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Answering the questions and critics on Ellen G. White
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Ellen White and Arianism

Charge

Critics of Ellen White often charge that she taught Arian views of Jesus Christ in her writings. Arianism, originating from a fourth-century thinker named Arius, is a view of the person of Christ as the highest of God’s created beings, but not one in essence and substance with the eternal Father. “There was a time when Jesus was not” was Arius’s classic dictum. Arius’s views of the person of Christ were condemed at the Council of Nicea in A. D. 325.

This is a serious charge indeed–if it can be substantiated. Those who press this charge attempt to link SDAs with Jehovah’s Witnesses in their Arian view of Christ.

Throughout her seventy years of prophetic ministry, Ellen White maintained a deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ. Did she view him as a “different” or “lesser God”? Did she take the Arian view that Christ was a created being?

Answer

Those who charge Ellen White with Arianism are to be commended for their devotion to the full deity and eternal existence of Jesus Christ. Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church espouses the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and teaches the full deity and eternity of Jesus Christ, as articulated in Fundamental Beliefs, 2 and 4:

2. Trinity:
There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 14:7.)

4. Son:
God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things. (John 1:1-3, 14; Col. 1:15-19; John 10:30; 14:9; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:17-19; John 5:22; Luke 1:35; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 2:9-18; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4; Heb. 8:1, 2; John 14:1-3.)

The Trinity in SDA History

Anyone knowledgable about Seventh-day Adventist history, however, knows that many of the SDA pioneers held Arian or semi-Arian views. In his article, “The Doctrine of the Trinity Among Adventists,” Dr. Gerhard Pfandl, associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of SDAs, articulated the situation accurately when he wrote:

While the Seventh-day Adventist Church today espouses the doctrine of the Trinity, this has not always been so. The evidence from a study of Adventist history indicates that from the earliest years of our church to the 1890s a whole stream of writers took an Arian or semi-Arian position (page 1).

Why did many early SDA pioneers espouse Arian views? How did they eventually move away from Arianism and semi-Arianism to the biblical position regarding Jesus Christ? For those interested in Adventist history on this subject, the following sources are indispensible:

All of the above studies demonstrate that Ellen White played a major role in moving the church away from Arian views regarding Jesus Christ.

Five Periods of SDA Trinitarian History

Dr. Jerry Moon, church historian at Andrews University, sees five periods of Adventist Trinitarian history. I will summarize the high points of each period, mostly with Dr. Moon’s words (all orange and bold is my emphasis):

1. Anti-Trinitarian Dominance, 1846-1888

During this period, the majority of Adventists rejected the concept of the Trinity, at least as they understood it. There were some who held Trinitarian views.

“Those who rejected the traditional Trinity doctrine of the Christian creeds had no question about the biblical testimony regarding the eternity of God the Father, the deity of Jesus Christ as ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Mediator,’ and ‘the importance of the Holy Spirit’ (Gane). They believed that Jesus had preexisted from from ‘so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension [He] is practically without beginning’ (E. J. Waggoner). However, they weren’t initially convinced that Jesus was without beginning, or that the Holy Spirit is an individual divine person and not merely an expression for the divine presence or power” (from Jerry Moon, The Trinity, 192; see Moon on the six reasons why the early Adventists rejected the term “trinity” [ibid., 192-194]).”

2. Beginnings of Dissatisfaction with Anti-Trinitarianism, 1888-1898

Discussions of the dymamics of salvation turned the focus on Christ as “our righteousness.” “The exaltation of the cross of Christ called into serious question whether a subordinate, derived divinity could adequately represent the nature and character of Christ. E. J. Waggoner urged the necessity of “[setting] forth Christ’s rightful position of equality with the Father, in order that His power to redeem may be the better appreciated” [E. J. Waggoner]” (ibid., 194-195).

3. Paradigm Shift, 1898-1915

According to Dr. Moon, “the publication of Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages in 1898 became the continental divide for the Adventist understanding of the Trinity. In The Desire of Ages she differed sharply with most of the pioneers regarding the preexistence of Christ, beginning with the first paragraph of the book. Her third sentence in chapter 1 declared: “From the days of eternity the Lord Jesus Christ was one with the Father” (p. 19; italics supplied). Yet even this was not sufficiently unequivocal to clarify her position regarding the deity of Jesus for, as we have seen, others had similar language without believing in Christ’s infinitely eternal preexistence. Later in the book, writing on the resurrection of Lazarus, she quoted the words of Christ, ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ and followed them with a seven-word comment that would turn the tide of anti-Trinitarian theology among Adventists: ‘In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived‘ (ibid., p. 530; italics supplied). Christ didn’t ultimately derive His divine life from the Father. As a man on earth, He subordinated His will to that of the Father (John 5:19, 30), but as self-existent God, He had power to lay down His life and take it up again. Thus, in commenting on Christ’s resurrection, Ellen White again asserted His full deity and equality with the Father, declaring: ‘The Saviour came forth from the grave by the life that was in Himself’ (ibid., p. 785).”

Moon continues: “Ellen White’s assertions of Christ’s eternal self-existence came as a shock to the theological leadership of the church. M. L. Andreasen, who had become an Adventist just four years earlier at the age of 18, and who would eventually teach at the church’s North American seminary, said that the new concept was so different from the previous understanding that some prominent leaders doubted whether Ellen White had really written it. After Adreasen entered the ministry in 1902, he made a special trip to Ellen White’s California home to investigate the issue for himself. She welcomed him and ‘gave him access to her manuscripts.’ He had brought with him ‘a number of quotations’ that he ‘wanted to see if they were in the original in her own handwriting.’ ‘I was sure Sister White had never written, ‘In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.’ But now I found it in her own handwriting just as it had been published. It was so with other statements. As I checked up, I found they were Sister White’s own expressions’ (Andreasen, ‘Spirit of Prophecy,’ p. 20).”

