The Great Controversy Over Plagiary: The Last Interview of Walter Rea (Part Two)

This is the second part of a two part series of conversations between T. Joe Willey and former Seventh-day Adventist pastor and author of The White Lie, Walter T. Rea. Read the first part of this series here.

The Glendale Meeting January 1980

The ad hoc committee of nineteen individuals (well-known throughout Adventism) was balanced across some of the culture bearers’ familiarity with earlier research on Ellen White’s use of literary sources. The committee met in Glendale, California, for two days on January 28 and 29th 1980.1 At this meeting, Rea presented a detailed examination of some of the things he had discovered. The group invited Rea to remain in the afternoon of the second day to answer questions. Robert Olson was appointed secretary of this committee. After reviewing Rea’s evidence the Glendale group unanimously voted several recommendations to be conveyed to President Wilson and PREXAD.

Firstly, the committee expressed its “appreciation to Elder Rea for the enormous amount of work he had done,” and “gratitude to Elder Neal Wilson and PREXAD…for their readiness to consider our recommendations.” The six important recommendations that followed were voted unanimously with cool, wistful elegance, and the wording pleased Rea very much.

The recommendations included, “That we recognize that Ellen White, in her writing, used various sources more extensively than we had previously believed. In a number of her books the similarity between Ellen White and other authors is great enough to require the serious attention of our church leaders in order to determine the degree and significance of her dependence on other writers. And as soon as possible, a plan be developed for thoroughly informing our church administrators and immediate study be given to a plan for educating the church on the subject of inspiration and Ellen White’s use of sources including articles in the Adventist Review, Ministry magazine and though the Sabbath School lessons.”

They also recommended, “That the leadership of the church and the White Estate continue to educate SDA believers, workers and administrators as to the methods used by prophets to reveal God’s will to His church through the inspired writings of both scripture and the messages of Ellen G. White.”

One General Conference member on the committee spoke up and urged that they should “all agree not to cover up.” After passing these recommendations back to Washington, a month later PREXAD abolished the Glendale committee saying it had no further assignment, and was not heard from again. The literary scholars met only once.

On February 5, 1980 president Wilson called available members of the General Conference Committee to discuss the literary criticisms introduced by Rea through the Glendale committee. The minutes summarized five general items that emerged from the morning discussions that would set the strategic accommodations or theory of inspiration in the future.2 Rea handed me a list of recommendations from PREXAD. The General Conference recognized that:

(1) There had been a significant use of literary sources by Ellen White;

(2) Use of literary sources is consistent with the Seventh-day Adventist view of inspiration;

(3) The church should be informed and at the same time educated on the doctrine of inspiration;

(4) Walter T. Rea has done a considerable research but it is felt he should not be the one to communicate to the membership either the research or a view of inspiration; and

(5) General Conference members were united in their continued confidence in Ellen White as the special messenger of the Lord to the Church.

Less than two weeks later the president of Southern California Conference, Elder Harold Calkins, and a member of Glendale committee, released the following statement in the Pacific Union Recorder. “The committee did not discover dependence on other authors in the Spirit of Prophecy writings.” This was exactly opposite from what he and the others voted in Glendale.3 It was also the beginning of double-talk that would haunt Rea throughout the rest of his career as a literary authority of Ellen White’s writings. Jerry Wiley wrote to Calkins asking him to explain this false statement. Calkins did not respond.

As the Glendale Committee’s recommendations began to seep into the consciousness of Adventism, some adherents sent letters to the White Estate asking for clarification. In one query letter Olson defended his position, “I think you have somehow gotten the wrong impression of that meeting, because it took no particular courage on my part to vote the way I did. All of the votes of the committee were unanimous. There was no problem with any of the actions that were taken. When we acknowledged that Ellen White had engaged in a certain amount of literary borrowing, we were not diminishing her authority as a prophet in the least. The brethren here in the General Conference do recognize that most of our people do not understand how inspired writings were developed, not only in the case of Ellen White, but also in the case of the Bible authors.”4

From item (4 above), one could surmise that the GC brethren had accepted Rea’s unequivocal and undeniable evidence, but not Rea’s enthusiasm for educating and bringing about change in the world of inspiration for Ellen White. Once removed from his ongoing study, the stubborn pastor from Long Beach could only watch the renewing of fervor in the cultural support of previous teachings on the inspiration of the prophetess. The General Conference and White Estate began to expend greater energy in shoring up previous convictions. You can actually see the waves of resistance moving back and forth across the articles published by the church during the next five years.5 Even so, the question of the extent of her borrowings bothered many believers because they wondered how uninspired material, even fictional became inspired through borrowing. To bolster her writing habits Ellen White never explained what the Holy Spirit actually communicated to her on the topic of literary borrowing, even though son William implied she had received such communications from God.

