Levterov Traces How Early Adventists Eventually Came to Accept Ellen White

The title of Theodore N. (“Ted”) Levterov’s latest book is Accepting Ellen White: Early Seventh-day Adventists and the Gift of Prophecy Dilemma (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2016).

The most important word in this title is “dilemma.”*

Two-thirds of those whom we recall as the “founders” of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination initially accepted her and one-third did not. James White and Ellen White comprised the majority and Joseph Bates made up the minority.

Bates eventually accepted White as well because he witnessed her perform what he took to be a miracle. Unfortunately, as Ellen White sometimes subsequently said, in her own words, being convinced by a miracle is one of the worst reasons for believing anything. The evidentiary value of miracles is zero. I will say more about this at the end of this report.

Levterov is the Director of the Loma Linda University Branch Office of the Ellen White Estate at Loma Linda University Health where he also serves as an Associate Pastor in the School of Religion. Not all that long ago, he arrived in London from Bulgaria not knowing a word of English. While doing odd jobs and eventually becoming an entrepreneur in order to keep alive, he learned the language and earned a BA in theology from Newbold College. He then moved to Andrews University in Michigan where he earned MDiv and PhD degrees in Adventist history under George Knight. He completed his dissertation, which Peter Lang published in 2015, while pastoring in Texas. This book is drawn from it.

Because the video of Levterov’s second presentation at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School was accidentally erased, this link is only to the first one. I recommend purchasing and reading the book!

As Levterov describes it, the “dilemma” about Ellen White which the earliest Adventists experienced flowed from their different backgrounds. The “Shouting Methodists” and other charismatics were often enthusiastic about her visions. Almost drowning in the emotional excess which was frequent in the Revivalism of the time, they could identify at least five “prophets” in and around Portland, Maine. Four of them were women and one of these was Ellen Harmon.

James White was representative of those from the Christian Connection. Their devotion to the Bible prepared them to believe that all the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” were possible in each era of Christian history. Although they believed that this included the “Gift of Prophesy,” and that it would probably would be manifest more often in the “Last Days,” they were decidedly cooler and more cautious.

Although many “followers” in the Millerite Movement were “for” visions and other forms of religious ecstasy, William Miller and most of the other Millerite leaders could not have been more “against” them. William Miller saw “no reason for the working of miracles in this age.” According to Levterov, “Joshua Hines, Sylvester Bliss and others made similar personal pronouncements.”

In addition to these personal reservations, the Millerite leaders officially rejected “visions or dreams, mere impressions, or private revelations,” as one of their declarations put it, in meetings which took place in June of 1843, May of 1844, November of 1844, March of 1845 and May of 1845. The leaders of the Millerite movement were of the same conviction about this before and after the Great Disappointment on October 22, 1844.

As Levterov traces it, the early Adventist full acceptance of Ellen White as an expression of “The Gift of Prophesy” was a gradual process which he divides into what we can call “Four Stages.” The dates for these are convenient approximations.

In Stage I, the years before 1851, the Sabbatarian Adventists accepted her and justified doing so for both biblical and pragmatic reasons.

Stage II occurred between 1851 and 1862. It was devoted primarily to defending her from criticisms from smaller groups within the Advent Movement such as the “Messenger Party” and “The Age to Come” group.

Stage III started in 1863 and ended in 1881. Much energy was devoted to defending Ellen White from external critics and from former leading SDA ministers. Chief among these were B. F. Snook and W. H. Brinkerhoff who swerved out of denominational thinking, back into it, and then out for good.

Levterov allocates seven years, 1882 – 1889, to Stage IV. This was a period of refining the denomination’s thinking about Ellen White, especially in light of two somewhat new criticisms. The first charge was “suppression.” It was that, in subsequent publications of Ellen White’s writings, denominational leaders deleted things she had written which were no long plausible, if they ever were. In 1883, A. C. Long developed this criticism in a sixteen page tract titled Comparison of Early Writings of Mrs. White with Later Publications.

The second charge was “plagiarism.” In 1888, D. M. Canright published Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. It summarized virtually all of the previous objections to Ellen White and then added this somewhat new one.

