The Pocket Ellen G. White Dictionary
The Pocket Ellen G. White Dictionary
To Jack Blanco, whose great admiration of and love for reading Ellen G. White’s writings is contagious.
This book fulfills the need to create a simple and ready reference work about the life and writings of Ellen G. White. The immediate impetus began as a result of teaching at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies. Many non-native English-speaking students found some of Ellen White’s words and expressions challenging. Furthermore, some of the terms were unfamiliar for individuals who were not from North America so even basic geographical terms were not familiar. Most of my students had never traveled to the United States. After assisting on The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia for more than a decade, my desire was to create a simple reference tool to look up basic words and key concepts. The goal was to develop something similar to what Intervarsity Press’s academic imprint has done with a series of small reference works on church history, theology, and related topics. Thus, this book is a combination of both unusual words and expressions as well as a ready reference to key concepts, personalities, and historical events that were very much a part of Ellen G. White’s life and world.
One of my close friends and former professors, Dr. Jud Lake, who has taught Adventist history and ministry for two decades at Southern Adventist University, gratefully contributed ideas and was willing to collaborate with me on this venture. The project has become much stronger than if either of us had ventured to do this on our own. We have had the opportunity to collaborate and tangibly share our mutual love for Adventist history and, specifically, our appreciation for the life and writings of Ellen G. White.
This is not intended to be a groundbreaking work of new scholarship, but instead, it builds upon scholarship already done on Ellen G. White’s life and ministry. In the past few decades, a new generation of Adventist historians have laid a broad foundation of new research and interpretations that have added depth to Ellen G. White studies. At the same time, such research necessitates fresh attempts at synthesis. This work attempts to make a contribution in this latter category.
We included not only basic terms of reference—such as people, publications, or places—but also specific words, or jargon, familiar to people who lived during Ellen G. White’s lifetime. The only previous attempt at this appears in an appendix to volume 3 of the Comprehensive Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White, which was created a little over fi e decades ago. This list included about fifty terms that are helpful. The problem is that this list is brief and represents terms that were unfamiliar practically two generations ago. Many more terms have been added to this original list as the passing of time necessitates additional words or phrases that should be explored. This current list is not intended to be exhaustive. A starting point for this list began by carefully reviewing the nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church (1855—1909) and the fi e volumes of the Conflict of the Ages series (1888—1917). We marked at the back of each volume unusual words or phrases that stood out as unfamiliar. This allowed us to start with our own unique list of words or phrases from her lifetime. A close examination of the words she used, along with grammatical constructions, shows that, like most people, the manner in which she expressed herself changed over time. Although the meaning of words also changed, she sometimes absorbed Victorian rhetoric that historians characterize as direct, uncompromising, and often hyperbolic (Cf. Benjamin McArthur, A. G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth-Century Adventism [Nampa, ID: Pacific press®, 2016], 93).
Some theological ideas that were important in Ellen G. White’s early life and ministry changed to other priorities during her lifetime. And in other instances, she provided greater clarity and depth to still yet other concepts. Naturally, there were some words or expressions that are only used in a few brief instances. Such brevity, especially when further clarification is limited, necessitates caution with regard to interpretation. In such instances, priority has been given to her own writings when possible to define the meaning of her words. Other tools used include Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, along with other reference works published during her lifetime. Webster remains especially significant for his systematization of American grammar and spelling marking the fading away from the earlier colonial British English with movement toward the emerging American English. As already mentioned, not every word or expression could be included in this list; yet this “pocket dictionary” of Ellen G. White attempts to highlight some of the most significant or, at times, most unusual words and phrases. Our goal from the beginning has been to limit the size of this volume to approximately fi e hundred entries.
The volume has two parts: the first is a general introduction to Ellen G. White and her writings, followed by the second part consisting of the actual entries themselves. Asterisks (*) refer to other pertinent entries; in a few instances, there are cross-references to other entries to avoid unnecessary confusion or duplication.
