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Ellen White and Miller’s Proofs

August 2008

                One way critics attempt to debunk Ellen White’s prophetic ministry is to emphasize her strong endorsement of William Miller, leader of the nineteenth-century Second Advent awakening in America during the 1830s and 40s. The foremost advocate of this approach, Dale Ratzlaff, spends two chapters on Miller and Ellen White in his The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists (1996). His basic argument is this: “If Miller was right, so was Ellen G. White. If Miller was wrong, so was EGW. There are no other conclusions” (Ratzlaff, 44). The conclusion that Ellen White was wrong, of course, is the one Mr. Ratzlaff espouses.
                In The Cultic Doctrine, Mr. Ratzlaff spends all of Chapter 3, “White, God, and Miller,” documenting Ellen White’s strong endorsement of William Miller. After leaving the reader with this “glowing, prophetic endorsement,” he moves on to Chapter 4, “William Miller: His Methods and Message,” and focuses on Miller’s 15 proofs that Christ would come in 1843. After listing each proof, he provides a brief evaluation, capitalizing on the numerous errors in Miller’s exegesis, and referring to them as “absurd,” “foolhardy,” and “a mockery of sound biblical interpretation.” In most of his evaluation, he applies Ellen White’s phrase, “perfect chain of truth,” to the proofs, leaving the reader with the impression that by this phrase she meant the 15 proofs. After critiquing Proof 11, for example, he states: “This is another broken link in the ‘perfect chain of truth’ which Ellen White said God gave to Miller” (73; my emphasis). The obvious conclusion of the chapter is this: William Miller was wrong in his 15 proofs; Ellen White endorsed the 15 proofs; therefore, she was wrong. And since prophets are never wrong, Ellen White cannot be a true prophet. Moreover, the fact that “what she wrote about Miller and his being led by God in his methods and conclusions was written after 1844” (82; emphasis his). This fact, in Mr. Ratzlaff’s mind, serves doubly to impeach her prophetic credibility. Thus, he believes he has a strong argument against Ellen White and Seventh-day Adventist interpretation in Miller’s 15 proofs. Does he?
                     Clifford Goldstein, editor of the SDA Adult Bible Study Guides, has provided an excellent critique of Ratzlaff’s argument in Graffiti In the Holy of Holies (go here to read it). I will add several points in addition to Goldstein’s argument.
                At the outset it is important for me to state that no informed Seventh-day Adventist would agree with all of William Miller’s 15 proofs. Razlaff is right that as one reads through the proofs, the errors are obvious. Francis D. Nichol, author of Ellen White and Her Critics, summed up the Adventist position on Miller’s 15 proofs in The Midnight Cry published in 1944:
Some of these so-called proofs that 1843 was the climax year of prophecy are plainly fanciful. Others of the proofs were sound in their basic elements, for example, the interpretation of major prophecies, such as the 1260 days. But they were strained in the conclusions that were built upon them. Even though it could be established by certain lines of reasoning that great prophecies ended about 1843, Miller erred in reasoning that the second advent must follow immediately. Thus his writings on prophecy mix error with truth. The truth is found in the interpretation he gave to most of the major prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. The principal errors are found in the reasoning adopted in his endeavor to create certain secondary proofs, and in the interpretation he gave to the key words “sanctuary” and “cleansed,” in Daniel 8:13, 14 (524).
Thus, it was acknowledged in official Adventist writings fifty-plus years ago that Miller’s 15 proofs contain fanciful interpretations. Contrary to Ratzlaff, however, Adventists believe a few of the proofs to be biblically based, particularly the one dealing with the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14.
                The issue at stake in this discussion, however, is the nature of Ellen White’s endorsement of William Miller. When she used the phrase, “perfect chain of truth,” did she mean the 15 proofs, as Mr. Ratzlaff argues, or something else? Before answering this question, several issues in Mr. Ratzlaff’s argument should be addressed.
