Tag Archives: Ellen White and the seven trumpets

Ellen White and the Sealing of Revelation 9:4 II (EWB 18)

The reality is that, in spite of Ellen White’s overwhelming interest in the end-time concept of the sealing, in places she is quite capable of using the concept of sealing more along the lines of Paul than of Revelation 7. In CT 459 the seal is an ongoing mark of God’s approval of the message that Adventists were preaching: “Who among our teachers are awake, and as faithful stewards of the grace of God are giving the trumpet a certain sound? Who are voicing the message of the third angel, calling upon the world to make ready for the great day of God? The message we bear has the seal of the living God (compare with John 3:33; 6:27; Rom 15:28; 1 Cor 9:2.).

In relation to people, Ellen White understands the seal of God to be placed on those who possess “the sign of the cross of Calvary” and are wearing the wedding garment. Letter 126, 1898 (= 7BC 968). The seal is a “passport to the Holy City” which all must have in order to enter (TM 444-445). One is not saved without the seal (Letter 80, 1898 [= 7BC 969]). It is placed on all who love God in the practice of everyday life (RH Oct 23, 1888). The seal is placed on those who make their “calling and election sure” (cf. 2 Pet 1:10). EW 58.

This brief survey indicates that with regard to the sealing, as in so many areas, Ellen White demonstrates a sensitive awareness of the full richness of the biblical language that she so readily adopts. Her grasp of the scriptural intent is far greater than that of most who quote her writings in relation to exegetical issues (including myself). Wisdom would indicate that it is unwise to assume exactly how she would have exegeted Revelation 9:4 had she availed herself of the opportunity. Her lack of comment on Revelation 9:4 may rather indicate that it does not concern her primary interest in the concept of sealing, the end-time sealing so clearly portrayed in Revelation 7 and so often quoted by her. To understand the seal of Revelation 9:4 in terms of the general New Testament usage is not contrary to her understanding.

The implications of the above is that attempts to see the seven trumpets of Revelation as entirely in the future on the basis of the sealing of Revelation 9:4 are going beyond what the evidence will bear. Ellen White herself never references Revelation 9:4 when she talks about the end-time sealing and she never references it when using sealing in the more general New Testament way as a reference to conversion. The timing of the seven trumpets should not be grounded on Ellen White’s references to end-time sealing. As she herself would encourage us to do, the seven trumpets are best understood on the basis of careful study of the text of Revelation itself.

Ellen White and the Sealing of Revelation 9:4 (EWB 17)

A major issue in the Adventist interpretation of the seven trumpets is the significance of the sealing in Revelation 9:4. Is it the end-time sealing of Revelation 7? Or is the more general sealing process typical of the rest of the New Testament? Does Ellen White have only one view of sealing in Revelation, or does she utilize the concept in the variety of ways in which New Testament writers used it? One thing is perfectly clear, she never discusses Rev 9:4, not even in GC 334-335, the only place where she mentions the fifth trumpet at all. Therefore, her view of the matter is not explicit, it can only be inferred, if at all, from her view of the sealing in Revelation 7.

It may be helpful as we begin to briefly review the variety of meanings that pertain to the New Testament concept of sealing. When a seal is placed on a document, message, or tomb, its purpose is to conceal or to confine (Matt 27:66; Rev 5:1-2, 5, 9; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1; 10:4; 20:3; 22:10.). An alternative meaning is to certify that something or someone is reliable (John 3:33; 6:27; Rom 15:28; 1 Cor 9:2). But the predominant meaning of sealing in connection with God’s people is as an indication that one has been accepted by God (“God knows them that are His”: 2 Tim 2:19 cf. 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30). In this sense, sealing was a present reality already in the time of Abraham (Rom 4:11).

Ellen White has little to say about the New Testament passages which connect sealing to acceptance with God. Her primary interest in the idea seems limited to the significance of Revelation 7, which clearly focuses on the end-time sealing. In spite of this, however, she does not limit sealing to a purely end-time setting. She repeatedly refers to her time as the time when the four angels are holding the four winds (5T 717-718, 6T 26, 61, 426, and some 18 statements in the Review and Herald from 1885-1912), and to the sealing time as a present reality (EW 43-44, Letter 270, 1907 [= 7BC 969], RH July 13, 1897, 1SM 66, and 5T 50). Therefore, while she normally refers to the sealing as a future, end-time event (See RH Sept 23, 1873 and May 28, 1889 as examples, this is in harmony with the exegesis of Revelation 7), she does not limit the process to the very end of time.

In terms of the meaning of sealing she once again is primarily interested in the meaning most appropriate to the situation of Revelation 7. The concept of the seal of God for her has special significance in the antitypical Day of Atonement. “Only those who, in their attitude before God, are filling the position of those who are repenting and confessing their sins in the great antitypical day of atonement, will be recognized and marked as worthy of God’s protection. The names of those who are steadfastly looking and waiting and watching for the appearing of their Saviour–more earnestly and wishfully than they who wait for the morning–will be numbered with those who are sealed.” TM 445.

