Ellen G. White
The White Lie!
Order Walter Rea's book: "The White Lie"
The years of 1860 through the 1880 s were busy years for Ellen and her staff. Perhaps remembering the book given to her by J.N. Andrews, she got Paradise Lost down from that "high shelf" and went to work on her vision of the great controversy-which was to become the theme of not only one book but the entire four volumes of The Spirit of Prophecy ( predecessor of the Conflict of the Ages Series). 1
John Milton's Paradise Lost was a great help to her. His ideas of the fight for justice in the courts above, as well as some of his very words, were woven into a fabric so vivid that even today some people have nightmares reading it. Ellen's story expands the Milton poem and takes m not only the war in heaven but the war on earth, from beginning to end. Satan is mostly in charge, dashing here and there in human events, wherever God might allow, and causing a general mess, until he gets his comeuppance in the seven last plagues, the destruction of the earth, and the final curtain call, the lake of fire.
Now this may all sound familiar to some-and it was. Others, including the Canon, had used this theme to a greater or lesser degree But Ellen's readers were to come to think that her portrayals were brighter and clearer and more authentic than all that went before. The Review and other Adventist advertising journals were to herald her writings and "visions" as the greatest thing going 2 Thus, lo and behold people began to buy. The early first volume of The Spirit of Prophecy (1870) was to follow the general outline of her previous printing of the small Spiritual Gifts-but with much "expansion."
It was not only in theology that Ellen saw things others may or may not have seen before. She began to get into health matters at this time. In this subject, again as with Milton's Paradise Lost, that "high shelf" was a help. Some of her contemporaries at this time were writers on the subject of health, like Jackson, Trall, Coles, Shew, Graham, Alcott, and others 3 She had more than a casual acquaintance with some, and there was talk of not returning what she had taken-which according to a dictionary would be stealing. To this criticism she replied:
Others, as before in the case of Paradise Lost, were to suggest:
Ellen was to say, as Grandson Arthur would imply nearly a hundred years later, that she got the "truths" first-even though subsequent studies might show that the ideas were the same and that the language expressing them was much the same as others had used first. It might have been the old argument of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Ellen said:
Ronald L. Numbers, in Prophetess of Health, does a commendable job of showing that Ellen's "extracted" parts made up much of the whole, and that in some cases the whole was more than the sum of the parts- an equation that is just as hard to believe in religion as it is in mathematics?
It was not just in health matters that conflict arose. Those "testimonies" were coming in for a lot of criticism. In the early days there were those who felt that James White might be influencing his wife in her writings or might express an idea or two himself under her name. There is nothing as magic as a seal to give things weight and authority, and she was the seal. James, on the other hand, felt that others were doing the same with Ellen and might be gaining an edge over him:
John Harvey Kellogg, a protégée of the Whites, had some of these same complaints for years. Too many, he thought, were doing too much under the name of inspiration through Ellen and her writings. Years later when he was interviewed by some of the men of the church he would say:
What in essence he seems to be saying is that some of the boys had obtained a stamp with Ellen's name on it and were stamping some of anything and everything with it. Later in the interview Kellogg was to point to William C. White, son of Ellen, as the culprit in some cases:
Years afterward it would be argued that the good doctor's statements were made after he had broken with the Whites and the church, and that therefore these were not reliable comments. It would be suggested that he had ulterior motives and should not be considered a qualified witness, although it is acknowledged that he had held honors along with those still in power, that he had been privileged to sit in high councils, and that he had personally been very close to Ellen. Criticism of Kellogg might be valid if he alone had seen and said what he did. But he was not alone.
