Finding Ellen White

It is good to have access to the writings of Ellen White, born some 192 years ago today. It would be even better if those writings were truly hers.

Before I proceed further, please allow me the following: I am confident beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ellen White was a messenger from the Lord. My walk with Christ has been incredibly enriched by her writings, and her constant pointing to Jesus and to the Bible has helped ground me in God’s word. Further, I am deeply indebted to the men and women of the Ellen G White® Estate who have done so much to make her writings seemingly instantly accessible. I am more confident today than I have ever been that the White Estate is doing all that it can to help both Adventists and the world discover Ellen White. I continue to find them approachable and transparent. They generally readily acknowledge variants of original documents and have done and are doing a thoroughly incredible job of making her writings readily available to an increasingly global audience. I write the following with the deepest desire to help us, the Adventist church, and the world, find Ellen White…the real Ellen White.

Allow me to explain. Working as the digitization manager at the Center for Adventist Research on the campus of Andrews University in November of 2010, I was reading through one of Ellen White’s handwritten letters and upon reaching a portion of the letter that was somewhat faded, I retrieved the typed copy that we had on file. The faded, handwritten letter (Letter 14, 1887), to missionaries to South Africa D.A. Robinson and C.L. Boyd reads as follows:

“Dear Brn. Robinson and Boyed (sic), on your way to the distant fields of labor I have desiered (sic) to talk with you but dared not because I have not felt that I had strength to do justice to any subject in private conversation. When before the people I am always sustained by the the (sic) Lord, I am not always sustained in private conversation and am often a sufferer in this kind of labor. I decided to write to you.

There is great importance…”

The typewritten copy on file, however, reads:

“Dear Brethren: On your way to a distant field of labor I have desired to talk with you, but dared not, because I have not felt that I had strength to do justice to any subject in private conversation. When before the people I am always sustained by the Lord.

There is great importance…”

The difference? Reality and myth. Ellen’s handwritten original reveals a very real, very human messenger of the Lord, sometimes feeling sustained by the Lord, and sometimes not. The text of the typewritten file copy, currently (as of November 24, 2019) extant on the app and the website, portrays the mythical, post-1919 Bible Conference-enabled Ellen White, always sustained by the Lord.

Why does this matter? First, because ten years after I brought this to the attention of the White Estate (November 24, 2010), the website contains no mention of a variant reading, and the world continues to meet an Ellen White “always sustained by the Lord.” [Emphasis mine] With the countless taskings and responsibilities begging for their attention, I do not doubt that acknowledging this difference fell through the cracks…but as it perpetuates the mythical narrative chosen after the 1919 Bible Conference, it begs for attention beyond what it has been given.

Second, as exemplified above, the type-written manuscripts often if not always relied on as the source material for the app and website are not always faithful to the original source material. The letter to Robinson and Boyd suggests that at least some of Ellen White’s materials were later edited in a way that emphasized the myth while removing the messenger.

Someone with more knowledge than I can likely speak to the origin ‘when’ of those type-written manuscripts, though it is highly likely found farther from our own day and closer to Ellen’s own. It is vital that scholars, researchers, and historians using the letters and manuscripts as currently found on the website and app understand that the source material might not reflect the fullness of what Ellen readily revealed about herself, and that the current material might, some generations ago, have been selectively edited to preserve the mythical narrative chosen by a fearful administration of an era gone by.

Only yesterday I sat with fellow scholars, historians, and North American Division (NAD) representatives at the annual gathering of the Adventist Society of Religious Studies as we wrestled with the legacy of the 1919 Bible Conference and its fateful decision to not, from the administration side, begin deconstructing the mythological Ellen White. How they, knowing of her thought inspiration and compilation process chose to not counter the church-at-large’s understanding of her as verbally inspired and seemingly dropped-out-of-heaven manuscript creation process.

What great disappointment might have been avoided had that generation of leaders chosen truth over myth? What great balance in our understanding of revelation might have been introduced? What confidence might have been engendered in the life and works of Ellen White had bold resolve triumphed over the fear of the faith fallout should the truth be reveled? Sadly, fear held the field, and imbalance, doubt, and disbelief have too often been the result. In choosing easy inaction, leadership did not avoid the faith fallout, they simply kicked the can down the road to the innocents of the next generation.

What can our generation do differently? What can we do with what we have inherited? What can we do, as Denis Fortin observed in his fine presidential address to the Adventist Society of Religious Studies, to properly address this difficult subject? What part can we play in de-mythologizing Ellen White and restoring her to how she presented herself, weak and strong, wondering and confident, inspired and uninspired?

I suggest the following:

1. Let’s start by recognizing that what this generation received in the typewritten text of Ellen White’s letters and manuscript may have come to us with a bias of the previous generation intact.