The Desire of Ages contained equally uncompromising statements regarding the deity of the Holy Spirit. On pages 669-671, Ellen White repeatedly uses the personal pronoun ‘He’ in referring to the Holy Spirit, climaxing with the impressive statement: ‘The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. . . . Sin could be resisted and overcome only though the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power” (p. 671; italics supplied).”

Some received these and similar statements as inspired doctrinal correction for the church. Others, disbelieving that they could have been wrong for so many years, continued to repeat the old arguments. Ellen White’s testimony, however, by calling attention to scriptures whose significance the church had overlooked, created an irreversible paradigm shift. (Bible texts that Ellen White cited as supporting various aspects of a Trinitarian view included John 10:30; Col. 2:9; and Heb. 1:3 [all in Evangelism, pp. 613, 614]; Matt. 18:19, 20; Prov. 8:30; and John 1:1 [ibid., p. 615]; John 8:57, 58; 11:25; 16:8; Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 2:11, 12 [ibid., pp. 616, 617]; and John 14:16-18, 26; 16:8, 12-14 [The Desire of Ages, pp. 669-671]). As Adventists, like the Bereans of Acts 17:11, returned to the Scriptures to see ‘whether those things were so,’ they eventually came to a growing consensus that the basic concept of the Trinity was a biblical truth to accept and embrace (Moon,The Trinity, 196-198).”

4. Decline of Anti-Trinitarianism, 1915-1946

“The SDA Yearbook of 1931 published a statement that ‘Jesus Christ is very God,’ an echo of the Nicene Creed. Fifteen years later, when the statement had gained general acceptance, the General Conference session of 1946 made it official, voting that ‘no revision of this Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, as it now appears in the [Church] Manual, shall be made at any time except at a General Conference Session’ (‘Fifteenth Meeting,’ Review and Herald, June 14, 1946, p. 197). This marked the first official endorsement of a Trinitarian view by the church, although one ‘well known’ anti-Trinitarian continued to ‘uphold the ‘old view’ until his death in 1968″ (Moon, The Trinity, 200).”

5. Trinitarian Dominance, 1946 to the present

“The climax of this phase of doctrinal development was a new statement of Adventist teachings voted by the 1980 General Conference session in Dallas. The new 27 fundamental beliefs affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity more concisely, but in very similar terms to the 1931 statement officially voted in 1946″ (ibid., 201).

As such, this concise historical sketch of the Adventist experience regarding the doctrine of the Godhead shows the crucial role that Ellen White’s writings played in leading the church to the biblical teaching on the person of Jesus Christ.

With this historical overview in mind, I will now address specific charges:

Charge: Ellen White refers to Jesus as “Michael the Archangel.” She thus views him as an angel.

It is true that on several occasions Ellen White refers to Christ as “Michael the Archangel” (for example, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, 43; Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, 342; Testimonies, vol. 3, 220). So also does the famous evangelical puritan commentator, Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in his famous em>Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, “Acts to Revelation.” Commenting on Revelation 12:7-9, Henry wrote:

Michael and his angels on the one side, and the dragon and his angels on the other: Christ, the great Angel of the covenant, and his faithful followers; and Satan and all his instruments. This latter party would be much superior in number and outward strength to the other; but the strength of the church lies in having the Lord Jesus for the captain of their salvation (p. 1160; first published during Henry’s lifetime, this famous commentary remains in print today).

Matthew Henry, like Ellen White, interprets Michael as a divine being. Henry is not bringing Christ down to the level of a great angel. He is placing Michael on the level with Christ as a divine being. In Revelation 12 the context indicates that Michael (verse 7), the commander of the heavenly hosts, is Christ himself (verses 10-11).

While some may want to take a different interpretation of this passage, and others where Michael is mentioned in the Bible, the point here is that Ellen White’s view of Michael is vastly different from the view of those who teach that Michael is merely a created, angelic being. For her, Michael was the Eternal Son of God, the great prince who will deliver His people (Daniel 12:1). As such, Michael was one of the many biblical titles for Jesus Christ (For biblical evidence on the Adventist view of Michael, see Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, Annotated Edition [Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2003], 65-76; for an online version of this Bible study on Michael, go here.

Charge: Ellen White’s early writings teach that Jesus Christ was a “lesser deity.”

For the diligent student who studies Ellen White on the subject of the Trinity, it becomes obvious that her early statements are not as precise and explicit as the later ones. As Dr. Moon says, “Some of the early statements are capable of being read from either a Trinitarian or non-Trinitarian perspective (The Trinity, 206). But he writes, “I have not found her later statements to contradict what she wrote earlier” or “any statement from her pen that criticizes a biblical view of the Trinity.” I have found this to be true in my own study of Ellen White on the Trinity.

Ellen White Raised on Methodist Creedal Trinitarianism

It is important to keep in mind that Ellen White was raised Methodist, which meant she was taught creedal Trinitarianism. Part of that creed, as expressed in The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, said of Jesus Christ: “The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father” (New York: George Lane, 1840, p. 9). Concerning the Trinity, this document stated:

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness: the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead, there are three persons of one substance, power and eternity;–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (ibid.).

