Crucial Question 2:  Did Ellen White deny or misrepresent her use of sources in her writings?




In the early 1980’s, Walter Rea, an SDA minister who had memorized many passages from EGW, discovered that Ellen White had plagiarized vast amounts of material from other writers.  The White Lie, by Walter Rea, exposed many examples of EGWs plagiarism that the church had hoped would remain hidden.  Rea’s discovery wasn’t completely new information, however.  Ellen White had faced questions about borrowing during her lifetime—questions which she preferred to avoid.


From the Pen of Ellen White:


“You think individuals have prejudiced my mind.  If I am in this state, I am not fitted to be entrusted with the work of God” (3SM 63; 1MR 29).


“I have not been in the habit of reading any doctrinal articles in the paper [the Review and Herald], that my mind should not have any understanding of anyone’s ideas and views, and that not a mold of any man’s theories should have any connection with that which I write” (3SM 63).


“The question is asked, How does Sister White know in regard to the matters of which she speaks so decidedly, as if she had authority to say these things? I speak thus because they flash upon my mind when in perplexity like lightning out of a dark cloud in the fury of a storm. Some scenes presented before me years ago have not been retained in my memory, but when the instruction then given is needed, sometimes even when I am standing before the people, the remembrance comes sharp and clear, like a flash of lightning, bringing to mind distinctly that particular instruction” (3SM 43).


“I am just as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in relating or writing a vision, as in having the vision.  It is impossible for me to call up things which have been shown me unless the Lord brings them before me at the time that he is pleased to have me relate or write them” (2SG 293).


“As soon as I take my pen in hand I am not in darkness as to what to write. It is as plain and clear as a voice speaking to me, ‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go’” (3SM 49).


“I have written many books, and they have been given a wide circulation.  Of myself I could not have brought out the truths in these books, but the Lord has given me the help of His Holy Spirit.  These books, giving the instruction that the Lord has given me during the past sixty years, contain light from heaven, and will bear the test of investigation” (1SM 35; 1MR 140-141).


“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 112).


“I have all faith in God. . . .  He works at my right hand and at my left. While I am writing out important matter, He is beside me, helping me. He lays out my work before me, and when I am puzzled for a fit word with which to express my thought, He brings it clearly and distinctly to my mind. I feel that every time I ask, even while I am still speaking, He responds, ‘Here am I’” (2MR 156-157).


“In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper, expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision--the precious rays of light shining from the throne....” (1SM 27).

As spoken by the heavenly agencies, the words are severe in their simplicity; and I try to put the thoughts into such simple language that a child can understand every word uttered. The words of someone else would not rightly represent me” (3SM 92).


Additional Materials:


That which I have written in regard to health was not taken from books or papers. As I related to others the things which I had been shown, the question was asked, ‘Have you seen the paper, The Laws of Life or the Water Cure Journal?’ I told them No, I had not seen either of the papers. Said they, ‘What you have seen agrees very much with much of their teachings.’ I talked freely with Dr. Lay and many others upon the things which had been shown me in reference to health. I had never seen a paper treating upon health. After the vision was given me, my husband was aroused upon the health questions. He obtained books, upon our Eastern journey, but I would not read them. My view was clear, and I did not want to read anything until I had fully completed my books. My views were written independent of books or of the opinions of others (3SM 282).

“I did not read any works upon health until I had written Spiritual Gifts, Vols. iii and iv, Appeal to Mothers, and had sketched out most of my six articles in the six numbers of “How to Live.” I did not know that such a paper existed as the Laws of Life, published at Dansville, N.Y. I had not heard of the several works upon health, written by Dr. J. C. Jackson, and other publications at Dansville, at the time I had the view named above. I did not know that such works existed until September, 1868, when in Boston, Mass., my husband saw them advertised in a periodical called the Voice of the Prophets, published by Eld. J. V. Himes. My husband ordered the works from Dansville and received them at Topsham Maine. His business gave him no time to peruse them, and as I determined not to read them until I had written out my views, the books remained in their wrappers. As I introduced the subject of health to friends where I labored in Michigan, New England, and in the State of New York, and spoke against drugs and flesh meats, and in favor of water, pure air, and a proper diet, the reply was often made, ‘You speak very nearly the opinions taught in the Laws of Life, and other publications, by Drs. Trall, Jackson, and others. Have you read that paper and those works?’ My reply was that I had not, neither should I read them till I had fully written out my views, lest it should be said that I had received my light upon the subject of health from physicians, and not from the Lord. And after I had written my six articles for How to Live, I then searched the various works on hygiene and was surprised to find them so nearly in harmony with what the Lord had revealed to me. And to show this harmony, and to set before my brethren and sisters the subject as brought out by able writers, I determined to publish “How to Live,” in which I largely extracted from the works referred to” (RH, October 8, 1867).


