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Ellen White, Scripture and Theology Denis Fortin June 22, 2005 SEEDS Plus! Ellen White’s recommendation In 1851, at the end of her first booklet, Ellen White stated:

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ellen white scripture and theology

Ellen White, Scripture and Theology

Denis Fortin

June 22, 2005


ellen white s recommendation
Ellen White’s recommendation
  • In 1851, at the end of her first booklet, Ellen White stated:

“I recommend to you dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged” (EW 78).

take it as it is
Take it as it is

“I take the Bible just as it is, as the Inspired Word. I believe its utterances in an entire Bible.. . . . Men of humble acquirements, possessing but limited capabilities and opportunities to become conversant in the Scriptures, find in the living oracles comfort, guidance, counsel, and the plan of salvation as clear as a sunbeam. . . .

take it as it is4
Take it as it is

“No one need be lost for want of knowledge, unless he is willfully blind. We thank God that the Bible is prepared for the poor man as well as for the learned man. It is fitted for all ages and all classes. (Ms 16, 1888 in 1 SM 17-18)

the presence of god
The presence of God

“In the Bible the will of God is revealed to His children. Wherever it is read, in the family circle, the school, or the church, all should give quiet and devout attention as if God were really present and speaking to them.” (5T 84)

books on the bible
Books on the Bible
  • Conflict of the Ages series :
    • Patriarchs and Prophets
    • Prophets and Kings
    • Desire of Ages
    • Acts of the Apostles
    • Great Controversy
  • Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing
  • Christ’s Object Lessons
  • Ministry of Healing
  • Education
only devotional writings
Only devotional writings?

In recent years, many people have claimed and argued that Ellen White’s writings were primarily devotional and as such not intended for doctrinal and theological guidance; that because she was not a trained biblical scholar, or exegete, we should not view her writings as more than devotional books.

only devotional
Only devotional?
  • Many of Ellen White’s books were pastoral in nature:
    • Testimonies for the Church
    • Many books of counsels
  • Other books were more philosophical and practical:
    • Education
    • Ministry of Healing
only devotional9
Only devotional?
  • Are Ellen White’s writings on biblical stories and themes, such as the Conflict of the Ages series, only devotional?
  • How did Ellen White use Scripture?
  • Was she able to think theologically and to express her writings within theological categories?
primarily a commentator
Primarily a commentator

In her writings, but primarily in her Conflict of the Ages series, Ellen White ‘commented’ on the biblical story from the origin of sin in heaven to its final eradication from the universe after the millennium. She articulated her thoughts around major themes: great controversy, love of God, and salvation in Jesus.

types of biblical interpretation
Types of biblical interpretation
  • Typologies
  • Moralisms
  • Character sketches
  • Biblical analogies and parallelisms
  • Spiritual warfare
  • Exegesis

A typology is to understand or perceive a person or event in the Old Testament as a figure or illustration–a type–of something or someone in the New Testament or in the Church.

elijah a type of the remnant
Elijah a type of the remnant

“Elijah was a type of the saints who will be living on the earth at the time of the second advent of Christ and who will be "changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump," without tasting of death. 1 Cor 15:51, 52. It was as a representative of those who shall be thus translated that Elijah, near the close of Christ's earthly ministry, was permitted to stand with Moses by the side of the Saviour on the mount of transfiguration. In these glorified ones, the disciples saw in miniature a representation of the kingdom of the redeemed. . . .

elijah a type of the remnant14
Elijah a type of the remnant

“They beheld Jesus clothed with the light of heaven; they heard the "voice out of the cloud" (Luke 9:35), acknowledging Him as the Son of God; they saw Moses, representing those who will be raised from the dead at the time of the second advent; and there also stood Elijah, representing those who at the close of earth's history will be changed from mortal to immortal and be translated to heaven without seeing death.” (PK 227)

moses a type of christ
Moses a type of Christ

During the idolatry at Mount Sinai:

“Moses was a type of Christ. As Israel's intercessor veiled his countenance, because the people could not endure to look upon its glory, so Christ, the divine Mediator, veiled His divinity with humanity when He came to earth. Had He come clothed with the brightness of heaven, he could not have found access to men in their sinful state. They could not have endured the glory of His presence. Therefore He humbled Himself, and was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), that He might reach the fallen race, and lift them up.” (PP 330)

  • Another way Ellen White uses Scripture is moralism.
  • Moralism is weaving moral lessons from events that happen to biblical people and applying these lessons to the Church today.
aaron and idolatry at sinai
Aaron and idolatry at Sinai

“How often, in our own day, is the love of pleasure disguised by a "form of godliness"! A religion that permits men, while observing the rites of worship, to devote themselves to selfish or sensual gratification, is as pleasing to the multitudes now as in the days of Israel. And there are still pliant Aarons, who, while holding positions of authority in the church, will yield to the desires of the unconsecrated, and thus encourage them in sin.” (PP 317)

nadab and abihu
Nadab and Abihu

The story of Nadab and Abihu a few chapters later is fraught with moral lessons for God’s people (359-362).

  • Lack of firmness in their education
  • Lack of reverence for God
  • Use of alcohol
character sketches
Character Sketches
  • Given the overarching theme of the great controversy in her writings, how people relate to God in this controversy between good and evil allows her to illustrate how one’s life today should be lived in order to be victorious or to be defeated by the foe. Plenty of character sketches illustrate her narratives.
  • Among her favorites in the Scriptures : Joseph, Daniel and the apostle John.
the greatest want of the world
The greatest want of the world

“The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” (Ed 57)

biblical analogy and parallelism
Biblical analogy and parallelism
  • Ellen White draws parallels between various Bible stories, events, people, or texts.
  • In the chapter “Idolatry at Sinai”, she draws a biblical analogy between God’s judgment of idolatry with what is predicted will happen at the end of time (PP 326).
biblical analogy and parallelism22
Biblical analogy and parallelism

Often, Ellen White explained the meaning of a story by drawing on many texts of the Bible. In connecting together many stories and texts, she saw a basic harmony between all of the books of the Bible.

god with us
“God with us”

In the first chapter of Desire of Ages in which she explains the meaning of Jesus’ first advent, Ellen White refers to:

  • Isa 9, Ps 65, Ps 95, John 6-8, Mal 4, Rom 16, John 3, Isa 14, Phil 2-3, Heb 10, Exo 25, John 1, Heb 2, 4, Ps 40, Exo 3, John 10, 14, Mat 28, Isa 53, Heb 7, 11, Zech 9, Eph 2, 3.
spiritual warfare
Spiritual Warfare

Ellen White presents to her readers the “behind the scenes” events, conversations between Christ and Satan, or between evil angels, how God interprets or reacts to events, etc. This approach is closely connected with her understanding of the great controversy.

spiritual warfare25
Spiritual Warfare
  • Chapter 29 in Patriarchs and Prophets, “Satan’s Enmity Against the Law”
  • Chapter 79 in Desire of Ages, “It Is Finished”
satan s new condition
Satan’s new condition

“Satan stood in amazement at his new condition. His happiness was gone. He looked upon the angels who, with him, were once so happy, but who had been expelled from Heaven with him. Before their fall, not a shade of discontent had marred their perfect bliss. Now all seemed changed. Countenances which had reflected the image of their Maker were gloomy and despairing.

satan s new condition27
Satan’s new condition

“Strife, discord, and bitter recrimination, were among them. Previous to their rebellion these things had been unknown in Heaven. Satan now beholds the terrible results of his rebellion. He shuddered, and feared to face the future, and to contemplate the end of these things.” (1SP 28)

  • Although Ellen White was not a trained biblical scholar and exegete, she nonetheless interpreted Scripture.
  • She explained the meaning of words, talked about the context and circumstances of the passages, referred to other texts to shed light on a passage.
  • Books such as Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing and Christ’s Object Lessons are genuine Bible commentaries.
  • Her use of typologies, moralisms, character sketches, and biblical analogies and parallelisms are part of exegesis.
exegesis of mat 5 48
Exegesis of Mat 5:48

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:48.

