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The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part 1:
1982 in Historical Perspective

by Arthur Patrick

ABSTRACT: During 1982, two years after the Biblical Research Institute and the Ellen G. White Estate agreed to participate in a comprehensive study of Ellen White’s inspiration, the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church invited worldwide participation as it honed an expression of "affirmations" and "denials" relating to "the inspiration and authority of the Ellen G. White writings."1  

This substantive document was drafted at the church’s headquarters and vetted widely before attaining its final form; during the past quarter-century it has been reprinted or cited frequently and appears not to require the level of adjustment needed by earlier statements on the topic. To interpret the statement in historical terms calls for it to be related to significant volumes and conferences2 as well as the effervescent discussion that was initiated by Spectrum3 during 1970 and intensified by a series of controversial studies.4  

During October 2006, Merlin Burt commented upon some of the literature produced during the past three decades that has relevance for the emerging discipline of Ellen White Studies.5 Burt’s survey offers a conceptual framework within which to analyze the articles methodically collected by Robert Olson and Roger Coon,6 more recent publications of a similar type, website documents and, in particular, a number of doctoral dissertations. 

Currently, Ellen White’s inspiration is, once again, a focus of significant attention within Adventism. This reality calls for input from specialists in biblical studies (Old Testament and New Testament), as well as historians, theologians, sociologists, and others. The literature that has significance for this ongoing conversation is too vast to be surveyed in a presentation of this nature.7

Part I of this paper limits its purview to only one of the six conferences listed above: the first International Prophetic Guidance Workshop (IPGW), held at the church’s world headquarters, April 11-15, 1982.8 The evidence is compelling that the IPGW documents and discussions illumine the 1982 "affirmations" and "denials" significantly; they also powerfully and constructively inform the present dialogue and dialectic relating to Ellen White’s inspiration.


The Effervescent 1970s

Students of Adventist history are aware that an unprecedented amount of new information came to the attention of Seventh-day Adventists during the last half of the twentieth century. While an entire book is needed to document this reality in an adequate way, a paragraph that reports an aspect of a 1998 address indicates some of the reasons why fresh data entered the discussion of Adventist history and thought during that era.

1) The development of accredited educational institutions, including some with graduate education; 

2) the graduate education of ministers and teachers by persons who had themselves undertaken university programs;

 3) the publication of the SDA Bible Commentary between 1954 and 1957. Thereafter the church at large began to interpret the Scriptures more faithfully in the light of the meaning and syntax of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages in which they were written, and to demonstrate a growing respect for the context and historical setting of the statements which were quoted in Sabbath Schools, sermons, and church publications;

 4) The efforts of two missionaries from the United States to Africa (Robert Wieland and Donald Short), to persuade the church from 1950 on to begin a reassessment of its presentation of the gospel, and further, during a long series of discussions with evangelical Christians in the 1950s, the understanding the Adventists gained about themselves and about their expression of cardinal doctrines concerning Christ and salvation; 

5) the establishment in the 1970s of an archival center at the General Conference headquarters and a chain of research centers to serve the various geographical areas, thus making available primary sources for the study of SDA history;

 6) the maturation of Adventist historiography as a result of these developments; and 

7) publishing by the journal Spectrum of studies which impinged on Ellen White and her ministry.9

It was within this climate of enquiry that Adventists began to ask questions of a new kind about their past and their teachings in general, and about the life and writings of Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) in particular. One of the indices of this change is provided by the content of the Question and Answer File that may be consulted readily in the various research facilities that the church developed to implement its landmark decision of 1972. Typically, most of the questions relating to the life and writings of Ellen White had been of a similar type: the use or non-use of dairy products, historical events that illumine published statements, the appropriate application of particular counsels, and so on. 

Within the decade of the 1970s such queries continued but declined in volume as a fresh genre of questions were articulated, focused especially upon Ellen White’s literary practices and the consequent authority of her writings.10 The review of these 1970s discussions written by Donald McAdams is still the best available survey of the period in this regard.11

The controversial study by Ronald Numbers published in 1976 indicated the substantial inadequacy of both Francis Nichol’s 1951 apologetic and the standard perception of most Adventists at the time—that Ellen White’s writings are more or less inerrant. On the positive side, the Numbers tome demonstrated the value, indeed the essentiality, of historical research. Numbers was the first trained historian to publish a major volume that examined a significant strand of Ellen White’s writings (health) in a scholarly manner.12 George Reid is accurate in his evaluation of Number’s book as "a thorough, compact, and well-documented study of Ellen white’s role in Adventist health reform." Reid warned, however, that "its clear tenor leans toward discrediting much of what Mrs. White claimed."13 While Numbers was blamed for not using inspiration as an historical explanation, it took another six years for the church to develop a concept of Ellen White’s inspiration that consciously sought to embrace the fresh data.

By 1980, Adventist leaders decided that a comprehensive and carefully planned research initiative was essential and they delegated the task to the Biblical Research Institute. The General Conference president described and contextualized the issues for Adventists, worldwide, in two significant articles published in Adventist Review. Although twenty-one topics were listed for specific consideration, the most crucial issue was how to understand Ellen White’s inspiration.14

Important discussions lay behind the 1952 conference reported in two volumes with the confident title, Our Firm Foundation. Similar processes preceded the Bible conferences trialled in the United States during 1974 and then transported to and repeated in other parts of the Adventist world. A 1978 conference for personnel serving Ellen G. White Estate and its affiliated research centers was unremarkable; the furor relating to Numbers seemed well contained by the vigorous rebuttals of White Estate and it was believed the rumored claims of Walter Rea were only small storm-clouds on a distant horizon. Both the Consultation on Righteousness by Faith and the Sanctuary Review Committee developed significant consensus statements that were published during the second half of 1980. However, it was soon apparent that the short statement relating to Ellen White’s writings adopted by the Sanctuary Review Committee on 15 August 1980 did not address the broad range of issues that were effervescing widely, especially in North America and Australasia. The anticipated list of delegates to the White Estate conference of 1982 was augmented by the addition of other church leaders so that the conference better represented the Adventist world, and the event was billed as both international and the first of its kind.