John C. Gunn wrote in 1857 that tobacco is “a poison of a most deceitful and malignant kind, that sends its exciting and paralyzing influence into every nerve of the body” (Gunn’s New Domestic Physician, 1857, pp. 363-364; qtd. in Olson, “Ellen White’s Denials,” Ministry, Feb. 1991, p. 15;


“Tobacco is a poison of the most deceitful and malignant kind, having an exciting, then a paralyzing influence upon the nerves of the body” (4SGa 128 - there are two page 128s in Spiritual Gifts vol. 4).


“The laws which govern our constitutions are divine: and to their violation there is affixed a penalty, which must sooner or later be met.  And it is as truly a sin to violate one of these laws, as it is to violate one of the ten commandments” (Larkin B. Coles, Philosophy of Health, 1851, p. 8; available online at


“It is just as much sin to violate the laws of our being as to break one of the Ten Commandments . . . .” (2T 70 – printed in 1868, shortly after her 10-8-1867 article in the Review and Herald in which she denied having read the health writings of others until after she had written out her visions).




“We have thought proper to add to [Ellen White’s book Appeal to Mothers] the following Testimonies from men of high standing and authority in the medical world, corroborative of the views presented in the preceding pages.  And in justice to the Writer of those pages, we would say that she had read nothing from the authors here quoted, and had read no other works on this subject, previous to putting into our hands what she has written.  She is not, therefore, a copyist . . . . (Introduction to the “Further Testimony” section of Appeal to Mothers, p. 34).




“Implicitly or explicitly, Ellen White and others speaking on her behalf did not admit to and even denied literary dependency on her part” (Fred Veltman, “The Desire of Ages Project: The Conclusions” Ministry, Dec. 1990, p. 11; available online at


“I must admit at the start that in my judgment this [Ellen White’s denials of borrowing] is the most serious problem to be faced in connection with Ellen White’s literary dependency.  It strikes at the heart of her honesty, her integrity, and therefore her trustworthiness” (Fred Veltman, “Personal Postscript,” Ministry, Dec. 1990, p. 14; available online at




The writer of this book [Sketches From the Life of Paul], having received especial help from the Spirit of God, is able to throw light upon the teachings of Paul and their application to our own time, as no other authors are prepared to do.  She has not suffered herself to be drawn aside to discuss theories, or to indulge in speculation.  No extraneous matter is introduced.  Consequently much that is contained in other books, which is interesting to the curious, and has a certain value, but which is after all little more than theory, finds no place in this work” (Preface to Ellen White’s Sketches From the Life of Paul, iii-iv; available online at




“If Mrs. W. has gathered the facts from a human mind in a single case, she has in thousands of cases, and God has not shown her these things which she has written in these personal testimonies” (James White, Life Sketches, 1880 ed., pp. 328; available online at


In her published works there are many things set forth which cannot be found in other books, and yet they are so clear and beautiful that the unprejudiced mind grasps them at once as truth . . . .  If commentators and theological writers generally had seen these gems of thought which strike the mind so forcibly, and had they been brought out in print, all the ministers in the land could have read them. . . .  From what source has she received the new and rich thoughts which are to be found in her writings and oral addresses?  She could not have learned them from books, from the fact that they do not contain such thoughts. . . .  The case is a clear one.  It evidently requires a hundred times the credulity to believe that Mrs. W. has learned these things of others, and has palmed them off as visions from God, than it does to believe that the Spirit of God has revealed them to her” (James White, Life Sketches, 1880 ed., pp. 328-329; available online at




“But even if it should be proved that she deliberately misstated this matter [her use of sources], I would still believe that she was God’s special messenger” (Robert W. Olson, “Ellen White’s Denials,” Ministry, Feb. 1991, p. 16;




In her Review and Herald article of October 8, 1867, Ellen White flatly denied having read the writings of other health reformers: I did not read any works upon health until I had written Spiritual Gifts, Vols. iii and iv . . . .”  However, a statement from Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4 clearly comes from John C. Gunn, and this is admitted by Robert W. Olson, former head of the Ellen G. White Estate.  Additional discussion of Ellen White’s unwillingness to acknowledge sources is available in Prophetess of Health, by Ronald Numbers, and The White Lie, by Walter Rea.  Ellen White clearly and repeatedly described her writings as coming from God, and she clearly and repeatedly neglected to state that she derived any ideas from others.  As Mrs. White herself pointed out, it is possible to lie by omission of the full truth: “Falsehood virtually consists in an intention to deceive; and this may be shown by a look or a word. Even facts may be so arranged and stated as to constitute falsehoods” (4T 335).  She goes on in the same passage to state, “Men are mortals. They may be sincerely pious and yet have many errors of understanding and many defects of character, but they cannot be Christ's followers and yet be in league with him [or her] who ‘loveth and maketh a lie’” (4T 336).


Thought Questions:


  1. Why would Ellen White deny reading books that she plagiarized?
  2. Is neglecting to mention the full truth the same as telling a lie?
  3. Would Ellen White’s contemporaries have viewed her writings much differently had they been told the full story?


Bible Texts:


“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:



Continue on to Crucial Question #3:  Role of EGW's Assistants

Go back to Crucial Question #1:  Fanaticism