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The Inspired and Inspiring Ellen White, Part 2:1
Assessing Five Examples of the Documented Evidence

by Arthur Patrick



Part 1 of this study suggests that the attendees at the first International Prophetic Guidance Workshop (1982) acknowledged and began to interpret information about the inspiration of Ellen White’s writings that was largely unavailable or unknown to most researchers even two or three decades previously. This article (as Part 2 of the study) briefly describes five examples of this evidence before claiming that such information illumines the current discussion of Ellen White’s spiritual giftedness and offers guidelines for the proper use of her writings by individual Seventh-day Adventists and by the church as a corporate entity.


I was one of about seventy attendees at the first International Prophetic Guidance Workshop that convened at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1982). This article, therefore, may have the strengths and suffer from the biases of any report about an epochal event written by an observer-participant. A short description of the baggage that I carried to the Workshop may help the reader understand my view of it at the time as well as now, a quarter-century later.

I began pastoral-evangelistic ministry in 1958, and nurtured a special interest in Adventist history during the conflicts that were occurring at that time in New Zealand. During graduate study under the auspices of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at extension schools that convened in Australia (1957-8, and 1965), plus on-campus study in Berrien Springs (1970-1972), I focused as much as was allowable upon research relating to Adventist history and thought, from Millerite times to the 1970s. My background in ministry (New Zealand, the United States) and formal study (M.A., M.Div. in Berrien Springs; D.Min. in Indianapolis) was known to and considered by church leaders when they appointed me as the founding director of Australasia’s Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre (1976). Thereafter, with primary sources relating to Adventist history and thought more readily available, I tried to offer honest answers to the host of new questions that Adventists began to ask during the effervescence of the 1970s.

While I valued attendance at the workshop for White Estate employees and research centre personnel that convened in Washington during 1978, I viewed the 1982 event as far more significant due to its fuller grasp of the contemporary issues, the wealth of documentary evidence it provided attendees (941 pages, mostly in typescript), and the oral discussions that it facilitated (recorded on cassettes). Now, twenty-five years after the 1982 Workshop, it is apparent that the evidence acknowledged there (now available in the church’s research facilities that serve various regions of the world) impacts the current discussion of Ellen White’s inspiration in a dramatic way.2

Therefore, this article will select arbitrarily five examples of this evidence (many others could be included) and suggest how such data inform the 2007 discussion of Ellen White’s writings. I believe that Ellen White’s writings are inspired by God and crucial in the life and witness of individual Adventists and the church. More specifically, this article will seek to forward the discussion of how the available information suggests her writings should and should not be used.

Example I: The Great Controversy Narrative

The story of Ellen White’s panoramic view of the conflict between good and evil is told often in Adventist literature. Herbert Douglass recounts it succinctly:

At Lovett’s Grove, Ohio, mid-March 1858, after her husband preached a funeral sermon, she was bearing her testimony on the cheery hope of the Second Advent. Then, she wrote later, "I was wrapt in a vision of God’s glory." For the next two hours she remained in vision as those in the crowded schoolhouse watched with avid interest. That Lovett’s Grove vision has become known as "the great controversy vision."3

Before me as I write is the volume Ellen G. White wrote in 1858, entitled Spiritual Gifts. The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels, published by James White, printed by the Steam Press at the Review and Herald Office, Battle Creek, Michigan. This book’s 219 tiny pages begin with "The Fall of Satan" and, 41 chapters later, end with "The Second Death." It was a large printing project for an as-yet unnamed movement and its small press.

Ellen White’s voluminous writings from 1858 until her death in 1915 focused on the "Great Controversy Theme" more than any other topic. Her exposition included many periodical articles, further content in her Spiritual Gifts volumes (1864), her four-volume Spirit of Prophecy series (1870-1884), her five-volume Conflict of the Ages series (1890-1917), plus uncounted allusions and references in letters, manuscripts, and other books. Douglass cites, approvingly, Joseph Battistone’s suggestion that "this central theme directly affected her religious teachings in theology, health, education, history, and science" (264).

