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


White Lie Soap

“ I have read the entire manuscript. You have done a fine job.” —Walter T. Rea, author of The White Lie –

(Cfowler) #30

But will it be called plagiarism by Jeremy?

Seems the term unattributed borrowing has a nicer sound.

Plagiarism sounds so illegal and unethical.:wink:

(Steve Mga) #31

Unattributed borrowing –
Isn’t this what a lot of High School and College kids say when they turn in Research Term Papers???
Or, “Paraphrase” a lot.

(T Joe Willey) #32

You are correct and justified…one of the defenses used by the White Estates is that….“She (Ellen White) was told that in the reading of religious books and journals, she would find precious gems of truth expressed in acceptable language, and that she would be given help from heaven to recognize these and to separate them from the rubbish of error with which she would sometimes find them associated.” (Ellen G. White Estate, Brief Statements Regarding the Writings of Ellen G. White (St. Helena, Calif.: White Estate, 1933; reprinted., Washington, D.C.: White Estate, 1981, p. 6.)

This statement breaks down on a few occasions…I will give you two examples to show where this explanation collapses.

One of the first booklets used to show that Mrs. White’s (received) help from heaven was at best misleading is found in her first book on health titled “An Appeal to Mothers. 1864” Here is a quote from the book. you should immediately see the problems with the passage.

“If the practice [masturbation] is continued from the age of fifteen and upward, nature will protest against the abuse she has suffered, and continues to suffer, and will make them pay the penalty for the transgression of her laws, especially from the ages of thirty to forty-five, by numerous pains in the system, and various diseases, such as affection of the liver and lungs, neuralgia, rheumatism, affection of the spine, diseased kidney and cancerous humors. Some of nature’s fine machinery gives way, leaving a heavier task for the remaining to perform, which disorders nature’s fine arrangement, and there is often a sudden breaking down of the constitution; and death is the result.” (see Ronald L. Numbers. Prophetess of Health for greater analysis of this booklet.)

Moving over to the Great Controversy, a study published in Spectrum Autumn 1970 by
William S. Peterson; titled “A Textual and Historical Study of Ellen White’s French Revolution” reveals a specific problem in The Great Controversy in sourcing this chapter. I quote from Peterson (the article has great detail of the problems found in this part of the Great Controversy).

“Sir Walter Scott, upon whom, more than any other historian (judging by frequency and length of the citations used in this chapter in the Great Controversy) Mrs. White leaned heavily in this chapter, (Scott) was not primarily a historian, of course, but rather the author of enormously popular historical novels. The biography of Napoleon was undertaken during the final years of Scott’s life in order to offset large debts, and accordingly it was written in great haste and with a minimum of accuracy. In a one-year period Scott was able to produce massive nine-volume works, thereby earning for himself 18,000 pounds. His secretary, an inexperience young man described how he and Scott both wrote for 23 hours per day in the latter’s library, even eating meals at their desks to save time. Occasionally Scotts writing hand would tire, and he would then dictate rapidly to his companion, hardly interrupting the flow of words as he plucked various books from the shelves.
The resulting biography, marred by both careless research and Scott’s strong Tory bias, was very poorly received by reviewers…” There are many other examples given by Peterson.

Scott is what entered the Great Controversy…. If you search around you can find many more similar weaknesses in the (unreliable) sources used by Ellen White in her gathering of information. Spectrum is a good source of the scholarship that is being applied to the issues you raise. Nearly all the science and geology found in Spiritual Gifts involving earthquakes, volcanoes, and coal are in error by today’s knowledge. Amalgamation of man and beast (another example) is derived from a false idea that varieties of mankind or human races are an amalgamation of man and beast, implying sexual union between humans and animals. There is of course, much of the work drawn by Ellen White and her assistants in her writings that is accurate, secure and beneficial. Best to you!

