Historical Blunders

By Brother Anderson, Oct. 2009

Ellen White claimed to have witnessed Biblical scenes in vision and she later wrote out those scenes in her books:

"As the Spirit of God has opened to my mind the great truths of his Word, and the scenes of the past and the future, I have been bidden to make known to others what has thus been revealed..."1

"It cannot be denied that these works were not the product of any human mind; they are the voice of God speaking to His people...."2

If that is true, if God opened the events of history to her in vision, if her writings are the product of a divine mind, then why are there so many inaccuracies and historical mistakes in her writings?

1. Dead Wrong about Herod

In 1858, Mrs. White writes about Herod as if the same Herod who took part in Christ's trial also killed the apostle James:

"Herod's heart had grown still harder; and when he heard that Christ had risen, he was not much troubled. He took the life of James, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews, he took Peter also, intending to put him to death."3

The historical facts are that Herod Antipas was the Herod who took part in the trial of Christ. Herod Antipas was banished to Lyons in France, by Caligula in AD 41. After his banishment, the provinces which he governed were given to Herod Agrippa. Agrippa was the Herod who put James to death, cast Peter in prison, and was smitten of God, and expired in AD 44.4 Mrs. White was wrong in saying the same Herod who killed John the Baptist and witnessed the trial of Jesus was the Herod who killed James. This mistake was corrected when her book was republished in 1878:

"He [Herod] seized upon James and cast him into prison, and there sent an executioner to kill him with a sword, as another Herod had caused the prophet John to be beheaded. He then became bolder, seeing that the Jews were pleased with his acts, and imprisoned Peter."5

This small mistake would probably be overlooked as of little importance if not for the fact that Mrs. White claimed to have seen all of these events in vision. This illustrates the fact that the events she wrote about were not witnessed by her in visions; rather, she "saw" them written on the pages of the books she was plagiarizing from.

In the 1970s, SDA scholar Dr. Don McAdams performed his doctoral research on the book Great Controversy. In doing so, he discovered that Ellen White copied the historical errors of other authors into her own "inspired" writings:

"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 hand-written 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."6

2. Wrong about John the Baptist's Death

In 1877, Mrs. White places the call of the disciples after John the Baptist's death:

The disciples had not yet fully joined themselves to Jesus to be co-laborers with him. They had witnessed many of his miracles, and their minds had been enlightened by the discourses they had heard from his lips; but they had not entirely left their employment as fishermen. Their hearts were filled with grief by the death of John, and they were troubled with conflicting thoughts. ... Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately after this they left their nets and boats and followed the Saviour.7

In 1898, with a little help from her book-maker Marian Davis, she managed to get the story right. She has John in prison at the time of the call of the disciples:

During the lonely hours he [Peter] had thought of the fate of John the Baptist, who was languishing alone in his dungeon. ... Until this time none of the disciples had fully united as colaborers with Jesus. They had witnessed many of His miracles, and had listened to His teaching; but they had not entirely forsaken their former employment. The imprisonment of John the Baptist had been to them all a bitter disappointment. If such were to be the outcome of John's mission, they could have little hope for their Master, with all the religious leaders combined against Him. Under the circumstances it was a relief to them to return for a short time to their fishing. But now Jesus called them to forsake their former life, and unite their interests with His. Peter had accepted the call. Upon reaching the shore, Jesus bade the three other disciples, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left all, and followed Him.8

3. Wrong about Solomon's Temple

Ellen White wrote:

The beautiful temple that for more than four centuries had crowned the summit of Mount Zion was not spared by the Chaldeans.9

According to archeologists the temple was "completed in 960 BCE, it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE."10 That equates to 374 years, which is less than four centuries.

4. Wrong about the Waldenses

Mrs. White wrote in 1888:

The Waldenses were the first of all the peoples of Europe to obtain a translation of the Holy Scriptures.11

After scholars uncovered other European peoples had obtained translations of the Scriptures prior to the Waldenses, she changed her account when it was republished in 1911:

The Waldenses were among the first of the peoples of Europe to obtain a translation of the Holy Scriptures.12

See also


1. Ellen White, Manuscript 23, 1890.

2. Ellen White, author's preface in The Great Controversy (1888), page g.

3. Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 185.

4. See account of Herod Agrippa in Acts 7.

5. Ellen White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, p. 334.

6. Donald McAdams, "Shifting View of Inspiration", Spectrum, vol. 10, No. 4, March. 1980.

7. The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2 (1877), pp. 182, 183, 185.

8. The Desire of Ages (1898), pp. 245-249.

9. Prophets and Kings (1917), p. 458.

10. Wikipedia, "Solomon's Temple", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon%27s_temple, extracted Oct. 4, 2009.

11. The Great Controversy (1888), p. 65.

12. The Great Controversy (1911), p. 65.

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