A crucial question that must be asked about this huge volume of written material concerns what was given to Ellen White versus what was derived from her wide reading, conversations with others, travels, and more. From her writings and those of her contemporaries, especially statements by her son William ("Willie") Clarence White (1854-1937), we learn that her visions usually came in the form of "scenes," "views," "representations," or "flashlight pictures." In other words, her visionary experience in 1848 (when the first Great Controversy panorama was given to her) and 1858 (when she was commissioned to report the major vision in writing) may have been something like ours in watching a feature film on a theatre screen or as a DVD.

During 2007, Signs of the Times in the South Pacific Division and the United States published five articles that I wrote about stalwart Christian leaders who stood for biblical truth amidst difficult circumstances: Wycliffe, Tyndale, Huss, Luther, and Bonhoeffer. I found it very helpful to watch DVDs about such historical figures as an important but small part of the research that lies behind the 1500 words I wrote about each of them. In addition to viewing DVDs, I needed to go to many historical sources to determine when and where these individuals lived, details of their life experiences, the identity of both their principal supporters and enemies, the nature and content of their major writings, and the way they influenced the course of human history.4

That process helps me to understand Ellen White’s experience in writing about the far larger number of biblical and historical characters that she discusses (often in much more detail than my articles do) within her Great Controversy writings. It was absolutely necessary for her to consult the writings of many other Adventist and non-Adventist authors, in order to adequately describe the "scenes" she had witnessed, even though some "views" were repeated more than once. The evidence is abundant that the panoramas of her visions gave her the theme but not the detail required for her written accounts. This understanding creates a context for her years of diligent toil between 1858 and 1915. During those fifty-seven years she greatly expanded the detail of her narrative, far beyond that she gives in the first telling of the story. To follow both the historical development of Adventism and the maturation of Ellen White’s literary work is to see clearly the need for the major revisions of the 1884 book that is much like the one we call The Great Controversy; these revisions were effected especially in the editions copyrighted in 1888, 1907, and 1911.

Divine inspiration gave Ellen White the idea, the theme, the outline, or "the big picture" for her magnificent telling of the conflict between Christ and Satan. I cannot conceive how she could have worked this out for herself, unaided.5 Human "perspiration" filled out the detail; this she could achieve with diligence and the help of the spiritual community that she served so effectively. God met the need of the Adventist Church by His gift to us through Ellen White, what we now often refer to as The Great Controversy Theme. He chose not to present this to His chosen messenger in the ways some Adventists appear to wish: word for word, as some kind of text message, or as an encyclopedic history. Her supernatural experience was the foundation; the communication of its message required hard work by a diligent, spiritually-gifted author and her associates.

The 1982 Workshop attendees knew this background history far better than any other group of Adventist believers who had conferred together since 1919. Probably most of them had read as least some of the transcripts of the 1919 conversations that engaged administrators, Bible, and history teachers who had worked with Ellen White during part of her long lifetime (1827-1915). They had read or at least were aware of the research listed in Donald McAdams’ excellent review of Ellen White studies during the 1970s, including the Arthur White papers on what he called "a factual view of inspiration." One of the important studies of the era was a doctoral dissertation by Frederick Harder who concluded that Ellen White "was not writing history, she was interpreting it." Indeed, Harder suggested that "the history was learned by ordinary means, but the activity of God in the historical situation was seen by revelation." McAdams also reported results from his own detailed study of Ellen White’s handwritten draft that later became her published account of John Huss. This study made it abundantly clear where she obtained the historical data and the way in which she used it: "the objective and mundane historical narrative was based on the work of historians, not visions."6

Due to this background, many attendees at the Workshop in 1982 were ready to appreciate Robert Olson’s clear and helpful presentation in a nine-page paper, "The Question of Inerrancy in Inspired Writings," and to recognize the reality of "historical difficulties in The Great Controversy" as presented earlier by Ronald Graybill. During November 1982, I wrote down for researchers a two-page list of documents that were available in the research centre that was under my care at that time. I suggested that these documents, "taken together, give some guidance in understanding how the Seventh-day Adventist Church relates to the question of inspiration in general and the matter of inerrancy in particular."7  

