Ellen White and the Timing of Revelation 5 (EWB 9)

There is only one statement that I am aware of in all of Ellen White’s writings that imputes unusual importance to any part of Rev 4-6 and 8-9. That statement is found in 9T 266-267. “Those who humble their hearts and confess their sins will be pardoned. Their transgressions will be forgiven. But the man who thinks that should he confess his sins he would show weakness, will not find pardon, will not see Christ as his Redeemer, but will go on and on in transgression, making blunder after blunder and adding sin to sin. What will such a one do in the day that the books are opened and every man is judged according to the things written in the books?
“The fifth chapter of Revelation needs to be closely studied. It is of great importance to those who shall act a part in the work of God for these last days. There are some who are deceived. They do not realize what is coming on the earth. Those who have permitted their minds to become beclouded in regard to what constitutes sin are fearfully deceived. Unless they make a decided change they will be found wanting when God pronounces judgment upon the children of men. They have transgressed the law and broken the everlasting covenant and they will receive according to their works.”

The above statement is part of an address read to the General Conference session of 1909 entitled “A Distribution of Responsibility” (the entire context is 9T 262-269). The first half concerns the need to make wise choices where the leadership of the church is concerned. The latter half (pp. 265-269) is a series of warnings made up largely of quotations from Matt 11:20-30, Rev 6:12-17, Rev 7:9-17, Luke 21:33-36, and Matt 24:42-51. The above statement precedes the quotation of Rev 6:12-17.

The statement is more ambiguous than we would like. It is clear that Revelation 5 is intended to play a significant role for those who are to act a part in the closing up of earth’s history. But it is not clear what that role is. Does Ellen White understand the chapter itself to be end-time? Is there an event portrayed there that is of particular importance to those who live at the end? Are there timeless theological truths there that will play their usual role also at the end? Is the passage inspirational because of its clear depiction of heavenly praise and worship? She does not say. A blank space is left, to be filled in by the reader.

One possibility lies in the mention of judgment both before and after the reference to chapter five. But this section of the address (9T 265-269) is neither an exegesis of Revelation 5 nor a theology of judgment. The previous statement associates judgment with the opening of the books (plural), while in Revelation 5 the single book remains sealed until after the scene so there is no explicit connection there. The later statement leads into the quotation of Revelation 6:12-17 where the Second Coming with its executive judgment is in view. Therefore, there is no explicit connection in her appeal to study Revelation 5 with these two references to judgment.

The soundest way to determine the reason for Ellen White’s emphasis on the importance of Revelation 5 for those who live in the last days is to read all her statements regarding that chapter. In fact, it is probably unwise to ever say “Ellen White says,” until one has looked at everything she has to say on the subject. We will attempt to do that in the next blog.

Ellen White and the First Half of the Book of Revelation (EWB 8)

The closest thing to a major interpretive statement for the entire first half of the book of Revelation is found in the book The Great Controversy, pages 414-415. This statement is also found in Patriarchs and Prophets, 356. Both statements are also an expansion and clarification of the earlier and more ambiguous statement in The Story of Redemption, 377. A comparison of all three statements would be interesting, but will not be attempted here. I will limit myself to the statement in The Great Controversy, 414-415. There Ellen White offers a clear statement regarding the significance of the sanctuary material in Revelation, chapters 4, 8, and 11:

“The holy places of the sanctuary in heaven are represented by the two apartments in the sanctuary on earth. As in vision the apostle John was granted a view of the temple of God in heaven, he beheld there “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” Revelation 4:5. He saw an angel “having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” Revelation 8:3. Here the prophet was permitted to behold the first apartment of the sanctuary in heaven; and he saw there the “seven lamps of fire” and “the golden altar,” represented by the golden candlestick and the golden altar of incense in the sanctuary on earth. Again, “the temple of God was opened” (Revelation 11:19), and he looked within the inner veil, upon the holy of holies. Here he beheld “the ark of His testament,” represented by the sacred chest constructed by Moses to contain the law of God.”