William S. Sadler, another wellknown physician and personal friend of the White family, had also been having second thoughts about the methods used and the excuses offered in the name of Ellen and inspiration. In April 1906 he was to recall to her some of the problems that he had seen over the years in her writings and conduct. This letter was written while he was still very much a true believer and supporter of Ellen and in response to her own invitation to ask questions. He, too, as others, had heard the voice of Ellen. But like Isaac before him, he had found that the hands were the hands of another-Will White's. Sadler's statements make it clear that a good deal of license had been taken for twenty years or more:
Please won't you help me to understand this? It is the most serious of all the difficulties I have encountered in my experience concerning the Had Sadler known what others have come to know-that in addition to Willie's hand being in the pie, Ellen and her helpers were involved also in some highly creative book writing from the materials of others-he surely would have been more disturbed. Others were to raise similar issues in later years; but their questions, as Sadler's, were never answered to anyone's knowledge or satisfaction.
By the 1870s and 1880s, some were making distinctions in their thinking between a "testimony" (that is, as a private letter from the prophet) and that material which was being copied and adapted from other wrlters and placed in books as her own. Ellen did not accept this separat~on. She wrote to the Battle Creek church in 1882:
The transition was now complete. Ellen had arrived. She had reached her position of authority, and it was not to be questioned. Her letters, be they private or soon to be public, her copying from others, her talks on whatever subject, in fact, just about anything that might come off that "high shelf" would now be considered from God and blessed by his Spirit.
No claimant in religion has ever asked the people for such a blank check with an uncertified signature. But this claimant did. And to this day most Adventists have never questioned her endorsement nor her ability to fulfill her claim. Not only are the "testimonies" considered inspired (including that which was copied, even portions up to a hundred percent) but any writings that she was known to have approved, or touched, or been even near while she was alive are considered to have some special significance or "inspiration." Even that which she didn't include when she copied is deemed significant. It has been suggested that-like Gutzon Borglum (the sculptor of the Mount Rushmore faces) who from the valley below supervised all the rock throwing-Ellen was considered to be directing by some heavenly radar all the material that came out under her name, whether she ever saw it or would recognize it as hers 13
With such an endorsement as had never been given to any mortal before, Ellen was now ready to reshape the events of the past and, by her visionary interpretations of the Bible, likewise the events of the future. Already she had started on this idea of the great controversy in her first pocketsize edition in 1858 of Spiritual gifts. But that small work was crudely composed. And it had some competition-for the same year Hastings had published a volume with the identical title. 14 Ellen's 219page volume did not show much promise and, unlike the later book The Great Controversy, was never heralded as widely in the way of truth and light, form and content, prose and style. But it was a beginning and therefore was to be used.
It is not hard even for the blind to see that if continuing revelations, and inspirations, and instructions were to take an obtuse angle and conflict with what had gone before, such a course would raise much more serious questions than those already being raised. If the material copied, if the authors used, if the new visions or instructions were to clash in any major way with the old, this would be hard to explain. Some inconsistency would take place, but the method used was (like the shell game) to keep the eyes occupied while the hands shifted the objects around so fast that the beginnings were forgotten. And that's what happened. Few readers today know that Spiritual Gifts is the forerunner of the fourvolume set of The Spirit of Prophecy, and even fewer know that the fivevolume set of the Conflict of the Ages Series traces its origin back to its fourvolume predecessors.