In summary, the Workshop of 1982 marked for me a high point in the church’s long struggle to affirm the reality of Ellen White’s inspiration at the same time as it recognized her writings were not (as had so often had been claimed) inerrant. However, her writings were exactly what the church needed as it struggled to understand from Scripture its place in the plan of God: its identity and mission.8  


 Example II: The Harmony of the Gospels Issue

My mother gave me a wide-margin Bible in 1954, during my first year as a BA (Theology) student at Avondale College. Of the twenty subjects required over four years for graduation, one of my favourites was entitled "Life and Teaching of Jesus," a year-long study of the four Gospels using Ellen White’s 1898 classic The Desire of Ages as a main textbook. I already cherished The Desire of Ages, not least because when quarantined with mumps I had read its 835 pages in a few days. Therefore, I relished the opportunity to mine its treasures more thoroughly under the stimulus of academic assignments. With the aid of a mapping pen and Indian ink, I made copious notes in the generous margins of my Bible. I used a number of harmonies of the four Gospels, as well as many commentaries, but the detailed notes reflected mainly what Ellen White wrote about Jesus. Often my focus was upon details such as the chronology of our Lord’s ministry and the sequence of events between His birth and His ascension.

On 17 November 1957 I graduated from college with a great certainty about how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John fitted together because I had used The Desire of Ages to correct all the harmonies and commentaries to which I had access. Ellen White alone, I believed, had an absolute understanding of Christ’s life in all its details, including such matters as the sequence of events and the chronology of His ministry. However, after thirteen years of college and ministry, the binding of my expensive Bible no longer held the worn pages together. With a keen sense of bereavement I ceased using it. (Recently, I donated it to an Adventist Heritage Centre.)

Not until 1978, two years after I became director of the Ellen White/SDA Research Centre located at Avondale College, did I even begin to understand that for more than two decades I had seriously misunderstood and greatly misused The Desire of Ages. Elder Arthur White was my teacher in the Seminary Extension School of 1957-8; I cherished his guidance as my first mentor in my role at the Research Centre from 1976. Then Dr. Robert Olson replaced Elder White as Secretary of Ellen G. White Estate, so that Elder White could devote more of his time to the six-volume biography of his grandmother. During those years we were all discovering fresh insights, especially as we explored Ellen White’s unpublished manuscripts and letters in the light of the new questions that were being asked. On 23 May 1979, Dr. Olson and Elder Ronald Graybill released a 47-page study for distribution as a "Shelf Document," entitled "How The Desire of Ages Was Written." The first seven pages were "An Introductory Statement" followed by "exhibits," arranged chronologically, beginning in 1858 and extending to 1936.

Those 47 pages are a rich source of data about how to understand Ellen White as a dedicated, diligent, inspired writer on the life and teachings of Jesus. Never did she claim to know so many of the things that I believed her writings defined with absolute precision. "Send books, red-covered Jewish Antiquities and the Bible Dictionary. Is Night Scenes of the Bible there? If so, send it," she wrote in Letter 60, 1878. "Tell Mary to find me some histories of the Bible that could give me the order of events, I have nothing and can find nothing in the library here" (Letter 38, 1885). On 16 January 1887, Willie White (Ellen White’s longest-serving and most-trusted advisor after the death of her husband in 1881) ordered for her a list of books including Hanna’s Life of Christ and "a good harmony of the gospels." Then he added: "She ought to have a copy of the latest and best Bible dictionary." On 23 November 1896 Marian Davis, Ellen White’s principal "bookmaker," wrote to the publisher of The Desire of Ages re "Transposition of Chapters."

In the order of chapters we followed Andrews’ Harmony, as given in his life of Christ. He is generally regarded as the very best authority, and is quoted by leading writers. We know of no better arrangement than his. (The year between the first and second Passover seems to have been a period of comparative quiet and seclusion; that between the second and third, of activity and publicity.) Those who read the MS, Professor Prescott and Sister Burnham, agreed with our arrangement. We would not like to see this chapter transposed.