Finally yet importantly, we are grateful to a number of persons who have helped to make this volume possible. Special thanks are due to Ed Allen, Benjamin Baker, Donny Chrissutianto, Denis Fortin, Anna Galenience, Ronald Graybill, Norman Gulley, Denis Kaiser, Bill Knott, Koberson Langhu, Doug Matacio, Jerry Moon, Eike Mueller, Miguel Patino, Tim Poirier, Nikolaus Satelmajer, Graeme Sharrock, Alberto R. Timm, Cindy Tutsch, Clinton Wahlen, Woodrow W. Whidden II, and Ed Zinke, who at various stages in the journey have offered advice and incisive comments. A debt of gratitude is due to George R. Knight, Brian E. Strayer, and Kevin M. Burton, whose meticulous feedback did much to strengthen the manuscript. Wendy Marcum and Amy Scoggins were invaluable editors who along with Tammie Knauff helped to catch many potential pitfalls. Of course, final responsibility for the content belongs to the authors alone. An additional word of gratitude is due to Jerry D. Thomas, Scott Cady, and Miguel Valdivia, who helped guide this manuscript through the editorial process.
Who Was Ellen G. White?
Ellen G. White was an exceptional person. As an American prophet, she received hundreds of dreams and visions that she credited as revelations from God. Her literary output— approximately one hundred thousand pages—is nothing short of staggering. Several of her most important works, Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages, and The Great Controversy, are classics in their own right. Each have had multiple editions, were translated in numerous languages, and remain in print to this day. Tens of millions of copies of her works have been distributed around the world. The appeal of her thought continues through articles, reviews, dissertations, and conferences, despite the fact that she never saw herself as an academic. Instead, she gave practical advice through “ testimonies” for those near and far. She cofounded the Seventh-day Adventist Church with her husband, James, and Joseph Bates. After they passed away, she lived for more than three decades as a pivotal influence upon the formation and development of the denomination. Her writings continue to challenge and inspire lay readers as well as scholars.
Although her pen has had a lasting influence, her life involved far more. She was an activist in a host of religious and social reforms. Ellen Gould Harmon and her twin, Elizabeth, were born on November 26, 1827, near Gorham, Maine, to Robert and Eunice Harmon. Like many evangelicals of her time, she experienced a dramatic conversion after a near-death experience. Several years later she gave her heart to Jesus Christ and applied for baptism in the Chestnut Street Methodist church. Pastor John Hobart baptized her in Casco Bay, Portland, Maine, on June 26, 1842. The same year Ellen heard the revivalist William Miller preach about the soon return of Jesus Christ. She later described this time as the “happiest year” of her life (LS80 187).
After the Great Disappointment, when Christ did not return as the “little floc ” expected on October 22, 1844, she became discouraged (LS80 189). It was also around this time that physicians diagnosed her with tuberculosis. The chronic illness was so debilitating that her mother, Eunice, had to stay up all night to prevent Ellen from choking on her own blood. Another Millerite friend, Elizabeth Haines, offered to take care of her; this is how Ellen happened to be at her home with a group of women on an unknown morning in December 1844 when she received her first vision. Together, as they knelt in prayer, she was shown a scattered group of Advent believers on a pathway from this world to heaven. At the beginning of the path was a light, which she was told was the “midnight cry” message about the near advent of Christ (EW 14). At the other end of the path was a much brighter light where she saw Jesus. So long as the pilgrims on the pathway kept their eyes on Jesus, they were safe; but some took their eyes off Him and fell into the darkness below. This vision served as a confirmation that the Advent believers’ experience was not in vain. Although initially hesitant, Ellen gained courage and began to share her visionary experiences in public. At first, she traveled with family members, but later she was also accompanied by another Millerite lecturer, James White. The two ere wed on August 30, 1846.
During the next few years, they wrestled over the cause of their disappointment. From Joseph Bates, they learned about the seventh-day *Sabbath, although they feared initially “that Bro. B. erred in dwelling upon the fourth commandment more than the other nine” (2SG 82). Later, after studying the issue further, they conceded that Bates was right and also accepted the new interpretation of the sanctuary as advocated by O. R. L. Crosier, Hiram Edson, and others in western New York. They believed that Miller had mistaken this earth as the sanctuary that was to be cleansed in Daniel 8:14; instead there was a cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven as Christ moved from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place, which must take place before the Second Coming. This “investigative judgment” gradually changed their missiological perspective.
From 1848 to 1850, James and Ellen G. White, along with Joseph Bates, participated in a series of conferences across the northeastern United States. They shared their views with other disappointed Millerites. Slowly, a body of believers coalesced that rallied around two new serial publications: the Present Truth and the Advent Review. After 1850, they merged into the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Although small at first, Ellen G. White predicted that it would grow to become “like streams of light that went clear round the world” (LS 125).
