Ellen White Contradiction: Are the Words of the Bible Inspired? Or not?

By Dirk Anderson

In 1886, Ellen White wrote that the words of the Bible are not inspired:

It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions, but on the man himself, who under the influence of the Holy Ghost is imbued with thoughts. But the words and thoughts receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the Word of God.1

Prior to the 1880s - Verbal Inspiration

Prior to the early 1880s, Ellen White and the SDA Church followed the example of William Miller and the Protestant Reformers who taught that the actual words of the Bible were inspired.2 This is known as verbal inspiration. The quotes below demonstrate that Ellen White initially believed and taught the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. In 1854, she wrote that the writings of the apostles were dictated by the Holy Ghost:

He who is the father of lies, blinds and deceives the world by sending his angels forth to speak for the apostles, and make it appear that they contradict what they wrote when on earth, which was dictated by the Holy Ghost.3

In 1876, she wrote:

The scribes of God wrote as they were dictated by the Holy Spirit, having no control of the work themselves. They penned the literal truth...4

Ellen White's statements were consistent with the beliefs of the early SDA Church. In 1854, J. N. Andrews wrote, "the holy Scriptures come to us with the divine guarantee that every word therein contained was divinely inspired."5

Alberto Timm, Director of the Ellen White Research Center in Brazil, wrote that "early Seventh-day Adventists regarded the Scriptures as infallible and inerrant.... An entire lecture of H. L. Hastings on inspiration appeared in the Review in 1883, referring to the Scriptures as 'the transcript of the Divine Mind.'"6

1880-1911 - Ellen White's Failures Cause SDAs to Re-examine Verbal Inspiration

Several events caused SDAs to begin doubting verbal inspiration.

  1. In 1883, A.C. Long published a document showing that Ellen White's earliest writings had been tampered with. Long demonstrated that significant deletions were made to her "inspired" writings when her earliest writings were republished in 1882. How could SDA leaders justify deleting inspired words?
  2. In 1883, when revising the "testimonies" for reprint, it was realized that modifications were needed. Subsequently, the Church passed the following resolution explaining why Ellen White's words would need changing:
    33. Whereas. Many of these testimonies were written under the most unfavorable circumstances, the writer being too heavily pressed with anxiety and labor to devote critical thought to the grammatical perfection of the writings, and they were printed in such haste as to allow these imperfections to pass uncorrected; and—
    Whereas. We believe the light given by God to his servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rarecases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed; therefore—
    Resolved. That in the re-publication of these volumes such verbal changes be made as to remove the above-mentioned imperfections, as far as possible, without in any measure changing the thought;7

  3. In 1887, D.M. Canright began exposing plagiarism and other issues with Ellen White. Dr. Kellogg also raised the issue of plagiarism. It was becoming obvious to some that Ellen White's "words" were coming from other people—people who were non-Adventist and not keeping the Sabbath. It would be a blow to acknowledge that the words of these other non-Adventists were "inspired." After all, Ellen White had written off non-Sabbath-keepers as being "fallen Babylon" and under strong delusion. How could inspired words be coming from the ministers of fallen Babylon?

  4. In 1910, W.W. Prescott was called in to assist with a revision to the Great Controversy. Timm informs us that "Prescott felt very uneasy about having to suggest revisions to the writings of an inspired prophet" and this episode "became a decisive factor in leading Prescott to the assumption that the Scriptures were verbally inspired but not Ellen White’s writings."8 In 1911, W.C. White added that Mrs. White "never laid claim to verbal inspiration."9

  5. In the early 1900s, the controversy over the word "daily" in Daniel 8, and the Kellogg crisis.

During this period, conviction was building among SDA leaders that Ellen White was not verbally inspired. However, many SDA leaders continued to believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Following are a few examples from the sect’s leaders:10

  • 1890 - "The New Testament does not speak of inspiration as being given to men, or of men being inspired. It was the writings which were inspired, or, literally, 'God-breathed.'(“Questions on Inspiration,” Signs of the Times, Oct. 27, 1890)"
  • 1909 - "Emphasized the verbal inspiration of the words of Scripture in the original Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Greek languages. 'These words,' it was stated, 'were the words inspired by the Spirit of God.' (“Versions and Verbal Inspiration,” Signs of the Times, Nov. 17, 1909)"
  • 1911 - "Milton C. Wilcox, editor of the Signs of the Times...stated that 'the original words' 'by which prophet and apostle spoke' were inspired. 'It was not the person,' according to Wilcox, 'who was inspired; it was the God-breathed Word.'"