2. Let us go back to the sources, ad fontes, if you will, and ensure that each handwritten item is accurately represented in our databases. Whether done in-house by the White Estate or perhaps by partnering with scholars, historians, and researchers, a letter-by-letter, manuscript-by-manuscript checking of the original, hand-written against the current database, updating the database as appropriate, is the only way to ensure that we are reading what Ellen wrote, and not what someone else decided she should have written.

Let’s go find Ellen White...the real, the relatable, Ellen White.

Joe Nesbit is a ThD Candidate at Andrews University in the areas of Systematic Theology and Adventist Studies. He is currently pastoring in Florida where he lives with his wife and fellow pastor, Trisha.

Photo courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10042
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Adventism projects the image of a cult because our prophet is perceived as “quaint “ and a plagiarist with “ feet of clay “

We cannot peruse a phrase / paragraph / page/ portion of her writings, and truly know if it was her original output or
purloined /
plagiarized /
borrowed /
stolen from another author / writer.

Truly dismaying are her statements I WAS SHOWN, followed by a plagiarized piece. The Lord surely chose a most circuitous routing, delivering His messages to her via contemporary writers / journalists / authors.

Also troubling is the vehement, vociferous denials by herself and her family that any copying had ever occurred. Sometimes the coverup is more ethically disturbing than the actual crime.

That said, some of her writing is remarkably prescient.

Her advocacy “two meals a day “. now enjoys a renaming —-“INTERMITTENT FASTING “—- revealing huge health benefits for not only weight loss ( in our excessively obese population ) but also for slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer — ubiquitous maladies today.

Ellen could not have known the subtleties of the KETOGENIC DIET, but her advice was prognostic and prescient.

Her warning against CHEESE has scientific backing since cheese ( especially Parmesan ) has a very high GLUTAMATE content — a nerve toxin that cause neuroexcitation and possible death / demise of brain cells — to be avoided by those with a predisposition to Alzheimer’s — ( half the population ).

So do not add Parmesan to that pasta ! And if Ellen had been truly prophetic / psychic , she would have pre- envisioned the GMO of wheat and would have banned pasta also! Because today’s wheat is hugely different from the wheat of her day, having been GMOed to double its gluten content, and it also causes huge spikes in insulin. So all wheat products — bread, bagels, muffins, cakes, pasta, are best avoided to avoid obesity, and sensitivity to gluten ( includes many people ).

On the other hand, her injunctions against coffee and spices have proven to be false. Apart from the “culprit “ caffeine, coffee contains multiple nutritious polyphenols / flavonoids conferring longevity on its consumers.

The Indian spice TUMERIC ( curry ) and its principal component CURCUMIN , confers enormous anti inflammatory benefits. Since inflammation is the basis of all disease, this super potent anti inflammatory ( equals cortisone , but without the side effects ) is the reason that the billion Indians, who consume it regularly, have lower incidence of cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

The spice BLACK PEPPER ( also an ingredient of Indian curries ) enhances the absorption of CURCUMIN by 2000 per cent.

So EGW’s admonishment against “spices “ is now countered by the cutting edge, most avant garde, compelling science, that some spices are hugely healthful and their consumption is to be encouraged

NANO CURCUMIN ( the latest innovative, more absorbable form ) LONGVIDA CURCUMIN ( which penetrates the brain as an Alzheimer’s adjunct )
along with PIPERINE ( black pepper extract, which facilitates CURCUMIN absorption ) should be consumed by everyone to forestall aging, Alzheimer’s and many crippling diseases. The spice cinnamon aids in blood sugar control.

The scientific backing for this is compelling and cutting edge.

Some of EGW’s statements have been unfortunate — her “amalgamation “ hypothesis of the origins of the black race —— her earth age of 6,000 years, now crippling our Adventist school science curriculums — her injunctions against “ secret vice “ creating misery for generations of adolescent masturbators.

Regrettably, as you so aptly point out, EGW’s image has been manipulated and propagandized by former Adventist theologians / administrators and this is woefully perpetuated by our current denominational hierarchy.

The “red books “ which adorned the shelves of almost every worthy prior Adventist family, are now rarely visible in most current Adventist households. But our prophetic legacy still adversely impacts our image and continues to create controversy in our.midst.

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When I’ve read this article, I thought… Ok here we go again. But we have to applaud some efforts of trying to find the Ellen as she was, as opposed to the Ellen that the church used as a tool for authoritarian doctrine re-enforcement.

I would have to admit that I’m EGW agnostic. Her story is all fascinating, weird, and at times cringy.

