You Can Quit Tobacco Book CoverStop Tobacco Today Header


The work of a prophet

    How a Prophet Writes

In the previous chapter we mentioned that, while writing Desire of Ages, Ellen White would sometimes look at another book on the subject, to see the pattern which that author had followed. Then she would set the book down and begin her writing.

Why did she bother with other books? Surely, the Lord could have told her!

It is our misconception of the work of a prophet, and the means by which a prophet is to receive information, that causes our misunderstanding of the work of Ellen White. Keep in mind that, prior to December 1844, we had not had writings of a true prophet for about 1,750 years. In the life of Ellen White we are given an unusual opportunity to understand how God works with, and through, one of His inspired messengers.

Yes, she received visions; but only a limited amount of information was received through them. Early on, she was instructed that she would be able to read in other books—and be able to recognize truth when she found it. In addition, the Lord guided her as she sorted out information in her mind and wrote it on paper.

“She was told that in the reading of religious books and journals, she would find precious gems of truth expressed in acceptable language, and that she would be given help from heaven to recognize these and to separate them from the rubbish of error with which she would sometimes find them associated.”—W.C. White, quoted in Robert Olson, 101 Questions, p. 72.

The result was perfectly accurate, fully inspired writings. One of her working principles was that truth itself comes ultimately from God rather than from men,—and that, in presenting it, we should seek to lead people to God, not praise men.

“Christ was the originator of all the ancient gems of truth. Through the work of the enemy these truths had been displaced. They had been disconnected from their true position, and placed in the framework of error. Christ’s work was to readjust and establish the precious gems in the framework of truth. The principles of truth which had been given by Himself to bless the world had, through Satan’s agency, been buried and had apparently become extinct. Christ rescued them from the rubbish of error, gave them a new, vital force, and commanded them to shine as precious jewels, and stand fast forever.

“Christ Himself could use any of these old truths without borrowing the smallest particle, for He had originated them all. He had cast them into the minds and thoughts of each generation, and when He came to our world, He rearranged and vitalized the truths, which had become dead, making them more forcible for the benefit of future generations.”—13 Manuscript Releases, 241-242 (Manuscript 25, 1890; compare Desire of Ages, pp. 464-465).

She correctly saw that the writer of truth is an agent, or instrumentality, which God is using. But the truth itself, which came from God, is of paramount importance.

“Let all be under the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit of God. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, one may use the same expressions used by a fellow worker under the same guidance. He should not make an effort to do this or not to do it, but leave the mind to be acted upon by the Holy Spirit.”—Publishing Ministry, 102 (Letter 53, 1900).

We can all receive guidance from Heaven as we live and carry on our work. Yet a genuine prophet is different. In our writings, we make mistakes (very frequently); but a prophet is different. He always receives the guidance needed for unerring accuracy. However, he is not thereby released from work.

When in vision, Ellen White generally was not given dates, places, or names. But she was shown scenes and faces which she would afterward recognize. This especially held true for her great controversy visions. She would read the works of D’Abigné, Wiley, and other historians in order to obtain many place names, dates, and connecting links in the order of events.

“The great events occurring in the life of our Lord were presented to her in panoramic scenes as also were the other portions of the Great Controversy. In a few of these scenes, chronology and geography were clearly presented. But in the greater part of the revelation, the flashlight scenes were exceedingly vivid. The conversations and the controversies which she heard and was able to narrate were not marked geographically or chronologically; and she was left to study the Bible and history and the writings of men who had presented the life of our Lord to get the chronological and geographical connection.”—3 Selected Messages, 459-460 (The Australian Years, 378-379; W.C. White, Letter to L.E. Froom, January 8, 1928).

It is the Lord’s plan that all His creatures work, including His prophets. They have to work at accomplishing their tasks just as the rest of us do. It would not be good for their characters if all they need do is sit around and wait for heaven to spoon-feed them what they should write. Heaven does not put the food into the bird’s bill; it must go out and search for it. Just as God does not want lazy birds, He does not want lazy Christians or prophets.

