The Biblical Prophetic Model and
the Ministry of Ellen G. White
I. Classic SDA Tests of a Prophet
➢ “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).
• Ellen White upholds scripture (“lesser light” vs. “greater light”)
• Are there degrees of inspiration?
• One SDA author calls her “just as inspired as Isaiah or Paul” (Dunham 31)
• God’s revelation of truth always advances, it never retreats; therefore, true prophets build on the previous prophetic foundation
• I believe Ellen White’s perfectionistic writings represent a retreat from the simple Bible truth of Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (see 3T 355; 4T 349; 4T 429; 1MR 369; COL 330)
• The term “no light” doesn’t mean they have no truth, for Satan usually mixes truth with error; “no light” simply means “uninspired” and, therefore,
• Each reader must evaluate whether EGW was true to the Bible
➢ “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).
• Many good fruits of EGW ministry: SDA educational system, health system, publishing ministry, evangelism, charitable work, etc.
• Possible negative “fruits” include the large numbers of “historic” Adventists and the proliferation of false prophets in the SDA Church
• Many false SDA prophets in Ellen White’s day
• Philip Dunham states, “Several years ago someone told me that at that time there were about 25 self-appointed prophets in our denomination” (48)
• Perfectionism in the SDA Church is a legacy of Ellen White
➢ “When the word of a prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him” (Jer. 28:9).
• See Deut. 13:1-3 and Matt. 24:24 for warnings against false prophets who produce true signs and wonders
• Ellen White made few predictions, particularly in her mature years, and the predictions to which some point as proof of her inspiration are vaguely worded
• Some believe she predicted the San Francisco earthquake (9T 92-94; LS 411; see also Ev 403, 404)
• Others believe she predicted the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (9T 12, 13)
• She uses conditional prophecy almost exclusively (see section III)
➢ “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (I John 4:2).
• Relates to the Gnostic heresy—the denial that Christ came in the flesh
• In today’s terms, we would say that a prophet will not diminish Christ’s atoning sacrifice (see section IV)
II. Additional Texts on the Prophetic Role
➢ “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28-29).
• The spirit of prophecy isn’t limited to a single individual
• Foreshadows a massive prophetic awakening, extending down to the lowest members of society (“the weakest of the weak,” as Ellen White considered herself)
➢ “And thou [Moses] shall speak unto him [Aaron], and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do” (Ex. 4:15).
• SDA’s believe in thought inspiration rather than verbal inspiration
• When this text says, “I will be with thy mouth,” it means that accuracy of message is guaranteed for genuine prophets; it does not mean that God generally puts words in the prophet’s mouth
• God also promises to safeguard the actions of His prophets to ensure that they rightly represent Him. As we read the story of Moses and Aaron, it becomes clear that God didn’t prevent them from sinning, but He did correct them whenever they misrepresented His character
➢ “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (I Cor. 14:3).
• The word exhortation (paraklesis) could also be rendered “encouragement”
• OT prophets were often quite negative in that they were predicting doom for Israel
• Inspired writings are more often positive than negative in the NT
• Ellen White’s less-popular books are quite negative (Testimonies, Messages to Young People, Testimonies to Ministers); her more popular books dealing with biblical and historical events are highly edited
➢ “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
• Gift of prophecy is intended to last until the end of time
➢ “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 19-21).
• We are instructed that we need the prophetic gift, so it would be dangerous to reject a true prophet
• Admonition to “prove all things” indicates that we must rely on biblical evidence to identify true prophets
➢ “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10).
