Embarrassing Failed Prophecies

By Brother Anderson

Mrs. White made a number of failed predictions about Christ's imminent return, especially in her early years. The most spectacular of those was a specific prediction made at an 1856 conference attended by 67 believers. This statement was later published in the book Testimonies and received widespread attention within the SDA Church. Mrs. White claimed she was shown in vision that some of those present at the 1856 conference would be translated:

I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: 'Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.'1


Mrs. White specifically states that some of those attending the 1856 SDA conference meeting would suffer the seven last plagues that are poured out upon the wicked prior to the return of Christ (Rev. 15:1-8). Furthermore, she states that some would be alive when Jesus returned. The Whites had such confidence in this "vision" that it was published in Mrs. White's Testimonies to the Church and received widespread distribution. However, by the early 1900s, all those who attended the conference had passed away. This left the SDA Church with the dilemma of trying to figure out how to explain away such a prominent prophetic failure.

The Bible leaves no doubt that when a prophet makes a prediction that does not come to pass, that prophet is not speaking for the Lord:

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:22).

Do God's Angels lie?

In order to believe Ellen White's statement, one must conclude that the angels are liars. Why? Notice what Jesus said about His return:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only (Matt. 24:36).

Jesus said only the Father knows the day. The angels do not know the day of Christ's return! The return date is a secret known only to God. The very purpose of Christ making this statement is to warn us not to believe any human or angelic being who claims to know the day of Christ's return.

If the angels do not know the day of Christ's return, then how could they tell Ellen White that some of those present at the 1856 conference would be translated? Did God go against Christ's Word and let the angels in on the secret? Consider this:

  • God is omniscient. He is all-knowing. He knows the future. God knows the exact day and the exact hour He is returning to earth (Matt. 24:36). He has known that exact day and exact hour since before the world was created.

  • God "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). Therefore, it is an absolute impossibility that God could have told His angels He was returning within the life span of the people at the 1856 conference. If He had told his angels that he was returning in the 1800s, while knowing all along that the day and hour were yet far into the future, then He would be a liar.

So then, why would God—knowing all along the exact time of His return—allow His angel to tell His prophet something which He knew was NOT going to happen?

One thing is certain: If an angel did tell Ellen White Christ was going to return while some at that conference were still alive, it was not God's angel!

An Unbroken String of Failures Predicting Christ's Return

The 1856 prediction was only one of a long series of unsuccessful predictions of Christ's return made by Ellen White. Lucinda Burdick, a friend of Mrs. White in the 1840s, explains how Mrs. White often predicted Christ's return:

I became acquainted with James White and Ellen Harmon (now Mrs. White) early in 1845. ... She pretended God showed her things which did not come to pass. At one time she saw that the Lord would come the second time in June 1845. The prophecy was discussed in all the churches, and in a little 'shut-door paper' published in Portland, Me. During the summer, after June passed, I heard a friend ask her how she accounted for the vision? She replied that 'they told her in the language of Canaan, and she did not understand the language; that it was the next September that the Lord was coming, and the second growth of grass instead of the first in June.' September passed, and many more have passed since, and we have not seen the Lord yet. It soon became evident to all candid persons, that many things must have been 'told her in the language of Canaan,' or some other which she did not understand, as there were repeated failures.  I could mention many which I knew of myself.

Once, when on their way to the eastern part of Maine, she saw that they would have great trouble with the wicked, be put in prison, etc. This they told in the churches as they passed through. When they came back, they said they had a glorious time. Friends asked if they had seen any trouble with the wicked, or prisons? They replied, 'None at all.' People in all the churches soon began to get their eyes open, and came out decidedly against her visions; and, just as soon as they did so, she used to see them 'with spots on their garments,' as she expressed it. I was personally acquainted with several ministers, whom she saw landed in the kingdom with 'Oh! such brilliant crowns, FULL of stars.' As soon as they took a stand against the visions, she saw them 'doomed, damned, and lost for ever, without hope.'2

Despite her failures in 1844 and 1845, Mrs. White continued predicting Christ's imminent return. She had a "vision" on Nov. 18, 1848, in Dorchester, and Joseph Bates published a transcript of it in his book, The Seal of the Living God, in 1849. In that "vision" Ellen White stated:

The time of trouble has commenced, the reason why the four winds have not been let go, for the saints are not all sealed...