Ellen White could have said, “I won’t read any letters which come or talk with anyone; but I will wait for visions to instruct me.” No, she did talk, read, listen, and think. Then God would guide her as to what she should do next. This is how the Lord works with all of us.

What if Ellen White were assigned the task of writing a geography book (which she never did). She would set to work to gather information and write the book. The result would be totally accurate; but, in the process, she would have looked at outside sources.

“A second reason why Ellen White at times used the works of other writers is that she relied on these authorities for historical and geographical information not revealed to her in vision. In her introduction to the book, the Great Controversy, she speaks about the ‘facts’ of history, which she presented. She does not claim that these facts were all revealed to her in vision. For example, she states, ‘In 1816 the American Bible Society was founded’ (GC 287). There is no reason to believe that this fact was revealed to her in vision.”—R.W. Olson, Ellen G. White’s Use of Uninspired Sources.

It is also known that Ellen White would look at other books, to refresh her memory as to visions she had earlier received on the subject on which she was writing.

“Another purpose served by the reading of history and Life of Our Lord [Hanna, 1863) . . was that in so doing there was brought vividly to her mind scenes presented clearly in vision, but which were, through the lapse of years and her strenuous ministry, dimmed in her memory.”—W.C. White, Letter to L.E. Froom, January 8, 1928.

The complete W.C. White letter, partially quoted above, has been reprinted in 3 Selected Messages, pp. 453-461, as a portion of Appendix C of that book.

I can understand that; but why did the E.G. White Estate keep this information from us?

It hid nothing, as the statements above and below indicate. Repeatedly over the years, the workers at the E.G. White Estate mentioned this. In his book, E.G. White and Her Critics, F.D. Nichol filled over 60 pages discussing the matter (pp. 403-467). That book was released in 1951.

The fact that she sometimes looked at other books was really no secret. Here is a statement made by her son, William C. White, nearly 70 years ago:

“Many times in the reading of Hanna, Farrar, or Fleetwood [authors of books on the life of Christ], she would run onto a description of a scene which had been vividly presented to her [in vision], but forgotten, and which she was able to describe more in detail than that which she had read.”—W.C. White, Letter to L.E. Froom, January 8, 1928.

The truth is that Bible writers did the same thing.

“The question may be asked, ‘Can the descriptions of scenes and events copied from other writers find a proper place in the inspired writings of a messenger of God?’ We find that writers of the Bible not only copied from historical chronicles, but they sometimes used the exact language of other Bible writers, without giving credit. And, likewise, if in the writings of one today, who gives abundant evidence of being a chosen messenger of God, we find phrases or statements from other writers, why should this be an occasion for questions more than the same circumstances when found in Scripture?”—W.C. White, Advanced Bible School address, Ang­win, California, June 18, 1935.

More on Bible writers in the next chapter.

Ellen White, herself, mentioned it in the Introduction to her book, Great Controversy.

“In some cases, where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works.”—Great Controversy, p. xii.

That frank statement by Ellen White, written in May 1888, has been printed in millions of books over the decades since then. It continues to be currently published. There is nothing to hide, no attempt to conceal the fact that she gleaned information from other writers.

She did not give credit to earlier sources because footnotes and “credit lines” were not commonly used then as they are today. But, even more important, she believed that it was the presentation of principles that mattered, not the citing of this or that authority of the principle.

For reasons stated above, Ellen White did not camouflage the fact that she had sometimes quoted historians, without using quotation marks. But when, in the 1890s, she learned that times were changing and writers wanted to be quoted, she also changed.

“When critics pointed out this feature of her work as a reason for questioning the gift which had enabled her to write, she paid little attention to it. Later when complaint was made that this was an injustice to other publishers and writers, she made a decided change.”—W. C. White, Letter to L. E. Froom, January 8, 1928.

John Wesley had a similar attitude toward the matter. He believed that pointing men to truth and God was more important than quoting men.