The Whites relocated several times during this early period, settling in Rochester, New York, from 1851 to 1855. They continued to struggle financially. The Whites responded to an offer from believers to build them a publishing house and home in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1855. The denomination formally organized there in 1863, and Battle Creek remained the center of the Adventist work until a series of disasters struck in 1902. This subsequently led to the transition of the church headquarters to Takoma Park, Maryland.
During these early years, Ellen G. White became a mother to four boys: Henry Nichols (1847—1863), James Edson (1849—1928), William Clarence (1854—1937), and John Herbert (1860). One of the most difficult struggles of her life, she stated, was to leave her children behind in the care of others as she maintained a vigorous travel schedule (LS 165). She wrote frequent letters to her children; and as they grew older, they increasingly traveled with their parents. Tragically, young John Herbert died from *erysipelas, a skin infection, when he was less than three months old. “At times I could not control my feelings as I witnessed his sufferings” she exclaimed. “But our heavenly Father saw fit to remove my lovely babe” (2SG 296). Later Henry died while spending the summer with close family friends in Maine. In her later years, Ellen G. White, as a health reformer, regretted that she did not know more about health reform during this early stage in their lives. Of the two remaining children, Edson was more of a rebel, who caused them grief. He left the church for a short period only to experience a conversion later on in life and served successfully as a missionary to black Americans in the southern United States. Ellen’s precious “Willie” was always the son who took care of his mother after his father’s death in 1881.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church grew significantly, particularly during the late 1850s through the 1860s, when many organizational developments took place. The name Seventh-day Adventist was chosen in 1860; and the following year the publishing house was incorporated, along with the earliest conference. By 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially organized under the auspices of a General Conference. On June 5, 1863, soon after the church’s organization, Ellen G. White received a far-reaching health- reform vison. From this vision, she described the importance of the whole body and the need to pay attention to natural laws and to use natural remedies, in contrast to the many poisonous drugs that were typically prescribed at that time. By 1872, the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference acquired the “Select School” that had formed in Battle Creek, Michigan, with *Goodloe Harper Bell as the first teacher. That school quickly expanded to become the *Battle Creek College two years later. The year 1874 witnessed the departure of the first American-born denominationally sponsored missionaries: John Nevins Andrews, with his children Mary and Charles, expanded the Adventist presence on the European continent. Adventist education and missions would expand significantly in subsequent decades
Ellen G. White’s personal life, as well as the denomination, suffered a significant setback with the death of James White; after a series of debilitating strokes and malaria, he finally succumbed to malaria in 1881. Afterward, her son Willie White would frequently travel with her and support his mother’s ministry and writing work. From 1885 to 1887, they traveled through Europe, helping organize and support the missionary work, including resolving conflicts between missionaries. Ellen articulated a missiological principle of developing missionary centers, resolutely urged the continued expansion of Adventist missions, and set the example herself when she went to Australia from 1891 to 1900.
The final years of Ellen G. White, from the time she returned from Australia until her death on July 16, 1915, at Elms haven, near St. Helena, California, were characterized by a surge in productivity in terms of her writing. She, assisted as she was by a staff of secretaries and editors, continued to counsel church leaders and was active in the reorganization of the General Conference in 1901. She also supported A. G. Daniells, a young minister and missionary, who had experience (with Willie White) in developing union conferences (groups of conferences) and restructuring the denomination.
Ellen G. White and the Bible
Fundamental to understanding Ellen G. White is her view of the Bible. Almost every page of her extensive published writings contains a scriptural quotation, reference, or allusion. The Bible is, without a doubt, central to all her writings. After recounting her early visions in her first book, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, she said of the Bible: “I recommend to you, dear reader, the word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged. God has, in that Word, promised to give visions in the ‘last days;’ not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of his people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth” (64). This statement is significant because it reveals how she understood her visions in relationship to the Bible early in her prophetic ministry. The Bible, she said, was the final rule for “faith and practice,” and the visions were never to take the place of the Bible.
Sixty years later, after more visions and study of Scripture, this position had only matured. In the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy, she affirmed her lifelong position on the final authority of the Bible in relationship to the work of the Spirit in her prophetic ministry :
In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience. . . .
The Spirit was not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested (vii).