In light of this influence on her upbringing, it is noteworthy that she never denounced Trinitarianism in print like many of her contemporaries. Although one aspect of the above Trinitarian statement troubled her: “without body or parts.”

In one early vision of Jesus, she asked Him questions related to the “form” and “person” of God. She “saw a throne, and on it sat the Father and the Son. I gazed on Jesus’ countenance,” she said, “and admired His lovely person. The Father’s person I could not behold, for a cloud of glorious light covered Him. I asked Jesus if His Father had a form like Himself. He said He had, but I could not behold it, for said He, ‘If you should once behold the glory of His person, you would cease to exist'” (Early Writings, 54).

Around 1850 she wrote, “I have often seen the lovely Jesus, that He is a person. I asked Him if His Father was a person and had a form like Himself. Said Jesus, ‘I am in the express image of My Father’s person'” (ibid., 77).

These statements were significant for the early Adventists because they rejected the philosophical ideas of God being timeless and without form. Both James and Ellen White wanted people to understand God as personal, as Dr. Moon pointed out:

In maintaining that the Father and the Son are “real,” “literal” persons, the Whites certainly didn’t doubt that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), but they insisted that as Spirit, God is still Someone real, tangible, and literal; not unreal, ephemeral, or imaginary. They felt that the terms used for Trinity in the creeds and definitions they knew of, made God seem so abstract, theoretical, and impersonal, that He was no longer perceived as a real, caring, loving Being. Thus the attempt to make Him “spiritual” rather than literal, actually “spiritualized Him away,” that is, destroyed the true concept of who He is and what He is like (Moon, “Trinity Debate, Part 2″).

In the above comment, Dr. Moon added an important footnnote after the words, “God is spirit (John 4:24″):

In 1877 Ellen White quoted John 4:24 KJV : “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (E. G. White, Spirit of Prophecy 2:143). In 1904 she wrote, “God is a spirit; yet He is a personal being, for man was made in His image” (E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1904, 1948), 8:263. James White held that God is “a Spirit being” (idem, Personality of God [Battle Creek, SDA Pub. Assn., (ca. 1868)], 3).

In his chapter contribution to the book The Trinity, Dr. Moon writes honestly and insightfully: (the orange text is my emphasis):

Did she move from a semi-Arian to a Trinitarian view, or did she privately hold a Trinitarian opinion all along? It may not be possible to give a certain answer to that. The evident progression in the reports of her visions could be the result of her making a careful distinction between her personal opinions and the messages of her visions.

It is possible that when her earliest visions contradicted some aspect of her Methodist upbringing (the creed that said God had neither body nor parts), she might have put the rest of her Methodist Trinity views “on the shelf,” so to speak, simply to wait and see whether future visions and Bible study would confirm or deny them. So she might have been tentatively Trinitarian in her own opinion, but careful in her writings to express only what God had shown her in vision.

In any case, her later writings relating to the Trinity never required her to repudiate earlier statements. She simply wrote as specifically as her visions permitted her to do, and as further revelations made the subject clearer, her writings became more explicit (pp. 211-212).

Three Early Statements:

1) One statement that some believe makes Jesus into an angel is found in Ellen White’s recounting of her first vision in “To the Remnant Scattered Abroad,” in A Word to the Little Flock (1847). After the Second Coming, Jesus is showing her heaven and she writes:

And as we were gazing at the glories of the place our eyes were attracted upwards to something that had the appearance of silver. I asked Jesus to let me see what was within there. In a moment we were winging our way upward, and entering in. . .” (p. 16).

Because Ellen uses the word “winging” it is assumed that she identifies Jesus as an angel. But if one takes this interpretation, then it could be argued that because Ellen used the word “we” with “winging,” she also saw “herself” with wings like an angel. Most likely, she used the word “winging” as a figure of speech. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defined the verb “wing” thus: “To furnish with wings; to enable to fly or to move with celerity” (celerity meant “swiftness, speed,” according to Webster in 1828). Ellen White reflected all three of these meanings in her use of the verb “wing” in both her early and later writings.

The emphasis in this context seems to be on flying swiftly, not necessarily on having wings. Although, In Early Writings, page 53, she does indicate that the righteous will have wings. The issue here is that the context of our statement says nothing about how she viewed the divinity of Jesus Christ. In this context, Jesus is simply portrayed as the exhalted redeemer of mankind.

2) Another early statement that causes critics concern is found in Ellen White’s book, The Spirit of Prophecy, volume 1 (1870), pages 17-18. The words in orange are the ones under scrutiny:

Satan in Heaven, before his rebellion, was a high and exalted angel, next in honor to God’s dear Son. His countenance, like those of the other angels, was mild and expressive of happiness. His forehead was high and broad, showing a powerful intellect. His form was perfect; his bearing noble and majestic. A special light beamed in his countenance, and shone around him brighter and more beautiful than around the other angels; yet Jesus, God’s dear Son, had the pre-eminence over all the angelic host. He was one with the Father before the angels were created. Satan was envious of Christ, and gradually assumed command which devolved on Christ alone.

The great Creator assembled the heavenly host, that he might in the presence of all the angels confer special honor upon his Son. The Son was seated on the throne with the Father, and the heavenly throng of holy angels was gathered around them. The Father then made known that it was ordained by himself that Christ, his Son, should be equal with himself; so that wherever was the presence of his Son, it was as his own presence. The word of the Son was to be obeyed as readily as the word of the Father. His Son he had invested with authority to command the heavenly host. Especially was his Son to work in union with himself in the anticipated creation of the earth and every living thing that should exist upon the earth. His Son would carry out his will and his purposes, but would do nothing of himself alone. The Father’s will would be fulfilled in him.

