Messenger of the Lord
Chapter 40—Understanding How the Books Were Prepared
“Sources seemed to be employed more often to provide background and descriptive comment than for devotional and evangelical content.... One is more apt to find Ellen White’s independent comment in the moralizing or theologizing commentary.” 1 MOL 456.1
Some have wondered whether the expansion of Ellen White’s original work on the life of Christ from approximately fifty small pages in Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, to the thousand or more pages in The Desire of Ages, Christ’s Object Lessons, and Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing was due to an extensive use of other sources. After six years of study, Fred Veltman, the author of the research study on the literary sources in The Desire of Ages, concluded that there was “no evidence” that the enlarged commentary on the life of Christ was due “to a greater use of the sources.” He readily saw that the broader treatment of the life of Christ—which included more narrative-incidents, combined with the greater accumulation of material written by Ellen White through the years from which the finished product was compiled—easily accounted for the increased number of pages. 2 MOL 456.2
Another question some have raised relates to who did the “using” of other sources—Ellen White or her editorial assistants, including Marian Davis. The evidence reveals that Ellen White herself utilized the sources which were brought into her published writings. No evidence has been found that Marian Davis or other assistants were responsible for the materials Ellen White adapted from other religious writers. 3; Veltman, Ministry, October 1990, p. 6; December, 1990, p. 14. MOL 456.3
Ellen White maintained extensive diaries or journals. Not only did she (generally) keep daily records but often she amplified her thoughts, seemingly without any particular reason except to let her mind flow out on paper. These entries included both personal impressions and thoughts from her reading. At such times, without any attempt to organize under specific headings, Mrs. White copied or paraphrased those items from her extensive reading that she wanted to remember. From these journals her editorial assistants would gather material for periodical articles. As time passed, many of these early jottings became part of her published books. 4. MOL 456.4
Some of these copied or paraphrased materials were used not only in her book production but in letters, sermons, and even in expressing herself better in her diaries. On rare occasions she used borrowed language to express thoughts directly impressed upon her in vision. To one accepting verbal inspiration, such borrowing in reporting a vision might be a problem, but not to one who recognizes that God’s messengers relate inspired messages in words of their own choosing. 5 MOL 456.5
W. C. White recalled that when his mother was actively engaged in preparing her Life of Christ “she had very little time to read. Previous to her work of writing MOL 456.6
on the life of Christ and during the time of her writing, to some extent, she read from the works of Hanna, Fleetwood, Farrar, and Geikie. I never knew of her reading Edersheim. She occasionally referred to [Samuel] Andrews, particularly with reference to chronology.” 6 MOL 457.1
Fred Veltman concluded that qualifying expressions such as “minimal borrowing,” “wholesale borrowing,” or references to percentage estimates are “relative and imprecise terms.” He believed that those who use such terms are either attempting to dismiss “Ellen White’s use of sources or are stressing the unusual amount of borrowing.” Both emphases are misleading. 7 It is more accurate “to speak of her creative and independent use of her own writings and that of others than to minimize the amount of her borrowing.” 8. MOL 457.2
For those, however, who seek percentages of dependency, Veltman found that 31 percent of the sentences in the fifteen random chapters he studied, indicated at least one word or more of literary dependency. 9. “To deny her indebtedness ... or to underplay their influence would ... not be a fair assessment of the evidence.... But to stress the literary borrowing to such an extent that Ellen White’s special contributions as a writer and as a messenger, for the content she wished to communicate, are severely downplayed or denied, is also in my opinion an inaccurate evaluation of the evidence.” Ibid., p. 933. Since 1983, the White Estate has maintained an ongoing project to document passages in Ellen White’s writings known to be verbally dependent upon a prior non-Ellen White and non-Biblical source. As of this writing, these are the titles with the highest percentages of known borrowing. (The Desire of Ages was not included in the study because it was included in the Veltman research.) Parallel Lines and Percentages:
The Great Controversy (in quotes), 3,241—15.11%.
The Great Controversy (uncredited), 1,084—5.05%.
Sketches From the Life of Paul, 1,185—12.23%.
Steps to Christ, 196—6.23%.
The Acts of the Apostles, 426—3.05%.
Faith and Works, 73—2.97%.
Testimonies for the Church vol. 5, 638—2.82%.
Messages to Young People, 282—2.67%.
Patriarchs and Prophets, 543—2.28%.
Selected Messages, book 1, 235—2.03%.
Testimonies for the Church vol. 4, 395—1.88%.
Prophets and Kings, 242—1.51%.
A complete report is available at the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD, U.S.A MOL 457.3