Bates joined his voice with Ellen White and announced that the "time of trouble has began."

In the summer of 1849, a cholera epidemic struck American cities leaving hundreds of people dead. Mrs. White apparently saw this event as an end-time fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy of "pestilences" and other events which were the "beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:7-8). She instills terror in her readers with a graphic prediction of soon being surrounded with dead bodies:

What we have seen and heard of the pestilence, is but the beginning of what we shall see and hear. Soon the dead and dying will be all around us.3

Not long after this prophecy was penned the epidemic ended and the United States entered a period of relative peace and prosperity that lasted for many years. The above line was removed when the passage was republished 33 years later in Early Writings (1882). Today, thanks to the foresight of those who quietly deleted it, few Seventh-day Adventists are aware of this inspired prophecy.

In Jaunuary of 1849, Mrs. White shared one of her "visions":

I saw some, looking too far off for the coming of the Lord. Time has continued on a few years longer than they expected, therefore they think it may continue a few years more, and in this way their minds are being led from present truth, out after the world.4

In this "vision" Mrs. White saw it was wrong for some to think the coming of the Lord was yet a few years off. This shows her visions taught her that the Lord's coming would be sooner than "a few years." How many years are "a few" years? Two? Three? Five? It has now been years! Ironically, the believers she criticized for not expecting the imminent return of Christ were actually correct, while she was wrong.

In March of 1849, Mrs. White wrote to Sister Hastings describing how the time left before Christ's return is so "short" that it can be described as "a few more days."

A few more days here in toil and then we shall be free. Time is short; let us hold fast unto the end.5

On March 24, 1849, Mrs. White had a "vision" of an unnamed man:

I saw that this person was a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, reserved for the seven last plagues...6

That man died long ago without ever experiencing the "seven last plagues" as Mrs. White predicted from what she "saw" in vision. This is another definitive proof her visions are false.

In the August 1, 1849, issue of the Review, Mrs. White indicates they were currently in the sealing time:

Satan is now using every device in this sealing time... I saw that Satan was at work in these ways to distract, deceive, and draw away God’s people, just now in this sealing time.

By April of 1850, Mrs. White was claiming that the final shaking had begun:

The mighty shaking has commenced.7

Meanwhile, her husband James was claiming that the departure of God's people from Babylon (Rev. 18:4) was already completed:

Babylon, the nominal church is fallen. God's people have come out of her. She is now the 'synagogue of Satan' (Rev. 3:9). 'The habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird' (Rev. 18:2).8

On June 27, 1850, Mrs. White wrote that only a few months remained for the people to get ready:

My accompanying angel said, 'Time is almost finished. Get ready, get ready, get ready.' . . . now time is almost finished. . . and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months.9

This is a very significant statement. Mrs. White was saying that the Adventist doctrines that she and her associates had spent five years learning would have to be learned by new converts in only a few months.

By September of 1850, Mrs. White was warning that Jesus was nearly finished with His work in the Most Holy Place:

I saw that the time for Jesus to be in the most Holy place was nearly finished, and that time cannot last but a very little longer. ... The sealing time is very short and soon will be over.10

Mrs. White claimed in 1854, "I was shown the shortness of time."11 Who would have shown her something that turned out to be totally false? Not God!

When Christ did not return as expected in the 1850s, Mrs. White gradually stopped making specific predictions about His return. The sealing time and the coming out of Babylon were recast as future events. Many of these statements disappeared from Mrs. White's later published writings. When some Adventists set a new date of 1854, she reportedly saw that "the time would pass."12 However, in the early 1860s, when SDA pastor Cornell was preaching about "spiritual gifts," he mentioned that some had placed the return of Christ in 1867 or 1868. He reportedly told that group that Sister White "had been shown that they had got the time set too far ahead."13 While this "vision" cannot be found in the White Estate's collection, if true, it would indicate her "visions" were once again inaccurate.

