Questions and Answers About Ellen G. White
ELLEN G. WHITE'S LIFE AND MINISTRY
Ellen G. White and Seventh-day Adventist Church Membership
Did Ellen White make acceptance of her prophetic ministry a prerequisite for joining the Seventh-day Adventist church?
Speaking of those who "had no opposition" to her prophetic gift, but who, for various reasons, were still undecided regarding her ministry, Ellen White wrote:
Such should not be deprived of the benefits and privileges of the church, if their Christian course is otherwise correct, and they have formed a good Christian character. . . .
Some, I was shown, could receive the published visions, judging of the tree by its fruits. Others are like doubting Thomas; they cannot believe the published
nor receive evidence through the testimony of others, but must see and have the evidence for themselves. Such must not be set aside, but long patience and brotherly love should be exercised toward them until they find their position and become established for or against. If they fight against the visions, of which they have no knowledge; if they carry their opposition so far as to oppose that in which they have had no experience, and feel annoyed when those who believe that the visions are of God speak of them in meeting and comfort themselves with the instruction given through vision, the church may know that they are not right (
vol. 1, p. 328).
Ellen G. White's Siblings, Family, and Genealogy.
How many children did Ellen White have?
Four boys were born into the White family. Henry Nichols (1847-1863) was their firstborn. He died of pneumonia at the age of 16. James Edson (1849-1928) became a Seventh-day Adventist minister and is most remembered for his pioneering evangelistic and educational work among African Americans in the Southern United States. William Clarence (1854-1937) also became a Seventh-day Adventist minister. After James's death in 1881, William became his mother's chief editorial assistant and publishing manager. John Herbert (1860) died at the age of three months from erysipelas.
Was Ellen White the only Seventh-day Adventist in her family? What about her brothers and sisters?
Of the eight Harmon children, two became active Seventh-day Adventists: Ellen and her older sister Sarah, whose son was hymn-writer F. E. Belden. Both of Ellen White's parents died Sabbathkeepers and believers in the Advent message, as did her brother Robert, who died a little more than 10 years before the church officially organized in 1863. Mary, six years older than Ellen, considered herself a Seventh-day Adventist, although there is no record of her formally joining the church.
Ellen White maintained close relationships with her remaining three sisters and older brother, John, corresponding and visiting with them, and sending them copies of her books and subscriptions to Adventist journals. At one time she wrote of her sisters, "Although we were not practically agreed on all points of religious duty, yet our hearts were one" (
Review and Herald,
Apr. 21, 1868).
What is Known Regarding Ellen White's Genealogy?
Documented evidence supports the conclusion that Ellen White's ancestry is of Anglo-Saxon origin. In 1920 Ellen White's lineage on her father's side was set forth in the publication of
The Harmon Genealogy,
by Artemas C. Harmon. Many years later, in the early 1980s, the White Estate contracted with a professional genealogist to specifically trace Ellen White's lineage on her mother's side-Eunice Gould Harmon. The results were printed in 1983 in the form of an
ancestral chart reaching back five generations to John Gold, son of Jarvis Gold and Mary Gold, who came to Massachusetts from Kent County, England, in 1635.
More recently, the White Estate contracted with another professional genealogist to study in even more detail Ellen White's direct maternal Gould line. The results of this second study were published in a
genealogist's report, completed in 2002. It harmonized with the conclusions of the previous professional genealogist twenty years earlier, namely, that Ellen White's Gould ancestors came directly from England to New England in 1635.
Thus, the White Estate's position that Ellen White's ancestry was of Anglo-Saxon origin is based upon two professional genealogical studies, plus Artemas C. Harmon's genealogical book.
Ellen G. White's Visions
What were Ellen White's visions like? Are there any eye-witness accounts?
The work of anyone who claims to bear God's message must meet the sure tests of the Word of God, such as, "by their fruits ye shall know them," "to the law and to the testimony," the fulfillment of predictions, etc. While the physical phenomena that sometimes accompanied the visions do not rightfully form a test, they did supply, in the minds of most eyewitnesses, confirmatory evidence of the working of divine power. Those who personally witnessed Ellen White in vision observed very carefully what took place. From the
eyewitness accounts available, we can build the following summary:
- Immediately preceding a vision, both Mrs. White and others in the room experienced a deep sense of the presence of God .
- As the vision began, Ellen White would exclaim "Glory!" or "Glory to God!", at times repeated.
- She experienced a loss of physical strength.
- Subsequently, she often manifested supernatural strength.
- She did not breathe, but her heartbeat continued normally, and the color in her cheeks was natural.
- Occasionally she gave exclamations indicative of the scene being presented to her.
- Her eyes were open, not with vacant stare, but as if she were intently watching something.
- Her position might vary. At times she was seated; at times reclining; at times she walked about the room and made graceful gestures as she spoke of matters presented.
- She was absolutely unconscious of what was occurring about her. She neither saw, heard, felt, nor perceived in any way her immediate surroundings or happenings.
