Sketches From the Life of Paul, 1,185—12.23%

Steps to Christ, 196—6.23%

The Acts of the Apostles, 426—3.05%

Faith and Works, 73—2.97%

Testimonies, vol. 5, 638—2.82%

Messages to Young People, 282—2.67%

Patriarchs and Prophets, 543—2.28%

Selected Messages, book 1, 235—2.03%

Testimonies, vol. 4, 395—1.88%

Prophets and Kings, 242—1.51%

A complete report is available at the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD, U.S.A.

10. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 71.

11. See pp. 16, 120, 173, 375, 376, 421.

12. The Great Controversy, p. vi.

13. Alden Thompson, “Ellen White’s Pilgrimage to Golgotha,” Adventist Review, Dec. 24, 1981.

14. Mark 4:28; Heb. 5:12-6:1.

15. The Great Controversy, pp. 677, 678.

16. See pp. 34, 282, 304, 311, 422.

17. See pp. 445-450.

18. For one viewpoint of a growing prophet, see Alden Thompson, “From Sinai to Golgotha, I-V,” Adventist Review, Dec. 3, 1981-Dec. 31, 1981; for reaction to this series and Thompson’s response, see Adventist Review, July 1, 1982.

19. Christ “had ever stood at the right hand of the Father.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 38; “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 530.

20. Compare the statements of Adventist belief in 1872 and 1980: 1872—“That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father.” 1980—“The Son. God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ.” “It was largely through the writings of Ellen G. White that the Trinitarian view finally prevailed.”—SDAE, vol., 11, “Christology,” pp. 352-354.

21. To move from the limited, conventional Protestant understanding of the plan of salvation as portrayed in Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, pp. 22-28, to the larger view depicted in Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 63-70, demonstrated the deepening, growing insights that Ellen White was capable of expressing. Deeper insights can be found in the chapters “Gethsemane” and “Calvary” in The Desire of Ages. Further, in periodical articles even more helpful concepts fill in the continuing refinement of that early 1858 salvation outline—for example: “What Was Secured by the Death of Christ,” Signs of the Times, Dec. 30, 1889; “God Made Manifest in Christ,” Signs of the Times, Jan. 20, 1890; “Inexpressible Joy,” Signs of the Times, Dec. 22, 1914.

22. See p. 157.

23. See pp. 157, 158.

24. “Plagiarism is literary—or artistic or musical—theft. It is the false assumption of authorship: the wrongful act of taking the product of another’s mind, and presenting it as one’s own. . . . Plagiarism and infringement are not the same thing, though they overlap. Plagiarism covers a wider field; infringement involves more serious consequences. . . . There can be no plagiarism without the thief’s posing as originator; infringement may occur even though proper authorship credit is given. . . .

“However, where you select existing materials from sources open to everybody, and arrange and combine them in a new form, exercising study and discrimination in the process, and producing something new, you will be entitled to copyright protection on what you’ve created. . . .

“First, there is no such thing as absolute, quintessential originality. Second, plagiarism and originality are not polar opposites, but the obverse and reverse of the same medal. Third, originality—as commonly understood—is not necessarily the hallmark of talent or the badge of genius.”—Alexander Lindey, Plagiarism and Originality (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1952), pp. 2, 5, 14.

25. Adventist Review, Sept. 17, 1981.

26. Ibid.

27. “There Simply Is No Case,” Adventist Review, Sept. 17, 1981.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid. Two years before the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy was published, Ellen White wrote in the church paper about a book she found helpful in her writing: “Provide something to be read during these long winter evenings. For those who can procure it, D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation will be both interesting and profitable. From this work we may gain some knowledge of what has been accomplished in the past in the great work of reform.”—Review and Herald, Dec. 26, 1882. She highly recommended another book that she had read with profit: “The Life of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson, I regard as a book of great merit, and one of rare usefulness to the earnest student of the New Testament history.”—Signs of the Times, Feb. 22, 1883.

31. See pp. 118, 119 for two General Conference sessions that clearly reflected and printed the official position regarding the thought inspiration aspects of Ellen White’s writings.

32. General Conference Bulletin, 1899, p. 112.

33. See pp. 450, 451; General Conference D 33. See pp. 450, 451; General Conference Daily Bulletin, June 1, 1913.

34. W. C. White and D. E. Robinson, “Brief Statements Regarding the Writings of Ellen G. White,” August 1933, pp. 5, 10, 11. A copy of this pamphlet, included as an insert in the Adventist Review, June 4, 1981, may be obtained from the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD, U.S.A.

35. Many examples can be cited of nineteenth century writers “borrowing” liberally from others without crediting them with quotation marks. It seemed to be a common practice which led W. W. Prescott to write in his introduction: “All quotations in the notes taken from the Spirit of Prophecy were duly credited to book and page. The other quotations have been selected from many sources, but as they are not cited as authority, but are used merely for the expression of the thought, no credit has been given.”—The Doctrine of Christ (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), p. 3. Even one of Ellen White’s harshest critics, D. M. Canright, copied phrases and the title of his 1878 300-page book, The Bible From Heaven, from Moses Hull’s 1863 182-page book, also called The Bible From Heaven. “The originals are not original. There is imitation, model and suggestion, to the very archangels, if we knew their history. The first book tyrannizes over the second. Read Tasso, and you think of Virgil; read Virgil, and you think of Homer; and Milton forces you to reflect how narrow are the limits of human invention. Paradise Lost had never existed but for its precursors; and if we find in India or Arabia a book out of our horizon of thought and tradition, we are soon taught by new researches in its native country to discover its foregoers and its latent but real connection with our Bibles.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quotation and Originality, Complete Works (London: George Rutledge & Sons, Ltd., 1883), Vol. 8, pp. 170-172, cited in Lindey, Plagiarism and Originality, pp. 14, 15.

