Myths Investigated: Received Great Controversy in Vision

By Dirk Anderson

The Great Controversy is Ellen White's epic book depicting not only the past but also the future of Christianity. Among Adventists, few books are held in higher regard than the Great Controversy. Millions of copies of the book have been printed in a number of languages, and church members have followed Mrs. White's directive to distribute it throughout the world.

According to Adventist folklore, the Great Controversy originated in 1858, at Lovett's Grove, where Mrs. White was said to have been given a panoramic vision of the future. As the story goes, over a period of years Mrs. White wrote out portions of this great vision that has come to be known as the "great controversy" vision. These writings first appeared in print in 1858 under the title Spiritual Gifts (vol. 1).1 The third and fourth volumes of Spiritual Gifts appeared in 1864 and expanded upon the 1858 volume. Later, in 1884, these writings were expanded upon and republished as Spirit of Prophecy (vol. 4). Finally, in 1888, the book was once again expanded upon and reprinted under the title for which it is known today, the Great Controversy. The Great Controversy was revised once more in 1911, and it is this version that is sold today in Adventist bookstores across the world. The book predicts such things as the ecumenical movement, the rise of spiritualism, the papacy's takeover of the world, and the passing of national Sunday legislation.

Mrs. White assured her followers that this book came straight from God:

"The book The Great Controversy, I appreciate above silver or gold, and I greatly desire that it shall come before the people. While writing the manuscript of The Great Controversy, I was often conscious of the presence of the angels of God. And many times the scenes about which I was writing were presented to me anew in visions of the night, so that they were fresh and vivid in my mind." 2

First-day Adventist H.L. Hastings publishes Great Controversy BEFORE E.G. White's vision!

Before Mrs. White's Lovett Grove vision, a first-day Adventist named H.L Hastings published a book entitled:

Its origin, progress, and termination

by Horace L. Hastings (Boston: 1858)

On March 14, 1858, Ellen White was purported to have had her famous Lovett's Grove vision about "The Great Controversy". Interestingly enough, a mere four days later, on March 18, 1858, a review of Hastings' Great Controversy appeared in James White's Review magazine! In order to appear in print in the March 18 issues of the Review, the book had to have been purchased and read earlier in the year. It should be no surprise that the Whites had Hastings' book in their possesion as Hastings was well-known and admired among the Adventists.3 Although James and Ellen travelled frequently during the first part of the year, it is very likely they obtained either a manuscript or an actual copy of Hastings' book either directly from Hastings or from another Adventist, perhaps one they met in their travels. By the fall, the Whites had published their own book dealing with the theme of the great controversy, Spiritual Gifts, volume 1.

Some researchers have proposed that Mrs. White did not use Hastings' book while developing her book because the words used are often quite different and Mrs. White often elaborated on many doctrines specific to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.4 However, if one were to candidly examine both books, there are enough similarities to lead one to suspect that the Whites were quite familiar with Hastings' book. While the amount of directly plagiarized material is small, there is an astonishing similarity in the main themes, the topics and structure of the two books. It appears Mrs. White followed Hastings' Great Controversy as an outline or a guideline in developing her own Great Controversy. The following quotes are shown to illustrate how Mrs. White copied topics, themes, structure, and in a few instances, even plagiarized a few quotes from Hastings without giving him credit:

Chapter Title in Spiritual Gifts (Vol. 1) Topic Quote from Ellen White's Spiritual Gifts, (Vol. 1), 1858 Quote from H.L. Hastings' Great Controversy, 1858
Fall of Man Adam and Eve instructed by God/Angels "I saw that the holy angels often visited the garden, and gave instruction to Adam and Eve concerning their employment, and also taught them concerning the rebellion of Satan and his fall." p. 20 "We are taught that our first parents received their instructions while in their state of innocency, and even after their transgression, directly from the divine legislator himself." p. 20
  Paradise lost "He [Satan] had been shut out of heaven, they out of Paradise." p. 22 "...sin that turned paradise into a desert. p. 17
The First Advent of Christ Angels announce first coming: "They [angels] triumphantly heralded the advent of the Son of God to a fallen world to accomplish the work of redemption..." p. 28 "...they [angels] sang...This was the Messiah's reconcile all things to God." p. 80
  John the Baptist "Multitudes left the busy cities and villages, and flocked to the wilderness to hear the words of the wonderful, singular Prophet. John laid the axe at the root of the tree. He reproved sin fearless of consequences, and preparedthe way for the Lamb of God." p. 30 "Multitudes heeded the proclamation, and were baptized of John in Jordan, confessing their sins..." "...a moral giant heralded the coming of the greater Proclaimer of the divine will, and exhorted the nation to repent, and by reformation, prepare for the approaching manifestation of a mightier one..." p. 81
The Ministry of Christ Hurling Christ over the precipice "I was then shown that Satan and his angels were very busy during Christ's ministry, inspiring men with unbelief, hate and scorn. ... Again as the plain truth dropped from his holy lips, the multitude laid hold of him, and led him to the brow of a hill, intending to thrust him down." p. 36 "...filled with wrath, they thrust him out of the synagogue, and dragged him toward a frightful precipice, that they might hurl him down headlong and destroy him. They hated him without a cause." p. 82
The Trial of Christ Torture of Jesus "They cruelly scourged him, and put an old purple, kingly robe upon him, and bound his sacred head with a crown of thorns. They put a reed in his hand, and mockingly bowed to him, and saluted him with, Hail king of the Jews! They then took the reed from his hand, and smote him with it upon the head..." "They covered his head with an old garment; blindfolded him, and then struck him in the face, and cried out, Prophesy unto us who it was that smote thee." p. 50,51 "They bound his temples with a twisted thorn. They beat him cruelly with their hands. They arrayed him in a gorgeous robe--blind-folded him, and bade him prophesy unto them. They drew his blood with the gory scourge. They gave him a reed for a sceptre, and cried in mockery, "Hail, King of the Jews." p. 83
The Crucifixion of Christ Jews revile Jesus "As Jesus hung upon the cross, some who passed by reviled him, wagging their heads..." p. 59 "Jews derided him, Pharisees and priests wagged their heads contemptuously..." p. 83
The Resurrection Lying about the resurrection "They [Jews] decided to hire the [Roman] soldiers to keep the matter secret." p. 68 "...both Jews and Romans agreed to lie about his resurrection..." p. 84
The Ascension of Christ Captives led to heaven "Angels came to receive the King of glory, and to escort him triumphantly to heaven. After Jesus had blessed his disciples, he was parted from them, and taken up. And as he led the way upward, the multitude of captives who were raised at his resurrection followed." p. 77 "Earth rejected Christ, but heaven received him; and with him a glorious multitude of captives whom he had delivered from the grasp of death..." p. 85
  Evil Counsels "Satan counseled with his angels, and with bitter hatred against God's government..." p. 79 "Haughty and hardened, the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers to counsel together, against the Lord..." p. 85