Resisting Writing the White Lie

Rea continued to quietly add to White’s writing parallels after the Glendale Conference. He was no longer in the limelight. Bruce Weaver, a seminary student under ministerial appointment by the Arkansas/Louisiana conference, discovered an unmarked file folder on a table in the reading room in the James White Library at Andrews University. The folder contained examples of Rea’s literary criticisms of the prophetess writings. The White Estate’s foiling plans were in the folder discussing who could be trusted on Andrews University faculty to help blunt the impact of Rea’s findings. Weaver copied this file and sent it to Rea. Consequently, Rea was not surprised when Arthur L. White explain the counter evidence by headed into the wind of Rea’s arguments and began to prepare the church in the Adventist Review for what might be expected from Rea’s sourcing revelations. When it was discovered that Weaver had copied this file, he was dismissed as a graduate student and his ministerial appointment was revoked for passing the sensitive materials to Rea.6

To preempt the revelations of Rea the church rushed to publish The White Truth which was intended to defend the inspirational integrity of Ellen White. It is important to note that The White Truth (1981) was published prior to The White Lie’s appearance in 1982. This book did not mention Walter Rea by name. The author of The White Truth was an investor in Davenport.7

Embarrassed Adventists accused Rea of approaching the LA Times for the interview. The religious editor at the times John Dart told Spectrum that “the interview was not initiated or suggested by Rea.” (Vol. 11, Number 3. p. 49). Rumors had it that Rea was going to be fired. A month after the LA Times article (November, 1980) Rea was asked to meet with the local Conference Committee. Concerned, Rea offered a compromise as an attempt to keep his job. Rea assured the committee that he had not initiated the interview or supplied background information used in the interview. He agreed to work with any committee to study the matter of White’s borrowing. He agreed not to speak publicly on the subject or talk to “anyone in the peanut gallery as Elder Calkins put it.” Also, Rea agreed not to publish any book on White as long as he was employed. After Rea was fired he felt he was released from any of these stipulations. Rea’s book was written in 1982 and was first titled “Too Close to Call,” but later changed to The White Lie.8

Critics bashed Rea’s book as “grossly exaggerated.” Ministry magazine recommended those “honestly searching for the truth about Ellen White should make their way through Rea’s book, even if the journey is a little jarring at times.” Doug Morgan, historian from Columbia Union College (now Adventist University) in Washington said, we do need to at least pay attention to him. Is it possible that those who have overused or misused Mrs. White are making her of “none effect,” who have lynched the very lady they profess to adore as Rea charges?9 Some critics went so far as to say that The White Lie was written in a strident personal tone throughout the book.

Historian Jonathan Butler felt that Rea “reacts with the harshness of a man who feels not only misunderstood but abused.”10 I told Rea that maybe Butler was on to something that might had led Rea to explode against his colleagues in the ministry as “the super-salesmen of the psychic” referred quite often in The White Lie. Was there something in the way he was treated by church leadership that provoked Rea’s withering belligerence towards his friends in the ministry?11 Listening to Rea’s account after the LA Times it seemed possible that Rea was also somewhat naïve about what he had written. I told him he reminded me of someone who tipped over a beehive and then wondered why he got stung and had to run for cover.

The church was facing three tumultuous issues, of which Rea and The White Lie was only one. The other two problems were associated with Desmond Ford’s criticism of the investigative judgment and Donald Davenport’s financial scandal. Rea told me that he thought he was fixed in the stream of the ill-gotten “Ford Davenport Rea” (FDR) exposure. He sincerely came to believe that the real reason for his dismissal was his early involvement in exposing the Davenport misconducts, not his research on Ellen White’s literary dependency.

Mrs. Davenport was a member of Rea’s church and brought the “court-sealed records” of investors for Rea’s help in determining if her husband was hiding assets. Seeing the list of church investors Rea brought in Jerry Wiley and together they began to write letters to church leaders involved with Davenport seeking to embarrass them. Bringing this to light did not help Rea’s reputation at the time, especially in the letters he wrote to the General Conference president Robert Pierson and Pacific Union Conference president Walter Blehm. Rea would go to write a rough draft of The Pirates of Privilege that deals with Davenport (but not published by agreement to his sustentation restoration).

Around March of 1980, after being advised that Pacific Union College professor Dr. Fred Veltman would be assigned the continuing literary analysis of White (in The Desire of Ages Project), Rea cut back on his own literary criticism and assumed a more vigorous pastor’s role in his church. Rumors that Rea was going to be fired continued.

In a letter addressed to Rea in July, 1980 Wilson raised his own concerns about Rea’s future. “You and I have been a part of the Seventh-day Adventist ministry long enough, Walter, to know that ordination becomes a binding, sacred agreement. It indicates our full acceptance of all the vital truths and teachings of this church, including the fact that the gift of prophecy was manifested through the ministry of Ellen White, and that this is an identifying mark of the remnant church…to many it appears as though you have been carrying on activities which tear down the very things that you are supposed to build up.”12

After the LA Times article, the conference leadership decided that Rea’s research had carried him too far into labeling the denomination’s highly respected pioneer Ellen White a plagiarist. Rea was fifty-eight years old. Had he not shared his results it is likely he would have retired from the ministry under the natural order of things. As it was, Rea thought the church was punishing him because he spoke out publicly which was against the church’s wishes and opening the awareness of financial improprieties in Davenport.13 He naively thought his discoveries would launch a different Ellen White the prophet and more visible financial affairs. Eventually the leadership’s decision to discipline Rea was not because his information was incorrect or because he failed to perform his ministerial duties. The month before Rea was disciplined he told a reporter from the Chicago Tribune that he knew his firing was coming because he had “spilled the beans.” Around this time Rea became frightened because, “there have been some threats against my life.” He was reluctant to discuss the details with the reporter14 (and he did not reveal these threats to me).