But a rather simple question should reveal the nature of the role she played in Adventist Church… And that question is whether the trajectory of her visions would be different if there was no Smith/Bates/Andrews in Adventist history. Would she ever see those visions about Sabbath? Would Great Controversy exist? What would Adventist Church look like if not for that trio? Shouldn’t they be elevated to prophetic pedestal more than Ellen White, who merely regurgitated what they’ve written into a “vision from God” that would be conveniently validating their conclusions and seldom (I’m not aware of any instances, but I could be wrong ) correcting them on their theology?

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Well stated, Joe. She was one of many messengers!

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I started to get suspicious when I decided to assemble a list of items that answered the question:

What objective evidence exists that she ever wrote, or said, or did anything that she couldn’t have done without being inspired?

I’m still looking for item number one.


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Well said, Joe. I appreciate your viewpoint.

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No matter how accurate one would like to be when reviewing the sources, a critical point that cannot be stored in databases is the emotional state and affect of the author. Tongue-in-cheek, sarcasm, humor, or just being coy cannot be stored in databases. They do make a difference.

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How would you personally separate what you would consider inspired from something that’s not? Inspiration is a tough nut to crack. Most theologians I heard talking about inspiration begin with some promise of explanation, but then simply skip to an assumption.

Is there a way around this issue without a faith-based approach.

@Arkdrey
Ark, and all theories about “inspiration” have to consider that the very word itself (2Tim 3:16) is part of a metaphor. Impossible to build a detailed theory on that. Thanks to @c_scriven for pointing out the obvious a while ago.

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The information of discrepancies existing between originals and transcribed copies of released Ellen White documents is interesting and your example shows well that every word matters.

As a college history major I was taught historiography and the imperative of primary sources. As an Adventist I have always found it discouraging to be given an artificially constructed and heavily edited version of Ellen White, arguably the most important of the early founders of this denomination, and I wondered if a truer version of her even existed. I have spent hundreds of hours on the White Estate website reading her original letters attempting to gain a fresh perspective on the woman. I am grateful for the time and effort that has gone into scanning these original documents. Only by reading accurate originals can we hope to glimpse the person who wrote them. Even then an understanding of her time and place in history is needed. Her letters are written in archaic language which at times is difficult to understand. In the relatively short time since she lived some English words have changed meaning and American society has changed significantly. A general knowledge of cultural history is needed and may not be known by the average American SDA, let alone an SDA from a non-western culture. Any hope of gaining a clear picture of her across the entire SDA denomination seems impossible without thoughtful work by writers and historians.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich recently wrote a book about the women of the early LDS church using access to the church’s archives. (Ulrich, a Harvard professor, is a LDS and an expert in the field of 18th and 19th century American women.) A great deal of primary source material has been preserved by the LDS church in the form of diaries and other primary documentation. The book Ulrich wrote was a frank and enlightening look at the lives of the early members of the LDS denomination. It was brave of their leadership to allow its release and I wish such a thing was possible for the SDA church. Sadly, I do not believe the raw data exists. But a movement in the direction of more full understanding of EGW is absolutely a step in the right direction. Seeing her as a real human, with foibles, is necessary to undo the mistakes of 1919.

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All she had to do is predict the details of, say, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

Or quote anything that Jesus said–in the English words she said she heard in her visions, not the archaic Jacobean English that she copied from her KJV.

How few of us wonder why an angel would converse with her in sentences like, “Hark ye. List ye.” --He wouldn’t, of course. It’s as ungrammatical as EGW. An educated angel speaking KJV English would have said, “Listen thou”.

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I’m not really sure about @c_scriven 's position on the issue, but it’s something I personally wrestled quite a bit in my undergrad theological career, and got plentiful reprimands for it.

My position was, and still is - We can’t reference 2 Tim 3:16 as some kind of hermeneutical benchmark for inspiration or identifying scripture, because it defines these concepts tautologically. Yes, scripture is inspired writing, and that’s like saying water is wet. It doesn’t really help us to identify inspired writing by means of some method. Neither it outlines any adequate mechanism for such inspiration as it relates to how one get inspired.

As I got into theology, I brought in a lot of scientific baggage, and there were some problematic questions that theologians are not used to as they structure dogma. For example, if we take the popular model for inspiration… it’d be:

God > Specific Information > Specific Person’s Mind > Person’s Worldview & Thoughts > Narrative on the Page Or Behavior

The above relationship was both unclear and problematic for me. It didn’t reflect how our brain operates as mechanism, and it becomes extremely problematic when we begin deconstructing “how” and “why”, at the level of neurophysiology. I could get into it more, if you’d like, but it’d made it into a longer post than it should.

So I proposed the following model :

God > Truth Embedded into Reality Construct wound up with “loaded springs” that gradually unravel to trigger certain expected chains of events > Personal Observation at a specific moment in time > contextualized interpretation through cultural narrative and metaphors > Narrative on the Page

Keep in mind that I went to fundamentalist university where we had to sign certain doctrinal statements before we were admitted, but I really didn’t expect the reaction I got with this position. It’s as though I suggested that God didn’t exist. So, after prolonged discussion about Deism, I got to explain why my model isn’t that. I got to defend my position and describe why I thought the existing one was theologically incoherent, and got to keep my model for the entire 4 years in that institution, as long as I didn’t apply it to the birth of Christ and eschatology… which I did anyway :).

