Ellen White's Daily Confusion

By Dennis Hokama, Adventist Currents, March 1987, condensed from "Does 1844 Have a 'Pagan Foundation?'"

The Hebrew word tamid, translated in Daniel 8:14 as "daily," is used 103 times in the Old Testament. Six times it is translated as "daily";1 but elsewhere it is translated as "alway," "always," "continual," "continually," "perpetual," "ever," "evermore," and "never."

The King James Version translators, all subsequent translations, and virtually all commentators prior to William Miller had concluded that ha tamid, or "the daily," referred to the daily or continual sacrifices associated with the Jewish temple services.

The KJV translators felt confident enough about this interpretation that they inserted the word "sacrifice" in italics after "the daily."

Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his 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 practiced 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 underfoot? (Dan. 8:11-13)

William Miller came to the novel conclusion that the "daily" of Daniel 8:11,12 and 11:31 was "paganism" rather than sacrifices connected with Jewish temple services. For about 50 years Adventist leaders in good standing felt obligated to endorse Miller's paganism interpretation.

Joseph Bates identified the "daily" as paganism in 1846 (The Opening Heavens, p. 31), so did J.N. Andrews in 1853 (Review and Herald, 3:145, Feb. 3, 1853), and later Uriah Smith (ibid., 24:180, Nov. 1, 1864) and James White ("The Time" in Sermons on the Coming and Kingdom of...Christ, 1870, ed., pp. 116, 117).2

But the event that made "paganism" a shibboleth among Adventists was Ellen White's endorsement of it in Present Truth, November 1850. A vision that she received on September 23, 1850, is now found on pages 74 and 75 of Early Writings:

Then I saw in relation to the "daily", Dan. 8:12, that the word "sacrifice" was supplied by man's wisdom, and does not belong to the text; and that the Lord gave the correct view of it to those who gave the judgment-hour cry. When union existed, before 1844, nearly all were united on the correct view of the "daily", but in the confusion since 1844, other views have been embraced, and darkness and confusion have followed.

Another document that wielded tremendous influence among Adventists was Uriah Smith's highly regarded The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation, of which the Daniel half was published in 1873. It was regarded then, and is now regarded, as virtually on a par with the "Spirit of Prophecy" by those who take Ellen White's endorsement seriously. According to A.C. Bordeau, a respected SDA minister and close associate of the White's:

Many years ago, when the late Uriah Smith was writing Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, while Elder James White and Ellen G. White were at my house in Enosburg, Vermont, they received by mail a roll of printed proofsheets on Thoughts on Revelation that Brother Smith had sent to them. Brother White read portions of the same to the company, and expressed much pleasure and satisfaction because they were so concisely and clearly written. Then Sister White stated what she had been shown as follows: "The Lord is inspiring Brother Smith--leading his mind by His Spirit, and an angel is guiding his hand in writing these "Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation." I was present when these words were spoken. (signed) "A.C. Bordeau"3

If Bordeau's account is to be taken at face falue, one might even argue that the level of inspiration in Daniel and Revelation is even higher that that in Ellen White's books; since an angel was guiding Smith's hand, not merely his mind, as was true in Ellen White's writings. In any case, Smith strongly favored the paganism interpretation of the "daily," as can be seen on pages 164 and 165 of his book:

What is the Daily? We have proof in verse 13 that "sacrifice" is the wrong word to be supplied in connection with the word "daily". ...the daily cannot be the daily sacrifice of the Jews...

The New View of the Daily

The first denominational leader to openly publish a view contrary to the Millerite "pagan daily" was L.R. Conradi in his 1905 volume, Die Weissagung Daniel. At the turn of the century, Conradi wrote to Ellen White in Australia informing her that unless she had counsel to the contrary, he would feel compelled to publish his conclusions.4 Not receiving a reply within the specified time, he published Die Weissagung Daniel--the first denominational book to challenge the "daily" = "paganism" equation. His book was circulated widely in Europe in 1905. Conradi's break with tradition was evidently a relief to many leaders who for years harbored private doubts about the "pagan daily."

The public questioning of the "pagan daily" by the church's highest and most respected leaders touched off a fierce controversy that shook the denomination to its roots. The defenders of the "new view" included the General Conference president (A.G. Daniells), the future General Conference president (W.A. Spicer), the editor of the Review (W.W. Prescott), and Ellen White's son and confidante, William C. White.

