Ellen White
Ellen White Answers
Ellen White Answers
Ellen White
Answering the questions and critics on Ellen G. White
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Answers to the Plagiarism Charge

The following links and articles address the charge of plagiarism. For a comprehensive introduction to this issue, start with the first link to Dr. Roger Coon’s lecture outline.

The Charge of Plagiarism (PDF): A detailed lecture outline by Dr. Roger Coon, who served as an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate and an adjunct professor of prophetic guidance at the SDA seminary during the 1980s (used by permission). I have edited it in several places (website editor).

Literary Borrowing: The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia: This important article, written by two Andrews University Seminary professors specializing in Ellen White studies, Dr. Jerry Moon and Dr. Denis Fortin (Dean), is part of the forthcoming Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, edited by Moon and Fortin. At the end of the article they conclude with these appropriate words:

The repeated accusations of plagiarism have certainly shaken confidence in the writings of Ellen White and her prophetic ministry. In spite of this, the church has benefitted from discussions regarding the role and ministry of Ellen White. The apologetic approach of earlier years (as in Nichol’s Ellen G. White and Her Critics) has been replaced with a more open acknowledgment and discussion of Ellen White’s use of borrowed sources. Far from eliminating the influence of her writings on Adventist thought, a better understanding of how she wrote her books has helped the church to better understand and explain how the process of revelation and inspiration operated in her ministry and how her literary assistants helped her in her work. 

This article is a must read for anyone interested in the plagiarism charges and Ellen White.

Attorney Vincent Ramik’s Lawyer’s Brief: In the autumn of 1981, Attorney Warren L. Johns, then chief legal counsel in the General Conference’s Office of Legal Counsel, using private funds, engaged the services of Attorney Vincent Ramik, senior partner of the Diller, Ramik, and Wight, specialists in patent , trademark, and copyright law. Attorney Ramik was provided for his research: 1) All of the allegations of plagiarism, historically, from first to last; 2) copies of all denominational polemical defenses against these critical charges; 3) the relevant EGW books which were the target of the charges. Ramik spent more than 300 hours in researching more than 1,000 cases in American literary law (1790-1915). He produced a 27-page legal opinion Lawyer’s Brief (17 pages online; see above link) containing 53 source citation footnotes, in which he concluded that EGW was not guilty either of copyright infringement or of literary theft. It should be pointed out that Ramik was not a Seventh-day Adventist.

Was Ellen White a Plaigiarist? (PDF) A reprint of articles published in the Adventist Review, September 17, 1981, featuring an interview with Attorney Vincent L. Ramik, Senior Partner of Diller, Ramik & Wight, Ltd., Washington, D.C.

Below are several notable comments from Ramik (the paragraphs are taken from pages 3-5 in the article, “There is Simply No Case: Interview about Ellen White with Attorney Vincent L. Ramik”):

There is no reason why Ellen White could not use the ideas of others in expressing the thoughts she wished to convey. It’s not even rational to expect someone writing on a theological subject, for example, to write in the abstract without researching what others who have gone before—or even contemporaries— have said on the subject. In the middle of the nineteenth century—just when Ellen White was begining to write for print, 1845—in the legal case of Emerson v. Davies, Massachusetts Circuit Justice Story in effect exonerates a writer who has used other men’s words and ideas and woven them into his own composition. In effect, Judge Story says, Only fools attempt to do that which has been done better in the past; no one really ever builds a language exclusively his own. In other words, the words themselves have been there for years and years. The crucial issue is how you put them together, and the effect you wish to produce from those words. Now, if someone in the past, according to Judge Story, has written something that is splendidly written—something that is historical, something that is a common, everyday human experience or occurrence— why should you break your back trying to say it better than someone else has already said it? For those types of writings, there is absolutely nothing wrong or incongruous. On the contrary, it’s the sensible man, the wise man, who makes use of that which was done in the past, when it was done well. Somewhere in one of our legal archives there is an inscription over the door, “Past Is Prologue.” I believe that applies to writings, too. Ellen White used the writings of others; but in the way she used them, she made them uniquely her own, ethically, as well as legally. And, interestingly, she invariably improved that which she “selected”!

The situation is something like the builder who wishes to build a house. There are certain basic, essential units of building materials that are available to him—windows, doors, bricks, and so on. There are even certain recognizable kinds of textures and styles that have been created by various combinations of these different materials by earlier builders. The builder brings together many of these and uses them. Yet the design of the house, the ultimate appearance, the ultimate shape, the size, the feel, are all unique to the immediate, contemporary builder. He individually puts his own stamp upon the final product—and it is uniquely his. (And he doesn’t say—or need to say—I got this brick here, that door there, this window there, either!) I think it was that way with Ellen White’s use of words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, yes, and even pages, from the writings of those who went before her. She stayed well within the legal boundaries of “fair use,” and all he time created something that was substantially greater (and even more beautiful) than the mere sum of the component parts. And I think the ultimate tragedy is that the critics fail to see this.