Over the years, she repeatedly set forth her writings as subject to the Bible, rather than as an addition to it: “The Lord desires you to study your Bibles. He has not given any additional light to take the place of his Word. This light is to bring confused minds to his Word, which, if eaten and digested, is as the lifeblood of the soul” (3SM 29). In 1901, she urged the General Conference leaders to uphold the Bible as their primary authority: “Lay Sister White to one side. Do not quote my words again as long as you live until you can obey the Bible. When you make the Bible your food, your meat and your drink, when you make its principles the elements of your character, you will know better how to receive counsel from God. I exalt the precious Word before you today. Do not repeat what I have said, saying, ‘Sister White said this,’ and ‘Sister White said that.’ Find out what the Lord God of Israel says, and then do what He commands” (13MR 200).
With compelling power, she stressed the importance of the Bible as the place for Christians to hear the voice of God: “The Bible is God’s voice speaking to us, just as surely as though we could hear it with our ears. If we realized this, with what awe would we open God’s word, and with what earnestness would we search its precepts! The reading and contemplation of the Scriptures would be regarded as an audience with the Infinite ne” (6T 393).
Ellen G. White’s most memorable analogy of the relationship of her writings to the Bible occurs in the following statement: “Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light” (3SM 30). This greater-light, lesser-light comparison suggests that just as the moon derives its light from the sun and only reflects the emittance from that source, so her messages derive their authority from Scripture, reflect its teaching, and lead others to it as the basis for Christian living and doctrine. Thus, if students of Ellen G. White heed her, they will study the Bible first to understand God’s will and then go to her writings.
How to Interpret Ellen G. White’s Writings
At the time of her death in 1915, Ellen G. White had produced more than one hundred thousand pages of published material. With such a large body of writings, written during an era (1845—1915) far removed from our twenty-first-century world, correct principles of interpretation are essential to understand her message. The following eight guidelines will aid the student in understanding the intended meaning of Ellen G. White’s writings:
1. Study the Bible first, then go to Ellen G. White’s writings. Ellen G. White never meant for her writings to be read in place of the Bible. For her, Scripture was the supreme source of God’s revelation (see Bible; revelation and inspiration; and authority). “God’s Word is the unerring standard. The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word,” she declared (Ev 256). Throughout her seventy-year prophetic ministry, her attitude toward the Bible was expressed thus: “My brethren and sisters, go to the Bible, and from it learn God’s will concerning you” (5MR 250). Regular readers of Ellen G. White’s writings should make their first priority the study of the Bible.
Because Ellen G. White’s writings are a manifestation of the postbiblical prophetic gift, the function of her writings is to give an inspired application of the Bible. Just as the biblical prophet Huldah authoritatively applied Scripture to her audience (2 Chronicles 34:24—28), so Ellen G. White applied Scripture in her writings. Thus, it only makes sense for readers of Ellen G. White to go first to the source from which the application comes. In this way, her writings are better understood and appreciated.
The order of reading should, therefore, be the following:
Bible Ellen G. White
It should not be as follows:
Ellen G. White Bible
2. Study all available information on a given topic. When studying a topic in Ellen G. White’s writings, such as the Holy Spirit, the 144,000, or prayer, one should listen to the wide spectrum of her counsel. An isolated statement here or there does not always give the complete picture of her teaching on a subject. The Ellen G. White Estate has a text searchable website that includes virtually all of her published and unpublished writings (https://egwwritings .org). Its search engine enables the student to instantly pull up every instance in which a term or phrase is used in all her published writings. Reading through these references provides a more comprehensive understanding of Ellen G. White’s thoughts on a topic. But a word of caution is in order: if the statements are not read in their literary context, the tendency is to read one’s own ideas into them. The next How to Interpret Ellen G. White’s Writings hermeneutical guideline is a good antidote for this dangerous practice.
3. Study each statement in its immediate and larger literary context. In Ellen G. White’s writings, the literary context is the paragraphs, pages, documents, and books surrounding a particular statement. In the case of a letter, manuscript, or published article, one must look at a sentence or paragraph in light of the surrounding paragraphs and then as part of the entire document. In the case of a book, one must view the statement noting the surrounding paragraphs and pages in a chapter and eventually in light of the entire book. Regarding the larger context, every statement should be viewed in light of the Conflict of the Ages series. These fi e volumes—Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, The Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy—provide the theological framework for Ellen G. White’s writings. They reflect her most mature theological thought on themes appearing earlier in her writings and thus should be carefully understood by any interpreter.
The practice of using a statement from Ellen G. White out of its context disrupts the flow of her thought. Like any organized writer, her fl w of thought was a series of related ideas that she carefully laid out to communicate a specific concept. This meaningful communication involved a type of logical thought progression in which one thought led naturally to the next. In this way, she communicated like most people communicate—with a series of selected ideas, all linked together in a logical pattern. Thus, each sentence she wrote must be understood in light of the other ideas expressed in the context, which is her train of thought. To insert a foreign meaning, contrary to her original intention, is a violation of her rights as an author. Yet this is what some readers do with her writings on a regular basis.