There is no question that Ellen White had these specific Bible passages in mind as she wrote. There are quotation marks and the exact references are provided. The statement also appears to be an attempt to explain the significance of the author’s original vision regarding these matters. The statement is found in chapter twenty-three of The Great Controversy (pages 409-422), which is entitled, “What is the Sanctuary?” So the passage is drawn from one of her major works and is central to the discussion of the sanctuary in its context. The purpose of the chapter is not, however, an exegesis of Revelation, so the passage may qualify more as a theological statement than an exegetical one. In any case, it is her most comprehensive statement on the meaning of Rev 4-11. Thus, it is of first importance for understanding her view of that portion of the book. It seems evident from this statement that Ellen White understood the seals and the trumpets to be taking place under the general rubric of the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, while the second apartment ministry comes into view only in Rev 11:19.

While this may seem a major conclusion to draw from just a few words, Ellen White clarified this statement in a Review and Herald article published on Nov 9, 1905. There she repeats the above statement with the following addition: “The announcement, ‘The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament,’ points to the opening of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, at the end of the twenty-three hundred days,–in 1844,–as Christ entered there to perform the closing work of the atonement. Those who by faith followed their great High Priest, as he entered upon his ministry in the most holy place, beheld the ark of the testament.”

The title of her article was, “The Ark of the Covenant.” If Ellen White had considered it appropriate to indicate that the ark could be equated with the throne in Revelation 4-5, or with the activity in Revelation 8:3-4, this would have been the ideal place to do so. Instead, she makes it clear that Revelation 11:19 (the sanctuary introduction to chapters twelve through fourteen– the section that features the three angel’s messages) is the point at which the book of Revelation begins to concentrate on the end-time judgment.

These Ellen White citations call into question the assertions some make that the Ellen White writings can be used to support a Day of Atonement or end-time setting for the seals and trumpets as a whole. Such a position cannot be convincingly maintained on the basis of her writings, since there is no clear and explicit statement from her pen to that effect, and the citations we have noted imply otherwise.

The Principles Illustrated by Ellen White’s Use of Rev 8:5– II (EWB 7)

Of great interest to the issue of Ellen White’s use of the Bible is the fact that the statement in this statement in Early Writings, 279-280 (see previous blog) is repeated (nearly in its entirety) in The Great Controversy, 613. That statement is quoted below with the underlining representing all words that are identical to EW 279-280.

“An angel returning from the earth announces that his work is done; the final test has been brought upon the world, and all who have proved themselves loyal to the divine precepts have received ‘the seal of the living God.’ Then Jesus ceases His intercession in the sanctuary above. He lifts His hands and with a loud voice says, ‘It is done;’ and all the angelic host lay off their crowns as He makes the solemn announcement: ‘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.’ Rev 22:11.

The basic point of this passage and two-thirds of the wording are identical to EW 279-280. Even where the wording is changed, the basic meaning is the same. But two significant changes in Ellen White’s use of Scripture have taken place. The language of Ezekiel 9 and Revelation 8:5 has been dropped. In place of Revelation 8:5 is the statement that Jesus “ceases His intercession in the sanctuary above.”

The Great Controversy passage clarifies the meaning of the earlier passage. In Early Writings she used the language of Revelation 8:5 as a graphic description of the end of intercession. But she apparently did not want to leave the impression that Revelation 8:5 (or Ezekiel 9 for that matter) was a description of “the” close of probation. Therefore, in GC 613, explicit terminology for the close of probation is used instead of a reference to Revelation 8:5.

This illustration indicates that to carry out the guidelines described in earlier blogs takes patience and time. Where she makes an abundance of statements on a text or a topic, that may be impossible for most interpreters. In most such cases, the flavor of her viewpoint can be obtained by a careful surface survey of her statements. It becomes essential to follow these guidelines carefully, however, whenever a particular statement or series of statements becomes controversial, usually due to ambiguity. In such a case, the burden of proof is on the interpreter to demonstrate that, were Ellen White alive, she would support his/her use of her statement as proof of a point.

After thorough study of the text of Revelation it is helpful for an Adventist interpreter to examine Ellen White’s use of Revelation for profitable insights. Her unparalleled grasp of the universal issues to which the book of Revelation points makes her statements about the book of enormous interest to Adventists. Nevertheless, her contribution to the discussion must not be expanded beyond her own intention. To do so would be to distort both her intention and John’s, thus undermining the authority of inspiration. The guidelines I have shared in this series of blogs can help provide safeguards against such unintentional misuse.

Because the Seals and the Trumpets are difficult to understand in their own biblical context, it is natural that Ellen White’s comments on these passages would attract interest. In the blogs to follow, I will examine a number of statements related to Revelation, chapters 4-9. I will share these studies, not as “the final word,” but to stimulate discussion and encourage careful application of the method to controverted points. Stay tuned.

