The Great Controversy Over Plagiary: The Last Interview of Walter Rea

Can we hold something in the back of our head that we are absolutely sure about, and that most of the brethren stand with us on?—can we hold those things back and be true to ourselves? And furthermore, are we safe in doing it? Is it well to let our people in general go on holding to the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies? When we do that, aren’t we preparing for a crisis that will be very serious some day? It seems to me that the best thing for us to do is to cautiously and very carefully educate our people to see just where we really should stand to be consistent Protestants, to be consistent with the Testimonies themselves, and to be consistent with what we know we must do, as intelligent men, as we have decided in these meetings.  J. N. Anderson. 1919 Bible Conference.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The premise, which seems to obtain here, that the work of true prophets cannot be derivative is at least a bit suspect. The premise that prophets should be (on the whole) honest seems unassailable.

Rea will go down in our history as a courageous and truthful writer. I thank Joe for the interview.

One question all this raises is: Can a movement founded on the leadership of such a flawed–indeed, self-deceived–person continue to flourish?

Ellen White’s moral deficits seem far less offensive to me than, say, Martin Luther’s. Compared to him, moreover, she was illiterate, and that no doubt narrowed to some degree her understanding of the craft of writing.

I admire both White and Luther for what they accomplished, despite their evident sins. Disastrously, our leaders insisted on a lie about her for the long years after 1919 (when we know the truth was beginning to dawn on them), and at the highest administrative level today the lie appears still to be the accepted orthodoxy.

I am firmly behind the basics of Adventist vision and mission. But God had better help us. Our problem with respect to Ellen White seems so confounding, and so impossible for fearful (or downright manipulative) church leaders to actually confront.



The Vatican has spent four billion covering up the pedophilia in the Catholic Church.

While not spending four billion, Adventism has spent much energy, effort, expense and excercise in trying to refute, deny, explain away, Ellen’s dishonest “borrowing” of other writers’ ideas.

Her emphatic denial that she ever used any material other than her own, except that obtained from Angels, which she then supposedly placed in quotation marks, reveals,her dishonesty.

Her children and grandchildren have been in deep denial that their ancestor had vociferously and vehemently denied any plagiarism.

More recently, new evidence has come forward, that in addition to her “borrowing”, her extensive entourage of “literatury assistants” were heavy contributors to her prolific output.

So any current reading of her vast bibliography means that any given paragraph, phrase, or page, is SUSPECT-- was it her original output, or was it plagiarized, or was it penned by one of her “secretaries”?

Given this dubious record, it still astonishes me that our esteemed leader, often has more EGW quotes in his sermons than Biblical texts!

This deeply flawed woman remains Adventism’s “Virgin Mary” positioned high on her undeserved pedestal, while all other Adventist women, like Catholic women, are decidedly SECOND CLASS CITIZENS.

Adventism owes a huge debt to Walter Rea.

His prodigious computer-like mind, his prolific memorization of reams of EGW’s writings, enabled him, in a pre-internet era, to “connect the dots”.
From being an ardent admirer, acolyte and adherent of EGW, he was able to expose her as a cheat and a charlatan.

His reward? After years of faithful pastoring and service his legally earned pension and medical benefits were revoked.
A travesty for revealing TRUTH!

Neil Wilson"s most reprehensible legacy is his muzzling of Walter Rea by insisting on no further publications in exchange for re-instituting Rea’s legal pension and medical benefits.


Luther, who changed the entire world of Christianity, was a church lawer, a doctor of the church’s universities. Ellen cannot begin to be compared with Luther in his broad scope of Christian knowledge. It is egregious to compare them in the same category. She was very poorly educated, her own writing had to be rewritten by her assistants for spelling, and grammatical errors, as well as factual inaccuracies.

The church has, and will continue to pay the price for its refusal to honestly inform the church of the findings of the 1919 Bible Conference nearly 100 years ago. “Honesty is always the best policy” and should never take second place to “protecting the church.”


We observe once again that Seventh-day Adventists have been handicapped by their woeful ignorance of hermeneutics. The meaning of a text is not what the words say but what the author intends to say. (This is not dogma and there is more that can be said, but this baby step is a good place to start). We can rest assured that the words Ellen White and the biblical authors chose to express divinely-inspired thoughts are irrelevant.

It is elementary that the biblical text and the writings of Ellen White are historically conditioned. God is not the sole cause of those texts. That there may be other causes, such as other writings, is not problematic in the least.