International Prophetic Guidance Workshop

Two of the seventy delegates at the 1982 workshop represented the territory of what is now called the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Pastor Arthur Duffy was the Spirit of Prophecy coordinator for the entire region and I was the director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre serving the same geographical area. I had attended the first Seminary Extension School in Australia (December 1957 and January 1958) and heard the extended series of lectures on Prophetic Guidance by Elder Arthur L. White. I was a student at Andrews University when the Fall 1970 issue of Spectrum evoked intense discussion in the classrooms and hallways of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, and I had sought to understand the documentation that came to the church’s attention during the 1970s. Therefore, I was intensely interested in the 1982 lectures, discussions, and the 941 pages of documents that were distributed to attendees.

Since my appointment as director of the Research Centre on the campus of Avondale College in 1976, Elder White and Dr. Robert Olson had been my mentors. I had heard Elder White emphasize repeatedly that significant aspects of the new information under discussion were unknown to him until the 1970s when so much fresh data was unearthed. I avidly read the papers and articles that he wrote during the 1970s as he struggled to articulate what he called "a factual concept of inspiration." I gained the impression he did not know about the epochal conference that was convened in 1919 and therefore he had no knowledge whatever of the specific discussions at that event that were "discovered" during 1974 and published five years later. He was an architect of the booklet Medical Science and the Spirit of Prophecy (1971); I was deeply impressed as I witnessed him revising such understandings of Ellen White’s writings, redoing his presentation of the Shut Door issue, the matter of literary relationships and other concerns that were central to the dialectic of the time. I had read the extensive, passionate writings of Ingemar Linden and the penetrating analysis of Rolf Poehler with reference to the Shut Door issue. Thus I found exceptional enlightenment in "The Shut Door Documents" that Robert Olson tabled at the workshop. Roger Coon’s address warned us appropriately of the "crisis in hermeneutic" that was facing the entire church as well as those of us who daily were confronted by a barrage of questions due to our responsibilities in the church’s research centers.15

Immediately after the workshop closed on 15 April 1982, Pastor Duffy and I boarded the same jet aircraft to return to Australia but we were not able to secure adjacent seats. However, the jet touched down during the tropical night on a mid-Pacific island, giving us the opportunity to walk together during the refueling process. As we discussed the workshop and its evident significance, we asked ourselves what we should do about the information that had deluged us as workshop participants. Pastor Duffy suggested that, since the Research Center that was under my care housed the relevant documentation, our first step should be for me to draft two articles for the Division paper; he would co-sign these and dispatch them to Warburton for publication. On 22 April 1982 I mailed the two articles to the church’s headquarters (see Appendix I and Appendix II for the complete text). Duffy deemed the Division president would also be interested in the articles, especially since the president was also the chairperson for the Research Centre Supervisory Committee of which both of us were members.

The president was concerned by the content of the articles, to the extent that he wrote to me immediately suggesting that they be located "in a personal file." The illuminating discussions recorded during the workshop and the 941 pages of documents distributed seemed to me to be of immediate importance as guidance for the church in its dilemma at the time; however, the president directed that neither the recorded discussions nor the documents were to be distributed. The next month an article was published in the Division paper suggesting that Ellen White’s use of other authors was probably "about .002 per cent" during "a writing lifetime of nearly seventy years." 16  Instead of the 1982 workshop being seen as a redemptive event, the closure of the flow of information intensified the growing perception that the church was hiding information.

During those difficult years, I wrote a number of papers that focused on the growing body of evidence and its meaning but almost all of them were excluded from official publication at the time. However, a representative summation of their content was published in Ministry eight years after the specific ideas were banned as heretical.17 Even then, the ensuing correspondence in Ministry indicated no less a stalwart than Elder Joe Crews evaluated the article as "dangerous and deceptive."18 In hindsight, however, the Ministry article illustrates once again the need for the new data that surfaced between 1970 and 1982 to be applied to the church’s understanding of Ellen White’s life, writings, and inspiration.

Why the Workshop is Significant in 2007

A fresh wave of interest in the life and writings of Ellen White has been generated by the writings of an Australian pastor who is both an effective evangelist and a winsome educator.  The contemporary discussion provoked me to write to the editor of Ministry as follows.

So, after 25 years of prayerful study, speaking and writing, Dr. Graeme Bradford’s third book gives a "fatally flawed" view of Ellen White’s inspiration (Ministry, February 2007, page 29)?

An MA thesis, three books, uncounted oral presentations (cassettes, CDs, DVDs) document Bradford’s endeavors. Thousands of church members in the South Pacific and elsewhere (including hearers of his presentations prior to the General Conference Session, Toronto, 2000) agree he puts the pieces of the Adventist jig-saw-puzzle together acceptably. Others disagree. Dr. Bradford contends that two conference-style events (1919 and 1982) facilitate a better understanding of "the way the Lord has led" Seventh-day Adventists to understand Ellen White’s inspiration.

Your reviewer, Michael Campbell, will shortly complete a PhD dissertation on 1919. Campbell is the best-informed Adventist regarding this event and his examiners will assess his draft dissertation in detail.

However, there is no definitive study of the first International Prophetic Guidance Workshop (1982). But there are the 941 pages of documents that I was given as a delegate and there are sound recordings of the lively discussions in which I participated. These primary sources are available, worldwide, for study.

Both Bradford and Campbell should be thanked for their diligence and commitment. Ministry should be applauded for bringing this issue before ministers and religion teachers, worldwide. An effective "dialogue and dialectic" will enhance our understanding of Ellen White’s spiritual giftedness. She needs no apologists; she simply needs understanding in light of all the biblical and historical data, including that from 1919 and 1982.

