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101 Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White

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    49. Ellen White as an Interpreter of Scripture

    Are Ellen White’s interpretations of the Bible reliable and are we to understand the Scriptures only as interpreted by her? Ford asserts, “In every discipline our scholars feel hamstrung lest their expression of scholarly conclusions should seem to contradict anything in Ellen G. White. This is a deplorable situation, and the church will make little progress until the situation is remedied.” “Our major error has been to make the writings of E. G. White have veto power over the Scripture” (Ford, pages 661, 12).QSEW 41.2

    In endeavoring to arrive at a satisfactory answer to the question of Ellen White’s authority as an interpreter of Scripture, several factors must be kept in mind:QSEW 41.3

    1. To give an individual complete interpretive control over the Bible would, in effect, elevate that person above the Bible. It would be a mistake to allow even the apostle Paul to exercise interpretive control over all other Bible writers. In such a case, Paul, and not the whole Bible, would be one’s final authority.QSEW 41.4

    2. Ellen White’s writings were available to no one before the nineteenth century. Even now, the distribution of her works throughout the world is limited largely to Seventh-day Adventists. If the Scriptures can be understood only as they are interpreted by Ellen White, most people will never be able to understand God’s Word.QSEW 41.5

    3. Ellen White’s writings are generally homiletical or evangelistic in nature and not strictly exegetical. In The Desire of Ages, 211, Mrs. White quotes John 5:39 as “You search the Scriptures,” but in Selected Messages 2:39, she says “Search the Scriptures.” The first quotation is from the Revised Version while the latter is from the King James Version. She felt free to use either translation, depending on the point she was trying to make. One needs to be quite sure of how Ellen White is using a given text before claiming that she is interpreting the text from an exegetical standpoint for her reader.QSEW 41.6

    4. According to W. C. White, some of his mother’s interpretations of Scripture may have lacked perfection in certain unimportant details. He wrote:QSEW 42.1

    “Where she has followed the description of historians or the exposition of Adventist writers, I believe that God has given her discernment to use that which is correct and in harmony with truth regarding all matters essential to salvation. If it should be found by faithful study that she has followed some expositions of prophecy which in some details regarding dates we cannot harmonize with our understanding of secular history, it does not influence my confidence in her writings as a whole any more than my confidence in the Bible is influenced by the fact that I cannot harmonize many of the statements regarding chronology.”—Selected Messages 3:449-450.QSEW 42.2

    5. Ellen White took no position on doctrinal matters she regarded as unimportant, such as the “daily,” the 144,000, and the king of the north.QSEW 42.3

    6. There were specific instances, however, when she claimed divine authority for the interpretation of specific Scripture passages. For example, regarding Genesis 1 she wrote:QSEW 42.4

    “I was then carried back to the creation and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week.”—Spiritual Gifts 3:90.QSEW 42.5

    7. Ellen White also claims that, in connection with earnest study of the Scriptures, the leading points of the Adventist faith were presented to her in vision. She states, concerning meetings held in the late 1840’s:QSEW 42.6

    “At that time one error after another pressed in upon us; ministers and doctors brought in new doctrines. We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. Sometimes whole nights would be devoted to searching the Scriptures, and earnestly asking God for guidance. Companies of devoted men and women assembled for this purpose. The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error. As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit.”—Gospel Workers, 302.QSEW 42.7

    “The Spirit of God would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me ... A line of truth extending from that time, to the time when we shall enter the city of God, was plainly marked out before me.”—This Day With God, 317.QSEW 42.8

    8. Ellen White has been used by God on more than one occasion over the years to settle doctrinal controversies in the Adventist Church. For example, in 1848, long before the church was organized, she settled certain issues at the meeting in David Arnold’s barn in Volney, N.Y. Of the differences manifested over the Lord’s Supper and the doctrine of the millennium, Ellen White wrote:QSEW 43.1

    “My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. These discordant views, which they claimed were in harmony with the Scriptures, were only according to their opinion of Bible teaching; and I was bidden to tell them that they should yield their errors, and unite upon the truths of the third angel’s message.QSEW 43.2

    “Our meeting closed triumphantly. Truth gained the victory. Our brethren renounced their errors and united upon the third angel’s message, and God greatly blessed them and added many to their numbers.”—Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 111.QSEW 43.3

    Half a century later, Ellen White’s doctrinal teachings were still bringing blessing and unity to the church. In 1898 she came out solidly against the semi-arianism of Uriah Smith. (Compare Smith’s editorial in the March 16, 1897 Review with The Desire of Ages, 530.) In 1901 she put an end to the “holy flesh” teaching. (See Selected Messages 2:31-36.) From 1903 on, she drew the line on Dr. Kellogg and his special brand of pantheism. (See Selected Messages 1:193-208; Testimonies for the Church 8:255-328.) In 1905 she kept A. F. Ballenger’s sanctuary views out of the church. (See Selected Messages 1:160-162 and Manuscript Release #760.)QSEW 43.4

    9. Ellen White insists that she never teaches heresy. She states,QSEW 43.5

    “The Bible must be your counselor. Study it and the testimonies God has given; for they never contradict His word.”—Selected Messages 3:32.QSEW 43.6

    “There is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written.”—Ibid., Page 52.QSEW 43.7

    10. Ellen White acknowledged that some of our interpretations of Scripture might not be entirely correct and that continued study of the Scriptures will be amply rewarded. She states:QSEW 43.8

    “In closely investigating every jot and tittle which we think is established truth, in comparing Scripture with Scripture, we may discover errors in our interpretations of Scripture. Christ would have the searcher of His Word sink the shaft deeper into the mines of truth. If the search is properly conducted, jewels of inestimable value will be found.”—The Review and Herald, July 12, 1898.QSEW 43.9

    11. Ellen White asserts positively, however, that any new interpretations of Scripture, if correct, will be in harmony with our distinctive doctrines. She declares:QSEW 44.1

    “One will arise, and still another, with new light, which contradicts the light that God has given under the demonstration of His Holy Spirit. We are not to receive the words of those who come with a message that contradicts the special points of our faith.”—Selected Messages 1:161.QSEW 44.2

    12. Finally, the promise is given that “all who believe the Lord has spoken through Sister White, and has given her a message, will be safe from the many delusions that will come in these last days” (Selected Messages 3:84).QSEW 44.3

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