Crucial Question 4:  Is Ellen White's explanation for her use of sources adequate? 




During her lifetime, Ellen White was forced to belatedly admit using sources in The Great Controversy, a book which had started as Spiritual Gifts (1864), become Spirit of Prophecy (1870-1884), and then appeared in an 1888 version before undergoing a final revision in 1911, at which time a few of the sources received attribution (but not quotation marks).


From the Pen of Ellen White:


“In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but except in a few instances no specific credit has been given, since they are not quoted for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has occasionally been made of their published works (1888 Great Controversy, p. h; see also the 1911 Great Controversy, p. xii, for a slightly revised statement).


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:


“In the early days of her work, Mother was promised wisdom, in the selection from the writings of others, that would enable her to select the gems of truth from the rubbish of error.  We have all seen this fulfilled, and yet when she told me of this, she admonished me not to tell it to others.  Why thus restricted I never knew, but now am inclined to believe that she saw how this might lead some of her brethren to claim too much for her writings as a standard with which to correct historians” (W.C. White; qtd. in Olson, “Ellen White’s Denials,” Ministry, Feb. 1991, p. 18; available online at


“The use of sources by Ellen G. White has not been emphasized.  In fact, outside the brief notation in the Introduction to the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy we have no such admission by Ellen White.  Even there the reference is limited to works of history and to Adventist writers.  We do have a number of statements leading the reader to believe she did not use sources of any type.  It has been her ‘unique’ prophetic experience which has been stressed” (Veltman, “Introduction – Part A,” The Life of Christ Research Project, 30;


“In writing these messages of instruction, counsel, encouragement, and correction, she sought no human source of information and was not influenced by those about her.  In all her works, we see her moving under the bidding and guidance of the Spirit of God” (Arthur L. White, “Inspiration and the EGW Writings,” Review and Herald, August 23, 1979, p. 9;


“[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;




When Ellen White explains that she quoted other writers, what she really means is that she finally cited a few of her sources in the 1911 version of The Great Controversy.  The word quoted should rightly involve the insertion of quotation marks, but this was never done. Instead, Ellen White appeared to gloss over her use of human sources to describe events that she claimed to have seen in vision.


If Ellen White really saw these events in vision, why couldn't she provide a fresh account using words guided by the Holy Spirit?


Thought Questions:


  1. What did EGW see in vision that couldn’t have been derived from other sources?
  2. If Ellen White saw these scenes in vision, why didn’t she simply request the help of the Holy Spirit to describe what she had seen?
  3. Why didn’t Ellen White admit the truth about her borrowing early in her ministry?
  4. Does Ellen White’s belated admission of borrowing material for The Great Controversy an adequate admission to cover all her borrowing?
  5. Is Ellen White correct in stating that her failure to give credit involve only “a few instances”?  In the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy, she changed the phrase “a few instances” to “some instances.”  Is “some instances” an adequate portrayal of her level of copying?


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 #5:  Ethics of "Literary Borrowing"

Go back to Crucial Question #3:  Role of Assistants