Seventh-day Adventists were aware of these false prophecies, and for some it was reason enough to leave the SDA sect. One example is Stephen McCullagh, who was born seven years after the 1856 incident. As a young SDA evangelist, he encountered Ellen White when she visited Australia in the 1890s. He later came to the realization that Ellen White was not a true prophet of God. Afterward, he held public meetings to explain to Seventh-day Adventists why he no longer believed in Ellen White. S.N. Haskell attended one meeting, and reported one of the reasons that McCullagh decided to leave the SDA Church:

That in some meeting where a number of the brethren were, myself [Haskell] included, you saw that we all would live till the Lord would come and that we would all be saved, but many are dying, to our confusion.14

It appears Mrs. White later had second thoughts about the imminent return of Christ, because in the Spring of 1857, she declared that Adventists needed more time to "develop character," writing: "I saw that this message would not accomplish its work in a few short months."15 This "vision" was a direct contradiction of the statement she made in 1850, that new converts would have to learn the doctrines "in a few months" because time was so short.

The Sunday Law Crisis and New Predictions

Starting again in 1888, for a period of several years, there was much debate in the United States about passing a national Sunday law. During this time, Mrs. White once again warned that the return of Christ would be witnessed by the current generation. She wrote:

The hour will come; it is not far distant, and some of us who now believe will be alive upon the earth, and shall see the prediction verified, and hear the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God echo from mountain and plain and sea, to the uttermost parts of the earth.16

It has been years since Ellen White wrote this, and every person who was part of the "some of us" she was addressing, is now long deceased. The next year she made similar statements:

[The resurrection] is not far in the future. Some of us will doubtless be living when the voice that is heard everywhere...17

Just before us is a time of trouble such as never was. ... We are living in the last days, and the generation that is to witness the final destruction has not been left without warning of the hastening judgments of God.18

Mrs White affirmed that the generation she was living in had been warned, and would be a "witness" to the final destruction. That generation perished decades ago, and none of them witnessed the final destruction.

In 1892, she wrote:

Something great and decisive is to take place, and that right early. If any delay, the character of God and his throne will be compromised.19

Since there has been a delay of years since this was written, has the character of God been compromised?


In 1943, J.H. Kellogg, a small child when he attended the 1856 conference, was the last attendee to pass away. Time has proven that the SDA "spirit of prophecy" was wrong, and SDA apologists have been forced to perform their best mental gymnastics to concoct explanations for this prophetic debacle.

The reality is, it has been years since Ellen White made her 1856 false prophecy, and every person from that generation is now long deceased. Like all of her other failed prophecies about the return of Christ, time has proven Ellen White's visions to be false.

See also


1. Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 1, p. 131.

2. Miles Grant, An Examination of Mrs. Ellen White's Visions (Boston, Massachusetts: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1877).

3. Ellen White, Present Truth, Sept. 1849.

4. Ellen White, Broadside 2, January 31, 1849, par. 11.

5. Ellen White, Letter 4, 1849 to Brother and Sister Hastings, March 22 from Topsham, Maine.

6. Ellen White, Manuscript 7, 1849, written March 24, at Topsham, Maine.

7. Ellen White, Present Truth, April, 1850. Ellen White said in 1861, "...we believe the shaking time has come." (Letter 5b, 1861, to Lucinda Hall) Letter 5b, 1861, to Lucinda Hall

8. James White, Present Truth, April, 1850.

9. Ellen White, Early Writings, pp. 64-67. In Letter 30, 1850, to Brother and Sister Loveland, in a section as of yet unreleased by the White Estate (as of Dec. 26, 2018), Ellen White wrote: "Time is almost finished."

10. Ellen White, Experience & Views, pp. 46-47.

11. Ellen White, Manuscript 6, 1854, para. 2.

12. W.H. Ball, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 11, Oct. 23, 1866, p. 79.

13. Ibid.

14. Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Australian Years: 1891 - 1900 vol. 4, p. 282.

15. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 223.

16. Ellen White, Review and Herald, July 31, 1888.

17. Ellen White, Bible Echo, January 15, 1889.

18. Ellen White, Review and Herald, November 5, 1889.

19. Ellen White, "The Crisis Imminent," Manuscript 27, Australia, February 18, 1892. The manuscript was released by the White Estate in 2014. The quote was also published in Special Testimonies Series A, No. lb, (1892) p. 38.

Category: Visions Examined
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