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Revisions, Changes, Abridgements

How Mrs. White's Writings Have Been Altered

D. Anderson

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Mrs. White claimed that the words she wrote came from God and were not to be changed:

"The word given me is, 'You are faithfully to reprove those who would mar the faith of the people of God. Write out the things which I shall give you, that they may stand as a witness to the truth till the end of time.' I said, 'If any of the citizens of Battle Creek wish to know what Mrs. White believes and teaches, let them read her published books. My labors would be naught should I preach another gospel. That which I have written is what the Lord has bidden me write. I have not been instructed to change that which I have sent out.'"1
If Mrs. White was not instructed to change what she sent out, then who gave the instructions? Who approved the alterations to her writings? Mrs. White said, "I am not to retract one word of the message I have borne."2 Despite this, a number of her words have been retracted and removed from later publications:
  1. Statements referring to the shut door of salvation.
  2. Statements which have been proven false by science, such as amalgamation.
  3. An entire chapter of the Great Controversy (chapter 12 "God Honoreth the Humble").
  4. Entire books have been taken out of print, such as An Appeal to Mothers, which was full of 19th century myths about the dangers of "self abuse".
So who was authorized to change Mrs. White's writings?

James White played a key role in the development of his wife's writings. Being more educated and skilled as a writer, James assisted Ellen in editing and reviewing her writings. His most infamous editing episode was his publication of the pamphlet entitled Experiences and Views in 1851. In that pamphlet, James republished his wife's earlier visions, but deleted out 19% of the text--primarily those parts dealing with the shut door of salvation. The deletion of the material created such an uproar among the brethren, the fledgling church was almost split.

James insisted that his wife's writings be "polished" before they were published by the "last touches of the old gentleman's pencil."3 Just how much of the "old gentleman's" penciling became part of the "inspired" testimonies is impossible to determine.

In 1992, the Review revealed the practice of the staff of the White Estate in revising and altering the writings of Ellen White. Paul A. Gordon, then secretary of the White Estate, writes:

"Is it legitimate to change, abridge, or simplify Ellen White's writings? The answer is yes. We can change, abridge, or simplify the words, but we do not have license to change the intended message. Here's why: Seventh-day Adventists do not hold to verbal inspiration. That means we do not believe that God dictated the words for Ellen White to use. ... In the years since Mrs. White's death in 1915, more than 50 new compilations or editions of Ellen White's books have been prepared by the E.G. White Estate. In every case--including editions that have been abridged, condensed, or simplified--the intended message has never been lost, only the wording has been changed."4
Apparently the process of altering and changing Mrs. White's writings is a longstanding practice. In 1883 a resolution was passed by the General Conference creating a committee to oversee revisions in her writings:
"33.WHEREAS, Many of these testimonies were written under the most unfavorable circumstances, the writer being too heavily pressed with anxiety and labor to devote critical thought to the grammatical perfection of the writings, and they were printed in such haste as to allow these imperfections to pass uncorrected; and, WHEREAS, we believe the light given by God to His servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rare cases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed; therefore, Resolved, That in the republication of these volumes, such verbal changes be made as to remove the above-named imperfections, as far as possible, without in any measure changing the thought; and further,
34. Resolved, That this body appoint a committee of five to take charge of the republication of these volumes according to the above preambles and resolutions."5
Mrs. White's secretaries had a large role in preparing her works for publication. One of her secretaries, Fannie Bolton, once asked if it was proper for Mrs. White to get credit for her writings since they had to be "almost entirely changed" from their original form.6 In the 1919 conference on Ellen White, SDA college president W.W. Prescott mentions the changes he was involved in and how it left him with doubts regarding the inspiration of Mrs. White's writings:
"Here's my difficulty. I have gone over this (The Great Controversy) and suggested changes that ought to be made in order to correct statements. These changes have been accepted. My personal difficulty will be to retain faith on those things that I cannot deal with on that basis. ... If we correct it here and correct it there, how are we going to stand with it in the other places?"7
This was not the first time W.W. Prescott raised the alarm over the problems in Mrs. White's books. In 1915 he wrote in a letter to W.C. White:
"The way your mother's writings have been handled and the false impressions concerning them, which is still fostered among the people, have brought great perplexity and trial to me. It seems to me that what amounts to deception, though probably not intentional, has been practiced in making some of her books, and that no serious effort has been made to disabuse the minds of the people of what was known to be their wrong view concerning her writings."8
Great Controversy was not the only book that Prescott assisted with. According to C.C. Crisler, long-time secretary of the White Estate, Prescott's help was needed in preparing the book Prophets and Kings. Crisler wrote to Prescott asking for help:
"In the preparation of this series [Prophets and Kings], we felt the need of counsel, and often wished that we could have the help of those who were familiar with the period of the Exile and the Restoration from Babylon . . . We greatly desire that you shall read the remaining articles, and eliminate any portions that you fear may do more harm than good. As you will note, some points have been safe-guarded, others have been omitted, and, in some instances positions have been taken... We realize very keenly our inability to see many points that should be closely scrutinized; and hence we feel the need of critical help."9

Like Prescott, General Conference president A.G. Daniells had an eye-opening experience as he witnessed the "spirit of prophecy" being "made up":