Whether or not this letter is ever published by the editors, it reflects an important moment of the ongoing Adventist conversation that is further illumined by my one-thousand-word article entitled "Graeme Bradford and Ellen White" dated April 2007.19

The 1982 Workshop as a Focus of Study

Now that Ministry magazine and other reviews have alerted pastors and religion teachers throughout the Adventist world to the importance of 1919 and 1982, a potentially valuable discussion can proceed. The Michael Campbell dissertation was defended successfully during July 2007; it is likely to be the prime source for understanding the 1919 discussions amongst leaders who had worked closely with Ellen White. The first International Prophetic Guidance Workshop (1982) needs and merits a study of similar depth and quality. Until such an investigation is completed and made available, the following suggestions may be of some help to diligent readers.

The context of the workshop is well described by the two articles (referenced above) written by the General Conference president, Elder Neal Wilson, Adventist Review, 20 March 1980 and 9 July 1981. These two articles need to be understood clearly within the sequence of events that created the need for them and shaped their specific content.

In major Adventist archives, worldwide, there are 941 pages of documents presented to attendees at the 1982 workshop that may be used by researchers, plus sound recordings of the workshop presentations and the ensuing discussions. The documents are illumined significantly by the recorded discussions and demonstrate clearly the nature of the fresh information that had come to the church’s attention since 1970 and the range of interpretations that were mooted at the time.

Reports of the workshop by Dr. Roger Coon, Pastor Arthur Duffy and by me offer a general overview of the event.20  Three other articles that I wrote at the time, including the two that were banned from publication by the president of the (then) Australasian Division, offer some further detail and are available in Appendix I, Appendix II, and Appendix III. All my reports of the workshop suffer from the limitations that are inherent in the perspectives of a believer-participant: I was a delegate at the workshop who was intensely interested in the documents and the discussions.

Dr. Graeme Bradford was not a delegate to the workshop, but he has studied the documents, listened to the recorded discussions, and interviewed a great many people (especially in the United States) who have helped him interpret the workshop within its broader context.21 It is inevitable that further study will refine the church’s understanding of this important event. However, at this early stage, I believe the church should be grateful to Dr. Bradford for the diligent effort he has invested in understanding and reporting this epochal event.

Scores of articles patiently collected by Dr. Robert Olson and Dr. Roger Coon give a much wider view of the discussions that produced the various documents that are cited above. These articles may be consulted in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centers that serve the various geographical regions of the world. 

A useful endeavor for those who are engaged in the current discussion of Ellen White’s inspiration is to seek and assemble symbols that accurately portray her ministry.22  I have written about several of these, as have others. Recently a perceptive scholar suggested another illuminating concept that suggests a vivid contrast: Ellen White’s ministry as an Adventist straitjacket versus her provision of an Adventist space suit. I estimate that perhaps ten such symbols may adequately depict the magnificent contribution that Ellen White has made to the church. One of my favorite symbols was developed during the intense discussions that climaxed during 1982; see "Landmarks and landscape," Adventist Review, 27 October 1983.


Christianity and Adventism require authentic witnesses that invite the attention and commitment of every person, including those who are wary of institutional religion. This implies the importance of presenting both the biblical message and the story of our church faithfully, in the light of all the known evidence. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, there is in Australia "an extraordinarily diverse and fast-growing Christian movement catering to the multitudes who reject the institutional church but want to follow its founder, Jesus Christ. They meet in cafes, clubs, homes, halls, parks or galleries. Rather than ‘church’, they may meet as families, students, businesspeople or surfies. They may be affiliated to mainstream churches or they may be independent. Most are committed and young."23 Adventist mission includes nurturing the faith of such people and all others, including those whose belief system requires inerrancy.24

Dr. Jim Roy, chair of the Education Department at Pacific Union College, coordinated a special issue of The Journal of Adventist Education for February/March 2007 that focused on "Quality Schools." Note, in particular, Dr. Roy’s article, "The Better Plan: Exemplary Schools from an Unlikely Duo" (see pages 10-15). The understanding of Ellen White’s inspired writings that Roy proposes allows them to be applied winsomely and effectively to issues such as motivation in learning and the effective development of students as "thinkers and not mere reflectors" of the thoughts of others (cf. Education, 17). Many such appropriate applications of Ellen White’s writings are available; they invite the church to rise above controversy and benefit from the continuing significance of her spiritual giftedness.

This maturity in the Adventist understanding and application of the writings of Ellen White is already evident in the 1982/3 document that is cited in the Abstract above, entitled "The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings."25

The contemporary discussion about Ellen White within the Adventist community can only be enhanced by close attention to the struggle of the church and its achievements during the effervescent 1980s. Part II of this paper will offer further comment on this ongoing process.


Appendix I


Arthur N. Patrick, Director, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre
Avondale College, Cooranbong 2265, 22 April 1982

Most Australasian Seventh-day Adventists are distinctly aware that Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) invested an eighth of her seventy-year ministry amongst us. But in particular since 1980 Ellen White has been present in a new way: as the focus of discussion in conversations, articles, lectures and sermons. Probably never before has her name been on the lips of so many Seventh-day Adventists so often.


More Adventists are now giving closer attention to their heritage. Eager to go beyond textbook history to the primary sources, research has led to a mass of new information: some encouraging, some startling. The now-famous conference of Bible and history teachers held in 1919 is a case in point: most of us had not heard of this event until 1979. Even Pastor Arthur L. White, for almost a half-century a thought-leader in White Estate, had not read the transcripts, nor was he aware such a conference was held. Which leads us to the logical question. Why didn't we know of such things before?

