Chapter 43

Predictions, Scientific Observations,

and Unusual Statements

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Various Civil War Statements
Time Is Short
Some in 1856 Never to Die
Jerusalem Never to Be Rebuilt
Concern Over Unusual Statements
Concern Over Ellen White’s Scientific Statements
Harm From Wearing Wigs
What Drives Motivations
Smith Addresses the Critics
Study Questions

“The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional.”1

One of the Biblical tests of a prophet is: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:20-22). On the other hand, the ability to make predictions is not necessarily a test of a prophet’s credentials.2 For example, Moses in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New Testament are not known for their predictions.

The word prophet suggests to modern minds the ability to make predictions. Ellen White never claimed to be a prophet because her work “includes much more than this name signifies.”3 The test of a prophet/messenger lies in another direction than to focus on the number of his or her predictions. Further, the principle of conditional prophecy must be taken into account. This applies to certain comments by Ellen White as it does to Biblical prophets.4

Various Civil War Statements

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Some have charged that Ellen White made either unsubstantiated or false statements during the Civil War in the United States (1861-1865).5 But when comparing careful historians of that period, her comments stand today as not only relevant but accurate. From the earliest days of the conflict, she saw clearly the hidden agendas behind the stated causes or objectives of the North.

Shortly after South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, even before the first shots were fired, Ellen White had a vision at Parkville, Michigan, on January 12, 1861. For the next few years she penned a continuing analysis of the motives and intrigue that characterized both Southern and Northern leaders. At that early date she was shown the naivete of the North, the rapid coalition of the Southern States, and the “terrible war” that would result, and the sober fact that families at that Parkville meeting would “lose sons in that war.”6

On August 3, 1861, Mrs. White had another vision that revealed further aspects of the pro-slavery factions in the North, even in the highest levels of government. In fact, if everything was known, some leaders would be seen as traitors. She was given the reasons for the mysterious retreat of the Northern army at the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run).7

Her vision on January 4, 1862, in Battle Creek, Michigan, provided the young Seventh-day Adventist Church with additional background and insights regarding the terrible conflict and its impending cost in lives and resources—a picture that no other people had at that early date.8

For these divinely given insights, Ellen White has been charged with being anti-Lincoln because, in the early years, he was more concerned about preserving the Union than with abolishing slavery. Because of the national fasts that were proclaimed invoking God to act on behalf of the North when they were more concerned about the rebellion against the Union than about the nefarious slave economy, Ellen White called such appeals to heaven “disgusting.”9

Other charges are lifted out of context and made to appear contrary to fact. For example, note the reference to an alleged unfulfilled prophecy regarding England: “When England does declare war, all nations will have an interest of their own to serve, and there will be general war, general confusion.”10 When that sentence is read in context, within that same paragraph with all the other conditional statements regarding England, the sense changes from a prediction to a possibility. “If England does declare war . . . .”

On the previous page, Ellen White used the same grammatical construction: “When our nation observes the fast which God has chosen, then will He accept their prayers. . . .” Mrs. White was not making a prediction but a conditional statement. This use of “when” for “if” is a common English practice.

The charge is made that Ellen White thought that the Civil War was a sign that Jesus was about to return from heaven: “The signs of Christ’s coming are too plain to be doubted. . . . All heaven is astir. The scenes of earth’s history are fast closing. We are amid the perils of the last days.”11 First, those thoughts were not focused on the Civil War specifically but on the world in general. Commenting later on the war, she wrote: “Everything is preparing for the great day of God. Time will last a little longer, until the inhabitants of the earth have filled up the cup of their iniquity, and then the wrath of God, which has so long slumbered, will awake, and this land of light will drink the cup of His unmingled wrath.”12

Time Is Short

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Ellen White had the same urgency that compelled New Testament writers to say: “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awaken out of sleep; . . . The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:11, 12); “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37, quoting Hab. 2:3, 4); and for Jesus Himself to tell John: “Surely I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20).

But since 1844, urgency has had a fresh time frame. Since 1844, Christ could have returned within the generation that saw the heavenly signs and that understood the impact of Christ’s ministry in the Most Holy Place as the closing phase of His mediatorial work.13

From 1845 onward, Ellen White had strongly counseled against time-setting—a practice that some Millerite Adventists continued after 1844, including Joseph Bates up to 1851. Yet time had always been presented to her as “almost finished.”14

One charge has been that in 1850 she insisted that Jesus would return “in a few months.” The emphasis of the paragraph is on character preparation for the crisis of the last days: “Some of us have had time to get the truth and to advance step by step, and every step we have taken has given us strength to take the next. But now time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months. They will have much to unlearn and much to learn again.”15

In 1854 similar counsel was given to a church beset with an adultery problem and neglect of children: “It is too late in the day to feed with milk. . . . Truths that we have been years learning must be learned in a few months by those who now embrace the third angel’s message. We had to search and wait the opening of truth, receiving a ray of light here and a ray there, laboring and pleading for God to reveal truth to us. But now the truth is plain; its rays are brought together. . . . It is a disgrace for those who have been in the truth for years to talk of feeding souls who have been months in the truth, upon milk. . . . Those who embrace the truth now will have to step fast.”16

These references to the apostle’s admonition in Hebrews 5:12-16 have always applied to serious Christians, but never more than to those who believe they are proclaiming the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14. Obviously, some day there will be a “last generation.” Ellen White links the sealing work of Revelation 7 and 14 with a people who have permitted the Holy Spirit to make them ready for God’s seal.17 This preparation should be the last-day Christian’s highest priority. That urgency compelled Mrs. White to urge believers in “present truth” to learn and apply as much of this truth as fast as possible. Christians must mature in the truth and not remain babies who must be spoon-fed and given milk.