“It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon further consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point of view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value.—John Wesley, Preface, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament.

Can you give an example of an instance in which Ellen White appeared to use some phraseology she found in another book?

It is not easy to find them, but here is one:

“He [Satan] cast his hellish shadow right between us and our hope, and our strength, and our comfort, that we should not see him, that he might eclipse Jesus, that we should not discern Him and what He was to us, and what He would do for us, and what He would be to us—that he should cast this dark and gloomy shadow between us and our Saviour.” —1888 Materials, p. 552.

“Planting himself between God and man, he sought to intercept every beam from heaven, and to throw his awful shadow across the earth; the gloom of his presence fell, like a pall over human hope, involving us in darkness that might be felt.”—John Harris, The Great Teacher, 1836 edition, p. 134.

But it is very difficult to find such passages. They are few and far between. This is the finding of others as well as the present writer. Arthur White said it clearly and correctly:

“One reads in vain for more than a few phrases or parts of sentences, and, very rarely, a full sentence or two here and there, showing that Ellen White found in these authors materials that helped her describe what she had seen in vision.
“But beyond this, she gives details found in neither the Bible nor other authors, indicating she primarily has seen in vision that which she was describing. Innumerable exhibits could be cited.”—A.L. White, article in Adventist Review of November 1980, p. 8.

Further down, he adds this:

“It is difficult even to find that she used the same words, except in a relatively few instances. The illustrations used [by Rea] in the [Los Angeles] Times are unusual.”—Ibid.

In addition, Ellen White’s comments frequently ran counter to those of every writer on a given subject. She was an independent thinker, guided directly by God in what she put on paper.

“Take, for instance, the Desire of Ages chapter on the ordinance of foot washing, which Christ established with His disciples as a commemorative service and in which they and His followers were to participate. None of the six commentators I have examined hold the command as one indicating that it should be literally fulfilled. Two go out of their way to show that it is not binding. Ellen White in the Desire of Ages gives three pages to the subject, showing the binding claim and the lessons the ordinance teaches.

“Take the chapter on the resurrection. None of the several commentators I have read knows exactly when Christ was raised to life. One conjectures this and another conjectures that. Ellen White goes right down the line in this thrilling account, even quoting the command of the angel. ‘Son of God, come forth; Thy Father calls Thee’: It is very clear that she was not dependent on others for what she wrote.”—Ibid.

But does not the concept of “verbal inspiration” teach that God must give every literal word that the prophet writes down?

Our people do not believe in “verbal inspiration.” The Spirit of Prophecy teaches that the correct position is—
“. . thought inspiration . . The Lord guides the prophet in what to select, where to find it, and how to phrase it. But the prophet is not a machine; he uses his own words.

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.”—Review, October 8, 1867.

Ellen White explained this at length. You will find it in 1 Selected Messages, 19-39. However, many of us have unconsciously been “verbal inspirationists.” This causes confusion when we discover that Ellen White functioned as a thinking person, and not as an automated machine.

“Unlike many conservative Christians, Adventists do not hold that inspiration works to dictate the words of God’s prophets (see Selected Messages, Book 1, pp. 19-39).

“While this has been our position from the days of the pioneers, many of us have never thought through the doctrine. In practical terms we have been verbal inspirationists, subconsciously holding that, because inspiration brings God’s message to people, it somehow must overpower the human medium . . We have devalued humanity by our idea that divinity must supersede it.

“But the Word of God does not short-circuit the usual human channels for acquiring knowledge, even as it does not confer upon the inspired prophet a unique ‘Holy Ghost’ literary style. The prophet as a total person is inspired. From the human perspective, the prophet, utilizing the common fund of human knowledge, displaying both strengths and weaknesses of expression, is like any other writer. But, because God is using the person as an instrument to convey His revelation, there is divine superintendence in selection of material and in literary activity. The end result is always ‘Word made flesh’—fully human but more than human.”—Editorial, Advent­ist Review, November 27, 1980, p. 13.

