Paradise Lost's Themes Found in Ellen White's Books
By Dirk Anderson, June 2008, based on source comparisons made by Angus McPhee and others
Ellen White describes events which took place in Heaven before the fall of man, and events in the Garden of Eden which are not found anywhere in the Bible. Adventists are led to believe that these events were revealed to her in dreams and visions from God. However, few Adventists are aware that J.N. Andrews gave Ellen White a copy of John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost.1 An analysis of that book reveals the true source of her inspiration. A number of the thoughts, ideas and scenes that show up in Ellen White's writings were first penned in 1667 by Milton.
Following are themes developed by John Milton in his fictional poem that are not found anywhere in the Bible. These themes appear in both Milton's and Ellen White's writings.
1. Satan Holds a Council Meeting After His Fall
In Paradise Lost, Satan and his evil cohorts gather together in a council meeting to plan their work against God.2
Ellen White writes of the same theme, saying that after Satan was expelled from Heaven...
He consulted with his angels, and a plan was laid to still work against God's government.3
2. Angels Praise the Plan of Salvation
In Paradise Lost, Book 3, Milton describes Jesus going to the Father to offer Himself as a sacrifice for man's salvation (verses 217-273). The Father accepts the sacrifice and bestows glory and honor upon the Son (verses 274-343). Afterward, the angels explode in praise:
No sooner had th' Almighty ceas't, but all
There is no mention of a song of praise in the Bible, but on pages 149-151 of Early Writings, Mrs. White also describes Jesus approaching the Father to offer Himself in man's behalf. The Father accepts the offer, and Jesus tells the angels that God will bestow the Kingdom to Him. Afterward, the angels erupt in praise:
Then joy, inexpressible joy, filled heaven. And the heavenly host sang a song of praise and adoration. They touched their harps and sang a note higher than they had done before... (p. 151)
3. Descriptions of Eden
There can be no doubt that Ellen White was following Milton's writings as she wrote her description of Eden:
4. Angels Hold Discussions with Adam and Eve
In Paradise Lost, books 5 through 8, Milton describes an angelic visitor who goes to Eden to meet Adam and Eve. The angel discusses:
The angel warns Adam not to let Eve leave his side:
...she deserts thee not, if thou Dismiss not her, when most thou need'st her nigh... (563-564)
The angel leaves after admonishing Adam and Eve to obey God's commandments:
...first of all Him whom to love is to obey, and keep His great command... (635)
Even though there is no Biblical evidence that angels ever visited or talked with Adam and Eve prior to the fall, Mrs. White incorporates Milton's fictional accounts of angelic visits into her "inspired" writings:
Holy angels often visited the garden, and gave instruction to Adam and Eve concerning their employment and also taught them concerning the rebellion and fall of Satan. The angels warned them of Satan and cautioned them not to separate from each other in their employment, for they might be brought in contact with this fallen foe. The angels also enjoined upon them to follow closely the directions God had given them, for in perfect obedience only were they safe.4
There is no indication in the Bible of any separation between Adam and Eve. In fact, Genesis 3:6 clearly states that Adam was with Eve at the time of the temptation:
And when the woman saw that the tree [was] good for food, and that it [was] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make [one] wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (KJV)
Nearly every English translation explicitly states that Adam was with Eve at the time, and there is no indication in any translation that they were separated. Here are some more examples:
... She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (NIV)
The idea of a separation between Adam and Eve is unbiblical and was imagined by Milton in Book 9 of his fictional account of Eden. Eve separates from Adam in order to work in another area of the Garden, and the serpent finds her alone. Ellen White follows Milton's fictional theme and has Eve separate herself from Adam:
But absorbed in her pleasing task, she unconsciously wandered from his side. On perceiving that she was alone, she felt an apprehension of danger, but dismissed her fears, deciding that she had sufficient wisdom and strength to discern evil and to withstand it. Unmindful of the angels' caution, she soon found herself gazing with mingled curiosity and admiration upon the forbidden tree.5
6. Serpent Praises Eve's Beauty
According to Milton's novel, the Serpent praised Eve for her beauty:
Fairest resemblance of thy Maker faire,
Ellen White picks up this extra-Biblical thought in her writings:
But the serpent continued, in a musical voice, with subtle praise of her surpassing loveliness; and his words were not displeasing.6
7. Cause of Adam's Fall
The Bible says nothing about what went into the decision-making of Adam's choice to eat the forbidden fruit. So, Milton invented a reason: His great love for Eve.