The Disciples of Christ Do not preach in Jesus' name "...they beat them, and commanded them to speak no more in the name of Jesus." p. 85 "They straitly [sic] charged them, under grievous penalties, to cease to speak in the name of Jesus. They scourged them publicly." p. 88
The Great Apostasy Early persecution of Christians "Notwithstanding the persecution and sufferings those Christians endured, they would not lower the standard. They kept their religion pure." p. 103 "Still, in all their persecutions, they trusted in the living God. They labored, and suffered reproach." p. 95
  The Curse of the Jews "The curse of God followed them, and they were a byword and a derision to the heathen and to so-called Christians. They were degraded, shunned, and detested, as if the brand of Cain were upon them. ... . I saw that God had forsaken the Jews as a nation; but that individuals among them will yet be converted..." Early Writings (Spiritual Gifts) p. 213 "[The Jews] have left their name for a curse to the world; have been a hissing and a byword among all nations... Yet if they continue not in unbelief, God is able to graft them in; and so...shall be saved." p. 93
The Mystery of Iniquity Bible under attack "The will of God plainly revealed in his word, was covered up with error and tradition, which have been taught as the commandments of God." "The Bible was hated, and efforts were made to rid the earth of the precious word of God." p. 111, 109 "The truths of God were hidden beneath countless fables. The commandments of God were made void through man's tradition. The word of God was sealed, prohibited, perverted, and mutilated." p. 97
The Church and World United Professing Christ "I saw that a very large company professed the name of Christ, but God does not recognize them as his. " p. 126 "A profession of allegiance to God is not enough to constitute a man a friend of God. The being called by the Christian name avails nothing." p. 109
  Ministers preach smooth things "The ministers preach smooth things to suit carnal professors." p. 127 "There are too many who have no higher calling than to minister thus to the comfort of the itching of the ears that wait upon their words." p. 125
Spiritualism Demonic instructions "I saw the rapping delusion. Satan has power to bring the appearance of forms before us purporting to be our relatives and friends that now sleep in Jesus. ...for the spirits of devils will yet appear to them, professing to be beloved friends and relatives, who will declare to them unscriptural doctrines." p. 173 "The demons of darkness are invoked, and their strange responses--a medley of falsehood, blasphemy, and folly--are received as revelations from celestial 'spheres' ... satanic revelations authorize adultery, fornication, and the countless abominations that are, with such witchcraft, 'the works of the flesh.'" p. 127
Covetousness Covetousness "[Satan said] They may profess what they please, only make them care more for money than the success of Christ's kingdom..." p. 179 "Sin is winked at that money may be gained. Worldlings are courted for their influence and their gold..." p. 126
Shaking Shaking God's people "They will rise up against it [straight testimony], and this will cause a shaking among God's people. ... Some had been shaken out, and left by the way." pp. 184, 186 "This shaking will remove everything that can be removed, while the things that cannot be shaken, and the kingdom that cannot be moved, shall abide..." p. 145
Deliverance of the Saints Shouting Hallelujah "At the end of every sentence the saints shouted, Glory! Hallelujah!" p. 205 "Much people cry Hallelujah...the saints of God rejoice..." p. 162
The Second Resurrection Satan's army attacks "Jesus closes the gates of the City, and this vast army surround it and place themselves in battle array... But fire from God out of heaven is rained upon them." p. 216, 217 "His [Satan's] hosts compass the camp of the saints about and the beloved city, and then, upon that countless throng...comes down the storm of sheeted flame." p. 165
Closing   "...the great controversy was forever ended." p. 218 "The controversy is closed." p. 166