Late in coming, believers had a new concern. Did it really matter that its prophetess, a self-described “messenger of God,” was a plagiarist? She had given the impression that her messages came directly from God, not paraphrased or copied from others. Wasn’t that good enough? Maybe she thought that God owned everything and she could utilize what was available for her own writings? Her grandson tried to use the most common defense; “Ellen White in actuality used very little from other authors, and it was no injury to them. There was no misrepresentation in the matter.”15 But in the end…

Rea learned that as a local pastor he was not to become influential on such matters, but a simple passenger on the voyage of life as a pastor, and only allowed to remain on board without touching the helm or handling the riggings. That task was assigned to professor Fred Veltman, someone the administration could trust. After several years of research Veltman also discovered that there was clear evidence from Ellen White’s personal handwriting that she had composed textual materials on the Desire of Ages and these handwritten materials showed that she took literary expressions from the works of other authors without giving them credit. Generally, Veltman found the closer one is able to move back through the textual tradition to White’s own hand, the greater is the degree of literary dependency. Veltman’s conclusion was that White used approximately 31 percent from outside sources in parts of The Desire of Ages. Perhaps his most important concluding remarks were these:

“How do you harmonize Ellen White’s use of sources with her statements to the contrary? 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 dependency. It strikes at the heart of her honesty, her integrity, and therefore her trustworthiness.”16

Rea could go along with that, as he was saying the same thing.

Walter T. Rea was born on July 12, 1922 and passed away August 30, 2014 leaving behind two children, a son and a daughter. He was 92 years old.

T. Joe Willey received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of California, Berkeley and taught at Loma Linda Medical School, Walla Walla College and La Sierra University. He was a fellow with Nobel Prize winner Sir John Eccles at the University of New York, Buffalo, and served as a research fellow at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA, Los Angeles.


1. Ad hoc committee members included, Ralph Thompson (Chair), Robert Olson (Secretary), Walter Blehm, Harold Calkins, Herbert Douglass, Fred Harder, William Johnsson, Harold Lance, W. R. Lesher, Donald McAdams, Jack Provonsha, Walter Rea, W. L. Richards, Ottilie Stafford, Fred Veltman, Louis Venden, John Waller, Mervyn Warren and Jerry Wiley. Also present the second day (Jan. 29), Galen Richardson, Jim Wagner, Ron Graybill and James Nix.

2. Minutes of Meeting. General Conference Committee. GC Archives. February 5, 1980. 80-31.

3. Cited from a letter from Jerry Wiley (associate dean USC Law School) to Harold Calkins March 18, 1980. “I have thought for some time about the short piece you printed in the February 11, 1980 Pacific Union Recorder, and I simply cannot harmonize the committee’s action with your statement … My memory of the meeting is in direct conflict with what you wrote in the Recorder.” Sent also to Neal Wilson.

4. Letter from Robert Olson, Secretary, EGW Estate to Eryl A. Cummings, February 21, 1980.

5. The Truth About the White Lie. Ministry Insert. August, 1982.

6. In the fall of 1978 Bruce Weaver copied a list of books in Ellen White’s library at the time of her death. He systematically purchased copies he could find in used book stores and acquired copies from the libraries and examined them for evidence of plagiarism. He left Adventism in early 1982. For fanaticism in early Adventism; see Bruce Weaver. Incident in Atkinson: The Arrest and Trial of Isreal Dammon. Adventist Currents. Vol. 3, No (1), 1988.

7. John J. Robertson. The White Truth. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publ. Assoc. 1981. 112 p. See L. A. Times. anuary 16, 1982/Part II. p. 5.

8. The New York Times stated; Walter Rea has inflamed the issues confronting the cult with incontrovertible evidence he provides in The White Lie. Time Magazine stated; The White Lie is a bombshell which has shocked the church.

