Ellen White and the Trumpets (EWB 14)

When it comes to the trumpets, unfortunately, Ellen White has very little to say. Only two statements are generally understood to offer meaningful comment on Revelation 8:7 through 9:21; they are found in Letter 109, 1890 and GC 334-335. On the surface, at least, the two statements point in opposite directions. One is often used to support an end-time scenario for the trumpets, the other to support Josiah Litch’s historicist account, which places the first six trumpets well in the past. Each of these statements will be examined briefly in turn. Four other possibilities will also be explored. Statements regarding Revelation 8:3-5, 11:7 and 11:18 may shed some light on Revelation 8:7-9:21, and statements regarding the sealing of Revelation 7 are often understood to impact on the meaning of Revelation 9:4.

Until recently, Seventh-day Adventist interpreters have rejected any futurist understanding of the first six trumpets. In the last few years, however, some have suggested that the seven trumpets have an end-time fulfillment, either in addition to or in place of the historical understandings of the past. This kind of interpretation seeks support in Ellen White’s statement in Letter 109, 1890: “Solemn events before us are yet to transpire. Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded, vial after vial poured out one after another upon the inhabitants of the earth. Scenes of stupendous interest are right upon us.” This statement from a private letter was later published in 7BC 982, part of the Ellen White notes in the SDA Bible Commentary.

The understanding of this statement is not particularly aided by its context. The statement is very general and uses the term “trumpet” as part of a collection of statements concerning the terrors of the end. The statement was not published in Ellen White’s lifetime, and it does not offer an exegesis of Revelation 8 and 9. The only connection to Revelation 8-11 is the single word “trumpet.” There is no indication of an exegetical usage and it is the lone reference like this in all of her writings. Since the comment is confined to a personal letter and is not intentionally included in her published works, she does not appear to be attaching any great significance to it. Rather than attempting to set the groundwork for future exegesis of the trumpets, Ellen White appears to be merely echoing the language of Scripture to heighten her description of future calamity to move a person to action and commitment. There are too many uncertainties with regard to her intention for the passage, therefore, to offer any conclusive guidance to exegesis of the trumpets. If the trumpets are to be interpreted as future, it needs to be demonstrated by exegesis of the text itself.

An entirely different approach seeks support from the statement in GC 334-335. In this statement Ellen White gives apparent support to the view proposed by Josiah Litch and published by Uriah Smith in Daniel and the Revelation that the fifth and sixth trumpets portray the activities of the Saracens and Turks over a 1200-year period. While the SDA church holds the official view that doctrinal and exegetical positions should be based on the Bible and not on the writings of Ellen White, most SDAs would be uncomfortable rejecting a view that she seems to state clearly and unequivocally. Her endorsement in a major published work would have an almost overwhelming effect on interpretation of the trumpets.

Many E. G. White scholars, however, including Arthur White (her grandson) and Robert Olson (both directors of the White Estate), do not consider her language to be an endorsement of the Islamic view. She uses such neutral terms as “according to his calculations,” and “the event exactly fulfilled the prediction.” This leads one to suspect that she herself was uncertain as to the correct understanding of Revelation 9 and reported Litch’s view because of its historical significance. She points out that as a result of the apparent fulfillment of Litch’s prediction, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the Millerite principles of prophetic interpretation, and many men of learning and position united with Miller. Litch’s position played a critical role in the historical context she was describing.

To compound the problem with the interpretation, Litch himself later repudiated that view because of, among other things, an error in calculating the supposed time period of Revelation 9:15. He overlooked the effect of the calendar change in 1582 when he predicted that the supposed time period of Revelation 9:15 would wind up on August 11, 1840. So even if Revelation 9:15 portrays a period of time rather than a point in time (which is grammatically problematic—see my comments on Revelation 9:15 in the Facebook commentary at the Armageddon web site), the specific position described in Great Controversy is in error. Since no one since has been able to salvage Litch’s view in the form reported in GC 334-335, it is probably better to understand her account as a historical report and not a theological endorsement.

In the blog that follows this one in a few days, I will address the issue of how such a reading of Ellen White is supported by her own statements and those of her closest associates. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Ellen White and the Trumpets (EWB 14)

  1. Andrew Ellis

    Jon, The historic interpretation of the 7 Trumpets was developed in the early period of the Protestant reformation. At this time in history, the end was expected around the year 1840, and so all the prophesies had to be fulfilled. We know now, that the end did not occur in the 1840’s. Please check this out and let me know what you find. thank you and shalom.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Andrew, thank you for your question. Your assumption about the Reformation is ultimately based, I believe, on a single enigmatic statement from Martin Luther where he suggested that Jesus coming might be 300 years in the future. Whether he believed that consistently or how he came to that conclusion, he did not say. The specific focus on 1840 was the “discovery” of Josiah Litch in the 1830s. He is the only one to work out that system and he later on rejected it, so the interpretation is rather precariously based. I was part of a team in the late 1980s that tried to reconstruct Litch’s work in way that did justice to both the exegesis of Rev 9 and history. We failed in that attempt, even though the group contained the best Adventist minds on Revelation. So at best Litch’s view should be held lightly. Was that the kind of response you were looking for when you asked the question?

      Reply

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