2009 SDA Sabbath School Quarterly
Prophetic Gift
Lesson 5

An Alternative Viewpoint by Dirk Anderson

Physical Manifestations

Elder Pfandl describess various physical phenomena which are claimed to be associated with Ellen White's visions by quoting from her greatest advocate, her husband:

In 1868 her husband, James White, gave the following description of her physical appearance while in vision: “1. She is utterly unconscious of everything transpiring around her; 2. She does not breathe. . . . [This] has been repeatedly proved by pressing upon the chest, and by closing the mouth and nostrils; 3. Immediately on entering vision, her muscles become rigid, and joints fixed, so far as any external force can influence them; . . . 4. On coming out of vision, whether in the daytime or a well-lighted room at night, all is total darkness. Her power to distinguish even the most brilliant objects, held within a few inches of the eyes, returns but gradually.”—Life Incidents (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press, 1868), p. 272.
Interestingly enough, there are other people who have exhibited the same phenomena. These unfortunate souls have conditions called hysteria, catalepsy, or partial-complex seizures, and are typically the victims of some type of brain trauma or psychological trauma. Dr. M.G. Kellogg, an Adventist physician, wrote the following letter regarding Ellen White's health condition to his brother J.H. Kellogg on June 3, 1906:
In 1868, after talking with Dr. Trall, I began to suspect that Mrs. White's visions might not be what we had thereunto supposed them to be, and from that time onward I have been studying both Mrs. White and her visions, dreams and testimonies...
I have seen Mrs. White in vision quite a number of times between 1852 and 1859, in every instance she was simply in a state of catalepsy. In each instance she was suddenly seized, fell unconscious, and remained unconscious during the full time the fit lasted; every vital function was reduced to the lowest point compatible with life; pulse almost stopped and very infrequent breathing so slight as to be imperceptible except when she uttered short sentences; pupils dilated to great width, sense of hearing blunted; in fact all her senses so blunted that she could neither see, feel, nor hear; in fact was wholly unconscious, yet her mind was acutely active, the action being automatic and wholly involuntary, the whole vision being a conglomerated mental rehearsal of previous conceptions, scenes, meditations, and suggestions so vividly reproduced on her mind as to be to her a living reality. Catalepsy assumes many forms in its various victims, but in her case some phase of all forms was produced. I have seen many cases. Mrs. L.M. Hall's description of Mrs. W's condition in vision agrees with mine.
Dr. Kellogg was not the only physician to come to this conclusion. Several other doctors who examined Mrs. White concurred, including Dr. William Sadler, who wrote:
Nearly all these victims of trances and nervous catalepsy, sooner or later come to believe themselves to be messengers of God and prophets of Heaven; and no doubt most of them are sincere in their belief. Not understanding the physiology and psychology of their afflictions, they sincerely come to look upon their peculiar mental experiences as something supernatural while their followers blindly believe anything they teach because of the supposed divine character of these so­called revelations.1

Ellen's Book-makers

Elder Pfandl mentions Mrs. White's use of "literary assistants" in the most benign manner:

3. Because most of her books were not written as books but were put together from previously written material, she needed special assistance in their production. Marian Davis was Ellen White’s bookmaker. “She takes my articles which are published in the papers, and pastes them in blank books. She also has a copy of all the letters I write. In preparing a chapter for a book, Marian remembers that I have written something on that special point, which may make the matter more forcible. She begins to search for this, and if when she finds it, she sees that it will make the chapter more clear, she adds it. The books are not Marian’s productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings.”—Selected Messages, book 3, p. 91.
The truth is that Marian Davis did much more than compile Ellen White's writings into books. Marian was responsible for putting together one of Mrs. White's most famous books, The Desire of Ages--a book filled with uncredited copying from the writings of other authors. In 1982, Dr. Fred Veltman, then chairman of the religion department of Pacific Union College, was asked by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to analyze the charges of plagiarism brought by Walter Rea and others against Ellen White. Dr. Veltman spent eight years at church expense studying The Desire of Ages. A summary of his research was printed in the Adventist Church's official magazine for clergy (Ministry). Veltman concluded that:
  1. Ellen White used at least 23 sources for Desire of Ages, including works of fiction
  2. Mrs. White denied copying from others
  3. The content of the book was mostly derived rather than original
While many Adventists laud the Desire of Ages as an obvious work of inspiration, the facts simply do not support that view. If you take any Christian and permit them to steal the best available writings from 23 different Christian authors, and also provide them with the services of an expert book-writer, I guarantee that person could produce an inspiring book on the life of Christ!

Soft-pedalling Plagiarism

Elder Pfandl mentions Luke's use of sources (which Luke acknowledges in the introduction to his book), and a few minor instances where Paul quotes from other philosophers, as if these instances justify Mrs. White's extensive plagiarism. It is important to understand the distinctions beween Mrs. White's copying, and the copying of other Bible authors: