Editor's note: Introducing a new series for Spectrum
Donald Casebolt published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White in 2021. This book detailed several little-appreciated facets of her life prior to age seventeen, particularly her mindset when she was converted to William Miller's date-setting theories at age twelve. His upcoming book, William Miller's Daughter, details the specific prophetic influence that Miller's allegorical-typological-historicist method had in determining Ellen White's understanding of scriptural interpretation. This article starts a new series, “Case by Casebolt,” which will analyze the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from Miller.
This is practically a laughable statement. God gave prophetic understanding but hides error. Come on!
Cut to the chase…Miller’s entire methodology was fanciful, biblical numerology and the most extreme manifestation of biblical historicism. His sincerity and thoroughness don’t make up for the fact that it made and makes no exegetical sense. Focusing on the error of the 2,520 years, while not addressing the entire package of all fifteen time prophecies and what a mess they are in toto (I’ve read through them), is soft soaping the extent of the problem. It gets right down to the entire methodology, not just the results of one calculation. To try and get Miller off the hook by comparing him to Origen is no solution. Origen, as brilliant as he was, was often far out on a limb with his fanciful handling of the Bible, as well.
And, still hanging onto the 2,300, as if that calculation somehow gets off scot-free except for the mistake that “God hid,” was a simple out to relieve cognitive dissonance. EGW may have believed this prophetic sleight of hand by God, along with the early Adventists, but their faith in this was simply in error. Including their faith in the 2,300 days as a whole. Not addressing this problem today is still a way of not addressing or even relieving cognitive dissonance…about the denominational prophetic and doctrinal claims made that are founded upon sheer error. That includes Adventist self identity, and the authority attributed to EGW.
This article does little to address the extent of the mess. As is said in 12 step programs, “Half measures avail us nothing.”
Over the years I have read many of Ellen White’s books and actually was blessed. Now, as I look back, I am uncomfortable calling her a prophet and have no idea regarding to what extent she may have been inspired.
I think her best book may be Steps to Christ.
At the end of her life one of her last public statements was (my paraphrase), “I commend to you this book” as she held up the Bible.
I really don’t know anymore about the 2300 day prophecy.
Frank. If you think of this as historical research, somewhat arcane to many,but fascinating to a historian or nonhistorian interested in denominational history, you might feel more comfortable. Even though he uncovers material for a theologian to chew on, it’s unfair to expect Mr. Casebolt to take responsibility for theological analysis at every turn.
It wasn’t until I got to the SDA college did I realize just how much the church depended on Ellen White to direct this church through her writings. Even as a new Adventist, I wondered why that was since she, herself, directed us to the Bible. Ask any SDA and they will tell you they get all their beliefs directly from the Bible - (as explained by Ellen White.) If, by some chance there might be more things to learn from the Bible; or, even some new way of looking at an issue, that can’t happen since the SDA church is directly tied to EGW’s explanations. That’s a problem for a church that believes in the leading of the Spirit; and the Bible being our only rule of faith.
Thank you Don Casebolt, for this fascinating piece of church history.
As I recall, E. White had a vision about celestial bodies that was incorrect by today’s standards, but it reflected the cutting edge science of Joseph Bates day. Joseph Bates, after hearing the vision, came to have confidence in E. White as a prophet (due to the vision she related to him). The vision was just as God wanted it - not accurately reflecting reality but the understanding of Joseph Bates’ day. Had it been totally accurate, Joseph Bates would have thought the vision was faulty and continued to reject the premise that E. White was relaying visions given to her by God.
Could God have wanted the prophecy chart to be just the way it was because that’s how people of Miller’s day gained confidence in the Bible - by studying prophetic time tables - even though His people misinterpreted the use of the word “times” in Leviticus 26? If God didn’t care if the vision presented to Joseph Bates was absolutely correct - (instead He just wanted to establish confidence in E. White) - perhaps He didn’t care if interpretive principles used in the discussion of “times” were absolutely correct as long as He could gain people’s confidence in scripture by what impressed them - “time” prophecies.
