J. N. Loughborough1 gave the following account of a vision Ellen White received in 1846:
One evening, at the conference above mentioned, at the house of Mr. Curtiss and in the presence of Elder Bates, who was yet undecided in regard to these manifestations, Mrs. White, while in vision, began to talk about the stars, giving a glowing description of rosy-tinted belts which she saw across the surface of some planet, and added, 'I see four moons.' 'Oh,' said Elder Bates, 'she is viewing Jupiter!' Then having made motions as though traveling through space, she began giving a description of belts and rings in their ever-varying beauty, and said, 'I see seven moons.' Elder Bates exclaimed, 'She is describing Saturn.' Next she said, 'I see six moons,' and at once began a description of the 'opening heavens,' with its glory, calling it an opening into a region more enlightened.
Today, we know that both, Jupiter and Saturn, have more moons than she said.
A number of things should be noted:
- We can’t be certain about what Ellen White actually said. Loughborough didn’t write about the vision until some 40 years after. We should be careful about accepting accounts unless they are primary sources from Ellen White herself.
- Ellen White never named the planets she saw – Joseph Bates did. We don’t know if God really showed her an actual view of Jupiter and Saturn, or of some other, more distant, planets.
- Most importantly, God wanted to convince Bates, and the vision did just that. It is also good to remember that new moons will likely still be discovered for either planet; the current (confirmed) count is 62 for Saturn and 67 for Jupiter. Moreover, what exactly constitutes a moon is debatable, since there are innumerable pieces of rock (moonlets) with varying features orbiting Saturn. God could no doubt have shown her an actual number, but not only would it not have fulfilled its purpose, it would have been considered wrong ever since. The account we have from Loughborough does not show Ellen White as specifying the number of moons each planet had, but rather how many she saw. To appeal to Bates, God could have shown her only as many moons as Bates would recognize.
In this case, God had a purpose which was fulfilled, without causing anybody to get onto slippery ground morally. The context, properly understood, will clear up many difficulties.
- 1. J. N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement, p. 258