2009 SDA Sabbath School Quarterly
Prophetic Gift
Lesson 9

An Alternative Viewpoint by Dirk Anderson

SDA Understanding of Prophets

Lesson 9 starts out with a strong statement implying that critics who question Ellen White's integrity simply do not understand how prophets function. Apparently Seventh-day Adventist corporate executives have developed their own special understanding of how prophets function. Perhaps one day they will share that secret knowledge with the rest of the world.

Now, let us take a careful look at this statement made in Sunday's lesson:

During Ellen White’s lifetime, critics questioned her integrity and have continued to do so ever since her death. She has been accused of deception, falsehood, and lies. One major reason for these accusations has been personal presuppositions about how a prophet should function. For example, some critics believe that “prophets ‘should have full knowledge’ from the start of their ministry; their predictions should be unalterable, their writings exempt from all errors, discrepancies, and mistakes, and never include uninspired sources. For them, prophets never express merely personal opinions in their writings.” —Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 1998), p. 468. As we have seen in our study of biblical prophets, these presuppositions assume a verbal-inspiration concept that Seventh-day Adventists do not hold. If we don’t hold it for the Bible itself, why should we for Ellen White?
So, according to this, all of the issues with Ellen White can be explained away because...
  1. She did not have "full knowledge" when she started out her ministry
  2. A prophet's predictions should be alterable
  3. It is okay for a prophet's writings to contain errors, discrepencies, and mistakes
  4. It is okay for a prophet to include uninspired sources in their writings
  5. It is okay for a prophet to express mere opinions in their writings
  6. Her writings are no worse than the Bible
Now, before we deal with each one of these items, allow me to ask one question: Do Seventh-day Adventists give this same leniency to Mormon prophet Joseph Smith? Or Christian Scientist Mary Eddy Baker? Or Branch Davidian David Koresh? Is it now "okay" for Joseph Smith to use uninspired sources in his writings? Is it now "okay" for David Koresh's predictions to be alterable? Is it now "okay" for Mary Eddy Baker to have errors in her writings? Why is it that Seventh-day Adventists have spent the last 160 years condemning other prophets for the exact same list of items mentioned above, and yet are so willing to permit their own prophet to slip by? If we were to accept the list above as "truth", then virtually any person in the world could be accepted as a prophet!

We will deal with each of these issues in depth, but first let's take a look at why critics bring up the issue of integrity when discussing Ellen White's prophetic claims.

A Question of Integrity

Lying is the most common and frequent "sin" committed by Christians, and no one should condemn or judge Ellen White on a personal level for lying. That is between her and God. However, when it comes to the exercise of the prophetic gift, integrity becomes a huge issue:

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, [it is] because [there is] no light in them. (Isa. 8:20)
The 9th commandment of the Law of Sinai prohibits deception, and this is especially important for a prophet. God instructs us not to listen to prophets that speak lies:
Therefore, hearken not unto the words of the prophets that...lie unto you. (Jer. 27:16)
Mrs. White's integrity is challenged by critics for 3 reasons:

1. She deceived others about her source of inspiration:

Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.1
When writing these precious books, if I hesitated, the very word I wanted to express the idea was given to me.2
...I am glad that you are having success in selling my books...The instruction they contain is not of human production...3
The Holy Ghost is the Author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy.4
As discussed in lesson #6, the White Estate now admits that plagiarism is found in virtually every book that Ellen White wrote. Even some of her "I was shown..." statements were copied from others. Mrs. White wanted to perpetuate the idea that her writings originated with God, when in fact they originated in the minds of other Christian authors. As SDA Professor Fred Veltman so aptly said after studying the plagiarism in the Desire of Ages for eight years:
I must admit at the start that in my judgment this is the most serious problem to be faced in connection with Ellen White's literary dependence [copying]. It strikes at the heart of her honesty, her integrity, and therefore her trustworthiness.5

2. She taught falsehoods from her visions.

We do not have space here to discuss these in detail, but please click on the links below to examine several falsehoods that Mrs. White taught from her visions:

Not only did Ellen White's visions teach falsehoods, but in some cases the Whites realized their mistakes and tried to cover up the blunders. According to Adventist historian Isaac Wellcome, who was baptized by James White in 1845, Elder White suppressed some of Ellen White's early visions:
Eld. White had published several of Ellen's visions on small sheets for general distribution; but as time passed on the theology of her later visions was materially different from former ones, and they were suppressed... but these visions as published now are greatly in conflict with those which acquaintances and witnesses in New England were accustomed to hear from her lips, after recovering from her clairvoyant state, or to read on sheets as published at first, by Eld. White.6
What other prophets had to go back and re-work their visions from God after they realized they were mistaken?

3. She seemingly did not believe her own testimonies.

Critics point out that Ellen White often acted contrary to her own testimonies in her private life, while in public, she criticized others for doing the very things she was secretly doing. The point of bringing this up is not to accuse her of personal weakness or hypocrisy; rather, I believe it illustrates a lack of confidence she had in the inspiration of her own testimonies. Here are a few examples:

Excuse #1: Mrs. White did not have "full knowledge" when she started her ministry

It is certainly true that many of Ellen White's most controversial statements (shut door, Sealing time, Daily, Solitary Vice, etc.) came during her early years. And later on, through study, it was realized her former positions were incorrect. So, should we let Mrs. White off the hook for these errors just because they happened early in her career? Absolutely not! Each one of these errors was taught from her own visions!

"Well," the defender of Ellen White says, "perhaps she misunderstood her own visions." So, they shift the blame for Ellen White's errors back onto God, who is apparently: (1) Unable to communicate clearly enough to His prophet, or (2) Picked a prophet who was incapable of comprehending His messages. This is ludicrous. Ellen White saw falsehoods in her visions because that is what she believed at the time. When her beliefs changed, then the content of her visions changed. It is as simple as that.

Excuse #2: A prophet's predictions should be alterable

This is convenient way to bypass one of the Biblical tests. What this is saying is that when a prophet's predictions fail, such as Ellen White's 1856 statement about the return of Christ, then the prophet should be allowed to alter the prediction. If we allowed this, then just about anyone could claim to be a prophet, and when their predictions failed, they could simply say, "Oh, I forgot to tell you, that prediction was conditional on such and such..." I wonder if Adventists would be willing to exend this same generosity to other "prophets" such as Joseph Smith and Jeanne Dixon?

Excuse #3: It's OK for a prophet's writings to contain errors, discrepencies, and mistakes

Perhaps critics would be willing to overlook minor mistakes and discrepencies, but this is not at all what we are talking about. As mentioned above, there are falsehoods in the writings of Mrs. White and there are Bible contradictions. These cannot simply be pawned off as if they were of no consequence. These originated from her own visions. For decades Adventists have been taking the Pope, Joseph Smith, and every other religion to task for supposed falsehoods and Bible contradictions, but when it comes to their own prophet, they seem willing to turn a blind eye towards the problem. Are Adventists now willing to acknowledge that it is okay for the Pope's writings to contain errors, discrepencies, and mistakes?

As noted in the quotes above, Mrs. White claimed "the very words" were given to her by God and His angels, and that the Holy Ghost was the "Author" of her books. Christians have pretty high expectations about the quality of a book that is authored by the Holy Ghost!

Excuse #4: It is okay for a prophet to include uninspired sources in their writings

Tell me, what other prophet of God incorporated fiction into their writings and then pawned it off to their followers as a book authored by the Holy Ghost? Mrs. White refused to even permit her followers to read fiction, and yet are we now saying it is "okay" to go against Mrs. White's "inspired" counsel and allow Adventists to read the fiction that appears in her books? Are Seventh-day Adventists now willing to extend the same courtesy to Joseph Smith and stop condemning the Mormons for the fictional Book of Mormon?