But before Milton describes Adam's reasoning, notice how he describes the shock and horror Adam felt when he realized what had happened:
Astonied stood and Blank, while horror chill
Now, Milton has Adam tell us how he decided to eat the fruit because he cannot live without his first love, Eve:
How can I live without thee, how forgoe
While the Bible pictures Adam and Eve together deliberately eating of the fruit in rebellion against God, Milton's fictional account has Eve tricked into eating the fruit, and then Adam choosing to eat the fruit because of his great love for Eve, believing that he cannot possibly live without her. Mrs. White incorporates Milton's fiction into her writings:
An expression of sadness came over the face of Adam. He appeared astonished and alarmed. ... There was a terrible struggle in his mind. He mourned that he had permitted Eve to wander from his side. But now the deed was done; he must be separated from her whose society had been his joy. How could he have it thus? Adam had enjoyed the companionship of God and of holy angels. He had looked upon the glory of the Creator. He understood the high destiny opened to the human race should they remain faithful to God. Yet all these blessings were lost sight of in the fear of losing that one gift which in his eyes outvalued every other. Love, gratitude, loyalty to the Creator--all were overborne by love to Eve. She was a part of himself, and he could not endure the thought of separation.7
8. Adam Shown Future Events
There is nothing said in the Bible about Adam being told or shown future events that were to take place upon the earth. However, in Milton's fictional account, Adam is shown these future events:
Ellen White follows Milton's fictional theme by telling us that God showed Adam the future:
To Adam were revealed future important events, from his expulsion from Eden to the Flood, and onward to the first advent of Christ upon the earth... Adam was carried down through successive generations and saw the increase of crime, of guilt and defilement, because man would yield to his naturally strong inclinations to transgress the holy law of God. He was shown the curse of God resting more and more heavily upon the human race, upon the cattle, and upon the earth, because of man's continued transgression. He was shown that iniquity and violence would steadily increase; yet amid all the tide of human misery and woe, there would ever be a few who would preserve the knowledge of God and would remain unsullied amid the prevailing moral degeneracy. Adam was made to comprehend what sin is--the transgression of the law. He was shown that moral, mental, and physical degeneracy would result to the race, from transgression, until the world would be filled with human misery of every type.8
9. Golden Winged Serpent
The Bible says nothing about the serpent in Eden having wings. However, in Milton's fictional work, the serpent has wings:
some of Serpent kinde
The Bible says nothing about the color of the serpent. However, in Milton's fictional work, the serpent is the color of gold:
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold, erect
Ellen White wrote:
The serpent was then one of the wisest and most beautiful creatures on the earth. It had wings, and while flying through the air presented an appearance of dazzling brightness, having the color and brilliancy of burnished gold.9
10. Casting Crowns
In Paradise Lost, Milton put forth the fictional idea that heavenly angels wear crowns, and at times they cast them down:
With solemn adoration down they cast Thir Crowns (3:350-352)
Ellen White also taught that angels wore crowns, and when Adam and Eve fell:
The angels cast their crowns from their heads10
Mrs. White incorporated themes and concepts from John Milton's fictional poem into her "inspired" Bible commentary. Sometimes the ideas she copied from Milton were merely extraneous tidbits of fiction, such as the color of the fruit of the Tree of Life. But at other times, these concepts directly contradict the Bible, such as the idea that Eve was separated from Adam. Regardless of their severity, it appears that the source of Mrs. White's "inspiration" about the history of Eden was John Milton and not divine dreams and visions.
1. Walter T. Rea, White Lie, footnote #1 of chapter 5: "J. N. Andrews had taken a copy of Paradise Lost to Ellen White when he recognized that her account of the Great Controversy was similar to that of John Milton in his epic poem of 1667. According to Arthur L. White, she had put it up on a 'high shelf' and did not read it..."
2. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, verses 752-797, Book II verses 1-520.
3. Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 146.
4. Ibid., p. 147.
5. Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 53-54.
6. Ibid., p. 54.
7. Early Writings, p. 148.
8. Ellen White, Story of Redemption, pp. 47-48.
9. Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 53.
10. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 21.
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