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.

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.

Different Ways That Ellen White Used the Bible (EWB 4)

When one is examining Ellen White’s use of Scripture, it is critically important to honor her intention in the use of that text. In order to do that, one has to pay close attention to the different ways she uses the Bible.

First of all, it is important to determine whether Ellen White was intending to cite a particular biblical text or was merely “echoing” the language of the text. The same procedure we apply to the Revelator’s use of the Old Testament is helpful here as well. When she merely echoes a text, she is certainly not expressing a judgment on the biblical writer’s intention for that text. She may be drawing a valid spiritual lesson when she echoes Scripture, but it is not necessarily the same lesson the biblical writer sought to impress upon his readers.

Second, where Ellen White clearly refers the reader to a Scriptural passage, one should ask how she is using the passage. Is she using it exegetically–making a statement about the original meaning of the passage in the author’s context? Is she using it theologically–discussing the implication that passage has for a larger theology based on Scripture as a whole (biblical theology)? Or does her theological use focus particularly on God’s will for the recipients of her writings (systematic theology)? Is she using it homiletically–enjoying the effectiveness of the biblical language that moves people to action in a worship setting?

To interpret a homiletical usage as though it were an exegetical statement will distort not only her intention in its use but the meaning of the biblical statement as well. While more study needs to be done on this question, it is my sense that Ellen White rarely uses Scripture exegetically (i.e. being primarily concerned with the biblical writer’s intent). A significant cluster of exegetical uses of Scripture can be found in Acts of the Apostles, which contains a number of discussions of New Testament books in their original setting. But generally, as was the case with the classical prophets of the Old Testament, her main concern in most of her writings was to speak to her contemporary situation. This would generally cause her to use Scripture theologically and homiletically rather than exegetically.

To say this is not to limit Ellen White’s authority. To the contrary, her intention in a given statement should be taken with utmost seriousness. At the same time, we must be careful not to limit the authority of the biblical writer. We should not deny a biblical writer’s intention on the basis of a later, homiletical usage of that text. What I am pleading for here is that we respect Ellen White’s own intention in her use of biblical material. Since she often uses Scripture in other than exegetical ways, statements quoting Revelation must be examined with great care before being dogmatically applied in the exegesis of the book.

Where Ellen White appears to use a biblical text exegetically, yet there is a tension between her use of the text and the apparent intent of the author’s language, two possibilities should be kept in mind. (1) It is possible that the interpreter has misunderstood the intent of either the biblical writer or Ellen White, or both. Further study may resolve the tension. But there is another possibility. (2) An later, inspired person can apply a biblical passage to his/her contemporary situation in a local sense without exhausting the ultimate intention of the original writer. Example of this in the Bible are Peter’s use of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:16-21, and Jesus’ use of Daniel 7:13-14 in Matthew 9:6.

We have so far looked at two different ways that Ellen White uses Scripture as part of her argument. There are several more factors to consider in a future blog.

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.

Ellen G. White and the Book of Revelation (EWB 2)

Adventist interpreters of Revelation share a deep appreciation of the writings of Ellen G. White. Her comments on the book of Revelation stimulate much productive insight, particularly with regard to the “big picture;” namely how the symbolic visions of Revelation contribute to the cosmic perspective often known as the “Great Controversy.” She was well aware that Revelation brings together language, ideas, and types from throughout Scripture; forming a consummate conclusion to the Bible as a whole (AA 585). Thus, Adventist scholarship would be remiss to ignore her perspective on the symbols and theology of the Book of Revelation.
Having said this, interpreters need to be reminded that the writings of Ellen White can be used in such a way as to obscure the meaning of the Biblical text and make it serve the agenda of the interpreter. “Those who are not walking in the light of the message, may gather up statements from my writings that happen to please them, and that agree with their human judgment, and, by separating these statements from their connection, and placing them beside human reasonings, make it appear that my writings uphold that which they condemn.” Letter 208, 1906. Off-hand comments in various contexts can be universalized or applied in ways that run counter to the implications of the biblical text itself. Such use is really abuse and results in diminishing her authority rather than enhancing it. That she was aware of this possibility is clear from the following instruction:

“Many from among our own people are writing to me, asking with earnest determination the privilege of using my writings to give force to certain subjects which they wish to present to the people in such a way as to leave a deep impression upon them. It is true that there is a reason why some of these matters should be presented; but I would not venture to give my approval in using the testimonies in this way, or to sanction the placing of matter which is good in itself in the way which they propose.
“The persons who make these propositions, for aught I know, may be able to conduct the enterprise of which they write in a wise manner; but nevertheless I dare not give the least license for using my writings in the manner which they propose. In taking account of such an enterprise, there are many things that must come into consideration; for in using the testimonies to bolster up some subject which may impress the mind of the author, the extracts may give a different impression than that which they would were they read in their original connection.”
“The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies for the Church,” p. 26. Quoted in Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, by Arthur White, p. 86.

Inspiration is truly handled with respect when the intention of an inspired writer is permitted to emerge from the text in its original context (exegesis). We must avoid reading into the text our own interests and presuppositions (eisegesis). Messages from living prophets can easily be clarified upon request. But once the prophet has passed from the scene, we are on safest ground when the intent of each inspired text is allowed to emerge by means of careful exegesis. The interpreter’s need to establish a particular position offers no license to do with the text whatever one wants.

Ellen G. White and the Bible

For Seventh-day Adventists the study of the book of Revelation always comes with a unique challenge. “The Bible and the Bible only” provides a call to exegete the Bible as God’s final authority on all matters of faith and practice. Yet Adventists value very highly the prophetic gift of Ellen G. White (1827-1915). What impact should her comments on a subject like the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-17) or the three angel’s message (Rev 14:6-12) have on the way one reads these passages? What does one do if what Ellen White says about a biblical passage does not square with the plain meaning of the text?

This is the first in a series of blogs on the use of Ellen White’s writings in relation to the Bible. Before I share my own research, I want you to be aware of the finest explanation of this topic from the Ellen G. White Estate, the authoritative custodian of her writings. In 1982, White Estate directors from all over the world met for an extended conference and drafted the following statement on the respective roles of the Bible and Ellen White in Adventist faith. The words that follow are from this consensus statement of the 1982 conference without any further comment from me:

“In the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at Dallas in April, 1980, the Preamble states: “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.” Paragraph one reflects the church’s understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, while paragraph seventeen reflects the church’s understanding of the writings of Ellen White in relation to the Scriptures. These paragraphs read as follows:

1. The Holy Scriptures
The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. Support is found in these Bible passages: 2 Peter 1:20,21; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Psalms 119:105; Proverbs 30:5,6; Isaiah 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12.

17. The Gift Of Prophecy
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. Support is found in these Bible passages: Joel 2:28,29; Acts 2:14-21; Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 19:10.

The following affirmations and denials speak to the issues which have been raised about the inspiration and authority of the Ellen White writings and their relation to the Bible. These clarifications should be taken as a whole. They are an attempt to express the present understanding of Seventh-day Adventists. They are not to be construed as a substitute for, or a part of, the two doctrinal statements quoted above.

AFFIRMATIONS
1. We believe that Scripture is the divinely revealed word of God and is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
2. We believe that the canon of Scripture is composed only of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments.
3. We believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and the final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice.
4. We believe that Scripture is the Word of God in human language.
5. We believe that Scripture teaches that the gift of prophecy will be manifest in the Christian church after New Testament times.
6. We believe that the ministry and writings of Ellen White were a manifestation of the gift of prophecy.
7. We believe that Ellen White was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that her writings, the product of that inspiration, are applicable and authoritative, especially to Seventh-day Adventists.
8. We believe that the purposes of the Ellen White writings include guidance in understanding the teaching of Scripture and application of these teachings, with prophetic urgency, to the spiritual and moral life.
9. We believe that the acceptance of the prophetic gift of Ellen White is important to the nurture and unity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
10. We believe that Ellen White’s use of literary sources and assistants finds parallels in some of the writings of the Bible.

DENIALS
1. We do not believe that the quality or degree of inspiration in the writings of Ellen White is different from that of Scripture.
2. We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are an addition to the canon of Sacred Scripture.
3. We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White function as the foundation and final authority of Christian faith as does Scripture.
4. We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White may be used as the basis of doctrine.
5. We do not believe that the study of the writings of Ellen White may be used to replace the study of Scripture.
6. We do not believe that Scripture can be understood only through the writings of Ellen White.
7. We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White exhaust the meaning of Scripture.
8. We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are essential for the proclamation of the truths of Scripture to society at large.
9. We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White are the product of mere Christian piety.
10. We do not believe that Ellen White’s use of literary sources and assistants negates the inspiration of her writings.