The importance of this progression can't be overlooked, for what God said in 1858 he had to repeat in 1870, and even later in 1890, and so on. Now with God being God, that would be no problem for him; but with Ellen and her team, it wasn't that easy. Each new author copied had to mesh with the others who had gone before. Each new enlightenment or vision had to dovetail with all that had been put on record previously. Inconsistency had to be caught and either eliminated or clarified if anything slipped through-often again and again over a period of sixty years or more. There would be those, however, who would notice the change in style and the evolution of structure:
What was remarkable in the development was the cosmetic skill with which Ellen's team rearranged events so that criticism (as it would come) did not undermine the total project in its beginnings. By the time the number of dissents built up to a crescendo in the 1890s and beyond, the power of the legend of Ellen's invincibility (while she said she carried God's shield) helped her to win every battle, destroy all opposition, dismiss any dissenter from her employment (or for that matter the employment of the church), and banish, in the name of God and religion, some of the strongest characters in the medical and theological history of the church. No wonder that in 1980, at the Glacier View (Colorado) meeting about Desmond Ford's views, one of the princes of the church would write:
What that prince may not have known when he wrote that article is that not only The Desire of Ages and The Great Controversy were drawn largely from other writers, but the beginning of beginnings, Spiritual Gifts, and then volume one of The Spirit of Prophecy, the forerunner of Patriarchs and prophets (of the Conflict Series too) were also drawn from other writers. In that middle version of the series, Milton's Paradise Lost was given a greater part. From the two or three pages in Spiritual Gifts, Milton's theme was expanded to over thirtyseven pages and was to crop up, sometimes identically, in other of her writings. Now, however, new authors were found to fill in the gaps to make it all readable! 17 The brethren were not shy about heralding the virtues of the first volume of The Spirit of Prophecy.' 18 Even the name of the series suggests that it had the special approval of God and should be in the homes of all believers. Although the new volume was an improvement over the old Spiritual Gifts (another book with a title suggesting divine sanction), it did not turn the trick that was expected of it. Not until the later edition came out under the special title of Patriarchs and Prophets did the amplified material begin to hit its stride. It was to be the cornerstone of the fivevolume Conflict of the Ages set that Adventists would use to establish most interpretation and translation and evaluation of the Scriptures. Used in all Seventhday Adventist schools and colleges as authoritative on Old Testament matters, Patriarchs and Prophets has been accepted by Adventists as the final word. No deviation from this norm is accepted in matters of ideas concerning Creation, geology, theology, or Christology.
There were a few bad moments with the book, however. In the early writing, Ellen had Jacob and his night of wrestling in one version. In the later portrayal, however, the picture is almost the opposite in its details. Note her differing views in the italicized portions in the examples which follow:
The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. I, pp. 11819
Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 19697
E. G. White
E. G. White 1890
Jacob's wrong, in receiving his brother's blessing by fraud, is again brought forcibly before him, and he is afraid that God will permit Esau to take his life. In his distress he prays to God all night. An angel was represented to me as standing before Jacob, presenting his wrong before him in its true character. As the angel turns to leave him, Jacob lays hold of him, and will not let him go. He makes supplications with tears. He pleads that he has deeply repented of his sins, and the wrongs against his brother, which have been the means of separating him from his father's house for twenty years. He ventures to plead the promises of God, and the tokens of his favor to him from time to time, in his absence from his father's house. All night .Jacob wrestled with the angel, making supplication for a blessing. The angel seemed to be resisting his prayer, by continually calling his sins to his remembrance, at the same time endeavoring to break away from him. Jacob was determined to hold the angel, not only by physical strength, but by the power of living faith. In his distress Jacob referred to the repentance of his soul, the deep humility he had felt for his wrongs. The angel regarded his grayer with seeming indifference [italics added].19
It was a lonely, mountainous region, the haunt of wild beasts and the lurking place of robbers and murderers. Solitary and unprotected, Jacob bowed in deep distress upon the earth. It was midnight. All that made life dear to him were at a distance, exposed to danger and death. Bitterest of all was the thought that it was his own sin which had brought this peril upon the innocent. With earnest cries and tears he made his prayer before God. Suddenly a strong hand was laid upon him. He thought that an enemy was seeking his life, and he endeavored to wrest himself from the grasp of his assailant. In the darkness the two struggled for the mastery. Not a word was spoken, but Jacob put forth all his strength, and did not relax his efforts for a moment.... The struggle continued until near the break of day, when the stranger placed his finger upon Jacob's thigh, and he was crippled instantly. The patriarch now discerned the character of his antagonist [italics added] 20
Such discrepancies have caused concern among Adventist clergy from time to time, but not many helpful answers have come forth. In reply to a letter of 1943, Arthur White wrote for the White Estate:
Always careful to connect whatever problems that occurred in the writings of Ellen with problems that might occur with Scripture writers, the early apologists for Ellen began to sound as if God does not have to be truthful or accurate. To that tendency they have added a new twist. He just had to be God, and they would tell all who he was when it was necessary to do so. That argument was to carry over into the 1980s.