(Daniel Livingston) #33

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The Great Controversy Over Plagiary: The Last Interview of Walter Rea (Part Two)
The Great Controversy Over Plagiary: The Last Interview of Walter Rea (Part Two)
(Michael Wortman) #34

I’m just impressed that you used the word “portmanteau” in a sentence about the topic. :slight_smile:

(Frank Peacham) #35

The Lutheran church has survived with a flawed Luther and the Mormons have prospered with polygamist Smith. So why can’t the SDA church likewise survive with a plagiarist EGW?

I am not as concerned with EGW’s plagiarism. I am under the opinion she was pressured by the R&H leadership to produce print for church growth. To keep up her image. I don’t know of a single religious leader that is not concerned about their image. I think her conscience was unaffected by this, as Luther’s was in his condemnation of the Jews, as was Joseph Smith was in his secret marriage so teen girls.

What concerns me is that as nearly all of our church members have uniformity moved far away from the “inspirited” advice of EGW. This topples her “inspiration” claim. Consider her comments (just to name a few) on the harmfulness of reading “fiction,” or placing “coffee” and green or black “tea” on the list of “sins.” Who would preach this from the pulpit today?

(Robert Sonter) #36

Very true. But you didn’t mention the most “cringe worthy” of Ellen White-esque sins: Secret vice :slight_smile:

(Allen Shepherd) #38

What to say.

I remember picking up Rea’s book and reading it for the first time. I have said this before. It was full of bitterness. I did not understand the reason for the bitterness at the time, but the book was saturated with it. He has mellowed, but I sense it brewing still.

I read a few pages and put it down. I did not need to absorb any more of such feelings as I already had, so felt it not useful to continue. EGW says something about dwelling on the empty husks of other’s failures, and I think this discussion might be a case of doing just that. I think the evidence she was inspired is pretty good, though clearly she was not a perfect individual. She never claimed it, and frequently recommended the Bible to others, not a bad practice for so faulty an Individual.

So, I read her still to my and the church’s benefit. And I would recommend the same to the rest of you. But you’ve got the goods, so I doubt such a suggestion is helpful. Best to you all.

(Darrel Lindensmith) #41

Steve, I do believe it was very wrong to ordain
Ellen as a Prophet. Messenger was accurate!
We do need jettison Solumn Appeal like nonsense that we know is nutty. Of which, LGT is the most dangerous to the spiritual health of members, but few are willing to outright teach the Gospel and openly declare the “stand without a mediator” teaching to be wrong!
Sadly, it is possible that many ministers do not themselves understand the Gospel clearly enough to recognize the unbiblical danger of LGT!

(Sirje) #43

We spend inordinate amount of time parsing words about Ellen White - did she steal someone else’s words; did she copy only thoughts; did God lead her to steal what she stole … If we have to dissect Ellen White’s writings in order to keep her on the pedestel we have placed her upon, it may be time to stop quoting her as if she wrote subsequent books of Scripture. She had every right to say whatever she wanted; it’s up to us to place value upon her words, as we do on anybody else’s. It’s only denominational arrogance that insists on making her writings the final word on the interpretation of Scripture.

If Ellen White wrote something of value, whether from her own thoughts or someone else’s - take it to heart, but without the fanfare that accompanies her work as some kind of proof that the SDA church stands head and shoulders above others, just like other denominations point to “speaking in tongues” as that proof. It would prevent a lot of ridiculous attitudes and behaviour because someone has made EGW’s nineteenth century comments a hallmark of their lives. If anyone wants to hide themselves in the mountains, eating two meals a day, and not mixing sugar with milk on their granola - no problem; but let’s not make those kinds musings a point of controversy throwing conflicting comments at each other while appealing to her stand in the church as its spoke’s person.

Having said that, there is a point at which our definition of Ellen White becomes critical. Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide us, gives each individual the responsibility to be open to that Spirit - not to someone else’s idea of that Spirit. We can’t elevate any human being to be the Spirit’s mouthpiece. We don’t get to initiate that coronation. We can not place on Ellen White, another human being, the responsibility for our spirituality. It’s too much to ask of Ellen White; and its an abrogation of our own responsibility toward ourselves. No other person has that kind of power over us as individuals. We stand alone in front of that judgement seat, how ever we define or picture it.