Some in 1856 Never to Die

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At a Battle Creek conference on May 27, 1856, Ellen White was given a vision of “two ways” and what it means to travel in either: “They are opposite in character, in life, in dress, and in conversation.” Then she made an observation that has intrigued church members for more than a century: “I was shown the company present at the conference. Said the angel, ‘Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.’”18

For those present, these words were solemn. Three days after this vision, Clarissa M. Bonfoey, a close family friend of the Whites, died. At the time of the vision apparently she was in good health. But what should we think of this vision today? All who attended that conference have long been dead. Did Ellen White make a flawed prediction?

Understanding this 1856 prediction requires an understanding of the Biblical principle of conditional prophecy.19 Those who trust the Biblical accounts of unfulfilled prophecy will have no difficulty understanding Ellen White’s 1856 statement. She made frequent reference to the fact that God is not changing His mind about the timing of the Advent; His people have not fulfilled their part of the gospel commission.20

In 1901 she summed up her many references to the delayed Advent: “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ’s sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action.”21

Jerusalem Never to Be Rebuilt

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Ellen White wrote in 1851 that “old Jerusalem never would be built up.”22 By itself, the statement looks unsustainable. But when the setting is reconstructed, we find Mrs. White counseling the growing Adventist group that both time-setting23 and the “age-to-come” notion24 were incompatible with Biblical truth. She emphasized that the Old Testament prophecies regarding the establishment of a Jewish kingdom in Palestine were conditional on obedience and forfeited by disobedience. Unfulfilled prophecies would be fulfilled to “true Israel” as unfolded in the New Testament text.

Thus the popular movement of the 1840s and 1850s to promote a Zionist state in Palestine was not a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and not a quest in which Adventists should become involved. Her warnings and instruction were designed to turn the interest away from Palestine and toward the work God had opened up before them.

In a September 1850 vision she saw that it was a “great error” to believe that “it is their duty to go to Old Jerusalem, and think they have a work to do there before the Lord comes. . . ; for those who think that they are yet to go to Jerusalem will have their minds there, and their means will be withheld from the cause of present truth to get themselves and others there.”25

Less than a year later, August 1851, she wrote with greater emphasis “that Old Jerusalem never would be built up; and that Satan was doing his utmost to lead the minds of the children of the Lord into these things now, in the gathering time, to keep them from throwing their whole interest into the present work of the Lord, and to cause them to neglect the necessary preparation for the day of the Lord.”26

How did Ellen White’s readers understand this statement? That there was no light in the popular “age-to-come” teaching, that there is no Biblical significance in the Jews returning to Palestine, that Jerusalem will never be rebuilt in a future millennial period. She was not talking about a possible political rebuilding of Jerusalem but of a prophetically significant rebuilding of Old Jerusalem. To continue to think that way, she emphasized, was to sink further into Satan’s deceptions and away from present duty.27

Concern Over Unusual Statements

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Prophetic writings occasionally contain statements that may not be easily understood. Peter once said that Paul had written “some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Ignorant slave not to be resurrected. In 1858 Ellen White wrote that “the slave master would have to answer for the soul of his slave whom he has kept in ignorance. . . . God cannot take the slave to heaven, who has been kept in ignorance and degradation, knowing nothing of God, or the Bible, fearing nothing but his master’s lash, and not holding so elevated a position as his master’s brute beasts. But He does the best thing for him that a compassionate God can do. He lets him be as though he had not been.”28

However, a few pages later she reported that she “saw the pious slave rise [in the resurrection] in triumph and victory.”29 In many places she referred to the terrible conditions imposed on slaves in the South, treated “as though they were beasts.”30 Nevertheless, she was equally emphatic that “many of the slaves had noble minds.”31

In these statements Ellen White was distinguishing between the “pious” slave and the “ignorant” slave who knows “nothing of God.” With prophetic insight she stated that the most compassionate act for a just God would be to let such slaves remain in their graves, not to be resurrected for judgment.

Some object to this statement because the Bible says that “all who are in the graves will . . . come forth” (John 5:28, 29). A few chapters later, John quoted Jesus: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). Here we have two examples among many where Bible writers used all-inclusive language but with very definite restrictions. No one but Universalists argue that everyone, sooner or later, will be redeemed, regardless of character or desire. Not all people will be drawn to Jesus because not all are willing to be drawn!

Another example of a general, all-inclusive statement is John the Revelator’s description of the Second Advent: “. . . every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne’” (Rev. 6:15, 16). Obviously, not all slaves and not all free men are going to be lost!

Prophets, as well as everyone else, use inclusive language at times, and most people understand the implied restrictions. The next question is, How does God deal with those who are neither among those “who have done good,” or “those who have done evil” (John 5:29)? The best we can do is to join Abraham, the father of the faithful, and believe with confidence: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).

God’s hand over a chart mistake. In 1850 Ellen White wrote that she “had seen that the 1843 chart was directed by the hand of the Lord, and that it should not be altered; that the figures were as He wanted them; that His hand was over and hid a mistake in some of the figures, so that none could see it, until His hand was removed.”32

At first glance, one could wonder why God would want to hide a mistake! For those who begin with the presupposition that Jesus did not enter the closing phase of His mediatorial work in 1844, this Ellen White reference is ridiculed.

But those who have found meaning in these events, whether on earth or in heaven, also realize that God’s ways are often unexplainable. Further, His ways are often cast in human language where circumstances that God permits are described as events that God causes. When the author of Exodus wrote of God’s conversation with Moses, he portrayed God as the Agent who “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 10:1). However, the same writer also wrote of Pharaoh’s responsibility for hardening his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34).

We think of Biblical circumstances where knowledge was “withheld” from dedicated men and women. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus joined two devastated disciples but they did not recognize Him because “their eyes were restrained” (Luke 24:16). A few hours later, while eating with their traveling Companion, “their eyes were opened and they knew Him” (Luke 24:31). If their eyes had been “opened” prematurely while walking toward Emmaus, they would have missed a great experience that God wanted them to share.

For reasons that God alone can explain best, Biblical students in 1843 needed the experience of 1843-1844. Obviously God could have “stepped in” and guaranteed every date, every line of reasoning, when Fitch and Hale prepared their chart. But that kind of divine intervention has been rare throughout history. Permitting men and women to work through their problems, learning special lessons that would not have been experienced otherwise, seems to have been God’s general plan.33

What would have happened if William Miller had preached the true significance of 1844? What kind of public response would he have received if he had proclaimed the truth about a change in Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, rather than to emphasize His imminent return? No one would have listened to him; no one would have been stirred to read the Bible. After the disappointment of October 22, a group of his followers restudied their Bibles to discover the real meaning of 1844, an interest that never would have developed if Miller had not focused their attention on the Bible and its prophecies prior to 1844.

Concern Over Ellen White’s Scientific Statements

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Attention has been called to statements that seem to show that Ellen White made grievous errors regarding scientific issues. Prophets are not called to update encyclopedias or dictionaries. Nor are prophets (or anyone else) to be made “an offender by a word” (Isa. 29:21). If prophets are to be held to the highest standards of scientific accuracy (every few years these “standards” change, even for the experts), we would have cause to reject Isaiah for referring to “the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:12) and John for writing that he saw “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1).

Some point to the phrase, “As the moon and the stars of our solar system shine by the reflected light of the sun,” charging that Ellen White was untrustworthy in scientific matters.34 But most readers would recognize this use of “stars” for “planets of our solar system” as a non-technical description easily understood by laymen.

Some have declared Ellen White was in error when she allegedly said that she had visited a “world which had seven moons,”35 and that the planets visited were Jupiter and Saturn. In point of fact, she never named the “world which had seven moons.” But there is more to the story.

Less than three months after she and James were married in 1846, she had a vision at the Curtis home in Topsham, Maine, in the presence of Joseph Bates. Although Bates had seen Ellen White in vision on several occasions, he still had doubts about her prophetic gift; but through the Topsham vision he was convinced that “the work is of God.”36 James White reported that, in this vision, Mrs. White was “guided to the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and I think one more. After she came out of vision, she could give a clear description of their moons, etc. It is well known, that she knew nothing of astronomy, and could not answer one question in relation to the planets, before she had this vision.”37

What was it that convinced Bates, the old sea captain and amateur astronomer, that Ellen White was “of God”? After the vision, she described what she had seen. Knowing that she had no background in astronomy, Bates said, “This is of the Lord.”

Obviously, what Bates heard corresponded to his knowledge of what telescopes showed in 1846. Almost certainly this vision was given in Bates’s presence to give him added confidence in Ellen White’s ministry. If she had mentioned the number of moons that modern telescopes reveal, it seems clear that Bates’s doubts would have been confirmed.38


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Critics have charged that Ellen White wrote in 1864 (and republished in 1870) that humans once cohabited with animals and that their offspring produced certain races that exist today. The statement reads: “But if there was one sin above another which called for the destruction of the race by the flood, it was the base crime of amalgamation of man and beast which defaced the image of God, and caused confusion everywhere. God purposed to destroy by a flood that powerful, long-lived race that had corrupted their ways before Him.”39

No dictionary has ever used “amalgamation” to describe the cohabitation of man with beast. The primary use of the word describes the fusion of metals, the union of different elements such as in making tooth cements. Nineteenth-century usage included the mixing of diverse races.

Granted, her statement could appear ambiguous: Does she mean “amalgamation of man with beast” or “amalgamation of man and of beast”? Often, repetition of the preposition is omitted in similar construction.40

On two other occasions, Mrs. White used the word “amalgamation.” She used it metaphorically, comparing faithful believers and worldlings.41 And she used it to describe the origin of poisonous plants and other irregularities in the biological world: “Christ never planted the seeds of death in the system. Satan planted these seeds when he tempted Adam to eat of the tree of knowledge which meant disobedience to God. Not one noxious plant was placed in the Lord’s great garden, but after Adam and Eve sinned, poisonous herbs sprang up. . . . All tares are sown by the evil one. Every noxious herb is of his sowing, and by his ingenious methods of amalgamation he has corrupted the earth with tares.”42

Recognizing that Satan has been an active agent in the corrupting of God’s plan for man, beast, plants, etc., we can better understand what Ellen White may have meant when she described the results of amalgamation. That which “defaced the image of God” in man and that which “confused the species [of animals]” has been the handiwork of Satan with the cooperation of humans. Such “amalgamation of man and [of] beast, as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men,” becomes understandable.