Still-one can't fault that final edition too much. With the help of John Milton, David March, Alfred Edersheim, Frederic W. Farrar, Friedrich W. Krummacher, and an evergrowing staff of researchers, finalist Ellen (and God) did produce a body of work that was to stand as the Adventist cornerstone for over a hundred years. That "high shelf" that was meant to be the protection of the prophet from temptation had also produced a profit of ideas.
1. J. N. Andrews had taken a copy of Paradise Lost to Ellen White when he recognized that her account of the 'Great controversy" was similar to that of John Milton in his epic poem of 1667. According to Arthur L. White, she had put it up on a "high shelf" and not read it.... EGW's The Spirit of Prophecy was published by the Pacific Press first in four volumes (1870777884). A facsimile reproduction was issued in 1969 by the Review and Herald Publishing Association....The Conflict of the Ages Series, last, was to include five books The Great Controversy (1888), Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), The Desire of Ages (1898), The Acts of the Apostles ( 1911), and Prophets and Kings ( 1916).
2. An editorial notice about the forthcoming volume two of The Spirit of Prophecy appearing in the Review of 30 November 1876 said: "We are prepared to speak of this volume, now just issued, as the most remarkable volume that has ever issued from this Office." The paragraph was initialed by editor Uriah Smith.
3. Ronald L. Numbers deals with the endeavors of these "health reformers" in his Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1976). Their views were published in periodicals of the 1800s and these books, among others: (1) Willlam A. Alcott, Lectures on Life and Health (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853); (2) Larkin B. Coles, Philosophy of Health: NaturatPrincihhes oJ Health and Cure (Boston: William D. Ticknor & Co., 1849), (3) Sylvester Graham, Lectures on the Science of Human Life (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1858); (4) James Caleb Jackson, The Sexual Organism (Boston: B. Leverett Emerson, 1862); (5) Russell T. Trall, Pathology of Reproductive Organs (Boston: B. Leverett Emerson, 1862); (6)Joel Shew and Trall, editors of the WaterCure Journal (184562).
4. Ellen G. White, Forward, Health or How to Live (Photographic reproduction, Mokelumne Hill, Calif., 1957); Review 30 (8 October 1867), p. 260.
7. Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1976).
8. Ingemar Linden, The Last Trump, p. 202. James White to Dudley M. Canright, 24 May 1881.
9. [Iohn Harvey Kellogg], "An authentic Interview between Elder G. W. Amadon, Elder A. C. Bourdeau, and Dr.John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan, on October 7th, 1907." A notarized stenographic report.
11. William S. Sadler to EGW, 26 April 1906, pp. 34.
12. EGW, Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 6667. EGW to Battle Creek Church, 20 June 1882.
13. Jack W. Provonsha, Sabbath School Study Tape, 2 February 19.80. Glendale Committee Review, 2829January 1980.
14. H[orace] L[orenzo] Hastings, The Great Controversy between God and Man (Boston: Private printing by the author, ).
15. Linden, The Last Trump, p. 211.
16. Earl W. Amundson, "Authority and Conflict-Consensus and Unity," photocopied (Paper presented at Theological Consultation, Glacier View Ranch, Ward, CO, 1520 August 1980), pp. 12, 16.
17. See Appendix, Chapter 5 Comparison Exhibits.
18. Guy Herbert Winslow, "Ellen Gould White and Seventhday Adventism" (Dissertation, Clark University, Worcester, MA 1932) p. 290. See also Robert W.Olsen "The Desire of Ages," photocopied (Washington: EGW)
19. EGW, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. l, pp. 11819.
20. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View: PPPA, 1890), pp.
21. Arthur L. White to Henry F. Brown, 23 September 1943.
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