Crucial Question 3:  Did Ellen White's literary assistants, such as Marian Davis, add words and ideas to Mrs. White's writings?




After James White died, Ellen hired a collection of literary assistants to polish her drafts and compile her books.  Of these assistants, Marian Davis is the most well-known.  Davis compiled several volumes of the Conflict of the Ages Series, including Mrs. White’s most famous book, The Desire of Ages.  If one compares Mrs. White’s early prose with the material she produced late in her life, the improvement is striking.  How much of this improvement is attributable to her assistants, and did they really limit themselves to grammatical corrections?


From the Pen of Ellen White:


“But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true” (1SM 50; 3SM 89).


“My copyists you have seen. They do not change my language. It stands as I write it. . . .” (3SM 90).


“Sometimes I think she will kill us both [EGW & W.C. White], all unnecessarily, with her little things she can just as well settle herself as to bring them before us. Every little change of a word she wants us to see” (3SM 92).


“How will it do to read my manuscript to Elders [J. H.] Waggoner and [J. N.] Loughborough? If there is any wording of doctrinal points not so clear as might be, he might discern it (W. I mean)” (3SM 104).


“I put copy in Elder Waggoner’s had to copy.  He just did a miserable job.  He did not change anything or improve it at all” (qtd. in Olson, How The Desire of Ages Was Written, p. 13).


“How are my books made? Marian does not put in her claim for recognition. She does her work in this way: She takes my articles which are published in the papers, and pastes them in blank books. She also has a copy of all the letters I write. In preparing a chapter for a book, Marian remembers that I have written something on that special point, which may make the matter more forcible. She begins to search for this, and if when she finds it, she sees that it will make the chapter more clear, she adds it. The books are not Marian's productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings. Marian has a large field from which to draw, and her ability to arrange the matter is of great value to me. It saves my poring over a mass of matter, which I have no time to do” (3SM 91).


“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:


“I want to ask a question about the two parables of the hidden treasure and the merchant man seeking goodly pearls.  Do these two parables represent exactly the same thing?  It does not seem as if Christ would give two parables to teach exactly the same thing.  Is there not some point in which they differ?  Might they not represent two different classes who find the truth?  The man who finds the treasure is not said to be seeking for it. . . .  But when he finds it, he is ready to give all in order to possess it.  Then he will diligently search the field for more.  How many there are to whom the truth comes that way, unexpectedly, unsought, but who gladly sacrifice for its sake when they discern its preciousness. But the merchant was seeking goodly pearls. So there are earnest and thoughtful minds everywhere who are earnestly seeking for something precious and enduring . . . .” (Marian Davis to EGW; qtd. in Olson, How The Desire of Ages Was Written, p. 23-24; underlining original).


“A man hires land to cultivate, and as the oxen plow the soil, buried treasure is unearthed. As the man discovers this treasure, he sees that a fortune is within his reach. Restoring the gold to its hiding place, he returns to his home and sells all that he has, in order to purchase the field containing the treasure. His family and his neighbors think that he is acting like a madman. Looking on the field, they see no value in the neglected soil. But the man knows what he is doing; and when he has a title to the field, he searches every part of it to find the treasure that he has secured. This parable illustrates the value of the heavenly treasure, and the effort that should be made to secure it. The finder of the treasure in the field was ready to part with all that he had, ready to put forth untiring labor, in order to secure the hidden riches. So the finder of heavenly treasure will count no labor too great and no sacrifice too dear, in order to gain the treasures of truth” (COL 103-104). [note: Christ’s Object Lessons and Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing were both part of The Desire of Ages project, but they were separated from DA because there was so much material.]


“The merchantman in the parable represents a class who were sincerely desiring truth. In different nations there were earnest and thoughtful men who had sought in literature and science and the religions of the heathen world for that which they could receive as the soul’s treasure” (COL 116).




“Wasn’t it all through His life on earth, a struggle with Him to restrain His divine power—to keep the level of humanity?  Especially in the temptation in the wilderness when Satan came to him saying, If Thou be the Son of God, then for Christ not to assert Himself, not to rebuke the tempter” (Marian Davis to EGW; qtd. in Olson, How The Desire of Ages Was Written, p. 26; underlining original).