James White was inspired to “abandon the 2,520-year prophecy only twelve years after Ellen White asserted that the ‘figures’ were accurate” - very likely realizing Miller’s critics were right. Their marriage hit rough spots when James felt Ellen wasn’t letting him use his own head to decide things, so I’m not sure he interpreted “by inspiration” to be relegated to Ellen alone - esp. in light of the fact that scripture says “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” - 2 Peter 1.20.
It seems to me God knows what will get people attention, and is willing to inspire people to use whatever His children relate to - whether it’s 100% correct from a hermeneutic standpoint or not. It’s interesting to me that SDA founders’ confidence in E. White wasn’t shaken after deciding what she was told to share was best adjusted after gaining a better understanding of Lev. 26. Wasn’t America basically an agricultural society at the time - perhaps not well-schooled in how the meaning of words is affected by context - much like a young person’s understanding would be until educated along those lines?
Josiah Litch prophesied the end of the Ottaman empire to the very day using prophetic interpretation that doesn’t meet scholarly standards of our day - but a lot of people gained a respect for scripture they didn’t have before when that happened. Did God want him to understand things as he did for that time and place? I can’t preclude that possibility.
Scholars who subscribe to the “new perspective on Paul” don’t feel Luther accurately interpreted “the righteous will live by faith.” They regret that he read the phrase and applied it to his personal experience instead of asking for it’s meaning in the context of Habakkuk and Paul’s other writings. It brought Luther great relief even though NPP scholars say he didn’t interpret Romans or Habakkuk accurately. But God still used Luther’s misunderstanding to relieve his, and many others’, horrific misconceptions about God. Bottom line: I wonder if perhaps God is more concerned with meeting people where they are than 100% interpretive accuracy.
Just thinking out loud here - trying to understand how inspiration works.
so is Miller saying he manipulated the 2,300 yr prophecy to coincide with his 2,520 yr prophecy, or is he saying he studied the 2,300 yr prophecy after he’d studied his 2,520 yr prophecy, and discovered that their ending happened to coincide…the conclusion that the 2,520 year calculation is what led to the 2,300 year calculation seems quite fanciful…
as usual, i’m always less than impressed over typical criticisms of egw of the kind this article appears to demonstrate…at their core, they always seem to feature some form of misunderstanding of her words, which is then assumed to represent her actual intentions, and which are then held to represent some kind of problem…in this case, it seems a bit of a stretch to assume that egw meant everything in the Millerite chart was inspired and inerrant because she said it shouldn’t be altered outside of inspiration…in the first place, she is explicitly saying it wasn’t inerrant, given that god’s hand was hiding an error in more than one of the figures in the chart…but in the second place, she’s saying that that (or those) error(s) would become apparent when god chose to remove his hand…what she’s really saying is that the chart contained errors, but that nothing should be altered until those errors were revealed and understood through further inspiration…the conclusion that egw’s inspiration is therefore more flexible and less inerrant than commonly imagined is simply unwarranted…
it’s well known that egw had an interesting attitude towards errors:
“Do you make mistakes? Do not let this discourage you. The Lord may permit you to make small mistakes in order to save you from making larger mistakes." HP:124.
in the case of the Millerite chart, we can well imagine that a larger error could easily have been made through an attempt to adjust things before they were properly understood, than through simply leaving things be for the time being…the notion that the BRI considers egw to be incorrect in this case because she endorsed something she knew was less than perfect, preferring to wait until further inspiration cleared things up before making adjustments, seems quite over the top, and a bit desperate…
more assumptions, and more of what appear to be curious, perhaps self-serving, misunderstandings…but i’m looking forward to other articles in this series…
Small mistakes? The whole 1843-44 experience that was called the Great Disappointment was a small mistake??? You mean the one that ruined many people’s lives, causing many to sell their homes and possessions and businesses, and that drove others insane and into institutions? That one was a little mistake?