Just before The Desire of Ages was published, Marian Davis wrote as follows, on 15 June 1898:

In the preface, would it be well to state, in some way that this book is not a harmony of the gospels, that it does not attempt to teach chronology. Its purpose is to present the love of God, the divine beauty of the life of Christ, and not to satisfy the questioning of critics. The above may not be the best way to put it. It is intended only as a suggestion.

Such basic information was well known to at least a majority of the attendees at the Workshop in 1982. Thus, as the recorded sessions demonstrate at length, the delegates were able to apply such insights whenever Ellen White’s use of sources and other matters relevant to the fuller understanding of her inspiration came under discussion. The delegates did identify, as a major need, a detailed paper on the ways in which Ellen White’s literary assistants supported her work. Of course, much more is now known about this important subject.9

Had I known, during the first two decades of my ministry, about such important information that now enables the church to offer a coherent understanding of Ellen White’s inspiration, years of fruitless toil may have been avoided. It was my duty to do in the 1950s what Ellen White and her associates did during the 1890s: use the best sources available to understand Christ’s life and teachings in all its dimensions. Moreover, many of my sermons and Bible studies should have focused more fully on "the love of God" and "the divine beauty of the life of Christ" instead of declaring authoritatively matters that were not germane to Ellen White’s purpose.10

While the data referred to in this article are now widely available throughout the world, these pieces of information are either not known to or are being ignored by many Adventists who continue to misuse the writings of Ellen White in the same way that I did from the 1950s to the 1970s.


Example III: Prescott as a Consultant on Scripture and History

The present understanding of Ellen White’s life and writings is enriched by the testimony of those who worked closely with her during the seventy years of her public ministry (1844-1915). A host of important names might be mentioned in this regard, along with letters these people wrote and the books, doctoral dissertations and other studies that detail the evidence that they have left behind. Some of these individuals are well known; they include close relatives of Ellen White (in particular, James and Willie White), church leaders (such as George I. Butler, Arthur G. Daniells, William A. Spicer), literary assistants (among them Fanny Bolton, Marian Davis). However, there are many others whose voices must be heard; some important witnesses are still not widely known.

Only one example of the many is cited here to illustrate the value that we derive from this type of testimony. William Warren Prescott was born of Millerite parents in 1855 and lived until 1944. He had more opportunities for education than most Adventists of his era; for instance, he was already teaching Greek while still a student. By thirty years of age, when he accepted the presidency of Battle Creek College, Prescott was an experienced teacher and editor. His long and very public service thereafter involved him in administering and founding educational institutions, editing the Review and Herald, world travel, teaching, writing, and engagement in various aspects of church leadership. Prescott was a close associate of six General Conference presidents.

Since the publication (Spectrum, May 1979) of some of the transcripts of the 1919 discussions amongst Adventist leaders, Prescott’s understanding of Ellen White’s ministry has become better known. Most importantly, Gilbert Valentine has written a doctoral dissertation on Prescott that is so detailed it is bound in two large volumes. Valentine’s dissertation informed his major book on The Shaping of Adventism (1992), recently republished in amended form (2005).11

Prescott’s long career demonstrates the potential value for the church of an inquiring mind at the same time as it illustrates how an intensely loyal leader can be misunderstood by some of his contemporaries. Due to Prescott’s stature as a scholar, Ellen White and her literary helpers valued his counsel highly. More than fifty of his suggestions for the updating of The Great Controversy were adopted for the 1911 edition. When Ellen White and her associates were struggling with historical issues discussed in the Old Testament book of Ezra, Willie White and Clarence Crisler appealed to Prescott for his assistance.12

The broad and deep understanding of Prescott that Dr. Valentine’s research affords also enables us to interpret a highly important letter that Prescott wrote to Willie White during 1915. Dr.Valentine, in a recent journal article, explores the context and import of this letter thoroughly.13 Several conclusions are evident from a careful perusal of this article. The difficulties Adventists now face in understanding Ellen White’s inspiration are not new. The people who were close to Ellen White during her lifetime understood the issues well but they found it difficult to share their fuller understanding of Ellen White’s inspiration with the Adventist community. An appreciation of this history and its comparative complexity was crucial at the 1982 Workshop when in a major presentation Dr. Roger Coon highlighted the fact that most Adventists probably have an "impaired" view of inspiration.