"In Australia I saw "The Desire of Ages" being made up, and I saw the rewriting of chapters, some of them written over and over and over again. I saw that, and when I talked with Sister Davis about it, I tell you I had to square up to this thing and begin to settle things about the spirit of prophecy. If these false positions had never been taken, the thing would be much plainer than it is today. What was charged as plagiarism would all have been simplified, and I believe men would have been saved to the cause if from the start we had understood this thing as it should have been. With those false views held, we face difficulties in straightening up."10

EXAMPLES

Revised Ellen White Original Ellen White
"I testify to my brethren and sisters that the church of Christ, enfeebled and defective as it may be, is the only object on earth on which He bestows His supreme regard."11 "The church of Christ is the only object on the earth upon which he bestows his supreme regard; yet it has grown feeble and inefficient through selfishness."12
"On this path the Advent people were traveling to the city... Others rashly denied the light behind them and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out, leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus, and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below. Soon we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus' coming."13 "On this path the Advent people were travelling to the City... Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected. They fell all the way along the path one after another, until we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus' coming."14
"More deaths have been caused by drug-taking than from all other causes combined."15 "I was shown that more deaths have been caused by drug-taking than from all other causes combined."16
"More than this, the pope has been given the very titles of Deity. He has been styled 'Lord God the Pope,' and has been declared infallible:"17 "More than this, the pope has arrogated the very titles of Deity. He styles himself 'Lord God the Pope,' assumes infallibility and demands that all men pay him homage."18
"The Spirit is freely given us of God if we will appreciate and accept Him. And what is He? The representative of Jesus Christ. He is to be our constant helper. It is through the Spirit that Christ fulfills the promise, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47). (The bell is sounding for morning worship. I must stop here.)"19 The Spirit is freely given us of God if we will appreciate and accept it. And what is it? The representative of Jesus Christ. It is to be our constant helper. It is through the Spirit that Christ fulfills the promise, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47). (The bell is sounding for morning worship. I must stop here.)"20
"The time had come for a final decision ; he [Lucifer] must fully yield to the divine sovereignty or place himself in open rebellion. He nearly reached the decision to return, but pride forbade him. It was too great a sacrifice for one who had been so highly honored to confess that he had been in error, that his imaginings were false, and to yield to the authority which he had been working to prove unjust."21 "Satan trembled as he viewed his work. He was alone in meditation upon the past, the present, and his future plans. His mighty frame shook as with tempest. An angel from Heaven was passing. He called him, and entreated an interview with Christ. This was granted him. He then related to the Son of God that he repented of his rebellion, and wished again favor of God."
"After Satan was shut out of heaven , with those who fell with him, he realized that he had lost all the purity and glory of heaven forever. Then he repented and wished to be reinstated again in Heaven."22
"Babylon must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt. since this message follows the warning of the judgment, it must be given in the last days; therefore it cannot refer to the Roman church alone, for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries."23 "Babylon must apply to some religious body that was once pure, and has become corrupt. It cannot be the Romish Church which is here meant; for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries."24
"While standing over the dying bed of my husband, I knew that had others borne their part of the burdens, he might have lived. I then pleaded, with agony of soul, that those present might no longer grieve the Spirit of God by their hardness of heart."25 "While standing over the dying bed of my husband, I knew that had the church heeded the testimony given them, he would have been spared. Had others borne their part of the burdens, he might have lived. I then pleaded, with agony of soul, that those present might no longer grieve the Spirit of God by their hardness of heart."26


NOTES

1. Ellen White, Review and Herald, Jan. 26, 1905.

2. Ibid., Apr. 19, 1906.

3. James White letter to Willie White, May 7, 1876.

4. Paul A. Gordon, Adventist Review, Nov. 19, 1992, pp. 8-9.

5. Review and Herald, Nov. 27, 1883.

6. Ellen White, Letter 59, 1894.

7. W.W. Prescott as quoted in the transcript of the 1919 Bible Conference on the Spirit of Prophecy.

8. W.W. Prescott letter to W.C. White, Apr. 6, 1915.

9. C.C. Crisler letter to W.W. Prescott, Dec. 27, 1907.

10. A.G. Daniells, as quoted in the transcript of the 1919 Bible Conference on the Spirit of Prophecy (pp. 50-51).

11. Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers & Gospel Workers, p. 15.

12. Ellen White, Review & Herald, December 11, 1888.

13. Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 14, 1882.

14. Ellen White, Word to the Little Flock, p. 14, 1847.

15. Ellen White, Selected Messages, Vol. 2, p. 450.

16. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3-4, p.133.

17. Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p.48 [50-51].

18. Ellen White, Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 4, p. 53.

19. Ellen White, Letter 38, 1896, pp. 1-4, (To S. N. Haskell, May 30, 1896) 11 MR pg. 35, (doc. ID 199154).

20. Ellen White, 1888 Materials, p. 1538. [References the Holy Spirit as "it" fifteen more times in the next two pages.]

21. Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 39.

22. Ellen White, Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, p. 29; Spiritual Gifts vol. 1, p. 18.

23. Ellen White, Great Controversy (1911) p. 383.

24. Ellen White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 232.

25. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 67, 1948 ed.

26. Ellen White, PH117-Testimony for the Battle Creek Church - 1882.


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