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Ellen G. White


or Plagiarist!

The White Lie!
By Walter T. Rea

Click to ViewOrder Walter Rea's book: "The White Lie"

Chapter 12: Life Has Its Incidents

The incredible story of how the Great Controversy was copied by White from others, and then she claimed it to be inspired!

Experience teaches that truth needs redefining every generation or two. This is not to say that truth changes, but that our perceptions change if our minds are active and growing. Historians know this. Politicians understand it. Economists work on the same assumption. And many common­sense people learn it.

Only administrators in theological systems find this principle hard to accept. The more conservative the religious body and the people who subscribe to the creed, the more difficult it is to make the mental adjustment that is necessary. In the extreme, if the theological administrators and their people have accepted the delusion that their truth, their God, their prophet, or their saint are all equal, or are one and the same, it is next to impossible to effect any change toward advancing enlightenment.

Again, the four techniques essential to the white­lie brand of super salesmanship are: (a) to play up anything unusual or mysterious about the one to be venerated, so that he or she becomes seen as at a supernatural level; (h) to exalt the acts and utterances to the virtuous and miraculous level, thus reinforcing the idea of the supernatural connection; (c) to deny access to information and records of the events and facts of the past; and (d) to buy time so as to get as far as possible from the point of living knowledge of the beginnings of the legend.

All four of these methods have been used by the Seventh­day Adventist Church, and are still being used, in the matter of Ellen White and what has been published under her name.


Incredible as it may seem to an impartial onlooker, the White Estate would have us believe that anything Ellen wrote to whomever on whatever, anything she supervised from whomever on whatever, anything she copied from whomever on whatever, anything offered for sale under her name-even thoughts, words, or inclinations suggested (or written) by her followers-must bear, and do bear, the stamp of God's divine approval. No writer in sacred antiquity ever claimed as much, and no Canon writer ever had to live up to such billing.


Wild horses, we are told, stood still at her command. A heavy Bible was sustained in the air at her arm's length for long periods of time. By her direction, water came into wells that otherwise would have been dry. In her dreams, buildings appeared that never had been and would never become. Letters came in the nick of time for some important or crucial event, despite the known problems of the postal system. Often members that she prayed for arose from their sickbeds -although she herself never really got well and complained of sickness and fainting spells well into her middle age. Neither do we hear great mention made of the deaths of two of her children while still young. Despite her prayers and concern, her husband lived only to his early sixties. Nevertheless, Ellen White's acts and utterances have been impressed on the students of the comprehensive Adventist educational system as certainly some cut above anyone else's-even though she freely copied from those "anyone else's."


Few, if any, who have dealt with the White Estate-the official keeper of the keys of everything that belonged to or is known about Ellen-have ever come away willing to swear that they were allowed access to all materials at all times without direction and/or supervision and oath­taking. Managed news is a part of all church institutions, of course. Adventists are experts at giving out to the church public and the secular public alike only those items that put their best foot forward. As an editor at the Los Angeles Times put it, "Adventists would function better in a country that does not have freedom of the press."' Even those who do have some success in obtaining limited access to material must sign a pledge-in exchange for the privilege of seeing what others are not privy to-that they will not copy "sensitive" material or release it to others.

Perhaps all this is understandable. The White Estate cannot release all the material concerning Ellen White's life and writings and yet maintain the white lie. There is no way that the facts will square with the myths. If (as was stated in the January 1980 Glendale meeting) every paragraph in The Great Controversy were to be footnoted to show source material, then every paragraph would have to be footnoted-what would happen to the legend of Ellen and the church members at large who have believed the legend all these years?

What if each of the other four books-Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Acts of the Apostles, and The Desire of Ages (of the big five)-were also to be included in that indictment? It is fairly certain that no unbiased, detailed, comprehensive studies of these books can or will be endorsed by the White Estate, no matter by whom or when the studies might be done. Whatever findings might be reported by any independent researcher, the Estate position seems certain to continue to be (a) that they have known it all along and (b) that it does not make any difference, because God had a hand in it anyway and because Ellen was inspired to do whatever she did at his express command.


