Toward a Factual Concept of Inspiration

In 1978, due to mounting evidence raising questions about the sourcing of his grandmother’s writings, Arthur White updated his 1966 paper “Toward a Factual Concept of Inspiration.” The expanded 58 page version, “Toward a Factual Concept of Inspiration II,” was released the same year of his resignation after forty-one years leading the Ellen G. White Estate. The paper made the case that the writings of Ellen G. White were based on visions and dreams inspired by the Holy Spirit. But the main sources cited on how inspiration works came from Arthur White's grandmother and her son—his father. The fact that she took her history from Protestant historians was brushed aside. As for errors, he conceded that there might be a few, but asserted that they were insignificant details.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Quote: “The church needs a factual concept of inspiration, but at present, it does not have one.”

Whole-heartedly agree. My way of expressing this is that we need an alternative narrative. The church has formally adopted positions that White’s writings are the definitive interpreter of scripture. The church formally continues a deeply flawed narrative about White. We desperately need an alternative.


And neither does the monkey in the middle:

The manner in which EGW presented information she had received from any number of earthly sources as if it had been obtained from some supernatural entity is obviously fraudulent on its face, to anyone other than a SDA sycophant.

The chances that the church leadership is unaware of this behavior are precisely the same as the odds that the GC or her Estate will ever admit to the “long con” the denomination has been running on it members since the middle of the 1800’s.


SDAs have historically struggled with and largely failed at understanding inspiration, as shown by Alberto Timm in his excellent essays.

What is embarrassing is that SDAs have formally identified only one person in the last two thousand years as being inspired. The failure to understand and acknowledge that others may also have been inspired suggests that SDAs know very little about what inspiration actually is.

There are at least four different theories Christians have set forth to explain inner-biblical exegesis. SDA theologians have been largely absent from that discussion.

What hinders SDA understanding of inspiration is misunderstanding of the biblical text and the writings of Ellen White because of a failure and refusal to learn hermeneutics. It is doubtful that learning hermeneutics is going to become popular in our faith community any time soon.

Requisite to understanding inspiration is a revisiting of the history of Protestant Reformation thought. As knee-jerk Protestants, SDAs are not sufficiently aware of the subtleties of the issues and the valid arguments made on the other side to fashion a cogent teaching about inspiration.

If Timm were to live another 50 years, he could write another essay that supplements his chronicles about the futility of our faith community’s understanding of inspiration.

We seem to have three camps in Adventism:

  1. Those who continue to hold her writings as a kind of 2nd Scripture for Adventists.

  2. Those who are convinced that she was a false prophet, with some being in the Steve Dailey camp that she was a deliberate con artist.

  3. The rest of us who kind of don’t know what to do with her writings.

For the first two groups it seems likely that nothing would sway them like hardcore Trump and Biden supporters. For the rest of us, it would be nice to have more rational clarity of thought on how to address the EGW problem.

It is really hard because for many of us because we found tremendous blessing and encourgement in what she has written… often a better understanding of Jesus, the plan of salvation and even grace.

But we have also been beaten up when her writings were used as a kind of compliance tool.

Perhaps part of the resolution is to realize that our parents were always committed to out best interests, and sometimes / most of the time for most of us did an amazing job of helping us and inspiring us.

But there were other times when they were harsh and unreasonable… as we were with our own children. In otherwords they were human and EGW was human.

I guess what is even more difficult is that we have few people who care a lot about her writings, hating or loving. When I look around my church and many Adventists I know, I am simply not sure they care that much.

Which makes me spend a lot of time wondering what are those things that are really important to being a Christian and a SDA Christian.

In the grip of grace

Steve Moran


This statement seems to me to be a key question to be answered for the development of a concept of inspiration: Why should an omnipotent God have no other choice to communicate with us humans?

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I can only think of two explanations.

Either god doesn’t have the power to prevent anyone from making self-serving or contradictory things about him, her or it.

Or god doesn’t exist.

In either is the case, the promises and pontifications of self-proclaimed prophets are necessarily seen in a very unfavorable light.


