Ellen White's Confusion about Slavery
By Dirk Anderson
This article will examine several statements Ellen White made regarding slavery. The SDA General Conference tells us that Ellen White's writings contain "divine counsel".1 If they are indeed "divine counsel", then they cannot be confusion, "for God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33). Judge for yourself whether these statements are confusion or whether they are divinely inspired by God.
Some Slaves Will not be Resurrected
Sister White wrote:
"God cannot take the slave to heaven, who has been kept in ignorance and degradation, knowing nothing of God, or the Bible, fearing nothing but his master's lash, and not holding so elevated a position as his master' brute beasts. But He does the best thing for him that a compassionate God can do. He lets him be as though he had not been."2
Mrs. White says certain slaves who were kept "in ignorance" will be allowed to rest in their graves as if they never existed while their masters would "come up in the second resurrection, and suffer the second, most awful death."3 Is it true that some slaves were kept in such ignorance that God cannot even judge them? Paul, in describing the heathens of Rome, declares that even though a person may not have the Word of God preached to them, God Himself will teach them through the great lesson-book of the created world:
"Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19,20)
The Holy Spirit speaks to all humanity through their conscience. Paul talks about those who have never heard of God's law, yet have the law of God written on their hearts:
"Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." (Romans 2:14-15 NIV)
Later in life, Mrs. White seems to have come to the realization that God can indeed reach "heathens" and "savages":
"The light of God is ever shining amid the darkness of heathenism."
If the light of God is "ever shining" amongst heathenism and God can implant grace in the "heart of the savage," then why could not His light penetrate the hearts of ignorant slaves? The Bible teaches that every human being is entrusted with a certain measure of "light" placed into their soul by Jesus:
"That [Jesus] was the true Light, which lighteth every man [Greek anthropos: generically, to include all human individuals5] that cometh into the world." (John 1:9)
Now that we have established that God grants light to every human and teaches all through nature, let us go on to examine whether or not every person will be raised for the judgment:
"For we must all [Greek pas: each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything] appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one [Greek hekastos: each, every] may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10)
These verses make it abundantly clear that there will be no exceptions in the judgment. Every human being must be judged and receive their reward or penalty. Mrs. White has no Biblical basis for stating that some slaves will be allowed to rest as if they had never existed. This is a clear contradiction of the Word of God.
The "Sin" of Slavery6
Mrs. White makes the following claim regarding slavery:
"God is punishing this nation for the high crime of slavery. He has the destiny of the nation in His hands. He will punish the South for the sin of slavery, and the North for so long suffering its overreaching and overbearing influence."7
While Mrs. White is to be praised for opposing slavery, she seems to be confused about what is a "sin" and what is not a "sin". In the Bible, the Israelites were permitted to buy and own foreigners as slaves:
"Both thy bondmen [Hebrew: `ebed: slave, servant, man-servant], and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they beget in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour." (Leviticus 25:44-46)
If it were indeed a "high crime" and a "sin" to own slaves, why did God give Israel directions to go to the heathen and "buy bondmen and bondmaids"? Why would God punish the United States for a "sin" when that "sin" is nowhere described in the Bible as a "sin"? Furthermore, the Israelites were given instructions to take slaves from among the people they conquered:
"But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, [even] all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee." (Deut. 20:14)
Again, why did God direct Israel to take slaves if it was a "high crime" against Him? Even the priests possessed slaves. In Numbers 31:30 God directed that one out of every fifty captured slaves were to be given to the priests to "keep charge of the tabernacle of the Lord." Now, if God was dwelling in that tabernacle, and if it was indeed a "sin" to own slaves, don't you think God would be just a little bit angry about that situation and tell Moses about it? If God was angry about this "high crime", we do not have any Biblical evidence of it.
Even the patriarchs, Abraham, Job, David and others possessed servants. When Hagar escaped from Sarah, "the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands."8 The Bible clearly says that Abraham owned male and female servants and yet God did not punish him for this "high crime" but blessed him perhaps more than any other man who has ever lived. One of those blessings included increasing the number of Abraham's "menservants".9
At the time of Jesus, slavery was a huge enterprise in the Roman Empire, with roughly one third of all the people being in some state of bondage. Jesus condemned many sins but never specifically calls out slavery as a "sin." Jesus was not afraid to change Yahweh's law, because He changed the law regarding divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:3-9). He could have change the law of slavery, but did not. Paul never said slavery was a sin either. Instead, he advised slaves to serve their masters with "fear and trembling" (Eph. 6:5-7).
Finally, other nations, such as Assyria, used to raid Israel and steal people (such as Namaan's maid) and make them slaves. Why does the Bible condemn other nations all around them for a myriad of sins, but never mentions the "sin of slavery"?