Mrs. White never hinted of subhuman beings or any kind of hybrid animal-human relationship. She did speak of “species of animals” and “races of men” but not any kind of amalgam of animals with human beings.43

We recognize, however, that serious students of Ellen White’s writings differ on what she meant by “amalgamation.”44 “The burden of proof rests on those who affirm that Mrs. White gave a new and alien meaning to the term.”45


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Some charge that Mrs. White’s statements regarding the cause of volcanoes reflected the myths and fanciful thinking of age-old theories. Her writings contain eight relevant concepts46 that have been debated since they first appeared in 1864.47

This list includes: (1) Formation of coal beds is linked to the Flood; (2) Coal produces oil; (3) Subterranean fires are fueled by the burning of both coal and oil; (4) Water added to the subterranean fires produces explosions, thus earthquakes; (5) Earthquake and volcanic action are linked together as products of these underground fires; (6) Both limestone and iron ore are connected with the burning coal beds and oil deposits; (7) Air is involved in the super heat; (8) Deposits of coal and oil are found after the subterranean fires have died out.48

Though similarities exist between Mrs. White’s writings and John Wesley’s famous sermon, “The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes” (1750), there are striking differences. Contrary to earlier authors, one finds no trace in Ellen White’s writings of “eroding streams and violent winds; no vaulted cavities that collapsed and thus caused the Flood; no hollow caverns echoing with subterranean thunder; no fires fueled by underground stores of sulfur, naphtha, or niter. Viewed as a unit, her concept of subterranean fires is unique, and we search in vain to find it lent to her by a single human source.”49

The next question, of course, is whether one can find scientific confirmation for her “unique” views regarding these violent natural phenomena. Many theories abound as to the causes of volcanoes and earthquakes, and the formation of oil and coal. Most earth scientists base their ideas on the plate-tectonic theory. Nothing in Ellen White’s comments rules out that theory. Further, nothing in her writings states that all volcanoes are the product of burning coal fields or that all earthquakes are caused by subterranean fires. When she links earthquakes and volcanoes together, one immediately thinks of the Pacific Ocean “ring of fire” and its high potential for disasters from both.

However, notable scientists have confirmed Ellen White’s observations. Otto Stutzer’s Geology of Coal documented that “subterranean fires in coal beds are ignited through spontaneous combustion, resulting in the melting of nearby rocks that are classed as pseudo volcanic deposits.”50 Stutzer listed several examples of such activity, including “a burning mountain,” an outcrop that “lasted over 150 years,” and “the heat from one burning coal bed [that] was used for heating greenhouses in that area from 1837 to 1868.”51 Modern confirmation exists for the igniting of coal and oil with its sulfur constituent “seen around the eruptions of hot springs, geysers, and volcanic fumaroles.”52

References to rocks “which overlie the coal have suffered considerable alteration because of the fires, being sintered and partly melted,” correlate with Ellen White’s statement that “rocks are heated, limestone is burned, and iron ore melted.”53 Further research in the western United States has produced conclusions and language very similar to Mrs. White’s writings of a century earlier: “The melted rock resembles common furnace clinker or volcanic lava.”54

One last charge has been that melted iron ore is not found in connection with burning coal and oil deposits. However, a United States Geological Survey paper records the discovery of hematite (an iron ore) that had been “formed in some way through the agency of the burning coal.”55

The suggestion that Ellen White was indebted to existing sources for her scientific information is without merit, because some of this verification only became known many years after her death. Further, “It is much more unlikely that she resorted to the published ideas of contemporary Creationists on the subject, since their views were relics of wild cosmological speculations.”56


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Few topics have generated more ridicule from critics than Ellen White’s statements regarding “self-abuse,”57 “solitary vice,”58 “self-indulgence,”59 “secret vice,”60 “moral pollution,”61 etc. Ellen White never used the term “masturbation.”

Her first reference to this subject appeared in a 64-page pamphlet, An Appeal to Mothers, April 1864, nine months after her first comprehensive health vision. Primarily devoted to masturbation, pages 5 to 34 were from her own pen; the remainder consisted of quotations from medical authorities.62

Ellen White did not say that all, or even most, of the potentially serious consequences of masturbation would happen to any one individual. Nor did she say that the worst possible degree of a serious consequence would happen to most indulgers.

Modern research indicates that Ellen White’s strong statements can be supported when she is properly understood. The general view today, however, is that masturbation is normal and healthy and thus should be free from guilt feelings.

Two medical specialists have suggested that in “a zinc-deficient adolescent, sexual excitement and excessive masturbation might precipitate insanity,”63 and “it is even possible, given the importance of zinc for the brain, that 18th century moralists were correct when they said that repeated masturbation could make one mad.”64

Two professionals in the area of clinical psychology and family therapy have compared Ellen White’s statements on masturbation with current medical knowledge.65 Dr. Richard Nies defended Ellen White’s general counsel on masturbation, making four main points: (1) Masturbation leads to “mental, moral, and physical deterioration. . . . It is not the stimulation, per se, that is wrong. It’s what’s going on in . . . [persons] when they’re becoming self-referenced and self-centered.” (2) Masturbation “breaks down the finer sensitivities of our nervous system. . . . It is not difficult to see in terms of the electrical mediation of our nervous system, how disease becomes a natural result of individuals who have placed their own gratification at the center of their being. . . . Disease is the natural result of this.”

(3) Masturbation is a predisposition that can be “inherited and passed on and transmitted from one generation to another, even leading to degeneration of the race.”

(4) In dealing with others, especially children, Ellen White’s counsel lies in the direction of dealing with the consequences, of showing them that we should be training for love and eternity, not self-gratification with its terrible consequences. Dr. Nies concluded his paper, “Self-gratification is synonymous with destruction.”