In 1973 the General Conference established its Office of Archives and Statistics "as a result of a long-felt need in the Secretariat and much urging over the years by Arthur White," according to an April 1982 report by Dr. F. Donald Yost, its director. The staff is constantly at work processing materials, that is, describing them, arranging them and making them available for scholarly as well as internal GC use. Dr. Yost estimates:

The General Conference Archives now contains in its Records Centre and its Archives about 3,000 linear feet of unpublished materials, about 400 shelf feet of SDA English periodicals and special publications of the GC such as church manual and departmental manuals, and 900 rolls of microfilm.

No wonder that the unpacking of cartons and the unrolling of packages brings to light significant materials like the transcripts of the 1919 discussions!

During the decade of the seventies the General Conference worked diligently to produce a new textbook for college-level classes in our Church's heritage. Hence in 1979 Light Bearers to the Remnant came to us from Pacific Press, the first such book to be written by a professional historian rather than by a minister.

New Data About Ellen White

By 1980 Australasian Adventists were hearing frequently that Ellen White borrowed from other religious authors in writing her classic volume The Desire of Ages (1898). Most of us were shocked by these rumours and denied that such a thing could be so. Little by little choice quotations were thrown at us until even the most stubborn had to admit the facts. But the end was not yet. We learned that Ellen White's literary assistants had a more extensive role than we had formerly understood. Other things also came under scrutiny: the development of her understanding of the Shut Door, health reform, and other doctrines.

A book would be needed to document the development of understanding, but those of us who read the Adventist Review of 9 July 1981 may remember our General Conference President, Pastor N. C. Wilson, outlined some of the topics agreed upon for study by the General Conference Biblical Research Institute and White Estate:

Dr. Lesher is working with a number of Adventist scholars who will be writing a series of research papers on such topics as: The Office of Prophet in the Old Testament; The Office of Prophet in the New Testament; E. G. White in Context of American Church History; E. G. White's Sociological Context; Science and Religion in the E. G. White Writings; E. G. White's Use of Scripture; Authority of E. G. White; Theology of E. G. White; E. G. White's Experience as a Prophet; Development of Thought in E. G. White; Is It Ethical for a Prophet to Borrow Ideas and Claim Divine Origin?; and A Proper Hermeneutic for Use of E. G. White.

Already a great deal of this research has been done, and Dr. Richard Lesher expects most of the papers under preparation will be in hand by the end of 1982.

Update One

The most extensive up-date ever experienced by Australasia on Ellen White and her ministry was in the itinerary of Dr. Robert Olson and Pastor Ron Graybill of White Estate 31 August to 4 October 1981. Some have not yet taken time to listen to the tapes and read the available information. But those who have done so realize a wealth of new information was presented. The Adventist Church has, as it were, had bushels of cards dumped on its table in recent years. Upon careful inspection some of these are being found to be irrelevant, while others demand careful sorting, arranging and interpretation.


By reason of our personality or our background, some of us resist new information. Others of us are prone to reach conclusions before all the facts are known. When deprived of cherished ideas on the basis of fresh data, some persons react with hostility and anger. Sometimes new discoveries lead to temporary uncertainty while conceptual adjustments are being made. We may easily fail to understand the need of our brethren and sisters for loving support during such crises of faith.

Hence charges and counter-charges can arise, accusations and suspicion can overshadow us, and the Church we love can be rent by disunity.

This is the age of the cassette recorder, the photocopier, and the backyard printer. Waves of independently-produced material have swept over us, often mingling fact with fiction. Pastors, teachers, administrators and members have often been accused of either heresy on the one hand or of covering up the facts on the other. Probably, even despite our best intentions, most of us have erred in judgment at some time during the crisis that developed.

Update Two

Late in 1981 Australasian Record readers were made aware that in April 1982 an important workshop would be held in Washington D.C. Two Australasian representatives were appointed: Pastor Arthur N. Duffy as Division Spirit of Prophecy coordinator and Pastor Arthur N. Patrick as director of Australasia’s Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre. The accompanying report of the International Prophetic Guidance Workshop has a dual aim: to report on the event and to invite ongoing study of the materials made available.

In concluding this report a personal word may be appropriate. The workshop confirmed the over-all soundness of the slow and sometimes uncertain steps many leaders, teachers and members have taken during recent years in seeking to understand and apply the new information relating to Ellen White and her ministry. As a member of the faculty of Avondale College I am particularly grateful for this fact, for our stewardship of means and lives is crucial for the Adventist Church and its mission. But more than this, the workshop showed we all have much to learn both from the Word and our heritage. Hence it provides us with a new opportunity to draw together in the quest for a fuller understanding of truth and greater efficiency in witnessing to a needy world.

Appendix II


Arthur N. Patrick, Director, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre
Avondale College, Cooranbong 2265, 22 April 1982

The existence of so much fresh information about Ellen G. White and her prophetic ministry probably means that the International Prophetic Guidance Workshop held 11-15 April 1982 is the most significant such event in our history.

Held at Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters in Washington, D.C., the workshop had been first announced in 1978. Its seventy appointees included those within the SDA Church whose work involves them most directly with the ministry of Ellen White: the fifteen members of the White Estate Board of Trustees; the eleven White Estate headquarters staff; the chairman and secretary of the General Conference Spirit of Prophecy Committee; the seven directors of Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centres; Spirit of Prophecy coordinators from eight overseas divisions; college/university religion teachers, editors, and others. Seventeen of the delegates came from outside North America.

Its context made it impossible for this workshop to be just a business-as-usual affair. Since a similar but smaller session four years ago certain significant historical, literary and theological studies of the seventies have become the focus of discussion: Ellen White's use of both SDA and non-SDA authors; the role of her literary assistants in editing and revision; the historical and sociological context of her writings; the variety of ways she used Scripture; the development of her thought from 1844-1915. The workshop generated some 900 pages of "handouts" on thirty topics, including the issues most often addressed in contemporary discussion of Ellen White and her ministry.