“The word "therefore" implies a conclusion, an inference from what has gone before. Jesus has been describing to His hearers the unfailing mercy and love of God, and He bids them therefore to be perfect. Because your heavenly Father "is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35), because He has stooped to lift you up, therefore, said Jesus, you may become like Him in character, and stand without fault in the presence of men and angels.” (MB 76)


“The space she devotes to Biblical events and persons is not always proportional to the space given in the Bible. Her emphasis on certain events or persons depends on how she believes those events and persons contribute to the unfolding of the Great Controversy Theme.” (Herbert Douglass, Messenger of the Lord, 419)

doctrinal guidance
Doctrinal Guidance

Beyond the spiritual and pastoral guidance provided by the writings of Ellen White, her writings also provide doctrinal guidance

  • valid applications of biblical teachings
  • interconnectedness of biblical doctrines
  • steering Adventists away from errors of interpretation
doctrinal guidance33
Doctrinal Guidance

Ellen White showed doctrinal authority when the church was confronted with difficult doctrinal issues

  • Kellogg’s teachings on pantheism
  • Ballenger’s teachings on Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary
  • Centrality of Christ’s death on Calvary
  • Importance of healthful living
theological guidance
Theological Guidance
  • Perhaps more crucial to Adventism is how Ellen White’s writings have provided the church with theological guidance, with interpretative themes and motifs for a proper understanding of God’s revelation.
  • Major themes:
    • Great controversy between good and evil
    • Love of God for humanity
    • Salvation in Jesus
    • Second coming of Christ
    • Christian living
theological guidance35
Theological Guidance

Ellen White’s theological themes provide Adventism and Christianity with theological presuppositions and assumptions (like a pair of eye glasses) with which to study Scripture and understand its meaning for our lives today as we wait for Christ’s second coming.

themes in the writings of ellen white
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White

In his book Meeting Ellen White, George Knight discusses seven themes in her writings (pp. 109-127)

themes in the writings of ellen white37
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White
  • While Ellen White was not a theologian, per se, her writings present many theological themes and ideas which expand on the biblical stories.
  • A theme represents an idea or concept that helps us understand her writings, her theology and her burden for the church.
themes in the writings of ellen white38
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White
  • Themes integrate various strands of Ellen White’s thinking into a unified network of concepts.
  • They provide an interpretative framework for not only single documents or books, but for entire sectors of her writings (such as health, education, family living).
themes in the writings of ellen white39
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White
  • Love of God
  • Great Controversy
  • Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation
  • Centrality of the Bible
  • Second Coming of Jesus
  • Third Angel’s Message and Adventist Mission
  • Practical Christianity and Character Development

Love of God

Perhaps the central and most comprehensive theme of the writings of Ellen White is that of the love of God.

This is a theme that she repeatedly mentions and discusses in her books.


Love of God

The phrase “God is love” appears as

the first three words of

Patriarchs and Prophets


the last three words of

The Great Controversy.


Love of God

In Ellen White’s writings,

God’s love is the central point of the great struggle between good and evil.

“God is love” is the phrase that provides the context for her telling of the great controversy story.


Love of God

The first chapter of Steps to Christ begins with the words:

“Nature and revelation alike testify of God’s love.”


Love of God

“The world, though fallen, is not all sorrow and misery. In nature itself are messages of hope and comfort. There are flowers upon the thistles, and the thorns are covered with roses. ‘God is love’ is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass.”(Steps to Christ, pp. 9-10)


Love of God

Yet, Ellen White points out, that the things of nature in a world of sin “but imperfectly represent His love.”

