Ellen G. White and Her Critics


“The Words ... Are My Own”

Early in her public life Mrs. White declared, in commenting on the relationship between a scene portrayed before her in vision and the writing out of that scene: EGWC 461.1

“Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.”—The Review and Herald, October 8, 1867, p. 260. EGWC 461.2

Place beside this her statement in the Author’s Preface first published in The Great Controversy in 1888, and quoted at length in chapter 28. Mrs. White there describes how a prophet receives revelations and how he conveys those revelations to men: There is illumination by the Holy Spirit. Scenes are presented. Spiritual thoughts and ideas are brought to the mind. Then the prophet takes up his pen and proceeds to present, in the language of men, what has been seen and heard and impressed on his mind in vision. And it is in this context that Mrs. White frankly states that she has drawn, at times, on the language of men as found in histories and other sources. EGWC 461.3

Someone may say that this is not the way he understands inspiration. But he must know that he is expressing simply his own understanding of a very great mystery. The Bible gives us no detailed information on how the prophets related their writing of visions to their receiving of them. We can only draw inferences from their very brief and almost incidental remarks. Mrs. White gives us a rather explicit statement of how one who claims that she wrote by inspiration actually did her writing. We think that explanation reasonable and entirely consistent with Scripture and with the basic fact that the human and the divine are united in some mysterious way in the work of a prophet. EGWC 461.4

The burden of proof rests upon the critic to show that Mrs. White’s presentation of the combining of the human and the divine in a prophet’s work is inconsistent with all that we definitely know concerning the way in which Bible prophets received and wrote out their visions. We do not believe that such proof can be produced. And in the absence of that proof, Mrs. White’s explanation of how she wrote The Great Controversy, for example, permits us to believe that she truly wrote by inspiration, even though she borrowed passages from the writings of others. And, needless to add, the general principles she presented in her preface to The Great Controversy apply also to her other works. EGWC 462.1

Is there any reason why a prophet, because he is a prophet, should not read and study attentively what others have written? Even though inspiration in a prophet consists of a uniquely divine illumination of mind on events and spiritual principles, why may not he seek from every written form of speech the most effective, the most graphic, ways to convey the truth and the light that has been revealed to him in vision? EGWC 462.2