Ellen White Contradiction: Are the Words of the Bible Inspired? Or not?
By Dirk Anderson
In 1886, Ellen White wrote that the words of the Bible are not inspired:
It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions, but on the man himself, who under the influence of the Holy Ghost is imbued with thoughts. But the words and thoughts receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the Word of God.1
Prior to the 1880s - Verbal Inspiration
Prior to the early 1880s, Ellen White and the SDA Church taught that the actual words of the Bible were inspired. This is known as verbal inspiration. The quotes below demonstrate that Ellen White believed and taught the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. In 1854, she wrote that the writings of the apostles were dictated by the Holy Ghost:
He who is the father of lies, blinds and deceives the world by sending his angels forth to speak for the apostles, and make it appear that they contradict what they wrote when on earth, which was dictated by the Holy Ghost.2
In 1876, she wrote:
The scribes of God wrote as they were dictated by the Holy Spirit, having no control of the work themselves. They penned the literal truth...3
Ellen White's statements were consistent with the beliefs of the early SDA Church. Alberto Timm, Director of the Ellen White Research Center in Brazil, wrote that "early Seventh-day Adventists regarded the Scriptures as infallible and inerrant.... An entire lecture of H. L. Hastings on inspiration appeared in the Review in 1883, referring to the Scriptures as 'the transcript of the Divine Mind.'"4
1880-1911 - Ellen White's Failures Cause SDAs to Re-examine Verbal Inspiration
Several events caused SDAs to begin doubting verbal inspiration.
During this period, conviction was building among SDA leaders that Ellen White was not verbally inspired, but many SDA leaders continued to believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Following are a few examples from the sect’s leaders:7
After 1911 - SDA Church Gradually Abandons Verbal Inspiration
In 1944, Mrs. White's 1886 statement that "the words of the Bible are not inspired" was finally published. During subsequent years, some SDA leaders adopted the position that the Bible’s words are not inspired, just the thoughts behind the words (thought inspiration). Meanwhile, other SDA leaders continued to advocate that the words of the Bible were inspired. Arthur White, grandson of Ellen White, began championing thought inspiration in the 1970s. He wrote, "Ellen G. White’s statements concerning the Bible and her work indicate that the concept of verbal inspiration is without support in either the Bible writers’ or her own word."8 In 1981, another secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, Roger Coon, began advocating for thought inspiration in a series of articles in the Journal of Adventist Education.9
Finally, in 1988, in their official doctrinal book, the SDA General Conference officially abandoned verbal inspiration of the Bible: "God inspired men--not words."10 Thus, the SDA Church finally caved in to the Ellen White Estate and admitted the words of the Bible are not inspired. They were forced into this position, because if they admitted the words of the Bible are inspired, then it would prove that their prophet, Ellen White, was inferior to the Biblical prophets. Rather than admit Ellen White was a false prophet, the sect decided to abandon the idea of verbal inspiration.
Thought Inspiration Contradicts Majority of Ellen White's Statements
Mrs. White contradicts her 1886 thought inspiration statement and repeatedly states that the words of the Bible are inspiried.
Christ dictated words which Moses wrote - "He [Moses] wrote all the words of the Lord in a book, that they might be referred to afterward. In the mount he had written them as Christ Himself dictated them."11
Jeremiah contains God's words - "The prophet Jeremiah, in obedience to the commands of God, dictated the words that the Lord gave him to Baruch, his scribe, who wrote them upon a roll."12
Words of Scripture are inspired -
The actual words of God are recorded in the Bible -
Ellen White claims verbal inspiration (at times)
Not One Heretical Sentence?
From the above quotes, it is obvious Mrs. White believed and taught the verbal inspiration of the Bible throughout her career. Her 1886 quote, "it is not the words of the Bible that are inspired" is blatantly contradictory to the majority of her statements on inspiration. It also contradicts the Bible:
To teach that the words of the Bible are not inspired is heresy.
Mrs. White wrote:
I am now looking over my diaries and copies of letters written for several years back.... I have the most precious matter to reproduce and place before the people in testimony form. ... [the people] may see that there is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written.25
Not a single heretical sentence? You decide.
1. Ellen White, Manuscript 24, 1886. This was later published in 1944, in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21. This quote was plagiarized from C.E. Stowe.
2. Ellen White, Supplement to the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen White (1854), p. 8. See also, Spiritual Gifts vol. 1, p. 176.
3. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 9. Later this was republished in the January 22, 1880, Review and Herald.
4. Alberto R. Timm, "A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844–2000)," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 10/1-2 (1999):490.
5. Ibid., 495.
6. Selected Messages, book 3, Appendix A, p. 437.
7. Timm, pp. 495-496.
8. Ibid., 512.
9. Ibid., 527.
10. Seventh-day Adventists Believe...: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, (Washington, DC: Ministerial Association of the General Conference of SDAs, 1988), p. 8.
11. Ellen White, Manuscript Release, vol. 1, p. 114.
12. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 177. See also, Prophets and Kings, p. 432: "In obedience to this command, Jeremiah called to his aid a faithful friend, Baruch the scribe, and dictated 'all the words of the Lord, which He had spoken unto him.' Verse 4. These were carefully written out on a roll of parchment...
13. Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 108.
14. Ellen White, "Testimonies to the Managers and Workers in our Institutions", p. 57.
15. Ellen White, Letter 2, 1895.
16. Ellen White, Letter 225a, 1906.
17. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, 262. See also Manuscript 39, 1908.
18. Ellen White, Letter 344, 1906.
19. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 70.
20. Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, 410.
21. Ellen White, Manuscript 76, 1893.
22. Ellen White, Manuscript 146, 1906.
23. Ellen White, Letter 265, 1907. Published in Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 51.
24. Ellen White, Manusript 60a, 1895.
25. Ellen White, Letter 329a, 1905. Published in Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 52. Mrs. White wrote material into her diaries for later use in her books, articles and letters. Mrs. White was aware that whatever she wrote could later appear in print. She wrote of Marian Davis, "She gathers materials from my diaries, from my letters, and from the articles published in the papers. ... She has been with me for twenty-five years, and has constantly been gaining increasing ability for the work of classifying and grouping my writings." (E. G. White to Brother and Sister [J.A.] Burden, January 6, 1903).