The Great Controversy and the Seventh-day Adventist Worldview


The Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church uses The Great Controversy (GC), by Ellen G. White, as an evangelistic tool, sending literature evangelists to sell it door-to-door, and occasionally distributing it free of charge.  In addition, The Great Controversy forms the authoritative basis for many claims made by Adventist evangelists.  Ellen G. White, the author, is the prophetess and co-founder of the SDA Church, so The Great Controversy is considered by Adventists to be divinely inspired.  What is the background of Ellen G. White, the SDA Church, and the book they are promoting?


Background of Ellen G. (Harmon) White

  • Born in Gorham, ME, on November 26, 1827; died July 16, 1915
  • Young Ellen was struck in the face by a rock hurled by an angry schoolmate; was in a coma for three weeks; the injury left her unable to finish her schooling beyond the third grade because she couldn’t focus mentally; some experts believe that the brain injury caused her to suffer from partial-complex seizures (temporal lobe epilepsy) as an adult—seizures which were interpreted as visions (see Gregory Holmes and Delbert Hodder, “Ellen G. White and the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Visions or Partial Complex Seizures?” Journal of Neurology 31, no. 4 pt. 2 (1981): 160-161; see also for an online article that originally appeared in the June 1985 Adventist Currents)
  • The Harmons were a strict Methodist family with strong Puritan roots
  • The combination of a strict Methodist emphasis on sanctification and the Puritan emphasis on producing works of obedience to God impacted the theology that Ellen White presents in GC; essentially, Puritans believed in predestination, so their good works were not a means of obtaining (or retaining) salvation; John Wesley emphasized sanctified living as an essential byproduct of salvation; Ellen White would add strict Puritan works to Wesley’s idea of sanctified living, resulting in a doctrine of sanctification that is much more strict than the soteriology of Puritanism or Methodism
  • Ellen Harmon began having visions in December 1844
  • Ellen and her husband James White co-founded the SDA Church; formal organization began with the incorporation of the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in 1861
  • Fundamental Belief 18 of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine states that Ellen White's "writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth."


Background of The Great Controversy

  • The Great Controversy is based on a vision of Ellen White at Lovett’s Grove, OH, on March 14, 1858
  • Full title: The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan: The Conflict of the Ages in the Christian Dispensation
  • The Great Controversy traces the history of Christianity from the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to the coming of the New Jerusalem
  • Ellen White’s title and theme were apparently borrowed from a book by H. L. Hastings entitled The Great Controversy Between God and Man: Its Origins, Progress, and End (see
  • The Great Controversy is part of a 5-vol. set called The Conflict of the Ages Series
  • The Great Controversy has evolved through several editions: Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1 (1858); Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4 (1884); The Great Controversy (1888 ed.); & The Great Controversy (1911 ed.)
  • Here is how Ellen White described GC: “The book Great Controversy I appreciate above silver or 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” (3SM 123)
  • Another EGW quote on the writing of The Great Controversy: “The Lord has set before me matters which are of urgent importance for the present time, and which reach into the future. The words have been spoken in a charge to me, ‘Write in a book the things which thou hast seen and heard, and let it go to all the people; for the time is at hand when past history will be repeated.’ I have been aroused at one, two, or three o'clock in the morning with some point forcibly impressed upon my mind, as if spoken by the voice of God” (CM 128) 
  • The 1911 Great Controversy was revised by several researchers at the request of Ellen White; some historical errors were corrected, and a few sources were cited
  • Adventists admit that possibly more than 50% of GC is “borrowed” from other sources (see Robert W. Olson, “Ellen G. White’s Use of Historical Sources in The Great Controversy,” Adventist Review, Feb. 23, 1984, p. 5 )
  • According to SDA historian Donald R. McAdams, “[T]he historical portions of The Great Controversy that I have examined are selective abridgments and adaptation of historians.  Ellen White was not just borrowing paragraphs here and there that she ran across in her reading, but in fact following the historians page after page, leaving out much material, but using their sequence, some of their ideas, and often their words.  In the examples I have examined I have found no historical fact in her text that is not in their text.  The handwritten manuscript on John Huss follows the historian so closely that it does not even seem to have gone through an intermediary stage, but rather from the historian’s printed page to Mrs. White’s manuscript, including historical errors and moral exhortations” (Donald R. McAdams, “Shifting Views of Inspiration: Ellen G. White Studies in the 1970s,” Spectrum, Mar. 1980, p. 34;
  • Walter T. Rea, author of The White Lie, is the foremost expert on Ellen White’s plagiarism
  • For an analysis of historical and theological errors in The Great Controversy, please see Dirk Anderson, The Fake Controversy (Jacksonville, FL: Via Del Agape, 2008).