According to some critics, the phrases that appear to teach Arianism are“which devolved on Christ alone,” “confer special honor upon his Son,”and“should be equal with himself.”

Dr. Gerhard Pfandl addresses the possible interpretations of this statement:

This seems to imply that after the angels were created, they did not know or recognize that Christ was equal with the Father and it took a special “heavenly council” to inform them of this.

On the other hand, if Christ’s equality was a “special honor” which was conferred upon him, the implication is that he was not equal to the Father before that time. In the book Patriarchs and Prophets (1890) she wrote, “He [Satan] was beloved and reverenced by the heavenly host, angels delighted to execute his commands, and he was clothed with wisdom and glory above them. Yet the Son of God was exalted above him, as one in power
and authority with the Father [p. 37].

Two paragraphs further on she explains, “There had been no change in the position or authority of Christ. Lucifer’s envy and misrepresentation and his claims to equality with Christ had made necessary a statement of the true position of the Son of God; but this had been the same from the beginning. Many of the angels were, however, blinded by Lucifer’s deceptions [p. 38]” (Pfandl, “The Doctrine of the Trinity,” 2-3).

The latter interpretation understands the Father as informing the angels of Christ’s true status due to Lucifer’s deception, not actually creating his status at that time. This finds support in the important words at the end of the first paragraph: “yet Jesus, God’s dear Son, had the pre-eminence over all the angelic host. He was one with the Father before the angels were created.”

Read the statement again and notice the following phrases, which support this interpretation (italics are mine):

Satan was envious of Christ, and gradually assumed command which devolved on Christ alone.”

“The great Creator assembled the heavenly host, that he might in the presence of all the angels confer special honor upon his Son.”

“The Father then made known that it was ordained by himself that Christ, his Son, should be equal with himself.” (Remember, a few sentences before this statement she stated that Christ was “one with the Father before the angels were created.”)

Viewed in its context, then, the statement in its entirety does not have to be interpreted as detracting from Christ’s deity and eternal preexistence. While this statement is not as explicit as Ellen White’s later writings on the eternal preexistence of Christ, it does not contradict them. Its focus seems to be on the Father’s informing the angels of a relationship that already existed between Him and Jesus.

3) One year before the above statement was written, Mrs. White penned these words (the bold is mine):

In order to fully realize the value of salvation, it is necessary to understand what it cost. In consequence of limited ideas of the sufferings of Christ, many place a low estimate upon the great work of the atonement. The glorious plan of man’s salvation was brought about through the infinite love of God the Father. In this divine plan is seen the most marvelous manifestation of the love of God to the fallen race. Such love as is manifested in the gift of God’s beloved Son amazed the holy angels. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This Saviour was the brightness of His Father’s glory and the express image of His person. He possessed divine majesty, perfection, and excellence. He was equal with God. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Testimonies , vol. 2 (1869), 200).

In this early statement she is more explicit in expressing the divinity of Jesus. Notice after the important statement, “He was equal with God,” she cites Colossians 1:19 and Phillippians 2:6-8, two extremely important christological passages that assert the full deity of Jesus Christ. In this connection, she refers to Jesus as God’s Son, which clearly shows that when she calls Jesus the “Son of God,” she understands Him as equal to God.

Chronology of Ellen White’s statements on the Trinity:

The following is the chronological progression of Ellen White’s statements on Christ’s divinity and his relationship to the Godhead (based on Jerry Moon, The Trinity, 207-210). Notice the increasing clarity of expression over the years:

  • 1850: Christ and the Father are personal beings with tangible form (Early Writings, pp. 54, 77).
  • 1869: Christ is equal with God (Testimonies, vol. 2, 200). Here she forges ahead of her colleagues in this assertion.
  • 1870: Christ was one with the Father before the angels were created (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, 17).
  • 1872: Christ was not a created being like the angels (Review and Herald, Dec. 17, 1872).
  • 1878: Christ is the “eternal Son” (Review and Herald, Aug. 8, 1878; letter 37, 1887, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 26; Youth’s Instructor, Aug. 31, 1887; 1888 Materials, vol. 1, p. 29; Review and Herald, Feb. 8, 1898; Review and Herald, Apr. 5, 1906).
  • 1887: Christ preexisted with the Father from all eternity (Review and Herald, July 5, 1887; The Desire of Ages [1898], p. 19).
  • 1888: Concerning those who reject the deity of Christ, she said: “None who hold this error can have a true conception of the character or the mission of Christ, or of the great plan of God for man’s redemption” (The Great Controversy [1888 ed.], p. 524).
  • 1888: Christ is “one with the eternal Father,–one in nature, in character, and in purpose” (ibid., p. 493), “one in power and authority” (ibid., 495), yet in person, Christ was “distinct” from the Father. “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father (Review and Herald, Apr. 5, 1906).
  • 1890: Christ is self-existent; His deity is not derived from the Father (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 36).
  • 1897: The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead (Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 10, p. 37).
  • 1898: Publication of The Desire of Ages recapitulates the previous two points: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived” (The Desire of Ages, p. 530), and the Holy Spirit is the “Third Person of the Godhead” (ibid., p. 671).
  • 1901, 1905: Three “eternal heavenly dignitaries,” three highest powers in heaven,” “three living persons of the heavenly trio”–the Father , Son, and Holy Spirit are one in nature, character, and purpose, but not in person (manuscript 145, 1901; Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7 [1905], pp. 51, 62, 63; The Ministry of Healing [1905], p. 422; all quoted in Evangelism, pp. 614-617).