This end-time seal provides protection in the time of trouble. EW 67, 71. It is placed upon those who prove loyal to the commandments of God (GC 613, Letter 76, 1900 [= 7BC 970], 2T 468) to the point of “perfection of character”(RH June 10, 1902 [= 6BC 1118], 5T 214, 216), “the likeness of Christ’s character”(EW 71, RH May 21, 1895 [= 7BC 970]) and genuine, conscientious Sabbath-keeping (including rejection of Sunday-worship– GC 605, Letter 76, 1900 [= 7BC 970], MS 27, 1899 [= 7BC 970], RH July 13, 1897, RH Apr 23, 1901, 5T 213, cf. 7BC 980 [= HS 213], GC 640, PP 307). Such definitions, of course, are not appropriate to the more general New Testament understanding of sealing exhibited in passages such Ephesians 1:13; 4:30 and 2 Timothy 2:19. Was she unaware of the more general meanings common to the NT? Would she have considered it inappropriate to apply them to Revelation 9:4, for instance, a passage that she never quoted or discussed? There are a few other statements of hers that I think will be of interest. Next time.

Ellen White and the Introduction to the Trumpets (EWB 16)

In the vision of Revelation 8:3-4 an angel stands before the golden altar, ministering incense before God. In many statements Ellen White appears to equate that angel with Christ. EW 32 (= LS 100), 252; MS 142, 1899 (= COL 156 = 7 BC 931); MS 21, 1900 (= SD 22); MS 14, 1901 (= 6 BC 1078). When she does so, she always speaks of the scene as a description of Christ’s intercession. MS 14, 1901 (= 6 BC 1078); MS 142, 1899 (= 7 BC 931 = COL 156); SD 22. Interestingly, however, in other statements she describes the scene in terms of angels offering incense, but in those cases she never uses the term “intercession,” reserving it for Christ alone. MS 15, 1897 (= 7BC 971); RH July 4, 1893; ML 29.

In her clearest allusions to Revelation 8:3-4, Ellen White relates this scene to the daily ministration in the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. GC 414-415; RH Nov 9, 1905; PP 353. Early in her ministry, however, she alludes to portions of the imagery with reference to the second apartment. EW 32 [= LS 100], 252, 256. In all clear allusions to Revelation 8:3-4, however, the ministration of incense is associated with Christ’s work of intercession and not with the Investigative Judgment. MS 142, 1899 (= COL 156 = 7BC 931); MS 14, 1901 (= 6BC 1078). The incense represents the “merit of Jesus” (RH July 4, 1893) or the “blood of the atonement.” MS 15, 1897 (= 7 BC 971).

In an earlier blog we made an extensive analysis of her single echo of Revelation 8:5. She appears to understand the throwing down of the censer in terms of an end to intercession, but it is not clear if she understood it as something that might happen repeatedly in the course of human history or as “the” final close of probation.

On the whole, Ellen White’s use of the language of Revelation 8:3-5 is remarkably compatible with exegesis of the passage. The basic concept of the passage is the intercession of Christ. In some sense this is brought to an end by the act of throwing down the censer. Her writings make it unclear, however, whether that act occurs before the blowing of the trumpets chronologically, whether it occurs repeatedly during the trumpets, or only at a specific point toward the end. In other words, she respects the ambiguity of the text and does not go beyond what is reasonably evident there.

Ellen White and the Trumpets II (EWB 15)

For those who may feel that my position on the statement in GC 334-335 undermines the authority of Ellen White, I strongly encourage you to read the Appendices to Selected Messages, volume 3, pages 433-450. See also the Introduction to The Great Controversy, which touches more generally on these themes in Ellen White’s own words. These pages include statements to the General Conference session in 1911 by W. C. White and letters that he wrote concerning the process by which The Great Controversy 1911 Edition was put together. These remarks and letters occurred well within Ellen White’s lifetime by her own son, and could have been easily corrected by her were they in error. It is clear from these that she did not consider her work to provide an inspired guide to historical events and details such as those provided in relation to Revelation 9. I offer a quick sampling of key statements here.

“Mother has never claimed to be authority on history.” 3SM 437. The rest of the paragraph, and some of the pages that follow, describes how and why the history in Great Controversy came to be included in the book, particularly the standard edition of 1911. “When Controversy was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as authority on historical dates, or to settle controversy regarding details of history, and she does not now feel that it should be used in that way.” In 3SM 433-450, there is significant description of just how the process of including history in the book took place. History is not the main point of the book, it is used to illustrate the main points the writer was seeking to make for her readers (after considerable research at least two directors of the White Estate have concluded that the same applies to biblical exegesis, something that mainly appears in her books with a lot of quotes and borrowing from other authors).

The above is underlined in a 1912 letter from W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, which included a written note from Ellen White: “I approve of the remarks in this letter.” The crucial statement for our purpose in that letter follows: “I believe, Brother Haskell, that there is danger in injuring Mother’s work by claiming for it more that she claims for it, more than Father ever claimed for it, more than Elder Andrews, Waggoner, or Smith ever claimed for it. I cannot see consistency in our putting forth a claim of verbal inspiration when Mother does not make any such claim, and I certainly think we will make a great mistake if we lay aside historical research and endeavor to settle historical questions by the use of Mother’s books as an authority when she herself does not wish them to be used in any such way.” See the entire letter at https://whiteestate.org/legacy/vault-haskell-html/#:~:text=C.%20White%20Statement%20of%20October%2031,%201912%20.

Assuming Litch was in error, as he himself later concluded, what do we make of God allowing such a mistake in the midst of an important movement that had His approval? When one reads the Bible with care, it becomes clear that God works with mistake-prone people to gradually bring about clearer and clearer understandings of His character and government. He does not give out truth that people are not yet ready to handle (see John 16:12). In Great Controversy it is clear that Miller himself made a major error of biblical interpretation, but that did not invalidate his work as a whole. In the case of Litch’s prediction, I think it is not unlike God to preserve a threatened movement by providing the “fulfillment” it so desperately needed and was looking for.

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.