Example IV: Olson and the Shut Door Teaching

From the vantage point of 2008, it is hard to imagine the intensity of the discussion about the Shut Door that stirred the church during much of the twentieth century. When Nichol wrote his monumental Ellen G. White and Her Critics in 1951, the issue was so important that he devoted ninety of his 703 pages to it. Nichol’s eloquent defence of Ellen White attempted to build an impregnable wall around her.14 Unfortunately, despite his best endeavours, the wall soon started to crumble and within two decades it was as ineffective as the historic walls of London were when the city was attacked by airplanes. A European researcher, Ingemar Linden, in a doctoral dissertation and a book was one of those who demonstrated the relevance of information that Nichol did not include in his discussion. Adventism was in a dynamic period of its development, not least due to the fact that its archives were being better organised, more effectively indexed, and thoroughly searched.

To read Arthur White’s writings of the 1970s is to note that the Shut Door was one of a cluster of issues that refused to move from the centre of the discussion about Ellen White. As one example: we had become accustomed to reading Early Writings without realising that its text was edited to remove concepts that the growing movement no longer found applicable. The inspiring chapter entitled "My First Vision" recounts Ellen Harmon’s encouragement that Jesus was still leading the disappointed Millerites toward the Kingdom of God.

But soon some grew weary, and said the city was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising His glorious right arm, and from His arm came a light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted, "Alleluia!" Others rashly denied the light behind them and said it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out, leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus, and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below. Soon we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus coming.

This inspired vision gave the fledgling movement a presiding symbol that was of immense importance for its early development and remains instructive for us all these years later. However, some Adventists are still surprised when they read Ellen Harmon’s earliest accounts of the story.

But soon some grew weary, and they said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising his glorious right arm and from his arm came a glorious light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted Hallelujah! Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected. They fell all the way along the path one after another, until we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus’ coming.

The first of these accounts is quoted from Early Writings copyrighted in 1882 and 1945. The second is from a broadside written by "ELLEN G. HARMON, PORTLAND, April 6, 1846," entitled "TO THE LITTLE REMNANT SCATTERED ABROAD." The differences in the quoted portions are more profound than the "softening" of the charismatic "Hallelujah" to the more sedate "Alleluia." The earlier account obviously is written in a context where the early Adventists believed that those who left Millerism were eternally lost and that non-Millerites were rejected by God.

It was a dramatic occasion for me when, at the 1982 Workshop, Dr. Robert Olson presented a 58-page compilation entitled "The 'Shut Door' Documents: Statements Relating to the 'Shut Door,' the Door of Mercy, and the Salvation of Souls, by Ellen G. White and Other Early Adventists, Arranged in a Chronological Setting from 1844 to 1851." This compilation, along with what Olson termed "Occasional Commentary," gave the church convenient and more comprehensive access to the statements about a crucial aspect of its early doctrinal development, thereby stimulating movement from a vigorous denial of evidence to the coherent interpretation of evidence.

Ellen White’s first vision gave the infant church a powerful and constructive symbol to cherish on its journey of faith. She and the community she served grew in understanding, as the disciples did after the crucifixion of Jesus. It was clear from the outset that her writings are not inerrant, despite the expectations of so many Adventists. It is also evident that she was a dedicated servant of God who moved forward, step-by-step, as her visions, Bible study and interactions with fellow believers enlarged her understanding of truth and duty. Elsewhere I claim that Ellen White’s ability to grow in understanding and even change important ideas mark her as a truly creative person.15

Example V: Health Reform from the Workshop to McMahon

Most of the attendees at the 1982 Workshop were raised with the belief that Ellen White’s writings on health were far in advance of other nineteenth-century health reformers and required no revision of details. Such concepts were reinforced as recently as 1971, with the publication of Medical Science and the Spirit of Prophecy that quoted a medical doctor as saying after nineteen years in practice:

I have not had to change one medical idea that I have gotten from the writings of Mrs. E. G. White, but all my medical books have had to be replaced with up-to-date versions based on more modern medical research.16

Such understandings were challenged by the first detailed study of Ellen White as a health reformer to be undertaken by a trained historian. A teacher at Loma Linda University, Dr. Ronald Numbers suggested that his book, published in 1976, was the first to neither praise nor blame Ellen White but simply to try and understand her. Looking back, we can see clearly that in the 1970s the church was discovering much historical information that related to Ellen White’s inspiration. The church could not, at the time, offer Dr. Numbers a coherent concept of her inspiration that embraced the data he had discovered. This reality is mentioned here simply to highlight the fact that many of the attendees at the 1982 Workshop were very aware of the significance of the 1970s studies relating to Ellen White’s writings on health: they had read Dr. Numbers book, two White Estate reviews of it, and other material about the historical development of Adventist concepts of health reform.

To assist the discussion at the Workshop, exhibits from Ellen White’s articles in the Health Reformer were provided to attendees, demonstrating clearly that many of her statements did not accord with health science of the 1980s. It was at that time that I developed a fourteen-point analysis of how the freshly-discovered information changed the church’s earlier understandings. For instance, prior to the 1970s, most believers would have accepted with little or no hesitation the claim that Ellen White’s "writings on health placed Seventh-day Adventists on vantage ground by relating bodily health to spiritual well-being and by pointing out numerous paths to right living." However, with the kind of data that was before the Workshop attendees in 1982, this sentence needed re-phrasing along the following lines: "Her writings on health placed Seventh-day Adventists on vantage ground by relating bodily health to spiritual well-being and by pointing out numerous paths to right living, even though she reflected some of the ideas of her Adventist and non-Adventist contemporaries." When a South Pacific Division sub-committee heard the evidence that I presented to it, the members agreed that the word "incorrect" fitted the evidence. Thus, ideally, the sentence would include that descriptor in this way: "some of the incorrect ideas of her Adventist and non-Adventist contemporaries." In the editorial process, Ministry understandably softened the expression slightly.17

Two decades later, Adventists started to became aware of important research by an Australian specialist medical practitioner, Don McMahon. I have discussed McMahon’s findings in a Spectrum article and elsewhere, so I will not repeat the detail here, except to quote one sentence: "The what statements in Spiritual Gifts (1864) may have a 96 percent congruence with twenty-first-century medical opinion; some 38 percent of its why statements are considered verified by the same standard."18 The conclusion is evident, to my mind: God entrusted Ellen White with counsel that helped Adventists develop their health message, thereby enhancing their longevity and quality of life and, as well, supporting their mission. However, this supernatural help did not negate the value of medical science that would, over time, far more fully describe the reasons why Ellen White’s lifestyle recommendations were so valuable. Her inspiration met a specific need despite the scientific errors that occur in her writings on health matters. The 1982 Workshop attendees wrestled with disquieting evidence that Ellen White’s writings on health are not inerrant; it took another two decades for Adventists to understand this reality more coherently.19


After his very detailed study of Ellen White’s writing about John Huss, Donald McAdams shared his convictions clearly and cogently.

I believed when I wrote "Ellen G. White and the Protestant Historians," and still do, that the evidence is compatible with Ellen White’s statements claiming inspiration regarding historical events and describing her use of protestant historians. A belief that God revealed to Ellen White the activities of Christ and His angels and Satan and his angels in the great-controversy struggle, along with occasional flashlight views of historical events with explanations about the spiritual significance of those events, is compatible with the evidence. A belief that God showed Ellen White one historical scene after another making up the continuous historical narrative that appears in The Great Controversy is not."20

This quotation intimates the fact that 34 years ago, after a very detailed examination of the evidence relating to Ellen White’s experience in writing The Great Controversy, a reputable Adventist historian expressed a then-fresh and still-valid understanding of her inspiration. The view of Dr. Donald McAdams derived from his study of the Huss narrative coheres with a huge body of evidence from within Ellen White’s writings about other matters: the Life of Christ, Adventist teachings (for example, our change from the Shut Door concept to that of Global Mission), health, and so on. In addition, it needs to be said that McAdams already, even at that early stage in the widening discussion, had some important insights about the role of Ellen White’s literary assistants and advisors.

