14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed.” Jeremiah 14:14-15

I want to start out by being upfront about my background with the Seventh Day Adventists. From 1969 to 1973 I attended and then graduated from Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland. This college is now better known as Washington Adventist University. Takoma Park in those days was a weird blend of hippies and Adventists. In those days it was to the Adventist Church what the Vatican is to the Catholic Church and Salt Lake City is the Mormons. They had much influence in that town since even today Takoma Park is a “dry” town with no alcohol sales. The hippie influence on the town could be seen since Takoma Park is a nuclear free zone. To this day I can only determine that God had His hand in my decision to attend this school because I had never even heard of the Adventists until two showed up at our home right before I chose a college.

I was raised in a theologically liberal minded Presbyterian Church in Woodbridge, NJ. The Old White Church was established in 1675 and the first several pastors were non-conformist ministers banished to the colonies by the Church of England. The theological trajectory of that church had bottomed out by the time I attended and the ten minutes homilies the pastor gave each Sunday had no impact on me.  I will say right up front, neither my Presbyterian up bringing or my time at Columbia Union College made any impact on my spiritual orientation. I can now look back and praise God for that.

The one thing I remember distinctly from my years at CUC was the name of Ellen G. White. I was required to attend dorm worship six times a week where attendance was taken, attend the mega Sligo Seventh Day Adventist Church during the school day twice a week, and take at least one theology course each school year. Sister White was quoted as often as Scripture. The teachings of Sister White were at the center of Sabbath School teaching and her teachings were authoritatively presented in the theology classes I was required to take. The Daniel and Revelation class I took was almost entirely pulled from her writings.

The genesis of the Seventh Day Adventist movement was with the Millerite Movement. William Miller was a New York farmer and a lay Baptist pastor. Theologically astute, Miller spent years studying prophetic Scripture, particularly the prophecies in the Book of Daniel. He became fixated on Daniel 8:14: “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” From this verse he determined that the Second Coming or Advent of Jesus Christ would be approximately during the time period 1843-1844. When the Millerite predictions did not occur the movement splintered. This period in Millerite/Adventist history is known as the Great Disappointment [1]

The movement began to fragment after Christ did not return with one branch believing in what became known as shut-door theology. They believed that 1844 actually marked the door of salvation being shut not Christ’s return. It held that William Miller had heralded the final call for salvation and all who did not accept his message were lost. One young Millerite that held to this belief was Ellen Harmon (White). In her first recorded vision she was shown that the Door of Mercy was shut to those Millerites that denied William Miller’s leading in 1844 and the rest of the wicked world.

“While praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell on me, and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned to look for the Advent people in the world but could not find them–when a voice said to me, “Look again, and look a little higher.” At this I raised my eyes and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were travelling to the City, which was at the Egw1899farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind them at the first end of the path, which an angel told me was the Midnight Cry. This light shone all along the path and gave light for their feet so they might not stumble. And if they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the City, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and they said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising his glorious right arm, and from his arm came a glorious light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted Hallelujah! Others rashly denied the light behind them and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected. They fell all the way along the path one after another, until we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus’ coming. The living saints, 144,000 in number, knew and understood the voice, while the wicked thought it was thunder and an earthquake. When God spake the time, he poured on us the Holy Ghost, and our faces began to light up and shine with the glory of God as Moses’ did when he came down from Mount Sinai.”[2]

Ellen White at this point firmly believed the door to salvation was shut. There is no question of her belief in the ‘shut door’ doctrine from 1844 until 1851, yet this visionary would later deny she held to this cultic position. Subsequent visions clearly confirm her belief in the ‘Shut door’ doctrine. It was only after 1851 that her position modified. Can a prophet of God deny what she claimed to be a vision from God Himself?  An Old Testament prophet served as God’s servant in communicating God’s Word to His people. True prophets never spoke on their own authority or shared their personal opinions, but rather delivered the message God himself gave them. For instance, God promised Moses, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4:12). God also assured Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18). To Jeremiah, ““Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9). God commissioned Ezekiel by saying, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:7). And many of the Old Testament prophetic books begin with the words, “The word of the LORD that came to . . .” (Hosea 1:2; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1;  Jonah 1:1). Amos claimed, “This is what the LORD says” (Amos 1:3).