We conclude, therefore, that a correct understanding of the inspiration and authority of the writings of Ellen White will avoid two extremes: (1) regarding these writings as functioning on a canonical level identical with Scripture, or (2) considering them as ordinary Christian literature.”

The Story of Job and Trivial Prayers

The story of Job may also be instructive here. Job’s experience makes it clear that there is no answer to most of the specific objections raised previously, at least in this life. The tragedies in Job’s life were certainly unexplainable in earthly terms. They came from “nowhere” and made no sense to him. They had to do with complexities in the larger universe that Job never came to understand. The fascinating thing is that even when God came down in person to talk with Job about these issues (Job 38:1 – 41:34), He never mentions the real reason for Job’s suffering, a reason the reader of the story is allowed into (1:6-12; 2:1-7).

From the book of Job we discern that there is a cosmic conflict in the universe that affects all that we do and all that we experience. God’s actions are sometimes limited by larger considerations in that conflict, things we may never understand until eternity. Perhaps God’s intervention in Job’s situation would have upset the whole space-time continuum of the universe in a way even quantum physicists could not understand. In other words, God cannot explain what we cannot understand. What we do understand is that larger divine interventions can change things in a way that causes collateral damage at unspecified times in the future. Major actions of God have ripple effects in the lives of many people and their descendants over decades and even centuries. As those ripples play out in the course of history, they can have consequences that we cannot foresee but God in His infinite wisdom can. He may understand that the good we hope God will do in the present could cause even greater harm than His silence in answer to our prayers.

There is an interesting biblical illustration of this. It is the story of Hezekiah as told in Isaiah 36-39. Hezekiah was one of the most faithful kings in the history of Judah (2 Kings 18:5-6; 2 Chr 31:20-21). He was faithful to God in his personal life and devotions. He expanded the borders of the country. He restored the temple that had fallen into ruins. He restored the priests and Levites to their regular services. He restored the feast days. He removed the rival altars around Jerusalem. He ordered the “high places” of rival worship all around the country to be destroyed. He destroyed the idols and images that the people had come to rely on. His prayers protected Jerusalem when it was surrounding by overwhelming Assyrian forces. It would be understandable, therefore, for people to think that Hezekiah’s premature death would be a tragic thing for the nation and a mistake for God to allow. I can almost see the ancient bloggers and pundits questioning God’s character in relation to this development. But it was not to be.

When the time came for Hezekiah to die, he pleaded bitterly with God on the grounds of his lifelong faithfulness (Isa 38:1-3). If anyone ever were deserving of a positive answer to prayer, it would be Hezekiah. And God came through for him in stunning fashion. God not only granted him an extension of fifteen years of life (38:5), he provided assurance that this would happen through a major astronomical token (38:7-8– how Hezekiah came to have this experience is not explained). Everyone seemed to have gotten what they wanted from God. Yet during those extra years two things happened that undid all the good that Hezekiah had done during his lifetime; the visit of the Babylonian envoys (39:1-8) and the birth of his son, who became the evil king Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1-9). In the context of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan major interventions in people’s lives are very complicated. The ramifications are usually way beyond our understanding.

Having said this, I still want to argue that a believer’s experience in a parking lot is not necessarily imaginary. I cannot explain the timing and the effort involved in God’s actions. But I do believe that God would answer every prayer in a positive manner if pleasing us were the only consideration. If finding someone a parking space or timing a phone call will not upset the space-time continuum of the universe, why wouldn’t a loving God intervene? If a woman makes a full commitment to Jesus just as a rain shower happens to be passing, why wouldn’t God arrange that if the stakes were low enough? I guess what I am saying is that the lower the ultimate stakes, the lower the potential consequences of any particular divine intervention, the more likely that a loving God can use the circumstances of life as a token of his love. We serve a God who delights to please His children whenever so doing would not cause harm to anyone.

Having said that, those of us who have experienced this kind of intimacy from God need to be careful when and how we share such experiences with others. Our well-intentioned testimony can do harm even when God’s gift did not. While we should rightly acknowledge the small tokens of God’s favor in our lives and rejoice over them in the right circumstances, we need to also be aware of how often our testimonies cause pain.