Alberta Mazat observed that Ellen White’s concern regarding masturbation was primarily on the mental consequences rather than the “purely physical act. She was more concerned with thought processes, attitudes, fantasies, etc.” Mazat quoted Ellen White’s references to the fact that “the effects are not the same on all minds,” that “impure thoughts seize and control the imagination,”and that the mind “takes pleasure in contemplating the scenes which awake base passion.”

Mazat further noted that some may be embarrassed by Ellen White’s strong statements regarding masturbation. However, many of Mrs. White’s other statements also seemed “unrealistic and exaggerated before science corroborated them, for example, cancer being caused by a virus, the dangers of smoking, overeating, and the overuse of fats, sugar, and salt, to name a few. . . . It seems worthwhile to remind ourselves that medical knowledge at any point is not perfect.”66


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In one of the Whites’ visits67 to Dr. Jackson’s health center, Dansville, New York, as part of the routine physical examination, Dr. Jackson made a phrenological “reading” of the heads of the two White sons, Willie and Edson.”68 This event was reported by Ellen White in a private letter. What was Mrs. White indicating by this phrenological examination? Was she contradicting her own counsel?

In 1862 she wrote that the power of evil works through “the sciences of phrenology, psychology, and mesmerism.” Though “good in their place . . . they are seized upon by Satan . . . to deceive and destroy souls.”69

In 1884 she repeated her warning: “The sciences which treat of the human mind are very much exalted. They are good in their place, but they are seized upon by Satan as his powerful agents to deceive and destroy souls. . . . The world, which is supposed to be benefited so much by phrenology and animal magnetism, never was so corrupt as now. Through these sciences, virtue is destroyed, and the foundations of Spiritualism are laid.”70

What could Ellen White have meant by “they are good in their place”? Although phrenology is now considered quackery (and rightly so in certain aspects), students today must pause long enough to look at phrenology as scientists and physicians did in the nineteenth century. John D. Davies in his standard work on phrenology wrote: “In its own time phrenology, like Freudianism, was a serious, inductive discipline, accepted as such by many eminent scientists, doctors, and educators; its aberrations were the results not so much of charlatanism or credulity as of the limitations of early nineteenth century scientific method and medical techniques. However mistaken some of its anatomical deductions may have been, scientific it was in its determination to study the mind objectively, without metaphysical preconceptions. Its priority in this field is recognized in the histories of medicine and psychology, and many of its fundamentals are as commonplace today as they were radical a century ago.71

If a reader today is given only the absurd side of phrenology, as understood a century ago, and not the fundamental principles that are accepted today, then Ellen White’s statements seem both naive and contradictory. Some of those principles teach that obedience to health laws (as interpreted by phrenology) would even reduce the effect of hereditary disease, that most physical problems originate in the mind and thus the mind and body must be treated as a unit, that controlling passion would give power to enhance moral virtues and intellectual capabilities.72

Critics suggest that Ellen White was deep into phrenology because she used terminology that phrenologists frequently used, such as “acquisitiveness,” “cautiousness,” “conscientiousness,” and “benevolence.” Other words that phrenologists freely used in “locating” certain characteristics in the brain included “secretiveness,” “firmness,” “causality,” “self-esteem,” “destructiveness,” “parental love,” “eventuality,” “calculation,” “hope,” and “conjugally.”

Was it possible for Mrs. White to write in terms of character development or the relationship between health and morals without employing commonly used words, even as we use them today? Referring to the impact of phrenology in the nineteenth century, Davies wrote: “Through lectures, societies, magazines, book and periodical articles, phrenological tenets were dinned into American ears until the appropriation of their peculiar vocabulary by fiction and popular speech made them familiar to everyone.”73

But what about Ellen White’s sons’ receiving a phrenological examination? Mrs. White wrote: “Dr. Jackson gave an accurate account of the disposition and organization of our children. He pronounces Willie’s head to be one of the best that has ever come under his observation. He gave a good description of Edson’s character and peculiarities. He enjoined upon him outdoor exercise and not much study. I think this examination will be worth everything to Edson.”74

No one would suggest that Ellen White understood all the mechanics and physiology of how the brain works; no one does today. Being a devoted mother, she was interested in anything that would help her to be a better mother. This routine examination at Dansville would be, at the most, interesting; in no way did it indicate that Ellen White espoused the philosophy of phrenology.75

Harm From Wearing Wigs

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In the October 1871 issue of the Health Reformer,76 Ellen White wrote of “hurtful indulgences” that militate against the highest interests and happiness of women. Among these “indulgences” she included wigs that, “covering the base of the brain, heat and excite the spinal nerves centering in the brain.” As a result of “following this deforming fashion,” she said, “many have lost their reason, and become hopelessly insane.”

In the context of today’s comfortable wigs, critics tend to ridicule this statement. But Mrs. White was referring to an entirely different product. The wigs she described were “monstrous bunches of curled hair, cotton, seagrass, wool, Spanish moss, and other multitudinous abominations.”77 One woman said that her chignon generated “an unnatural degree of heat in the back part of the head” and produced “a distracting headache just as long as it was worn.”

Another Health Reformer article (quoting from the Marshall Statesman and the Springfield Republican) described the perils of wearing “jute switches”—wigs made from dark, fibrous bark. Apparently these switches were often infested with “jute bugs,” small insects that burrowed under the scalp. One woman reported that her head became raw, and her hair began to fall out. Her entire scalp “was perforated with the burrowing parasites.” “The lady . . . is represented as nearly crazy from the terrible suffering, and from the prospect of the horrible death which physicians do not seem able to avert.”78

With reports such as this in the public press, it is easy to understand why Ellen White would warn women against the possible dangers of wearing wigs and trying to “keep pace with changing fashion, merely to create a sensation.”79

What Drives Motivations

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Only God can read motives as to why a person rejects the light of truth, whether it be reflected in the face and words of Jesus Himself, or as presented through His prophets. Each individual has his or her own personal experience composed of circumstances that collectively are unique. No other person knows the configuration of those circumstances and thus is not capable of judging another’s decision fairly. Yet a pattern has developed through the years that is shared by most critics.