Dr. Roger W. Coon, an associate secretary of White Estate, sought to diagnose the Church's need in what he called "the crisis in hermeneutic" or interpretation. "Most SDAs probably have a seriously impaired view of inspiration/revelation," he stated, and thus are in "danger when they discover factual data contrary to their view." Indeed, "instead of adjusting their theory to fit demonstrated facts," some discard the prophet instead of the bad theory. Dr. Coon deems "our imperative obligation" is to "readjust our theory of Inspiration so the theory arises out of the data," and thus "not impose our theory over the data." A series of papers dwelt on aspects of this general concern. Among them were:

"The Biblical Basis for a Modern Prophet"
"The Question of Inerrancy in Inspired Writings"
"How Ellen White Perceived Her Inspirations"
"The Inspiration and Authority of Ellen G. White"
"Common or Uninspired Writings"
"Variation and Frequency of the Ellen G. White Visions"
"Continuing Education of Church Members and Providing Bases of Confidence."

Another important segment of the discussions focused on Ellen White's writings with relation to history and science. Papers on the Waldenses and the Albigenses were considered. Topics such as geology, earth sciences and both the promise and the problems in the area of health reform were considered.

Much stimulating attention was given to matters highly important within Adventist history. Significant resource collections were made available, including: "The 'Shut Door' Documents," 58 pages, and "The Fannie Bolton Story: A Collection of Source Documents," 128 pages. Some short papers responded to other frequently-asked questions relating to the 1907 interview with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and the alleged "stolen illustrations" in The Great Controversy. It was noted that the correspondence preserved from as far back as 1885-1887 makes evident that the "allegedly 'stolen' illustrations were secured from their owners in an honest and businesslike manner."

One of the most important areas of study focused on Ellen G. White's extensive recourse to the writings of other authors. The White Estate has reconstructed carefully the titles of some of the books she used in "A Bibliography of Ellen G. White's Private and Office Libraries," a 50-page document. A 46-page pamphlet "E. G. White's Literary Work: An Update" gives a popular introduction to this subject as it is now understood. A comprehensive example of Ellen White's approach was examined in an 85-page document. "Henry Melvill and Ellen G. White: A Study in Literary and Theological Relationships." Articles from Adventist Review of 17 September 1981 were distributed in a reprint under the title, "Was Ellen G. White a Plagiarist?" An appeal was made for assistance by competent and dedicated researchers in the large work yet remaining to be done before we can fully understand and interpret the details of this subject, even though the major outlines are evident.

Another major session of the workshop dealt with the considerably new understandings of how the Ellen G. White writings were prepared for printing. In response to White Estate's request for counsel, the workshop participants voted that a paper be prepared on this important topic.

Although the sessions began at 8 am and ended at 9 pm, most were recorded hence cassettes are available. Unfortunately the cost of photocopying the large number of papers presented runs high at five cents a page. But those interested in either cassettes or photocopies of papers are invited to write to the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College, Cooranbong 2265, requesting lists of titles and estimates of cost including postage.

Beyond the facts of what took place we may seek to understand the significance of the workshop for the SDA Church. The workshop participants were conscious that some in the church may be traumatized by data new to them and thus tempted to engage in denial of evidence. Such individuals may declare for inerrancy or proclaim that no change in their conception of Ellen White is necessary. On the other hand, workshop participants often referred to those on the other extreme who are tempted to deny the prophetic gift, denouncing SDA claims about Ellen White as fraudulent or declaring that her visions and writings are explicable in non-supernaturalistic terms.

Any individual judgment is of necessity subjective. Yet, even subjective assessments may aid the search for understanding. This workshop, coming as it did within a dynamic historical context, sought to hold continuity and change in creative tension. The participants recognized that there is before Adventism important fresh data on Ellen White, sometimes mixed with misinformation or endangered by faulty conclusions. They appeared confident that the Church is able to verify the data and expose the insupportable opinions. It has the resources, skills and commitment to pursue this task responsibly and in a unifying manner. But the fruit of such endeavors could not appear and mature in the brief space of the workshop. Rather, its development will take place over time.

The stated purpose of the workshop was "to discuss current issues and other matters relating to the writings of Ellen G. White." This was achieved. But there was more. A renewed commitment was affirmed to a delicate task which demands the pooling of the spiritual gifts of the whole Church, led by the Spirit and taught of the Word. This workshop may well be seen as a significant milestone for us all as faith seeks a fuller understanding of Ellen White's prophetic ministry. As we engage in this process we can be cheered and instructed by the statement voted at the conclusion of the workshop:

We affirm our gratitude for the way in which God has presented to the world, through a variety of human instrumentalities, His all-sufficient and authoritative revelation, the Holy Scriptures, and has protected the transmission of this revelation to ensure its trustworthiness.

We also reaffirm the continuing operation of His Spirit through the prophetic gift as manifested in Ellen G. White's ministry.

The workshop helped us to understand better how God presented His truth to the prophets and broadened our insights into the way in which the prophets communicated this truth. We recognize in this divine-human process that the humanness of all prophets does not lessen their God-given authority.

We further reaffirm our confidence in the integrity of Ellen G. White, in the authority of her ministry as it has been experienced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and in its continuing validity.


Appendix III

Ellen White workshop studies social and historical context of writings

Arthur Patrick  director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre at Avondale College, Australia. 
Source Forum:
Newsletter of the Association of Adventist Forums, Spring, 1982, 6-7.

Seventeen delegates from outside North America, including Australia, Europe, and South America, met with 53 other participants in the International Prophetic Guidance Workshop held at the General Conference in Washington, D.C., April 11-15, 1982. In fact, the conference included Spirit of Prophecy coordinators from eight overseas [divisions], seven directors of Ellen G. White/SDA research centers in the United States and overseas, as well as college/university teachers who conduct classes in the subject.

One of the teachers, Charles Teel, associate professor of religion and sociology at Loma Linda University, said he thought it had been a significant meeting because "presentations by the White Estate personnel demonstrated that we have left behind the 'proof texts and selected quotations' approach to Ellen White studies."