And God put his hand over that little error too, so that this could happen? In fact, God must have put his hand over three erroneous predictions of Jesus’s return, because that’s how many there were. Even though his hand wasn’t over Jesus’s clear statement, “No one knows the day nor the hour?” Even though many Christians were warning the Millerites about their error using clear statements such as these from the NT, but they didn’t listen? Including EGW, who then doubled down for the next seven years, saying that God showed her that the whole wicked world that rejected their version of the Millerite message was lost? And was flat out wrong, though she claimed vision for it? And never admitted her error? Those little mistakes??
You’re not impressed and no valid criticism of this makes a dent because, for all your intelligence, you’re essentially indoctrinated. As a result, simple, factual problems get explained away as if they don’t matter.
Just look how much time and space we’re wasting on something that doesn’t even matter - what happened in 1842, 1843, 1844 - It doesn’t matter. How does any of that have anything to do with how we live our lives, and how we make the Gospel meaningful to ourselves and others. It’s time stop “contemplating our corporate navel” and doing something meaningful.
I agree. We need to go forward in meaningful ways in the gospel. But, when the whole corporate identity is still tied to such past delusions, it still needs to be called out. It sets the culture for the whole entity, including local congregations. This influences the understanding and applications of the gospel itself… distorting it.
And how she is abused ! Even in economical matters here and there ! When our Austrian SDA leadership decided to sell the domntown residence of the Union, they came along with EGW quotations about "leave the cities - " -this just the same time as Ted Wilson proclaimed : "into the cities - " - also to be supported by EGW quotations.
And now our Union has created new concepts of mission - so “every church a health center”. This in a country with practically 100 % coverage in Social Security and a widespread network of medics, therapeuts, counselors, socialworkers - - - those all professionalized and guided/under strict control of their professions representatives and outsiders being fined —
Yes, her influence as the living “prophetic” voice of the denomination colors everything that is done concerning the gospel. It actually distorts and often hampers it. Distributing a billion copies of the Great Controversy comes to mind. It is why calling attention to the problematic roots of the movement, and her role in it, is still necessary, if any meaningful change is to be hoped for.
I get what you are saying. The whole system is built on contemplating the SDA navel. I personally don’t think this can, or will change. Can a leopard change it’s spots? Of course, the answer is no. I guess for some, there is hope for changes, if not corporately, at least for individuals.
I listen to a lot of Mormon Stories podcasts. The former LDS tell pretty much the same story as former SDA’s. Same song, different verse. Most leave the church, but a few stay to try and make change. I personally see such futility in that course, and maybe they will too at some point. I see that as beating your head against a wall. But I suppose they have way more optimism that they can make a difference against a corporate behemoth who sees change as a threat that would destroy the whole entity. And, they will fight that to the death.
Yes, the way it’s handled now, is by ignoring it on the pastoral level - especially the images and the date lines. My husband’s nephew is pastor in a large SDA church and he asked him if the conference has expectations of how much of EGW needs to be in his sermons, and he claims they don’t; but, there are old-timers in the church who do. Every church has someone with a substantial tithe record who is in charge at board meetings. Usually they are older, and are the movers and shakers, as we all probably know.
My son-in-law was in the ministry at one time. His church was in the Midwest cattle country, and my daughter was the only vegetarian in the whole church. She only ate what she brought to potlucks.
Perhaps we should admit that inspiration is a flawed process. Perhaps we should be willing to say that EGW made theological mistakes, not holding her up to a standard of near perfection in all her writings.
William Miller and His Fifteen Proofs is the title of this article. This is not where I originally read this, but what I was able to find. Fifteen prophetic time proofs of 1843/44. One as convoluted as the next.
He was honest and sincere, but wouldn’t listen to educated people who tried to show him how his methodology and conclusions were off. At least he admitted his error after the fact, and didn’t double down on it in the way that Ellen, James and the others did.
Have a case : She somehow did ! - Compare “Appeal to Mothers” with “Solemn Appeal” - Especially the case of some Brother - - - - – whose case as being condemned for eternity was shown to her, ist omitted . The poor man suffeed something like Nonne Pierrre Marie illness , clearly and precisely described in her first paper - - - -