Messenger of the Lord


Revision Experience Teaches Lessons

What do we learn from this revision experience? MOL 119.10

1. We have an “official” understanding of what Adventists believe about revelation/inspiration. Adventists are thought inspirationists, not verbal inspirationists. MOL 119.11

2. We have an example of the problems created when people have a wrong concept of the revelation/inspiration process. Misunderstanding how God’s thoughts become the words of an inspired messenger directly affects how a person reads the Bible as well as the writings of Ellen White. Misunderstanding this subject creates problems in understanding truth, and eventually could destroy confidence in both the Bible and the writings of Mrs. White when imperfections of language are discovered. MOL 120.1

3. Publication of the Testimonies as revised in 1885 was used by Adventist critics to attack the inspiration of Ellen White. Because many critics believe that genuine prophetic messages are verbally inspired, they are greatly disturbed when those words are changed or challenged. Thus, for them, changes in the writings of Mrs. White are clear evidence that those writings were not inspired by God. MOL 120.2

In her letter to Uriah Smith, Ellen White wrote that she knew that “enemies” would use the revision to mock Adventists, but she said, “Let them do so.” She would not mute the truth just to avoid unfair, unprincipled attacks based on a mistaken understanding of how inspiration works. MOL 120.3

Not much time passed before D. M. Canright did “handle” it! In 1889 this former Adventist preacher, who had been in and out of the ministry at least four times, wrote in his scathing book, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced: “In 1885 all her ‘testimonies’ were republished in four volumes, under the eye of her own son and a critical editor. Opening haphazard to four different pages in Vol. 1, I read and compared them with the original publication which I have. I found on an average twenty-four changes of the words on each page! Her words were thrown out and other words put in and other changes made, in some cases so many that it was difficult to read the two together. At the same rate in the four volumes, there would be 63,720 changes. MOL 120.4

“Taking, then, the words which were put in by her husband, by her copyist, by her son, by her editors, and those copied from other authors, probably they comprise from one-tenth to one quarter of all her books. Fine inspiration that is!” 66 MOL 120.5

Canright greatly exaggerated the revisions made, but he was not alone in his distress over revisions of Ellen White’s published works. Leaders such as W. W. Prescott, S. N. Haskell, and Milton Wilcox (editor, Signs of the Times) maintained some form of verbal inspiration that, in turn, affected their attitudes on certain doctrinal issues to come. Prescott, especially, seems to have been influenced by Louis Gaussen’s widely circulated Theopneustia (1841) which was a clear defense for Biblical inerrancy. 67 MOL 120.6

Gaussen and, later, Prescott, lived in a time of great theological upheaval. English rationalists, German mystics, and budding American liberals combined higher critical methods in their frontal assault on the integrity of the Bible. Gaussen and others were leaders in upholding basic Christian fundamentals, but much of this defense was behind the moat of Biblical inerrancy, which, for them, meant some form of verbal inspiration. They believed that it was an either/or warfare: either higher criticism or verbal inspiration. For the sake of defending the high view of Scripture, they employed an indefensible view of inspiration. Gaussen, for example, believed that the prophet’s words were inspired, not the prophet: “If the words of the book are dictated by God, of what consequence to me are the thoughts of the writer?” 68 MOL 120.7

Through the years Prescott’s earlier confusion, along with that of other leaders, contributed to unnecessary and unachievable expectations regarding the writings of Ellen White. This confusion erupted from time to time, especially in the 1919 Bible Conference, and, later, in the 1970s. 69 MOL 120.8

Many ministers and laymen, because they had not been clearly instructed, continued to feel more secure with some form of verbal inspiration. Careful leadership instruction, such as that which W. C. White tried to convey, generally fell on deaf ears. 70 MOL 120.9