On another website, there is a discussion whether inspiration acts upon words rather than thoughts. In this limited area where hermeneutics and inspiration overlap, I posted a comment which is a quiz. If you can answer the following questions, particularly questions 2-5, then you will in all probability find that this issue regarding Ellen White’s plagiarism is much ado about nothing:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

it really is a pity that egw resorted to unattributed borrowing in her writing…whatever benefit she thought she gained by doing so has been far outweighed by the damage her reputation has sustained, particularly in retrospect…no doubt many simply cannot be blessed by her ministry at this point…the efforts she did make to essentially confess her unattributed borrowing towards the end of her career, e.g., the intro to the 1911 version of Great Controversy, will satisfy her ardent followers - me, for instance - but many, perhaps a majority, will likely not believe her rationale for unattributed borrowing…all of this is of course compounded by the fact that plagiarism is such a no-no in our time…

despite fall-out, however, i think it’s good when all of this is aired in the church as much as possible through articles such as the joe willey one here (i’m interested to read the sequel)…perhaps the review can also feature egw’s plagiarism, and what it means…or perhaps a sabbath school quarterly can be devoted to inspiration - what it looks like, and how it has been expressed in the cases of bible writers and egw…a correct understanding of what inspiration is, and what it isn’t, can only benefit the faith of those who choose to cultivate it…and choosing to cultivate faith, despite the understandable reasons to not do so, is probably the name of the game at this point…

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This article illustrates fully a serious need in the SDA church. I was middle aged before I heard of the idea of spiritual balancing. Spiritual balancing is a discipline. It is not a truth.

The concept of spiritual balancing cannot be fully explained in a brief response to an article. There are several dimensions to the idea as well as processes that the person engages.

In very brief, the church has not engaged in spiritual balancing on any question of inspiration. Alden Thompson is a close friend. He has made good efforts to help us understand inspiration. However, in all of his writing about inspiration, he does deal with inspiration as a process that requires balancing on our parts.

On the question of Ellen White’s inspiration, I find even less balancing work being done. All see the issue from the perspective of truth. Bluntly, ideas about the truth need not apply when it comes to questions about inspiration.

I would like all to consider carefully their own thoughts and think about spiritual balancing. Balancing on many questions. Especially balancing on questions of Ellen White’s inspiration.


Well said Jeremy. If the church could get it straight on what inspiration is and how it works, we would not have a women’s ordination problem. In fact there is no women’s ordination problem, that is just a symptom of the bigger problem of a distorted concept of the inspiration of the Bible (and EGW)


I totally applaud Dr Rea and others who have worked to expose Mrs White’s plagiarist episodes , as it were. However, as of now I have no less regard for the lady than formerly. In fact for one who suffered such massive head injury and was further handicapped by lack of access to higher education, My opinion is she did a remarkable job of instruction overall for the SDA Church. One of our drawbacks in my opinion is that we tend to regard many things of a so-called spiritual nature or acts carried out by spiritual avatars as “inerrant”. Not even God was inerrant to be truthful if we recall a Biblical statement to the effect that he regretted creating mankind. Jesus was not inerrant , if we regard his getting into a rage and violently beating those who were selling tribal tokens in the Temple premises to raise money for the establishment of a worldwide conquest by a Jewish military and concomitant spread of Judaism as started by Herod with missionaries teaching cells of believers in ther Jewish diaspora. Many other examples come to mind , such as the fact that there was never a duel between David and Goliath(a story retroactively attributed to trhe king for his military services to the nation, such as conquering the Jebusites and seizing Jerusalem from their control.) “Inerrancy” can lead modern mankind to believe in a UNIVERSE “created” in 144 hours. IF the lady was deliberately trying to deceive, knowing full well that she was being dishonest deliberately even given the lax copyright laws of the time then that is another matter and would be a blemish on her character, raising doubt as to inspiration by God himself as claimed. But my opinion is she is no more culpable than many authors of Bible books. Imagine that one of the most revered of Bible authors (David, we are told) sought tyo rape a virgin on his death bed, assisted by courtiers and helpers. He still did not succeed but the girl must have been frightened out of her wits.I have heard about the WHITE LIES before now and even read excerpts from the great and scholarly research done by Dr Rea. I await part two of this fascinating article with great interest.


In the comments I am reading, I see a great deal of cognitive dissonance. Even those critical of EGW’s behavior seem to have a desire to reduce the dissonance in a variety of ways. Why can’t we just be honest and admit we have been lied to. I guess few of us are willing to accept the consequences of being honest about the whole thing. I can’t get past the idea there is such a thing as right and wrong.


Walter Rhea did a great service at great personal cost. The supposed seminal work of Ellen. White is Great Controversy. The final chapters form the theological nonsense of Fundamental Adventism. From beginning until the end, our prayer is the same as the thief on the Cross. As we have. Breath we. Proclaim His Righteousness. Not ours. He is ur Advocate, we are Hs children. We are obedient as sons and daughters. Christ is Lord, Praise God for His unspeakable Gift of Grace. TZ


Once again, if we allow ourselves to found biblical authority on evidences or proof of divine inspiration for specific books, texts and authors, we will not be consistent. As Herold Weiss and Edward Vick (and many others both inside and outside Adventism) have pointed out, the authority of Scripture flows out of the present believer’s conviction that the biblical corpus as a whole, including its diversity of creation and “errors” if you wish, gets its authority from the fact that the early Christian community saw these materials as foundational and authoritative for its existence and life going forward. Evidence of its wisdom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit may be seen in its remarkable longevity and guidance for the church these 1700 years or so. Whether specific words or authors were “inspired” in the strict sense was irrelevant.

With Ellen White: Why can’t we reasons similarly? The SDA church sees her as a founding and continuing authority not because every word she wrote was sent by God or superintended by God directly, but because under the Spirit she guided us in so many ways that resulted in our flourishing physically and spiritually.