In 1868 Uriah Smith wrote a brochure entitled “The Visions of Mrs. E. G. White—A Manifestation of Spiritual Gifts According to the Scriptures.” Very few people worked more closely with James and Ellen White, or for a longer period of time. He reviewed the Biblical basis for spiritual gifts and listed the fruit of Mrs. White’s ministry: (1) “They tend to the purest morality”; (2) “They lead us to Christ”; (3) “They lead us to the Bible”; (4) “They have brought comfort and consolation to many hearts”; (5) “They have never been known to counsel evil or devise wickedness.”

Smith Addresses the Critics

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Then Smith asked why objections arise against Ellen White: “We may emphatically ask the question which Pilate put to the Jews in reference to the Saviour, ‘Why, what evil hath He done?’”

He proceeded to answer his question: “The first class is composed of those who believe, or did believe at the time their opposition commenced, the views held by Seventh-day Adventists, but in whom, or in someone with whom they sympathized, wrongs were pointed out and reproved by the visions. . . . The other class consists of those who are the avowed and open opponents of all the distinguishing views held by Seventh-day Adventists. Their opposition springs from a different motive from that of the first class. . . . They hate that system of truth with which the visions stand connected, and they attack the visions as the most sure and most effectual way of hindering the progress of that truth. In this they acknowledge the efficiency of the visions in advancing this work.”

Smith summed up his description of the critics: “This covers the whole ground of the opposition; for we have never known any objection to arise which could not be traced to one or the other of these two sources.”80

Presuppositions. Conscious or unconscious paradigms, or presuppositions, create intellectual grids that have blinded men and women since the first days this side of the Garden of Eden. Cain had his paradigm, into which his thinking must fit, and Abel had his. Copernicus and Galileo had to contend with the bitter atmosphere of hostile presuppositions among scholars in their day. Jesus and faithful believers have weathered rejection because the truth did not fit the expectations (the paradigms) of their contemporaries.81

Ellen White obviously had to contend with those who opposed her ministry. She could see that the reasons people gave for rejecting her work were not often the “true” reasons: “Sinful indulgences are cherished, the Testimonies are rejected, and many excuses which are untrue are offered to others as the reason for refusing to receive them. The true reason is not given. It is a lack of moral courage—a will, strengthened and controlled by the Spirit of God, to renounce hurtful habits.”82

Mrs. White recognized the problem of presuppositions: “Some, hearing through the medium of their own prejudices or prepossessions, understand the matter as they desire it to be—as will best suit their purpose—and so report it. Following the promptings of an unsanctified heart, they construe into evil that which, rightly understood, might be a means of great good.”83

Everyone knows the subtle tug of doubt. Everyone has had to contend with that tug. Doubt keeps one prudent in the face of the unknown. Doubt, however, can become the Maginot Line for the uncommitted; too often we allow doubt to become synonymous with calm reason and see it as the mark of intelligence. If we relate to the Spirit of God as we would to a telephone marketer, we are misusing reason.

Most people have observed the soundness of Mrs. White’s warning: “Satan has ability to suggest doubts and to devise objections to the pointed testimony that God sends, and many think it is a virtue, a mark of intelligence in them, to be unbelieving and to question and to quibble. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence.”84 “God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe; but he who turns from the weight of evidence because there are a few things which he cannot make plain to his finite understanding, will be left in the cold, chilling atmosphere of unbelief and questioning doubts, and will make shipwreck of faith.”85

Believing in Ellen White’s ministry is not a creedal matter. Nor is it akin to believing that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or that she was born in Maine. But it is similar to believing that Jesus is a believer’s personal Saviour, which involves more than a mental commitment. Critics have found many “intellectually satisfying” reasons to dispute Biblical claims. Most often they are looking at the container, not the content. Or, they find “reasons” for rejecting Christ’s call for self-denial and to follow Him in joyful obedience to the will of God.

Why? Because they are looking for a religion that their heart wants— “according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3, 4).

When one looks at the messenger’s message, and not primarily at the limitations of the messenger, a distinctive and sturdy foundation is laid, safe enough to carry the “weight of evidence” that exists.


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1. Evangelism, p. 645.

2. See p. 29.

3. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 31-36.

4. See p. 272.

5. For a review of these charges, see Nichol, Critics, pp. 112-130.

6. Bio., vol. 1, pp. 462-464.

7. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 264-268; Bio., vol. 2, pp. 36-38.

8. Ibid., pp. 253-260.

9. Ibid., p. 258.

10. Ibid., p. 259.

11. Ibid., p. 260.

12. Ibid., p. 363.

13. For a list of Ellen White statements regarding a delayed advent, see Herbert E. Douglass, The End (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1979), pp. 161-167.

14. Early Writings, pp. 58, 64, 67.

15. Ibid., p. 67.

16. Ms 1, 1854, cited in MR, vol. 1, pp. 33, 34.

17. Early Writings, pp. 36-38, 44, 48.

18. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 131, 132.