Buying time is perhaps one of the happiest helpers of the white lie. If only some patience can be exercised by the lay members, to give the supersalesmen the opportunity to buy time, with age the white lie can, and often does, become a reality. After all, myths and legends are not instant creations. Time just covers up the facts. Because the facts of Ellen and her writings were never accurately portrayed to the church and the world, time has helped to cover that deception. Those who tried at various periods to help their church come to terms with the truth would be driven from "The Clan," or would shake the dust from their feet and depart. Thus the white lie has grown until it has become a matter of faith; fact has long since been lost sight of. The advice of one onlooker ~s to the point:

Let it be.... Don't appeal your dismissal as pastor of the Seventh­day Adventist Church. .. By all means continue your research, but do it in the a Is of academia. Don t use as your instrument of destruction the church on which the majority of the members rely for continuance of their faith The dictionary defines faith as "belief without evidence," and most of the church members are willing to accept it as such. What a pity that most religious institutions cannot also accept this definition and feel they must insist their dogma is the true dogma and based on true evidence! The inherent capacity to separate faith and true knowledge so they won't interfere with each other is a knack that some people have that others lack It has little to do with intelligence, and we see those with low IQ's who atheists and some of our best brains as devout Catholics.... are Religious faith is usually harmless to society as a whole if kept contained within the religious frame, and it can be beneficial to many at a personal level. But the ability to compartmentalize the mind is always a danger, and it is not restricted to religious areas. 2

Those who must believe the unbelievable, who must claim to see the unseeable, and who must spend their lives clutching at the unobtainable will always try to give their "vision" of the unreal to others by applying authority and force. One of the divines expresses it well:

Recently many rumors have been coming to me as well as to your fellow elders.... If my memory serves me well, I do not believe you have attended any of my eleven o'clock services since September during which time I have addressed myself to all the controversial subjects that appear to be surfacing in our denomination. The most dangerous result I see from the many divergent discussions in the church today, has to do with what I call the Cheap Gospel.". . We must trust in the finished work of Christ; but of equal importance we must, with Christ's help, be ready to obey This means being willing to give up on ourselves and submit to the authority of Christ's body -the Church. I know this is difficult to do when you are doing so well with your practice and financial investments. 3

Clearly this supersalesmam of the system would like to share a member's success and financial investments and would like to restrict the obvious freedom of spirit of that member-in short, to control him.

Such attitudes are not limited to those who believe m a system of salvation by works. The product of such a system is religious supersalesmen who believe that their conscience should by the guide for the communicants, and they seek this godless control in the name of God. When it is clearly understood that what supersalesmen of the psychic are selling is really their own value system, or their own vision of what others ought or ought not to do, then, and only then, will some of the white lies be harder to sell.

Meanwhile, until the supersalesmen are unmasked, perhaps the best advice on how to deal with them and their "truth" was given by Robert J. Ringer:

Ignore all neurotic remarks and actions of normal people and all remarks and actions of neurotic people. In cases where a neurotic person persists, notwithstanding your lack of attention, take swift and positive action to eliminate him from your life altogether.

You have no obligation to deal with irrational people...

Talking, arguing and/or begging don't work with irrational people. Attempting to persuade them through logical argument will only wear you out. Dealing with an irrational person is a can't win situation. If he's adept at mind games, you often will find yourself boxed into being "damned if you do and damned if you don't." Always go out of your way to avoid can't win situations. When someone surrounds you on all sides with irrational points, don't stand for it. Exit through the top, if necessary, but get out. When every side you turn to leads to trouble, you're in a can't­win situation. 9

In the matter of Ellen White's super salesmanship (in relation to both the church and the public), it is becoming evident that she too wanted to encourage, if not demand, that others accept her value structure and lifestyle. In order to obtain this end, she came to believe and to teach others that what she said and wrote was necessary to do, because God wanted it that way. Others around her who shared those views (and indeed even gave her some of them) were willing to let the faithful believe that what she said and wrote were directly the ideas and ways given her by God. This stance gave her every utterance the authority it needed in order to be believed-despite mounting evidence (and the witness of some others) to the contrary. Those who lived by faith, and likewise by evidence to support that faith, began to discover that the white lie was inconsistent with the evidence. And when they made known that discover for their honest pains they were expelled and discredited by character assassination.

For those who have the courage to place evidence and faith side b side and see if they are in harmony, the following items may provide exercise to thoughtful examination of some of the white lies that have been used to maintain the legend of Ellen and her writings as mostly God-given, God­directed, and God­inspired.