Are there any definite places, which we know of, where Ellen White copied someone else?

There are very few. Here are most of them, listed in the order of amount which was copied, in ratio to the total size of the Ellen White production:

1 - Manuscript 24, 1886: This is a short passage. She read something (which she liked so much) that she wrote a summary of it. You will find it in 1 Selected Messages, 19-21. The source was a chapter (pp. 13-20) in the book, Origin and History of the Books of the Bible (1867), by Calvin E. Stowe. After summarizing it, she apparently laid the sheet aside. It was later given a manuscript number, but was never published in her time. It was first printed in 1958, when 1 Selected Messages was released. We have no other instance quite like this one. Forty-two percent of the Stowe chapter is in her summary statement. David Neff did a research study on this manuscript. Here are his conclusions:

We have evidence of her writing most of the ideas which are common to her and Dr. Stowe at a time prior to the writing of this manuscript [MS 24, 1886]. Indeed, some of these references antedated any possible awareness on her part of Dr. Stowe’s book. In addition to the common theological material, there are several points at which the two authors diverge or have distinctively different emphases. These are of sufficient importance for us to conclude that in writing Manuscript 24, 1886, Mrs. White was not ‘appropriating the ideas of another man.’ ”—David Neff, Ellen White’s Alleged Literary and Theological Indebtedness to Calvin Stowe, SDA Seminary, p. 25 (1973).

2 - Letter 19e, 1892: More than half of this letter, which was never published, was adapted from a chapter in J.C. Geikie’s, The Precious Promises (pp. 47-52).

3 - The chapter, Science and the Bible, in Education: Roughly 20 percent of this chapter can be traced to prior sources. She gleaned through other writings and selected some correct scientific data for this chapter.

4 - Historians’ statements in Great Controversy: She quoted historians and did not often place the quotations within quote marks. But she said in her Introduction to the book that she had done this.

“She also recommended d’Aubigné’s History of the Reformation, from which she borrowed, as an ideal holiday gift.”—Robert Olson, Ellen G. White’s Use of Uninspired Sources. [The ad appeared in the December 26, 1882, issue of the Review.]

5 - Sketches from the Life of Paul: This small 1883 book had some material included, which was from Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul. Both books were advertised in Adventist publications that year; and our people were encouraged to purchase both books. Sketches was actually a Sabbath School lesson helps book.

“Ellen White made no attempt to hide her borrowing. She even called special attention to Cony­beare and Howson’s work in the same year that she was drawing extracts from it [for her book, Sketches from the Life of Paul]. In support of an advertisement for the book in the Signs of the Times of February 22, 1883 [as a premium for the Signs subscriptions], she wrote, ‘The Life of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson I regard as a book of great merit, and one of rare usefulness to the earnest student of the New Testament history’ (Signs, February 22, 1883, p. 96). Four months later, in June 1883, her own volume on Paul was published. She must have known that the relationship between Sketches from the Life of Paul and the Conybeare and Howson book would soon become apparent to her readers, but this obviously was of no concern to her.”—Ibid.

6 - Steps to Christ: A few passages may, or may not, have been borrowed.

7 - Some words or phrases in Desire of Ages: A few words or phrases, and nothing more. The Desire of Ages research study established that fact.

8 - The other books: Essentially nothing, which is why Desire of Ages was selected for the research: Rea cited it, along with Great Controversy, as the most plagiarized of her books.

“Of her enormous literary output—25,000,000 words—only a small fraction can be traced to other authors.”—Robert W. Olson, E.G. White Estate.

Really now, think about it: 25,000,000 words! Such a mass of written material; yet almost none of it traceable to outside sources! During her lifetime, Ellen White wrote 100,000 handwritten pages! Yet, that which is listed above is most of what she “borrowed” from other writers!

“The girl that was supposed to die before spring of 1845 did not do so. God had called her to the work of a prophet.