"Not without a struggle could Jesus listen in silence to the arch-deceiver. But the Son of God was not to prove His divinity to Satan, or to explain the reason of His humiliation. . . .  And Christ was not to exercise divine power for His own benefit. He had come to bear trial as we must do, leaving us an example of faith and submission. Neither here nor at any subsequent time in His earthly life did He work a miracle in His own behalf” (DA 119).




And in the last temptation, I would like to know if this idea is right—Adam held dominion over the earth, but as subject to Christ.  The Son of God was the real, original ruler, and Adam held dominion under him.  Adam betrayed to Satan his dominion, but back of that, Christ was the first ruler of the world.  Now in the temptation, Satan comes with his stolen title and offers it to Christ, the original ruler, on condition that Christ shall pay him homage.  To do this would be to place Satan in supremacy as the original ruler, and Christ to be subordinate to Satan. . . .  I am attending the Bible class now.  It breaks up my time some, but since they are considering the life of Christ I want to hear it, as any discussion or presentation of that subject brings it up fresh to one’s own mind” (Marian Davis to EGW; qtd. in Olson, How The Desire of Ages Was Written, p. 26-27; underlining original).


“When Satan declared to Christ, The kingdom and glory of the world are delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it, he stated what was true only in part, and he declared it to serve his own purpose of deception. Satan's dominion was that wrested from Adam, but Adam was the viceregent of the Creator. His was not an independent rule. The earth is God's, and He has committed all things to His Son. Adam was to reign subject to Christ. When Adam betrayed his sovereignty into Satan's hands, Christ still remained the rightful King. . . .

“When the tempter offered to Christ the kingdom and glory of the world, he was proposing that Christ should yield up the real kingship of the world, and hold dominion subject to Satan. . . . 

“By the one who had revolted in heaven the kingdoms of this world were offered Christ, to buy His homage to the principles of evil; but He would not be bought; He had come to establish a kingdom of righteousness, and He would not abandon His purpose” (DA 129-130).




Marian Davis “not only improved Mrs. White’s English usage but also played a very significant role in deleting a large amount of original material dealing with the spiritual significance of events and adding additional material from Wylie [a Protestant historian]” (Donald R. McAdams, “Shifting Views of Inspiration: Ellen G. White Studies in the 1970s,” Spectrum, Mar. 1980, p. 34;


“Her copyists have been conscientious people and were faithful in following her instructions, that no change of thought and no additional thought should be brought into the work by them.  And that there might not be any error through their misunderstanding of the manuscript or any change of thought through their grammatical corrections, she has faithfully examined the manuscripts again, and when the presentation was satisfactory to her, she gave it her approval . . . .” (W. C. White; qtd. in T. Housel Jemison, A Prophet Among You, p. 337)




Three examples are offered here to show that Marian Davis was more than a compiler of Mrs. White’s books.  She was more than a grammar-checker.  Instead, she was utterly instrumental in the production of books such as The Desire of Ages.  While “compiling” DA, Marian was busy taking a class on the life of Christ, and it appears that she persuaded Ellen White to include several ideas that weren’t in the original manuscript.  The documentary evidence contradicts EGWs assertion: “But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true” (1SM 50; 3SM 89).  If we could access more of the relevant correspondence, it's likely we would find more evidence of ghostwriting by Miss Davis and others.


Thought Questions:


  1. Did Ellen White tell the truth about Marian’s role in bookmaking?
  2. Are Marian’s ideas part of EGWs revelation from God?
  3. If Marian’s suggestions were part of Mrs. White’s visions, and if she had divine help recalling the content of her visions, why did she apparently need Marian’s suggestions regarding content?
  4. How many people (such as Waggoner, Loughborough, and Davis) were encouraged to make changes in the content of Mrs. White’s revelations?
  5. Did any Bible prophets need human help with the content of their inspired writings?


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 #4:  Explanation of Sources

Go back to Crucial Question #2:  Use of Sources