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Ellen White a Prophet?

 

Was Ellen White a Prophet? Some would doubt that when they look at the Ellen White original writings and realize that she did in fact borrow from contemporary authors. This paper looks at these and related questions and how they might affect our expectation of the source of new light. The question: "was Ellen White a prophet?" really needs to be examined in terms of our priority as to what we are going to depend on as our source of light.

Some Thoughts Regarding New Light and
How it May Come to God's People

Introduction

Many individuals and ministries are studying God's Word and presenting interesting insights on a great variety of topics. There is such richness and depth of meaning in God's Word. While interesting insights and explanations are a benefit, what about real new light - understandings of significance that no one has had before - at least in our recollection? Through what channel might we expect such revelations? How can we test them? How closely should they match the spiritual information we already have?

While not a complete study of all these questions and all that is involved in the topic of new light, this paper presents a few thoughts that might be helpful and is presented in connection with the release of the book In the Heart of the Earth: The Secret Code that Reveals What is in the Heart of God which, because it does present some "new light," naturally brings up this question.

1. Ellen White on More Light to Come

There are a great number of Spirit of Prophecy "new light statements" showing that there has been and will be additional light to come on God's word. Just a small sampling is given here.

"In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation. Old truths are all essential. New truth is not independent of the old, but an unfolding of it ... He who rejects or neglects the new does not really possess the old." (COL 127)

"New light will ever be revealed on the word of God to him who is in living connection with the Sun of Righteousness. Let no one come to the conclusion that there is no more truth to be revealed. The diligent, prayerful seeker for truth will find precious rays of light yet to shine forth from the word of God. Many gems are yet scattered that are to be gathered together to become the property of the remnant people of God." (CW 35)

"Great truths that have lain unheeded and unseen since the day of Pentecost, are to shine from God's word in their native purity. To those who truly love God, the Holy Spirit will reveal truths that have faded from the mind and will reveal truths that are entirely new." (FCE 473)

"Different periods in the history of the church have each been marked by the development of some special truth, adapted to the necessities of God's people at that time." (GC 609)

"The truth is constantly unfolding and presenting new features to different minds. All who dig in the mines of truth, will constantly discover rich and precious gems." (1SM 404)

These statements tell us of new light to come in our day and in the future. New light was also coming throughout her ministry and we must allow for her growth in understanding of various topics.

One example of this was the vision Ellen White received of the judgment (in 1879) in which she was given a clearer understanding of the destruction of the wicked. Marilyn Campbell, in her book Adventist Supplement to Light Through Darkness A Vindication of God, seems to view this as a turning point in Ellen White's understanding of the character of God at least in reference to the destruction of the wicked. Ellen White's understanding on many issues was progressive as the light was revealed to her and this is reflected in her writings. We must also remember what she said of herself:

"In regard to infallibility, I never claimed it; God alone is infallible. His word is true, and in Him is no variableness, or shadow of turning." (Letter 10. 1895,.1SM 37)
2. We May Have to Unlearn Some Things

Not only will there be continuing new light but that new light, properly understood, may mean that we have to change our understanding in some areas:

"We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed." (RH July 26, 1892)

She also speaks of "... presenting old truths rescued from the framework of error, and placed in a new setting." (MS 33, 1911, 5BC 1136))

3. Ellen White's Use of Other Sources for Historical Dates and Chronology

Certainly, since "... of that day and hour knoweth no man ..." (Matt 24:36) and since there are so many times involved in unfulfilled prophecy, we would expect that new light or at least better understanding could involve elements of timing. Following are some quotations from Willie White, son of James and Ellen White as made to W. W. Eastman in 1912. They suggest the possibility that a better understanding of timing of events could be involved in new light.

"Regarding Mother's writings and their use as authority on points of history and chronology, Mother has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority regarding the details of history or historical dates." (W.C. White, 3SM 446)

"When writing out the chapters for Great Controversy, she sometimes gave a partial description of an important historical event, and when her copyist who was preparing the manuscripts for the printer, made inquiry regarding time and place, Mother would say that those things are recorded by conscientious historians. Let the dates used by those historians be inserted. At other times in writing out what was presented to her, Mother found such perfect descriptions of events and presentations of facts and of doctrines written out in our denominational books, that she copied the words of these authorities." (W.C. White, 3SM 447)

"The great events occurring in the life of our Lord were presented to her in panoramic scenes as also were the other portions of the Great Controversy. In a few of these scenes chronology and geography were clearly presented, but in the greater part of the revelation the flashlight scenes, which were exceedingly vivid, and the conversations and the controversies, which she heard and was able to narrate, were not marked geographically or chronologically, and she was left to study the Bible and history, and the writings of men who had presented the life of our Lord to get the chronological and geographical connection." (W.C. White, 3SM 459-460)

"She admired the language in which other writers had presented to their readers the scenes which God had presented to her in vision, and she found it both a pleasure, and a convenience and an economy of time to use their language fully or in part ..." (W.C. White, 3SM 460)

"In some of the historical matters ... she was left to study the Bible and history to get her dates and geographical relations and to perfect her description of details." (W.C. White, 3SM 462)

4. Ellen White Was Not the Source for Doctrine

Although many people may think so, Ellen White was not the source of doctrine for the early Sabbatarian movement in the 1840s and 50s. An event early in Adventist history is very relevant to understanding how new light is given to God's people.

Due largely to the influence of William Bates, early Adventists kept the Sabbath from 6pm Friday until 6pm Saturday. This was their practice for over 10 years after 1844. It is very instructive to examine how God revealed light on the subject of the correct timing of the keeping of the Sabbath.

Some were not happy with the 6pm to 6pm time and it was causing considerable disagreement. In 1855, James White asked John Nevin Andrews to study the topic out from the Bible. Among many other verses J.N. Andrews found were:

"... thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun ..." (Deut 16:6)

"The soul which hath touched any such shall be unclean until even, ...And when the sun is down, he shall be clean ..." (Lev 22:6-7)

"And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased ..." (Mark 1:32)

He concluded that the Sabbath should be observed from sunset to sunset. He presented his findings at a general meeting on Nov. 17, 1855 and most members quickly accepted the "new" Biblical light. There were a few important people who did not accept his findings. One was Joseph Bates who had so strongly promoted the 6pm time for years. Interestingly, another was Ellen White. Two days after J.N. Andrews presented his findings, Ellen White had a vision that confirmed that the sunset time was correct. After that there was agreement on the subject.

The important thing to recognize here is that the new light did not come from a vision. Rather, it came from study of God's word. A vision was later given, not to originate new light, but to confirm it and promote unity among the group.

James White's assessment of how this all worked out was:

"It does not appear to be the desire of the Lord to teach his people by the gifts of the Spirit on the Bible questions until his servants have diligently searched his word. ... The sacred scriptures are given us as the rule of faith and duty, and we are commanded to search them.

Let the gifts have their proper place in the church. God has never set them in the very front, and commanded us to look to them to lead us in the path of truth, and the way to Heaven. His word He has magnified. The scriptures of the Old and New Testament are man's lamp to light up his path to the kingdom. Follow that, but if you err from Bible truth, and are in danger of being lost, it may be that God will in the time of His choice correct you, and bring you back to the Bible" (quoted in George R. Knight, Lest We Forget p.129)

George R. Knight points out:

"The Adventist pioneers were consistently assertive in the role of Ellen White as being a pointer to the Bible rather than being the source for doctrine." (Lest We Forget, p130)

So, even more in the 21st century, almost 100 years since we have had the living testimony, we need to make the word of God first in our determination of doctrine and belief.

5. The Last Message of Mercy re God's Character

We are told something about the last "new" light that will come:

"The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is the revelation of His character of love." (COL 415)

I believe the first rays of this new light have begun to shine. They are coming primarily through scriptural investigation by such Bible students as Fred Wright and Marilyn Campbell who have both published books on the topic. Even the timing of the second coming seems to be related to this topic:

"When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own." (COL 69)

In that case, we should be looking into this topic with eagerness and in anticipation of new light and greater understanding.

6. How Are We to Learn of the More Light to Come on God's Character?

Since there is more light to come (section 1 of this study) and the Spirit of Prophecy is not to be the source of doctrine or new light (section 4) we can reason that the majority of any new light will be coming through Bible study. We can ask "in what area is this new light most likely to come near the end of time?" and the answer is given - the character of God (section 5).