Background of the SDA Church

  • Seventh-day Adventists are the most successful group that emerged from the Millerite movement; William Miller predicted the second coming of Christ on October 22, 1844
  • Ellen Harmon and James White were minor figures in the Millerite movement
  • Ellen Harmon lost her membership in the Methodist Church because of her devotion to Miller’s teachings, and her experience was typical of many other Millerites; thus, a spirit of hostility against the mainline Christian denominations traces back to the Millerite movement
  • The Millerite movement is depicted in the GC as a focal point of Christian history, and the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are presented as a second "Reformation" to purify God’s remnant church from any remaining Catholic teachings, namely "Sunday sacredness" and the doctrine of the "immortality of the soul"

Quotes From The Great Controversy

(Scroll down to the "Time of Trouble" subheading for Adventist eschatology.)



Protestant Churches and the Millerite Movement

Ellen White condemned all who rejected the Millerite movement:  “But those who desired only an excuse to reject the truth closed their ears to this explanation, and the words ‘No man knoweth the day nor the hour’ continued to be echoed by the bold scoffer and even by the professed minister of Christ. As the people were roused, and began to inquire the way of salvation, religious teachers stepped in between them and the truth, seeking to quiet their fears by falsely interpreting the word of God.  Unfaithful watchmen united in the work of the great deceiver, crying, Peace, peace, when God had not spoken peace.  Like the Pharisees in Christ's day, many refused to enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, and those who were entering in they hindered.  The blood of these souls will be required at their hand” (GC 372). 

Harlot Daughters of the Whore of Babylon


“The woman (Babylon) of Revelation 17 is described as ‘arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness:...and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots.’  Says the prophet:  "I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus."  Babylon is further declared to be "that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." Revelation 17:4-6, 18.  The power that for so many centuries maintained despotic sway over the monarchs of Christendom is Rome.  The purple and scarlet color, the gold and precious stones and pearls, vividly picture the magnificence and more than kingly pomp affected by the haughty see of Rome.  And no other power could be so truly declared "drunken with the blood of the saints" as that church which has so cruelly persecuted the followers of Christ” (GC 382).


Babylon is said to be ‘the mother of harlots.’  By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing the truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world” (GC 382-383).


“Many of the Protestant churches are following Rome's example of iniquitous connection with ‘the kings of the earth’—the state churches, by their relation to secular governments; and other denominations, by seeking the favor of the world.  And the term ‘Babylon’—confusion—may be appropriately applied to these bodies, all professing to derive their doctrines from the Bible, yet divided into almost innumerable sects, with widely conflicting creeds and theories” (GC 383).


“The power of godliness has well-nigh departed from many of the churches.  Picnics, church theatricals, church fairs, fine houses, personal display, have banished thoughts of God” (GC 463-464).

Identity of the Beast & the Mark of the Beast


“In [Revelation] chapter 13 (verses 1-10) is described another beast, ‘like unto a leopard,’ to which the dragon gave ‘his power, and his seat, and great authority.’  This symbol, as most Protestants have believed, represents the papacy, which succeeded to the power and seat and authority once held by the ancient Roman empire.  Of the leopardlike beast it is declared:  ‘There was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. . . .  And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.  And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.’  This prophecy, which is nearly identical with the description of the little horn of Daniel 7, unquestionably points to the papacy” (GC 439).


“What then is the change of the Sabbath, but the sign, or mark, of the authority of the Roman Church—‘the mark of the beast’?” (GC 448).


The enforcement of Sundaykeeping on the part of Protestant churches is an enforcement of the worship of the papacy—of the beast.  Those who, understanding the claims of the fourth commandment, choose to observe the false instead of the true Sabbath are thereby paying homage to that power by which alone it is commanded.  But in the very act of enforcing a religious duty by secular power, the churches would themselves form an image to the beast; hence the enforcement of Sundaykeeping in the United States would be an enforcement of the worship of the beast and his image” (GC 448-449).

