Did Ellen White Write Steps to Christ?

Dirk Anderson, June, 2020

Many readers find Steps to Christ to be a wonderful and inspiring book about the Christian experience.1 First published in 1892, it is Ellen White's best-selling book, with an estimated 100 million copies having been printed in at least 165 different languages.2 SDAs sometimes point to this book as evidence of Mrs. White's prophetic ministry. If it was indeed written by her, it would at least demonstrate that she authored a fine Christian book late in life. However, authoring a fine Christian book is no proof of a prophetic calling. The question is whether or not Mrs. White actually wrote this book.

Who wrote Steps to Christ?

The authorship of this book is called into question because there is so little evidence that Mrs. White actually wrote the book. The book is a compilation that includes some of her prior writings.3 It also includes substantial plagiarism of other authors, as will be demonstrated below. Unlike many of her other books, there are no handwritten pages of Steps to Christ in existence. According to the White Estate, the book was put together by Mrs. White's "editorial assistants" and their work was reviewed and approved by Mrs. White.

Fannie Bolton?

Fannie Bolton was employed by Mrs. White as an editorial assistant while the book was being written. Ms. Bolton joined Ellen White's staff in 1888, and Steps to Christ was published in 1892. Ms. Bolton made the following statement to Edward Ballenger, who provided a notarized copy in 1952:

"...during the period 1895-97 I was told in person by Miss Bolton in Battle Creek that she had written the book Steps to Christ and that Mrs. White had taken the MSS and had published it under her own name."
(To examine the notarized letter and the White Estate statement regarding the book click here)

While this appears to be the only instance where Ms. Bolton claimed to have written Steps to Christ, for a period of many years she made claims to many SDA ministers and leaders that she and Marian Davis were writing material that went out under Ellen White's name. To counter this claim, in 1982, the White Estate published various documents to support their position that Fannie Bolton was mentally unstable and spiritually immature and repeatedly confessed to having the wrong attitude towards Sister White's writings.4 While Ms. Bolton did indeed confess about her attitude of desiring recognition for her efforts in producing Ellen White's writings, she never confessed to lying about writing Steps to Christ. In fact, after she left the employ of Mrs. White, she continued for decades to insist she was involved in more than just polishing Sister White's writings.

While Ms. Bolton's claims cannot be proven or disproven, it certainly fits into Ellen White's pattern of taking the writings of others and making them her own. Some SDAs have suggested it was Marian Davis, not Fannie Bolton, who compiled Steps to Christ.5 Regardless of which editoral assistant compiled the book, it is evident that substantial material originated in the minds of non-Adventist authors.

Ellen White the Author?

SDA Professor Jud Lake argues that Ellen White was the author of Steps to Christ:

"The rhetorical structure (sentence and paragraph length, vocabulary, etc.) of Steps to Christ mirrors the rest of the Ellen G. White writings, which is strong evidence of a single author."6

Lake provided no proof on his web site to back up his claim that "sentence length" and "paragraph length" mirror Mrs. White's other writings. The problem is, by the White Estate's own admission, much of Mrs. White's writings produced after 1870, involved "editorial assistants." In order to find Mrs. White's real writings, one must look at the writings from the first twenty years of her career, before she hired an editorial team. An analysis of sentence length and paragraph length comparing thirteen chapters of Steps to Christ with thirteen chapters of Early Writings demonstrates the exact opposite of what Lake claims. In her early writings, Mrs. White wrote 23 words per sentence while Steps to Christ has 17 per sentence; in her early writings, Ellen White wrote 154 words per paragraph whereas Steps to Christ has 114.7 Contrary to what Lake would have us believe, Ellen White's actual writings do not provide any evidence that she wrote Steps to Christ.

The Real Authors?

Lake assures us, "all the writing came directly from Ellen White."8 Critics have never denied that editorial assistants copied some of the material from Mrs. White's previous books. However, this does not mean Ellen White wrote the book. It only means some writings from Ellen White were copied-and-pasted into the book by Ms. Bolton, Ms. Davis, or whoever else actually wrote it.

The fact that Mrs. White was plagiarizing heavily from other authors during this time period was well-known by her editorial assistants. The SDA Church spent considerable time and expense in determining that a large portion of the book Ms. Davis worked on, Desire of Ages, was plagiarized from other non-SDA authors. In her "confession" of 1901, Ms. Bolton explained how Mrs. White's practice of copying from other authors without giving credit was a source of consternation with her:

"I tried for years to harmonize what seemed to me inconsistency in the work with a worldly literary maxim that requires an author to acknowledge his editors and to give credit to all works from which he quotes. In contending that Sr. White was not open and honest about this matter, I supposed myself standing for a principle of ordinary justice and literary honesty..."9

Walter Rea, in his groundbreaking book The White Lie, was one of the first to identify that some material in Steps to Christ was copied from Daniel March's Night Scenes in the Bible, and Almon Underwood's God's Will Known and Done. The examples below are likely only the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of the totality of the plagiarism. Unlike the seven-year effort to research the Desire of Ages, this web site does not have the tithe resources of loyal SDA members to finance its research on Ellen White's plagiarism. However, our own three-day analysis has uncovered countless examples where the words of other authors were copied into Steps to Christ without giving credit to the real authors. If years could be invested in researching all the sources for Steps to Christ, there is no doubt that many more examples could be shown.

