Different Ways That Ellen White Used the Bible II (EWB 5)

In the previous blog we looked at two different ways that Ellen White uses Scripture as part of her argument. There are four more factors to consider, which I will number from three to six.

Third, Ellen White herself makes a distinction between her published writings and other material (5T 696 cf. 1SM 66, TM 33). We can best understand her theological intention in the writings that were most carefully written and edited by her. Off-hand comments in letters or stenographically reproduced from sermons may not reflect her settled opinion on timeless issues. Compilations of her writings by others need to be used even more cautiously, since the ordering and selection of material can, in itself, make a theological statement. If something is found only in letters and manuscripts, particularly if it occurs only once, the interpreter needs to be able to demonstrate that it is a true reflection of her considered and consistent intent.

Fourth, the question should be asked, Is Ellen White’s use of a given Scripture text critical to the conclusion she comes to in that portion of her writings? If her use of a particular Scripture is peripheral to her central theme it may not partake of a thought-out exegesis. As is the case with Scripture, we are on safest ground when we refer to passages where the specific topic we are concerned with is being discussed. The book of Revelation is central to her discussion in chapter 57 (pp. 579-592) of Acts of the Apostles and to much of the latter part of the book Great Controversy. But even there, major parts of Revelation are not covered or are only mentioned in passing (for example, the Seals and the Trumpets). So we must exercise great caution in applying peripheral uses of Revelation to our own exegesis of the book.

Fifth, Ellen White’s later writings should be allowed to clarify positions taken in earlier writings. Over time her skills as a writer increased, and her ability to express accurately and clearly the thoughts she received from God correspondingly increased. As earlier statements were opposed or became subject to controversy, she would offer clarifying statements to make her intention clear. A well-known example of this is found in the book Early Writings, pages 85-96 where she offers a series of clarifications of earlier statements and visionary descriptions.

A theological example of her maturing clarity of expression is her understanding of the deity of Christ. No one can mistake her clear belief in the full deity of Christ as expressed in later statements such as 1SM 296, DA 530, RH April 5, 1906, and ST May 3, 1899. But pre-1888 statements such as 1SP 17-18 are ambiguous enough to be read as Arian if the later statements are ignored (She updates and clarifies 1SP 17-18 in PP 37-38). To draw her view from 1SP 17-18 while ignoring the later clarifying statements is to hopelessly distort her intention.

Finally, how often did she utilize a scriptural passage in a particular way? Generally speaking, the number of times a specific concept is repeated is in direct proportion to the writer’s burden that the concept be clearly understood by readers. It is not normally wise to base an interpretation on a single passage. An idea that is repeated in a variety of circumstances and by means of a variety of expressions is not easily misunderstood or misused.

The main reason for suggesting these basic guidelines for determining Ellen White’s intent is the problem of ambiguity in her writings. Her statements are often susceptible of more than one interpretation. This is not due to confusion or lack of clarity on her part, necessarily, it is due to the fact that she often did not address directly the questions that concern us most today. An unbiased reader will repeatedly find statements that answer our concerns with less clarity than we would prefer. The biased reader, on the other hand, when confronted with an ambiguous statement, picks the option, out of several, which best fits his/her preconceived ideas and hammers it home to those who might disagree.

An excellent example of an ambiguous statement can be found in TM 445. She states there that, “The sealing of the servants of God is the same that was shown to Ezekiel in vision. John also had been a witness of this most startling revelation.” She follows with a number of items that are common to both books. Since the visions of John and Ezekiel are analogous, but certainly not identical, two possibilities of interpretation emerge. (1) The events of around 600 BC partook of the same principles that will manifest themselves in the final crisis portrayed in Revelation 7. (2) Ezekiel does not describe the events of 600 BC, but is an allegory of the end-time. While one or the other interpretation will be considered more likely based on the prior assumptions a reader brings to the text, either is possible based on the language she chose to use in that context.

The reality is that many questions of biblical exegesis cannot be clarified from Ellen White’s writings. While it is always appropriate to point out the possibilities inherent in Ellen White’s references to Scripture, the wisest course is to avoid using ambiguous statements as definitive evidence to prove a point.

7 thoughts on “Different Ways That Ellen White Used the Bible II (EWB 5)

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Depends on what you mean. I don’t think she ever used the word if that is what you mean. Her later writings do not encourage an Arian or anti-trinitarian perspective. I think the shift from SP to PP is significant.

      Reply
    2. Mike Hansen

      Andrew – I encourage you to read The Heavenly Trio by Ty Gibson. There, you will get a great history of her understanding and communication of the Trinity, along with some great SDA history on the topic to go with it.

      Reply
  1. Solomon Ayuen

    Much problem is centred on our understanding of the authority of scriptures and the Writings of EGW.When we take Bible or the EGW writings as a sheet of answers to settle all our beliefs systems there is always much problem because circumstances will force us to support our preconceived opinions with any relative words from the either source.If we consider the condition of the people and the writer, with the understanding that God meets people where they’re and speak to them in the language that they can comprehend then we shall arrive to the more harmonious conclusion.
    Thanks for the Insight Dear Elder Jon Paulien ,Ph.D you’re always inspirational in your blogs!

    Reply

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