Three words focus the work of this workshop: context, continuity, and change. The context for this workshop made it impossible to be just a business-as-usual affair. Since a smaller such workshop was held four years ago, several issues have become more acute: the historical and sociological context for her writings; the variety of ways she used scripture; the development of her thought from 1844-1915; the role of her literary assistants.

The continuing question of her dependence on other authors was dramatized on the eve of the workshop. Although the workshop had been in the planning [stage] for more than a year, the first copies of Walter Rea's The White Lie arrived the evening it began. After the opening of the workshop, Roy Graham, provost of Andrews University, gave an able, if preliminary, oral review of the work.

Continuity in a religious movement is crucial, since denial of its past usually leads to misunderstanding of its present and causes its disintegration. The presence in the workshop of several life-term members of the White Estate board of trustees, including 84-year-old W. P. Bradley, gave continuity to the workshop. Also on hand was 74-year-old Arthur L. White and his younger brother, Francis. Arthur White discussed principles of interpreting Ellen White's writings, the nature and frequency of her visions, and several other topics.

Workshop participants were also conscious that change was taking place in the understanding of Ellen White's role and work. Robert W. Olson, secretary of the White Estate, distributed a 60-page paper that included every document relevant to the perennial "shut door" topic. He also led the group in an exploratory discussion of the role of inspiration in Ellen White's preparation of a monthly "department" in the Health Reformer. It was suggested that homely advice on wearing wigs or tight corsets, written to her husband's stringent editorial deadlines, might not have the same authority as some of her other writings.

Roger Coon, White Estate associate secretary, spoke of the need for candor and openness in providing church members with a basis for confidence. Ron Graybill, White Estate associate secretary, requested that one of his presentations not be taped so that he could speak tentatively about Mrs. White's writing skills and the work of her literary assistants, topics he said needed further research. In that same subject area, a comprehensive collection of source documents relating to Mrs. White's literary assistant Fannie Bolton was published in time to be presented at the workshop.

Graybill also presented the first report on a cooperative research project on the literary and theological relationship between Ellen White's writings and those of Henry Melvill, an Anglican clergyman from whose book of sermons, it is already clear, she drew extensively.

Some time was also given to responding to criticisms and doubts about Ellen White, and to evaluating work which was viewed by some as untenable. Tim Poirier, a research assistant in the White Estate, presented brief but informative papers on the 1907 interview with John Harvey Kellogg and the episode in which Ellen White at first asked for those in doubt to submit their questions to her and then, after a vision, said she was instructed not to answer all of the questions.

Erwin Gane, on leave of absence from Pacific Union College and doing editorial work on new Ellen White compilations, challenged Jonathan Butler's August, 1979 Spectrum article, "The World of Ellen White and the End of the World," by saying that Ellen White's prophecies were unconditioned by her time. For example, her comments on Sunday laws were a forecast, not a reflection on her own era. Drawing on Scripture, she was predicting events that will take place at the end of the world, even if that end did not come in the 19th century.

Jonathan Butler, associate professor of religion and history at Loma Linda University, responded briefly and graciously. He agreed that her writings should be seen as Biblically informed, and not be regarded as merely the product of 19th-century political and social influences. Hers was a spiritual vision. Still it must be remembered that the world she applied Scripture to was a 19th-century world, which in important respects no longer exists, he said.

Jean Zurcher, secretary of the Euro-Africa Division and member of the White Estate board, presented a paper on the Waldenses and Albigenes, disagreeing with Don Casebolt's article on the topic in the February 1981 issue of Spectrum. In the ensuing discussion, some of the historians present said they thought the issues raised by Casebolt remained.

The workshop sought to begin a continuing and unifying conversation. Some in the church may be traumatized by data new to them and be tempted to deny evidence, and claim that no change in their conception of Ellen White is necessary. Those on the other extreme are tempted to declare that Ellen White's writings are entirely explicable in non-supernaturalistic terms and to denounce SDA claims about Ellen White's prophetic gifts as fraudulent. Those at the workshop were committed to fostering a context where change and continuity could maintain a creative tension.

At the workshop an updated eight-page edition of "Documents Available from the Ellen G. White Estate," was made available and may be obtained by writing to the White Estate. This brochure lists over one hundred shelf documents and books. Of particular interest, in view of the release of Walter Rea's The White Lie, are the following available documents presented at the workshop: "A Bibliography of Ellen G. White's Private and Office Libraries," "E. G. White's Literary Work: An Update," "Henry Melvill and Ellen G. White: A Study in Literary and Theological Relationships," "History of the Discovery of Literary Borrowing," "The Fannie Bolton Story: A Collection of Source Documents," and "The 'Shut Door' Documents."


Appendix IV

Understanding the Ongoing Conversation About Ellen White’s Inspiration

Arthur Patrick, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College.
22 July 2007

To understand the brief letter submitted on 19 March 2007 to Ministry and the effervescent, ongoing discussion relating to Ellen White’s inspiration, the reader is invited to note six comments in the light of the articles and papers listed herein.

1. The nine years that Ellen White spent in Australia and New Zealand provide one of the useful windows through which to view her life and writings. See two articles by Arthur Patrick, "Ellen White in Australia: Why Adventists are celebrating the centennial of her arrival," Adventist Review, 12 December 1991; "Ellen White: Mother of the Church in the South Pacific," Adventist Heritage 16, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 30-40. These two articles intimate the enduring value of Ellen White’s prophetic gift and allude to the reasons why there is controversy regarding her inspiration.

