Prophets Are Human by Graeme Bradford (Signs Publishing Co., 2004)


Dr. Graeme Bradford’s Prophets Are Human is a book written to defend Ellen White against the questions raised by Websites such as Sabbatismos.  Bradford is professor of theology at Avondale College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Australia, and his book is highly praised by Adventist luminaries such as William Johnsson, former editor of the Adventist Review, and Dr. Jon Paulien, chair of the New Testament Department at the SDA Theological Seminary.  Prophets Are Human is written in narrative form, depicting a fictional Dr. Smithurst who leads two questioning Adventists back from the brink of apostasy. 


The dialogue between Smithurst and the other characters ensures readability, but it also tempts Bradford to create easy straw man arguments for Smithurst to knock down.  Rather than dealing with the most notable questions surrounding the ministry of Ellen White, Bradford presents his own version of the criticisms through Doug and Jean, two relatively uninformed, fictional Adventists.  The result may reaffirm the faith of SDAs who haven’t carefully studied EGWs inspiration, but it does little to address the actual questions raised by many thoughtful individuals.


Bradford’s thesis is that all prophets—from the Bible prophets to Ellen White—are very human (80).  Few would disagree with this statement in light of the recorded sins and failures of various prophets.  However, Bradford extends the prophets’ humanity to include misinterpretation of their God-given messages.  Thus, the real question centers on the role of the human prophet in inspiration: Is the process of inspiration also quite human?  Bradford says yes, and we must carefully examine this claim.


The Misinterpreting Prophets


Bradford holds a liberal view of scripture, teaching that while divine revelation is infallible, the interpretation and application of inspired messages can be garbled by fallible prophets (59).  As evidence, Bradford offers Peter’s vision of the unclean animals, which Peter didn’t understand immediately (Acts 10:9-28).  However, Peter understood his vision perfectly as events unfolded, and this was according to God’s plan.  Peter never gave any false teachings on the basis of this vision, and the entire episode was recorded accurately in scripture.  How does Peter’s situation compare to Ellen White, who supposedly misunderstood many of her revelations, such as those regarding the shut door and the existence of the Trinity


Fortunately, we understand that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:20-21).  Not only is scripture not subject to human interpretation, but “all scripture is God-breathed” (II Tim. 3:16, NIV), meaning that the message of the original manuscripts flowed directly and accurately from God.  There is no distortion provided by a fallible human interpreter. 


At this point, it is important to state that Sabbatismos does NOT promote verbal inspiration; we recognize that every prophet had a unique writing style.  We believe that scripture is inerrant--not because God dictated the words--but because the words of scripture were written exactly as He intended.  God didn't intend to correct errors of science, and He didn't intend to reveal truths that human beings cannot comprehend.  Each inspired message was perfect for its time, place, and audience, so each message should be considered correct in its context.


Alleged Errors in the Bible


Of course, Bradford does not agree that the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts—appearing correctly as God intended.  To prove the errors of the Bible, Bradford cites discrepancies such as the number of Gadarene demoniacs healed by Jesus—was it one or two? (51).  Bradford fails to consider that a sleepy scribe is more likely than an error in the original.  Does such a small non-theological detail—however it got into scripture—explain away major errors in Ellen White’s writings?  Does it explain how she could misinterpret her health vision, teaching that a practice euphemistically known as “solitary vice” would lead to imbecility and death? (see Ellen G. White, An Appeal to Mothers, 1864 -


Bradford goes on undermining prophecy when he claims that John the Baptist misunderstood salvation by faith because he instructed his hearers to repent and be baptized, never mentioning anything about God’s grace (67).  In addition, the Baptist’s doubts about Christ, expressed while he was languishing in prison, are used to portray a prophet in error (66-67).  Are these points fair, or are they just a bit too clever?  In the first place, John the Baptist was an old covenant prophet, so his message would not encompass all the gospel understandings revealed by Christ and His apostles.  In fact, John actually predicted the new covenant when he stated that Christ’s ministry would inaugurate the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which is a baptism of the spirit rather than the flesh (Luke 3:16).  His message was perfect for his time and place, and he was definitely not guilty of misinterpretation.  Furthermore, his questions to Jesus do not reflect prophetic misinterpretation; John wasn’t prophesying—he was merely inquiring.  How could the experience of faithful John be used to explain away Ellen White’s gospel misunderstandings? Two erroneous quotes will serve here as evidence that Ellen White taught character perfection and law-keeping as requirements for salvation, in direct contrast to the biblical doctrine of salvation by faith alone:


“We are under obligation to use our powers aright that we may be qualified for eternal life in the kingdom of God.  God demands perfection from every human being.  We are to be perfect in this life of humanity, even as God is perfect in His divine character” (This Day with God 318).


“While good works will not save even one soul, yet it is impossible for even one soul to be saved without good works. God saves us under a law . . . . ” (1SM 377).


Prophetic Sources, Plagiarism, and Literary Assistants


Because Bradford is well aware that Ellen White borrowed widely from other sources, using the thoughts and words of others without acknowledgment, he is at pains to show that the Bible prophets used material from others in a similar manner.  He points out that the Gospel of Luke is based on a variety of sources: Luke begins his book by stating that fact (39).  Luke was honest about his sources, and he couldn’t use quotation marks because they hadn’t been invented.  In contrast, Ellen White regularly denied having read other sources—a point that Bradford briefly mentions but never directly addresses (13).  Bradford goes so far as to suggest that Jesus used sources such as the great rabbi Hillel, who stated, “Do not unto thy fellows what is hateful unto you; this is the whole law . . . .” (43).  Is Bradford implying that Jesus learned the Golden Rule from Hillel?  If Jesus was referring to Hillel, He was simply presenting a statement with which His audience could identify.  He certainly wasn’t plagiarizing, and He never denied knowledge of Hillel’s teachings.  Neither Jesus nor Luke did anything unethical, but Ellen White’s actions were unethical and probably illegal in her day.


Ellen White employed literary assistants who edited her work, added ideas to her writings, and sometimes composed material for her.  For instance, Clarence C. Crisler and Harry Hall actually wrote a chapter for the Spanish Great Controversy entitled “The Awakening of Spain,” and it was included with Ellen White’s permission (Teresita Pérez, The Missing Chapter From The Great Controversy, TEACH Services, Brushton, NY, 2004).  In addition, it can be shown from EGW’s correspondence that Marian Davis, her most trusted assistant, suggested spiritual ideas after reading Mrs. White’s original drafts, and that some of Marian’s ideas were incorporated into the final copy, despite Mrs. White’s statements to the contrary (see 3SM 89-90). Bradford seeks to diffuse the issue of additions by literary assistants by stating that Paul had literary assistants who may have been “responsible for some of the content” of Paul’s writings (54 note 13).  He even suggests that Christ’s famous statement in John 3:16 could actually be the work of the apostle John since there are no punctuation marks showing where Jesus’ statement ends (51).  We doubt that the red letters of John 3:16 are actually the words of John, but even if they are, what difference would it make?  John is a canonical prophet capable of making such a statement under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  In contrast, no one claims that Marian Davis and Clarence Crisler possessed the gift of prophecy….


Use of SDA History


In addition to diminishing scripture through questionable exegesis, Dr. Bradford distorts SDA history in his attempt to salvage EGW’s ministry.  For instance, he references James and Ellen’s involvement with the fanatical Israel Dammon in 1845 (74).  Unfortunately, he fails to mention the main problem with the Dammon episode—that Ellen White untruthfully stated that God worked a miracle to delay Dammon’s arrest for disturbing the peace (2SG 40-41).  Trial testimony reveals that the arrest was actually delayed because Dammon’s female followers forcibly shielded him from the sheriff’s deputies.