We can see, as illustrated for another topic in section 4, that this is part of God's plan - that we should first and primarily depend upon His Word for our understanding of spiritual truth.

7. In the Heart of the Earth - A Sunday or Sabbath Resurrection?

In the book In the Heart of the Earth: The Secret Code that Reveals What is in the Heart of God careful examination is made of Jesus' saying:

"... An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matt 12:39-40)

The conclusion of the book's message is that "the sign of Jonah" was given as the ultimate sign or demonstration of how far God is willing to go to allow man to exercise his free will. So far, in fact, that He allowed His Son to be within the control (the heart) of man (the earth) for the specified period of time (three days and three nights) to do with Him as they pleased even to the point of crucifying Him. You would need to read the book to understand the justification for using those words in the way I have. The book also gives very significant evidence for a Friday evening - at the start of the Sabbath - rather than a Sunday resurrection.

The question naturally comes up: what about the discrepancy between a Sunday resurrection as described in The Desire of Ages and the resurrection scenario as presented in the book In the Heart of the Earth?

As outlined above, EGW was not a source for doctrine. If new light near the end of time ("the last message of mercy") is to come on the character of God it will not be coming through Ellen White but through Bible study. She said that we have "many lessons to learn" and even "many, many to unlearn." Since EGW did not even consider herself to be a source of historical timing, it would seem reasonable that even this long-held belief of a Sunday resurrection (on which the claimed sanctity of Sunday is based) could be subject to new light.

There have been claims made that portions of The Desire of Ages were borrowed from other authors. This need not concern our view of her integrity or inspiration as the Lord could have directed her in her usage of other's materials or, at least, allowed it. Also, it is not accurate to charge her with plagiarism as the protocol and mindset regarding this practice was not the same in her day as it is today.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church even commissioned Fred Veltman, Ph.D. to do a study on Ellen White's use of other materials for her writing of The Desire of Ages. The complete study is available on the church's website and his conclusions were published in Ministry (December, 1990).

I went to the resulting Life of Christ Research Project and examined the analysis for Chapter 83 of The Desire of Ages which is titled The Walk to Emmaus. There, I found that she quoted frequently from the books The Life of Christ by William Hanna (1863) and Night Scenes in the Bible by Daniel March (1868).

Then I was then able to find William Hanna's book on line and found that in The Life of Christ (Vol. 3), on p223 while discussing the penitent thief, Hanna writes: "this heavenly Paradise into which the redeemed at death do enter ..."

This is in direct contrast to the Biblical teaching of the state of the dead and what happens at death. Yet Ellen White, while of course not quoting this part, chose to use considerable material and thoughts from this author in her writing of The Desire of Ages.

Writers of her day and before similarly quoted from others without giving credit in the way we do and are expected to do today. An example comes from John Wesley's famous "Notes on the New Testament." He wrote in the preface:

"It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon farther consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point in view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value." (John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament, 1754)

This is my understanding of the situation: Ellen White was given the responsibility to write as well as counsel and speak on practical aspects of religion and daily life, the organization and functioning of the growing Seventh-day Adventist church as well as theological matters. In managing this work load she sometimes utilized the writings of others as described by her son Willie White (Section 3). Of course, on the timing of the resurrection, these authors would have written according to the traditional understanding. They were not inspired, yet their works contained some good material and Ellen White chose to use some of it.

God has not seen fit to correct everything at once. We have the example mentioned in section 4 of them not receiving light on the correct time to start and end the Sabbath until 1855. Our Saviour, Himself did not correct everything He could have:

"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." (John 16:12)

In light of this, I see no difficulty with the Friday evening resurrection scenario as presented in the book In the Heart of the Earth and maintain that, as I have documented in the book, that is the timing the Bible actually presents. Also, I believe that further Bible study will uncover additional light that may require us to change our understanding in various areas.

Why is The Correct Timing of the Resurrection Coming to Light Only Now?

Of course, light and truth have been lost over the centuries. The timing issue is very much related to the character-of-God message and we have seen above that this is involved in "the last message of mercy to be given to the world." Ellen White seemed to have somewhat of an understanding of the character of God message but it has really come to light only very recently. As the message and especially the conclusion of this book is very much related to the message of the character of God it seems appropriate that it be understood now with the increased understanding of the character of God.

 


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