2. It is crucial to understand Ellen White’s ministry in the context of Adventist history and recent study, as outlined in "Does our past embarrass us?"  Ministry, April 1991, 7-10. This article offers fourteen points that summarize the change in the Adventist view of Ellen White’s inspiration, resulting from a process that began to accelerate about 1970. These fourteen observations were proposed to the Spirit of Prophecy Resource Committee for Australasia early in the 1980s; they were discussed vigorously over months, amended slightly, and approved by the committee as being correct. Then the committee voted that the data on which they were based and the conclusions they articulated were to be known by the members of the said committee only. Eight years later the fourteen points were embodied in a Ministry article and thus could be considered by the worldwide church. The article evoked extended appreciation but also a dire warning by Elder Joe Crews that it was "dangerous and deceptive." The background, content and assessments of this article illustrate the nature of the processes of change occurring within the church in the latter part of the twentieth century; processes that are now documented far more effectively in several doctoral dissertations.

3. By1997 it was clear that Dr. Alden Thompsons’s volume Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers (1991) and the Adventist Theological Society response to it meant Ellen White’s inspiration required fresh consideration. This need was highlighted by Samuel Koranteng-Pipim’s Receiving the Word (1996), a book that seemed to ignore much of the data with which the church had been wrestling since 1970. I developed a paper entitled "Re-Visioning the Role of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists beyond the Year 2000," and presented it at the annual conference of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies in 1997. Elder Pipim was invited to offer comments; he responded by saying that he was too busy to do so at the time, but would comment as soon as pressures eased. About a year later I again invited his comments. The invitation remains open.

4. This 1997 paper was placed on early in 1998; since then I have received valuable input relating to it from many parts of the world. After I presented the same paper to a different audience (San Diego Forum), Dr. James Stirling summarized it as an article, "Re-Visioning the Role of Ellen White Beyond the Year 2000,"  Adventist Today, March-April 1998, 19-21. Dr. Stirling’s three pages are much more readable than my 34 pages!

5. To summarize the ongoing discussion within the church about Ellen White, two years ago I wrote a review of five then-current books under the title "Prophets Are Human! Are Humans Prophets?" Spectrum 33, no. 2 (Spring 2005), 73-74.

6.  Research relating to Adventist Studies in general and Ellen White Studies in particular is, more and more, being facilitated or supported by electronic technology. For instance, note the source documents made available by General Conference Archives, Ellen G. White Estate, university and senior college websites, as well as responsible sites like sdanet/AtIssue. The plethora of ephemeral and partisan sites make the internet something of a minefield for the initiated. however, so discriminatory reading is essential. Increasingly, teaching faculty in Adventist institutions are placing significant presentations or insightful comments on personal websites; see for example, that presented by Julius Nam at Loma Linda University. Observe the way in which important oral presentations are being made available as well; note for instance, the Oregon Summit presentations by Dr George Knight and others that are available on-line at  While the presentations at an earlier Ellen G. White Summit in the South Pacific Division (2004) are not available online, the presentations were widely reported and helped to evoke at least one passionate book. Research Centers are increasingly aiding research by producing CDs along the lines of those those produced during recent years by the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre that serves the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

7.  This primary aim of this article entitled "The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part I: 1982 in Historical Perspective" is to facilitate the study of this important workshop, list some of the materials that contextualize it and that may help to resolve some of the issues the church faces in 2007 relating to Ellen White’s life and writings. Anyone who wishes further background reading about Ellen White’s inspiration may find it useful to check the Ellen White topic menu on the At Issue site: noting, for instance, the short summary entitled "Surfing the Ellen White Information Wave in 2006" "Surfing the Ellen White Information Wave in 2006" and other articles of a similar nature available there. A forthcoming article, "The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part II," will aim to build on this foundation by offering a fuller treatment of the matters embraced in its title.


1  See "The inspiration and authority of the Ellen G. White writings: A statement of present understanding," Adventist Review, 15 July 1982, 3: 23 December 1982, 9; Ministry, August 1982, 21; February 1983, 24: Australasian Record, 22 January 1983, 6. [Ministry magazine archive index page . [back]

2  Six of many dates illustrate the importance of conference-style events: 1919, 1952, 1978, 1982, 2002, 2006. [back]

3  Note the way in which Spectrum magazine, the quarterly journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, in the four articles listed below from the Autumn 1970 issue, initiated the discussion that continues in 2007.  Ellen White: A Subject for Adventist Scholarship, by Roy Branson and Herold D. Weiss,; Divine Revelation: A Review of Some of Ellen White’s Concepts, by Frederick E. J. Harder,; A Textual and Historical Study of Ellen White’s Account of the French Revolution, by William S. Peterson,; The "Spirit of Prophecy" by Richard B. Lewis,  [back]

4  Observe the writings of Ingemar Linden, Ronald Numbers, Walter Rea, and Gregory Hunt, along with those of many other authors of similar significance. [back]

5  See Merlin D. Burt, "Overview and Brief Critique of Publications on Ellen G. White’s Writings and Prophetic Ministry: 1976-2006" (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate World Advisory, October 12-15, 2006). [back]

6  Robert W. Olson, compiler, "Periodical Articles Concerning Inspiration, Ellen G. White, and Adventist History" (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1986); Roger W. Coon, "Anthology of Recently Published Articles on Selected Issues in Prophetic Guidance (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University). Coon’s anthology was developed over a period of years; its seventh (revised and enlarged) edition was in two volumes: Vol.1: 1980-1988, Vol. 2: 1989-1991. [back]

7  Overviews of some of the crucial literature are offered in three items that I completed during 2006: "Adventist Studies: An Annotated Introduction for Higher Degree Students" (Avondale College, May 2006); "Adventist Studies Since 1986: Fractious Adolescent or Maturing Adult?" (Faculty Colloquium: Avondale College, 24 October 2006); "Contextualizing Tensions in Seventh-day Adventism: ‘a constant process of struggle and rebirth’?" (article submitted to the editors of a refereed journal, 26 November 2006). [back]