(Caddy) #45

Couldn’t agree with you more, Sirge.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21Living Bible (TLB)

19 Do not smother the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at those who prophesy, 21 but test everything that is said to be sure it is true, and if it is, then accept it.

(Jeffrey Kent) #48

Terrific work by Joe, as usual. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together!

Personally, I will continue to read Ms. White’s writings, and I will be blessed in doing so. Regardless of the source of her information, I very much appreciate most of what she shares (apart from the occasional nonsense, like volcanoes and self-abuse; I never bought into the verbal inspiration line).


The sad part is that we are not placing anything on EGW, She makes the claims. She goes so far as to say it is either all from God or all from the Devil. Her logic is flawed but it is still her claim. The Adventist church did not make the claims of her prophetic gift before EGW made them. They accepted them and that is the real problem here!

(Sean Pitman) #53

Most here don’t seem to believe that it was common practice for writers in general, living in the 18th and 19th centuries, to use the works of others without citation. What is the evidence that what Mrs. White did was the norm in her day? There is abundant evidence. Veltman himself points out the commonality of this practice during Mrs. White’s day:

"A writer can only be legitimately charged with plagiarism when that writer's literary methods contravene the established practices of the general community of writers producing works of the same literary genre within a comparable cultural context. In the process of doing our research we found that Ellen White's sources had previously used each other in the same way that she later used them. At times the parallels between the sources were so strong that we had difficulty deciding which one Ellen White was using." ([Link](
Notice in this passage that Veltman says that he discovered that the authors or "sources" that Mrs. White used were themselves using other authors without citation in the very same manner than Mrs. White used their works. In fact, the uncited parallels between many of these other works were so strong that it was difficult to know which one Mrs. White had actually used - since several were saying the very same thing in the very same words without citation.

The famous Charles Wesley, founder of Methodism, argued in a very similar manner as Mrs. White as to his own literary practice of “plagiarism”:

"It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon further consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point of view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value." - _Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament_ ([Link](
By the 1700s, concern about plagiarism had changed little. According to Albert C. Outler, John Wesley’s publication of an abridgement of another’s work was seen by Wesley and his eighteenth century colleagues as a form of endorsement, not plagiarism. ([Link]( William Charvat describes the 1840s as an era of “wholesale scissoring.” “The American weeklies stole from both the French and the English. The English, in their turn, stole from the French and the Americans.” ([Link](

As far as the legalities and ethical standard of her day from the perspective of a contemporary copyright attorney, consider the following:

Drone, in his work on Copyright (page 385), says:

"The true test of piracy, then, is not whether a composition is copied in the same language or the exact words of the original, but whether, in substance, it is reproduced; not whether the whole, but whether a material part, is taken." " author may resort with full liberty to the common sources of information, and make use of the common materials open to all. But his work must be the result of his own independent labor. ... A copyright gives no exclusive property in the ideas of an author. These are public property, and any one may use them as such."...

And on page 427 he [Drone] says further:

“But there is nothing in the law of copyright to prevent any person who has obtained common materials from the original sources from using them in substantially the same manner, and for the same purpose, as they have been previously used, provided the arrangement is his own, and is not servilely copied from the work of another. Two authors, writing on the same subject, citing the same authorities, and taking the same illustrations and quotations from common sources, will naturally use such common materials for like purposes and in a similar manner. As far as citations of authorities, quotations, etc., are concerned, there may be a striking resemblance, amounting in some instances to substantial identity. This, however, does not amount to piracy, unless it appears that there has been servile copying from the preceding work.”

  • SIMMS v. STANTON et al. (two cases), Circuit Court, N.D. California, 75 F. 6; 1896 U.S. App. LEXIS 2752 (June 25, 1896)

This seems a very fit description of what Mrs. White did with the authors that she “plagiarized” in a very selective manner where she molded some of their words and ideas into a new work that was in fact uniquely her own.

