Interpreting Ellen White
How God speaks, how we interpret his messages, how Ellen White's writing relate to the Bible, and what her writings are all about are important matters to consider in order to understand her messages. Read on for introductions to the nature of revelation and inspiration, how to interpret EGW, the authority of her writings, and their major themes. For other questions on Ellen White's life, ministry and teachings see frequently asked questions on EGW. See also a compilation of unusual statements by her and one of statements mistakenly attributed to Ellen White.
The Nature of Revelation/Inspiration
How does God communicate with human beings? The Bible tells us that "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Hebrews 1:1, 2, NRSV). Jesus Christ was God's ultimate revelation to the human race. His person, His message, and His ministry demonstrated clearly and persuasively that Divinity wished to communicate with humanity.
Christ Himself informed His followers that the Holy Spirit would act as His representative in continuing to communicate the divine message through His messengers. Jesus said that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, "will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." "He will guide you into all the truth" (John 14:26; 16:13 NRSV).
God's communication system involves a combination of divine and human characteristics that makes the prophetic message unique. The relationship between the divine message (perfect, infallible, eternal) and the human messenger (imperfect, fallible, mortal) is not always perceived in proper perspective. Some, emphasizing the divine, are troubled by apparent discrepancies or by language that reveals the humanness of the messenger. Others, emphasizing the human, attempt to define what is inspired and what is not, thus minimizing the authority of God's message.
For more information, see EGW's own understanding of the way God communicates through His prophets or read Juan Carlos Viera's The Dynamics of Inspiration, for a close look at the messages of Ellen White."
Hermeneutics, or Interpreting the Writings of Ellen G. White
Divine communication originates with God, as the term itself indicates. It is intended, however, for human beings who, since the entrance of sin, have perceptions of the great issues of life that are limited, and often completely contrary. The Bible tells us that the divine message can be misunderstood and misused (2 Peter 3:16). At the same time, the Holy Spirit offers help to those who honestly want to know the truth (Ephesians 1:17-19).
The way we perceive, interpret, and ultimately handle the message of God will determine whether the message accomplishes the divine objectives in communicating it. If the human receptor is not willing to receive the communication, or perceives it incorrectly, or rejects it because it does not meet his or her expectations or because it confronts the individual with changes in the traditional way of living, then God's purpose is not fulfilled, and this person is left to his or her own fate.
Hermeneutics is the word scholars use to refer to the procedures for interpreting writings of the past. For a set of hermeneutical principles that for understanding EGW's writings, read Some Principles for Correctly Interpreting the Writings of Ellen G. White. See excerpts from Herbert E. Douglass' Messenger of the Lord: the Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White for a fuller treatment of both internal and external principles of interpretation."
The Authority of Ellen G. White's Writings
Are Ellen G. White's writings equal to the Bible? How did she understand her writings in relation to the Scriptures? What is the difference between canonical and non-canonical prophets?
Seventh-day Adventists believe that "the writings of Ellen White are not a substitute for Scripture. They cannot be placed on the same level. The Holy Scriptures stand alone, the unique standard by which her and all other writings must be judged and to which they must be subject" (Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . , p. 227). Ellen White herself claimed that "little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light" (Review and Herald, January 20, 1903). How is this statement to be understood? Did she consider herself on a par with the Bible prophets? Are there "degrees" of inspiration?
These and other questions are dealt with by Ellen G. White and various Seventh-day Adventist sources in the following reference links. Ellen G. White's Understanding of How Her Writings Relate to Scripture, consists of two important passages from EGW's writings on the subject. The Seventh-day Adventist Church's Understanding of Ellen G. White's Authority is comprised of two statements from official church sources. Finally, a fuller treatment of these issues can be found in The Relationship Between the Ellen G. White Writings and the Bible.
Major Themes in Ellen G. White's Writings
The following seven themes are not the only ones that could have been chosen, but they are certainly among her most basic, and are prominent throughout her works.
- The love of God
- The great controversy between Christ and Satan
- Jesus Christ, his sacrifice, his heavenly intercession, and salvation through him
- The believer's response—love of God & love of neighbor
- The centrality of God's Word
- The third angel's message and Seventh-day Adventist mission
- The second advent