So far this two-part study has focused only on how to understand the inspired Ellen White in the light of the evidence that has been part of the Adventist discussion since the 1970s, data that was before the attendees at the 1982 Prophetic Guidance Workshop. But the title of this article also suggests there is a need to understand and appreciate the inspiring Ellen White. She used the best sources and advice that was available to her in explicating the Great Controversy Theme, in writing on the Life of Christ, in exegeting the book of Ezra, in expressing Adventist beliefs, and in describing how to live healthfully.21 Her example inspires us now, in the 21st Century, to invest similar diligence and commitment to that she demonstrated as we use wisely and well the more abundant resources that are available in our time and place. Ellen White’s spiritual gift enhances our ability to understand the message and engage in the mission God has given Seventh-day Adventists in these last days of earth’s history.22 It does not encourage spiritual laziness on our part.


1 It may be helpful for those who read this article to be aware that it is written for those Adventists who honestly want to understand the present discussion of Ellen White’s inspiration but who do not themselves possess the historical documents that illumine this important topic. Therefore, while this article is brief and simple, it does refer to some of the crucial sources that may be consulted on the topic. Those who want more detailed information are invited to read at least some of a hundred other items I have written that offer much more data about every aspect of the contemporary discussion. Some of those other articles are listed in the online SDA Periodical Index, under my name; the full text of a selection of my articles is available on [back]

2 I thank Dr. William G. Johnsson (an assistant to the General Conference President) for sharing a draft of an appendix (entitled "The 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop") that he has written for the book being edited by Dr. Merlin Burt. Dr. Burt reported on the forthcoming book in the January 2008 Newsletter of the Biblical Research Institute. [back]

3 Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1998), 128; cf. 131, 445-454, 264. [back]

4 See [back]

5 The reader might note a thesis of the 1960s that detailed Ellen White’s use of Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as the more recent volume by Gregory Boyd that explores the "God at War" issue.  [back]

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

7 See "The Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Question of Inerrancy," 16 November 1982, two pages. It is important to explore the relationship between the concept of inerrancy and other issues, including that of authority. For an excellent historical analysis of the Adventist struggle to be truly Protestant and to faithfully apply Ellen White’s writings, see George R. Knight, "Visions and the Word: The Authority of Ellen G. White in Relationship to the Authority of Scripture in the Seventh-day Adventist Movement," Adventist Today 15, no. 6, at .  See also, the much earlier paper by Bert Haloviak (c. 1980), "Ellen White and the SDA Church", at in which he gives a very similar historical analysis of different views toward the work of Ellen White during and in the years immediately following her death.  (also available at the GC Archives site, at  [back]

8 To understand these matters more fully, the reader may consult the text and the sources listed in such of my papers as "Ellen White and South Pacific Adventism: Retrospect and Prospect," delivered at the Ellen White Summit convened by the South Pacific Division at Avondale College, February 2-5, 2004. That paper is one of those available on SDAnet/AtIssue, .  [back]

9 For example, note Messenger of the Lord, 444-465; ( ) also, consult the Index (pages 580-586) to locate comments about Ellen White’s literary assistants such as Fanny Bolton and Marian Davis. Cf. "How The Desire of Ages Was Written" with the Valentine article discussed below. [back]

10  I now interpret The Desire of Ages in terms of Ellen White’s conception of its theme; see, for instance, page 22. Her book is about how to fall in love with God as revealed in Jesus.