“The years passed and they were filled with exhaustive traveling and writing. In 1881 her husband, James, passed away. Ellen kept at her work and the years continued on. And the years brought article after article, book after book. Gradually, 100,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts were produced. This amounted to 25 million handwritten words (for she never used a typewriter or shorthand). She wrote 4,500 magazine articles. Over 100 books were published.”—V. Ferrell, Prophet of the End, pp. 193-194.

Is there any other reason why we know she could not have copied material from all those books on her desk?

As mentioned earlier, Ellen White wrote wherever she could find a place to sit down—on the train, at camp meeting, on the ship, or wherever she was staying overnight. When at home, she wrote in her bedroom or sitting room. Visitors noted that there were few or no other books lying around, other than the Bible.

She did not have a desk! If you have ever visited Elmshaven, you would have been shown her chair in the corner of a second-floor room, in front of a window, where she sat and wrote. There was no room on the little writing board in front of her for much more than her pen, paper, a Bible, and several earlier pages she had just completed!

Is there any other evidence that she did not copy Desire of Ages from other books?

While in Australia, writing on some of these books—including Desire of Ages—she was so crippled for a time that she could only use her hand and forearm, without severe pain. —Yet Walter Rea says she copied most of what was in that book! This is but another evidence of his false statements.

It was during her ten-month-long illness in 1892 that Ellen White actually began to do much writing on the ministry of Christ. In her diary, she noted . . ‘Thursday, July 14: After arranging my position so as not to bring any strain on arms or shoulders, I go to work at my writing, asking the Lord to bless that which I write. I know that He helps me . . I am now writing on the life of Christ.’ ”—A.L. White, The Australian Years, pp. 381-382.

“Some of the choicest passages in ‘The Desire of Ages’ came from her pen when she was confined not only to her room, but much of the time to her bed or to her writing chair fitted with an adjustable rest for her pain-racked arm. Soon after she reached Australia, she began to suffer with inflammatory rheumatism, and for eleven months was in constant pain. Of this experience she wrote: ‘I have been passing through great trial in pain and suffering and helplessness, but through it all I have obtained a precious experience more valuable to me than gold.’ ”—A.L. White, Ellen G. White: Messenger to the Remnant, p. 59.

Nearly the first year of writing on Desire of Ages was done in an almost totally crippled, pain-filled condition. Yet, all the while, according to Rea, she was busy copying material out of other books! The truth was she could hardly pick up a book during that time, much less turn its pages!

I have heard that she wrote everything from memory.

There are those who believe that Ellen White had a near photographic memory for things she had read in the Bible and elsewhere. There is no doubt that she always seemed to know exactly what Bible text to quote!

W.C. White said that Ellen White read in other books in earlier years; then, when it came time to write a book, she would mainly concern herself with writing and refer relatively little to other works.

“Regarding the reading of works of contemporary authors during the time of the preparation of these books, there is very little to be said, because when Sister White was busily engaged in writing, she had very little time to read.”—W.C. White, January 8, 1928.

I have also heard that Marian Davis helped her write her books; is that right?

I will here reprint Fred Veltman’s thirteenth discovery, made during his exhaustive six-year research project. It was mentioned earlier in this book:

“#13 - It has been charged that Marian Davis, Ellen White’s primary assistant, may have been the author of Desire of Ages, Christ’s Object Lessons, Education, and Ministry of Healing.

“But Veltman concluded that this could not be so. He said that Marian Davis could not write Ellen White’s books, since Davis’ work on Desire of Ages stopped abruptly in 1899, due to overwork. Yet that which was done beforehand and afterward on the book was all alike. So Marian could not have done any actual writing.”—Veltman Final Report, pp. 945-946.

Marian Davis would gather materials Ellen White had earlier written, which could be used for a forthcoming new chapter; but Marian did not do any of the writing, nor did any other helper. The following statements by Ellen White will help explain this matter:

“I feel very thankful for the help of Sister Marian Davis in getting out my books. She gathers materials from my diaries, from my letters, and from the articles published in the papers. I greatly prize her faithful service. 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.”—3 Selected Messages, p. 93 (cf. Letter 9, 1903).