                First, he presents the Adventist church with a false dilemma. He declares that “at the very outset, the SDA church is faced with a dilemma. If Miller was right, so was Ellen White. If Miller was wrong, so was EGW. There are no other conclusions” (44). In stating there are “no other conclusions,” Mr. Ratzlaff sets up the false dilemma by limiting his readers to only two alternatives when, in fact, there is a third alternative. Based on evidence presented below, the following third alternative presents itself as the correct one: Miller was right and wrong, and Ellen White’s endorsement did not involve all of the 15 proofs.
                Another issue in Ratzlaff’s argument is his lack of serious research regarding William Miller. For example, he writes: “Much has been written about William Miller, but for our purposes all we need to know is that he started ‘the great second advent movement’ by his predictions that Christ would come in 1843″ (52; emphasis mine). Does this brief slice of Miller’s background tell us everything we really need to know–that he started the second great advent movement, that he authored the 15 proofs, and that he used some faulty methods of interpretation? Is this all we need to know? Does this do justice to the William Miller of history that Ellen White and her contemporaries knew? Hardly! Mr. Ratzlaff does give a nod to the extensive collection of Millerite literature at Aurora College in Aurora, Illinois (in a footnote), but he chooses to completely ignore what it tells us about William Miller. Sylvester Bliss’s definitive nineteenth-century biography, Memoirs of William Miller (1853), and Miller’s own Wm. Miller’s Apology and Defense (1845), for example, are basic Millerite sources that provide a general framework for Miller and his 15 proofs. These two important sources were not considered in Ratzlaff’s discussion. Furthermore, Mr. Raztlaff’s lack of serious research shows in his failure to discuss the 15 proofs in context. When Miller first published his 15 proofs in Signs of the Times, January 25, 1843, he preceded them with a summary of his views on the Second Coming of Christ in 16 points. These 16 points (see them in Bliss, 170-172), for the most part (points 1-11), represent basic evangelical teaching on the Second Coming of Christ and are points that many evangelicals today would espouse. This context of the 15 proofs presents a more balanced view of William Miller and, in fairness to him, should always be a part of any discussion regarding the 15 proofs. Mr. Ratzlaff was evidently not aware of these 16 points because the secondary source he relied on omitted them in its presentation of the 15 proofs (Ratzlaff, 53; Arasola, 222-225). If research is to be serious, it must go beyond the secondary sources to the primary sources and deal with the original context.
                One other issue needing attention in Mr. Ratzlaff’s argument is his use of Dr. Kai Arasola’s doctoral dissertation, The End of Historicism, in his discussion about William Miller (Arasola is an SDA). The title of this dissertation sounds as if it is critical of historicism, the traditional Adventist approach to prophetic interpretation. It should be pointed out, however, that Dr. Arasola’s dissertation is a discussion of the end of historicism as a historical movement (the hows and whys), not a critique of historicism as a method of prophetic interpretation. He shows how historicism was the standard method of prophetic exegesis from the late seventeenth to the middle nineteenth century, how the Millerite movement brought an end to historicism as the standard method of prophetic interpretation, and why historicism was replaced by Darbyan futurism and preterism. Its primary contribution is a description of Miller’s exegesis in the 15 proofs. The limits of the dissertation do not allow for the discussion of how historicism continues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There is no question that this dissertation provides an insightful critique of some problems associated with Miller’s exegesis, but Dr. Arasola is in no way attempting to criticize Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen White, historicism, or William Miller. Razlaff thus uses only those parts of the dissertation that suit his purpose to criticize Miller’s exegesis. But Arasola’s study as a whole is more about the history of exegesis and the impact of the Millerite movement on that history.