I started out, I think, basically neutral on the literary charges. But, somehow, as I read one particular Adventist-authored defense of Mrs. White, it left me with the feeling that she was not, in fact, very well defended. Well, I came back thinking that Mrs. White was, if I may use the expression that has been used by others, a literary “borrower.” And that she had borrowed a lot and that she had borrowed with something less than candor and honesty! In other words—and this was before I had delved into her works themselves—I became actually biased against her in the sense that I thought she was what some people, such as her latest critic, Walter Rea, had alleged— guilty of plagiarism. REVIEW: Once you got into her writings themselves, was this negative impression reinforced or altered in any way? Ramik: I gradually turned 180 degrees in the other direction. I found that the charges simply were not true. But I had to get that from her writings; I did not get that from either the people who said she was a plagiarist, or the people who said she was not. I simply had to read her writings and then rid my mind of the bias I had already built into it— prejudice. And, in the end, she came out quite favorably. But it took more than 300 hours of reading—including case law histories, of course. REVIEW: So it was reading her writings that changed your mind? Ramik: It was reading her messages in her writings that changed my mind. And I think there’s a distinction—a very salient difference—here. REVIEW: Would you describe the distinction that you see? Ramik: I believe that the critics have missed the boat badly by focusing upon Mrs. White’s writings, instead of focusing upon the messages in Mrs. White’s writings. REVIEW: What did you find in her messages, Mr. Ramik? How did they affect you? Ramik: Mrs. White moved me! In all candor, she moved me. I am a Roman Catholic; but, Catholic, Protestant, whatever— she moved me. And I think her writings should move anyone, unless he is permanently biased and is unswayable.

The message is what is crucial. The critic reads a sentence, and receives no meaning from it—he may, and often does, even take it out of context. But read the entire message. What is the author’s intent? What is the author really saying—where the words come from is really not that important. What is the message of this? If you disregard the message, then even the Bible itself is not worth being read, in that sense of the word.

The bottom line is: What really counts is the message of Mrs. White, not merely the mechanical writings—words, clauses, sentences—of Mrs. White. Theologians, I am told, distinguish here between verbal inspiration and plenary inspiration. Too many of the critics have missed the boat altogether. And it’s too bad, too! I, personally, have been moved, deeply moved, by those writings. I have been changed by them. I think I am a better man today because of them. And I wish that the critics could discover that!

REVIEW: Attorney Ramik, how would you sum up the legal case against Ellen White as far as charges of plagiarism, piracy, and copyright infringement are concerned? Ramik: If I had to be involved in such a legal case, I would much rather appear as defense counsel than for the prosecution. There simply is no case!

Life of Christ Research Project: Dr. Fred Veltman, under direct assignment by the General Conference President, devoted eight years in the preparation of a detailed analysis of 15 chapters of The Desire of Ages. He spent the equivalent of five full years to the task of producing a 2,561-page report. In the 15 selected chapters of his survey, Dr. Veltman discovered that while EGW had used materials from 23 other literary works, “she was not slavishly dependent upon her sources, and the way she incorporated their content clearly shows that . . . she knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

The Desire of Ages Project: the data, Part 1
The Desire of Ages Project: the conclusions, Part 2: These two articles appreared in Ministry October and December of 1990. They are a summary of Dr. Veltman’s findings after his lengthy study of Ellen White’s literary borrowing in The Desire of Ages. Dr. Veltman’s comments in these articles, especially Part 2, are often cited out of context. Read his comments in context, especially the “Personal Postscript” in Part 2, pages 14-15.

Ellen White’s Denials: In this February 1991 Ministry article, Dr. Robert Olson addresses all Ellen White’s known “denials” of having copied or borrowed material from others. This is a most important article addressing Ellen White’s honesty and literary borrowing.

Ellen White: Prophet or Plagiarist? In this June 1982 Ministry article, Warren H. Johns summarizes the results of several years’ research. This careful and candid look at the way Ellen White used literary sources explores the implications for her inspiration, the trustworthiness of her writings, and the attitude of the church toward the Spirit of Prophecy in general.

Does Inspired Mean Original? In this February 1986 Ministry article, Tim Crosby addresses an important issue. Awareness that Ellen White drew themes and wording form then-current literarture has caused some to question her inspiration. But her use of sources is not unique; Biblical writers used noncanonical literature in much the same way.

“Who Owns the Truth? Another Look at the Plagiarism Debate” by Jerry Moon, professor of church history at Andrews University, provides an insightful and informative discussion on this issue.

The Literary Dependency of Ellen White: David Conklin’s analysis of the evidence.