The following analysis further illustrates how Ellen White enunciated many of the same themes and topics as Hastings:



Ellen White

H.L. Hastings

Noah and the Flood

Wickedness of the earth

1SG p. 66

p. 21


God calls Noah to preach

p. 69

p. 22


People ignored and mocked Noah

p. 70

pp. 22-23


Noah and animals enter ark

p. 72

p. 23


Dark clouds fill the sky

p. 73

p. 23


Floods from above and below

p. 73

p. 23


Lightening bolts flashed

p. 74

p. 24


Cities/Buildings destroyed

p. 74

p. 24


The lost were "wailing"

p. 74

p. 24


The "loftiest" points covered by water

p. 76

p. 24


God protected the ark

p. 75

p. 24


Wicked congregate in plain of Shinar

p. 91

p. 25


Tower of Babel built

p. 92

p. 25


God confuses the languages

p. 92

p. 26


Builders were unable to communicate

p. 92

p. 26


Abram called to separate from wicked

p. 93

p. 27


Lord made promises to Abraham

p. 93

p. 27

The Exodus

Dwelled in the land of Goshen

3SG p. 177

p. 31


New king enslaves Israelites

p. 178

p. 31


Moses was born

p. 180

p. 32


Hidden in bulrushes

p. 180

p. 32


Educated with pharaohs

p. 183

p. 32


Dwelt in the desert

p. 187

p. 32


Moses and Aaron visit Pharaoh

p. 197

p. 33


Pharaoh refuses request

p. 198

p. 33


Pharaoh increases burdens on slaves

p. 198

p. 33


Plagues fall

pp. 207-221

pp. 34-35


Passover observed

pp. 222-228

p. 36


Death wail heard at midnight

p. 229

p. 36


Pharaoh releases captives

p. 229

p. 36


Camped by Red Sea

p. 230

p. 36


Pharaoh pursues Israelites

p. 231

pp. 36-37


Moses parts the waters

p. 234

p. 37


Egyptian army destroyed

p. 235

p. 39


Israelites sing to the Lord

p. 236-238

pp. 40-41


Other nations are witness to the Exodus

p. 242

p. 42


Angels announce Christ's birth

1SG p. 28

p. 80


John heralds Christ, baptizes people

p. 29

p. 81


Mob threatens to throw Jesus from hill

p. 36

p. 82


Was abused during the trial

p. 55

p. 83


Jesus was "delivered" to be crucified

p. 57

p. 83


Cross was laid on His shoulders

p. 58

p. 83


Nails hammered in

p. 59

p. 83


Hung between thieves

p. 59

p. 83


Given vinegar to drink

p. 60

p. 83


Guard placed at the tomb

p. 65

p. 83


Guards lied about resurrection

p. 68

p. 84


Returns to heaven with "captives"

p. 69

p. 85

Destruction of Jerusalem

Apostles preached to Jerusalem

GC88 p. 28

p. 88


God rejects Jewish nation

p. 29

p. 90


Christians evacuate Jerusalem

p. 30

p. 91


Rome lays seige to Jerusalem

p. 31

p. 91


Women ate their own children

p. 32

p. 92


City and temple destroyed

pp. 33-35

p. 92

Final judgment

Lord has a controversy with the nations

p. 656

p. 134


Slain shall cover the earth

p. 657

p. 134


Son of Man appears in clouds

p. 643

p. 143


Wicked turned to stubble

p. 673

p. 146


Lake of fire destroys wicked

p. 672

p. 165

New Earth

New Jerusalem descends

p. 663

p. 166


Tree of Life

p. 675

p. 166


No light is needed

p. 676

p. 166


Righteous unite in songs of praise

p. 678

p. 167


Sinners are no more

p. 678

p. 167

(1SG=Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, 3SG=Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, GC88=Great Controversy, 1888 ed.)

In conclusion, while there is only a small amount of direct plagiarism, and Mrs. White frequently expounded more than Hastings, research shows Mrs. White generally followed Hastings' themes and perhaps gleaned ideas for content and structure from his book.

Where did Mrs. White's get her Great Controversy vision? Was it from God? Or H.L. Hastings?

Hastings published several books between 1858 and 1864, and in 1864 he published another version of Great Controversy. Perhaps by sheer coincidence, on that very same year, Ellen White published Spiritual Gifts, volumes 3 and 4, which are an expansion of her earlier book. Again, the scope of topics covered, from creation to the end of time, and the themes are remarkably similar to Hastings' book, even though the words differ sometimes quite substantially.

There are a few instances where Hastings develops a thought in one of his books that is not found specifically in the Bible, and Mrs. White takes up the same thought and expands on it. Look at these examples:

Topic Not Found in Bible H.L. Hastings Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts vol. 3
The wicked ignore the entrance of animals into the Ark "The beasts of the earth and fowls of heaven, moved by a strange impulse, come and find refuge with the servant of the Lord. But the scoffing world pass heedlessly on." (Great Controversy, p. 23) "Notwithstanding the solemn exhibition they had witnessed of God's power--of the unnatural occurrence of the beasts' leaving the forests and fields, and going into the ark, and the angel of God clothed with brightness, and terrible in majesty, descending from Heaven and closing the door; yet they hardened their hearts, and continued to revel and sport over the signal manifestations of divine power." (p. 69)
The curse did not change the appearance of the earth after Eden "...the curse has fallen, but still the earth retains its primitive form, and to a great extent, its pristine glory." (The Church not in Darkness (1864), p. 10) "The curse did not change at once the appearance of the earth. It was still rich in the bounty God had provided for it." (p. 61)

Hastings must have made an impression on Mrs. White, because much later in life, she makes a statement that is astoundingly similar to one made 45 years earlier by Hastings:

"...from our hearts the sad confession, that of the thousand millions of people [in] this rebellious world, probably not one in twenty are faithful followers of Jesus Christ." (Hastings, The Last Days (1864), p. 60) "It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history, and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as the common sinner." {White, General Conference Bulletin, July 1, 1900}