                Overall, I found Arasola’s work to be insightful. One place I disagree with it, however, is on page 59 where Dr. Arasola discusses the “lack of Christocentricity” in Miller’s 14 rules for interpretation (Arasola, 59-60). Ratzlaff, of course, capitalizes on this point in his book, claiming that Miller was “not Christ-centered in his interpretation of Scripture” (Ratzlaff, 80). While it is true that Miller makes no direct reference to Christ, salvation, or the Gospel in his 14 rules, it is a mistake to leave the impression that Miller was Christless in his approach to the Bible and the prophecies. The application of these rules actually led Miller to many truths about Jesus Christ (see, for example, Bliss’s Memoirs, 70-74 ) and his 20-article “statement of faith,” which devoted Articles 6-12 to Christ, salvation, and the Gospel, influenced his approach to the Bible (Bliss, 77-80). Most importantly, though, was Miller’s significant rule of typology mentioned outside of the 14 rules and found only in his “Introduction” to the various editions of his Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year 1843 (for example, 1833, 5-6; 1842, 7). Typology is a method of interpretation in which a person, institution, office, or event in the Old Testament (type) divinely prefigures some truth of the Gospel (antitype), such as Adam’s being a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14), and is by nature inherently Christ-centered. This rule, according to Miller’s own words, was one of his “principal keys” which he used to “unlock the prophecies of Daniel and John” (1833, 6). Dr. Arasola is right that Miller used a “general argumentative style” in his writing to “prove points related to prophecy”(60). But a careful reading of Miller’s works clearly shows that Christ-centered applications in his appeals and expositions were not absent. See, for example, the 1842 edition of Evidences (Miller’s sermons), published at the height of his popularity (the following pages are only a sampling from this book and far from exhaustive: pages 26-27, 58, 60-61, 125-126, 174, 189, 218, 248-249, 284-287, 299).
William Miller’s Perfect Chain of Truth
                The following statement from Ellen White’s Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, 129-130 (also found in Early Writings, 229), is a foundational statement for Ratzlaff’s discussion about William Miller:
I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, and led him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people. The commencement of the chain of truth was given him, and he was led on to search for link after link, until he looked with wonder and admiration upon the word of God. He saw there a perfect chain of truth. That Word which he had regarded as uninspired, now opened before his vision with beauty and glory. He saw that one portion of Scripture explained another, and when one portion was closed to his understanding, he found in another portion of the Word that which explained it. He regarded the sacred word of God with joy, and with the deepest respect and awe.
The first question we must ask about this statement is this: Where is the evidence that Ellen White is talking about Miller’s 15 proofs? Dale Ratzlaff assumes that the “perfect chain of truth” is Miller’s 15 proofs, collectively. Is this assumption warranted? Or is he making an unwarranted leap from the “perfect chain of truth” to the 15 proofs? Consider the following lines of evidence:
 1.      This statement describes a specific period in Miller’s life before he had established all of his 15 proofs. Read for yourself Miller’s own description of his early experience of study shortly after his conversion in Bliss, 69-70, 76-77 , and then compare it with Ellen White’s statement above and the expanded version iThe Great Controversy, 321-329. She is unmistakably describing, in broad strokes, what Miller found during his two-year period of study from 1816 to 1818. Then read pages 74-76 in Bliss, where Miller narrates his study of the “various chronological periods” extending to the Second Coming, and count how many of his 15 proofs you find. You will only find only about five. Especially notice on page 76 in Bliss, where Miller lists three proofs, the seven times, the 2300 days, and the 1335 days, and then says: “Reckoning all these prophetic periods from the several dates assigned by the best chronologers for the events from which they should evidently be reckoned, they would all terminate together, about A.D. 1843” (emphasis mine). That is only three main prophetic proofs Miller used for 1843 at this time (five if one includes the 490 years and 1260 days mentioned on page 75). The bottom line: Miller did not yet have all 15 of his proofs nailed down by the end of his two-year study during the years 1816-1818. The rest of the proofs would be discovered years later. For more discussion on when Miller discovered his 15 proofs, go here. Ellen White’s statement that Miller “saw a perfect chain of truth” in the Bible during his early experience of study from 1816 to 1818, therefore, cannot be referring to the 15 proofs because they did not all exist yet. To automatically read all of Miller’s 15 proofs into Ellen White’s phrase, “perfect chain of truth,” therefore, is completely unwarranted.