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“Inspiration” is about as weasel an epistemological concept as one could dream up. “God-Breathed” from the Greek means what? It seems to hearken back to the “Spirit” Jesus promised would be given to guide the church forward in history. NT accounts of the events they claim to have witnessed has been given a “normative” status not because they were the result of visions or anything remotely like a “supernatural” visitation but because they were in proximity to the events, and they claimed in some writings, the teachings of Jesus. A council deliberated over the writings for years and came away with a consensus that not every leader accepted without question. They asked for and believed the Spirit moved among them, but by no means controlled them. All claims to authority that followed their deliberations (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, any and all preachers included EG White and our founders)l are, in Herold Weiss’s and Ron Graybill’s felicitous phrase “formative” of the community. Luther’s witness created a Reformation. Visions? Who know and who can tell? Ellen White helped create a movement and was also formative, but supernatural and visionary? Claims made may turn out to be suspect in relation to experiences ordinary people do not have, but that too is irrelevant. Every preacher prays for the Spirit to guide and bless his proclamation but few would claim it was an experience NOT GRANTED TO OTHERS. The community of believers decides which proclaimers deserve special authority in their midst, but it is never an authority that cannot be challenged. Thoughtful believers today will challenge many passage in Scripture as being problematic and unhelpful in the modern world. It should be no different with anyone.


For those of us who need to be in the ‘right’ church, Ellen White’s spirit of prophecy is evidence of our remnant status. This is reflected in our distorted reading of Revelation 19:10.

So, a myth has been curated which is not even about Ellen White, but is built on an idolatrous model of church (where the church is worshipped rather than God). Once again, faith has been confused with magic.

Many SDA members have not bought into this myth or even been aware of it. I grew up in a family where the veracity of Ellen White’s writing was argued over, so I have never really engaged with her content. I suspect many other SDAs in my cohort have likewise built their faith independent of her.


Yes…and we can reasonably conclude that belief in EGW and her writings is not central or all that important. Millions of true believers through the centuries up to the present time have no clue of who she is, with no loss to their Christian experience and lives of faith.



Discussing a concept, any concept, is doomed to failure until and unless it is clarified. It must have a clear definition. It must be differentiated from other concepts; it is this and not that. It is either “A” or “non A”. Logic must guide the process into non-contradictory identification. Any attempt at conceptualization which fails to meet this standard does not rise to the level of a concept. Rather, it is a nebulous notion.

“Inspiration” is one example of the failure to rise to the level of a concept. I am using the term in the sense of religious parlance somehow having authority to provide knowledge not otherwise knowable.

What is it? Everybody is using it as though the audience just sort of “knows” what is being discussed. Its root, “inspire”, indicates the action of a third party upon a sentient mind, but what is that action? How does it work? How is it verified? Can it be falsified? How would it be differentiated from hallucination? Since the brain is a receptor and organizer of sensory perceptions, how does inspiration operate in bypassing the senses to convey direct knowledge? How does one see without using the eyes or hear without using eardrums? In the case of “holy writings”, why should anyone believe the extraordinary claim? Why would anyone assume that writings (most biblical documents) which don’t even claim “inspiration” must somehow be so only because they were gathered together by persons unknown with unknown motives, and simply stamped “authoritative”, that is, canonical.

As Don McAdams notes, faith is required to accept inspiration, but that faith must be directed toward the claimant; in essence, taking someone’s word for it. One cannot bypass the claimant and simply conclude that an angel or a god conveyed the information. No, one must directly exercise faith in the self-proclaimed prophet. Doesn’t that seem a bit sketchy for information deemed to be vital?

The word lacks definition and has become useless in discussing any matter of gaining knowledge or having authority. I would challenge anyone to give a clear conceptualization of “inspiration”. Also show how we would know it if presented with a claim. It amazes me that so-called “inspiration” is elevated above reason in the minds of so many, although to my own embarrassment I once held that perspective.

PS, in the attempt to define and conceptualize the term, it would be helpful to do so using other words and concepts which themselves have clarity, rather than terms such as “spirit”, “supernatural”, etc which are equally conceptually meaningless. I believe there is a term for this phenomenon in paranormal studies; ESP, extra-sensory perception.


Then there is the rest of humanity who don’t care.


Yes! Excellent summary, in my view.


God may not have a choice.

But I do.

And I choose not to worship a god who refuses, or can’t, provide irrefutable evidence for his/her or its existence and instead supposedly stoops to mysterious messages passed through a grapevine comprised of hucksters, conmen, frauds, spiritualists, cultists, plagiarists, et. als.