The opposition, however, was not the least bit impressed. Appealing to a higher authority in the form of Early Writings (pp. 74, 75), they unleashed a vigorous counterattack that scandalized the shocked "new view" advocates. The first public stone was cast by Elder Stephen Haskell, who published a facsimile of what he thought was the prophetic chart endorsed by Early Writings, with the quote from Mrs. White in regard to the "daily" inscribed at the bottom.5 Even before that, at the 1905 General Conference, the old guard had attempted to ban Conradi's book in North America.6 L.A. Smith (son of Uriah) circulated a tract of his own in the summer of 1909 in which he accused the "new view" advocates of disloyalty to the Spirit of Prophecy.

Stephen Haskell bombarded Wllen White with letters complaining of Prescott's dangerous new view of the "daily".7 He even hosted her at his home for about a week during this period. Haskell evidently made good use of that time because Prescott was subsequently pressured to leave the Review in mid-1909 by Ellen White, who urged him to engage in city evangelism instead. A.G. Daniells, as General Conference president, met a similar fate, and was virtally forced to relinquish his position to several associates in 1910 and engage in city evangelism. The tide would turn, but two of the three most influential men in the denomination found themselves for a time in an exile of sorts.

Was city evangelism suddenly so pressing that both the editor of the Review and the General Conference president had to leave their offices to become evangelists? Or was city evangelism merely a pretext for removing these men from a position of influence? Did they incur Ellen White's wrath solely or at least primarily because of their promotion of the "new view" of the "daily"? Was Ellen White actually neutral on the issue, as material published over her name during that period suggests, or was she secretly resentful that Daniells, Prescott, and her son Willie were seeing to it that her authority as a Bible interpreter was being--like the daily--taken away?

Ellen White's Position in the "Daily" Controversy

When the daily war heated up, Ellen White was in her eighties, with an apparently diminished capacity to understand complicated matters. This may be inferred from a 1918 letter by Haskell to W.C. White in response to the latter's claim regarding his mother's enfeebled mental state during her later years:

If I believed even what you have told me about having to tell your mother the same thing over three or four times in order that she might get a clear idea of things, so that she could give a correct testimony on some points, it would weaken my faith mightily; not in your mother, but in what comes from her pen.8

If this is true (and there is considerable circumstantial evidence to support this position), it puts an entirely different light on her carefully worded, cautiously neutral, definitively ambiguous "daily" statement of July 31, 1910. This was the document that began to turn the tide in favor of Willie and his exiled allies, Prescott and Daniells.

I request that my writings shall not be used as the leading argument to settle questions over which where is now so much controversy. I entreat of Elder Haskell, Loughborough, Smith, and others of our leading brethren, that they make no reference to my writings to sustain their views of the "daily".

It has been presented to me that this is not a subject of vital importance. I am instructed that our brethren are making a mistake in magnifying the importance of the difference in the views that are held. I cannot consent that any of my writings shall be taken as settling this matter. The true meaning of the "daily" is not to be made a test question.

I now ask that my ministering brethren shall not make use of my writings in their arguments regarding this question; for I have no instruction on the point under discussion, and I see no need for the controversy. Regarding this matter under present conditions, silence is eloquence....9

Bert Haloviak, assistant director of the General Conference Office of Archives and Statistics, thinks he sees the hand of Willie in the fact that this document was entitled "Our Attitude Toward Doctrinal Controversy." Ellen White ordinarily placed no titles on her testimonies.10 Haloviak only allows that Willie might have added the title. But in light of the Haskell letter previously quoted, we might also ask ourselves how many times it was necessary for Willie to explain to his mother that she must forbid her fanatical followers from using her writings to settle the issue before she was able to send out "a correct testimony."