9. Doug Morgan. The White Lie. College People. (Summer, 1982):32-33.

10. Jonathan Butler. Prophet or Plagiarist: A Dichotomy. Spectrum. 1982. 12(4). p. 44.

11. He was friends with Neal Wilson and Robert Olson at Pacific Union College.

12. Letter to Walter Rea from Neal Wilson. July 2, 1980.

13. Adventist Minister is Unfrocked after Calling Prophet Plagiarist. The Washington Post. Friday, December 12, 1980.

14. Ronald Yates. “Church Jolted by Plagiarism Charge.” Chicago Tribune. Sunday, November 23, 1980. p. 12.

15. John Dart. “Plagiarizing Prophets: Are Words Tainted?” Los Angeles Times. Part 2, p. 5. December 24, 1980.

16. Fred Veltman. The Desire of Ages Project. Ministry. December 1990.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

“The present “cross” of Adventists is the burden of courageously facing information that is superficially damaging to faith and to self-esteem. It is a burden that we, as Christians, must not allow a few brave souls to bear unassisted”—Douglas Hackleman, “The Cross of Christ is too heavy”. Adventist Currents, vol. 1, July, 1983, p. 3.


"Come out of her My people" sayeth the Lord "that ye be NOT partakers in her sins."

(as observed from Pres. Caulkin’s notorious ‘peanut gallery’.)


One must recountThe Neal Wilson legacy–
1.MaryKay Silver
2.Walter Rhea
3. Davenport
4.Glacier View

Now Dires Consequence abound. tZ


Here are the answers to the quiz I posted in response to Part 1 of Dr. Willey’s excellent historical account:

Who wrote the important essay chronicling the history of Seventh-day Adventist disagreement regarding thought/word inspiration and what is the title of that essay? 10 points

Alberto R. Timm–"A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844-2000). He does not offer a resolution but chronicles the history of the controversy.… His essay is a must read.

Ellen White’s view that thoughts and not words are divinely inspired anticipates an important thinker of the twentieth century. Who is that person and what subsidiary discipline of the study of hermeneutics is he the modern father of? 10 points

Ferdinand de Saussure is the father of modern linguistics. Most hermeneutical thought of the 20th century, particularly structuralism and post-structuralism, traces back to his teachings. So does most 20th century philosophy, which took a linguistic turn as a result of his teachings.

In order to show that you thoroughly understand that the words of the biblical text and the writings of Ellen White are not divinely inspired, you must be able to demonstrate that not even the words spoken and written by God are divinely inspired! If you can do this, you get 45 points.

Language is a human construct. The meaning of a word requires a study that is synchronic, not diachronic. The meaning of a word is not of divine origin but conventional. (Etymological studies provide merely the history of a word rather than the meaning of a word). The meaning of a word does not have a natural relationship to what it signifies but is arbitrary (with the rare exception of onomatopoeia). The meaning of a word is not fixed or stable. The meaning of a word is derived from its syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations with other words, which themselves do not have fixed or stable meanings. Language is not a nomenclature of signs for all things of reality. Instead, language is a system of signifiers that point not only to things but concepts more vague than things, including other signifiers. As shown by Derrida, meaning is often deferred by a chain (perhaps endless) of signifiers. Understanding of the meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or passage is not an atomistic result of knowing the meaning of the words of the sentence, paragraph, or passage. Context informs that understanding; you cannot understand the meaning of a text without understanding the context. Accordingly, the meaning of a text is not what the words say but what the author intends to say. In sum, the claim that the words of Scripture and of the writings of Ellen White are divinely inspired exaggerates the capability of words to function as determinants of meaning. Not even the words spoken or written by God are divinely inspired, because words do not possess the capability of being divinely inspired. You could switch out all of the words of Scripture and of the writings of Ellen White and replace them with different words and not affect a change in the meaning of those texts.

The prevailing view of Seventh-day Adventist theologians is a makeshift compromise that arises from Ellen White’s testimony that she would sometimes pray about what particular word to use and the Lord would answer her prayer by providing her with a word. Based on her testimony, our theologians have deduced that although in general the words of the biblical text and Ellen White’s writings are not divinely inspired, there are some apt words that are divinely inspired. Assuming that Ellen White’s testimony is true, why is this deduction of our theologians wrong? 20 points.

Ellen White prays for the right word and the Lord answers her prayer and provides her with the word. So can we conclude that although in general the words of Scripture and of her writings are not divinely inspired, there are some “apt” words? Can we concede a makeshift compromise between thought inspiration and word inspiration? No, because there is no such thing as an apt word. The word given to Ellen White by the Lord will not possess a meaning of divine origin, have a natural relation to what it signifies, have a fixed or stable meaning, point to a signified that is not also a signifier, etc. Suppose the Lord tricked Ellen White and provided an inappropriate word. Would that affect a change in the meaning of the text? No, because the text’s meaning is based on authorial intention, not words. Suppose she took a stroll to the nearest bar, ordered a club soda, and said to the bartender, “Look, this is what I am trying to say. [And she explains what she is trying to say]. What word should I use here?” The bartender suggests a word. Would that word suggested be inferior to the word that the Lord might provide in answer to her prayer? No! Again, there is no such thing as an apt word. And if there were “apt” words, what could they possibly be? This question remains unanswered.