Bradford also glosses over several details when he praises Ellen White for saving the church from the errors of Dr. J.H. Kellogg’s pantheism (28).  Actually, W.W. Prescott, E.J. Waggoner, and A.T. Jones—all prominent SDA theologians—had begun dabbling with pantheism in the late 1890s, and Kellogg merely restated their teachings (George R. Knight, From 1888 to Apostasy, Review and Herald, 1987, pp. 214-215).  In a political maneuver having more to do with money than theology, Dr. Kellogg was forced to take the fall for pantheism when Ellen White denounced him (but not the theologians) in the fall of 1903 (4MR 57-61).  Why did it take Ellen White several years to respond to the danger of pantheism, and why did she denounce only one person?  The pantheism episode is hardly a triumph of Ellen White’s ministry.


The holy flesh movement (1899-1900) is another supposed triumph showing Ellen White’s gift of prophecy in action (29).  The holy flesh fanaticism taught that true believers would be sanctified in both character and body, meaning that their bodies would be free from imperfections such as illness, deformity, and even marks of old age.  What Bradford fails to mention is the fact that Ellen White teaches a doctrine of health-based sanctification, and this doctrine could easily give rise to fanaticism as people strive for full sanctification.  She states,


"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).


Ellen White was clearly not taking health sanctification as far as the fanatics were taking it, but she was completely incorrect in stating that health practices have any impact on salvation.  Therefore, the prophetess bears some responsibility for the fanaticism that developed from her teachings.  It shouldn’t surprise people that one unbiblical teaching easily leads to additional errors.


Bradford’s fictional Dr. Smithurst also attempts to discredit D.M. Canright, the chief critic of EGW during her lifetime, by calling him a plagiarist (40).  This charge is unfair.  In 1863, Moses Hull authored a book entitled The Bible From Heaven, which was published by the Review and Herald, the SDA publishing house in Battle Creek, MI.  Hull left the SDA ministry in late 1863 and became a spiritualist, and the book was pulled from publication due to its embarrassing connection.  The Review and Herald published a revised version of The Bible From Heaven in 1878 under Canright’s name—thus, Canright is now charged as a plagiarist and a hypocrite (Francis D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics, 407-409).  This charge is unfair when one understands that the Review and Herald owned all rights to the books published in those days.


According to Ellen White, both she and James had agreed with a decision that works would be owned by the Review and that authors would relinquish all rights: 


“Some years ago the matter of publication of books came up . . . . A decision was made something like this, that no one individual was to be benefited by the publication of his own books. A proposition was then made to us, which my husband . . . assented to, that the publishing association should have the benefit of his books. I was considering the matter and thought like this: I wish the testimonies to go to as many as possible; they are a message from God to this people, and I wish no personal benefit from this work. Thus we stated the matter. But shortly after, I was shown that this was not wisdom, to relinquish our right to control our own writings . . . ." (Letter 14, 1886, Publishing Ministry 233).



The matter is quite clear:  When Hull submitted his manuscript in the early 1860s, he signed away all rights to the book, according to the policy established with the input of James and Ellen White.  Thus, Hull retained no legal claim to the material, and the Review and Herald “plagiarized” its own property, removing the inconvenient name of Hull and replacing it with Canright, who was still a loyal SDA minister.  The decision to transfer the book from Hull to Canright would have been made by the directors of the publishing association, so if anyone behaved unethically, church leaders should be judged first.  While the episode is probably one Canright lived to regret, he was simply following the directions of his superiors.


EGW was dishonest about the Israel Dammon miracle, she was a belated participant in the pantheism debate, she pinned the blame for pantheism on the wrong person, she erroneously taught sanctification of the body, and she was deeply involved in plagiarism (along with her publisher). That is the real history.  The sheep follow the shepherdess….


Accuracy of Predictions


Ellen White made many inaccurate predictions, such as her prophecy that the U.S. Civil War would lead to a world war and then to Armageddon.  Bradford is aware of such problems, but he chooses to address them by blaming God for changing His mind (75).  Yes, he actually says that God changes His mind, leading to incorrect predictions that appear to violate Jeremiah 28:9.   The phenomenon of God changing His mind is Bradford’s method of introducing the concept of conditional prophecy (see Jer. 18:7-10).  Conditionality is a valid concept, but we must keep in mind that a true conditional prophecy must be clearly conditional: The conditionality must either be stated or implied.  For instance, the prophecy of Jonah is clearly conditional, which the prophet understood from the beginning (see Jonah 4:2). 


