The Investigative Judgment Investigated

By Ernesto Gil and Dirk Anderson

Mrs. White and the Adventist pioneers developed a unique doctrine described as the "Investigative Judgment." This doctrine teaches that a second phases of the Atonement was begun by Christ in 1844. During this investigation Christ examines the life of each believer. He started with the dead believers, and when He is finished with their cases, He will begin judging the living believers who are alive near the end of time. During this Investigative Judgment God makes a decision on every case. He either blots out the sins of the believer from the heavenly sanctuary, or else he removes the name of the believer from the Book of Life. When His judgment is complete, the door of probation will be shut and Jesus will return to earth to reward those whose names remain in the Book of Life. Let us examine this doctrine to determine if it is logically and Biblically sound.

Ellen White Contradicts the Bible

Ellen White: Every name is examined, starting with Adam…

"As the books of record are opened in the Judgment, the lives of all who have believed on Jesus come in review before God. Beginning with those who first lived upon the earth, our Advocate presents the cases of each successive generation, and closes with the living. Every name is mentioned, every case closely investigated. Names are accepted, names rejected."1

BIBLE: God already knows who are His own

I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep… John 10:14

The Lord knoweth them that are His 2 Tim. 2:19

According to the Bible, God already knows who are His sheep. He does not need over 175 years to figure out who is saved and who is lost.

Ellen White: Every individual MUST pass the Investigative Judgment

"How important, then, that every mind contemplate often the solemn scene when the Judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, when, with Daniel, every individual must stand in his lot, at the end of the days."2

BIBLE: Believers in Christ do not enter into judgment

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 RSV

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1

According to the Bible, the Atonement was completed on the Cross. Jesus has already been judged and punished for the sins of the believer. While every believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive his reward (2 Cor. 5:10), there is no investigative judgment of whether or not we are worthy of salvation. We are made worthy by the blood of Christ.

Ellen White: Our sins are NOT BLOTTED OUT until AFTER the investigative judgment

"But, according to the unerring word of God, every man will be judged and rewarded according as his works have been, and we are admonished to so speak and to so do as 'they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.' When sin has been repented of, confessed, and forsaken, then pardon is written against the sinner's name; but his sins are not blotted out until after the investigative judgment."3

BIBLE: Our sins are blotted out when we repent

I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee. Isaiah 44:22

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. Acts 3:19

and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Ellen White: By 1850, Jesus' work of investigating the cases of believers was "almost finished"

"I then saw Brother Edson that he must gird on the whole armor and stand in readiness to go, for a journey was before him, and that souls needed help and that Jesus' work was almost finished in the sanctuary..." (1850)4

BIBLE: The Atonement was finished on the Cross

Jesus said, "It is finished." John 19:30

But this man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Heb. 10:12-14

The Bible teaches that Christ's atonement on the cross has perfected (past tense) His children. Christians are not made perfect during the Investigative Judgment period. If we are "in Christ," then we were made perfect 2,000 years ago through Christ's perfect sacrifice on Calvary.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Rom. 8:1

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. Rom. 5:9

Ellen White: Jesus began Atonement in 1844

"It is this coming, and not his second advent to the earth, that was foretold in prophecy to take place at the termination of the 2300 days, in 1844. Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies, and there appears in the presence of God, to engage in the last acts of his ministration in behalf of man,--to perform the work of investigative Judgment, and to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits."5

BIBLE: Christians had received Atonement by 50 A.D.!

Paul, writing his letter to the Romans in approximately 50 A.D., declares that Christians living in the first century had already received (past tense) the atonement:

...we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Rom. 5:11)

Examples of people who bypassed the Investigative Judgment

Biblical Examples

Mrs. White said "all" must pass through the investigative judgment to determine whether or not they will be saved.6 The Bible clearly shows that the cases of many people have already been decided prior to the Investigative Judgment:

The Thief on the cross: More than 1800 years prior to the Investigative Judgment Jesus declared to the thief on the cross, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Luke 22:43). The thief's case was determined in 33 A.D. when he repented and accepted Jesus on the cross. This proves that Christ needs no Investigative Judgment to determine who will be in the eternal kingdom. Why would he treat us any differently than the thief on the cross?

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: The Bible says Abraham was justified (accounted righteous) by faith (Rom. 4:2-5). Nearly 1800 years before the Investigative Judgment supposedly began Jesus declared:

And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 8:11
Obviously no investigation was required to determine the cases of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Moses: The Scriptures clearly states that Moses sinned, died and is now in heaven (Jude 9). If everyone's sins are NOT blotted out until AFTER the investigative judgment, how could Moses enter heaven? The Bible clearly states that no sinner will enter heaven (Rev. 21:27). Moses' sins must have been blotted out prior to 1844!