Hans-Georg Gadamer analogizes to a Christian motif in his discussion of the verbum interius (the inner word) and parole (speech). What is that Christian motif and what is the significance of his discussion? 15 points

The Christian motif Gadamer analogizes to in his discussion of thought and word is the Father and the Son. He depicts the Father as the thought that is revealed by the Son’s incarnated word. [Gadamer as an unbeliever is not attempting to urge a theological truth with this analogy]. Many had previously thought that Gadamer advocated that thought and language are one and the same, that we think in terms of language. If this is what we do, then divinely-inspired thought would be cogitated by divinely-inspired language, as noted by Fernando L. Canale. Gadamer’s analogy together with what he told his student Jean Grondin, however, highlights that there is always a lag between thought and word. Thought and word are not the same. Because this is so, the study of hermeneutics exists. The universal claim of hermeneutics lies in the verbum interius.


One more aspect of the Rea Interview…Lying on the table in Rea’s office was Michael Shermer’s book “How We Believe.” Noticing the book, I asked Rea concerning his interest on how people came to acquire religious beliefs, and sometimes fell away, including your own? Did he know, for instance, that Shermer, while a student at Pepperdine University, was an evangelical handing out Christian literature? Following graduate education Shermer abandoning his religious beliefs to become the founder of the Skeptics Society and editor of the magazine Skeptic. Today, Shermer is religiously agnostic.

Discussing Shermer’s book provoked a lively response from Rea about his own journey from a strong believer to how he went about abandoning his earlier views. In the conversation, Rea suspected that Elder A. G. Daniells, the General Conference president, also came close to abandoning his convictions that Ellen White represented God as a messenger on the basis of plagiarism. I asked Rea how so?

He told me that in June 1907 Daniells found himself defending Ellen White’s literary practices before a group of her critics in the Battle Creek Tabernacle Church. The discussions were intense. After leaving the meeting, Daniells went home and struggled with the broadside criticism of plagiarism—taken back by the depth of the knowledge of the church members and what it meant to the church in the long run. Unable to sleep, with arguments still boiling in his head, he wrote to W. C. White (son of Ellen White), outlining his defense to the critics, and added, “I presume in thinking the matter over you have additional thoughts, and I would be very glad to have you give them to me. In fact, I think that you and Sister White should make a clean clear-cut statement with reference to this question of plagiarism. Give the exact reason why there was a failure to give proper credit to the authors quoted. I presume we all must admit that it would have been better to have given quotation marks or some other kind of credit than to have put the matter out as it was. Daniells never heard back from W. C. White or his mother. (See Robert Olson. Ellen White’s Denials. Ministry. February 1991.)

In the course of the 1919 Bible Conference Daniells expressed some of these views which resulted in his unacceptance to continue as General Conference president. I remembering saying to Rea, “as you recall as a last effort on Danells’ part before he died, he wrote the book “The Abiding Gift of Prophecy,” with the help of LeRoy Froom. So, I asked Rea, do you think you will write an exit volume on the Spirit of Prophecy like Danells? He said “no. I have much more inconvenient evidence.”


Mr. Willey, in your interaction with Mr. Rea, did he offer any proposal on EGW’s place in Adventism? And what is your view on that question? What do we do with EGW?

1 Like

There is no need to write more, as Rea said. Let the poor little lady RIP. She has become more detrimental today than a blessing, if she may have been long ago.


I enjoyed this well-written article. It prompted me to consider that perhaps the word “inspiration” might be lent more generous latitude in its application by those considering this topic. Some thoughts come to mind:

  • Is it possible that inspiration could be given to individuals who write lofty academic or other forms of insightful products as a result of their own research and assessment of borrowed materials? Surely, I am aware of personally being inspired from insights provided by others through reading Scripture, and other credible sources. If I, in turn, were to gather such inspiration and compile it into another written form, perhaps someone else could benefit from the inspiration that I believe I was fortunate to receive. Like a chain, sort of.

  • If, in my writing, I linked such inspirational insights by developing them with my own thoughts and reactions, would the end product look a little something like readily-accepted inspirational materials available in store shelves today? [Of course, present protocol requires strictly citated credits.]

  • However, what if someone believed they were given explicit direction, by God, to seek knowledge [in EGW’s case, become widely self-taught via reading], to write down what he/she believed was being impressed by inspiration? Unless given in a vision or otherwise, wouldn’t this person also be privy to being inspired through exposure to other reading sources? And what if God had specifically gifted that person with the task and endowment of “special inspiration?”

  • We may be comfortable with our own self-defining rules regarding “inspiration,” but we also are pressed to submit to God’s more creative and functional ways when we try to fit things of God into our own neat boxes of reason and speculation, and we become frustrated when, what appears to be God’s actions, do not fit our rules.

  • We might then limit ourselves with such reasoning: How can a God-inspired person borrow/share someone else’s inspiration? Doesn’t our policy say it’s stealing? So then it must not be from God? Must we insist that God must work one-on-one, or not at all, if He has designated a person for special inspiration?

I am amazed at the ominous gift of our human mind. What a sophisticated and un-earthly instrument God has created in each of us. I am very sure that instead of side-stepping His own gift of creative research and reasoning capabilities, God must be VERY pleased when we take this tool and use it to His glory – even in carrying out His tasks – like receiving and imparting direct inspiration that originates from Him.