- The close of the vision was indicated by a deep inhalation, followed in about a minute by another, and very soon her natural breathing resumed.
- Immediately after the vision all seemed very dark to her.
- Within a short time she regained her natural strength and abilities.
The "Big Bible"
Is the story of Ellen G. White holding up a big Bible fact or fiction?
Early in 1845, while in vision at her parents' home in Portland, Maine, 17-year-old Ellen Harmon (later White) picked up their large family Bible and held it on her outstretched left arm for 20 to 30 minutes. The story was documented by J. N. Loughborough who interviewed those who witnessed the vision, including Ellen's father, mother, and sister. The Bible (on display at the Ellen G. White Estate) weighs 18½ pounds (8 kilos) and was printed by Joseph Teal in 1822. W. C. White, Ellen White's son, also reported hearing of the incident from his parents. There are other reports of Ellen White holding large Bibles while in vision, including an eye-witness account printed in
vol. 2, pp. 77-79.
Such experiences should not be considered
of divine inspiration, as prophets must meet the tests set forth in the Scriptures; but this experience, as well as other remarkable physical phenomena, were seen as evidence by many early Adventists that Ellen Harmon's visions were of supernatural origin.
Cursory readers of a 1919 discussion regarding the "big Bible" have mistakenly concluded that the General Conference president, A. G. Daniells, questioned the historicity of the incident. They have missed Daniells's point, which he clarified when he was asked whether he was discrediting the miracle or stating that he would not use such manifestations as a "proof" of inspiration. He replied, "No, I do not discount them nor disbelieve them; but they are not the kind of evidence I would use with students or with unbelievers. . . . I do not question them, but I do not think they are the best kind of evidence to produce" (Minutes of the Bible and History Teachers' Council, July 30, 1919, pp. 2341-2344, 2360-2362).
Ellen G. White and Israel Dammon
In 1845 Elder Israel Dammon, a Millerite adventist, faced charges by the State of Maine that he was a "vagabond and idle person," "a common railer or brawler," "neglecting his employment," "misspending his earnings" and did not "provide for the support" of himself or his family. His trial was reported, in abridged format, in the
of Dover, Maine, March 7, 1845. The published record provides a fascinating contemporary account of some of the fanatical activities known to have been associated with certain ex-Millerite factions. What is of particular interest to Seventh-day Adventists is that the record mentions young Ellen Harmon (later White) as being present at one of the meetings.
It should be noted that none of the witnesses in the record of Israel Dammon's trial allege any fanatical activity by 17-year-old Ellen Harmon. But the question arises whether Ellen Harmon's attendance at meetings where fanaticism was evident should be construed as an endorsement of such behavior. We think not. When the Lord instructed Ellen Harmon to relate her first vision (received December 1844) to the Advent believers, He did not exclude the fanatics from her ministry. Ellen White refers to numerous occasions when she was directed to bear her testimony to those mistakenly caught up with fanatical ideas and practices. For example:
"In the period of disappointment after the passing of the time in 1844, fanaticism in various forms arose. Some held that the resurrection of the righteous dead had already taken place. I was sent to bear a message to those believing this, as I am now bearing a message to you [certain persons advocating strange doctrines in 1901]. They declared that they were perfected, that body, soul, and spirit were holy. They made demonstrations similar to those you have made, and confused their own minds and the minds of others by their wonderful suppositions. Yet these persons were our beloved brethren, and we were longing to help them. I went into their meetings. There was much excitement, with noise and confusion. One could not tell what was piped or what was harped. Some appeared to be in vision, and fell to the floor. Others were jumping, dancing, and shouting. They declared that as their flesh was purified, they were ready for translation. This they repeated again and again. I bore my testimony in the name of the Lord, placing His rebuke upon these manifestations" (
book 2, p. 34).
Ellen Harmon's association with Israel Dammon at this time may also be understood in light of the fact that while most Millerites had rejected their past experience, he was among a handful of leaders who still believed that Bible prophecy had been fulfilled in 1844--one of the few who would listen to the message of Ellen Harmon's first vision.
Ellen G. White's Financial Affairs
Was Ellen White a millionaire?
More than once in her ministry, Ellen White was confronted by reports that she was accumulating great wealth because of her book royalties. Here is her direct response to one detractor, written in 1897 while she lived in Australia:
"You have made reports in reference to me being rich. How did you know I was? For about ten years I have been working on borrowed property. Should I sell all that I have in my possession, I would not have sufficient to pay my outstanding debts.
"Where have I invested this money? You well know where. I have been the bank from which to draw to carry forward the work in this country. . . .
"I have borrowed money to do the work which must be done. Not one shilling of the donations sent me, from the least sum to larger amounts, has been used for myself. Our good Sister Wessels made me a present of a silk dress, and made me promise I would not sell it. But I thought that had she placed in my hands the amount the dress was worth, it would have been used in the cause of God.