Excuse #5: It is okay for a prophet to express mere opinions in their writings

Apparently this is an admission by Adventist leaders that Mrs. White's writings contain her personal "opinions". So, who gets to decide which of her "inspired" and "authoritative" writings are mere opinions, and which are the Holy Ghost's instructions? The General Conference's corporate executives? Elder Pfandl and the Biblical Research Institute? The local pastor? Each individual believer?

The prior lesson just got through telling us Ellen White's writings are the "product of inspiration." Now we are told they contain mere opinions. Ellen White would not have been pleased with anyone saying her writings contained mere opinions:

Yet, now when I send you a testimony of warning and reproof, many of you declare it to be merely the opinion of Sister White. You thereby insulted the Spirit of God.7
In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision--the precious rays of light shining from the throne.8
Perhaps Elder Pfandl believes the two statements above are just "opinions" so he can thus safely ignore them.

First we had the Bible. Then we added the "Spirit of Prophecy" (Ellen White) to instruct us about the meaning of the Bible. Now we need Seventh-day Adventist corporate executives to produce yet another writing, which will spell out for us exactly which of Ellen White's writings are inspired, and which are mere opinion. This is getting too complicated! Maybe we should just go back to the Bible and the Bible alone, as the first authority, the final authority, and the only authority!

Excuse #6: Her writings are no worse than the Bible

Sadly, the final defense of Ellen White's prophetic calling is to turn on the Bible and tear it down to the level of Ellen White's inspiration. Adventists have become experts at picking flaws in the Holy Scriptures, then promoting those flaws to the entire world with the justification, "Our prophet is no worse than a Bible that is riddled with mistakes." What a sad day it is when a supposedly Bible-believing church must find flaws with Scripture in order to justify the flaws in their own prophet.

Not a Plagiarist?

In Monday's lesson we are told that the charges of plagiarism are not justified because the Adventist Church hired a Catholic lawyer to study the issue, and not surprisingly, he came to the same conclusion as the corporate executives who paid his salary: "Ellen White was not a plagiarist, and her works did not constitute copyright infringement/piracy."

This lawyer's assessment, whether accurate or not, is that in a very narrow legal sense, Ellen White could not be charged with the crime of plagiarism. This does not mean Ellen White did not copy abundantly in her books without giving credit.

Pfandl quotes the introduction to the Great Controversy where Mrs. White admits using historical quotes in that particular book. Does this admission justify the copying she did in this book, and nearly every other book she wrote? Why is the admission of copying only found in this single book, when nearly every book she wrote contains material taken from other authors?

Pfandl fails to mention that Mrs. White not only copied historical sections, but also copied in the non-historical sections of the book as well. SDA Scholar Dr. Donald McAdams studied the Great Controversy in depth. 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.
Another fact that was not mentioned is that the earlier versions of Great Controversy were not properly footnoted, and gave no admission from Ellen White that she copied from other sources. The very first version of Great Controversy (Spiritual Gifts) appeared in print in 1858, yet it was not until 30 years later, 1888, that an admission of copying was put into the introduction. Behind closed doors SDA Church leaders discussed how they were forced to clean up the book because of charges of plagiarism. A.G. Daniells, former corporate president of the General Conference, discussed the problem the book posed for church executives at the 1919 Conference on the Spirit of Prophecy:
Credits were not given to the proper authorities, and some of that crept into The Great Controversy -- the lack of credits; and in the revision of that book those things were carefully run down and made right. ...
Willard A. Colcord, former Religious Liberty Secretary of the General Conference wrote:
This making use of so much matter written by others, in Sister White's writings, without quotes or credits, has gotten her and her writings into quite a lot of trouble. One of the chief objects in the late revision of "Great Controversy" was to fix up matters of this kind...9
While some admirable efforts were made to clean up The Great Controversy, the same cannot be said for the dozens of other books that are sold to loyal followers as coming from the "pen of inspiration".

A Lesser Light?