There are indications that Ellen White's apparent neutrality on the issue was due either to intimidation by Willie White and Daniells or to their misrepresentation of her true position on this topic. The most troubling evidence of this is a contemporary document written by F.C. Gilbert, evidently the lone "old view" advocate who was able to interview Ellen White personally and privately concerning her views on the "daily." Elder Gilbert took notes as she was speaking and wrote up the interview immediately afterward. Since he evidently did not get permission from her to disclose these private thoughts, he felt obligated to keep them confidential for many years. Elder Washburn persuaded Gilbert to release the document to him in 1946 while Gilbert was on his death bed.11 Washburn's limited release of this document put the reputations of Willie White, Daniells, Prescott, and the "new view" in an extremely embarrassing light. Some excerpts:

When they [Prescott and Daniells] did not accept my message of reproof I knew what they would do and I knew what Daniells would do in getting the people all stirred up. I have not written to Prescott because his wife is so very sick...Daniells was here to see me, and I would not see him. I told them that I would not see him on any point, and I would not have anything to say to him about anything. About this "daily" that they are trying to work up, there is nothing in it, and it is not a testing point of character...

...I would not see Daniells about the matter, and I would not have one word with him. They pled with me that I would give them an interview, but I would not give him any at all. They have stirred up the minds of the people against this testing time, and I am going to let the people know about these things.

God is testing these men, and they are showing how they are standing the test, and how they stand with regard to the Testimonies. They have shown by their actions how much confidence they have in the Testimonies.

...I saw why it was that Daniells was rushing this thing through from place to place; for he knew that I would work against it. That is why I know they did not stand the testing. I knew they would not receive it. ... This whole thing they are doing is a scheme of the devil. He [Daniells] has been president too long, and should not be there any longer.

Daily Controversy Continues to Simmer

Ellen White's July 31, 1910, declaration that ended the controversy was no bipartisan appeal for a ceasefire from both sides. Ellen White was finally addressing the "old view" advocates, her shock troops who had with her help hounded Prescott and Daniells into exile. After all, it was not the "new view" advocates who had to be restrained from using Early Writings as their leading argument. It was a signal to Prescott and Daniells that they could come down from their respective trees now that their opposition had been forbidden to use her writings in fighting against their interpretation.

Ellen White's insistence on calling the "daily" issue an unimportant, trivial distraction indicates that she sided with the "old view." "New view" advocates could hardly be consistenet in calling the issue trivial, since on their interpretation the "daily" became Christ's righteousness, the heavenly sanctuary, or the gospel. Could any Christian call that trivial or unimportant? It was the "old view" advocates who were embarrassed that they were forced into defending "paganism." Stephen Haskell, for instance, admitted to Willie White12 that the "daily" itself did not "amount to a hill of beans"; but he felt compelled to defend it because the authority of the Spirit of Prophecy was at stake.

Ellen White seemed to share the "old view" advocates' embarrassment over having to debate the subject. Washburn recalled that F.C. Gilbert had told him of Ellen White's comment to him: "I could have stopped this daily controversy, but they got hold of Willie, and that made it more difficult."

Despite Ellen White's appeal to cease debate on the subject in 1910, the potentially deadly wound was not healed but continued to fester.

1850 - I SAW...
Present Truth, Nov. 1850
Claims her writings established truth
Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 38
1910 - Don't use my writings
Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 164
Then I saw in relation to the "daily", Dan. 8:12, that the word "sacrifice" was supplied by man's wisdom, and does not belong to the text; and that the Lord gave the correct view of it to those who gave the judgment-hour cry. In the early days...the Spirit of God would rest upon me, and I would be taken off in vision, and be instructed in regard to the relation of Scripture to Scripture. ... Thus many truths of the third angel's message were established, point by point. I cannot consent that any of my writings shall be taken as settling this matter. ... I now ask that my ministering brethren shall not make use of my writings in their arguments regarding this question; for I have no instruction on the point under discussion.


1. Num. 4:16, 28:24; Dan. 8:11,12,13; 11:31, and 12:11.

2. SDA Encyclopedia, p. 322.

3. J.S. Washburn letter to Meade MacGuire, Feb. 18, 1923.

4. Arthur L. White, The Elmshaven Years, p. 247.

5. W.C. White to J.S. Washburn, Oct. 27, 1910, p. 26.

6. WCW to JSW, p. 28.

7. Letters written June 20, 1907; Nov. 18, 1908; Feb. 21, 1909.

8. Nov. 27, 1918, WEDC.

9. MS 11, 1910, also 1SM, p. 164.

10. "In the Shadow of the Daily: Background and Aftermath of the 1919 Bible and History Teachers' Conference", p. 56.

11. A. White letter, Nov. 17, 1948, WDF 242.

12. Haskell to White, Dec. 6, 1909.

Category: Confused Teachings
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below