"I see debts on our meetinghouses and it hurts my soul. I cannot but feel distress over the matter. I have invested money in the Parramatta church, in the Prospect church, in the Napier church, in the Ormondville church, in the Gisborne church, and in the education of students. I have sent persons to America that they might be fitted to return and do work in this country. If this is the way to become rich, I think it would be well for others to try it.
"All the royalty on my foreign books sold in America is sacredly dedicated to God for the education of students, that they may be fitted for the ministry. Thousands of dollars have been thus expended. Is this the way to accumulate money? The old story that Canright and others have circulated, that I was worth thirty thousand dollars, all fiction. It has increased to thirty thousand pounds, by report, since I came to Australia.
"I do not know where it is. I am using up my means, just as fast as it comes in, to carry forward the work in this country. If I had thirty thousand pounds, I would not have sent to Africa for the loan of one thousand pounds on which I am paying interest. If I could, I would get a loan of another thousand pounds, so that we might be able to put up the main school building.
"I have not thirty thousand pounds. I only wish I had a million dollars. I would do as I did in Sydney. I would put men in the field to labor, defraying their expenses from my own funds. We need one hundred men where we now have one in the field" (Letter 98a, 1897).
Six years later, in a private letter dated October 19, 1903, Ellen White wrote, "I have done all I could to help the cause of God with my means. I am paying interest on twenty thousand dollars, all of which I have invested in the work of God. And I shall continue to do all in my power to help to forward His work" (Letter 218, 1903).
Didn't Ellen White contradict her own teachings by dying in debt?
Ellen White wisely warned against the dangers of indebtedness, but when she died she owed nearly $90,000, with assets appraised at a little more than $65,000. This left a deficit of more than $20,000. Did Ellen White handle her finances irresponsibly and in complete disregard to her own counsels? When all the facts of her business affairs are considered, it is clear that Ellen White did not violate the spirit and intent of the counsel she gave concerning freedom from debt.
It should be noted that Ellen White did not advocate an extreme position on debt--that under no circumstances should one make any moves unless the money is in hand. She recognized that opportunities present themselves where the appropriate response is to move forward in faith, even if it is necessary to "borrow money and pay interest" (
Counsels on Stewardship,
In her own experience, most of Ellen White's borrowing was incurred during the later years of her life when, realizing the shortness of her days, she did some of her heaviest work in preparing new books, both in English and in other languages. There were only two ways in which such expenses of book preparation could be met--either in profits from former publishing (i.e., royalties), or by borrowing against anticipated royalties. Because of Ellen White's past generosity in contributing funds toward the work of the church, she was left to rely upon future earnings (royalties) to liquidate her debt. Part of that generosity consisted in her declining to receive royalties for non-English editions, and donating the royalties of her most popular later works,
Christ's Object Lessons
The Ministry of Healing
(1905), for the support of specific church projects. In the years following her death the continued sales of her publications entirely met her obligations, as she had anticipated. For a fuller discussion of Ellen White's indebtedness, see
"Mrs. White's Indebtedness."
If Ellen White's writings are inspired, why are her books copyrighted and sold? Shouldn't her books be given away?
Thousands of Ellen White's books
given away. In such cases, however, some person or group has donated funds to cover the printing costs--just as copies of the Word of God are circulated freely only by means of the generosity of others. When one bears in mind that Ellen White herself underwrote the costs of preparing book plates, illustrations, and translations, not to mention the costs of producing the book manuscripts themselves, it does not appear unreasonable that she should expect to cover those expenses through the regular mechanism by which most authors are remunerated--royalties. In addition, copyrighting a book provides a protection for maintaining the accuracy of the text. Today, there are continuing expenses incurred in maintaining Ellen White's original manuscripts, preparing new publications, including CD-ROM products, and other materials pertaining to her life and ministry.
Didn't Ellen White contradict her own counsel when she sometimes sent tithe funds directly to needy ministers?
Ellen White's instruction on the proper application of the tithe funds is clearly presented by her in
Testimonies for the Church,
vol. 9, pages 245-251. She states that the tithe is to be brought into God's treasury to sustain gospel laborers (p. 249), and that none should "feel at liberty to retain their tithe, to use according to their own judgment. They are not to use it for themselves in an emergency, nor to apply it as they see fit, even in what they may regard as the Lord's work" (p. 247). Ellen White's policy and practice was to follow that model. She wrote in 1890, "I pay my tithes gladly and freely, saying as did David, 'Of thine own have we given thee'" (
p. 260). At a time when certain denominational workers were being inadequately sustained or deprived outright of legitimate salaries, Ellen White acted upon instruction she received from the Lord that she should assist such workers with her own tithe funds, if necessary. She did not regard her action as either the withholding of tithe funds from the treasury or the redirection of them to unauthorized uses. Rather she recognized the inability of the "regular channels" to meet the needs of those particular workers at that point in time.
Ellen G. White's Practice Regarding Vegetarianism
Did Ellen White eat any meat after her health-reform vision in 1863? What about that 1858 "pork" testimony?