Slow evolution regarding Ellen's reading skills:

a. Secular news media, reporting the Adventist reply to criticism, quote information that 3.5 million members have accepted the 25 million words of Ellen's pen as inspired. 5 Many a clergyman would be reluctant to take an oath that his church membership list represents precise accuracy. The statement that Ellen has written 25 million words is inaccurate. How were these figures arrived at? Are they the figment of someone's imagination? Do they, in fact, include all the copied material (not her words) and all the paragraphs and uncounted pages identically duplicated in the several subject matter compilations?

b. Every Adventist has read or heard that Ellen was a poor reader, in part because she had finished only three grades of education. This i made possible a claim to divine leading of a person in literary ignorance. 6 Later, these limitations were used to create untruths. Education never need be formal in order for persons to be creative and educated.

c. Later, under pressure, it was discovered that Ellen could read, but that she read very little, the least of that reading being in theology. 7 This same argument was used to prove that she was not influenced by others as she lived and wrote. 8

d. The progression of this theme was that Ellen could read but that she didn't read in theological matters-until it was discovered that she had. 9 Spectrum readers now know that she was reading widely all the time and was using the published works of other religious writers and those writing in other areas. 10

e. Although at one time it was argued that God helped Ellen to improve her skills (and her beautiful language was the result of that divine help), new evidence indicates that the improvement was the result of improved help from well informed staff members and associates, and better selection of authors. 11

f. Now that proof is available that Ellen did read, read well, and read widely, and that she had some of that reading matter in front of her when she wrote, the new line is that she had a photographic memory. 12 "We are not denying Rev. Rea's evidence," said Robert Olson, secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate in Washington, D.C. "I'm satisfied she had some works before her as she wrote. However," Olson added, "the church believes that White possessed a photographic memory and unconsciously used the words of other writers.' 3 Olson does not specify who is "the church" that may believe as he seems to believe.

g. The idea that Ellen did not know what she was doing when she failed to credit authors she read-but stopped when told what she was doing-has been dealt with in earlier chapters. A casual review of authors used by her would show that they gave credit, but that she never gave credit, even when paraphrasing what they were often quoting

h. Perhaps one of the hardest charges to meet and refute is that Ellen wrote what she had seen first in vision, and that she used the words, thoughts, and arrangement of others only because they said what she wanted to say and did not have the ability to say. This argument, while admitting that she did copy, whenever and wherever necessary according to her desires, in fact contradicts most of the arguments that have gone before. It does run into difficulty, however, when one comes to the book Life Incidents.

One of the unwritten stories in Adventist history is the influence that James White had in forming the ideas and sentences that came out under Ellen's name and pen. Although not noted as a literary writer or as a theologian, James did produce four published books. Two of these were Life Incidents in Connection with the Great Advent Movement, as Illustrated by the Three Angels of Revelation XIV, published in 1868, and in 1875 Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller: Gathered from his Memoirs by the Late Sylvester Bliss, and from Other Sources. Both books were almost totally copied from others. The­one on William Miller was taken from Sylvester Bliss (who in 1853 had written Memoirs of William Miller). The theology of Life Incidents was copied substantially from Uriah Smith and J. N. Andrews. 14 Neither of these books was ever printed again under the name of James White as far as is known.

But they were indeed reprinted under another name, that of Ellen G. White, his wife, a few years after his death in 1881-but under the title The Great Controversy (1884). And this production was sold to the believers and the world as the work of Ellen and the angels. Although it had been doctored and padded with other material in the usual manner, clearly it was material that had been published earlier under the name of James. What the people were not told was that the heart of this new revelation had been printed sixteen years before, and that the theme and thesis had been over literally and liberally into Ellen's new Great Controversy.

One reason is now clear why much of the information in the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy could not have been included in the earlier works of Ellen on the same subject (Spiritual Gifts, published 1858­64). James had not yet gotten around to copying it from J. N Andrews; so it was not available to Ellen at the time. The 1888 and 1911 editions of The Great Controversy went back to James White's compilation of doctrines and events and picked up even more of his findings and ideas. But never once was it suggested that the heart of Adventist doctrine-such as the three angels' worldwide message that the church had applied exclusively to the Adventists, the shut door that left everyone else out in the cold, the 2300 days, the seventy weeks, the sanctuary doctrine, the United States in prophecy, the "mark of the beast," the image to that beast-had all come out earlier in James White's Life Incidents.

So striking was the copying done under the name of Ellen-and so sensitive is the information that the heart of Adventist theology and eschatology came, not from the visions of or revelations to Ellen, but from the pen of James sixteen years before Ellen wrote them out- that time should be spent examining the evidence in Life Incidents.