If you use another person’s words, you’re intentionally using their thoughts. Thoughts are expressed in words. This is why plagiarism is a crime. The Bible may contain literary mistakes which are normal human errors.


This is one of the most thoughtful and thorough articles on the topic of Walter Rea’s writings//compilations on Ellen G. White that I have had the privilege of reading. As a pre-teenager and teenager, I would hear individuals at church quoting Mrs. White on a specific topic. It would usually start out something like “Mrs. White says…” Rarely, at that age or older, would I hear “My understanding of what the Bible says in (quotes verses) is …” Thus, much time and effort was spent studying Mrs. White’s writings, rather than prayerfully reading and studying the Bible to understand what God wanted in our lives.

Walter Rea’s compilations of Ellen G. White’s writings were available at the camp meetings I would attend, usually at the camp meetings at Soquel. Thus it was a “shock” to me when Pastor Rea was the individual who was responsible for suggesting/documenting the copying of other individuals’ works as Mrs. White’s own when it had been stated that it was the influence of the Holy Spirit who gave her so much insight.

I have not had the opportunity of hearing pastors trying to reconcile the previous view of Mrs. White having original writings with the demonstrated view that she “copied” the works of other people. I still, from the podium and from evangelistic groups, see her quoted in their literature.

The times described in this article were difficult for the Adventist church as mentioned in this fine article.

As has been mentioned in some of the above comments, it was “mean” for the church hierarchy to withhold the earned retirement and health benefits due Pastor Rea.


Walter Rea lost his retirement and health benefits? How is that legal much less ethical?


The most crucial question isn’t the borrowing itself, it is the blatant dishonesty about it, as perpetuated by EGW herself, her contemporaries, and the church organization for close to a century after her death.

This strikes at the heart of her claims as a messenger of the Lord. While Luther and Calvin had major character issues, and were intolerant (and in the case of Calvin even violent), bigots, and while David, Peter, Paul, and a host of biblical writers were also men with some deep issues, none of them made the consistent claims that Mrs. White did concerning their inspiration, especially in the face of a mountain of contrary evidence.

She claimed direct communication from God as the sole source of her inspiration and output, with no dependence on human sources. This was a blatant fabrication. As Fred Veltmann said, it calls her ethical credibility entirely into question. It does the same to the credibility of her calling and prophetic authority.

Additionally, Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority is derived from the traditional attribution of it by the Morman community. Would we say that such a derivative source makes him truly a prophet of God? If not, why not? Are there sufficient problems surrounding his ministry and work to refute that claim? If so, then why should derivative authority be sufficient for EGW, especially in light of such blatant dishonesty on so many levels about the very nature of her literary output and inspiration?

Cognitive dissonance indeed seems to be the phrase of the day when it comes to her ongoing place and role in Adventism, as seen in our denominational literature, administration, and even some of the comments in this section.




Attributing longevity to divine guidance is misguided at best, and demonstrably delusional, in the worst case. Are we to assume that evil must be God’s Will simply because it refuses to fade into history?

Further, and to answer what was probably intended as a rhetorical question, the reason one need not accept EGW–or any supposedly inspired text–as being inherently good simply because of the resultant benefits is due to the opposite and deleterious effects these writings have had on people’s live for hundreds and thousands of years.

As we have been seen, words are a two-edged sword that can be used for either good or evil, as is evidenced by the various and divergent employments of the works of EGW, LRH, LDS, KJV, ad infinitum.

Thanks, @c_scriven.

You said:

[quote=“c_scriven, post:2, topic:12672”]The premise, which seems to obtain here, that the work of true prophets cannot be derivative is at least a bit suspect. The premise that prophets should be (on the whole) honest seems unassailable.

In fact, the premise, which seems to obtain here, is that:

a) Prophets must be on the whole honest, because, in fact, there is no other kind of truthfulness. This seems unassailable.


b) The work of true, godly prophets cannot be 50%-90% derivative, any more than the work of true pastors, college professors, journalists, mechanical engineers, ambassadors, rappers, First Ladies elect, hedge fund managers, comedians, or even drug dealers.

Members of all these groups will admit to having been influenced, especially the most successful ones. But any who even concede to having bitten 30% of their output/content would be considered poor exemplars—in effect, bad witnesses—and tossed out of the brotherhood. Also, in at least one of the above fraternities, this ejection would be accompanied by a 9mm bullet.

And, yes: God had better help us.



I enjoyed this article greatly. I am looking forward to the second part. EGW and how the church has fashioned her image is a continuing horrifying fascination to me. The SDA Church unwillingness to deal with this issue is like a poison in the church body. The truth is the only antidote otherwise it cannot hope to survive. But I cannot ever see the church coming clean about EGW. I still talk to intelligent SDA members who still are vehement about the inerrant nature of her writings. I think there is a awful reckoning coming sooner rather than later.


I think I remember reading an article in the Review many years ago that Ellen White used many things from others in her articles that were good points but that she did not use things that were not good or useful. But I do not see that mentioned in this article or the comments. In other words, she was selective in what she used and she only used things that were beneficial to the reader. It seems like that should be given some consideration.

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