Ellen White did not claim that after her 1863 health vision she never again ate meat. Prior to the vision, she believed that she "was dependent upon a meat diet for strength." Because of her weak physical condition, especially for her tendency to faint when weak and dizzy, she thought that meat was "indispensable." In fact, at that time she was "a great meat eater"; flesh meat was her "principal article of diet."
But she complied with advancing light. She cut meat out of her "bill of fare" immediately, and it was no longer a regular part of her diet. She practiced the general principles she taught others, such as that one must use the best food available under the circumstances. When away from home, either while traveling or camping in austere conditions, decades before convenience foods were invented, finding an adequate diet was often difficult. Not always able to obtain the best, for whatever reason, she at times settled for the good--the best under the circumstances.
Ellen White was not dogmatic regarding meat eating. In 1895 she noted, "I have never felt that it was my duty to say that no one should taste of meat under any circumstances. To say this . . . would be carrying matters to extremes. I have never felt that it was my duty to make sweeping assertions. What I have said I have said under a sense of duty, but I have been guarded in my statements, because I did not want to give occasion for anyone to be conscience for another" (
Counsels on Diet and Foods,
In modern attempts to understand history, too frequently the past is judged by the present, most often unknowingly. Individuals of the past must be judged in the context of their circumstances, not ours. In a day without refrigeration, when obtaining fresh fruit and vegetables depended on where one lived and the time of the year, when meat substitutes were rarely obtainable before the introduction of peanut butter and dry-cereals (mid-1890s), on some occasions one either ate meat or nothing at all. In our day, in most circumstances meat eating is rarely a necessity.
While in Australia, she came to the place where she "absolutely banished meat from my table." For a time, she had allowed some meat to be served to workers and family members. From that time on (January 1894) it was understood "that whether I am at home or abroad, nothing of this kind is to be used in my family, or come upon my table" (ibid., p. 488). Many of Ellen White's strongest statements against meat were written after she had renewed her commitment to total abstinence in 1894.
Ellen White's major health visions of 1863 and 1865 encompassed all features of the health reform message that she emphasized until her death. Changes in certain emphases through the years only refined those principles, they did not add or subtract from them. As time passes, even prophets must take time to assimilate revealed principles--time for theory to become practice in their own lives. She constantly advocated the principle, in practice as well as in teaching, that everyone who is committed to truth will move from the bad to the good, from the good to the better, from the better to the best. Such was her experience.
What about her apparent reversal on the question of eating pork? In 1858 she wrote to the Haskells (Brother and Sister A) on a number of items, rebuking them for insisting that pork-eating should be made a "test question": "I saw that your views concerning swine's flesh would prove no injury if you have them to yourselves; but in your judgment and opinion you have made this question a test. . . . If God requires His people to abstain from swine's flesh, He will convict them on the matter. . . . If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine's flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three. He will teach His
their duty" (
Testimonies for the Church,
vol. 1, pp. 206, 207).
In the health reform vision of June 6, 1863, a broad array of health principles was revealed. The next year she published a fifty-page chapter entitled "Health" in
volume 4. In reference to swine's flesh she said: "God never designed the swine to be eaten under any circumstances" (p. 124), and in her later books she continued to emphasize the injurious consequences of eating swine's flesh.
How does one account for this change in Ellen White's views between 1858 and 1863?
First, she had received no light from God on swine's flesh before 1863. Her vision in 1858 did not inform her as to the rightness or wrongness of eating pork. Rather, it reproved this brother for creating division among Adventists by making the issue a test question at that time. Second, she left open the possibility that if pork-eating ought to be discarded by God's people, He would, in His own time, "teach his
their duty." When the vision did come, nearly five years later, the whole church saw the issue clearly and never again was there division regarding this issue.
[Adapted from Herbert E. Douglass,
Messenger of the Lord: the Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White
(Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), pp. 157, 158, 312-319.]
For additional information about Ellen White's dietary practices see,
Ellen White and Vegetarianism.
ELLEN G. WHITE'S WRITINGS
Ellen G. White and "The Bible and the Bible Only"
Do Seventh-day Adventists believe that the writings of Ellen G. White are equal to, or an addition to, the Scriptures? If the Bible is all-sufficient, why do we need Ellen White's writings?
Seventh-day Adventists do not place Ellen White's writings on the same level as Scripture. "The Holy Scriptures stand alone, the unique standard by which her and all other writings must be judged and to which they must be subject" (
Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . ,
p. 227). Another way of framing this question is to ask why the church should need any of the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit. Ellen White answered this question in the Introduction to her book
The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan:
"In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience. "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, R.V.).
"Yet the fact that God has revealed His will to men through His Word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour, to open the Word to His servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings. And since it was the Spirit of God that inspired the Bible, it is impossible that the teaching of the Spirit should ever be contrary to that of the Word.
"The Spirit was not given--nor can it ever be bestowed--to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. . . .