Steps to Christ, 1896 Various Other Authors
The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation, but He provided the propitiation because He loves us. Christ was the medium through which He could pour out His infinite love upon a fallen world.
(p. 13)
...the father loves us, not in consequence of the great propitiation, but that he provided the propitiation because he loved us; because he was bent on obtaining a medium through which he could pour out the ocean-fulness of his love upon us.
(John Harris, The Great Teacher, (1837) pp. 105-106)
Jesus said, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again." John 10:17. That is, "My Father has so loved you that He even loves Me more for giving My life to redeem you. In becoming your Substitute and Surety, by surrendering My life, by taking your liabilities, your transgressions, I am endeared to My Father..."
(p. 14)
'Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again because I lay down my life for the sheep;' in other words, 'My Father loves you with a love so unbounded, that he even loves me the more for dying to redeem you. ... by sustaining your liabilities, by surrendering my life as an equivalent for your transgressions...the Father loves me...
(John Harris, The Great Teacher, (1837) p. 106)
None but the Son of God could accomplish our redemption; for only He who was in the bosom of the Father could declare Him.
(p. 14)
The office of revealing and representing the character of the Deity was reserved for Him who had been for eternity in the bosom of the Father.
(John Harris, The Great Teacher, (1837) p. 135)
Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it.
(p. 23)
Repentance denotes a change of mind and a consequent turning from one object to another. It includes sorrow for sin, and a turning away from it.
(The Church of England Magazine, vol. 51, (1861), p. 274)
It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour? The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ... It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance.
(p. 26)
We do not, of course, deny that there must be repentance before there can be forgiveness; and that it is only to the broken and contrite heart that Christ extends the fruits of his passion. ... But the question is, whether a man must wait until he has repented before he applies to Christ... And it is here, as we think, the mistake lies, a mistake which turns repentance into a kind of obstacle between the sinner and Christ. The scriptural doctrine in regard to repentance is not, that a man must repent in order to his being qualified to go to Christ...but there goes forth virtue from the Redeemer himself, strenghthening us for that repentance which is alone genuine and acceptable.
(Henry Melville, Sermons vol. 1 (1853), pp. 160-161)
Peter made the matter clear in his statement to the Israelites when he said, "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31. We can no more repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the conscience than we can be pardoned without Christ.
(p. 26)
St. Peter sufficiently laid down this doctrine, when he said of Christ, to the high priest and Sadducees, "him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and foregiveness of sins." ...we can no more repent without Christ than be pardoned without Christ...
(Henry Melville, Sermons vol. 1 (1853), p. 161)
It is true that men sometimes become ashamed of their sinful ways, and give up some of their evil habits, before they are conscious that they are being drawn to Christ.
(p. 27)
There indeed may be an abandonment of certain...habits... Long ere the man thinks of applying to Christ...
(Henry Melville, Sermons vol. 1 (1853), p. 161)
God does not regard all sins as of equal magnitude; there are degrees of guilt in His estimation, as well as in that of man; but however trifling this or that wrong act may seem in the eyes of men, no sin is small in the sight of God.
(p. 30)
Doubtless there are degrees of guilt, and all sins are not of equal magnitude, but the least sin is no otherwise venial than as remitted through the Savior's blood...
(Charles Abel Heurtley, Justification, 8 Sermons (1846), p. 152)
Even one wrong trait of character, one sinful desire, persistently cherished, will eventually neutralize all the power of the gospel. Every sinful indulgence strengthens the soul's aversion to God.
(p. 34)
...the mastery of one wordly desire over the human heart, will effectually neutralize all the power of the Gospel. ... And every indulgence of the desire strengthens the soul's aversion to God.
(Edward Norris Kirk, Lectures on the Parables of our Savior (1856), p. 250)
Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ's, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.
(p. 58)
Who has the heart? With whom are our sweetest and warmest thoughts? Who has our best energies? ... If we are on the Lord's side, our thoughts are with him, and our sweetest thoughts are of him. If we are on the Lord's side, we have consecrated ourselves and all we have to his service... We desire to bear his image, breathe his spirit, do his will, and please him in all things.
(James Smith, Important Questions (1859), pp. 25-26)
This love, cherished in the soul, sweetens the life and sheds a refining influence on all around.
(p. 59)
The love of God cherished in the soul, sweetens the entire life, and sheds a refining influence on all around.
(M. Witham quoted in The Manifesto vol. 17, Jan. 1887, p. 267)