So, how then can anyone hold Mrs. White to a modern standard of writing that is very much different compared to what her own time and place required? - or viewed as perfectly ethical? Certainly it would seem to be wrong to charge her with some kind of moral deficiency here if, in her own understanding and the general understanding of those around her, she was acting perfectly in line with common practice - and was also in line with what the Biblical authors also commonly did in both the Old and New Testaments (extensively quote or paraphrase without citation). Given everything else in support of Mrs. White’s claim to privileged communications, on occasion, with God, I fail to see why so much weight is given to the fact that she often borrowed passages (with an overall average of 2% of her works at large and up to 30% in one volume - the Desire of Ages; Link) from other authors without citation according to the norms of the times in which she lived? I’m sorry, but I just personally don’t see this as a significant issue.

Again, I agree with Veltman’s conclusion that Mrs. White, though certainly human and subject to error, was also inspired by God on occasion in a very privileged manner and that “she was not guilty [of plagiarism]” by the standards of her own day or in any way ethically deficient in the way she used the works of others. The inspiration was in how she chose what to use and not to use and how she merged many carefully selected concepts and ideas into a unique whole that, for me at least, strongly directs the minds of her readers to reconsider the Bible in a new and beautiful light.


The biggest issue with Ellen White and the “White Lie” is her claim not to have relied on other materials. My impression from reading Rea’s book is that the title came about because Rea perceived the denomination had told a “white lie” about Ellen White. My copy of Number’s “Prophetess of Health” is decorated with colorful page markers. Number’s scholarship shows that she said—in some instances__that she had not read other sources, even though careful historical exploration shows otherwise. For example, there would be other letters or speeches in which she referred to a certain author. Then later, after she wrote advice and admonitions, she would deny being influenced by that author.

Part two of this essay by Dr. Willey ends this way:
“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.” This quote is lifted from Veltman’s article in a 1980 issue of Ministry magazine.

Yes, Ellen White can be a blessing. She still is to me. But, I see her as very flawed. I grieve that the church has not taken efforts to be totally transparent about her flaws. Vilification of Rea is not helpful. I see too many people join our denomination—then leave—as they feel like the SDA organization has not been honest and forthright about Ellen White.

(SurprisedByGrace) #72

The greatest flaw in this entire debate is what set us up for having this debate in the first place: the burying of findings in the 1919 bible conference. At that time the church decided to perpetrate a false sense of EGW’s inspiration and how it worked. They weren’t bold enough, honest enough, to wrestle with this significant issue and thus covered it up. This allowed a couple of generations of faithful, trusting Adventists to adopt an unhealthy, and unrealistic view of EGW’s inspiration. It resulted, too, in “verbal” abuses that led to legalistic mindsets by the 1950’s. Now compound that with the 1980’s church pushing Rea aside, reinterpreting his findings, and perpetuating the lie that had been started in 1919. You have what you have: many, many SDA’s who have no regard for her ministry anymore and a constant clash between EGW quotes verses solid biblical research and study. Sadly, it isn’t getting any better.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #73

Regarding claims that the ethical and legal standards of EGW’s time were so different from today’s as not to be legitimate concerns:

General Conference president A. G. Daniells at the 1919 Bible Conference: "Now you know something about that little book, Life of Paul. You know the difficulty we got into about that. We could never claim inspiration in the whole thought and make up of the book, because it has been thrown aside because it was badly put together. Credits were not given to the proper authorities, and some of that crept into The Great Controversy -- the lack of credits; and in the revision of that book those things were carefully run down and made right. ...

"Yes; and now take that Life of Paul, – I suppose you all know about it and knew what claims were put up against her, charges made of plagiarism, even by the authors of the book, Conybeare and Howson, and were liable to make the denomination trouble because there was so much of their book put into The Life of Paul without any credit or quotation marks. Some people of strict logic might fly the track on that ground, but I am not built that way. I found it out, and I read it with Brother Palmer when he found it, and we got Conybeare and Howson, and we got Wylie’s History of the Reformation, and we read word for word, page after page, and no quotations, no credit, and really I did not know the difference until I began to compare them. I supposed it was Sister White’s own work. …

"There I saw the manifestation of the human in these writings.