So, in an other-worldly context, perhaps it’s okay to borrow and share inspiration. I wonder, then, how God would assign an EGW-like messenger today. Hopefully, if we would still be here 100+ years from now, this person would not be judged by today’s simple standards! Anyway, these are my thoughts.



I really cannot believe that EGW would deliberately lie (as she saw it) to “enhance” her historical writings/revelations or whatever.She gave ample evidence that she had revelatory and prophetic gifts and was inspired by the Holy Spirit as a special messenger to and founder of the SDAC. Had she been deliberately AND CUNNINGLY dishonest the Holy Spirit would have cut her down in disgraceful retribution LONG AGO. SO< what do I think happened?My opinion is she was both a FARMER and a GLEANER, and expected the Holy Spirit to lead her to originate her own words as well as use ideas from others impressed her and which she therefore deemed worthy of inclusion in her own writings. She may also have felt that the same spirit of inspiration which she experienced was also gifted to others by the Holy Spirit. and therefore formed part of an inspired millieu, so to speak. That means she considered herself both a planter(originator of ideas) and a gleaner( reaper where other sowed) Nevertheless I applaud Pastor REA for his diligent and evidential investigations into this matter. Kudos to SDA scholarship and the prophet’s revelations all round. I would have been honored to have met her.


I mentioned in the first part that Rea “accepted her pioneer role as pastoral and historic.”

You asked my own view. I am an academic, living in a world of collaboration of ideas and wisdom (words). In this world, certain sanctions outside conventional legal process are based ultimately on the violation of implied contractual duties of students and faculty to avoid plagiarism. So I suppose I am little clumsy in evaluating Ellen White. If you read Ellen White a lot you can see the progression of her skills in handling religious information as she matures.

Also, you will notice that the stigma of plagiarism for Ellen White never seems to fade, despite defensively claiming that copying and paraphrasing standards in the nineteenth-century were weak (it was still not acceptable during this period, See Richard Posner. The Little Book of Plagiarism. Pantheon Books, New York)… The reason, of course, is that Ellen White represents her work from the throne of God (on occasions enough that you cannot tell the origin of the real authority, especially when the writing deviates from sound advice or reality that can be tested. The eloquence of the argument (everyone was doing it back then) has absolutely no value from my perspective, because Ellen White beginning in the mid 1860s claimed that she was not dependent on the thoughts of others. Therefore, plagiarism is especially a heinous offense because it is embarrassingly second rate, with the threat of taking advantage of the readers and pew sitters.

Ellen White was in the business of writing for a profit, She hired as many as 15 people for her staff. She loaned money, borrowed against her writings, conducted infringement of copyright as an ethical violation by invading a property right of others. This harmed her as an author of her own writings. At some point, I can hear some of you saying, “With God’s foresight why wasn’t she warned to avoid plagiarism at all costs because it will slow the propagation of the three-angels message and thus throw off the reader from the scent.” It is very clear to me that God or the Holy Spirit does not step in and zap violators of plagiarism (otherwise, I’d probably not have many students in class). I’ve said enough, you get the picture.

I am still impressed how far Ellen White and the early church leaders were able to assemble the writings of others (when plagiarism occurred) and were able to package the ideas and advance as far as the church has, and will likely continue in the future. Ellen White despite her flaws is the major identity of the church. By now, my observation is that Ellen White plagiarism is immune to the usual high academic standards we learned to deliberate from an early age. “Different rules for different people, as they say.”

Best wishes, and thanks for reading Walter Rea’s wave-off interview. He was the kind of person you could spend many hours talking over church politics and culture. I’m still saddened by the persecution he endured unnecessarily for trying to satisfy his search for the truth of the matter.



Like shooting fish in a barrel…


EGW had a predilection to pilfer, to poach, to pirate, to plagiarize
phrases/paragraphs/passages/pages from the popular publication/periodicals of her day.

Her literary embezzlement was embarrassingly extensive and enormous.
Like many embezzlements there was a mercenary motive: the more prolific the plagiarism, the more profitable and prosperous was Ellen’s publishing empire.

The royalties from the red books, rewarded Ellen with an upscale Victorian mansion, ELMSHAVEN, in tony Napa County. While the staffing of ELMSHAVEN did not rival that of DOWNTON ABBY, her stable of “domestics” was large for a single woman living alone: a housekeeper, a cook, a chauffeur (coachman) a gardener, and her own full time dressmaker.

As extra employees, she hired an extensive entourage of literary assistants/editors/secretaries to expedite editing her plagiarism-padded scripts to keep her printing presses primed. These able assistants also augmented and amplified Ellen’s archives with their own (unattributed) additions.

While Mother Teresa lived a life of penury, poverty and privation, Ellen lived “high on the hog” and in the “lap of luxury”. She always travelled FIRST CLASS, by train coach or boat ( to Australia and Europe).