Ellen White’s views on the divinity and eternity of Christ were her own:

Some have suggested that the clear statements in The Desire of Ages may not accurately portray Ellen’s own view of Christ, due to literary help from her secretaries. Tim Poirier, researcher at the White Estate, however, has compared Ellen White’s published statements on the Godhead, the eternal deity of Christ, and the personhood of the Holy Spirit with interlineated original copies and her handwritten materials. In his paper, “Ellen White’s Trinitarian Statements: What did She actually Write?,” read at the “Ellen White and Current Issues” Symposium, April 3, 2006, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, Poirer has presented documented evidence that Ellen White’s published views were truely hers and not changed by editors, publishers, or literary assistants (see Dr. Merlin Burt’s study linked above, pp.  129-130).

Trinity statements and literary borrowing:

One other issue is important to note. In Desire of Ages Ellen White drew the wording for her significant statement, “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived” (p. 530), from John Cumming’s Sabbath Evening Readings on the New Testament: St. John (London: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co., 1855, p. 6).

Cumming used these words in the context of his comments on John 1:1-5:

Now, John says nothing about the birth of Christ, but he proceeds at once to state the sum and the substance of the ministry of Jesus, as preceded by John the Baptist, according to the prophecy in the last chapter of the book of Malachi,–that God should send his messenger before him, to prepare the way of the Lord. He at once begins by asserting the Deity of Christ as God and Lord of all; and he states, “In him was life,”–that is, original, unborrowed, underived. In us there is a steamlet from the Fountain of Life; in him was the Fountain of Life. Our life is something we receive, something that the Giver takes back again to himself,–over which we have no control, and for which we must give God the account and the priase. But in Jesus was life, underived, unborrowed; he was the Life; and that Life, it is said, “was the light of men”(pp. 5-6).

While Ellen White borrowed this particular wording from Cumming, she used it in a different context (but with the same concept) than he did–John 11:25-26:

Still seeking to give a true direction to her faith, Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. “He that hath the Son hath life.” 1 John 5:12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life. “He that believeth in Me,” said Jesus, “though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” Christ here looks forward to the time of His second coming. Then the righteous dead shall be raised incorruptible, and the living righteous shall be translated to heaven without seeing death. The miracle which Christ was about to perform, in raising Lazarus from the dead, would represent the resurrection of all the righteous dead. By His word and His works He declared Himself the Author of the resurrection. He who Himself was soon to die upon the cross stood with the keys of death, a conqueror of the grave, and asserted His right and power to give eternal life (DA 530).

As such, in borrowing these words from Cumming, Ellen White was not mindlessly copying him. She was fully engaged in this process and adapted Cumming’s words to fit her own thought regarding the full deity and eternity of Jesus Christ. Concerning Ellen White’s practice of literary borrowing, Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon write in the article “Literary Borrowing” in the forthcoming The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia:

There is evidence to support the conclusion that she used other sources, not as a mere compiler, but as an original author. She used external material not in lieu of her own thought, but to enhance her expression of her thought.

This is precisely the case here. The issue of not giving credit to Cumming and other authors in Ellen White’s practice of literary borrowing will be dealt with elsewhere in this website. For now, it is sufficient to say that while not giving credit is unacceptable in today’s literary standards, it was widespread among writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To read Fortin and Moon’s article, go here.

Charge: Ellen White’s clear statements on the deity of Christ are befogged by other statements undermining the deity of Christ.

Dr. Verle Streifling, in his article “Did Ellen White Teach ‘A Different God’?” (most of Dr. Streifling’s article is the background for my writing of this article), lists six statements that he claims undermine the deity of Christ and portray Him as an angel:

Six statements that allegedly undermine Christ’s divinity:

  • 1897 Rev 8:3 “The ministry of the angel at the altar of incense is representative of Christ’s intercession…” (ms 15, 1897).
  • 1900 “The mighty angel who instructed John (Rev. 1:1) was no less than the person of Christ” (ms 59, 1900).
  • 1903 “The man Christ Jesus was not the Lord God Almighty” (ms 150, SDA Bible Commentary Vol. 5, p. 1129)
  • 1904 “To Christ had been given an exalted position. He has been made equal with the Father” (Testimonies vol. 8, p. 268)
  • 1905 “The instruction…was so important that Christ came…to give it to his servant…” (ms 129; Bible Commentary vol. 7, p. 971)
  • 1905 Rev 10:6 “In swearing by the creator, the angel who is Christ, swore by himself” (ibid., p. 798)

Notice that the above statements are sentences and sentence fragments of Ellen White comments without their literary contexts, a common practice among critics.

Let us examine both the larger and immediate literary contexts of these statements:

Larger literary context of the six statements:

Between 1890 and 1906, which includes the time frame of the above statements, Ellen White was explicit in her statements regarding the divinity and eternity of Jesus Christ. Notice the following comments on key christological New Testament texts (all orange and bold is mine):

Commenting on John 1:14 in 1890:

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Christ came to the world to reveal the character of the Father, and to redeem the fallen race. The world’s Redeemer was equal with God. His authority was as the authority of God. He declared that he had no existence separate from the Father. The authority by which he spoke, and wrought miracles, was expressly his own, yet he assures us that he and the Father are one.” (Review and Herald, Jan. 7, 1890)

Commenting on John 10:30 in 1893:

The Jews had never before heard such words from human lips, and a convicting influence attended them; for it seemed that divinity flashed through humanity as Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” The words of Christ were full of deep meaning as he put forth the claim that he and the Father were of one substance, possessing the same attributes.” (Signs of the Times, Nov. 27, 1893).