36. See pp. 16, 120, 173, 375, 376, 421 for a discussion of both concepts of inspiration.

37. See pp. 440, 441 for how the issues involved in both verbal and thought inspiration were addressed at the 1919 Bible Teachers Conference. The deep gulf at that time between equally committed men and women over these fundamental issues helps to explain why more effort was not made to educate Seventh-day Adventists generally regarding how the Spirit helped prophets to construct their messages.

38. In responding to those who are troubled when they become aware that Ellen White used source material, Alden Thompson wrote: “An additional assumption is also evident that has deep roots in the minds of conservative believers: true prophets do not change. If, then, in a weak moment, one discovers both sources and change, disillusionment and the ‘cover-up’ argument almost inevitably follows.

“The ‘cover-up’ argument is clearly the most difficult for conservative believers to handle. But I am convinced that [the experience of such believers] provides some of the best evidence as to why there has been a necessary and well-intentioned ‘cover-up’ or, put in another way, why Ellen White and her assistants gradually—even reluctantly—revealed the human methods by which the prophet operated. Full disclosure would have led some to conclude that God was ‘nonexistent in their program.’

“The Biblical precedent for a ‘cover-up’ was established by Christ Himself: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now’ (John 16:12). Every parent and teacher can testify to the truth of that statement. Awareness and growth only can come gradually. For those who are inclined to think in stark either/or terms, any trace of humanity is enough to rob the Word of its divine credentials. In a community with just such inclinations, Ellen White emphasized that her message came from God, not man. To have done otherwise would have been a betrayal of her calling.

“But as time went on, both she and the community came to the place where it was possible to understand more of the human element without denying the divine.”—“The Imperfect Speech of Inspiration,” Spectrum, June 1982.

39. “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. From their pages this light is to shine into the hearts of men and women, leading them to the Saviour.”—The Publishing Ministry (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1983), p. 354.

40. See p. 116.

41. “Ellen White sought to deceive no one. Thoughts, facts, and truths written by one person may be used by another without plagiarism. She made original applications of older material, while furnishing herself with thoughts and words of other books. She can hardly be reproached as a plagiarist, any more than the architect or sculptor can be censured as a copier of Christopher Wren or Michelangelo because he digs his marble from the same quarry, squares his stones by the same art, and unites them in columns of the same order. The freedom to adopt and adapt form the common property of scholars the world over. To use the arguments and follow the truths of other writers is by no means incompatible with originality. In fact, absolute originality is almost impossible.

“No valid objection can be brought against Ellen White when she enlarges and clarifies her own ideas in the light of other men’s works. To establish the charge of plagiarism, one must prove a deliberate attempt to use another’s work to exalt oneself rather than the glory of God. Her whole purpose was the communication of truth, believing that whatever the source, the truth must be exalted and God glorified.”—Edward Heppenstall, “The Inspired Witness of Ellen White,” Adventist Review, May 7, 1987.

“Ellen White’s statements about her sources taken as a whole clearly affirm a divine source and sometimes sound as if they would not allow for any literary borrowing. . . . This situation, I think, arises from the fact that the view of inspiration held by Mrs. White and her contemporaries presented her with a stark and over-simplified choice. . . . The choice was this: either her writings were all from God or all from Satan, and, given these two options, Mrs. White honestly and justifiably chose to affirm that her writings were all from God. However, while it is true that her writings taken as a whole are all from God, there are elements found in those writings which came to her through human sources under the guidance of God’s Spirit, a situation very similar to that observed in Scripture. And, thus Mrs. White’s statements about her writings were not dishonest or deceptive, but they were incomplete in that respect. She simply didn’t get into the mechanics of inspiration.”—Ron Graybill, an unpublished manuscript, “Literary Work,” November, 1981, pp. 22, 23.

42. See pp. 456, 457 for comments on Fred Veltman’s Full Report of the Life of Christ Research Project, 1988.

43. Robert W. Olson, “Ellen White’s Denials,” Ministry, Feb., 1991.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid.

Study Questions

[Top of Document]

1 . Did Marian Davis draw on some material for The Desire of Ages that Ellen White had written previously?

2. What is meant by Ellen White’s “creative use” of the writings of others?

3. If truth does not change, what is meant by a prophet’s maturing insights?

4. What do you think was meant by “denominational unity” rather than “deception” being the primary motivation of church leaders who drew little attention to Ellen White’s use of literary sources?

5. Analyze Attorney Ramik’s conclusion that “the message is what is crucial.”

6. How would you help others to understand how and why Ellen White at times used the writings of others?

[Top of Document]
[Return to the Homepage]