“She does her work in this way: She takes my articles which are published in the papers, and pastes them in blank books. She also has a copy of all the letters I write. In preparing a chapter for a book, Marian remembers that I have written something on that special point, which may make the matter more forcible. She begins to search for this, and if when she finds it, she sees that it will make the chapter more clear, she adds it.

The books are not Marian’s productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings. Marian has a large field from which to draw, and her ability to arrange the matter is of great value to me. It saves my poring over a mass of matter, which I have no time to do . . Marian is a most valuable help to me in bringing out my books.”—3 Selected Messages, pp. 91 (cf. Letter 61a, 1900).

About a year into the writing of Desire of Ages, Marian wrote this:

“Perhaps you can imagine the difficulty of trying to bring together points relating to any subject, when these must be gleaned from thirty scrapbooks, a half-dozen bound [EGW] volumes, and fifty manuscripts, all covering thousands of pages.”—The Austrailian Years, 383 (Marian Davis, letter to W.C. White, March 29, 1893).

Ellen White would take the material, bridge some together, add still more, and a new chapter would take shape.

“We have stood side by side in the work, and in perfect harmony in that work. And when she [Marian] would be gathering up the precious jots and tittles that had come in papers and books and present it to me, ‘Now,’ she would say, ‘there is something wanted [needed]. I cannot supply it: I would look it over, and in one moment I could trace the line right out. We worked together, just worked together in perfect harmony all the time.”—3 Selected Messages, 93 (Manuscript 95, 1904).

Here is another statement on this:

“In the preparation of ‘The Desire of Ages,’ as in the preparation of other later publications, Mrs. White did not write the book straight through, chapter by chapter, in the order in which the chapters appeared in printed form. This was not necessary, for during the preceding thirty-five years she had written many hundreds of pages on this theme, much of which had already been published.

“With this background of material, she instructed those who were employed as her helpers to gather from her published books, articles, letters, and manuscripts what they could find on the subject. With this in hand, she wrote many additional articles as the experiences of Christ were opened anew to her. When these newly written passages, together with what she had written in former years, were grouped in their natural order, she again studied the story in its connection and sometimes added connecting events.”—A.L. White, Ellen G. White: Messenger to the Remnant, p. 59.

What did her assistants have to say about this matter?

Here are several statements by different ones:

“In all good conscience I can testify that never was I presumptuous enough to venture to add any ideas of my own or to do other than follow with most scrupulous care the thoughts of the author.”—D.E. Robinson, statement made in 1933.

None of Mother’s workers are authorized to add to the manuscripts by introducing thoughts of their own.”—W.C. White, statement made in 1900.

“I can say that just as far as it is consistent with grammar and rhetoric, her expressions are left intact.”—Fannie Bolton, statement made in 1894.

“From my own knowledge of the work, as well as from the statements of Sister White herself, I have the strongest possible ground for disbelieving that such a thing [the adding of thoughts by others] was done.”—Marian Davis, statement made in 1900.

Ellen White herself said this:

“As the work grew, others assisted me in the preparation of matter for publication. After my husband’s death, faithful helpers joined me, who labored untiringly in the work of copying the testimonies, and preparing articles for publication. But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true.”—EGW, The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church, p. 4.

Many of those false reports came from liberals in the church, who wanted to undercut her influence in order to benefit themselves. Men are still doing it today.

In late 1898, Desire of Ages was finally printed.

“How many have read carefully Patriarchs and Prophets, The Great Controversy, and The Desire of Ages? I wish all to understand that my confidence in the light God has given stands firm, because I know that the Holy Spirit’s power magnified the truth, and made it honorable, saying: ‘this is the way, walk ye in it.’ In my books, the truth is stated, barricaded by a ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ ”—EGW,  Colporteur Ministry, 126 (Letter 90, 1906).