8  During 1982, I reflected on the IPGW in four articles and five hours of lectures prepared for conference/union conference ministerial meetings. The oral presentations were scripted as "The Minister and the Ministry of Ellen G. White in 1982," October 1982, 60 pages. This paper attempts to facilitate an understanding of the workshop after a lapse of 25 years. [back]

9  I thank Dr. James Stirling for his apt summary of my address, "Re-Visioning the Role of Ellen White Beyond the Year 2000," Adventist Today, March/April 1998, 19-21. For the full text of the address, see the printed papers from the Adventist Society for Religion Studies annual meeting in San Francisco (1997), or [back]

10  In an important sense the standard questions of this genre were introduced by Uriah Smith’s volume The Visions of Mrs E.G. White (1868), a work sold enthusiastically by James White at camp meetings. The discussion of such questions was climaxed in an important way by Francis Nichol’s larger, widely vetted publication (Ellen G. White and Her Critics, 1951). [back]

11  Donald R. McAdams, "Shifting Views of Inspiration: Ellen G. White Studies in the 1970s," Spectrum 10, no. 4 (March 1980), 27-41.   [back]

12  The revised and enlarged edition was entitled Prophetess of Health: Ellen G. White and the Origins of Seventh-day Adventist Health Reform (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992). Another edition is anticipated in the near future. [back]

13  George Reid, A Sound of Trumpets: Americans, Adventists, and Health Reform (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982), 171. [back]

14  The Biblical Research Institute’s initiative was planned May 14-16, 1980. "Minutes of the Board of Trustees of Ellen G. White Estate" dated 20 June 1980 list the 21 topics under four headings and record it was voted "That the White Estate concur with the BRI in recognizing the importance of such a project and that we cooperate fully with BRI, making our resources available to their researchers." The church’s rationale for the project is explained in two articles written by General Conference president Neal C. Wilson:  "This I believe about Ellen G. White," Adventist Review, 20 March 1980, 8-10; "The Ellen G. White writings and the church" 9 July 1981, 4-7. [back]

15 It is instructive to compare the literary, historical, scientific, theological, hermeneutical, and methodological issues that the Biblical Research Institute listed for study during its meeting at Andrews University, 14-16 May 1980, with the official list of "Documents Presented at the International prophetic Guidance Workshop" dated October 1982. [back]

16  Cf. Robert J. Wieland, "Ellen White’s Inspiration; Authentic and Profound," Australasian Record, 31 May 1982, 9, with Arthur Patrick, "The Desire of Ages: Under the Microscope,"Australasian Record, 15 April 1989, 6-7, , the comprehensive Veltman study of The Desire of Ages, and also the more general study done by EGW Estate personnel,   The wide variation in the figures cited by various researchers shows that any final analysis of the evidence for claimed "dependency" needs take into consideration  such things as researcher bias, methods used, standards for measuring "dependency," and language used in reporting conclusions.   Recent studies should be evaluated fully as part of the ongoing discussion.  See for example, Kevin Morgan, "A Quick View of the Life of Christ Research Project (1980-1988),"  See also David Conklin's color-coded  parallels which emphasize the sparsity of actual parallel verbatim phrasing between EGW's volumes and the identified "source" volumes.  These offer another perspective on the claimed evidence for "dependency," and call for examination of the setting in which these words occur in both the EGW volume and the claimed "source" volumes. . [back]

17  See Arthur N. Patrick, "Does our past embarrass us? " Ministry: International Journal for Clergy, April 1991, 7-10.  [back]

18  See Letters, "A dangerous, deceptive article," Ministry, August 1991, 2, included at the end of the above url. [back]

19  Go to; note also the online report by Trevor Lloyd, "The Gift of Prophecy Revisited: A Report from Sydney, Australia, reporting the meeting of the Sydney Adventist Forum held on 2 June 2007,; Cf. the discussion by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi relating to his newsletter no. 172 on "Ellen White and the Future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,"  [back]

20  See Victor Cooper, "Prophetic Guidance Workshop," Adventist Review, 15 April 1982; Roger W. Coon, "First International Prophetic Guidance Workshop is held," Adventist Review, 20 May 1982, 16-19; Arthur N. Patrick and Arthur N. Duffy, "Prophetic Guidance Workshop," Australasian Record, 28 June 1982, 13. [back]

21  Note Bonnie Dwyer, "Saving Ellen White: An Interview with Graeme Bradford," Spectrum 35, no. 2 (Spring 2007), 42-46. [back]

22  I cannot recall that any presenter at the 1982 workshop questioned the inspiration of Ellen White’s prophetic writings; rather, the emphasis was upon how to understand her inspiration and faithfully apply it. This important subject is best understood from consideration of all the known examples of White’s inspired writings, such as the great controversy narratives written between 1858 and her death, and the development of her writings on major themes such as health, education, and mission. These writings do more than portray an inspired Ellen White; they present an inspiring, spiritually-gifted person whose spiritual giftedness nurtures the spiritual gifts of the community to which she ministered. Observe the context within which Graeme Bradford cites the proposal that Ellen White should be "our guide but not our jailer, our shield, not our straightjacket," More Than A Prophet (Berrien Springs: Biblical Perspectives), 218. [back]

23  Barney Zwartz, "Jesus walks into a bar," The Sydney Morning Herald, Easter Weekend Edition News Review, April 6-8, 2007, 17, 20. [back]

24  Cf. Daneen Akers, "Writing a Prophet: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Red Books, a New Play about Ellen White," and Adrian Zytkoskee, "Red Books: Our Search for Ellen White," Spectrum 35, no. 2 (Spring 2007), 49-53; 54-55. Some of the ground rules that will facilitate this "apologetic" task are enunciated by John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). [back]

25  The document emphasizes the primacy of Scripture; cf. the concern expressed by Stephen Chavez, "Are we still Protestant?" Adventist Review, 22 March 2007. [back]

Arthur Patrick, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College
22 July 2007

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