"In harmony with the Word of God, His Spirit was to continue its work throughout the period of the gospel dispensation. During the ages while the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament were being given, the Holy Spirit did not cease to communicate light to individual minds, apart from the revelations to be embodied in the Sacred Canon. The Bible itself relates how, through the Holy Spirit, men received warning, reproof, counsel, and instruction, in matters in no way relating to the giving of the Scriptures. And mention is made of prophets in different ages, of whose utterances nothing is recorded. In like manner, after the close of the canon of the Scripture, the Holy Spirit was still to continue its work, to enlighten, warn, and comfort the children of God" (
The Great Controversy,
pp. vii, viii).
Ellen G. White's Literary Productions
How many books and articles did Ellen White write?
At the time of her death Ellen White's literary productions totaled approximately 100,000 pages: 24 books in current circulation; two book manuscripts ready for publication; 5,000 periodical articles in the journals of the church; more than 200 tracts and pamphlets; approximately 35,000 typewritten pages of manuscript documents and letters; 2,000 handwritten letters and diary materials comprising, when copied, another 15,000 typewritten pages. Compilations made after her death from Ellen White's writings bring the total number of books currently in print to more than 130.
What is Ellen White's most popular book?
Millions consider Ellen White's classic volume on the life of Christ--
The Desire of Ages--
to be their favorite Ellen White book. But her most popular book is
Steps to Christ,
which presents the essentials of basic Christian living. First published in 1892 and since translated into more than 135 languages, tens of millions of copies are in circulation.
Haven't some of Ellen White's writings been suppressed?
All of Ellen White's published works (including those alleged to be suppressed) are included on the White Estate's CD-ROM,
The Complete Published Writings of Ellen G. White.
All of her unpublished works (letters and manuscripts) are available for study at the 14 Ellen G. White-SDA Research Centers located around the world. None of her writings are suppressed.
Critics point to certain deletions in early publications as an evidence that James and Ellen White (or church leaders) attempted to suppress statements supporting erroneous beliefs. It is a fact that some of the early writings that have been reprinted through the years have had sentences and even paragraphs deleted from them and other revisions made. The question really is twofold: a) May a true prophet revise or delete or perhaps even not preserve his God-given messages? b) What were Ellen White's motivations in the changes that were made in her writings?
The Bible reveals that God's messengers exhibited a degree of freedom in deciding what to write and how best to present it. Many prophets delivered messages orally, and thus no written account was preserved at all. In addition, God did not see fit even to preserve the messages of some prophets who had written out their messages (see, for example, 1 Chron. 29:29). Jeremiah tells us that when he re-wrote his message for king Jehoiakim he "added besides unto them many like words" (Jer. 36:32), implying that he was not confined to the use of only his original words in expressing his message.
In responding to the charge of suppression in 1883, Ellen White wrote, "So far from desiring to withhold anything that I have ever published, I would feel great satisfaction in giving to the public every line of my writings that has ever been printed" (
1:60). Such a statement would hardly be made by one whose motivation for changes in her writings was to suppress embarrassing statements. At the same time, an author has the right (some would say, duty) to make sure that his or her ideas are expressed as clearly as possible--even if this should mean deleting and/or revising passages liable to be misinterpreted by readers. An examination of Ellen White's alleged "suppressions" is found in F. D. Nichol's
Ellen G. White and Her Critics,
pp. 267-285 and 619-643.
The Role of Ellen G. White's Literary Assistants
What were Ellen White's secretaries and literary assistants permitted to do in regard to her writings?
Ellen White did not always use perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation, or sentence or paragraph construction in her writing. She freely acknowledged her lack of such technical skills. In 1873 she lamented, "I am not a scholar. I cannot prepare my own writings for the press. . . . I am not a grammarian" (
book 3, p. 90). She felt the need of help from others in the preparation of her manuscripts for publication. W. C. White describes the boundaries that his mother set for her workers:
"Mother's copyists are entrusted with the work of correcting grammatical errors, of eliminating unnecessary repetitions, and of grouping paragraphs and sections in their best order. . . .
"Mother's workers of experience, such as Sisters Davis, Burnham, Bolton, Peck, and Hare, who are very familiar with her writings, are authorized to take a sentence, paragraph, or section from one manuscript and incorporate it with another manuscript where the same thought was expressed but not so clearly. But none of Mother's workers are authorized to add to the manuscripts by introducing thoughts of their own" (W. C. White to G. A. Irwin, May 7, 1900).
While the chapters for each book were being prepared, Ellen White was constantly consulted, and when the work was completed, it was given to her for final approval.
At the age of 75 she explained her work to her sister, Mary:
"Now, my sister, do not think that I have forgotten you; for I have not. You know that I have books to make. My last effort is a book on true education. The writing of this book has been very trying to me, but it is nearly finished. I am now completing the last chapter. This book will not have in it so much matter as there is in some of my larger works, but the instruction it contains is important. I feel the need of help from God continually.
"I am still as active as ever. I am not in the least decrepit. I am able to do much work, writing and speaking as I did years ago.
