E.G. White's Literary Work: An Update

By Ron Graybill, Associate Secretary, Ellen G. White Estate

An edited and annotated transcript of a tape recording of presentations made in the morning worship services at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Nov. 15-19, 1981

In closing, let me read a summary of statements that I think capsulize [sic] what we know at this point about the scope and the nature of Ellen White’s literary borrowing.

  1. Mrs. White read carefully and extensively in the books and articles written by conservative Protestant religious figures of her time. She had several favorite authors. She made use of a number of books from each of them. She also drew materials from a wide range of other books and articles. Thus, we can say that she read more widely in non-Adventist sources and made more extensive use of those sources then we had previously understood. And as I pointed out, we still have some of these books in the Ellen G. White library.
  2. Next, Mrs. White borrowed not only the words and phrases used by these authors, but in some cases, followed the outline of their expositions and drew from [their] facts, illustrations, thoughts, and concepts.
  3. The material borrowed by Mrs. White included historical, geographical, and chronological information, as well as devotional material, theological concepts—we saw some of those in the material that we presented from Melvill—and scriptural and prophetic expositions. She also employed extra-Biblical comments on the lives of various Biblical characters, often turning the speculations and conjectures of her sources into statements of positive fact. Sometimes similar use was made of their comments on the thoughts and activities of supernatural beings, that is, God, Satan, and their respective angels.
  4. These borrowings—now we’re going to talk about Mrs. White’s books as a whole and which of them involved borrowings—these borrowings occurred not only in the historical sections of the Great Controversy, but also in its prophetic sections. They appear in descriptions of the content of specific visions given to Mrs. White. It would be unwise at this point to assert that there is any particular book written by Mrs. White or any type of writing from her pen in which literary borrowing will not be found.
  5. In cases where we have Mrs. White’s handwritten draft of something she borrowed, this handwritten version is usually closer to the literary source than is the published version which followed. This difference should generally be attributed to the work of Ellen White’s literary assistants in editing her material for publication—a work that she approved. There are also times when Mrs. White uses a borrowed idea on several different occasions herself, using slightly different words each time.
  6. Many of the beautifully expressed thoughts, that is, many of the literary gems found in Mrs. White’s writings were borrowed from other authors. This fact, together with the knowledge that her writings were polished by literary assistants, leads us to avoid the suggestion that the literary beauty of her writings is an evidence of her divine inspiration.
  7. It is impossible at this time to say what percentage of Mrs. White’s writings involve borrowed material. This is so because only a fraction of the many books she owned and read have been examined. The borrowings range from vaguely similar thoughts and verbal echoes to very close and continuous borrowing of long phrases and nearly complete sentences. Verbatim borrowing of complete sentences is extremely rare, but in portions of Ellen White’s writings where borrowing has been noticed, close paraphrasing is very common. Another reason why it is difficult to say what percentage of Mrs. White’s writings involved borrowed material is that much of what Mrs. White wrote first appeared in letters, later in articles, and finally in books. This means that there is a great deal of repetition of the same or similar material. Because of this repetition it is difficult to say how much writing Mrs. White actually did, and thus impossible to say with statistical precision what percentage of the total might involve borrowing from other authors.

That summarizes what we know at this point.

Category: Plagiarism
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below