In Tuesday's lesson Pfandl writes:

Ellen White called her writings the lesser light leading men and women to the greater light—the Bible. (See Colporteur Ministry, p. 125.) ... Her writings focus the reader’s attention on Scripture.
Why does any Christian need another writing in order to focus their attention on Scripture? Just the fact that one spends their time reading another writing is proof that the other writing is being focused upon instead of the Scripture. If the purpose of Ellen White's writings is to call men and women to the Scripture, then why not just tell people to read the Bible instead of Ellen White? Why should anyone bother to read a lesser light when they have the greater light? If I was going to go outside at night to search for something in my back yard, and I had to choose between using a candle and a 1000-watt flash-light, which one would I choose to use? Obviously I'm going to take the brighter light! It will take me a lot longer to find what I'm looking for with a dim light! As Ray Pitts so eloquently said, "Who needs a flashlight to find the sun?" As Ellen White said:
If you had made God's word your study, with a desire to reach the Bible standard and attain to Christian perfection, you would not have needed the Testimonies.10

Growing in Understanding

In Wednesday's lesson Pfandl explains how Ellen White grew in understanding:

Hence, when we compare earlier writings of Ellen G. White with her later works, we sometimes find that her later writings modify or expand her earlier writings, reflecting a deeper insight into God’s messages.
No one faults Ellen White for not knowing everything about theology when she was a youngster. The problem is, as mentioned earlier on this page (see examples above), Mrs. White, in her early days, taught things that were falsehoods, all the while claiming her insight came from visions and conversations with angels. Later, after she adopted a more accurate view, some of her teachings directly contradicted her earlier statements. The problem is not a growth in maturity and understanding. The problem is that the visions said one thing in the 1840s and 1850s, and the "inspired pen" said quite the opposite in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both cannot have come from God, because they are diametrically opposed.


In Thursday's lesson Pfandl makes a mild admission that Mrs. White was not infallible, and gives an example of where she changed her mind on a subject. Once again, this contradicts the previous lesson where the General Conference statement said her writings "are the product of inspiration." There are many errors, discrepencies, and inconsistencies in her writings, so either the "product of inspiration" contains Ellen White's own uninspired thoughts, or else Mrs. White's writings are not what they have been made out to be. Either way, the Seventh-day Adventist corporate executives need to enlighten us by publishing a document showing us mere laypeople which of Ellen White's writings are inspired and which are uninspired so there will not be any confusion on the point.

Now, let us see if we can get this straight. Most churches are based upon the Bible alone, but the SDA Church has the following:

  1. The greater light (the Bible), the "final" authority

  2. The lesser light (E.G. White), which is "authoritative" but not the "final" authority, and whose purpose is supposed to point us to the greater light

  3. Another light, which for lack of a better term, we will call the itty-bitty-eenie-weenie light. This light comes from SDA corporate executives, and its purpose is to point us to which parts of the lesser light are "inspired" and "authoritative"
What a mass of utter confusion! Give me the Bible and the Bible alone!

A Liar, Lunatic, or Inspired by the Devil?

Friday's "lesson" is merely a quote from the Quarterly's editor, Clifford Goldstein, telling us that Ellen White was either what she claimed to be, or else she was a "liar, a lunatic, or someone inspired by the devil. These are the only logical options."

When faced with Goldstein's finite number of choices, someone might protest, "How could such a godly woman who wrote such good books be a liar, a lunatic, or inspired by the devil?"

Goldstein intentionally frames the question to make it appear as if there are only three choices, but is that true? Are these the only "logical" choices? The truth is there are several perfectly "logical" explanations for Ellen White's behavior, explanations that Goldstein is very well aware of, ones that have been discussed at length in various quasi-Adventist journals and web sites for many years. Now, I have the utmost respect for Mr. Goldstein and other SDA corporate executives who are trying to defend their system's beliefs, but it is simply inexcusable that someone in his position should fail to mention the other "logical" choices.

There are three leading theories which allow for Mrs. White to be a Christian, and yet still be mistaken about the nature of her gift:

  1. Visions were hallucinations caused by health problems - This theory was first advanced by Dr. Jackson, who personally examined Mrs. White in the 1860s and declared her to be a victim of hysteria. Others, including her long-time associate D.M. Canright, attributed the visions to hysteria and catalepsy. A century later, this theory would take an interesting turn when Dr. Delbert Hodder discovered amazing parallels between the life of Mrs. White and the lives of other victims of partial-complex seizures. Hodder's theory was advanced further with the publication of Dr. Molleurus Couperus' landmark article The Significance of Ellen White's Head Injury.

