Ellen White’s Use of the Bible (EWB 3)

The role of inspiration is particularly problematic with regard to Ellen White’s use of Scripture. An interpreter with a strong preconceived idea can easily utilize Ellen White’s Scriptural quotations in such a way as to overthrow the plain meaning of the text in its biblical context. Let me provide a couple of examples. 1) When she applied the phrase “touch not, taste not, handle not” to the use of tea, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco (MH 335) she was certainly echoing the language of Colossians 2:21, but not in the manner in which Paul used it! She used “touch not, taste not, handle not” in a positive way to encourage abstention from harmful substances. The phrase is punchy and memorable for that purpose. But that is not what it meant to Paul as he was writing to the Colossian church. In that context, the phrase represented an unhealthy asceticism that diverted attention from Christ (Col 2:18-23). To impose Ellen White’s use of a phrase in Colossians 2:21 on Paul’s meaning would distort the understanding of that verse in its original context.

2) When Ellen White applied the phrase “God made man upright” to the need for good posture (Ed 198), there is no reason to think that she intended to imply that the original author of the phrase was discussing posture in Ecclesiastes 7:27-29. In Patriarchs and Prophets, page 49, she used the same biblical phrase in harmony with the moral intention of the biblical author. Simply because Ellen White uses language that can also be found in Scripture, does not mean that she is offering the true and original meaning of that text. As she herself often noted, biblical passages need to be studied in their own right before any use of her references to the same texts are brought into consideration.

The dangers of misinterpretation are particularly strong when dealing with a biblical passage or book that is challenging to understand. Where the meaning of Scripture is not self-evident, Ellen White’s reference to such Scripture can be perceived as a short cut to a deeper and clearer meaning. Inferences drawn from the text of Revelation can be creatively combined with inferences drawn from the Spirit of Prophecy to produce a result which neither the Bible nor Ellen White intended. An example of such “hybrid theology” can be found in the book Give Glory to Him, by Robert Hauser, pages 30-32. By comparing statements from the Bible and Ellen White, Hauser seeks to demonstrate that Rev 4:1-5:6 takes place in the Holy Place of the Heavenly Sanctuary, 5:8-14 takes place in the Most Holy Place and that in Rev 5:7 Jesus moves from the Holy Place into the Most Holy Place. As brilliant as this suggestion is, it is rendered extremely unlikely by the simple fact that no such movement between apartments is detectible in the text of Rev 4-5 itself, and Ellen White nowhere describes such a movement in terms of Rev 5. Hauser’s suggestion transcends the intention of both John and Ellen White.

Though usually well-intentioned, such sidetracks divert the people of God from careful attention to the plain meaning of the text, and thus encourage careless methods of interpretation that can damage the cause of God. In the following blog I offer some guidelines for the use of Ellen White in the study of Revelation to follow. When it comes to inspiration, it is important to pay careful attention to the original writer’s intention when writing a given passage. That is true both for the Bible and for Ellen White. We should seek to safeguard the inspired intention of both sources before attempting to create something that neither source clearly supports. Steps toward Ellen White’s intention in her use of Scripture are the topic of the next blog.

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