• SDA’s selected the term “Spirit of Prophecy” and applied it to Ellen White, thereby “proving” that the SDA Church is the remnant, holding to the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus (see Rev. 12:17)
• EGW wrote a four-volume series entitled Spirit of Prophecy, which was a predecessor of the Conflict of the Ages series
• Testimony of Jesus could be translated “testimony about Jesus” or “testimony from Jesus”
• The remnant will hold fast to the teachings of Christ, and in so doing, they will manifest the spirit of the prophets (see Joel 2:28-29)
➢ “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)
• This text isn’t directed toward prophets, but it should be clear that God hates lies
• A true prophet must exhibit honesty and integrity; otherwise, his or her messages would be open to question
• As will be demonstrated in Section III, genuine prophets who commit the sin of dishonesty are always publicly corrected by God to protect the integrity of His word
• Ellen White denied having read books from which she had actually plagiarized (see Robert Olson’s Feb. 1991 article in Ministry entitled “Ellen White’s Denials”)
• Many of Ellen White’s “miracle” stories validating her early experience were first told after all or most of the witnesses had died
• If Ellen White is a true prophet, we would expect public correction from God for any misrepresentations that she might have uttered in a weak moment
III. The Prophetic Example
➢ Prophets may make many human mistakes.
• Abraham’s half-lies regarding his wife being his sister (Gen. 12:12, 13 & Gen. 20:1, 2)
• Prophetess Miriam speaks against Moses (Ex. 15:20; Num. 12:1-9)
• Moses striking the rock (Num. 20:10, 11)
• David’s adultery & his census of Israel (II Sam. 12 & II Sam. 24:1-9)
• Jonah tries to run away (Jonah 1)
• Young prophet joins older “prophet” for a meal (I Kings 13:7-19)
• God prohibited his messenger from eating with the idolatrous people because in Bible times, eating with someone was a sign of acceptance and respect, and to God, their behavior was unacceptable
➢ Prophets sometimes speak presumptuously before asking God.
• Nathan endorses David’s plan to build the temple (II Sam. 7:2, 3)
➢ God always publicly corrects true prophets who misrepresent Him.
• Judgments against the houses of pharaoh and the Canaanite king Gen. 12:14-20 & Gen. 20:3-18)
• Miriam struck with leprosy (Num. 12:10-15)
• Moses prohibited from entering Canaan (Num. 20:12)
• Death of David and Bathsheba’s illegitimate son & a plague on Israel (II Sam. 12:14 & Num. 20:10-15)
• Great fish swallowing Jonah (Jonah 1)
• Lion killing the disobedient prophet without eating him or harming his donkey (I Kings 13:20-26)
• God tells Nathan to reverse his counsel to David (II Sam. 7:3-17)
➢ Prophets may not fully understand their visions, but they never inadvertently garble their God-given message.
• Balaam gave a true prophecy even though he wanted to curse Israel (Num. 23, 24)
• Samuel relayed his message faithfully even though he was too young to understand it (I Sam. 3:1-18)
• Daniel recorded his visions without fully understanding them (Dan. 12:8, 9)
• Ellen White taught a doctrine called “the shut door” on the basis of her early visions; SDA’s argue that she misunderstood her early visions, and that later visions corrected the error (See Douglass 502)
➢ According to mainstream SDA theology, the Bible was written through thought inspiration, not verbal inspiration (see GC v-xii).
• “The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of [God’s] will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the
authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history” (from SDA Fundamental Belief 1; italics added)
• Verbal inspiration is rare, occurring only when God or an angel is quoted
• Thought inspiration is the process by which the Holy Spirit guides the prophet’s mind to accurately record the ideas God wishes to convey
• The Bible is clearly written in various styles by authors with widely different backgrounds (compare the elegant writing of Paul with the more plain writings of John, James, and Peter)
• Thought inspiration could explain various errors of detail in EGW’s writings, but it must not be used as an excuse for theological errors in her writings
➢ The SDA doctrine of thought inspiration (which teaches that God did not directly write scripture) allows for scientific and historical errors to be present in scripture, but holds that these errors do not distort the inspired message of scripture.