Ellen G. White was very aware of the issue of literary context in her writings. On several occasions, she commented on the way her writings were taken out of context:
Many men take the testimonies the Lord has given, and apply them as they suppose they should be ap-plied, picking out a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea. Thus poor souls become bewildered, when could they read in order all that has been given, they would see the true application, and would not become confused. Much that purports to be a message from Sister White, serves the purpose of misrepresenting Sister White, making her testify in favor of things that are not in accordance with her mind or judgment (1SM 44).
In the same vein, she wrote, “Those who are not walking in the light of the message may gather up statements from my writings that happen to please them, and that agree with their human judgment, and, by separating these statements from their connection, and placing them beside human reasoning, make it appear that my writings uphold that which they condemn” (Lt. 208, 1906). In both of these statements, she uses the word connection; this carries the same meaning as the word context. Ellen G. White was thus sensitive to the way her writings were taken out of context by her followers. At one point of frustration, she remarked,
What I might say in private conversations would be so repeated as to make it mean exactly opposite to what it would have meant had the hearers been sanctified in mind and spirit. I am afraid to speak even to my friends; for afterwards I hear, Sister White said this, or Sister White said that.
My words are so wrested and misinterpreted that I am coming to the conclusion that the Lord desires me to keep out of large assemblies and refuse private interviews (3SM 82).
4. Study each statement in its historical context. Ellen G. White lived most of her life during the latter half of the nineteenth century. This general historical period, with its rapidly changing religious, political, and cultural landscape was the historical context of her day-to-day life experience. She lived through such political events as the war with Mexico (1846-1848), the Civil War (1861-1865), Reconstruction after the Civil War (1865-1877), the Spanish- American War (1898), and the beginning of World War I (1914-1918). Other important contexts include the foreign missionary movement (1810-early 1900s), the urbanization of America (1870s-1920s), and the temperance movement (1870s-1930s). She also observed and experienced the growth of spiritualism, the expansion of evangelicalism, the initiation of numerous social reforms, and the perpetuation of racial tensions. This rich and varied background cannot be ignored in the interpretation of her writings any more than the historical context of first-century Palestine can be ignored in interpreting the teachings of Jesus.
In the more specific historical context of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, time, place, and circumstances are the keys to unlocking the meaning of many of Ellen G. White’s statements penned over a seventy-year period. On more than one occasion, she specified the importance of these categories for interpreting her writings. Regarding time, she wrote in 1875, concerning the advancement of the work of God, “that which may be said in truth of individuals at one time may not correctly be said of them at another time” (3T 471). Concerning circumstances in her writings, she stated in 1904 that “circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things” (3SM 217). Referring to her writings in 1911, she penned, “Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered” (1SM 57). Thus, Ellen G. White expressed concern that her readers keep the historical context of her writings in mind.
Several resources for understanding the historical context of Ellen G. White’s writings are Arthur L. White’s six-volume biography Ellen G. White; George R. Knight’s Ellen White’s World: A Fascinating Look at the Times in Which She Lived; Jud Lake’s A Nation in God’s Hands; The World of Ellen G. White, edited by Gary Land; and The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, edited by Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon.
5. Discover the underlying principles. In the study of Ellen G. White’s writings, it is important to understand the difference between principles and applications. A principle is a universal, timeless rule of human conduct or behavior. An application is when a principle is used in a specific, historically conditioned situation. For example, Mrs. White counseled men to “let their beards remain unshaven, . . . until the Sabbath is past” (ST May 25, 1882). Some take this statement as Sabbath keeping legislation that present-day Adventists do not follow. What Seventh-day Adventist preacher today, they argue, would come to church unshaven?
This is a classic case of overlooking the historical setting of the statement. In 1882, when this statement was penned, shaving consumed much more time than it does today. Men had to mix their own soap lather and sharpen their handheld straight razors on leather bands called strops. Today, because of electric shavers, shaving is a simple process, taking only a few minutes at most. Ellen G. White’s application of the underlying principle—avoiding any unnecessary labor that interferes with the spirit of the Sabbath—fit the historical context of shaving in the nineteenth century. Would she tell men not to shave today? No. Most twenty- first-centu y Adventist men, depending on their culture, do not view shaving as violating the spirit of the Sabbath. But the underlying principle remains normative and can be applied to other activities. The efore always look for the underlying, timeless principles.