After going into much more detail, both about the objections to Ellen White and the denomination’s responses to them, Levterov’s conclusion is important. “By the end of 1889,” he writes, “all of the major arguments for and against the prophetic gift of Ellen White were in place. Subsequent arguments for or against her gift were simply a repetition or modification of the old argumentations.”

In his discussion of what I have called Stage III, Levterov helps me to answer a question I have had since 1963–64, my last year of secondary education at Pacific Union Preparatory School. This question came to my mind back then when someone from the Ellen G. White Estate made a case to those of us who were students for Ellen White being a true prophet of God because her visions told her who had stolen a hairnet from her and then burned it out of fear of being caught. Either then or at some other meeting, we were told that at least once she had held a heavy Bible with an outstretched arm for an amazing length of time, that when she was in vision her eyes seemed fixed on something heavenward, that her body was rigid even when she was standing, and that when people around her held a mirror to her mouth, they could tell that she was not breathing.

My reactions to these stories when I was seventeen or eighteen years old are the same as they are now. They were based upon what I had already learned from my own reading of Ellen White or what I had learned from others: 1) I very much doubt that these events occurred precisely in every smallest detail as they have been related to us. 2) Even if they did, they should neither add to nor subtract from a case on behalf of Ellen White in view of the fact that she tells us not to trust in miracles. Even the devil can perform them. If you don’t believe in the devil, watch “Britain’s Got Talent” or “America’s Got Talent” for purely human “miracles.” 3) Given what she clearly says on the subject, I did not know why the Ellen White Estate dispatched people to tell these stories. I’m guessing that it has long since stopped this practice and for good reasons.

How intrigued and illumined I was to learn from Levterov that at first the Adventists did not put such stories front and center because they preferred to appeal to biblical and pragmatic evidence! They soon began to make a lot of them in response to the charge that Ellen White could not have been a true prophet because her visions were not accompanied by obvious evidences of the supernatural.

By the mid-1860s, Levterov wrote, “Seventh-day Adventists began to point out, forced by the critics, that Ellen White had supernatural manifestations” (emphasis mine). These early Adventists continued to recount what Scripture says; however, it seems to me, these stories in many circles eventually eclipsed the biblical materials. Almost a century later, those of us who were high school students just a few short miles from Elmshaven, Ellen White’s last home, were told them and virtually nothing about what the Bible says.

Some might think that in fact the White Estate taught us what the Bible says but that I recall only these stories. My response is that this is possible but that I know for certain that the representative of the Ellen White Estate did not teach us what the Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament’s oldest document:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” —1 Thessalonians 5: 19 - 22 NRSV

*This is the first of a series of videos about early Adventism and Ellen White which have been selected from presentations which were recently made at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School in Loma Linda, California.

WATCH Theodore N. Levterov on "Accepting Ellen White in Early Adventism”:

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8870

I have to ask, is this supposed to bolster support for EGW? Because it doesn’t. In fact, this should be a baptism prerequisite along with the 28 FB. Full disclosure!

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QAs the first quarter of the twenty first century evaporates, Adventism is still struggling to decide whether EGW is an asset or a LIABILITY. More than a century after her demise, questions remain.

While much of her output is sublime/spiritual/splendrous (although many of her most literary passages contain elements of plagiarism), some is clearly CRACKPOT.

Just last week a huge long term research study of half a million, revealed that those who were coffee drinkers had definitely increased longevity. It appears, that for McDonald’s aficionados, the only polyphenols and flavonoids (healthgiving chemicals) they consume in their fast food day, is in the coffee they drink!

So EGW’s anti-coffee bias is clearly flawed.

On the other hand her advocacy of vegetarianism was shrewd, sagacious, perspicacious. A plant foods diet clearly wins in the longevity lottery. The more fiber in the diet the longer the lifespan, and meat/fish/fowl/dairy contain ZERO fiber!

Problem is, her revered/esteemed status (she is Adventism’s VIRGIN MARY ) allows zero negotiation when her every utterance is presumed infallible.

Regrettably, our college science/geology faculties appear antediluvian/archaic/antiquated/antique when trying to maneuver around her preposterous pronouncement that the earth is a mere six thousand years old. A fact so clearly disputed by much visual and scientific evidence. Our professors are caught floundering, fumbling, flat footed, and fidgeting when faced with trying to explain away indisputable facts.

