Crucial Question 17:  Are Ellen White's teachings about the Investigative Judgment and the ongoing atonement biblical?




Adventism arose from a movement started by William Miller, a New York farmer who predicted that Christ would return in 1844.  The key text used by Miller was Daniel 8:14: “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”  William Miller believed that a prophetic day equals a literal year, and they calculated that the 2,300 days began in 457 B.C. with a decree by Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and that it would end in 1844.  They assumed that the sanctuary was the world, and that it would be cleansed by the fires of the second coming.  When Jesus failed to physically return, most Millerites abandoned their interpretation of Daniel 8:14, but a little group insisted that their interpretation was essentially correct.  They decided that Christ had begun a high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, and that it was being cleansed of the sins of God’s people.  They decided that 1844 marked the beginning of the anti-typical Day of Atonement (the typical Day of Atonement would be symbolic, and the anti-typical would be the literal fulfillment).  Thus, they determined that the atonement wasn’t finished at the cross—it is to be finished by Christ’s ministration in heaven, which they envisioned as a scene of judgment.  One of the leaders who promoted the re-interpretation of Miller’s failed prophecy was a young girl named Ellen Harmon, who later became Ellen White.  Miss Harmon’s visionary experiences of 1844 and 1845 convinced many that William Miller had been right about the date but wrong about the event. 


This Crucial Question will offer a few basic reasons for rejecting Ellen White’s teaching regarding the Investigative Judgment.  Please see the Sabbatismos article on the Investigative Judgment for a simple but more thorough treatment of this topic.  For a very thorough examination of the IJ, please see The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventism, by Dale Ratzlaff.


From the Pen of Ellen White:


“The correct understanding of the ministration in the heavenly sanctuary is the foundation of our faith” (Ev 221).

At the time appointed for the judgment--the close of the 2300 days, in 1844--began the work of investigation and blotting out of sins. All who have ever taken upon themselves the name of Christ must pass its searching scrutiny. Both the living and the dead are to be judged "out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Sins that have not been repented of and forsaken will not be pardoned and blotted out of the books of record, but will stand to witness against the sinner in the day of God” (GC 486).

So in the great day of final atonement and investigative judgment the only cases considered are those of the professed people of God. The judgment of the wicked is a distinct and separate work, and takes place at a later period” (GC 480).


The judgment is now passing in the sanctuary above. For many years this work has been in progress. Soon--none know how soon--it will pass to the cases of the living. In the awful presence of God our lives are to come up in review. At this time above all others it behooves every soul to heed the Saviour's admonition: "Watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is" (GC 490).


Every man's work passes in review before God and is registered for faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Opposite each name in the books of heaven is entered with terrible exactness every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, and every secret sin, with every artful dissembling. Heaven-sent warnings or reproofs neglected, wasted moments, unimproved opportunities, the influence exerted for good or for evil, with its far-reaching results, all are chronicled by the recording angel” (GC 482). 

“Christ came to pay that debt for the sinner which it was impossible for him to pay for himself.  Thus, through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, sinful man was granted another trial” (FW 30). 

Christ came to the world to counteract Satan's falsehood that God had made a law which men could not keep. Taking humanity upon Himself, He came to this earth, and by a life of obedience showed that God has not made a law that man cannot keep. He showed that it is possible for man perfectly to obey the law. Those who accept Christ as their Saviour, becoming partakers of His divine nature, are enabled to follow His example, living in obedience to every precept of the law. Through the merits of Christ, man is to show by his obedience that he could be trusted in heaven, that he would not rebel(FLB 114).

“Though all nations are to pass in judgment before God, yet He will examine the case of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Everyone must be tested and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (GC 490).

“Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies and there appears in the presence of God to engage in the last acts of His ministration in behalf of man--to perform the work of investigative judgment and to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits” (GC 480).


"As the priest entered the most holy once a year to cleanse the earthly sanctuary, so Jesus entered the most holy of the heavenly, at the end of the 2300 days of Daniel 8, in 1844, to make a final atonement for all who could be benefited by His mediation, and thus to cleanse the sanctuary” (EW 253).


The intercession of Christ in man's behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to complete in heaven” (GC 489).


The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonement . . . .  Then by virtue of the atoning blood of Christ, the sins of all the truly penitent will be blotted from the books of heaven. Thus the sanctuary will be freed, or cleansed, from the record of sin” (PP 357-58). 