In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.
(p. 68)
He gave Him, to encircle the world with an atmosphere of grace, as real and universal, as the elemental air which encompasses and circulates around the globe itself; and whoever chooses to inhale it, hath eternal life.
(John Harris, The Great Teacher, (1837), p. 112)
You are not to wait for great occasions or to expect extraordinary abilities before you go to work for God. You need not have a thought of what the world will think of you. If your daily life is a testimony to the purity and sincerity of your faith, and others are convinced that you desire to benefit them, your efforts will not be wholly lost. The humblest and poorest of the disciples of Jesus can be a blessing to others. They may not realize that they are doing any special good, but by their unconscious influence they may start waves of blessing that will widen and deepen, and the blessed results they may never know until the day of final reward. They do not feel or know that they are doing anything great. They are not required to weary themselves with anxiety about success. They have only to go forward quietly, doing faithfully the work that God's providence assigns...
(p. 83)
The humblest and poorest of the disciples of Jesus can start waves of blessings that shall deepen and widen and flow forever. You need now know, you need not suspect that you are doing anything great; you need not worry yourself with busy anxieties about success. You have only to go on quietly, faithfully, doing the work which God's providence assigns... You need not wait for great occasions, you need not ask for extraordinary abilities, you need not have a thought what the world will think of you; only let your daily walk be a living testimony unto Jesus, and God will keep that testimony in the world, widening and deepening and intensifying in power, long as the Gospel shall be preached for the salvation of men.
(Daniel March, Walks and Homes, (1866), p. 222-223)
There is nothing more calculated to strengthen the intellect than the study of the Scriptures. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible.
(p. 90)
...the study of the Bible, even when supposed without influence on the heart, is calculated far more than any other study, to enlarge the mind and strengthen the intellect. There is nothing so likely to elevate and endow with new vigor our faculties, as the bringing them into contact with stupendous truths.
(John L. Waller and Chas D. Kirk, eds., The Christian Repository, (1853), page 228)
Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given.
(p. 90)
Never then, should the Bible be opened except for prayer for the teachings of the Spirit.
(Henry Melville, Sermons vol. 1 (1853), page 134)
Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.
(p. 93)
By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend.
(John Bunyan, The Whole Works of John Bunyan, "On Praying in the Spirit", (1862), p. 623)
Another element of prevailing prayer is faith. [then quotes Hebrews 11:6]
(p. 96)
Another requisite of prevailing prayer is faith. [then quotes Hebrews 11:6]
(Almon Underwood, God's Will Known and Done, (1860), p. 291)
If we take counsel with our doubts and fears, or try to solve everything that we cannot see clearly, before we have faith, perplexities will only increase and deepen.
(p. 96)
While we take counsel with our doubts and fears, or try to solve the problem of the universe...we shall only increase our perplexity and deepen our disappointment.
(Daniel March, Night Scenes in the Bible, (1870), p. 336)
Through sincere prayer we are brought into connection with the mind of the Infinite. We may have no remarkable evidence at the time that the face of our Redeemer is bending over us in compassion and love, but this is even so.
(p. 96)
In every act of sincere prayer the soul comes into living contact with the Infinite Mind. We see no face bending over us with looks of compassion.
(Daniel March, Night Scenes in the Bible, (1870), p. 339)
The Bible unfolds truth with a simplicity... And yet these simply stated truths lay hold upon subjects so elevated, so far-reaching, so infinitely beyond the power of human comprehension...mysteries that are the hiding of His glory...man, with his limited, human knowledge, cannot understand the purposes of Omniscience.
(p. 107)
The Bible is eminently and singularly a book of simplicity. True it is, there are many things upon its pages which human reason cannot grasp--mysteries which lie beyond the scrutiny of our vision... the thoughts and purposes of omniscience should often transcend the comprehension of the creature...
(W. Lindsay Alexander, The Weekly Christian Teacher, January 6, 1838, p. 81)
There is an evidence that is open to all—the most highly educated, and the most illiterate...
(p. 112)
...there is found in its sacred pages what is more than sufficient to occupy and engross the most capacious intellect, there is also that which suits the exegeneies of the humblest and most illiterate...
(W. Lindsay Alexander,The Weekly Christian Teacher, January 6, 1838, p. 82)
In every one of His children, Jesus sends a letter to the world. If you are Christ's follower, He sends in you a letter to the family, the village, the street, where you live.
(p. 115)
So Jesus sends a letter to the world, a letter to the people of the city, a letter to the members of a family.
(Thos. Stoneley, "Written Letters," The Methodist New Connection Magazine, vol. 88, January, 1885, p. 159.)

