Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years: 1905-1915 (vol. 6)


Chapter 24—Inspiration and the 1911 Edition of The Great Controversy

To make any changes at all in the text of a book written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, especially a book as widely circulated and studiously read as The Great Controversy, was recognized by Ellen White and the staff at Elmshaven as something that would raise questions in the minds of Seventh-day Adventists. There were many who, jealous for Ellen White and the Spirit of Prophecy, and not having thought the matter through, held, for all practical purposes, to a theory of verbal inspiration in the work of God's prophets. An action disavowing this stance was taken by the General Conference in session in 1883. But by 1911 this was either unknown or forgotten by Adventists generally. Here is the wording: 6BIO 322.1

We believe the light given by God to His servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rare cases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed.—The Review and Herald, November 27, 1883 (in MR, p. 65, and Selected Messages 3:96). 6BIO 322.2

Ellen White's clear-cut statements on the point in her introduction to The Great Controversy in 1888 should have given guidance to Seventh-day Adventists. There were also specific circumstances and incidents that should have educated the church to this end. But in spite of all this, many still looked upon inspiration as more or less a mechanical process. 6BIO 322.3

This inaccurate view on inspiration laid the foundation for questions when the new edition of The Great Controversy came out. In fact, while the work was in progress, and on receiving the finished book in July, 1911, Ellen White joined her son in explanations of what was done and why, even though there was no real reason for anyone to be disturbed by what had taken place. So few and minor in nature were the changes made that C. C. Crisler in discussing the matter wrote: 6BIO 322.4

We do not wish to make prominent anything that would indicate this is a revised and improved edition; it is rather, a reset edition. 6BIO 323.1

The paging has been preserved throughout the work; it is essentially the same, even if it is greatly improved in some respects, notably in the verification of quoted matter, and the insertion of new or improved illustrations and the betterment of the indexes.—C. C. Crisler to Manager, The Review and Herald, February 19, 1911. 6BIO 323.2

And in the matter of dealing with questions about the work, W. C. White, on February 5, 1911, wrote to the manager of the Review and Herald: 6BIO 323.3

Our work of research has been difficult and expensive beyond all calculation. We do not regret the time nor begrudge the money. We believe that our people everywhere will appreciate what has been done. 6BIO 323.4

A few days ago I had a talk with Elder Haskell about this. At one time he was quite unreconciled to the work we were doing, supposing we were making unnecessary changes; but when we told him we were glad that when the moss-backs said to us, Let bad enough alone, we could say, It is not necessary. And when the modern critics said, You must make many changes to make this harmonize with modern historians, we could say, It is not necessary, because we find in the most trustworthy historians full corroboration of the positions taken in this book. 6BIO 323.5