Commenting on John 8:58 in 1900 (this statement is especially important in view of Dr. Streifling’s Arian charges):

“Before Abraham was, I am.” Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God. The message He gave to Moses to give to the children of Israel was, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The prophet Micah writes of Him, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, tho thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of Thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Through Solomon Christ declared: “The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth. . . . When He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth; then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.”

In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God.
He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him (Signs of the Times, Aug. 29, 1900).

Speaking on Christ’s oneness with God in 1905:

From all eternity Christ was united with the Father, and when He took upon Himself human nature, He was still one with God.” (Signs of the Times, Aug. 2, 1905)

Commenting on John 1:3 in 1906:

The world was made by him, “and without him was not anything made that was made.” And “without him was not anything made that was made.” If Christ made all things, he existed before all things. The words spoken in regard to this are so decisive that no one need be left in doubt. Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity, God over all, blessed forevermore. . . .
There are light and glory in the truth that Christ was one with the Father before the foundation of the world was laid. This is the light shining in a dark place, making it resplendent with divine, original glory. This truth, infinitely mysterious in itself, explains other mysterious and otherwise unexplainable truths, while it is enshrined in light, unapproachable and incomprehensible.”(The Review and Herald, April 5, 1906).

Her understanding of these important biblical texts is explicitly and abundantly clear: Jesus Christ is the eternal, preexistent “God over all.”

A careful study of Ellen White’s writings during the years 1890 to 1906 in context clearly shows that she did not contradict herself on this essential concept. One only needs to examine the immediate contexts of the six statements.

Immediate literary context of each statement:

The statements are cited exactly as Dr. Streifling cites them in his article.

First Statement:

“1897 Rev 8:3 ‘The ministry of the angel at the altar of incense is representative of Christ’s intercession…’ (ms 15, 1897)” (emphasis his).

This statement cannot be found anywhere in the published writings of Ellen White. One can type it in on the EGW CD-ROM numerous ways, but this particular combination of words will not show up on the hit list. Dr. Streifling misquoted Ellen White in this instance. Even if this statement were authentic, an angel as symbolically representing Christ does not mean He is reduced to the level of an angel. Here is the actual statement in its context from MS 15, 1897: After quoting Revelation 8:3-4, Ellen White writes:

Let the families, the individual Christians, and the churches bear in mind that they are closely allied to heaven. The Lord has a special interest in His church militant here below. The angels who offer the smoke of the fragrant incense are for the praying saints. Then let the evening prayers in every family rise steadily to heaven in the cool sunset hour, speaking before God in our behalf of the merits of the blood of a crucified and risen Saviour.

That blood alone is efficacious. It alone can make propitiation for our sins. It is the blood of the only-begotten Son of God that is of value for us that we may draw nigh unto God, His blood alone that taketh “away the sin of the world.” Morning and evening the heavenly universe behold every household that prays, and the angel with the incense, representing the blood of the atonement, finds access to God (MS 15, 1897; 7BC 971).

No problem here with the deity of Jesus Christ. If anything, this statement emphasizes the efficacy of His shed blood and its role in answered prayers.

Second Statement:

1900 ‘The mighty angel who instructed John (Rev. 1:1) was no less than the person of Christ‘ (ms 59, 1900)” (emphasis his).

Here is the context for this statement:

The mighty angel who instructed John was no less a personage than Jesus Christ. Setting His right foot on the sea, and His left upon the dry land, shows the part which He is acting in the closing scenes of the great controversy with Satan. This position denotes His supreme power and authority over the whole earth (MS 59, 1900; 7BC 971).

Again Dr. Streifing does not cite Ellen White with precision. He interprets this “mighty angel” as the one in Revelation 1:1. But the context clearly shows Ellen White is discussing the “mighty angel” of Revelation 10:1 (this could be a typo on his part in which the “0”is left out and he really meant “10:1″). Also, the word Mrs. White uses is “personage,” not “person.”

Due to the context of Revelation 10, various interpreters have understood this “mighty angel” to be a divine being–Christ Himself, including the renowned evangelical interpreter Donald G. Barnhouse (Revelation: An Expository Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: 1971], 179). As such, identifying this angel as Christ certainly does not mean one lowers Christ to the level of an angel. While Ellen White and Donald Barnhouse interpret Revelation differently in many places, they are both on the same page concerning the full deity of Jesus Christ. This is not the place for exegesis of this passage.

Third Statement:

1903 ‘The man Christ Jesus was not the Lord God Almighty’ (ms 150, SDA Bible Commentary Vol. 5, p. 1129)” (emphasis his).

Correction: it is MS 140, not 150. This statement is perhaps the most quoted statement by those who want to prove Ellen White to be an Arian. The context of this statement, however, militates against such an interpretation. I have emphasized in orange what Dr. Streifling cites and the green is my emphasis, so that the reader can quickly discern the context:

Christ left His position in the heavenly courts, and came to this earth to live the life of human beings. This sacrifice He made in order to show that Satan’s charge against God is false–that it is possible for man to obey the laws of God’s kingdom. Equal with the Father, honored and adored by the angels, in our behalf Christ humbled Himself, and came to this earth to live a life of lowliness and poverty–to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.Yet the stamp of divinity was upon His humanity. He came as a divine Teacher, to uplift human beings, to increase their physical, mental, and spiritual efficiency. There is no one who can explain the mystery of the incarnation of Christ. Yet we know that He came to this earth and lived as a man among men. The man Christ Jesus was not the Lord God Almighty, yet Christ and the Father are one. The Deity did not sink under the agonizing torture of Calvary, yet it is nonetheless true that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (MS 140, 1903; 5BC 1129).

