In this article, the fourth in our series on alleged contradictions in the writings of Ellen White, we will consider three additional issues in Ellen White’s ministry where critics and revisionists have accused her of contradicting herself—the “daily” in the book of Daniel, the scope of the law as described in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, as well as some of her statements where a surface reading might lead some to think she wrote inconsistently regarding God’s love for sinners.
The “Daily” of Daniel
In the first installment of our series, we addressed the claim of certain ones that Ellen White never intended her writings to be used to settle doctrinal controversy, and the reference by these persons to Ellen White’s refusal to permit her writings to settle the debate as to whether the “daily” of the book of Daniel refers to paganism or to the mediation of Christ in heaven. We noted that the reason Ellen White refused to settle the “daily” controversy was not that the settling of such issues was outside the purview of her ministry, but rather, because God had not given her any light on the issue being disputed:
I entreat of Elders H, I, J, and others of our leading brethren, that they make no reference to my writings to sustain their views of “the daily.”
It has been presented to me that this is not a subject of vital importance. I am instructed that our brethren are making a mistake in magnifying the importance of the difference in the views that are held. I cannot consent that any of my writings shall be taken in settling this matter. The true meaning of “the daily” is not to be made a test question.
I now ask that my ministering brethren shall not make use of my writings in their arguments regarding this question [“the daily”]; for I have had no instruction on the point under discussion, and I see no need for the controversy (1SM 164, italics supplied).
But some have alleged that the above statement represented a change in Ellen White’s position on the “daily,” and that the reason an earlier statement in her writings was being used by certain ones in that controversy was that in fact she had taken a position on this issue earlier in her ministry.
The statement in question is the following, from Early Writings:
Then I saw in relation to the “daily” (Dan. 8:12) that the word “sacrifice” was supplied by man’s wisdom, and does not belong to the text, and that the Lord gave the correct view of it to those who gave the judgment hour cry. When union existed, before 1844, nearly all were united on the correct view of the “daily;” but in the confusion since 1844, other views have been embraced, and darkness and confusion have followed. Time has not been a test since 1844, and it will never again be a test (EW 74).
Notice carefully that the only thing God showed her concerning the “daily” was that the word “sacrifice” didn’t belong in the text. When she writes in the next phrase about “the correct view of it,” it is clear in context that the “it” being described is the text of Daniel 8 and whether the word “sacrifice” belongs there. Not a word, in the above statement or elsewhere, endorses the view that the “daily” in the book of Daniel refers to paganism, or any other view as to what this expression in Daniel’s prophecies describes. Whether one believes the “daily” refers to paganism or to the mediatorial work of Christ, the supplied word “sacrifice”—which Ellen White under divine inspiration declares to have been supplied by human wisdom—is not needed.
In short, Ellen White’s statements about the “daily” are entirely consistent, as God had only shown her that the supplied word “sacrifice” was out of place in the Biblical text, and had not—as her later statement in 1SM 164 bears witness—shown her which view of the “daily” (paganism or Christ’s mediation) was correct. Thus she asked her brethren not to use her writings to settle the argument, because nothing in any of her statements in fact addresses the paganism-versus-Christ’s-mediation argument.
The Law in Galatians
In the first installment of our series, we noted that as controversy was building in the months prior to the 1888 General Conference session regarding the scope of the law as presented in the book of Galatians, Ellen White took a position of tentative neutrality. This was because, as our first article demonstrated, she was unable to take a definite position until she was either divinely instructed or until she could study the positions of both camps on her own. Thus she was constrained to write: “I cannot take my position on either side until I have studied the question” (1888 Materials, vol. 1, p. 153).
At a later point we noted how her accompanying angel said of both persuasions: “Neither have all the light upon the law; neither position is perfect” (Ibid, p. 93). Shortly after Minneapolis she was directed to write that the issue in question “should not be handled in a debating style,” that it was “not a vital question and should not be treated as such” (3SM 174-175).
However, it is also correct that at an earlier point in her ministry, she was instructed by God to oppose the teaching of J.H. Waggoner, father of E.J. Waggoner, who had taken the position that the law as described in Galatians was exclusively the moral law. In a pamphlet published in 1854, the elder Waggoner had written:
As it is evident that none but the moral law is spoken of in Gal. iii, and that the redemption in Chap. iv, is from the curse of that law, if, as has been supposed, the Apostle speaks of the law of Moses in the first part of Chap. v, he has changed his subject very abruptly and without any apparent reason. But we think it is clear that the liberty spoken of in chapter v, 1, is freedom from sin, and that the “yoke of bondage” has no reference to the Levitical law (J.H. Waggoner, The Law of God: An Examination of the Testimony of Both Testaments, p. 108).
Writing to E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones in 1887, as the law-in-Galatians controversy was growing in the prelude to the Minneapolis General Conference the following year, Ellen White stated:
I have something to say to you that I should withhold no longer. I have been looking in vain as yet to get an article that was written nearly twenty years ago in reference to the “added law” (in Galatians). I read this to Elder [J.H.] Waggoner. I stated then to him that I had been shown [that] his position in regard to the law was incorrect, and from the statements I made to him he has been silent upon the subject for many years (15MR 18; 1888 Materials, vol. 1, p. 21).
So the only position regarding the law in Galatians which Ellen White had opposed prior to Minneapolis was the position of J.H. Waggoner that this law included the moral law only. Her tentative neutrality in the lead-up to Minneapolis so far as the controversy between the Jones/Waggoner position and the G.I. Butler position (that this law was exclusively the ceremonial law) was, as we have seen, due to the fact that she hadn’t yet studied both arguments and the Lord had not yet given her direct instruction on the matter.