“I wished a different course had been taken in the compilation of the books. If proper care had been exercised, it would have saved a lot of people from being thrown off the track.”

1/14 edit:
(I had a reply from @kjames that has disappeared perhaps because of the one-comment rule. Since I’d started my response, the system saved it, and I’m using the opportunity to add some relevant evidence.)

Plagiarism was understood:

  1. Daniels used the word for problems raised decades in the past: our existing “Sketches from the Life of Paul” was published in 1883.
  2. Earlier still, in 1864 the brethren published in the R&H an item titled “Plagiarism” accusing someone of stealing material from Annie Smith:
    “Plagiarism” “is a word that is used to signify ‘literary theft,’ or the taking the productions of another and passing them off as one’s own… We are perfectly willing that pieces from the Review, or any of our books should be published to any extent, and all we ask is, that simple justice be done us, by due credit being given.” September 6, 1864

So I understand why the integrity question remains. I very much agree on the overarching issue and why it continues problematic. The church has taught that EGW’s writing was inspired, unique, and heaven-verified truth. For example:

"The writer of this book, having received especial help from the Spirit of God, is able to throw light upon the teachings of Paul and their application to our own time, as no other authors are prepared to do. She has not suffered herself to be drawn aside to discuss theories, or to indulge in speculation. No extraneous matter is introduced. Consequently much that is contained in other books, which is interesting to the curious, and has a certain value, but which is after all little more than theory, finds no place in this work." Publishers 'Sketches of the Life of Paul' (1883)

(George Tichy) #74

And we owe it all to @aage_rendalen for un-burying a copy of those reports when he was a student at AU. He found it in the University’s library, then made some copies (50?) and distributed them out on campus. That was a major bomb that the Church leaders didn’t expect or welcome. But Aage should always be proud of what he did!

I can only guess what Aage was told by the administration…

(Pagophilus) #75

On subjects like these it is best to be shown, side-by-side the examples of the so-called plagiarism rather than to talk about it. Then we can see for ourselves. Example:

On the subject of Bible translations many people argue about which manuscript says what and then draw conclusions. The average reader, and even the average scholar then assumes that all manuscripts are equal and can be led one way or another in their inquiries, and form opinions on why certain manuscripts have this wording rather than that one. But in these discussions nobody shows the manuscripts themselves. If they did they would likely undermine their whole premise.

For if we were shown photographs or facsimile copies of Codex Sinaiticus, for example, one would see the “wonderful snow-white pages” being turned by scholars, amazingly preserved from the 4th century where they should be so brittle that they should be stored behind glass never to be touched by human hands again. One would see text that goes around the wormhole, or that avoids the wormhole, rather than the wormhole going through the text (which came first - the chicken or the egg?), One would see immaculate pages followed by damaged, washed out pages, one after another in sequence. One would see the pages kept at the university in Leipzig being white and well-preserved, and the pages from the British Museum being tattered, yellowed, severely “aged”. Sometimes it’s adjacent pages. Why is one so well-preserved and the other so badly preserved? And one would see (the smoking gun) the end of the book of Revelation followed on the same leaf, by the same handwriting, by the Epistle of Barnabas, though written in “modern” (19th century) Greek, containing grammatical forms and tenses never used in Biblical Greek. The manuscript also contains the Shepherd of Hermas, with exactly the same problem, modern Greek in a 4th century manuscript, agreeing virtually word-for-word with Constantine Simonides’ Greek translation of it. Essentially, if people were shown this, they would see Sinaiticus as an 19th century forgery and this would bring and end to the discussion.

Likewise in the case of Ellen White, let us be shown, not described, but SHOWN, clear examples of the supposed plagiarism. Then, only then, can one make an informed decision.

No, I haven’t read The White Lie.