11 See Gilbert Murray Valentine, "William Warren Prescott: Seventh-day Adventist Educator," (PhD diss., Andrews University, 1982), 660 pages; Gilbert M. Valentine, The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W.W. Prescott (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1992); Gilbert M. Valentine, W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2005).  [back]

12 The need at that time for a comprehensive statement on Ellen White’s inspiration is evident from the contents of "The Blue Book," the popular name for A RESPONSE TO AN URGENT TESTIMONY from Mrs. Ellen G. White CONCERNING Contradictions, Inconsistencies and Other Errors in Her Writings (Battle Creek, Mich.: The Liberty Missionary Society, 1907). A copy of this rare publication was loaned to me on 11 December 2007; I read its 89 pages within the next 24 hours as part of the process of checking sources relevant to this article. It would be difficult to over-estimate the relevance of Dr. Valentine’s research for those who want to assemble a sustainable understanding of Ellen White’s inspiration. [back]

13 See Gilbert M. Valentine, "The Church 'drifting toward a crisis': Prescott's 1915 Letter to William White," Catalyst 2, no.1 (November 2007), 32-96;  (or I will not summarise this most-recent of Valentine’s articles here, since it is readily available to everyone who has Internet access. [back]

14 See Francis D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics: An Answer to the Major Charges That Critics Have Brought Against Mrs. Ellen G. White (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1951). [back]

15  See "Ellen White Yesterday and Today," [back]

16 See Medical Science and the Spirit of Prophecy (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1971), 3-4. The booklet was prepared in the offices of The Ellen G. White Estate, Incorporated. [back]

 17 See Arthur N. Patrick, "Does our past embarrass us?" Ministry, April 1991, 7-10. ( http://www.sdanet/atissue/white/documents/embarrass.htm ) [back]

18 Arthur Patrick, "Prophets Are Human! Are Humans Prophets?" Spectrum 33, issue 2 (Spring 2005), 71-2. Cf. my paper entitled "Ellen Gould White: Pioneer of Adventist Health Emphases," . [back]

19 I thank Dr. Don McMahon for sharing with me summaries of his ongoing research relating to Ellen White’s writings on health. Dr. McMahon’s current investigations hone his earlier reports made in typescript, books, and CDs. It is my conviction that his findings are congruent with an array of other evidence relating to Ellen White’s inspiration. [back]

20  McAdams, "Shifting Views," 34; cf. his 244-page manuscript entitled "Ellen G. White and the Protestant Historians: The Evidence from an Unpublished Manuscript on John Huss," dated March 1974.  [back]

21 Some of these sources are deeply flawed from our perspective in Century 21. For instance, Uriah Smith was not a trained historian; therefore, because Ellen White followed his narrative of the French Revolution closely, her account requires extensive revision. But Smith’s description of such events was the best that was immediately available to Ellen White as she drafted The Great Controversy. We can (and must!) do much better with such history than was possible in her setting, remembering she was not writing history; rather, she was interpreting history in terms of the panorama that was disclosed to her mind. [back]

22At the Questions on Doctrine 50th Anniversary Conference that convened at Andrews University, 24-27 October 2007, my friends Dr. Russell Standish and Dr. Colin Standish gave away copies of some of their books (see ) for perspectives on the conference). One of those books written by the Standish brothers, A History of Questions on Doctrine: Fidelity or Compromise? (Highwood Books: Narbethong, Victoria, 2007) suggests on page 116 that an earlier attempt I made to address the matter of Ellen White’s inspiration "must rank among the most disingenuous material ever to blight a Seventh-day Adventist denominational publication." I have tried to keep such expressions of concern in mind as I have written this article; I will also formally invite my friends to comment on this further attempt to address the matter in the light of Adventist history. A polar opposite viewpoint is advocated by those friends who disagree strongly with the conviction I hold that can be simply stated as follows: Ellen White received supernatural input that formed a basis for many of her major writings. When such friends read this article they will desire to correct my use and application of this concept. Therefore, I acknowledge again that this belief is foundational for my understanding and interpretation of Ellen White’s life and writings. However, I ask my friends who are located on the opposite wings of the contemporary discussion to consider the evidence on which I base the convictions that they challenge in forthright terms. [back]

Arthur Patrick, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College
28 January, 2008

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