"I read over all that is copied, to see that everything is as it should be. I read all the book manuscript before it is sent to the printer. So you can see that my time must be fully occupied" (Letter 133, 1902).
The Plagiarism Charge
Was Ellen White a plagiarist?
Ellen White often made use of literary sources in communicating her messages. In the Introduction to one of her most popular books she wrote:
"In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works" (
The Great Controversy,
Ellen White's use of other authors was not limited to historical or geographical material, but included other subject areas as well. Research has found that she enriched her writings with choice expressions from her reading more extensively than had been known, although the
amount that has been documented thus far is a small percentage (less than 2 percent) when measured against her total literary output.
In 1980 Dr. Fred Veltman, at that time the chairman of the Religion Department of Pacific Union College, undertook a detailed analysis of Ellen White's use of literary sources in her book
The Desire of Ages,
a study which took eight years to complete. Copies of the full 2,561-page report were distributed to Seventh-day Adventist college and university libraries throughout the world. The complete report, including its 100-page summary, is also available online at the General Conference Archives web site. Look for "Life of Christ Research Project" under "Categories" at
Because she included such selections from other authors in her writings, critics have charged Ellen White with plagiarism. But the mere use of another's language does not constitute literary theft, as noted by Attorney Vincent L. Ramik, a specialist in patent, trademark, and copyright cases. After researching about 1,000 copyright cases in American legal history, Ramik issued a 27-page
legal opinion in which he concluded "Ellen White was not a plagiarist, and her works did not constitute copyright infringement/piracy." Ramik points out several factors that critics of Ellen White's writings have failed to take into account when accusing her of literary theft or deceit. 1) Her selections "stayed well within the legal boundaries of 'fair use.'" 2) "Ellen White used the writings of others; but in the
she used them, she made them uniquely her own"--adapting the selections into her own literary framework. 3) Ellen White urged her readers to get copies of some of the very books she made use of--demonstrating that she did not attempt to conceal the fact of her use of literary sources, and that she had no intention to defraud or supersede the works of any other author.
Ellen White "did not copy wholesale or without discrimination. What she selected or did not select, and how she altered what she selected" reveals that she used literary sources "to amplify or to state more forcefully her own transcending themes; she was the master, not the slave, of her sources" (Herbert E. Douglass,
Messenger of the Lord,
p. 461). See also
The Truth about the White Lie
ELLEN G. WHITE'S TEACHINGS
The Use of Different Bible Versions
Did Ellen White use any translations of the Bible other than the King James Version?
Yes. While it was Ellen White's custom to use the King James Version, she made occasional use of the various English translations that were becoming available in her day. She does not, however, comment directly on the relative merits of these versions, but it is clear from her practice that she recognized the desirability of making use of the best in all versions of the Bible. For example, in her book
The Ministry of Healing,
Ellen White employed eight texts from the English Revised Version, 55 from the American Revised Version, two from Leeser's translation, and four from Noyes, in addition to seven marginal renderings. In her preaching, however, Ellen White preferred to use the language of the King James Version as it was the most familiar to her listeners.
What did Ellen White believe regarding the Godhead?
Ellen White never used the term "trinity," although she did refer to the "three living persons of the heavenly trio" (
p. 615). She believed in the full deity of Christ, stating that "Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity, God over all, blessed forevermore" (
Review and Herald,
April 5, 1906). She also referred to the Holy Spirit as "the Third Person of the Godhead" (
The Desire of Ages,
p. 671). Her comments, as collected in
pages 613-617, suggest that she believed that the Scriptures taught the existence of three co-eternal divine persons.
Did Ellen White believe the Holy Spirit is a divine person?
Yes, but at times she used the pronoun "it" when referring to the Holy Spirit. Several statements regarding the personality of the Holy Spirit are collected in
pages 616, 617. In 1906, for example, she wrote, "The Holy Spirit has a personality, else He could not bear witness to our spirits and with our spirits that we are the children of God. He must also be a divine person, else He could not search out the secrets which lie hidden in the mind of God. 'For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God'" [1 Corinthians 2:11] (
p. 617). (To view Ellen White's original, unedited draft of this passage,
click here.) See also the PDF document:
"Ellen White's Trinitarian Statements: What Did She Actually Write?
The Age of the Earth
Did Ellen White believe the earth to be about 6,000 years old?
Ellen White rejected the idea that "the world has existed for tens of thousands of years." She accepted the Biblical record that the creation days were seven literal 24-hour periods, believing that the world "is now only about six thousand years old" (
The Spirit of Prophecy,
vol. 1, p. 87.) While Ellen White stated that she was shown in vision that creation week consisted of seven literal days (ibid., p. 85), she did not claim to have received any special revelation regarding the specific age of the earth.
The "Seventh Millennium Theory" and Time-setting
Did Ellen G. White teach that Jesus will return at the beginning of the seventh millennium?