6. Stay balanced, and avoid extreme interpretations. Adventist history is replete with people who had extreme interpretations of Ellen G. White’s writings. Although balance typified her writings, this has not always been found in her followers. Some, for example, have taken her counsel “eggs should not be placed upon your table” (2T 399) to mean that all Seventh-day Adventists should not eat eggs. These readers have, however, missed the historical context of this letter in which Mrs. White addressed a specific family struggling with their diet (2T 712). She never meant this counsel to be applied to all Seventh-day Adventists, and she provided a balancing statement: “While warnings have been given regarding the dangers of disease through butter, and the evil of the free use of eggs by small children, yet we should not consider it a violation of principle to use eggs from hens that are well cared for and suitably fed. Eggs contain properties that are remedial agencies in counteracting certain poisons” (CD 207). The historical context of these statements reveals the balanced approach Ellen White took with regard to dietary counsel. Frustrated with those who had taken “extreme views of health reform” after reading her writings, she wrote that “health reform becomes health deform, a health destroyer, when it is carried to extremes” (CD 202; emphasis added). Thus, one should always look for balancing statements in Ellen G. White’s writings.
Concerning those who would take radical views of her writings, she wrote:
It is the desire and plan of Satan to bring in among us those who will go to great extremes—people of narrow minds, who are critical and sharp, and very tenacious in holding their own conceptions of what the truth means. They will be exacting, and will seek to enforce rigorous duties, and go to great lengths in matters of minor importance, while they neglect the weightier matters of the law— judgment and mercy and the love of God. Though the work of a few of this class of persons, the whole body of Sabbath-keepers will be designated as bigoted, Pharisaical, and fanatical. The work of the truth, because of these workers, will be thought to be unworthy of notice (Ev 212).
7. Remember that inspiration is not verbal dictation. Although Ellen G. White took a more whole-person view of inspiration, some of her followers have taken a more rigid view known as verbal dictation. This view maintains that every word was dictated to the prophet by God. A classic example of this view of inspiration is found in the understanding of Dr. David Paulson, a cofounder of Hinsdale Sanitarium, who wrote to Ellen G. White and stated: “I was led to conclude and most firmly believe that every word that you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the Ten Commandments” (emphasis in the original). Her response was direct: “My brother,” she penned, “you have studied my writings diligently, and you have never found that I have made any such claims, neither will you find that the pioneers in our cause ever made such claims.” In the rest of her letter, she reinforced this statement with citations from her earlier writings on the topic (1SM 24).
Inspiration and interpretation go together like hand in glove. Those supporters of Ellen G. White who espouse a more rigid view of inspiration tend to place too much emphasis on her words and sentences, void of their literary context, and consequently develop legalistic interpretations and applications. Detractors with a rigid view of inspiration also tend to emphasize words and sentences over context but use this view as a weapon to discredit Ellen G. White’s teaching. Neither of these approaches to inspiration and interpretation is biblical or correct (see Jud Lake, Ellen White Under Fire, chap. 6).
8. Maintain a healthy, spiritual mind-set. In Reading Ellen White (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald®, 1997), George R. Knight suggests two guidelines for maintaining a healthy, spiritual mind-set while reading Ellen G. White:
First, begin your study with a prayer for guidance and understanding. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the work of prophets across the ages, is the only one who is in a position to unlock the meaning in their writings. . . .
Second, we need to approach our study with an open mind. Most of us realize that no person is free of bias, no one is completely open-minded. We also recognize that bias enters into every area of our lives. But that reality doesn’t mean that we need to let our biases control us (43).
A vital component of reading Ellen G. White’s writings is to remember that they are not an “iron rod” to be used against others. Instead, it is vital to read them for oneself and live out those counsels consistently by applying them to one’s own life. In this way, as Christian believers, we should show a spirit of love and tolerance toward others who may be at other points in their spiritual growth.
Another essential aspect is to maintain faith and trust in God, to exercise faith and avoid doubt. Concerning doubt, Ellen G. White counseled, “Many think it a virtue, a mark of intelligence in them, to be unbelieving and to question and quibble. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence” (3T 255).
As you begin or expand your journey into Ellen G. White’s writings, it is our hope that you will read them for yourself. As you do so, we hope the following entries will be helpful.