The subject of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment should be clearly understood by the people of God. All need a knowledge for themselves of the position and work of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs them to fill” (GC 488).

“We are not to receive the words of those who come with a message that contradicts the special points of our faith.  They gather together a mass of Scripture, and pile it as proof around their asserted theories. This has been done over and over again during the past fifty years.  And while the Scriptures are God's word, and are to be respected, the application of them, if such application moves one pillar from the foundation that God has sustained these fifty years, is a great mistake. He who makes such an application knows not the wonderful demonstration of the Holy Spirit that gave power and force to the past messages that have come to the people of God. . . ." (1SM 161-62).




Daniel 8 states that the little horn power will “cast down” the sanctuary: Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down.”  Ellen White teaches that the desecrated sanctuary is in heaven rather than on earth, so one must wonder how an earthly power could pollute the heavenly sanctuary. 


In addition, the desecration was supposed to begin in 457 B.C., according to William Miller and Ellen White, but what happened in 457?  A decree was issued for the rebuilding of the sanctuary.  So what is the basis for beginning the 2,300 days in 457 B.C.?  If we can’t pinpoint the beginning of the prophecy, how can the end (1844) have any significance?  In addition, Miller was wrong about many other aspects of his timing.


According to Adventists, Daniel 8:14 points to the anti-typical Day of Atonement, which they believe is the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.  The term antitype simply denotes the ultimate reality behind a type (or symbol).  Adventists believe that the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary on the Days of Atonement prefigured the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, and they need verse 14 to support this supposition.  The word translated “cleansed” in the KJV is not the same word used for the cleansing of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement as described in Leviticus 16.  The word used in verse 14 should actually be translated “vindicated,” “restored,” or “set right.”  A modern translation reads, “He said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored’” (NASB). Therefore, there is no linguistic connection between Daniel 8:14 and the Day of Atonement, meaning that the SDA sanctuary message obtains no support from the text that started the doctrine…. 


Please see the Sabbatismos article on the Investigative Judgment for a more complete evaluation.


Thought Questions:


  1. If the word translated "cleansed" in Daniel 8:14 is not the same word used for the cleansing of the Most Holy Place on the Hebrew Day of Atonement, how can the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 have anything to do with an anti-typical Day of Atonement?
  2. If the atonement was finished at the cross, how could Ellen White teach that the atonement is ongoing in the heavenly sanctuary?  Doesn't the Investigative Judgment diminish the cross by teaching a continuing atonement?
  3. Could the heavenly sanctuary be desolated by any power in heaven or on earth (e.g. the little horn)?
  4. What desolating act taking place in 457  B.C. could possibly impact the Most Holy Place in heaven?
  5. Are the righteous judged by the law as Ellen White states?
  6. Does the Investigative Judgment doctrine rob believers of assurance?
  7. Does Ellen White have any clear biblical basis for teaching a pre-Advent judgment of believers?


Bible Texts:


“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, NASB).

“Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven. And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down. And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered. Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (Daniel 8:8-14).

“And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11).

"For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:24-26).


For Further Study:


  • Dale Ratzlaff, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventism: An Evangelical Wake-up Call, 2nd Rev., Life Assurance Ministries, 2009
  • Desmond Ford and Gillian Ford, For the Sake of the Gospel, New York: iUniverse, 2008
  • Dirk Anderson, The Fake Controversy, Jacksonville, FL: Via Del Agape, 2008
  • Jerry Gladson, A Theologian’s Journey: From Seventh-day Adventism to Mainstream Christianity, Life Assurance Ministries, 2000
  • Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 317-634
  • Ellen G. White, Christ in His Sanctuary
  • Roy Adams, The Sanctuary: Understanding the Heart of Adventist Theology, Review & Herald, 1993
  • Clifford Goldstein, 1844 Made Simple, Pacific Press, 1988
  • Clifford Goldstein, Graffiti in the Holy of Holies, Pacific Press, 2003
  • C. Mervyn Maxwell, God Cares: The Message of Daniel for You and Your Family, Pacific Press, 1981
  • Roy Gane, Who’s Afraid of the Judgment? Pacific Press, 2006


Continue on to Crucial Question #18:  Christ's Return Predicted

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