2.       What did Ellen White mean, then, by the phrase, “a perfect chain of truth”? Please read the immediate context of this passage and notice the words I have bolded (sentences are numbered and lined up for the purpose of explanation):
1.       The commencement of the chain of truth was given him, and he was led on to search for link after link, until he looked with wonder and admiration upon the word of God
                   2.       He saw there a perfect chain of truth.
                   3.         That Word which he had regarded as uninspired, now opened before his vision with beauty and glory.
                   4.       He saw that one portion of Scripture explained another, and when one portion was closed to his understanding, he found in another portion of the Word that which explained it.
The grammatical antecedent of the adverb in sentence 2, “there,” is “the word of God;” and the demonstrative pronoun in sentence 3, “That,” also finds its antecedent in the “word of God.” The authorial intention of these grammatical connections is that what Miller “saw” as the “perfect chain of truth” was the entire Bible itself.  Sentence 4 flows out of this context. In other words, after receiving the “commencement of the chain of truth,” Miller studied the entire Bible “link after link” until he saw it as one great interconnected chain, or system, of truth (“perfect chain of truth”). This is the most sensible meaning of the entire statement based on the English grammar. Notice how this meaning reflects Miller’s own words after describing his initial two-year study of the entire Bible: “I was thus satisfied that the Bible is a system of revealed truths, so clearly and simply given, that the ‘wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein” (Bliss, 69-70; Miller, 6).
Please note: This does not mean Ellen White believed that all of Miller’s interpretations were perfect. She didn’t (see below). The language of this statement describes how Miller himself viewed the Bible (“He saw there a perfect chain of truth”). He was “given” the “commencement of the chain of truth” and “led on” to search for “link after link.” Then she says, “He saw,” not “God gave him,” a “perfect chain of truth.” The point is that the Bible was a “perfect chain of truth”–according to Miller’s human understanding. Divine guidance, as Goldstein correctly pointed out, does not mean the recipient is theologically infallible. Miller made some mistakes, but he was “led on” to a significant amount of Bible truth as well. And that truth was Ellen White’s focus (see below).
3.       What in William Miller’s teachings did Ellen White endorse as truth? After writing of William Miller in the 1911 and final edition of The Great Controversy: “Link after link of the chain of truth rewarded his efforts, as step by step he traced down the great lines of prophecy,” and “Angels of heaven were guiding his mind and opening the Scriptures to his understanding” (1911 GC, 321), Mrs. White proceeds to discuss Miller’s findings regarding the Second Coming, such as the “literal, personal coming of Christ” and the texts supporting it (321-323). She highlights Miller’s study of the “chronology of the Scriptures” and then turns to the major prophecy, the 2300 days (324). After spending four pages discussing the 2300 days and 70 weeks, she then focuses on Miller’s conclusion regarding the timing of the Second Coming in 1818, after his two years of intensive study of Scripture. Throughout this discussion, she is citing Sylvester Bliss’s Memoirs of William Miller (1853), the principal historical source of her information about Miller.
What is most significant about this discussion in The Great Controversy is that Ellen White focuses mainly on the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 and the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:25-27. One will find none of the erroneous proofs found in Miller’s 15 proofs even mentioned. For example, in Miller’s narrative (the same pages that Ellen White uses) you will find next to the 2300 days one of Miller’s early erroneous proofs, the seven times of Leviticus 26 (Bliss, 75, 76). Please note: Ellen White did not perpetuate this proof here or anywhere else in her writings. Neither did she give any attention to the other fanciful proofs Miller would later advocate, such as the two days, seventh Sabbath, or jubilees. Nowhere in her writings does she even come close to endorsing the method used in proving these fanciful interpretations. She perpetuated only those proofs that adhered to the classical historicist method of interpreting the prophecies. As such, Ellen White’s endorsement of Miller’s methods, conclusions, and message was selective and focused only on his basic teachings regarding the prophecies.