  2. Visions were due to psychological phenomena - This theory builds upon the evidence that certain highly emotional events, such as intense religious meetings, can trigger altered states of consciousness, such as trances, in certain individuals. Doctors Janet and Ronald Numbers have advanced the idea that psychological factors contributed to Mrs. White's visions.

  3. Visions were due to religious excitement - This theory, akin to Number's theory, was advanced by the former associate director of the White Estate, Dr. Ronald Graybill, and takes into consideration the effects of religious excitement during the period of 1840 - 1860. During this era, prophets of every kind abounded, and it was not uncommon for the meetings to include loud singing, shouting, and various other "charismatic" phenomena. It was not at all unusual for people to fall to the ground "slain by the spirit" and then arise and give a message or vision from God. Other prophets of the era, such as Sarah Richards and the Shakers had experiences similar to Ellen White. Gradually, during the 1850s and 1860s the religious fanaticism began to die down among the Adventists. A more subdued environment prevailed in the churches. Not surprisingly, Mrs. White had fewer dramatic day-time visions during the 1860s, and the visions ceased altogether in the 1870s.

Mrs. White's condition could have been caused by any or all of these reasons. It is a known fact that the content of Mrs. White's visions matched whatever she happened to believe in at the time. For example, in one of her very earliest visions, before she had yet adopted the doctrine of soul-sleep, she saw brethren who had passed away in heaven. After she adopted soul-sleep, she never saw another dead saint in heaven. Thus, these visions (or hallucinations) were the product of her own mind, whether influenced by a head injury, or psychological trauma, or the religious fervor of her day. Rather than discount these visions, the strong personalities that surrounded her most of her life most likely realized the tremendous benefit of having a "prophet" to validate and verify what they were teaching. Thus, Ellen White was encouraged to believe these events were from God, and not knowing any better, she believed she had a divine calling.

Pfandl asks:

From what we know of her life, her teachings, and the legacy of writings that she has left, what’s really the best and most logical explanation for her life and ministry?

Here is my personal opinion. Unwittingly, she was a pawn in the hands of the strong-willed executives of the early SDA Church. This can be shown by the fact that her visions nearly always agreed with the theology and teachings of a strong personality that she was associated with at the time.

Was Mrs. White a lunatic? A liar? Devil-possessed? No, she was a deluded individual, dominated by the strong personalities around her. She had a strong sense of duty and felt keenly the need to live up to the expectations of those around her. Unable and unequipped to carry the burden of being a prophet on her own shoulders, she turned to the leading brethren who, with few exceptions, shaped and moulded her messages. Sincerely desiring to guide her church in the right path, she made up for her lack of inspiration by appropriating the writings of others as a source of inspiration for her people. Was she wrong in doing so? History will answer that question, but throughout it all, she sincerely loved God and believed she was fulfilling God's calling. Right or wrong, we cannot fault her for trying to live up to what she believed.


1. Ellen White, Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867, quoted in Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 37.

2. Ellen White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 51, 52.

3. Ellen White, Letter 339, 1904.

4. Ellen White, Selected Messages, Vol. 3, p. 30.

5. Fred Veltman, Ph.D., Ministry, December 1990.

6. Isaac Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message, p. 407.

7. Ellen White, Testimonies vol. 5, p.64.

8. Ibid., p. 67.

9. W[illard] A[llen] Colcord letter, 23 February 1912, as quoted in Walter Rea, The White Lie, chapter 11.

10. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church Volume Two (1868-1871), page 605.

11. The Publishing Ministry (1983), page 364, note inserted by the White Estate reads as follows: "WILLIE" WAS ELLEN WHITE'S THIRD SON AND FOR YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF JAMES WHITE (IN 1881), HER CLOSEST HELPER AND COUNSELOR.

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