The supreme and clearest illustration of God’s love for us is God sending Jesus to save us from our sins (SC 10-13).


Love of God

In the first chapter of the Desire of Ages she points out that Jesus “came to reveal the light of God’s love” (DA 19).


Love of God

“Both the redeemed and the unfallen beings will find in the cross of Christ their science and their song. It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self- sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which "seeketh not her own" has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.” (DA 19-20)


Love of God

On the last page of the Desire of Ages, her conclusion is that through Christ “love has conquered” (DA 835).


Love of God

“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” (GC 678)


The Great Controversy

The themes of the love of God and the Great Controversy are closely interconnected.

Ellen White emphasizes repeatedly that the focal point of the Great Controversy is Satan’s aim to misrepresent the loving character of God.


The Great Controversy

“Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice,--one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men. The Son of God came from heaven to make manifest the Father.”(Steps to Christ, p. 11)


The Great Controversy

Satan’s aim is also to misrepresent God’s law.

In Ellen White’s thought the character of God and law of God are not two different elements but one.


The Great Controversy

“Satan represents God’s law of love as a law of selfishness. He declares that it is impossible for us to obey its precepts.” (Desire of Ages, p. 24)

“From the very beginning of the great controversy in heaven it has been Satan’s purpose to overthrow the law of God.” (Great Controversy, p. 582)


The Great Controversy

In the great controversy, God fights against this misrepresentation.

“The history of the great conflict between good and evil, from the time it first began in heaven to the final overthrow of rebellion and the total eradication of sin, is also a demonstration of God's unchanging love.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 33)


The Great Controversy

God’s demonstration of his love in the ongoing conflict with Satan forms the focus of the Conflict of the Ages Series.

This theme provides the theological framework that gives direction and context to the rest of her writings.


The Great Controversy

“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” (The Great Controversy, p. 678)


Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation

God’s foremost demonstration of his love in the great controversy was sending Jesus to redeem humanity.

“It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men.” (Steps to Christ, p. 11)


Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation

“Through Christ's redeeming work the government of God stands justified. The Omnipotent One is made known as the God of love. Satan's charges are refuted, and his character unveiled.” (Desire of Ages, p. 26)


Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation

For Ellen White Jesus was not only the victorious Redeemer over the forces of evil, he is a very personal friend to her and the Savior who died on the cross for each individual human being.


Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed’.”(Desire of Ages, p. 25)


Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation

“Christ crucified for our sins, Christ risen from the dead, Christ ascended on high, is the science of salvation that we are to learn and to teach.” (Testimonies 8:287)


Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation

“The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,--the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.” (Gospel Workers, p. 315)


The centrality of the Bible

Another important theme in Ellen White’s writings is the Bible, the written Word of God.

In her first book (1851) she wrote:

“I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice.” (Early Writings, p. 78)


The centrality of the Bible

“In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience. ‘Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work’.” (Great Controversy, p. vii)


The centrality of the Bible

“Search the Scriptures carefully to see what is true. . . . The truth can lose nothing by close investigation. Let the Word of God speak for itself, let it be its own interpreter. Our people, individually, must understand Bible truth more thoroughly, for they certainly will be called before councils; they will be criticized by keen and critical minds. It is one thing to give assent to the truth, and another thing, through close examination as Bible students, to know what is truth.


The centrality of the Bible

“Many, many will be lost because they have not studied their Bibles upon their knees, with earnest prayer to God that the entrance of the Word of God might give light to their understanding. . . . The Word of God is the great detector of error; to it we believe everything must be brought. The Bible must be our standard for every doctrine and practice. . . .


The centrality of the Bible

“We are to receive no one’s opinion without comparing it with the Scriptures. Here is divine authority, which is supreme in matters of faith. It is the word of the living God that is to decide all controversies.”

(1888 Materials, pp. 38-40, 44, 45; written August 5, 1888 to “Brethren Who Shall Assemble in General Conference”)

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