ELMSHAVEN had one of the first flush toilets in the Bay Area, achieved by building a high water tower to provide the necessary pressure. She had a penchant for delicacies, her favorite being oysters, which she shipped up from San Francisco.

Ellen also had a passion for pearls. She sat for a photograph with strands of costly pearls bedecking her black gowned bosom. This flaunting flamboyance, led “the brethren” to take action: they did not destroy the photograph, but using black ink, obliterated the offending ornaments, by blending them into the black gown background.

(All these facts about EGW’S lifestyle, will be authenticated by the White Estate).

“The brethren” have devoutly and desperately desired to deal with Ellen’s predilection for plagiarism, as deftly as they had defaced Ellen’s penchant
for pearls!

Contemptibly, just as they had camouflaged the pearls, they covered up, cloaked, concealed and clouded Ellen’s copious copying.

To her dying day, Ellen was in defiant denial of her plagiarism. Not because she had ethical concerns for her actions. She was astute enough to know, that by acknowledging "other sources " she would destroy her carefully crafted myth that her “messages” were uniquely and ONLY directly derived from the Almighty.

In an amazing self incriminating statement, she says: " The words are my own, except those said to me by ANGELS, which I place in quotation marks".


The White Estate should convene a convocation of computer professors to devise a program to evaluate the extent of Ellen’s copying. Such programs already exist to assist professors/teachers to detect their students’ plagiarism.

This august body should be assured that their pensions, salaries, medical benefits will not be maliciously revoked, should they find the evidence incriminating. Otherwise, Walter Rea’s experience would be inhibiting and intimidating to them!

They should also be promised that.their findings will see the FULL LIGHT OF DAY!

PROFESSOR KENT: Thank you! You magnificently make my point–
If in the nineteen eighties, on your visit to the WHITE ESTATE, you found they had corroborated Rea’s plagiarism findings, why have they sat on this evidence?

Why was it not immediately relayed to the Adventist laity in official church papers, — the REVIEW, the Pacific Union. RECORDER, the NPUC GLEANER?

Why was a thirteen week SABBATH SCHOOL QUARTERLEY not devoted to this stunning news?

And why have they withheld this vital information from our president Ted Wilson? The poor man continues to quote more EGW plagiarized passages than Biblical texts in his sermons/articles. He seems pathetically unaware that his “prophet” had “feet of clay”.


If I might ask, I’d like to see a compilation (dutifully referenced with context explained) of all such statements. And it should include the Great Controversy preamble (and any similar statements) for balance.

Again, where are the facts?

I believe the White Estate did this very thing–by hand–in the 1980s. I visited the estate myself in the late 1980s to discuss some issues with the staff, and was impressed with the background work they had accomplished. I was actually shown where they had compiled attributions into one of her books. I was pleased to see how frank and open they were about the evidence. Of course, I have to agree that electronic searches could potentially be more thorough and complete, so I’m all in favor of seeing them happen.

Thanks again, Joe, for your insightful articles. Having described how Walter Rea continued the research, and went so far as to send “a copy of his literary evidence to the White Estate” (from your first article), is there any possibility that his findings will one day become public? Surely he had a succinct summary of his findings.


So when it comes to 2 Kings 18-20 and Isaiah 36-38 who plagiarized from whom and is the Bible still inspired?

We take the “stealing” thing a lot further than I believe God intended. Yes, we shouldn’t steal, or pass off someone else’s work as ours, but if we take a few bars of a melody to enhance our own composition, is it really worth millions of dollars? What Ellen White did was compile the relevant ideas in other people’s works in order to create a unified whole that was her own. We do it today in sermons. Does putting it in print make it somehow different?

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It is uncredited “borrowing” of ideas that violates the copyright laws of the U.S. for “a few bars of a melody to enhance” our own composition or even unattributed ideas–not even exact quotes that are passed on as one’s own.

Because the U.S. in particular values creativity as a major contributor to the arts and growth of the economy, stealing others’ creative work without any attribution whatsoever to the creator is particularly egregious and is duly protected by law.

Just ask historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and more recently musicians who have been charged with plagiarism and copyright violation when borrowing a riff.

Often the law lags technology or ethics. How fascinating to see upright Christians argue for a technique that is both unethical and a violation of law.


Responding to a comment from me after the first installment of this revealing interview, Sean Pittman insisted that, with respect to the plagiarism charge, Ellen White was somehow in tune with the “norms” (I’m going by memory) of her times.

Let’s assume the norms were somewhat different then. Still, people questioned her on the plagiarism matter during her lifetime, and she denied that she was borrowing from others. Allowing for whatever psychological complexity may have weighed her down, she was, at the very least, self-deceived. She simply could not bring herself to tell the truth.

Church leaders, lay or otherwise, who continue to question this, or to paper it over, are, very simply, false shepherds. There is so much good in the Adventist message–the gifts of Sabbath and hope come to mind, and so do passion for health and commitment to world-wide mission–that our movement could surely stand up under the pressures of honesty. Ellen White herself would even remain as an amazing, if truly flawed, leader and spokesperson for God. But dishonesty cascading into the third and fourth generation counts as a truly terrifying threat.