After 1911 - SDA Church Gradually Abandons Verbal Inspiration

In 1944, Mrs. White's 1886 statement that "the words of the Bible are not inspired" was finally published. During subsequent years, some SDA leaders adopted the position that the Bible’s words are not inspired, just the thoughts behind the words (thought inspiration). Meanwhile, other SDA leaders continued to advocate that the words of the Bible were inspired. Arthur White, grandson of Ellen White, began championing thought inspiration in the 1970s. He wrote, "Ellen G. White’s statements concerning the Bible and her work indicate that the concept of verbal inspiration is without support in either the Bible writers’ or her own word."11 In 1981, another secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, Roger Coon, began advocating for thought inspiration in a series of articles in the Journal of Adventist Education.12

Finally, in 1988, in their official doctrinal book, the SDA General Conference officially abandoned verbal inspiration of the Bible: "God inspired men--not words."13 Thus, the SDA Church finally caved in to the Ellen White Estate and admitted the words of the Bible are not inspired. They were forced into this position, because if they admitted the words of the Bible are inspired, then it would prove that their prophet, Ellen White, was inferior to the Biblical prophets. Rather than admit Ellen White was a false prophet, the sect decided to abandon the idea of verbal inspiration.

Thought Inspiration Contradicts the Majority of Ellen White's Statements

Throughout her writings, Mrs. White repeatedly contradicts her 1886 thought inspiration statement and states that the words of the Bible are inspiried.

Christ dictated words which Moses wrote - "He [Moses] wrote all the words of the Lord in a book, that they might be referred to afterward. In the mount he had written them as Christ Himself dictated them."14

Jeremiah contains God's words - "The prophet Jeremiah, in obedience to the commands of God, dictated the words that the Lord gave him to Baruch, his scribe, who wrote them upon a roll."15

Words of Scripture are inspired -

  • "A certain pride is mingled with the consideration of Bible truth, so that men feel impatient and defeated if they cannot explain every portion of Scripture to their satisfaction. It is too humiliating to them to acknowledge that they do not understand the inspired words."16
  • "The eyes anointed with spiritual discernment behold new beauties in the Word of God, and see that the inspired words of the Scriptures are especially adapted to the needs of the soul."17
  • "'Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.' [Colossians 4:6.] Will we be obedient to these inspired words that come sounding down the lines of time?" 18
  • It seems strange to me that men who have diligently studied the Bible cannot discern the fulfilment of the inspired words of Paul that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.'19

The actual words of God are recorded in the Bible -

  • "The words that we are commanded to teach are the very words that Christ spoke while on this earth."20
  • "I long to see our ministers feel a burden to take the Bible and read the very words of God to the people."21
  • "The child Jesus did not receive instruction in the synagogue schools. His mother was His first human teacher. From her lips and from the scrolls of the prophets, He learned of heavenly things. The very words which He Himself had spoken to Moses for Israel He was now taught at His mother's knee."22
  • "...the Lord gave His erring people the very words with which they might turn to Him. [then quotes Jeremiah 3:22-25]"23
  • "I presented the Word of God, the very words spoken by Christ in His sermon on the mount... [then quotes Matthew 5:17]"24
  • "Now I want every one to consider what kind of an account the parents have to answer to if they let their children come up in ignorance and disobedience of the very words that the Lord has spoken."25
  • Mrs. White also wrote of the "language of inspiration" and the "pen of inspiration."26

Question: How could "the child Jesus" be taught the "very words" that he gave to Moses if Moses was only inspired with thoughts and not the very words of God?