Enoch: God translated Enoch long before the Investigative Judgment (Heb. 11:5). How could Enoch be taken to Heaven without passing through the Investigative Judgment?

Elijah: There is no mention of an Investigative Judgment when Ellen White relates how Elijah was taken directly to the throne of heaven:

"There was yet a great work for Elijah to do; and when his work was done, he was not to perish in discouragement and solitude in the wilderness. Not for him the descent into the dust of death, but the ascent in glory, with the convoy of celestial chariots, to the throne on high."7

The Case of William Miller

Mrs. White emphatically stated that none could be saved who rejected the light upon the Sabbath:

"If they have light upon the Sabbath, they cannot be saved in rejecting that light."
"After the light shone upon the Sabbath those that have received it and cast it away, there is no hope for them."8

James White noted that William Miller, although acquainted with the Sabbath message, eventually rejected it:

"It is proper here to state that Mr. Miller did not view the second message as we do. Neither did he change his views upon the immortality and Sabbath questions."9

Despite his rejection of the "Sabbath light" Mrs. White indicates Miller will be saved:

God suffered him to fall under the power of Satan, the dominion of death, and hid him in the grave from those who were constantly drawing him from the truth. Moses erred as he was about to enter the Promised Land. So also, I saw that William Miller erred as he was soon to enter the heavenly Canaan, in suffering his influence to go against the truth. Others led him to this; others must account for it. But angels watch the precious dust of this servant of God, and he will come forth at the sound of the last trump.10

William Miller's case is very interesting. Here we have a man who rejected the Sabbath truth--a truth that Mrs. White said must be accepted in order for one to be saved--and yet she saw in vision that he was saved. Furthermore, Mrs. White declares William Miller to be righteous BEFORE his case came up! This raises some important questions:

  • How could he be saved even though he rejected the Sabbath truth?
  • How could he be declared righteous before being examined in the Investigative Judgment?

The Case of Mrs. Hastings

In 1850 Mrs. White wrote:

"I saw that she [Mrs. Hastings] was sealed and would come up at the voice of God and stand upon the earth, and would be with the 144,000. I saw we need not mourn for her; she would rest in the time of trouble."11

Once again, we find the case of someone being decided prior to the Investigative Judgment. How were William Miller and Mrs. Hastings able to "beat the system" and be declared righteous before their cases came up in the Investigative Judgment?

Enoch Living in New Jerusalem?

Mrs. White claims to have seen Enoch on an unfallen world:

"There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated."12

She asked Enoch if that was his home, and he reportedly told her, "It is not; but the city is my home, and I have come to visit this place."13 How could Enoch be translated and living in heaven prior to the "investigative judgment"?

Brothers Fitch and Stockman, and Others

In 1845, Ellen Harmon claimed to have had a vision where she was in heaven with the redeemed. After being shown the tree of life, Ellen met some brethren who had passed away prior to 1845:

"We all went under the tree, and sat down to look at the glory of the place, when Bro. Fitch, and Stockman, who had preached the gospel of the kingdom, whom God had laid in the grave to save them, came up to us and asked us what we had passed through while they were sleeping."14

God must have already decided the cases of these two recently deceased believers by Dec. 20, 1845, otherwise He would never have shown Ellen Harmon a vision with them in heaven. In the same vision, she also sees a number of Biblical heros in heaven:

"Here we saw good old father Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Noah, Daniel, and many like them."15

Therefore, the cases of these five Biblical figures must have already been decided within 14 months of the inception of the investigative judgment.

A "Multitude"

According to Ellen White, a multitude of people were raised at the time of Jesus' resurrection and ascended with Him to heaven:

"As Christ arose, He brought from the grave a multitude of captives. The earthquake at His death had rent open their graves, and when He arose, they came forth with Him. They were those who had been co-laborers with God, and who at the cost of their lives had borne testimony to the truth. Now they were to be witnesses for Him who had raised them from the dead. ...those who came forth from the grave at Christ's resurrection were raised to everlasting life. They ascended with Him as trophies of His victory over death and the grave."16

How could this "multitude" ascend to heaven before the Investigative Judgment had decided their cases?

Cases of the Wicked Already Decided?

Apparently the case of Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was already decided by 1854 when Ellen White published the following quote:

"Thomas Paine, whose body has now moldered to dust and who is to be called forth at the end of the one thousand years, at the second resurrection, to receive his reward and suffer the second death, is represented by Satan as being in heaven, and highly exalted there."17

In 1858, Mrs. White announced that Napoleon (1769-1821) will be one of the resurrected wicked who leads an attack upon the righteous at the end of the Millennium:

"There was the proud, ambitious Napoleon, whose approach had caused kingdoms to tremble."18

How Slow is God?

