Ellen G. White and Her Critics


Chapter 21—“Rome Alone”—An Alleged Contradiction

Charge: “In the revision of some of her [Mrs. White’s] books she directly contradicts what she had previously written. Thus, in all editions of her book, The Great Controversy, 383, from 1888 up to 1911, of the fall of Babylon referred to in Revelation 14:8, she said, ‘It can not refer to the Romish Church.’ She applied it altogether to the Protestant churches. But in the revised edition of 1911 this statement was changed to read: ‘It can not refer to the Roman Church alone.’ Before this it could not refer to the Roman Church at all; but now she says it does apply to that church, and to that church particularly, but not to it alone. It includes others. Here is a contradiction if ever there was one.” EGWC 323.1

The apparent contradiction involves a passage which reads differently in the old edition of The Great Controversy from what it reads in the current, or new, edition. * Before examining the “contradiction” a word should be said about the revision, lest the reader gain the impression that the revised edition is filled with statements that set forth new beliefs and positions, possibly in conflict with earlier stated views. The facts about the revision are these: EGWC 323.2

The plates from which the book had long been printed had quite worn out. This necessitated a resetting of type in order to make new plates. The relationship of this fact to the revision of the text is set forth by Mrs. White thus: EGWC 323.3

“When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages. EGWC 323.4

“As a result of the thorough examination by our most experienced workers, some changing in the wording has been proposed. These changes I have carefully examined, and approved. I am thankful that my life has been spared, and that I have strength and clearness of mind for this and other literary work.”—Letter 56, 1911. EGWC 323.5

Here is a frank statement of the purpose in such revision as was made. And that purpose was to secure maximum clarity of expression. EGWC 324.1

Every reasonable presumption is against there being a contradiction between the two editions of The Great Controversy. Thousands of Adventist homes contained copies of the old edition, and no slightest attempt was made to recall these copies. Why should Mrs. White invite trouble and doubt among Adventists by boldly reversing her teaching concerning Rome, when there was nothing in the original statement that demanded change? By this we mean that the original statement was an exposition of a symbolic, prophetic passage, and thus no one could ever successfully prove—as we prove an error in historical statement—that her original exposition was erroneous. Then why did she revise her words regarding Rome and thus risk the charge of contradiction? The answer again is: So that her whole presentation of the subject should be “stated in the very best manner” to remove all ambiguity. EGWC 324.2