Ellen White believed the earth's age to be about six thousand years. (See question above, "The Age of the Earth.") She also expected to see Jesus return in her day. Thus, when describing future events connected with the end of time, she could write of Satan's ruinous reign having lasted for six thousand years. (See
The Great Controversy,
p. 673, for example.) Nowhere in her writings, however, did Ellen White refer to a divine timetable of seven millennia corresponding to the creation week. She consistently opposed any efforts to calculate the date (day or year) of Christ's return. She wrote, "Again and again have I been warned in regard to time setting. There will never again be a message for the people of God that will be based on time" (
book 1, p. 188). And, "Anyone who shall start up to proclaim a message to announce the hour, day, or year of Christ's appearing, has taken up a yoke and is proclaiming a message that the Lord has never given him" (
Review and Herald,
September 12, 1893).
THE ELLEN G. WHITE ESTATE, INC.
What is the Ellen G. White Estate?
[Material adapted slightly from the
Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia,
second revised edition (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), vol. A-L, pp. 503-506.]
The Ellen G. White Estate, Incorporated,
is an organization created by the last will and testament of Ellen G. White to act as her agent in the custody of her writings, handling her properties, "conducting the business thereof," "securing the printing of new translations," and the "printing of compilations from my manuscripts." Her will, dated Feb. 9, 1912 (printed in its entirety as Appendix Q in F. D. Nichol's
Ellen G. White and Her Critics
), named five church leaders to serve as a board of trustees: Arthur G. Daniells, president of the General Conference; William C. White, her son; Clarence C. Crisler, a secretary; Charles H. Jones, manager of the Pacific Press; and Francis M. Wilcox, editor of the
Review and Herald.
Four of the five were members of the Executive Committee of the General Conference.
Appointment of the trustees was for life, Ellen White providing that "if a vacancy shall occur for any reason among said trustees, or their successors, a majority of the surviving or remaining trustees are hereby empowered and directed to fill such vacancy by the appointment of some other fit person"; or if this provision were to fail, the General Conference Executive Committee should appoint someone to fill such a vacancy. The will dedicated the major portion of the existing and potential royalty incomes from her books to the work of the trustees. (For additional information, see Appendix B, "The Settlement of Ellen G. White's Estate," in volume 6 of A. L. White's biography of Ellen White,
Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years.
At the death of Ellen White, July 16, 1915, this self-perpetuating board began to function. It soon sold Ellen White's real estate, consisting mainly of Elmshaven, her home property near St. Helena, California, then began the continued care of her literary properties. Under the terms of the will, such responsibilities fell into three areas: (1) possession of the copyrights to her writings and the care and promotion of her books in the English language; (2) preparation of manuscripts for, and the promotion of the translation and publication of her writings in other languages; and (3) custody of the files of manuscripts and other files, and the selection of matter from the Ellen G. White manuscript files for publication. The board now carries a fourth responsibility, which has developed naturally through the years--acquainting Seventh-day Adventists and others with Mrs. White and her work.
The Original Board.
When the board was organized in 1915, A. G. Daniells served as president. The secretaryship, after being held for a short time by C. C. Crisler, passed to W. C. White, the only member of the board devoting full time to the work of the trustees. He filled this office until his death in 1937. From 1915 to 1937 the work was carried on at Elmshaven in a rented office building with a vault that was used to house the Ellen G. White materials.
During the 19 years they worked together, the original members, in addition to routine tasks, (1) published 10 posthumous compilations (for an annotated bibliography of the Ellen G. White books,
White, Ellen G., Writings of, and Appendix D in the
Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White
); (2) produced an 865-page
Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White,
published in 1926; (3) carried forward the thorough indexing of the Ellen G. White manuscript files; and (4) in counsel with the leading officers of the General Conference in 1933 and 1934, laid the foundation for continuing the trusteeship in perpetuity. The steps taken to ensure the perpetuation of the trusteeship were: (
) in 1933 the trustees, as the constituency, formed a corporation under the laws of the state of California "to carry out and perform the provisions of the charitable trust created by the last will and testament of Ellen G. White deceased"; (
) the General Conference agreed to provide adequate financial support for the work of the trustees in the form of an annual budget; the trustees, in turn, assigned to the General Conference all royalty incomes produced by the Ellen G. White books; (
) it was agreed to move the property and work of the trustees at some appropriate future time to Washington, D.C., thus placing it close to the world headquarters of the church.
Period of Transition.
When three of the original trustees died--one in 1935 and two in 1936--the vacancies were filled in harmony with the provisions of the will and the bylaws of the 1933 corporation. The full-time secretary, W. C. White, died on Sept. 1, 1937. He was replaced by his son, Arthur L. White, who for nine years had served as his secretary and for four years as assistant secretary of the White Estate. The work of the White Estate was moved to the General Conference, Washington, D.C., in January, 1938.
With the demands upon them increasing steadily with the growth of the church and numerous constituencies to be represented, in 1950 the trustees increased the board's membership from five to seven, and in 1958 amended the bylaws of the corporation to provide for a constituency and board of nine, seven to be life members and two to be elected for a term corresponding to that of General Conference elected personnel (originally four years, but now five). In 1970 the board was increased to 11; in 1980, to 13; and, in 1985, to 15. The number of life members is currently five. At quinquennial meetings the board also elects the secretary and associate secretaries, as well as officers of the corporation, as provided for in the bylaws.