Once again, parsing “inspiration” and how it operates on the individual, is from the start a misleading and even distorting approach to biblical authority. To assume that all the “thoughts” or “words” or whatever are authoritative because we can specify which writer received which “kind” of inspiration is a rabbit hole. Granted, the focus here is on hermeneutics, which is related but quite different and I do appreciate Phil’s research on this. Those of us who majored in English had to wrestle with literary theory, which, surprisingly, is a sub-discipline on hermeneutics for writers whether “inspired” or not. Do we go after their “intended” meaning (how does one get to that?), the meaning we derive from the text, the relationship of one to the other? And so on.

Clearly, it seems to me, the task is only made more difficult by injecting inspiration into the hermeneutical task. Some scriptures claim God “spoke” words to the prophets or Jesus, some claim the writer did research (Luke), some claim nothing–genealogical lists, wise sayings, songs, historical records, etc. If we begin by recognizing that much of this material has been edited over time, collected and organized at a different period than its contents review, we can avoid the pitfall of feeling we have “dissed” the Bible by not treating every thought or word as divinely “inspired.” Why not conclude that over an enormous span of human history, God has used diverse methods and persons to guide the faith-community and they, in turn, have accepted the writings that created and nurtured the community as “authoritative” for the future?

In my view, this is the theological approach being taken by evangelical scholars who are not committed to either a “verbal” or “thought” inspiration model for the Bible because neither one is adequate to account for the diversity and history of Scripture. SDA’s turned away from this approach (in my opinion) fearful of diminishing Ellen White’s inspiration (and therefore her authority), as the Rea saga so clearly illustrates. In a perverse sort of way, our need to infuse EGW with the “special” authority we believe prophets possess, has hindered our freedom to see the Bible for what it is. If we did see it properly, these constant “crises” around EGW would evaporate. If we allow EGW to have a special authority in Adventism for the same reasons the church attributed authority to the Bible (founded and nurtured the community), we would not need the gymnastics required to defend every word and thought she ever wrote or uttered as “inspired.”


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Dan, if I understand what you’re asking; you are suggesting that it is simply a misunderstanding when Ellen White said these were her own words and therefore since it’s a misunderstanding then it’s not a big deal. I’ll try to answer that question from my perspective.

  1. As explained in the article, vast amounts of material that according to Mrs. White were given to her completely through “divine inspiration” and no other source, in fact were previously written by other authors. According to Walter Rea, it was between 50% - 90% of what she wrote. According to the GC appointed researcher, the Desire of Ages at least 30% was copied from other writers.

As noted in the two parts of the article, Sister White entirely refuted the idea that this information came from other, human authors. In the first article are two passages, one in which says (paraphrased) that she would read no other material so as not to be influenced by anything other than the Divine; and the other in which she says (again paraphrased) that all of her writing was divine inspiration and if she wrote down actual words spoken by angels she did so with quotation marks.

She, her children and grandchildren specifically and categorically denied that any of her work came from human authors.

  1. This means several things. The most obvious is that it calls into question if her writings are in fact divinely inspired or not. If a prophetess claims to be speaking only the words of God and yet those same words were written by other people previously (who did not claim that they were instruments of God’s prophetic statements), then are those words really prophetic?

  2. It also means that Sister White in all likelihood lied (as noted, her estate has suggested that maybe she did read these other writers, had a photographic memory, but managed to forget that she read it, and assumed it came in visions). What does it mean if the fundamental figure in the formation of a denomination, is called into question about her truthfulness upon the very written works that the denomination was founded upon?

  3. Based on the description of the events in this article regarding the meeting in Glendale, the following decisions by the GC and then subsequent statements by church officials; the SDA church at a corporate level decided it was better to hide, obfuscate and belittle the truth; hoping (rightly so it appears) that it would get buried. Rather than forthrightly face this and acknowledge publicly the flaws. It is understandable that church leaders felt that telling the truth could destroy the church. They judged that covering up and burying a lie was the godly thing to do. Or in other words, that the growth of the denomination was better than following the 9th commandment.

(Edit): I went back and read your original post. I was replying to your second post. In it you take a sentence you made up and then point out how several of those words and phrases couldn’t possibly be your own and use this as an example that Mrs. White’s use of others writing is no big deal. The are a variety of issues with your statement.

  1. You made up a sentence to create a manufactured event. That’s not a published document. If you publish a document with at minimum 1/3rd lifted from other sources, it’s not an original work. Therefore your sentence example is not an accurate representation of what occurred.
  2. You didn’t claim that your sentence was inspired by God and a fulfillment of Biblical prophesy.
  3. You didn’t lie about your sentence and deny that any of it came from other human sources.
  4. You didn’t profit from your sentence.
  5. An entire denomination and belief structure that encompassed millions of people, who believed that this was original work, not of human origin didn’t come to fruition because of your sentence.

That is why I have a difference with your suggestion.

Thank you.