Interestingly, Mr. Ratzlaff admits in the next chapter: “It is not clear if Ellen White endorsed all of Miller’s fifteen ‘proofs’” (Ratzlaff, 93, note 18). Goldstein appropriately writes: “Look at what’s happening. Brother Dale expounds page after page on the silliness of Miller’s proofs, arguing that because Ellen White endorsed them she cannot be a prophet. And yet, later, he admits that maybe she didn’t endorse them all! Thus, if ‘it’s not clear if Ellen White endorsed all of Miller’s fifteen ‘proofs,” then it’s not clear that her ‘comprehensive endorsement’ of Miller is as comprehensive as Brother Dale needs it to be in order to build his case against her” (Goldstein, 153).
In Miller’s narrative of his conclusions at the end of his two-year study during the years 1816-1818, one will find a significant amount of biblical truth that Ellen White endorsed and which found its way into her own teaching. The following list is a summary extracted from the narrative of Miller’s conversion, subsequent Bible study, and conclusions regarding the Second Coming of Christ. Here one will find what Ellen White did endorse regarding Miller’s conclusions:
  • The Bible is a revelation from God.
  • Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of mankind and a personal Savior and Friend to the believer.
  • Jesus Christ is coming back to the earth.
  • His coming is personal and pre-millennial.
  • His coming must be a continuously expected event.
  • He is coming in the clouds of heaven, in all the glory of His Father
  • At the Second Coming the righteous dead will be raised and all the righteous living will be translated, and they will all be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air and reign with Him forever in the regenerated earth.
  • The earth made new will be the home of the saints.
  • The only millennium taught in Scripture is the thousand years of Revelation 20:
  • The millennium begins with the first resurrection.
  • The millennium ends with the second resurrection.
  • The millennium comes after the Second Coming, not before it.
  • The new earth comes after the thousand years.
  • The little horn of Daniel 7 is the papacy, which wars against the saints until the end of time and will be destroyed at the Second Coming.
  • There will be no conversion of the world before the Advent.
  • The New Earth will be the home of the saints.
  • The promises respecting Israel’s restoration are applied to all who are Christ’s.
  • The vision of Daniel 2 reveals four universal monarchies (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome) which extend to the end of time when the stone smites the image at the feet and destroys all the kingdoms of this world.
  • In Bible prophecy a year equals a day.
  • The 2300 days are 2300 prophetic years.
  • The 70 weeks to the Messiah are 490 prophetic years.
  • The 2300 days commence with the 70 weeks in 457 B.C. and end in the mid-1840s.
  • The 1260 years are prophetic years of the papal supremacy (538A.D. to 1798A.D. (Bliss, 66-76; Miller, 6-12)
The honest reader of Ellen White cannot read this list and fail to see its connection with the statement in The Great Controversy regarding Miller: “Link after link of the chain of truth rewarded his efforts, as step by step he traced down the great lines of prophecy” (321). Furthermore, a careful reading of the pages following this statement in The Great Controversy (321-331) reveal a dependence on the very pages in Miller’s narrative where this list comes from. Read it for yourself: Bliss, 66-76. The evidence is unmistakable: the above list of basic prophetic truth is what Ellen White had in mind when she wrote of “link after link in the chain of truth” in The Great Controversy, pages 321-331.  
4.       Ellen White’s endorsement of William Miller after 1843-1844 was from the vantage point of hindsight. This point is even more dramatic when seen in the light that, as a Millerite, Ellen White heard Miller use proofs in his preaching–for example, when she heard him preach in the spring of 1840 and, as she put it, “listened to the startling announcement that Christ was coming in 1843.” Commenting on that experience, she remembered that Miller “dwelt upon the prophetic periods, and brought many proofs to strengthen his position” (1T 14). More importantly, during the very year Jesus was expected to come, 1843, Miller’s 15 proofs were published in the leading Millerite periodical Signs of the Times, January 25, 1843, and also in a widely circulated pamphlet titled Synopsis of Miller’s Views (1843). The young Ellen, like all other faithful Millerites of the time, would have read these major publications. With such a significant exposure to Miller’s 15 proofs, the fact that she never endorses them collectively is indicative of her understanding that they were irrelevant to Seventh-day Adventism and her discussions of Miller.