The problem for Ellen White’s defenders is to point to any specific, dramatic Ellen White prophecy that was clearly fulfilled.  In her early years, Ellen White made several prophecies that were not fulfilled, so she began making vague predictions of disasters that were bound to come “true” at some point, such as her prediction of fires consuming large buildings in New York City (see 9T 12-13 – some Adventists believe this was a prediction of 9-11).  She also began stating conditionality in virtually every prediction—something anyone could do to cover their inevitable failures.  For instance, she gave a vague, conditional prediction regarding the use of milk: “The time will come when we may have to discard some of the articles of diet we now use, such as milk and cream and eggs . . . . (9T 162).  How could this prophecy ever be clearly correct or clearly false?  She begins by stating that it will happen, but then she shifts to the word may; in addition, she’s never specific about the items to be (possibly) given up.  That’s prophecy, Ellen White-style….


In contrast to Ellen White, most Bible predictions were not conditional.  They were bold to the point of being shocking.  The promises to Abraham were all fulfilled.  The predictions of Daniel 2, made when Babylon was at the peak of glory, were all fulfilled.  The Medo-Persian king Cyrus was predicted by name before he was born (Is. 44 & 45), and all the predictions regarding the Messiah were fulfilled in stunning detail.  Ellen White’s timid predictions do not fit the bold biblical model.


Myth of the Humble Messenger


According to the character Dr. Smithurst, Ellen White humbly preferred to be called a messenger of God rather than a prophet (40).  He states that she “fought against being placed on a pedestal.  After her death, however, the whole thing got out of kilter.  Some began to use her in a way she never would have approved . . . .” (24).  Is it true that her followers elevated Ellen White against her will, claiming more than she ever claimed for herself?  She titled a four-volume set of her books, published between 1870 and 1884, The Spirit of Prophecy.  This largely forgotten set is hardly insignificant, for it was a forerunner to her famous Conflict of the Ages set.  By calling her writings the Spirit of Prophecy, she was claiming the prophetic gift.  Are her followers to blame for putting her on a pedestal?


It is true that, at least in her later years, Ellen White preferred the designation of messenger: “Others have called me a prophetess, but I have never assumed that title. I have not felt that it was my duty thus to designate myself. Those who boldly assume that they are prophets in this our day are often a reproach to the cause of Christ.  My work includes much more than this name signifies. I regard myself as a messenger, entrusted by the Lord with messages for His people” (3SM 74).  The first part of this statement is false, for she did assume the prophetic title by calling her books The Spirit of Prophecy.  Ellen White’s claim to be a messenger, which means being “more than” a prophet, should also be carefully considered, for she is actually laying claim to the mantle of John the Baptist.  Jesus declared, “But what went ye out for to see?  A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.  Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist . . . .” (Matt. 11:9-11).  In light of the high status of messengers, it is inaccurate to state that Ellen White was being particularly humble when she claimed to be a more than a prophet.


According to Ellen White’s understanding, her writings have the highest authority: “The message the Lord has given me to bear has been in a straight line from light to light, upward and onward from truth to advanced truth” (3SM 74).  She also stated, “The Holy Ghost is the author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy.  These are not to be twisted and turned to mean what man may want them to mean . . . .” (3SM 30).  Because of her claim of direct communication with the Holy Spirit, EGW could emphatically proclaim that “there is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written.  This [chain of truth], I am instructed, is to be a living letter to all in regard to my faith” (3SM 52). Thus, Ellen White’s view of her own writings approaches the inerrancy that Bradford denies to scripture.  Whether one refers to Mrs. White as prophetess or messenger of the Lord, it is clear that in her mind, there was no doubt that all of her visionary experiences were from the Lord, and that even though she grew in her prophetic understanding, her growth was from simple to complex truths.  In other words, the early visions were just as true as the later ones (she conveniently forgot her anti-Trinitarian writings—as does Bradford—see pg. 87).  Her perspective on the utter truthfulness of all her writings must be one of those things Bradford would say she misinterpreted (see 59).