Whites offer their own "improved version" of Hastings' Great Controversy

In the review of Hastings' Great Controversy that appeared in the Review article the author (most likely James White, but possibly Uriah Smith) points out that the book needs some improvements:

"And while every one must close the volume with a vivid sense of the manner in which the controversy will close in the triumph of the power and justice of God, and the certainty of this issue, we could wish that the author had dwelt more at length on the points of man's rebellion, and the terms of reconciliation. When he speaks of the way we may approach to "a more glorious mercy-seat," of the position of Christ "in the heavenly places," and of the "ark of God's testament" seen in the temple of heaven, we could wish he had reminded the revolters of a certain law that reposes in that ark, beneath that mercy-seat, which is the constitution of God's government, and upon which hinges the whole controversy between him and man."5

It was not long before James and Ellen had the opportunity to make the necessary improvements to Hastings' book. A mere six months after the book review appeared, Ellen published her own version of Hastings' book entitled Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1. This book later evolved into the Great Controversy.

Improvement #1 - The Law

In his review of Hastings' book James had lamented:
"we could wish he had reminded the revolters of a certain law that reposes in that ark."
James and Ellen had the opportunity to improve on Hastings' lack of attention to the law when they published their own Great Controversy book. In it there is a whole chapter dedicated to the law:
  ==> Chapter 25, "God's Law Immutable

Improvement #2 - The Rebellion/Reconciliation

James had also expressed a wish that Hastings had spent more time...
"on the points of man's rebellion, and the terms of reconciliation."
Mrs. White made up for these shortcomings when she published Great Controversy. It has two chapters dealing with these subjects:
  ==> Chapter 29, "The Origin of Evil"
  ==> Chapter 30, "Enmity Between Man and Satan"

Of course, Mrs. White's version of the great controversy differed from Hastings' view. She incorporated her unique Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, such as Sunday observance being the mark of the beast. Did she get her unique beliefs from her Lovett's Grove vision?

Where did she get her unique beliefs about the Mark of the Beast?

The idea of Sunday observance being the Mark of the Beast was first advanced by Joseph Bates in the 1840s before he even met the Whites. The United States in prophecy, the "mark of the beast," the "image to the beast," had all come out earlier in James White's book Life Incidents, first published in 1868. Comparison shows that words, sentences, quotations, thoughts, ideas, structures, paragraphs, and even total pages were taken from it and put in Great Controversy.

Interestingly, much of Life Incidents was taken primarily from J. N. Andrews' book published in 1860 entitled The Three Messages of Revelation XIV, 6-12, and particularly The Third Angel's Message and The Two-Horned Beast. Thus, many of the predictions in the Great Controversy were in place PRIOR to Mrs. White's "great controversy" vision or the writing of her book. It appears the teachings in the Great Controversy came from the studies of Joseph Bates, and later, J. N. Andrews and Uriah Smith--not the visions of Ellen White. Perhaps these men are the real prophets in the SDA church.

Church leaders grapple with Great Controversy problems

At the 1919 Conference on the Spirit of Prophecy (the transcript of which mysteriously disappeared and did not surface until it was "discovered" hidden in a vault in 1974), church leaders discussed the book Great Controversy:

B. L. House:- As I understand it, elder J. N. Andrews prepared those historical quotations for the old edition [1888 Great Controversy], and Brother Robinson and Brother Crisler, Professor Prescott and others furnished the quotations for the new edition. Did she write the historical quotations in there?

A.G. Daniells:- No. ...

W.W. Prescott:- You are touching exactly the experience through which I went, personally, because you all know that I contributed something toward the revision of Great Controversy. I furnished considerable material bearing upon that question. ... When I talked to W.C. White about it (and I do not know that he is an infallible authority}, he told me frankly that when they got out Great Controversy, if they did not find in her writings any thing on certain chapters to make the historical connections, they took other books, like [Uriah Smith's] Daniel and the Revelation, and used portions of them...