19. See pp. 29, 30 for a discussion of this principle; see also Nichol, Critics, pp. 102-111.

20. See Douglass, The End, pp. 161-167.

21. Evangelism, p. 696.

22. Early Writings, p. 75. This sentence appears in the chapter, “The Gathering Time,” which combined two visions and some additional lines. The first vision, Sept. 23, 1850, dealt with the “gathering time” of “Israel,” the dates on the Millerite 1843 chart, the “daily,” timesetting, and the error of going to Old Jerusalem. The second vision, June 21, 1851, focused on the third angel’s message, timesetting, and Old Jerusalem’s not being built up.

23. Many former Millerites were setting various dates for the return of Jesus, with 1850 and 1851 being the latest dates for the end of the 2300-day/year prophecy. Although Sabbatarian Adventists generally were immune from timesetting, Hiram Edson and Joseph Bates advocated 1850 and 1851, respectively. James White kept their views out of Present Truth, the Advent Review, and the Review and Herald.

24. Age-to-come exponents, led by Joseph Marsh, O. R. L. Crosier, and George Storrs, with several variations, believed that the Second Advent would usher in the millennial kingdom on earth during which time the world would be converted under the reign of Christ with the Jews playing a leading role. This group closely related to the Literalists (British Adventists) who had believed that in the 1840s the literal Jews would welcome their Messiah (Christ) in Palestine, thus fulfilling Old Testament prophecies with Jerusalem becoming Christ’s capital during the millennium. The majority of the Millerites had rejected this aspect of their Adventist theology, calling it Judaism. (See Josiah Litch, “The Rise and Progress of Adventism,” The Advent Shield and Review, May 1844, p. 92, cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students’ Source Book, p. 513. The first defectors from early Seventh-day Adventists were H. S. Case and C. P. Russell who had, among other concepts, embraced the “age-to-come” theory. See SDAE, vol. 11, “Messenger Party,” pp. 51, 52.

25. Early Writings, p. 75.

26. Early Writings, pp. 75, 76.

27. For background on the religious context of this topic concerning the rebuilding of Old Jerusalem, see Julia Neuffer, “The Gathering of Israel,” (a pamphlet prepared by the Biblical Research Committee, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists).

28. Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 193 (Early Writings, p. 276).

29. Ibid., p. 206 (Early Writings, p. 286).

30. Review and Herald, Dec. 17, 1895.

31. Ibid.

32. Early Writings, p. 74. This chart, designed in 1842 by Charles Fitch, Congregational pastor, and Apollos Hale, Methodist preacher, was approved by the Millerites in their Boston General Conference of May, 1842. The chart’s graphic symbols and time periods became a well-known trademark of Millerite preaching as they endeavored to simplify in an attractive manner the time prophecies focusing on 1843.—See Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. IV, pp. 538, 616.

33. See Matt. 11:25; Mark 4:33; John 16:12; 1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:11-14.

34. Education, p. 14, (same statement, The Desire of Ages, p. 465).

35. Early Writings, p. 40. This vision was first described in the Broadside, To those who are receiving the seal of the living God, first published, Jan. 31, 1849.

36. A Word to the Little Flock, p. 21, cited in Nichol, Critics, p. 581.

37. Ibid., p. 22. Ellen White wrote: “I was wrapped in a vision of God’s glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets.”—Life Sketches, p. 97; see also Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 83. No evidence exists that this is the same vision described in Early Writings, p. 40. See pages ??

38. Further information regarding this 1846 vision is found in Loughborough, GSAM, pp. 257-260. For a discussion of how Loughborough’s memory of his conversation with Bates many years earlier fits into this memorable moment for Bates, see Nichol, Critics, pp. 93-101.

39. Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 64. “Every species of animal which God had created were preserved in the ark. The confused species which God did not create, which were the result of amalgamation, were destroyed by the flood. Since the flood there has been amalgamation of man and beast, as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men.”—Page 75.

40. “We might speak of the scattering of man and beast over the earth, but we do not therefore mean that previously man and beast were fused in one mass at one geographical spot. We simply mean the scattering of man over the earth and the scattering of beasts over the earth, though the original location of the two groups might have been on opposite sides of the earth. In other words, the scattering of man and of beast.”—Ibid., p. 308.

41. “Those who profess to be followers of Christ, should be living agencies, cooperating with heavenly intelligences; but by union with the world, the character of God’s people becomes tarnished, and through amalgamation with the corrupt, the fine gold becomes dim.”—Review and Herald, Aug. 23, 1892.

42. Selected Messages, book 2, p. 288.

43. We have no evidence that Ellen White read Alexander Kinmount’s Twelve Lectures on the Natural History of Man (1839), pp. 152, 153, which gives us another example of how the word “amalgamation” was used in her lifetime: “Another specimen of the evil resulting from mixing science with religion, to the injury of both, may be seen in the argument for the amalgamation of the African and European races, on the ground of their being one family, both descended from Adam and Eve. . . . It belongs to science, and to the common instincts and feelings of mankind to say, whether there are not races of men so unlike in their temperaments as to prohibit, as nefarious and contrary to nature, the amalgamation of them.”

44. For a contemporary review of the two interpretations, see Gordon Shigley, “Amalgamation of Man and Beast: What Did Ellen White Mean?” Spectrum, June 1982, pp. 10-19.

45. Nichol, Critics, p. 308.

46. See Warren H. Johns, “Ellen G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 1,” Ministry, August 1977, pp. 9-12.

47. Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, pp. 79-80 (1864); see also Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, pp. 82, 83 (1870); Signs of the Times, Mar. 13, 1879; Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 108, 109 (1890); Manuscript 21, 1902, cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, pp. 946, 947.

