| Ellen G. White Estate

Have the most important books Ellen White wrote been changed?

The author you referred to who charged the church with making changes in Ellen G. White’s writings seems to have a number of things confused. The General Conference action he cites to show that the leadership changed The Great Controversy actually dates from a year before his preferred edition of The Great Controversy was even written! How could they vote to change it before she wrote it?

Actually, the vote he cited had nothing to do with The Great Controversy. It had to do with the Testimonies. We have all the original Testimony publications here, and the haste with which especially the early ones were published (and which the General Conference action refers to) does show. They needed corrections to bring them up to standard. The General Conference went on record expressing its belief that inspiration extends to the thoughts of the writer rather than to a dictation of the exact words the writer is to use. This is what Mrs. White believed as well. She offered no objection to the revision. The work was done largely by Marian Davis.

You can find what Mrs. White wrote to Uriah Smith about the revision of the Testimonies in Selected Messages, book 3, pages 96–98. I will quote parts of three paragraphs for you here from page 97:

As far as possible every defect should be removed from all our publications. As the truth should unfold and become widespread, every care should be exercised to perfect the works published. . . .

Where the language used is not the best, I want it made correct and grammatical, as I believe it should be in every case where it can be without destroying the sense. . . .

My mind has been exercised upon the question of the Testimonies that have been revised. We have looked them over more critically. I cannot see the matter as my brethren see it. I think the changes will improve the book. If our enemies handle it, let them do so.

Now, what about The Great Controversy? Actually, the 1884 edition was itself a revision. Mrs. White’s first The Great Controversy was 219 pages long and was published in 1858. It took the story from the fall of Lucifer to the end of time. Today, we call it Spiritual Gifts, book 1. Mrs. White expanded the story in books 3 and 4, published in 1864. Then in the 1870s, she set out to expand it some more. She published volumes 1–3 of the set now called The Spirit of Prophecy in the 1870s, but the fourth and final volume did not appear until 1884. This is the book the critical author seems to think so highly of. It covers the same time period as our current The Great Controversy but in fewer pages and less detail.

When colporteurs [literature evangelists] began to sell this book to the general public, Mrs. White felt it would be advisable to tell the story in a form better designed to be understood by the non-Adventist. Having spent 1885–1887 in Europe, she also expanded considerably the part of the book that touched on European events. The result was the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy. In 1911, she revised the book to improve references and remove points of needless controversy. This is essentially the edition we use today.

Did Uriah Smith do this work behind her back in 1888 or in 1911 as the critical author might lead one to conclude? No. In fact, since Smith died in 1903, he had no personal input in the 1911 edition at all. In both cases, Mrs. White’s own staff did the work under her supervision. She had the final say on changes that were made.

While the critic says only the 1884 edition represented Mrs. White’s position on matters, you might be interested to read what she said about the later revisions. This is published in Selected Messages, book 3, page 113. The chapter is entitled “Expanding the Great Controversy Presentation”:

In the preparation of this book, competent workers were employed and much money was invested in order that the volume might come before the world in the best style possible. . . .

The Lord impressed me to write this book, in order that without delay it might be circulated in every part of the world, because the warnings it contains are necessary for preparing a people to stand in the day of the Lord.—Manuscript 24, 1891.

If you are concerned about this question, you would do well to read the entire chapter in Selected Messages, book 3, and also appendix A, which contains W. C. White’s account of the revisions.

Note also what Mrs. White had to say about the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy:

A few days ago I received a copy of the new edition of the book Great Controversy, recently printed at Mountain View, and also a simi-lar copy printed at Washington. The book pleases me. I have spent many hours looking through its pages, and I see that the publishing houses have done good work.

The book Great Controversy I appreciate above silver and gold, and I greatly desire that it shall come before the people. While writing the manuscript of Great Controversy, I was often conscious of the presence of the angels of God. And many times the scenes about which I was writing were presented to me anew in visions of the night, so that they were fresh and vivid in my mind (Selected Messages, 3:123).

It seems that Mrs. White had quite a different view of the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy from what the critical author expressed. Whom shall we believe? Personally, I prefer to take the author’s evaluation of the book over the critic’s.

Note: in 1950, the White Estate board voted to make dated quotes timeless—for example, to change wording such as “four hundred years ago” to “centuries ago,” and so forth. And recently, the board voted to remove the word intercourse—which in the past people understood as meaning “interchange” or “communication” but which now has primarily a sexual connotation—from Steps to Christ and other books as they are reprinted.

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