Relationship to General Conference.
Through the years a close working relationship has obtained between the White trustees and the General Conference. Most of the trustees are members of the General Conference Executive Committee. Various matters, such as promoting the overseas publication of the Ellen G. White material, appropriation of funds to assist in the foreign language publication of Ellen G. White books, and overall planning of Spirit of Prophecy promotion, including preparation of materials for the annual Spirit of Prophecy Sabbath, although intimately related to the work of the White trustees, are beyond the sphere of their direct responsibility. These are handled by the General Conference Committee through a sub-committee known as the Spirit of Prophecy Committee. This committee includes several of the White trustees. The duties of this subcommittee and the working relationship between the General Conference Committee and the White Estate are currently set forth in a joint agreement adopted by the General Conference Committee and the White Estate trustees on Oct. 10, 1957. There is an interlocking and at times overlapping of responsibilities; nevertheless, a smooth and efficient working relationship between the two organizations is maintained.
The Work of the White Estate.
The paid staff members: (1) safeguard and maintain the records in the custody of the trustees, and the indexes thereto, in such a manner as to serve the church; (2) handle the copyrights to the Ellen G. White works; (3) conduct such research in these works and the related historical materials as may be called for; (4) respond to questions that may be directed to the White Estate in personal interviews and in a worldwide correspondence; (5) assemble, when authorized by the trustees, materials for compilations from Ellen G. White's writings; (6) foster, in conjunction with the Spirit of Prophecy Committee, the ever-widening publication of these writings in various languages and at times make selections or abridgments as called for and authorized; (7) fill assignments in church, institutional, and field visitation as the needs and best interests of the advancing work of the church require; (8) conduct tours of historical sites of denominational interest, especially in the New England states; and (9) prepare articles, correspondence lessons, and text materials.
Productions of special value to the church include the four-volume
Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White
(1962, 1992); the six-volume facsimile reprints of the Ellen G. White
Review and Herald
articles; the four-volume Ellen G. White
Signs of the Times
articles; the Ellen G. White
articles; the Periodical Resource Collection volumes; the six-volume biography of Ellen G. White, by A. L. White; and
The Published Writings of Ellen G. White on Compact Disc
(CD-ROM), a tool of inestimable value to users of computers.
Branch Offices and Research Centers.
The White Estate maintains three branch office research centers--at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, and at Oakwood College, Huntsville, Alabama. These offices contain duplicates of the Ellen G. White documents and other historical materials housed in the main office at General Conference headquarters. Beginning in 1974, the White Estate also has set up Ellen G. White-SDA Research Centers on the campuses of 11 Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities outside North America, in the countries of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, England, India, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, and South Africa.
Use of Ellen G. White Manuscript Materials.
During the later years of her life, Ellen G. White often drew upon her unique 50,000-page manuscript file in the preparation of published works. The White trustees have continued to draw upon this for the compilations made since her death. These manuscripts constitute an invaluable basic file of historical records and of counsel to the church. The copyright of these manuscripts resides solely with the White trustees.
While all of Ellen White's writings are available for research, the unpublished letters, manuscripts, and other materials in the Ellen G. White files do not constitute a public archive. The sacred nature of the files generally and the confidential nature of many of the communications in the files require that they be cared for and used responsibly. Even manuscripts whose primary value is historical in nature must not be used in a solely secular manner. "Spiritual things are spiritually discerned" (
The Desire of Ages,
p. 55; see also 1 Cor. 2:14). Because of this, during the first few decades following Ellen White's death, careful policies governing the use and release of unpublished materials were set up, ultimately resulting in the publication of 21 volumes known as
In recent years the earlier restrictive policies have been adapted to accommodate the needs of increased research.
Officers of the Board.
The two chief officers of the board are the chair and the secretary. The chair is also president of the corporation. The secretary serves not only as secretary of the board but as executive secretary of the organization, being responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office and staff. Beginning in 1915, when the terms of Ellen G. White's will went into effect, the White Estate has had 10 chairs and six secretaries.
A. G. Daniells, 1915-1935; J. E. Fulton, 1935-1936; J. L. Shaw, 1936-1937; F. M. Wilcox, 1938-1944; M. E. Kern, 1944-1951; D. E. Rebok, 1952; A. V. Olson, 1952-1963; F. D. Nichol 1963-1966; W. P. Bradley, 1966-1980; Kenneth H. Wood, 1980- .
William C. White, 1915-1937; Arthur L. White, 1937-1978; Robert W. Olson, 1978-1990; Paul A. Gordon, 1990-1995; Juan Carlos Viera, 1995-2000; James R. Nix, 2000- .
How to Contact the Ellen G. White Estate
Ellen G. White Estate
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 U.S.A.
Phone: 301 680-6540
FAX: 301 680-6090