The fact that readers never know which
phrase/paragraph/page/passage/chapter
is original with her or plagiarized/borrowed/stolen,
leaves her authenticity problematical at best.

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It seems good to me for everyone to acknowledge that there has been a very healthy testing of Ellen White’s ministry from the very beginnings, through every generation, until today. No believer should depend on others to “test the spirits” as we are counseled to do in 1 John 4:1-3.

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I have come to think that we should spend little time trying to figure out whether EGW was inspired by God. On the one hand. answering “yes” doesn’t mean that everything she said was accurate and that everying she did was commendable. On the other hand, answering “no” doesn’t mean that nothing she said was accurate and that nothing she did was commendable. Either answer requires us to “test everything.”

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Interesting, the abstract doesn’t include the 1919 Bible Conference and the subsequent installation of Spicer as GC President on a pro Ellen White ticket which became the model for every candidate for high office ever since.

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Her writings about vegetarianism and other health musings, were already in the culture of the Northeastern US well before EGW wrote anything. There was Sylvester Graham writing in the 1830’s about vegetarianism, clean living, no masturbation, etc., William Alcott in the 1830’s, LB Coles (a huge influence on EGW) writing in the 1840’s, Dr. Russell Trall, Dr. Caleb Jackson 1840’s (also big influence on EGW). She wrote nothing new in health ideas.

So, quite a few people were shrewd, sagacious, and perspicacious well before EGW came upon these health pioneers and “borrowed” from them.:wink:

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Confused, is this to be taken literally, allegorically or is this proof texting?

Deut 12:15
“However, you may slaughter and eat meat within all your gates, whatever your heart desires, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, of the gazelle and the deer alike.

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Interesting…

It is repeated in v22

Deut 12:20
When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh, because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.
Deu 12:21
If the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.
Deu 12:22
Even as the roebuck and the hart is eaten, so thou shalt eat them: the unclean and the clean shall eat of them alike

I also never heard these verses in an SDA church…:thinking:

Deut 14:24-26
But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away),
then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose.
Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.

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Wait, what? I just spit out my luke-warm postum!

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As well you should!!!

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I am going to wait for the REAL translation from those that have the REAL religion AKA TRUE Adventists…

https://conversation.spectrummagazine.org/t/lounge-open-thread/11538/5970?u=paul62

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These percentages are ubiquitous. Rev 12:4 reports one third of the angels were driven out of heaven with Lucifer, one third of SDA founders did not accept EGW and the placebo effect response to medications in general hovers around one-third. What better explanation is there to describe EGW’s “dilemma”? I would even surmise that if there were a study to determine how many adventists would accept Amazing Facts as facts, I would say about 66% would support DB and 33% would not. Could the placebo effect be the rate limiting factor in accepting the gospel?

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(16)30307-8/fulltext?code=lancet-site

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The definiton of gospel has to be defined whenever you are talking to Adventists. Especially the TRUE and REAL Adventists. If you don’t know what that means, neither do I, but somehow they exist. Sorry, but there are real differences amongst the club making it necessary and undeniable. Lots of moving parts. 3rd gen and out speaking.

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EGW was not alone in society recommending a vegetarianism, she followed the dietary ideas of Sylvester Graham. The vegetarian diet, “a plain diet, free from spices,” she recommended–most SDA’s would find it extremely difficult, in not impossible.

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You skip the interesting v23.

“Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.”

This is what you are to do with the tithe.

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Interesting texts where God commands us to eat meat. But we must not forget the Passover lamb that God commanded Israel the whole family to eat.

But EGW based her diet on the Eden diet, which she considered to be the creators diet. However we are far removed from Eden with it perfect environment.

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I was also pointing out the verses regarding using silver to buy…wine or other fermented drink.

Sounds like more fun than the potlucks! :wine_glass:

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Is that v23?

Any other thoughts on the verses in Deuteronomy? So interesting…

funny enough when I was 17 years old I first heard those verses in an adventist school in Africa being read by an Adventist pastor!!! and he further added the verses in proverbs that say we should give alcohol to the poor. then he came to this conclusion: that we should use tithe to buy alcohol (with tithe!!!) and give it to the poor!!! he read it so many times I have always used it when faced by fundamentalists.

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