However, as we have also seen, once the Minneapolis General Conference was over and the issues had settled to a degree, the Lord indeed gave Ellen White explicit instruction on this issue, as found in the following statement:
I am asked concerning the law in Galatians. What law is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ? I answer: Both the ceremonial and the moral code of ten commandments (1SM 233).
In sum, no contradiction at all can be found in Ellen White’s position on this subject throughout her ministry. And as we noted in the first installment of this series, this issue has never—to the present writer’s knowledge—ever risen to vex the church again in the decades since the 1888 era.
Those interested in further consideration of this topic should consult the book One Hundred and One Questions on the Sanctuary and Ellen White, by Robert W. Olson, pp. 56-57.
God’s Love for Disobedient Children
In recent decades some have drawn attention to what appears to be conflict between two sets of Ellen White statements during earlier and later points in her ministry, regarding God’s love (or lack thereof) for disobedient children. In a letter written to her son Willie, dated March 14, 1860 (later published in a pamphlet titled An Appeal to the Youth), Ellen White wrote as follows on this subject:
The Lord loves those little children who try to do right, and He has promised that they shall be in His kingdom. But wicked children God does not love. He will not take them to the beautiful City, for He only admits the good, obedient, and patient children there. One fretful, disobedient child, would spoil all the harmony of heaven. When you feel tempted to speak impatient and fretful, remember the Lord sees you, and will not love you if you do wrong. When you do right and overcome wrong feelings, the Lord smiles upon you (An Appeal to the Youth, p. 61).
Yet at a later point in her ministry, she writes:
Do not teach your children that God does not love them when they do wrong; teach them that He loves them so that it grieves His tender Spirit to see them in transgression (ST Feb. 15, 1892).
The fact that this later statement was written after 1888 is often used by various revisionists to prove the theory we examined in our last article—that Ellen White’s theology supposedly became less law-focused and more “grace-oriented” as she grew older, in particular during the years after the 1888 General Conference session and its emphasis on righteousness by faith.
But there is no need to see a contradiction between the two above statements, once we realize that inspired words can mean different things in different settings. Ellen White makes this clear when she writes, regarding inspired writings, “Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea” (1SM 20). We see this in the Bible as well as in the writings of Ellen White.
For example, we all know the words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Yet in another New Testament book by the same author, we find this admonition: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).
On the surface, as with the two Ellen White statements cited earlier about God’s attitude toward disobedient children, the above two verses seem contradictory. One says God the Father loved the world so much that He gave His Son to be its Savior. Yet the other says that if we ourselves love the world, the love of God the Father isn’t in us.
The difference, quite obviously, is in the definition of “world” in one verse as distinct from in the other. John 3:16 is speaking of the world as individuals, while I John 2:15 is speaking of the world’s forbidden preoccupations and pleasures (see verse 16).
By the same token, the difference between the two Ellen White statements about God’s love for disobedient children is in Ellen White’s definition of “love” in these respective statements. In the first statement, love is a synonym for divine acceptance and salvation, as evidenced by its reference in context to the unfitness of wicked children to inhabit the courts of heaven. But in the second statement, love is not a reference to divine acceptance and salvation, but rather, to divine compassion and grief on behalf of the wayward.
When we consider the consensus of Ellen White’s early writings, one can hardly make the case that she believed at any time that God lacked compassion for sinners. Consider the following statement, written in 1858 (two years before the above letter to Willie), in which she describes the scene in heaven when the Father and the Son agreed to the plan of salvation:
Sorrow filled heaven, as it was realized that man was lost, and the world that God created was to be filled with mortals doomed to misery, sickness, and death, and there was no way of escape for the offender. The whole family of Adam must die. I saw the lovely Jesus, and beheld an expression of sympathy and sorrow upon His countenance. Soon I saw Him approach the exceeding bright light which enshrouded the Father. Said my accompanying angel, He is in close converse with His Father. The anxiety of the angels seemed to be intense while Jesus was communing with His Father. Three times He was shut in by the glorious light about the Father, and the third time He came from the Father, His person could be seen. His countenance was calm, free from all perplexity and trouble, and shone with benevolence and loveliness, such as words cannot express. He then made known to the angelic host that a way of escape had been made for lost man (1SG 22-23).
In short, there was never a time in Ellen White’s prophetic ministry when she disputed God’s compassion for the disobedient. What we see in the two earlier statements, as with John 3:16 and I John 2:15, is simply a difference between the way the word “love” is used.
As we noted in previous installments of this series, none can deny Ellen White’s theology grew in terms of richness and depth of insight as her ministry advanced. But while growth and contradiction may at times be synonymous in the thinking and witness of uninspired persons, such is not the case with prophets. Even though greater and deeper understanding will attend a prophet’s ministry as it progresses, its testimony must in all cases be harmonious, as it is this testimony by which human opinion, human scholarship, human culture, and human experience must ever be measured (Isa. 8:20; Acts 17:11). For indeed, as Scripture affirms, this testimony is not the word of mere mortals, but that of the eternal God (I Thess. 2:12; II Peter 1:20-21).
The next installment in our series will address some other alleged contradictions in Ellen White’s prophetic ministry. Again I encourage our readers to consult such books as Francis D. Nichol’s Ellen G. White and Her Critics, Robert W. Olson’s One Hundred and One Questions on the Sanctuary and Ellen White, and Herbert E. Douglass’s Messenger of the Lord, as recommended reading along with these articles.