Protestants, Catholics, & Spiritualists


Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions.  While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome.  The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience” (GC 588). 


“As the teachings of spiritualism are accepted by the churches, the restraint imposed upon the carnal heart is removed, and the profession of religion will become a cloak to conceal the basest iniquity.  A belief in spiritual manifestations opens the door to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, and thus the influence of evil angels will be felt in the churches” (GC 603-604).

The United States of America: Lamb that Speaks as a Dragon


“The prophecy of Revelation 13 declares that the power represented by the beast with lamblike horns shall cause ‘the earth and them which dwell therein’ to worship the papacy—there symbolized by the beast ‘like unto a leopard.’  The beast with two horns is also to say ‘to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast;’ and, furthermore, it is to command all, ‘both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond,’ to receive the mark of the beast. Revelation 13:11-16.  It has been shown that the United States is the power represented by the beast with lamblike horns, and that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the United States shall enforce Sunday observance, which Rome claims as the special acknowledgment of her supremacy” (GC 578-579).

Time of Trouble


“And then [as divine judgments fall on the wicked] the great deceiver will persuade men that those who serve God are causing these evils.  The class that have provoked the displeasure of Heaven will charge all their troubles upon those whose obedience to God's commandments is a perpetual reproof to transgressors.  It will be declared that men are offending God by the violation of the Sunday sabbath; that this sin has brought calamities which will not cease until Sunday observance shall be strictly enforced . . . .” (GC 590).


“The powers of earth, uniting to war against the commandments of God, will decree that "all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond" (Revelation 13:16), shall conform to the customs of the church by the observance of the false sabbath.  All who refuse compliance will be visited with civil penalties, and it will finally be declared that they are deserving of death” (GC 604).


“[A] decree will finally be issued against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, denouncing them as deserving of the severest punishment and giving the people liberty, after a certain time, to put them to death.  Romanism in the Old World and apostate Protestantism in the New will pursue a similar course toward those who honor all the divine precepts” (GC 615-616).


"As the decree issued by the various rulers of Christendom against commandment keepers [Seventh-day Adventists] shall withdraw the protection of government and abandon them to those who desire their destruction, the people of God will flee from the cities and villages and associate together in companies, dwelling in the most desolate and solitary places.  Many will find refuge in the strongholds of the mountains.  Like the Christians of the Piedmont valleys, they will make the high places of the earth their sanctuaries and will thank God for “the munitions of rocks” (Isaiah 33:16).  But many of all nations and of all classes, high and low, rich and poor, black and white, will be cast into the most unjust and cruel bondage.  The beloved of God pass weary days, bound in chains, shut in by prison bars, sentenced to be slain, some apparently left to die of starvation in dark and loathsome dungeons.  No human ear is open to hear their moans; no human hand is ready to lend them help" (GC 626).


“Though a general decree has fixed the time when commandment keepers [SDAs] may be put to death, their enemies will in some cases anticipate the decree, and before the time specified, will endeavor to take their lives.  But none can pass the mighty guardians stationed about every faithful soul.  Some are assailed in their flight from the cities and villages; but the swords raised against them break and fall powerless as a straw” (GC 631).


“The people of Godsome in prison cells, some hidden in solitary retreats in the forests and the mountains—still plead for divine protection, while in every quarter companies of armed men, urged on by hosts of evil angels, are preparing for the work of death. . . .  With shouts of triumph, jeering, and imprecation, throngs of evil men are about to rush upon their prey, when, lo, a dense blackness, deeper than the darkness of the night, falls upon the earth.  Then a rainbow, shining with the glory from the throne of God, spans the heavens and seems to encircle each praying company” (GC 635-636). 


"The enemies of God’s law, from the ministers down to the least among them, have a new conception of truth and duty.  Too late they see that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the seal of the living God.  Too late they see the true nature of their spurious sabbath [Sunday] and the sandy foundation upon which they have been building.  They find that they have been fighting against God.  Religious teachers have led souls to perdition while professing to guide them to the gates of Paradise.  Not until the day of final accounts will it be known how great is the responsibility of men in holy office and how terrible are the results of their unfaithfulness" (GC 640).

Copyright Sabbatismos Ministries, 2010