The point being, the initial assumptions we make about how these things work matter, especially as we proceed to reconcile our views with broader cultural and scientific paradigms. But that’s not something our pastors explain to congregations when they merely structure the language of this concept to mean nothing specific at all. And while I have no problem at all with personal claims of certainty “God said to me” kind, there isn’t really any mechanism by which I can figure out whether it’s personal opinion, a delusion, or indeed something triggered by God.

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"And while I have no problem at all with personal claims of certainty “God said to me” kind, there isn’t really any mechanism by which I can figure out whether it’s personal opinion, a delusion, or indeed something triggered by God."

Welcome to the wonderful world of “personal faith”…in which there is no “measurement” except the thoughts and feelings of the individual themselves. (Here within lies “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”). :slight_smile:

@JohnCarson

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No, not me, not this time. When I saw the title of this article, I though, “Again the same stuff? EGW again? Give me a break!!!”

So I just scanned through it quickly, and decided to wait for the next article to be posted; maybe it will be about something relevant. Or, more on EGW again… :roll_eyes:

I would be more interested if I saw something like, “Finding the Apostle Paul,” or “Finding Jesus.” “Finding Martin Luther,” or “Finding Hus” would do it as well. Had enough of EGW discussions in my life. Enough of it for me.

Jeremy @vandieman will certainly love this conversation… :innocent:

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And I have been .looking for any of her prophecies, any one of them, that has already been fulfilled.

I’m still looking for item number one. (Sorry for the plagiarism Harry… :wink: )

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It’s bad that there were no emojis in EGW’s times… :wink:

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Wow, that’s deep, Ark. I have to think about your concept more (and use a dictionary :blush:). But for now I bow to your wisdom, and thank you for letting us know.

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I brought up a similar point to the EGW Estates some years ago while researching a Bible study. I found a quote in Education or Evangelism. It has been so long, I don’t remember which. No matter. While researching, a quote was found in another source, I typed part of it into the data base and it showed two locations. But when I later typed the entire quote word for word on another search, only one reference showed up. The problem turned out to be that when the book was published, someone omitted (edited out) one word from the text in the original manuscript. The altered manuscript is the one that was published and widely circulated while the original text is available, virtually no one knows that it has been altered and the context has been changed ever so slightly.

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For some of us the reality of Ellen G. White’s writings remains a valuable resource in understanding and applying God’s words in our spiritual journey. This article Finding Ellen White reminds us once again how the meaning of the message is the most important part of what is being communicated.

“What great disappointment might have been avoided had that generation of leaders chosen truth over myth? What great balance in our understanding of revelation might have been introduced? What confidence might have been engendered in the life and works of Ellen White had bold resolve triumphed over the fear of the faith fallout should the truth be reveled? Sadly, fear held the field, and imbalance, doubt, and disbelief have too often been the result. In choosing easy inaction, leadership did not avoid the faith fallout, they simply kicked the can down the road to the innocents of the next generation.”

Wise words indeed.

In the end it might be we discover as much about us as we do about Ellen, in our continuing quest for who she really was!

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I wondered what was it that EGW was wanted to say to D.A. Robinson and C. L. Boyd. I believe the advice she gave would not be offered today:

On working for low salary: We are glad that there are men who will enter into our mission fields who are willing to work with small remuneration. Money does not weigh with them in the scale against the claims of conscience and duty… great work of teaching the truth are not the men who will be bribed with wealth or frightened by poverty.

On no one possessing Presidential powers: No one man’s ideas, one man’s plans, are to have a controlling power in carrying forward the work. One is not to stand apart from the others and make his plans and ideas the criterion for all the workers. There is to be with the individual members sent forth together a board for counsel together.One is not to stand apart from the others and argue his own ways and plans…

On hiding some of our doctrines: There are other truths, such as the nonimmortality of the soul, and the personal coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven to our earth in a short time. But these are not as objectionable as the Sabbath. Some will conscientiously accept the truth for its own sake, because it is Bible truth, and they love the path of obedience to all the commandments of God. These objectionable features of our faith will bar the way to many souls who do not wish to be a peculiar people, distinct and separate from the world.

On striving toward perfection: You all need a more perfect and symmetrical character than you now have. No one has ways and habits that do not need improvement, and if this improvement is not made with you all individually, if you are not constantly seeking for higher attainments in every way, you will greatly hinder the work of each other.

Not looking to the GC for direction: They must not in every movement feel that they must receive orders from headquarters

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