It becomes obvious upon a careful reading of this paragraph that Ellen White is attempting to explain the distinction between God the Father (“the Lord God Almighty“) and God the Son (“the man Christ Jesus“). She is in no way diminishing the divinity of Jesus Christ. Her writing is careful: “There is no one who can explain the mystery of the incarnation of Christ. Yet we know that he came to this earth and lived as a man among men.” Then comes the statement attempting to explain the unexplainable “mystery of the incarnation”: “The man Christ Jesus was not the Lord God Almighty, yet Christ and the Father are one.” The conjunctive adverb “yet,” which begins the latter clause, joins the two contrasting ideas. As such, the two clauses form a unit and should not be separated, as Dr. Streifling and others have done.

Ellen White is communicating the idea that while Jesus Christ and His Father are distinct in their persons, they are still one. Elsewhere she wrote: “The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father (Review and Herald, April 5, 1906). Here she is attempting to explain this distinction after the incarnation without undermining the truth that Christ and the Father are still of “one substance, possessing the same attributes.” (Signs of the Times, Nov. 27, 1893). The “mystery of the incarnation” cannot be fully explained in human words, as she herself acknowledges.

One can only wonder why Dr. Streifling and others never address the immediate and larger literary context of this statement.

Fourth Statement:

“1904 ‘To Christ had been given an exalted position. He has been made equal  with the Father’ (Testimonies vol. 8, p. 268)” (emphasis his).

Again, Streifling has misquoted Ellen White. Instead of “had been given,” Mrs. White wrote: “has been given.” The way these two sentences are cited without their context implies that at some point in the past the Father gave Christ something He did not already possess. Here is the statement in its context:

The Scriptures clearly indicate the relation between God and Christ, and they bring to view as clearly the personality and individuality of each.

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee? And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son?” Hebrews 1:1-5.
God is the Father of Christ; Christ is the Son of God. To Christ has been given an exalted position. He has been made equal with the Father. All the counsels of God are opened to His Son (Testimonies, vol 8, p. 268).

These comments immediately follow the christologically important Hebrews 1:1-5. What does she mean by “has been given an exalted position” and “has been made equal to the Father”?

Earlier in the context of this chapter, “A Personal God” (pp. 263-278), Ellen White wrote in a subdivision entitled, “God Revealed in Christ” (pp. 265-266):

As a personal being, God has revealed Himself in His Son. Jesus, the outshining of the Father’s glory, “and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3), was on earth found in fashion as a man. As a personal Saviour He came to the world. As a personal Saviour He ascended on high. As a personal Saviour He intercedes in the heavenly courts. Before the throne of God in our behalf ministers “One like unto the Son of man.” Revelation 1:13. Christ, the Light of the world, veiled the dazzling splendor of His divinity and came to live as a man among men, that they might, without being consumed, become acquainted with their Creator. No man has seen God at any time except as He is revealed through Christ (p. 265).

Here she unmistakingly expresses the full diety of Jesus Christ, particularly in citing Hebrews 1:3. So based on what she says here on page 265, she is not saying three pages later (p. 268) with the same text (Heb. 1:1-5) that Christ was given something he did not already possess.

In fact, in the statement under consideration (p. 268), she seems to follow the flow of thought in Hebrews 1:1-5. For example, her words, “has been given an exalted position,” seem to follow Hebrews 1:3d, “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high,” which portray Christ after His ascension and enthronement as the Priest-King of the universe. The text says God’s Son has been given an exalted position based on his works and attributes (verse 3a-c). Furthermore, her other words, “has been made equal to the Father,” seem to follow Hebrews 1:3 and verse 4, “being made so much better than the angels.” Again, a reference to the results of the ascension and enthronement.

In other words, her statement can be seen as an elaboration on this text in Hebrews 1:1-5, which portrays Christ after his ascension. Admittedly, she does not give a detailed exposition. But her purpose in the context of this subdivision, “Testimony of Scripture” (pp. 268-269), is to let the Scriptures do most of the talking about the “relation between God and Christ” (p. 268). As such, one will find that cited Scripture mostly composes this subdivision.

Having said this, it must be admitted that the wording of this statement is not as clear as other statements on the topic. But due to the larger literary context and the nature of the Scriptures she cites, it is reasonable to conclude that this statement is not teaching any kind of Arainism.

In Philippians 2:5-11, another great New Testament christological passage, Paul speaks of Christ as being equal with God (vs. 6), Christ in his incarnation and humilating death (vss. 7-8), and then God exalting Jesus Christ to the highest place (vs. 9). Paul certainly did not mean Christ was not equal with God before this exaltation (vs. 6).

Fifth Statement:

“1905 ‘The instruction…was so important that Christ came…to give it to his servant…’ (ms 129; Bible Commentary vol. 7, p. 971).”

This statement does come from MS 129, 1905, but Dr. Streifling has the wrong page from the SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7. The correct page for this statement is 953. Here is the statement in its context:

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified [it] by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw” (Revelation 1:1-2). The whole Bible is a revelation; for all revelation to men comes through Christ, and all centers in Him. God has spoken unto us by His Son, whose we are by creation and by redemption. Christ came to John exiled on the Isle of Patmos to give him the truth for these last days, to show him that which must shortly come to pass. Jesus Christ is the great trustee of divine revelation. It is through Him that we have a knowledge of what we are to look for in the closing scenes of this earth’s history. God gave this revelation to Christ, and Christ communicated the same to John.

