The Principles Illustrated by Ellen White’s Use of Rev 8:5 (EWB 6)

To illustrate the use of these six principles for Ellen White’s use of Scripture, it may be helpful to examine the statement in Early Writings, 279-280: “An angel with a writer’s inkhorn by his side returned from the earth and reported to Jesus that his work was done, and the saints were numbered and sealed. Then I saw Jesus, who had been ministering before the ark containing the ten commandments, throw down the censer. He raised His hands, and with a loud voice said, ‘It is done.’ And all the angelic host laid off their crowns as Jesus made the solemn declaration, ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.'”

The context of this passage is the close of probation. Ellen White utilizes language reminiscent of Ezekiel 9:1-11 (“an angel with a writer’s inkhorn. . . .”), Revelation 8:5 (“threw down the censer”), Revelation 16:17 (“loud voice . . . it is done”), and then quotes Revelation 22:11. Revelation 16:17 and 22:11 clearly belong in a “close of probation” context. Our interest concerns the significance of her use of the language of Revelation 8:5 in this context. Does Ellen White understand the act of throwing down the censer depicted in Revelation 8:5 to be a reference to the end-time close of probation? The six guidelines sketched above can be applied to this passage.

First, it is not clear that she intended the reader to perceive an allusion to Revelation 8:5 in this passage. The phrase “throw down the censer” is certainly unmistakable. If there is an allusion to Scripture at all when she sees Jesus “throw down the censer” it is clearly an allusion to Revelation 8:5. But a number of indications demonstrate that she is not alluding to Revelation 8:5 in this statement. It is Jesus that ministers the incense, not an angel. He ministers before the ark, not the altar of incense. He throws down the censer in front of the ark, not to the earth. The statement merely echoes the language of Revelation 8:5 without referring the reader to that text. It is precarious to draw specific exegetical information from an echo of biblical language.

Second, there is clearly no attempt to exegete Revelation 8:5 in her statement. It is part of a visionary description of a future event, the close of probation. As such it is a theological or homiletical usage of Revelation 8:5. The meaning of Revelation 8:5 in the original context is not addressed.

Third, the statement occurs in a published work, which was edited with considerable care. However, the reference is unique to this statement, so it may not reflect a settled understanding that Revelation 8:5 is to be associated with the end-time close of probation.

Fourth, as mentioned earlier, the exegesis of Revelation 8:5 is not central to the issue in Early Writings, 279-280. The issue at hand is a description of the close of probation, not the context of Revelation 8. The description of Jesus throwing down the censer could be left out without materially affecting the theological content of the statement.

Fifth, the statement is an early one, thus an interpreter wishing to understand her usage here should be prepared for the possibility that a later statement may decisively clarify this one. The possible implications of this statement should not be pressed in the face of a later one, particularly if the later statement significantly modifies the material at issue.

Finally, the allusion only occurs one time in all of her available works. Even if its meaning appeared clear to all interpreters it could be questioned whether Ellen White’s intention in the allusion had been rightly understood. Certainly, she has not gone out of her way to clarify in what way Revelation 8:5 is related to the close of probation.

To summarize, as much as we would like to have exegetical help in determining the meaning of Revelation 8:5 and its context, Early Writings, 279-280, even if it alluded to Revelation 8:5, should not be used for that purpose. It is not an attempt to exegete Revelation 8, neither is Revelation 8 central to the topic in its context. Neither is it reasonably certain that Ellen White intended the reader to perceive an allusion to Revelation 8:5. The passage in Early Writings should not be used to settle the exegesis of Revelation 8.

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