In the course of one of his many YouTube videos, Noam Chomsky responded to an audience member’s assertion by saying, “Your statement doesn’t even rise to the level of being false.”

To my mind, many religious concepts-and particularly presupposed “divine inspiration”-are best relegated to that category of “things”.

In order for the phrase to have any meaning whatsoever one would first need to define the term “divine”, and demonstrate in what sense divinity actually exists, after which one would need to show empirically how this mysterious presence or substance somehow interacts with human intellect and/or consciousness.

As I see it, that’s at least two “bridges too far”!



If the content isn’t true or inaccurate in light of later understanding that could be explained. But claims of vision that didn’t happen would be called lying or unethical behavior, no matter the context.

Whatever the case, she also believed and claimed that she was shown by God that the door of salvation was shut for the wicked world/those who rejected Miller’s error, and preached the same from 1854-51. The early Adventists abandoned such error including her. She later claimed that she tried to steer them away from such. So, not only was God responsible for such nonsense, she also later denied her role in it.

Such denial also surrounding her unacknowledged use of the source material of others, also known as plagiarism, is something that has plagued the denomination from the 1919 Bible conference on. They punted, knowing the powder keg upon which they were sitting. It exploded in the 1970’s. It’s still largely denied as a problem today.

To misuse Revelation and to call her and her writings the Spirit of prophecy and a mark of the last day church is the cap on a highly problematic set of claims about the very real ethical issues surrounding EGW and the ethical cloud surrounding the transmission and content of the writings themselves. There’s nothing analogous to this about the biblical prophets and their messages, even if David was a murderer and had an affair, even if Ezekiel did strange things, or Jeremiah was depressed, etc.

Nineteenth century figures such as Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy also founded and/or led movements that still regard them as prophets. Such regard doesn’t make it so. Adventists have no problem with tearing down the claims made for those other figures. But apologies, either gross or elegant, are still made for EGW.



I find Paul’s self-proclaimed “mission from Jesus” to be very analogous to EGW’s story and am as unimpressed by one as I am by the other.

To deny or ignore the similarities in their work is not the same as substantiating the assertion that certain parallels do not exist.

Indeed, one cannot possibly show there are absolutely no common motifs between the two as doing so would require that one be able to prove a negative.


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Thank you for this articulate and well-reasoned essay. Don McAdams, with his relevant experience, is the kind of individual(s) who should engage in this analysis. Those of us in humbler settings, such as the ones who teach SS classes work hard to attempt to understand and clarify the cultural, historical, scientific, etc. understanding of the person who wrote what we consider to be canon as we present a lesson, as well as the perspective of those who would have heard it at that time. None of that has been done on behalf of EGW’s writings…it’s just take it or leave it, which is demonstrably a flawed approach.

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I’ve often wondered how we would have come to view and understand Ellen White if nepotism had not been allowed - her son and then grandson being allowed the role explaining and promoting her. Their influence could not have been objective.


actually, i think their influence has been negligible…no-one who perceives and benefits from the inspiration of egw does so because of what Willie or Arthur have had to say…basically, everyone from our Pioneer Church, and their immediate descendants, have come and gone, and faded into obscurity, except egw…she’s in a class by herself…

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The people who presuppose and/or benefit from EGW’s self-proclaimed inspiration are unlikely, and perhaps even unable, to contribute anything to a conversation about the factual nature of that commodity, particularly given that it cannot be established factually that her inspiration was different from that of any other person who has dreams and expresses opinions.

What is admittedly different about her-and what puts her in a class by herself-is the extremes to which she and her family went, and the depths to which her sycophantic followers continue to go, in order make a spectacle of her and try to perpetuate the celebrity status of a woman who would otherwise have been relegated to 19th century obscurity, at best, or ignominy, in the worst case.

If those who exaggerate the value of her “creativity”, and do their best to monetize her “gifts”, were forced to admit that her inspiration was no different from anyone else’s, they would not only be deprived of their primary, “Sister White said…” offensive weapon with which they attack and hopefully convert, or at least silence, perceived opponents, they would, in some cases, lose their livelihoods. Thus the question for them is maintenance of an uneven, unfair playing field and rises to the level of a virtual life and death struggle during which any possibility of them sticking to the facts, or achieving objectivity in the matter, is effectively eliminated.