Your Question: "Hold on a second. Maybe Mrs. White was not talking about slavery itself being a sin. Could she have meant the mistreatment of slaves?"
Our Answer: Some slaves were mistreated horribly, and others, such as George Washington's slaves, were treated humanely. Certainly, the mistreatment or abuse of any human being is sin. There are a myriad of laws against this in the Old Testament, including specific laws against mistreatment of slaves (Exodus 21:20-26).
Is "mistreatment" the "sin" that Ellen White was referring to? Ellen White was saying that the institution of slavery itself was a sin, not the treatment of slaves. Even if Ellen White was talking about the treatment of slaves, there is no evidence American slaves, on a whole, were treated any better or worse than Israelite foreign slaves. In fact, Christians of the South defended their actions by claiming they modeled their treatment of slaves according to Old Testament law.
What is sin? The Bible says:
"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4)
Ellen White wrote:
"What is sin? 'The transgression of the law.'"10
If sin is transgression of the law, then where in the law of God is slavery forbidden? It is not. In fact, the law permitted the Israelites, and even the priests of Israel, to buy and own slaves. Slavery was no doubt not part of God's perfect will, but He tolerated it. Thus, it is incorrect to describe slavery as a "sin."
Slavery to Revive in the South
Mrs. White prophesied in 1895 that slavery would be revived in the southern United States:
"Slavery will again be revived in the Southern States; for the spirit of slavery still lives. Therefore it will not do for those who labor among the colored people to preach the truth as boldly and openly as they would be free to do in other places. Even Christ clothed His lessons in figures and parables to avoid the opposition of the Pharisees."11
Here Mrs. White says "slavery" will "again" be revived in the southern United States, and that because of this reason, Adventist preachers should be careful how they preach to negro people. Was the slavery of negro people ever revived in the Southern United States? Of course not! Since the Civil War, it has been a federal crime to engage in slavery. Slavery is a system where one human being owns another human being, and the slave has no personal rights under the law. That system was abolished and it never will be revived again. Any person can choose to live and work any place they want to. Thanks be to God, slavery is dead and gone.
Your Question: "I've seen proof slavery has revived in Florida as a fulfillment of Ellen White's prophecy. I read there are immigrant workers from Central America who work picking oranges in Florida orange groves. What say you?"
Our Answer: Yes, some migrant workers are abused by their employers and those employers are criminals who are arrested and jailed for their activities. It would take a huge stretch of the imagination to believe these criminal activities constitute a "revival" of slavery in the Southern USA. This type of criminal activity has been going on ever since slavery was abolished, so it can hardly be described as a "revival". Whenever it is uncovered, it is stamped out. Furthermore, Mrs. White specifically said that the system of "slavery will again be revived in the Southern states" and for that reason, pastors must be careful how they preach to the negro race. Are exploited migrant workers the reason that SDA pastors are told to be careful how they preach to the negro race? Of course not! The exploitation of migrant workers is a completely different subject. This "explanation" by Adventist "spin-doctors" takes her statement completely out of the context in which she made it and mocks the intelligence of the Adventist people. Mrs. White was clearly confused about the revival of slavery in the USA and her prophecy utterly failed.
Mrs. White says some ignorant slaves will go to neither heaven nor hell while the Bible says that "all" will go to one or the other. She further contradicts the Bible by saying that slavery is a "sin". Finally, she prophesied that the institution of slavery would again be revivied in the Southern USA and it has not and will never again be revived. You be the judge. Was Mrs. White divinely inspired about slavery? Or was she the author of confusion?
1. Resolution on the Spirit of Prophecy, 58th General Conference Session, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, July 3, 2005. "We call upon our youth to acquaint themselves with the wealth of divine counsel found in these writings..."
2. Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 193.
4. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 59, and Christ's Object Lessons, p. 385.
5. All Greek and Hebrew word definitions in this document come from Strong's.
6. No one connected with this web site supports slavery in any way, shape, or form. While it does not qualify in the Bible as a "sin", it is clearly not God's highest will for people to live in slavery. Those who run this web site strongly believe that God desires all to live a life of freedom, both financial and spiritual.
7. Ellen G. White, Testimonies Vol. 1, p. 264.
8. Abraham: Gen. 24, Job: Job 19:15,16, David: 2 Sam. 12:18, Hagar: Gen. 16:9.
9. Genesis 24:35, Hebrew `ebed: slave, servant, man-servant. Evidence that these servants were not voluntary is found in God's instructions to Abraham that all the servants in his household that were "bought with money" were to be circumcised (Gen. 17:13,27).
10. Ellen G. White, The Kress Collection, p. 147.
11. Ellen G. White, Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 21. Also Manuscript Releases, vol. 2 (MR #153), p. 300.
Category: Confused Teachings
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