Messenger of the Lord

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Chapter 6—Physical Health

“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4). MOL 62.1

Ellen White was not a super-woman although her schedule and achievements would seem to indicate that she was. Imagine anyone crossing the United States twenty-four times by 1885, only sixteen years after the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads joined up near Ogden, Utah, in 1869! 1 Then remember that this traveling church leader was speaking to groups large and small wherever she went. And writing! When she died she left behind about 100,000 pages of published and unpublished materials, all once handwritten. She is thought to be “the third most translated author in the history of literature, its most translated woman writer, and the most translated American author of either sex.” 2 MOL 62.2

But those who knew her saw more than a 5-foot-2-inch public speaker and prodigious writer, tireless in her lifelong dedication to noble causes. As we have already noted, she was an active homemaker, staunchly loyal wife, and warm, affectionate mother. MOL 62.3

How could all this be when, at age nine, physicians gave her only months to live after the complications that followed her fateful blow in the face? 3 MOL 62.4

Some have suggested that her trauma early in life damaged the temporal lobe of her brain. This blow, they speculate, caused her to have a type of epilepsy known as complex-partial seizures. In turn, they allege that Ellen White’s visions were due to temporal lobe epilepsy, not divine revelation. MOL 62.5

In response to the charge that she had temporal lobe epilepsy, eight professors in the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Nursing, including three neurologists, plus a psychiatrist in northern California, studied the evidence available. In 1984 they wrote their report entitled, “Did Ellen White Have Complex-Partial Seizures?” 4 MOL 62.6

The report stated: “The diagnosis of a complex-partial seizure disorder (temporal-lobe or psychomotor epilepsy) is often difficult even with the help of modern techniques such as electroencephalography and video recording. Thus, the establishment of such a diagnosis retrospectively in a person who died almost 70 years ago, and concerning whom no medical records exist, can only be, at best, speculative, tenuous, and controversial. MOL 62.7

“The recent articles and presentations, which suggest that Ellen White’s visions and writings were the result of a complex-partial seizure disorder, contain many inaccuracies. Ambiguous reasoning and misapplication of facts have resulted in misleading conclusions. MOL 62.8

“This committee was appointed to evaluate the hypothesis that Ellen G. MOL 62.9

White had complex-partial seizures. After a careful review of the autobiographical and biographical material available, considered in the light of the present knowledge of this type of seizure, it is our opinion that: (1) There is no convincing evidence that Ellen G. White suffered from any type of epilepsy. (2) There is no possibility that complex-partial seizures could account for Mrs. White’s visions or for her role in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” 5 MOL 63.1

Donald I. Peterson, M.D., professor of neurology at Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine and chief of neurology at Riverside General Hospital, California (author of more than sixty articles in the field of neurology in scientific magazines), gave a more extended response. In Visions or Seizures: Was Ellen White the Victim of Epilepsy? 6 he reviewed certain allegations that Ellen Harmon sustained severe brain damage, that her “visions” were characteristic of complex-partial seizures, that her physical features during “visions” were characteristic of complex-partial seizure disorder (“automatisms”), etc. MOL 63.2