Ellen White herself claimed verbal inspiration (at times)

  • "When writing these precious books, if I hesitated, the very word I wanted to express the idea was given me."27
  • "The Lord gave me the power of His Holy Spirit decidedly to present before them the perils of the last days in language that no one could question--even the very words of the Lord."28

Contradicts the Bible

From the above quotes, it is obvious Mrs. White believed and taught the verbal inspiration of the Bible throughout her career. Her 1886 quote, "it is not the words of the Bible that are inspired," is blatantly contradictory to the majority of her statements on inspiration. It also contradicts the Bible:

  • The written words of Scripture are God-breathed (1 Tim. 3:16).
  • Moses wrote down God’s "words" (Ex. 24:4).
  • Isaiah and David wrote God’s words (Isa. 30:8; 2 Sam. 23:2).
  • God told Jeremiah not to "diminish" or "omit" a word that God had given him (Jer. 26:2).
  • Paul spoke the "word" of God (1 Thess. 2:13) and wrote: “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13 NIV).

The Heretical Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists

To teach that the words of the Bible are not inspired is heresy. It destroys faith in the Word of God. In the quote at the top of this page, Mrs. White wrote that the "words and thoughts" of the Biblical authors "receive the impress of the individual mind." If that is so, how deep of an impression does the individual's mind make? Is it ten percent human and ninety percent divine? Or is it ninety percent human and ten percent divine? How does one go about figuring out what part of the words are human and what part are inspired? How can we live by Christ's command in Matthew 4:4 to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God if we have no idea what those words are? Do we need the Ellen White Estate and the SDA Church to determine for the saints which words are actually inspired and which words have the "human impress"?

The bottom line is that Seventh-day Adventists abandoned the doctrine that the words in the Bible are inspired at the insistence of the Ellen G. White Estate. They needed to abolish verbal inspiration because it has been convincingly proven that Ellen White's words were not inspired. They needed to lower the Biblical prophets to Ellen White's level of inspiration in order to maintain their theory that she was inspired in the same manner as the Biblical prophets. Thus, to maintain the facade of faith in their prophet Ellen White, the SDA Church abandoned the verbal inspiration of the Bible.

Mrs. White wrote:

I am now looking over my diaries and copies of letters written for several years back.... I have the most precious matter to reproduce and place before the people in testimony form. ... [the people] may see that there is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written.29

Not a single heretical sentence? You decide.

External links


1. Ellen White, Manuscript 24, 1886. This was later published in 1944, in Selected Messages, book 1, 21. This quote was plagiarized from C.E. Stowe.

2. Alberto R. Timm, "Adventist Views on Inspiration," 22-26. http://archive.perspectivedigest.org/Timm_(Adventist_Views_on_Inspiration_1).pdf. Timm was the director of the Brazillian White Estate at the time he wrote this article. The Christian Connexion, of which James White was an minister, and other Millerites also taught verbal inspiration. Denis Kaiser, in his doctoral dissertation "Trust and Doubt: Perceptions of Divine Inspiration in Seventh-day Adventist History (1880-1930)," (Andrews University, 2016), p. 40, writes: "A number of Adventist writers employed the terms 'dictate' and 'dictation' incidentally to emphasize the divine origin of the biblical writings, in contrast to the view that they were merely human productions." His footnote on pages 40-41 has the following references: M[yrta] E. S[teward], "Conditions of Salvation, No. 3," Review and Herald, 25 March 1858, 146; Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1 (Battle Creek, MI: James White, 1858), 176; G. P. Wilson, "The Destiny of the Ungodly," Review and Herald, 10 July 1860, 61; Joseph Clarke, "Brevities," Review and Herald, 2 July 1861, 46; "Christ Knocking at the Door," Review and Herald, 26 August 1862, 97; D. M. Canright, "Why I am a Christian," Review and Herald, 23 June 1863, 27; J. N. Loughborough, "Prepare to Spread the Light," Review and Herald, 27 September 1864, 142; John McMillan, "The Bible Alone," Review and Herald, 8 August 1865, 75; J. M. Weaver, "The First Resurrection," Review and Herald, 15 August 1865, 83; Samuel Horsley, "Reference Bibles," Review and Herald, 1 May 1866, 176; J. W. Raymond, "The Place and Time of Recompense," Review and Herald, 19 November 1867, 346; Uriah Smith, "Rules for Bible Reading," Review and Herald, 21 January 1868, 92; Isaac D. Van Horn, "Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek," Review and Herald, 17 March 1868, 215; Uriah Smith, ed., "The Serpent of Serpents: or The Bible and the Fictitious," Review and Herald, 23 June 1868, 7; Isaac D. Van Horn, "The Spirit of Christ in the Prophets," Review and Herald, 25 April 1871, 149; J. H. Waggoner, "The Law of God, No. 8," Review and Herald, 8 April 1875, 113; Ellen G. White, Testimonies vol. 4, 180; Hattie M. Rose, "Sowing and Reaping," Review and Herald, 24 October 1878, 135; D. M. Canright, "The Scripture Doctrine of a Future Life, No. 18," Signs of the Times, 15 May 1879, 154.