John, the beloved disciple, was the one chosen to receive this revelation. He was the last survivor of the first chosen disciples. Under the New Testament dispensation he was honored as the prophet Daniel was honored under the Old Testament dispensation.

The instruction to be communicated to John was so important that Christ came from heaven to give it to His servant, telling him to send it to the churches. This instruction is to be the object of our careful and prayerful study; for we are living in a time when men who are not under the teaching of the Holy Spirit will bring in false theories. These men have been standing in high places, and they have ambitious projects to carry out. They seek to exalt themselves, and to revolutionize the whole showing of things. God has given us special instruction to guard us against such ones. He bade John write in a book that which should take place in the closing scenes of this earth’s history (MS 129, 1905).

Based on his comments, Dr. Streifling believes Ellen White was saying that Jesus Chirst is the “angel” in Revelation 1:1. A cursory reading of this statement could leave one with this impression. The text in Revelation 1:1 says that Jesus sent his angel to communicate the revelation to John, but Mrs. White says “Christ came to John exiled on the Isle of Patmos” and “Christ came from heaven to give it [the revelation] to His servant.” Is there a contradiction here? Or is Mrs. White saying Jesus and the angel in Revelation 1:1 are the same person, as Dr. Steifling asserts?

It is important to note that Dr. Streifling cites fragments of the statement without its literary context. Notice the complete statement above in orange text. I have bolded the clause Dr. Streifling left out, which clarifies the meaning. While she cites Revelation 1:1-2 at the beginning, it becomes clear that she is referring to much more than just the first two verses. She is commenting on the entire first chapter of Revelation, not just verse one. Notice a three-part chain of transmission regarding the revelation:

  1. Jesus reveives the revelation from God (Rev. 1:1).
  2. Jesus sends his angel who communicates the revelation to John (Rev. 1:1).
  3. John is told to communicate to the churches the things which he saw in vision (Rev. 1:11,19).

In Revelation 1:9-18, Jesus appears to John personally as the resurrected and ascended Lord. John describes his experience:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:17-18; NIV).

After this personal encounter, John is told to communicate the revelation: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later (Rev. 1:19). Then chapters 2 and 3 record Jesus’ messages to the seven churches. Mrs. White thus reflects what the text says:

The instruction to be communicated to John was so important that Christ came from heaven to give it to His servant, telling him to send it to the churches. This instruction is to be the object of our careful and prayerful study” (MS 129, 1905; SDABC, vol. 7, p. 953-954).

Thus, when she says Christ came to John personally to give him instruction, she is referring to Revelation 1:9-19. She is not saying, therefore, that Christ is the angel in Revelation 1:1.

Futher evidence that she did not view the angel of Revelation 1:1 as Jesus Christ is found in The Desire of Ages (1898), where she says this angel of Revelation 1:1 is Gabriel:

Of Gabriel the Saviour speaks in the Revelation, saying that “He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John.” Revelation 1:1. And to John the angel declared, “I am a fellow servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets.” Revelation 22:9, R. V. Wonderful thought–that the angel who stands next in honor to the Son of God is the one chosen to open the purposes of God to sinful men (DA 99).

Sixth Statement:

“1905 Rev 10:6 ‘In swearing by the creator, the angel who is Christ, swore by himself’ (ibid., p. 798)” (emphasis his).

Dr. Streifling gives the impression this is a statement from the pen of Ellen White when, in fact, it is the commentator’s remarks on verse 6 in the SDABC, vol. 7, p. 798. Ellen White did not say these words. She does, however, take the poisition that the great angel of Reveation 10:1 is the divine person of Christ, as the discussion on the second statement above shows.

Even here the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary is not lowering Christ to the position of an angel. The commentators take the position, like Ellen White, that the great angel is no less than the divine person of Jesus Christ. See the discussion of angels and Christ in Questions on Doctrine.

Thus, as one can plainly see, these six statements in their literary contexts do not befog or contradict Ellen White’s many clear statements on the divinity and eternity of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Streifling’s Other Charges:

Dr. Streifling makes several other charges in his article about Ellen White and the Seventh-day Adventist church regarding Arianism. I will not take any more space in this article to address these other charges, except to say that they are no more accurate than the ones addressed above. If necessary, I will address them at a later time.

Conclusion

I grew up in the United Methodist Church. Well do I remember my Mother making me behave and recite the Apostle’s Creed during the Methodist worship services: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” With this influence in my upbringing, I had a basic knowlege of the Trinity, but that was all. The significance of who Jesus Christ really was never hit me.

At the age of 17, I became a Seventh-day Adventist and began to study the Bible for myself. Then the creedal Trinitarian words I had heard all my life in church became more interesting. The concept of the Trinity started to come alive. Several years later, while reading Ellen White’s statements on the Godhead, the significance of the deity and eternity of Jesus Christ struck me with great emotional force. The life and death of my Saviour took on a new meaning. The thought that He existed from eternity with the Father and came to die for me was a life-impacting thought.

Over the years I have studied different works on systematic theology and enjoyed the Trinitarian insights of the various theologians. But no other writer, outside of Scripture, has made the concept of the Trinity more clear, meaningful, and powerful to me than Ellen G. White. See for yourself in the compilation of EGW statements, “Christ’s Place in the Godhead,” at the Biblical Research Institute website.

Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min.