Adventists commonly point to Ellen White’s statement that her work is the “lesser light” leading people to the Bible, or the “greater light” (RH Jan. 20, 1903; 3SM 30), and they claim that this statement proves that the Adventist Church is based on the Bible alone.  Smithurst states that “we would not claim the same authority for her works as we do for scripture.  She didn’t do this for her writings either" (43).  Clearly, Dr. Smithurst is incorrect, so far as Ellen White’s understanding of her ministry is concerned, for she stated, “The Holy Ghost is the author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy.” (3SM 30).  In effect, claiming to be a lesser light illuminating the Bible places Ellen White as the inspired interpreter of scripture—a very powerful position, indeed.  We urge Adventists to trust the greater light alone.  One doesn’t need a flashlight to illuminate the sun, but unfortunately, many Adventists are pre-occupied with their flashlight….


Bradford’s Tests of a Prophet


While the Bible gives several tests of a prophet, Bradford reduces them to two key points.  First, “[t]rue prophets will uphold obedience to God’s law” (83), and second, Ellen White “does talk so beautifully of Jesus” (84).  We concede that Ellen White was 100% devoted to the law (1SM 377), but sadly, she is out of harmony with the New Testament, which teaches that the law existed from Sinai until the coming of Christ, and that we are no longer under the law (Gal. 3:16-19 & 25).  Her focus on law, therefore, cannot recommend her as a prophet.  Prophets must always be faithful to scripture.


Bradford’s second point is that Ellen White should be considered a prophet because she upheld Jesus.  Her writings do contain many beautiful statements about Jesus, but many of these statements were plagiarized, as documented by Walter Rea’s The White Lie and Fred Veltman’s study of The Desire of Ages.  The main problem with Bradford’s tests of a prophet is that they are not comprehensive.  Many people have erroneously upheld and law, and many people have rightly spoken eloquently about Jesus without claiming to have the Spirit of Prophecy.  For a fairly comprehensive, biblical evaluation of Ellen White and the prophetic gift, please see EGW and the Bible Prophets and the Pillars of Prophetic Validity.


Who Is Being Dishonest?


Near the end of the book, as Doug and Jean are reclaimed from their doubts, Smithurst states, “[Ellen White] matched the biblical expectation in that she upheld Jesus and called for obedience to God and His Word. . . .” He continues by claiming that “she was in harmony with the major doctrines of the Bible such as Creation, salvation, law and the deity of Christ.  And, in hindsight, you can add that she had a view of inspiration that is biblically correct . . . .” (87).  In reality, she actually misunderstood most of the doctrines listed by Smithurst.


Responding to Smithurst’s evidences of Ellen White’s inspiration, Doug breaks in, calling EGW’s Internet critics “unfair and maybe even dishonest” for not presenting a balanced view of Ellen White’s ministry (87).  The reader should carefully consider who is being disingenuous.


Don’t Worry About the Details


Don’t worry about the details is the overall message of Prophets Are Human.  Ellen White’s methods and errors are not important—it’s only important to note that she loved Jesus and strove to bring people to Him (39, 61).  We respectfully disagree.  One must evaluate the details to determine whether Ellen White is a true prophet before one can safely follow any teachings based on her authority.  Ellen White’s untruthful statements, her unbiblical teachings, and her false prophecies must all be evaluated before one trusts the “end product” (39).  Prophets are human, but inspiration is divine.  Ellen White was absolutely correct when she said, “My work . . . bears the stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy.  There is no halfway work in the matter.  The Testimonies are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil” (4T 230).  On the basis of the evidence presented here, we believe Ellen White’s work must be rejected.  There is no light in a misinterpreting or misrepresenting prophet.



Joseph Rector, May 31, 2010