3. Ellen White, Supplement to the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen White (1854), 8. See also, Spiritual Gifts vol. 1, p. 176.

4. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, 9. Later this was republished in the January 22, 1880, Review and Herald.

5. J. N. Andrews, "Things to Be Considered," Review and Herald, Jan. 31, 1854, 10.

6. Alberto R. Timm, "A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844–2000)," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 10/1-2 (1999):490.

7. Review and Herald, November 27, 1883. The General Conference further stated: "We believe the light given by God to his servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rare cases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed." (George I. Butler and A. B. Oyen, "General Conference Proceedings," 741).

8. Timm, 495.

9. Selected Messages, book 3, Appendix A, 437.

10. Timm, 495-496.

11. Ibid., 512.

12. Ibid., 527.

13. Seventh-day Adventists Believe...: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, (Washington, DC: Ministerial Association of the General Conference of SDAs, 1988), 8.

14. Ellen White, Manuscript Release, vol. 1, 114.

15. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, 177. See also, Prophets and Kings, p. 432: "In obedience to this command, Jeremiah called to his aid a faithful friend, Baruch the scribe, and dictated 'all the words of the Lord, which He had spoken unto him.' Verse 4. These were carefully written out on a roll of parchment...

16. Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 108.

17. Ellen White, "Testimonies to the Managers and Workers in our Institutions", 57.

18. Ellen White, Letter 2, 1895.

19. Ellen White, Letter 225a, 1906.

20. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, 262. See also Manuscript 39, 1908.

21. Ellen White, Letter 344, 1906.

22. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, 70.

23. Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, 410.

24. Ellen White, Manuscript 76, 1893.

25. Ellen White, Manuscript 146, 1906.

26. Ellen White, "words of inspiration:" Testimonies, vol. 4, 307; Review and Herald, Oct. 20, 1885; Review and Herald, Aug. 16, 1887; Signs of the Times, Oct. 8, 1902. "Pen of inspiration" is found at least 97 times in her writings, including Spirit of Prophecy vol. 3, 160, 246; Acts of the Apostles, 71, 174; Prophets and Kings, 546; Testimonies vol. 4, 462.

27. Ellen White, Letter 265, 1907. Published in Selected Messages, vol. 3, 51.

28. Ellen White, Manusript 60a, 1895.

29. Ellen White, Letter 329a, 1905. Published in Selected Messages, vol. 3, 52. Mrs. White wrote material into her diaries for later use in her books, articles and letters. Mrs. White was aware that whatever she wrote could later appear in print. She wrote of Marian Davis, "She gathers materials from my diaries, from my letters, and from the articles published in the papers. ... She has been with me for twenty-five years, and has constantly been gaining increasing ability for the work of classifying and grouping my writings." (E. G. White to Brother and Sister [J.A.] Burden, January 6, 1903).

Category: Contradictions
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