Ellen White taught that the judgment commenced on October 22, 1844, with Adam, and would proceed through every generation of the dead, and then after the cases of all the dead were decided, the investigation of the living would commence:

"In 1844 our great High Priest entered the most holy place of the heavenly Sanctuary, to begin the work of the investigative Judgment. The cases of the righteous dead have been passing in review before God. When that work shall be completed, judgment is to be pronounced upon the living."19

By 1850 the investigative judgment was nearly completed. On July 29, 1850, Mrs. White said whilst in vision:

"Said the angel, Jesus' work is almost finished in the sanctuary."20

If Jesus was nearly finished in 1850, what has He been doing the last 170 years? Let us examine the time-line.

On Dec. 20, 1845, a mere 14 months after the Investigative Judgment commenced, Sister White said she saw Brothers Fitch and Stockman in heaven. We do not know the exact date of their deaths, but it appears they died in the early 1840s. Therefore, by the end of 1845 the Investigative Judgment had progressed to the point that all the people who died up until the year 1840 had been judged.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we have roughly 4,000 years of history before the birth of Christ, we can conclude that by 1845, 14 months after the Investigative Judgment is purported to have begun, 5,840 years of human history had been judged. The rate of judgment is over 5,000 years of actual history per year of Investigative Judgment. Then, there is apparently a dramatic slowdown, because the next case we hear being decided is that of Sister Hastings, who apparently died around 1850. That means that during the five years from 1845 to 1850, God only managed to investigate about 10 years of human history. Since 1850 there have been around 170 years of Investigative Judgment, and the rate has fallen to roughly one year of human history for every year of judgment. If this downward trend continues, the rate may soon fall below one, which means the Investigative Judgment will never end!

What the Bible Teaches

The Pre-advent Judgment

While the Bible never teaches an Investigative Judgment as described by Mrs. White, it does describe a pre-advent judgment. The first angel of Revelation 14 announces that the time for God's judgment has come (Rev. 14:6). In heaven a court sits and the books are opened (Dan. 7:10) and a judgment takes place. What is the purpose of this judgment? The Bible is very specific:

But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his [little horn power] dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. Dan. 7:26

The wicked are weighed in the balances of heaven's court and are found wanting. The purpose of the judgment is to show that the wicked have filled up the cup of God's wrath and God is justified in bringing punishment upon them, taking away their dominion and giving it to the saints (Dan. 7:27). The punishment of the wicked is clearly indicated in the third angels' message:

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. Rev. 14:10

The truth is that there is nothing in Daniel 7 or Revelation 14 describing an Investigative Judgment of the righteous. The only judgment described in these passages is the judgment of God upon the wicked. This is the purpose of the pre-advent judgment. The heavenly court finds that the wicked are unfit to rule the earth. The judgment is then executed upon them: Their kingdom is taken away from them and they are tormented with fire and brimstone until they are destroyed.

The Truth of the Gospel

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ as your substitute, He was judged in your place on the cross. He paid the price for all sin for all time. His righteousness has been credited to your account. The good news of the judgment is that all who believe and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ can say with assurance, "I've been acquitted!" We have already been judged in Christ. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Those who reject the gospel, judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. Those who accept the gospel have passed from death into life and will not enter into the condemnation of judgment (John 5:24).


1. Ellen White, The Great Controversy [1888 edition], p. 483.

2. Ellen White, The Great Controversy [1888 edition], p. 483.

3. Ellen White, The Signs of the Times, May 16, 1895.

4. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases Vol. 6, p. 250.

5. Great Controversy, [1888 edition], p. 479.

6. Great Controversy, [1888 edition], p. 483.

7. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 301.

8. Ellen White, Historical Sketches, p. 234. Manuscript 5, 1849, written Sept. 23 at Topsham, Maine, a summary of remarks made by Ellen White in vision, unpublished and on file at the White Estate.

9. James White, Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller.

10. Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 258.

11. Ellen White, Selected Messages, Vol. 2, p. 263.

12. Ellen White, "To Those who are receiving the seal of the living God," January 31, 1849, paragraph 8.

13. Ibid.

14. Ellen White, The Day-Star, January 24, 1846.

15. Ibid.

16. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 786.

17. Ellen White, Supplement to the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White p. 8.

18. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts Vol. 1, p. 215.

19. Ellen White, Review and Herald, March 22, 1887, paragraph 9.

20. Ellen White, Manuscript 5, 1850. Manuscript Releases, vol. 18, pp. 10-13.

Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White 1844 Movement
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