Crucial Question 10: Did Ellen White forbid the use of physicians, and did she falsely deny having given that advice?
During the early years of Ellen White’s ministry, Sister Prior, an Adventist believer from Camden, NY, died after she and her fellow Adventists determined not to seek medical help, trusting prayer instead. In 1849, Ellen White had printed a broadside (single sheet of paper printed on one side) denouncing the use of physicians, and this obscure paper guided the decision in Mrs. Prior’s case.
From the Pen of Ellen White:
“If any among us are sick, let us not dishonor God by applying to earthly physicians, but apply to the God of Israel. If we follow his directions (James 5:14, 15) the sick will be healed. God's promise cannot fail. Have faith in God, and trust wholly in him, that when Christ who is our life shall appear we may appear with him in glory” (Broadside 2, January 31, 1849).
“Other reports equally groundless were circulated by a Mr. M. who had moved from Camden to Iowa, relative to the death of Sr. Prior. It was stated that we were the cause of her not having medical aid. I will briefly state that we knew nothing of Sr. P.s' sickness, were in Rochester, above one hundred miles from Camden, when this matter occurred, and we had no knowledge of her death until a brother from Camden visited Rochester and brought us the intelligence. There were but two families engaged in this matter. After this we visited Camden, and I was shown in vision that there had been a lack of judgment in regard to the case of Sr. P. in giving their influence against her obtaining medical aid. I saw that they had carried matters to extremes, and that the cause of God was wounded and our faith reproached, on account of such things, which were fanatical in the extreme. The reproof given and the plain testimony borne in regard to these things was the cause of E. W. W. turning from me and taking his position with the ‘Messenger’ party in circulating falsehoods calculated to injure me.
“We believe in the prayer of faith; but some have carried this matter too far, especially those who have been affected with fanaticism. Some have taken the strong ground that it was wrong to use simple remedies. We have never taken this position, but have opposed it. We believe it to be perfectly right to use the remedies God has placed in our reach, and if these fail, apply to the great Physician, and in some cases the counsel of an earthly physician is very necessary. This position we have always held” (2SG 134-135).
“After the initial publication of her 1849 advice in the Broadside against going to physicians, Mrs. White did not include this counsel in any later publication, though she did in 1851 republish most of the 1849 Broadside in her first book. Could it be that the statement imperfectly expressed her views?”—Ellen G. White Estate, A Critique of Prophetess of Health, p. 44
It is well known that medical care was quite primitive and often harmful during the early years of Ellen White’s life, so Ellen should not be blamed for her distrust of physicians. The issue centers on her honesty. Did she forbid going to a medical doctor? Yes. Did she deny having written that Adventists must “not dishonor God by applying to earthly physicians”? Yes. Unfortunately, this episode fits a pattern of behavior for Ellen White, in which she covers for herself by apparently misrepresenting her past statements and experiences. In this case, Ellen’s subsequent vision places the blame squarely upon the grief-stricken Camden Adventists who had “carried matters to extremes.” Unfortunately, her original statement didn’t seem to allow for nuanced interpretation.
- If a prophet isn’t strictly truthful, does it reflect negatively on the other messages the prophet might bear?
- How many apparent inaccuracies can be overlooked in the statements of a prophet?
- Why did Ellen White so frequently “forget” things that would have called her prophetic status into question?
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22).
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD. And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies . . . .” (Ezekiel 13:1-9).
“Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit” (Jer. 7:4-8).
“The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Prov. 12:19).
“Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous” (Ps. 31:18).
“Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120:2).
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).
For Further Study:
- A Critique of Prophetess of Health, pp. 42-44 (available from the White Estate)
- Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health, pp. 32-36 (2nd ed.)
- Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 134-135
Continue on to Crucial Question #11: Non-Millerites Damned?
Go back to Crucial Question #9: Hazen Foss's Endorsement