So, if Ellen White’s visions were from the Lord, we need to ask why subsequent visions contradicted her first vision? We also need to ask why if God commissioned her to speak His words and, if He put the words in her mouth, why did she need to plagiarize or paraphrase other writers of her day?  The Lord God Himself answered that in Jeremiah 23:30 “Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another.”

From 1844 to 1863 White allegedly experienced between 100 and 200 visions, typically in public places and meeting halls. She claimed to have received about 2,000 prophetic dreams and visions between 1844 and 1909 which formed the basis of her personal testimonies, sermons, articles and books. Ellen White clearly stated that her visions and her writings were from the Lord and not her own ideas or opinions: “Weak and trembling, I arose at three o’clock in the morning to write to you. God was speaking through clay. You might say that this communication was only a letter. Yes, it was a letter, but prompted by the Spirit of God, to bring before your minds things that had been shown me. In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision — the precious rays of light shining from the throne.” (Testimonies for the Church, Issue 31, Page 63, By Ellen Gould Harmon White) If this is so why did she outright plagiarize and borrow the writings of contemporary authors so much?

The charges of plagiarism and paraphrasing other authors has been irrefutably and publicly revealed beginning with a book written by Ronald Numbers titled Prophetess of Health written in 1976. Numbers book revealed Ellen White’s borrowing from contemporary health reformers of her age. Numbers caused many Adventists to question whether or not her writings were inspired and therefore did they hold any authority.

Walter Rea followed Numbers by releasing his book White Lie which revealed further revelations as to the extent of her plagiarism. With this incontrovertible evidence the Seventh Day Adventist Church needed to deal with the charges Numbers and Rea documented. In 1982, Dr. Fred Veltman, then chairman of the religion department of Pacific Union College, was asked to analyze these charges against Ellen White. Dr. Veltman spent eight years at the cost of approximately $500,000 to study White’s book The Desire of Ages. The Desire of Ages is one of White’s most popular and widely read books. It was written detailing the life of Jesus Christ and was first published in 1898. Veltman’s research was printed in the Adventist church’s official magazine for clergy named Ministry. These finding can be viewed here and here. He concluded that Ellen White did use sources without giving credit, and that she, at times even denied doing so. The Desire Of Ages, he noted, was dependent on secondary materials. The study reached five conclusions:

  1. Ellen White used literary sources when writing The Desire of Ages.
  2. The content of Ellen White’s commentary on the life and ministry of Christ, The Desire of Ages, is for the most part derived rather than original.
  3. The special character of Ellen White’s commentary is to be found in its practical use of Scripture and in its stress on spiritual realities and personal devotion.
  4. Ellen White used a minimum of 23 sources of various types of literature, including fiction, in her writings on the life of Christ.
  5. Ellen White’s literary assistants, particularly Marian Davis, are responsible for the published form of The Desire of Ages.

She claimed to have received about 2,000 prophetic dreams and visions between 1844 and 1909 which formed the basis of her personal testimonies, sermons, articles and books. As of 2015 more than 100 White titles are available in English, including compilations from her 100,000 pages of manuscript. Numbers, Rea and Veltman show that there was massive amount of “borrowing” and outright plagiarizing at all levels of Ellen White’s writings. It also revealed the extent that her writings were inaccurate or just plain wrong and therefore she could not be speaking for God. In conclusion there is a movement within the Adventist Church to de-emphasize her writings as prophetic but to describe them as still beneficial to read. In conclusion the truth is that she was a false prophet and she should be shown no honor at all. The Lord God Himself has told us “Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another.” Jeremiah 23:30

[1] The Great Disappointment in the Millerite movement was the reaction that followed William Miller’s predictions that Jesus Christ would return during the 1843-1844 time frame. Miller’s proclamations occurred during the time frame of the Second Great Awakening in American history. Miller himself did not specify an exact time, however many prominent members of the movement did and when Christ did not return this led to the Great Disappointment and a splintering of the movement.

[2] A Word to the “Little Flock”, p. 14., published by James White in 1847 and contains Ellen White’s first published visions.