Crucial Question 13: Is Ellen White's teaching of health-based sanctification biblical?
According to the SDA Church, one of Ellen White’s most important teachings is her health reform message. Most Adventists consider these messages unique, but they were actually condensed (and often plagiarized) from the teachings of various health reformers of her day, such as Sylvester Graham, L.B. Coles, and James C. Jackson. In this section, we will not explore the connections between Ellen White and the health theories of her day (see Prophetess of Health, by Ronald Numbers, for a thorough discussion). Instead, we will examine whether the Bible ever associates diet and health with sanctification as she claimed.
From the Pen of Ellen White:
The sanctification set forth in the Scriptures embraces the entire being--spirit, soul, and body. . . . In the time of ancient Israel every offering brought as a sacrifice to God was carefully examined. If any defect was discovered in the animal presented, it was refused; for God had commanded that the offering be "without blemish." So Christians are bidden to present their bodies, "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." In order to do this, all their powers must be preserved in the best possible condition. Every practice that weakens physical or mental strength unfits man for the service of his Creator (GC 473).
“If you pursue a wrong course, and indulge in wrong habits of eating, and thereby weaken the intellectual powers, you will not place that high estimate upon salvation and eternal life which will inspire you to conform your life to the life of Christ; you will not make those earnest, self-sacrificing efforts for entire conformity to the will of God, which His word requires, and which are necessary to give you a moral fitness for the finishing touch of immortality” (2T 66).
“If we enfeeble the body by self-gratification, by indulging the appetite, and by dressing in accordance with health-destroying fashions, in order to be in harmony with the world, we become enemies of God” (3T 62).
“The controlling power of appetite will prove the ruin of thousands, when, if they had conquered on this point, they would have had moral power to gain the victory over every other temptation of Satan. But those who are slaves to appetite will fail in perfecting Christian character” (3T 491-492).
“If we could realize that the habits we form in this life will affect our eternal interests, that our eternal destiny depends upon strictly temperate habits, we would work to the point of strict temperance in eating and drinking” (3T 489).
“The one great object of health education and the main purpose behind the doctrinal emphasis on health in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the perfection of Christian character. Since body and soul cannot be separated, health is essential for wholeness, and wholeness is the key to sanctification” (Leo R. Van Dolson & J. Robert Spangler, Healthy, Happy, Holy, p. 54).
According to scripture (see below), sanctification is the result of God’s work in the lives of believers, and it is described in the past tense rather than as an ongoing struggle for mastery over appetite. Sanctification takes place in the spirit—not in the body—but Adventists don’t understand this truth because they don’t believe in the existence of a soul or a spirit apart from the body. Because biblical sanctification is a spiritual work that takes place at conversion, Ellen White’s teaching of health sanctification finds no justification in the testimony of scripture.
- If health sanctification is so important, why doesn’t the Bible make it clear?
- Could it be that God actually approves our enjoyment of eating and drinking (see Deut. 14:22-26)?
- If Ellen White is out of harmony with the Bible’s teachings regarding diet and sanctification, is she in violation of Is. 8:20?
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20).
“The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luke 7:34).
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col. 2:20-23).
“Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.
“And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household . . . .” (Deut. 14:22-26).
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (I Tim 4:1-5).
“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:30-31).
“By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10-14).
“[B]ut ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11).
For Further Study:
- Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing
- Dores E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message (Southern Publishing Association 1943)
- Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health
- George W. Reid, A Sound of Trumpets (Review & Herald 1982)
- Leo R. Van Dolson and J. Robert Spangler, Healthy, Happy, Holy (Review & Herald 1975)
Continue on to Crucial Question #14: Works-Based Sanctification
Go back to Crucial Question #12: "Shut Door"