• Did the sun and moon really stand still, or did the Earth stand still? (Josh. 10:12-14)
• How many Israelites were there? (II Sam. 24:9 vs. I Chron. 21:5)
• How much did David pay for the property? (II Sam. 24:24 vs. I Chron. 21:25)
• How many times did the cock crow? (Matt. 26:34 vs. Mark 14:30)
• What was written above Christ’s head on the cross? (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19)
• “The heart is deceitful above all things . . . .” (Jer. 17:9)
• According to mainstream SDA theology, the message of scripture is authoritative even if it is not inerrant
• For SDAs, EGW’s errors of detail do not prove she was uninspired; her inspiration must be evaluated on the basis of her theology (see Is. 8:20)
➢ A preferable approach to inspiration is that the original manuscripts were inerrant factually and theologically, with allowances made to cover scientific details not understood at the time.
• Accepting factual errors in scripture has led some SDA liberals to believe that theological errors exist in scripture, too; they argue that certain
passages which they find disagreeable actually reflect misunderstandings on the part of Bible writers who failed to comprehend the messages given them via thought inspiration
• Not only is this liberal SDA view a convenient means of remodeling scripture, but it is also used as they pick and choose between Ellen White’s teachings; ultimately, it subordinates inspiration to human reason
➢ Inspired writers sometimes use sources.
• The author of I & II Kings used sources (I Kings 11:41).
• The author of I & II Chronicles used sources (I Chron. 29:29 & II Chron. 9:29)
• The book of Proverbs uses sources (Prov. 30 & 31)
• Luke used sources (Luke 1:1-4)
• Ellen White’s use of sources does not, in and of itself, prove she was not inspired
• Her reluctance to admit to using sources contrasts sharply with the Bible writers
• Compilations from Ellen White’s letters and diaries available from the White Estate show that EGW obscured her heavy use of sources for The
Desire of Ages and The Great Controversy
• Dr. Fred Veltman of PUC concluded his study of sources for The Desire of Ages by stating that her honesty was the most troubling issue: “I must admit at the start that in my judgment this [her denials regarding her use of sources] is the most serious problem to be faced in connection with Ellen White's literary dependence. It strikes at the heart of her honesty, her integrity, and therefore her trustworthiness. As of now I do not have—nor, to my knowledge, does anyone else have—a satisfactory answer to this important question.”
• Introduction to The Great Controversy was her first and only admission of using sources (GC x-xii).
➢ Some prophecies are conditional
• Ezekiel 3:18-21
• Jeremiah 18:7-10
• Sometimes, conditionality is spelled out (Deut. 30:15-18)
• Jonah is the premier example of an implied conditional prophecy
• Samuel’s warning to Eli is another example of implied conditionality—God wouldn’t have given warning if there was no hope for repentance
• We should not reject a prophet just because one or two prophecies appear to fail
• We must determine whether there was a reasonable conditional element in the unfulfilled prophecy
• However, conditionality is not a general excuse for every prophetic failure
• EGW predicted that some of those present at a conference in 1856 would live to see the Lord return (1T 131, 132; see also R&H July 31, 1888, for a similar prediction)
• In 1858, she saw the “pious slave” rise to meet the Lord at the second coming, leaving the cruel master watching in awe (EW 35)
• EGW predicted that the world would end in conjunction with the conclusion of the Civil War (1T 260)
• Does God know when the world will end?
• Was the gospel even close to reaching all the world in the 1800’s?
• Are these likely conditional prophecies?
• Ellen White became much more cautious about her predictions as she matured; most of her specific predictions employ stated conditionality (see 1T 259, 260)
• Bible prophets rarely stated conditionality; could it be that Mrs. White was subconsciously covering herself in case her predictions failed?
IV. Warnings Against False Prophets
➢ “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or dreamer of dreams” (Deut. 13:1-3).
• Signs and wonders aren’t proof of the genuine prophetic gift
• It is imperative that we evaluate a prophet’s message
• The apparent supernatural phenomena associated with Ellen White’s public visions should not be taken as proof that she is inspired
➢ “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).
• Some “prophets” will be surprised to discover that they aren’t
➢ “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24).