Conclusion

What was Mrs. White's involvement in this book? One paragraph describes a dream not appearing in any other of Mrs. White's books and appears to be written by her.10 Some of her earlier writings were copied into Steps to Christ. Mrs. White no doubt reviewed and approved the work of her editorial assistants. How much of it came from Ellen White? How much was added by her assistants? While we may never know, the bottom line is while it is fair to say that Mrs. White previously wrote some of the words that were copied into the book, there is simply no evidence Mrs. White actually wrote this book. The evidence suggests it was pieced together by her editorial assistants and included not only her own writings, but substantial material from non-Seventh-day Adventist authors. As with Desire of Ages, a detailed analysis would likely reveal the same degree of large-scale copying from other authors, along with word-smithing by the editorial assistants to make the plagiarism less visible. While Mrs. White got all the credit (and presumably all the royalties), those who actually compiled the work, and the non-SDA authors whose material was used in the book, got no credit and no royalties. To make matters worse, SDA Professors teach unwitting SDA students "all the writing came directly from Ellen White," perpetuating the myth that Ellen White wrote Steps to Christ.

Citations

1. Brother Anderson harbors no bias against this book. Though now out-dated, Brother Anderson still considers Steps to Christ as one of the best available. He has personally given out over 1,000 of these books and recommends it to anyone, especially new believers. This web site was the first to make this book available on the Internet in the Spanish language. If any book can lead a soul to Christ, this web site applauds that book. Brother Anderson feels it is regrettable that the real authors of this book never got the credit or royalties they deserved for their work.

2. Loma Linda University Library, December 11, 2017. Grant Wacker, Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet (NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), xi. The book was targeted not only for Adventists but for other Christian denominations, which was why it was originally published by Fleming H. Revell (Chicago). Pusblishing the book under this publisher would hide the fact it was a Seventh-day Adventist book. Furthermore, the royalties paid to Mrs. White appeared to be substantially more than she was getting from SDA publishers at Battle Creek. For more info, click here.

3. The original Steps to Christ, published by Revell in 1892, did not have the first chapter entitled "God's Love for Man." That chapter was added in when the SDA Church bought back the publishing rights to the book in 1896. It appears to have come from Ellen White's 1892 manuscript 41, entitled, "God's love for man." Parts of that chapter were plagiarized from John Harris' book, The Great Teacher. Other material used in Steps to Christ came from Mrs. White's previously published writings. For example, paragraph 1, p. 12 from Review and Herald, 12/16/1884; paragraph 1, 2, p. 15 from Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 563, 46; the chapter on "Confession" from Signs of the Times 3/16/1888 and Testimonies, vol. 5 pp. 635-641; page 83 from Testimonies, vol.3 pp. 246, 247; pages 121-123 from Review and Herald, 2/3/1885. "Jesus is our friend ; all heaven is interested in our welfare... We should not indulge a solicitude that only frets and wears us, but does not help us to bear trials... It is not the will of God that his people should be weighed down with care" found in Steps to Christ, p. 122, and the 1888 version of Great Controversy, p. 294, along with Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 280.

4. "The Fannie Bolton Story", (White Estate, 1982).

5. It is difficult to measure the degree of Marian Davis' involvement in writing Steps to Christ. She did use some quotes from Steps to Christ in her later book, Desire of Ages:

Steps to Christ, 1896 Desire of Ages, 1898
No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. (p. 78) No sooner is one converted than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus. The saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. (p. 141)

6. Jud Lake, http://www.ellenwhiteanswers.org/answers/steps-to-christ/, as of June 23, 2000.

7. Anyone with a computer can perform this analysis at countwordsworth.com. Chapter titles were excluded, but page numbers were included. Multi-line scriptural references in Steps to Christ were reformatted into a single sentence/paragraph so as not to skew the results.

  Words per Sentence Words per Paragraph
ChapterSteps to ChristEarly WritingsSteps to ChristEarly Writings
115.1021.50115.47100.33
216.9920.30127.42175.76
317.2022.69107.34155.57
419.1523.44123.64152.33
516.4318.92112.64239.67
615.7916.79111.47117.50
715.4929.42114.05105.90
813.8325.82139.00170.40
917.6424.3693.24121.80
1019.0820.0599.20185.50
1117.9018.87106.81195.00
1216.8026.33126.47158.00
1318.3526.26107.81124.75
Total16.9022.67114.20154.04

8. Lake on the web site cited in #5.

9. Fannie Bolton, "A Confession Concerning 'The Testimony of Jesus Christ,'" W.D.F. 445, 1901.

10. Mrs. White makes one personal statement and relates a dream in Steps to Christ, p. 116, para. 3. The paragraphs following that on page 117 are taken from Signs of the Times, 3/18/89, para. 2.

Category: Myths Plagiarism
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