White Estate Admits Massive Copying
"There was no question in Ellen G. White's mind about the over all inspiration of The Great Controversy, although possibly 50 percent or more of the material in the book was drawn from other sources."9

In 1974, SDA scholar Dr. Donald R. McAdams studied the plagiarism in the Great Controversy and wrote:

"What we find when we examine the historical portions of the Great Controversy is that large sections are selective abridgements and adaptations of historians. Ellen White was not just borrowing paragraphs here and there that she ran across in her reading, but in fact following the historians page after page, leaving out much material, but using their sequence, some of their ideas, and often their words. In the examples I have examined I have found no historical fact in her text that is not in their text. The hand-written' manuscript on John Huss follows the historian so closely that it does not even seem to have gone through an intermediary stage, but rather from the historian's printed page to Mrs. White's manuscript, including historical errors and moral exhortations. The material taken from historians is not an insignificant part, but, if my samples are characteristic, a substantial part of the book."6

Dr. McAdams casts considerable doubt on the myth that Ellen White saw the events of the Great Controversy in vision because some of the events she described did not take place the way she claimed:

"By more nearly discovering what actually did happen, it can be shown that Ellen, at times, described events inaccurately."7

Dr. McAdams stated it best when he announced at the special 1980 meeting of SDA leaders in Glendale, California:

"If every paragraph in the book Great Controversy, written by Ellen White, was properly footnoted, then every paragraph would have to be footnoted."8


Please read the following quote carefully. It is one sentence from Hastings' book that is not found anywhere in Ellen White's Great Controversy:

"There is no other light than the Word of God, that sheds a gleam of radiance through the ages of primeval darkness; and none but this that can pierce with its resplendent ray the cloudy curtain that veils the mysterious future." (p. 15)

Essentially, Hastings is saying, there is no "lesser light." There is one light, and only one light: the written Word of God, the Holy Bible.

While many find the Great Controversy to be an interesting and thought-provoking book, it can hardly be considered an original work. All of the major themes in the book were developed earlier and written out by other authors, many of them non-Adventists. A considerable part of the book was actually supplied by W.W. Prescott and put together by editors. It is difficult, if not impossible, to point to any idea or historical fact that actually originated with Ellen White. The only conclusion that can be reached is that if Mrs. White did indeed receive a vision at Lovett's Grove in 1858, it contained no new concepts that had not already been written out by other Adventists and non-Adventists with whom she was familiar.

See also


1. A slightly modified version of Spiritual Gifts volume 1 was published within the volume Early Writings, in 1882.

2. Letter 56, 1911 (Colporteur Ministry, p. 128). It is easy to understand why Mrs. White appreciated the Great Controversy "above silver or gold." The sales of this book generated plenty of "silver and gold" to fill her coffers and those of her children.

3. At her death Mrs. White had a copy of one of H.L. Hastings' books, "The Signs of the Times; or, A Glance at Christendom as It Is" (1863) in her personal library.

4. Dr. Donald McAdams, on page 24 of his unpublished manuscript "Ellen G. White and the Protestant Historians: The Evidence from an Unpublished Manuscript on John Huss", admits "Hastings' books is similar to the short Spiritual Gifts volume", but he goes on to say "a careful comparison does not support the idea that her book is based on Hastings'."

5. Unsigned book review published in the March 18, 1858, issue of the Review, vol. 11, #18.

6. Dr. Donald McAdams, unpublished manuscript "Ellen G. White and the Protestant Historians: The Evidence from an Unpublished Manuscript on John Huss", p. 19. See also, Donald McAdams, Shifting View of Inspiration", Spectrum, vol. 10, No. 4, March 1980.

7. Ibid., p. 44

8. This is supported by the White Estate's former associate director, Dr. Ronald Graybill, who wrote, "My own analysis of Ellen G. White's Luther manuscript supports McAdams' conclusions that in her historical writing Mrs. White usually followed a single source quite closely and did not include any facts not found in her sources." (Graybill, The Power of Prophecy (Baltimore, MD: 1983), p. 217).

9. Robert Olson, "Ellen G. White's use of Historical Sources in The Great Controversy", Adventist Review, February 23, 1984.

Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White Great Controversy Myths
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