• It is easy to be deceived by false prophets
➢ “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (II Pe. 2:1).
• What does it mean to deny the Lord who has “bought” us with His blood?
• Gnostics believed that Jesus did not come in the flesh; therefore, there was no literal shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. Gnosticism was really a denial of the power of the atonement. How would we apply this text today?
• One of Ellen White’s most troubling teachings is that the remnant must “vindicate” God’s law by keeping it perfectly as they stand without a mediator at the end of time. Could this be a denial of the power of Christ’s perfect sacrifice and His complete vindication of God’s law during His life on earth? (see GC 613-623; R&H Sept. 12, 1893; TM 41; DA 671)
• “Swift destruction” should best be understood as emphasizing the certainty of their destruction (see Matt. 24:24)
V. Hard-to-Find EGW Quotes Referenced in This Study
➢ “Let all be careful not to make an outcry against the only people who are fulfilling the description given of the remnant people, who keep the commandments of God, and have the faith of Jesus, who are exalting the standard of righteousness in these last days. God has a distinct people, a church on earth, second to none, but superior to all in their facilities to teach the truth, to vindicate the law of God. God has divinely appointed agencies,--men whom he is leading, who have borne the heat and burden of the day, who are co-operating with heavenly instrumentalities to advance the kingdom of Christ in our world. Let all unite with these chosen agents, and be found at last among those who have the patience of the saints, who keep the commandments of God, and have the faith of Jesus” (R&H, Sept. 12, 1893).
➢ “However weak and compassed with infirmity the people of God may be, those who turn from disloyalty to God in this wicked and perverse generation, and come back to their allegiance, standing to vindicate the holy law of God, making up the breach made by the man of sin under the direction of Satan, will be accounted the children of God, and through the righteousness of Christ will stand perfect before God” (TM 41).
➢ “Said Christ, ‘I have glorified Thee in my human character, perfecting that character for the benefit of all humanity, to show human beings that man can keep the law of God in a world of sin and transgression, and through being a partaker of the divine nature, stand as an overcomer’” (6MR 233).
➢ “The world’s Redeemer passed over the ground where Adam fell because of his disobeying the expressed law of Jehovah; and the only begotten Son of God came to our world as a man, to reveal to the world that men could keep the law of God” (6MR 334).
➢ “The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could do through faith in God’s power to help in every emergency. Man is, through faith, to be a partaker in the divine nature, and to overcome every temptation wherewith he is beset” (6MR 341).
➢ “Exact obedience is required, and those who say that it is not possible to live a perfect life throw upon God the imputation of injustice and untruth” (1MR 369).
➢ “I saw the pious slave rise in triumph and victory and shake off the chains that bound him, while his wicked master was in confusion and knew not what to do; for the wicked could not understand the words of the voice of God. Soon appeared the great white cloud” (EW 35).
➢ “The hour will come; it is not far distant, and some of us who now believe will be alive upon the earth, and shall see the prediction verified, and hear the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God echo from mountain and plain and sea, to the uttermost parts of the earth. All creation will hear that voice, and those who have lived and died in Jesus, will respond to the call of the Prince of life” (R&H July 31, 1888).
➢ Douglass, Herbert E. Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White. Nampa: Pacific Press, 1998.
➢ Dunham, Philip W. Blinded by the Light: The Anatomy of Apostasy. Hagerstown: Review & Herald, 2001.
➢ General Conference of SDA Ministerial Association. Seventh-day Adventists Believe… Hagerstown: Review & Herald, 1988.
➢ Holbrook, Frank B. “The Biblical Basis for a Modern Prophet.” [Available from the Ellen G. White Estate].
➢ Jemison, T. Housel. A Prophet Among You. Boise: Pacific Press, 1955.
➢ Olson, Robert W. “Ellen White’s Denials.” Ministry Feb. 1991: 15-18.
➢ Thompson, Alden. Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers. Hagerstown: Review & Herald, 1991.
Joseph Rector, 2010