48. Johns, “Ellen G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 1,” Ministry, August, 1977, p. 6.

49. Ibid., p. 12.

50. Otto Stutzer, Geology of Coal, translated by Adolph Noe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), pp. 309, 310, cited in Ibid., p. 19.

51. Johns, “Ellen G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 2,” Ministry, October 1977, p. 20.

52. Ibid.

53. Stutzer, Geology of Coal, p. 310; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 108, cited in Johns, “E. G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 2,” p. 20.

54. E. E. Thurlow, “Western Coal,” Mining Engineering, 26 (1974), pp. 30-33, cited in Ibid., p. 21.

55. G. Sherburne Rogers, “Baked Shale and Slag Formed by the Burning of Coal Beds,” U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper, 108-A (1918), cited in Ibid., p. 21.

56. Johns, “E. G. White and Subterranean Fires, Part 2,” p. 22. “The coal mines of Germany have become a veritable gold mine in a study of Ellen White’s scientific declarations, indicating the intermingling of the divine and human in a unique way.”— Ibid., p. 22.

57. An Appeal to Mothers, p. 27; Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 470.

58. Ibid., p. 5.

59. Ibid., p. 18.

60. Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 391.

61. Ibid.

62. Appeal to Mothers was reprinted in 1970 as part of a larger work, A Solemn Appeal Relative to Solitary Vice and Abuses and Excesses of the Marriage Relation. A facsimile reprint appears in the Appendix to A Critique of Prophetess of Health (E. G. White Estate).

63. Dr. Carl C. Pfeiffer's Updated Fact / Book on Zinc and Other Micro-Nutrients. (New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1978), p. 45.

64. David F. Horrobin, M.D., Ph.D., Zinc (St. Albans, Vt.: Vitabooks, Inc., 1981), p. 8.

65. Richard Nies, Ph.D., (Experimental Psychology, UCLA, 1964; equivalent Ph.D. in clinical psychology, including oral exam, but died during dissertation preparation), Lecture, “Give Glory to God,” Glendale, Calif., n.d.; Alberta Mazat, M.S.W., (Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, Calif.), Monograph, “Masturbation,” (43 pp.) Biblical Research Institute.

66. Mazat, Monograph, “Masturbation.”

67. See p. 301.

68. Phrenology, regarded today as a pseudoscience, was the forerunner of modern psychology . . . [and] originated with Franz Josef Gall (1758-1828), a Viennese physician, who in 1790 became persuaded that localized mental faculties existed on the brain surface and skull.”—George Reid, A Sound of Trumpets, pp. 85, 86. Along with his disciples, Johann Spurzheim, Gall circled Europe in lecture tours, ending up “as famous men” in Paris. Spurzheim, traveling later to England and America, coined the term, “phrenology,” to describe his medical practice and “took America by storm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson hailed Spurzheim as “one of the world’s greatest minds. . . . Henry Ward Beecher preached phrenology from his pulpit; Horace Greeley published it in his New York Tribune; Horace Mann and Samuel G. Howe applied it to educational reform; and a bevy of literary figures endorsed it, including Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and (with impish comments), Mark Twain.”—Ibid., pp. 86, 87.

69. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 290, 291.

70. Signs of the Times, Nov. 6, 1884 (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 352).

71. Phrenology: Fad and Science—A Nineteenth Century American Crusade (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971), pp. x, xi.

72. Reid, A Sound of Trumpets, p. 89.

73. Davies, Phrenology: Fad and Science, p. ix. An example of Ellen White’s using a phrenology concept without the implications of phrenology philosophy: “When God has given us such a habitation, why should not every apartment be carefully examined? The chambers of the mind and heart are the most important. Then, instead of living in the basement of the house, enjoying sensual and debasing pleasures, should we not open these beautiful chambers and invite the Lord Jesus to come in and dwell with us?”—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 375, 376.

74. Dr. Jackson’s examination report of Willie White’s character may be found in Manuscript Releases, vol. 6, p. 346.

75. Notables who also had their “head” read include Hiram Powers, a sculptor; William Cullen Bryant; Theodore Weld; Arthur Tappan; John Greenleaf Whittier; and Clara Barton. See Reid, A Sound of Trumpets, p. 87.

76. Health Reformer, October 1871, pp. 120, 121.

77. Ibid., July 1867,

78. Ibid., January 1871.

79. Ibid., October 1871.

80. Witness of the Pioneers Concerning the Spirit of Prophecy (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981), pp. 33, 34.

81. See Appendix E as to how presuppositions determine a person’s understanding of the shut-door issue.

82. Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 32; Ibid., vol. 5, p. 675.

83. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 695.

84. Ibid., vol 3, p. 255; Ibid., vol. 5, p. 675. For a discussion of how presuppositions (or “theories”) have driven Biblical scholarship in the past 200 years, see Paul A. L. Giem, Scientific Theology (Riverside, Calif.: La Sierra University Press, 1997), pp. 112-116.

85. Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 232, 233; Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 675, 676.

Study Questions

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1. What is the key to understanding “conditional prophecy”?

2. How can Ellen White’s statements regarding the “nearness” of the Advent be understood after many decades?

3. Under what conditions did Ellen White write that “Jerusalem never would be built up”?

4. How do you explain that God’s hand covered a mistake in a prophetic chart?

5. What did Ellen White mean by her “amalgamation” statements?

6. About 40 statements exist wherein Ellen White stated that Jesus could have returned before she made those statements. Summarize why His return has not occurred.

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