At the conclusion of his discussion on William Miller in Cultic Doctrine, Mr. Ratzlaff endeavors to clinch his argument with the following statement:
Had Ellen White given her support of Miller before 1844 one could almost excuse her if she had not claimed to speak for God. However, what she wrote about Miller and his being led by God in his methods and conclusions was written after 1844 (Ratzlaff, 82; emphasis his).
This statement reflects Mr. Ratzlaff’s assumption that Ellen White comprehensively endorsed everything Miller taught, including the 15 proofs. But the evidence clearly proves that she did not endorse everything Miller taught and did not believe the 15 proofs were the “perfect chain of truth.” In her writings about Miller years after 1843, it is obvious that Ellen White knew Miller was wrong on the timing of the Second Coming (Jesus did not come in 1843!) and wrong in his method of interpretation in most of his 15 proofs. But she still endorsed him as a man led by God, who was right in his basic teaching but wrong in some of his interpretations. Her selective endorsement of Miller after 1843 and 1844 shows that she was mindful of the fact that he was both right and wrong. Thus, what Mr. Ratzlaff thinks is a strong point is really a weak point–or no point at all.
                In summary, several lines of evidence refute Mr. Ratzlaff’s argument in Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists that Ellen White endorsed all of William Miller’s 15 proofs.
                1. The period in William Miller’s life that Ellen White describes in Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 1, 128-129, and The Great Controversy, 321-331, was before he discovered all of his 15 proofs. Thus, they cannot be what she meant by “perfect chain of truth.” 
                2. The grammatical context of Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 1, 128-129, indicates that William Miller saw the entire Bible as a “perfect chain of truth,” not the 15 proofs.
                3. In The Great Controversy, 321-331, Ellen White selectively endorsed William Miller’s basic teaching on the prophecies of Scripture as explained in his narrative. But she never endorsed any of Miller’s fanciful proofs (most of the 15).
                4. Ellen White never endorsed the 15 proofs collectively anywhere in her writings, because they were irrelevant to her purpose of tracing the development of Seventh-day Adventism.
                Thus, Mr. Ratzlaff’s argument that Ellen White endorsed all of William Miller’s 15 proofs is, in the end, nothing more than the classic straw-man argument (arguing against the 15 proofs as if they all represented Ellen White’s theology and method of interpreting Scripture, when, in fact, most of them don’t).
                It is significant that Mr. Ratzlaff believes this chapter on William Miller is the foundational chapter of his entire book The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists (54). As we have seen, because he did not prove Ellen White endorsed all of the 15 proofs, the basic argument of this chapter fails. With such a major crack in the foundation, one can only expect the rest of the arguments and conclusions in the book to collapse. Others have reached the same conclusion.
In future articles, I will address other aspects of Ellen White’s prophetic ministry criticized in The Cultic Doctrine.
Arasola, Kai. The End of Historicism: Millerite Hermeneutic of Time Prophecies in the Old Testament (Sigtuna, Sweden: Datem Publishing, 1990).
          Bliss, Sylvester. Memoirs of William Miller, Generally Known as a Lecturer on the Prophecies, and the Second Coming of Christ (Boston: J.V. Himes, 1853). This classic 1853 edition is republished with a critical introduction by Merlin D. Burt (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2005); Appendix B contains Miller’s Wm. Miller’s Apology and Defense, as originally published in 1845. Bliss’s original work can be found online.
Goldstein, Clifford. Graffiti in the Holy of Holies: An Impassioned Response to Recent Attacks on the Sanctuary and Ellen White (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2003).
Miller, William. Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year 1843, And of His Personal Reign of 1000 Years (Brandon, VT: Telegraph Office, 1833).
                       . Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ About the Year 1843: Exhibited in a Course of Lectures (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1842).
_______________. “Synopsis of Miller’s Views,” Signs of the Times, January 25, 1843, 145-150.
                   _   . Synopsis of Miller’s Views (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1843).
                       . Wm. Miller’s Apology and Defense (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1845).
Nichol, Francis, D. The Midnight Cry (Takoma Park: Review and Herald, 1944).
Ratzlaff, Dale. The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists (Glendale, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries, 1996).
Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min.