Here it should be recalled that the four small volumes of Ellen's Spiritual Gifts (1858­64) were amplified to the four volumes of Ellen's The Spirit of Prophecy (1870­84) and then expanded to Ellen's The Great Controversy (1888 ea.) of the five­volume Conflict of the Ages Series. Inasmuch as the earlier eight volumes are now again available in facsimile editions, anyone can examine all the books and note the progressive copy work through the years. Meanwhile, during those same years, the legend grew and grew and was "sold" and accepted that God had given Ellen exclusive and firsthand knowledge of his plans for the future events of the church and the world.

Comparison shows that words, sentences, quotations, thoughts, ideas, structures, paragraphs, and even total pages were taken from James White's book to Ellen's book under a new title-with no blush of shame, no mention of her husband, no thanks to Uriah Smith and J. N. Andrews, for the hard work and theological insights of anyone.

Unfortunately for James, he did not have the personal advantage of angels checking in and out on schedule with the firsthand information Ellen purported to have. Without any intermediary, he had to get his material from human sources. But he was equal to the task. Much of his material in Life Incidents was taken primarily from J. N. Andrews, whose book published in 1860, interestingly enough, was entitled The Three Messages of Revelation XIV, 6­12, and particularly The Third Angel's Message and The Two­Horned Beast. James, unlike his wife Ellen, did not even bother to paraphrase-he just took the material from Andrews wholesale into his work.

Nothing has been released from the White Estate as to how Andrews or Uriah Smith felt about all this "taking" in the name of God. Perhaps the fact that they were brothers­in­law, both assisting in the editorial work of the Review, both personal friends of the Whites-and thus able to sit around the same table to finalize their views-might have softened the pain of Ellen's copy work. One might be tempted to think that Ellen set the pattern and James may not have given much thought to doing the same thing. Of course, there was in fact no excuse for anyone not to give thought-especially in view of the statement published in an 1864 issue of the Review under the heading "Plagiarism":
This is a word that is used to signify "literary theft," or taking the productions or another and passing them off as one s own.... We are perfectly willing that pieces from the Review, or any of our books should be published to any extent, and all we ask is, that simple justice be done us, by due credit being given. 15

Examination reveals that the 1860 book of J. N. Andrews was an exact replay of his own 1851­55 articles in the Review. Thus James and Ellen had available for their perusal and use after 1855 the content and form of Andrew's work for incorporation in their own work: Spiritual Gifts (1858­64); Life Incidents (1868); The Spirit of Prophecy (1870­84); Sketches of. . . William Miller (1875); The Great Controversy (1888).

This information may or may not disturb those who now say that the group of pioneers sat around the table and worked out in conjunction with Ellen their ideas and theology. But it does indeed disturb those who were taught that such ideas and theology originated with greater authority and mystique than the common ideas of human endeavor seem to command.

References and Notes

l. John Dart, taped conversation with Irene Cole. Dart, who is religious editor of the Los Angeles Times, wrote the article "Plagiarism Found in Prophet Books," 23 October 1980, p. l.

2. Richard P. Hines, "Knowledge and Faith Can't Be Mixed," letters to the editor (Long Beach, CA: Press­Telegram), 11 November 1980.

3. SDA [Florida] minister toJohn LeBaron, December 1980.

4. Robert J Ringer, Loo~ing Outfor #1 (New York: Fawcett Crest Book Co.,

5. Hines, in Long Beach Press­Telegram, 25 November 1980. Dart, in. Los Angeles Times, 23 October 1980.

6. Ellen G. White, Lfe Sketches (Mountain View: PPPA, 1915), pp. ~ 3­19.

7. Arthur L. White, in Supplement to facsimile reprint of The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 535­36.

8. The Ellen G. White Estate does not concede that Ellen White was influenced by what she read or by those around her.

9. [Healdsburg] Pastor's Union, "Is Mrs. E. G. White a Plagiarist?" [Healdsburg, CA] Enterprise, 20 March 1889.

10. Donald R. McAdams and Douglas Hackleman in their articles in Spectrum 10, no.4, pp.27­41 and 9­15.

11. See Appendix, Comparison Exhibits for chapters five to nine.

12. Chicago Tribune, 23 November 1980.

13. Ibid.

14. James White, Lfe Incidents in Connection with the Great Advent Movement Battle Creek: Steam Press of the SDA Publishing Association, 1868). See early Reviews from 1851­1856 for Articles by J. N. Andrews and Uriah Smith.

15. [Uriah Smith, ed.], "Plagiarism," Review 24 (6 September 1864)

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