Ellen G. White: Knew More than Bible Translators?
By Dirk Anderson and Eduardo Martínez-Rancaño
One myth that is heard on occasion within Adventist circles is that Ellen White had special, divine insight into the Scriptural text, and that she was able to perceive the meaning of the original languages better than the translators of the KJV Bible. Her Grandson, Arthur White, explains this supernatural ability:
"Careful students of the original Bible languages have often observed that the insights the visions gave to Ellen White led her again and again to catch meanings more in keeping with the original text than is reflected in the King James Version, which she constantly used. Her acceptance of the newer translations as they became available supports this point."1
Is this true? Did Mrs. White have a special ability to comprehend the meanings of the original Bible text better than the translators of the KJV Bible? Unfortunately, Arthur provides no evidence to demonstrate that Mrs. White had this supernatural ability. He does not provide a single verse to prove his point. Therefore, his argument has no evidence to support it. In fact, the following examples will illustrate that Ellen White had no more insight than the average reader of the KJV Bible.
1. Is Satan named Lucifer?
According to Mrs. White, the name of Satan is Lucifer. In the Ellen White Estate's collection of her published writings, Satan is called Lucifer in 169 of her passages. In her writings Mrs. White frequently cites Isaiah 14:12 as evidence of Satan (Lucifer) being expelled from Heaven:
The prophet Isaiah, looking forward to the time of Satan's overthrow, exclaims: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!2
While Arthur White would have us believe his grandmother knew more than the translators of the KJV, Mrs. White was apparently unaware that the name Lucifer is not in the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 14:12. So where did the name "Lucifer" come from?
The Hebrew word translated as "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12 in the KJV is heylel (hay-lale', Strong's #1966), and literally means "shining one", "morning star", "light bearer", etc. Isaiah 14:12 is the only place in scripture where this Hebrew word appears.
The fact that Jerome never intended "lucifer" to be used as a proper name for Satan can be proven by his usage of the same word in Job 11:17 and 2 Peter 2:19, neither of which refers to Satan. In fact, 2 Peter 2:19 appears to be a reference to Christ:
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star [Vulgate: Lucifer] arise in your hearts:"
Therefore, it is evident that Lucifer was never intended to be used as a proper name for Satan. If Mrs. White had indeed been privy to supernatural knowledge regarding the original Bible text then she should have been aware of this fact.
2. Isaiah 14 never mentions Satan at all -- is addressed to a Babylonian King
Mrs. White was apparently confused about the meaning of the entire passage. Not only is Lucifer not the name of Satan, but Isaiah 14 is a prophecy written about a Babylonian King, not about Satan. God specifically tells Isaiah that this prophecy is meant for the king of Babylon:
"Thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon..." (Isa. 14:4)
In verse 16 the object of this prophecy is called a "man".4 Satan is not a "man", so this passage could not be referring directly to Satan. Evidence indicates Isaiah was actually rebuking the pagan gods of Babylon:
"The ancient Babylonians had a large pantheon of gods. One of chief Gods was 'El', and his wife was 'Asherah'. According to the religion, El and Asherah had many children (about 70) who were gods themselves. ... Two more of El and Asherah's children were twins: Shahar and Shalim, brothers of Baal. In the Babylonian pantheon, Shahar was deemed god of the dawn, and his twin brother Shalim was god of the dusk. Shahar himself also had a son, Helel.
Therefore, rather than being a passage about the fall of Satan from Heaven, Isaiah 14 is a rebuke addressed to a "man", the Babylonian King, and a denunciation of the pagan Babylonian gods he trusted, Helel and Shahar. If Mrs. White's visions did indeed give her divine insight into the Biblical text, as some would have us believe, shouldn't she have known the true meaning of this passage from which she so often quoted?
3. Who founded Nineveh?
The first Biblical information we have about Babylon and Assyria can be found in Genesis. Even before the account of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11), Genesis 10 contains a table of nations where some of the exploits of the three sons of Noah and his descendants are told. Speaking of the Ham and his descendants, the KJV has the following account:
"And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, 12 And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city."
Notice that, according to this version, Asshur went out of the land of Shinar and built the city of Nineveh, among others. This notion is confirmed by Ellen G. White with these words, which add to the Bible narrative,
"This is the special message that God bade his servant Jonah bear in the ancient and populous city founded by Asshur, the son of Shem, who 'went forth' from 'the land of Shinar' about the time of the dispersion from Babel, 'and builded Nineveh' along the fertile bank of the Tigris, over two hundred miles to the northward from Babylon."6
Mrs White is right that Asshur was Shem's son, because that is attested by Gen. 10:22, but it is curious that she should inform us that, apparently, he had migrated from the area around Ararat to Babylon, only to return northward and found Nineveh. In her 1890 story of the scattering of people after the flood, Ellen White stated that
"For a time the descendants of Noah continued to dwell among the mountains where the ark had rested. As their numbers increased, apostasy soon led to division. Those who desired to forget their Creator and to cast off the restraint of His law felt a constant annoyance from the teaching and example of their God-fearing associates, and after a time they decided to separate from the worshipers of God. Accordingly they journeyed to the plain of Shinar, on the banks of the river Euphrates. They were attracted by the beauty of the situation and the fertility of the soil, and upon this plain they determined to make their home".7
Following Mrs White's insight, if Asshur, Noah's grandson, ever lived in the land of Shinar, he must have been among the increased number of apostates who set themselves apart from their Creator and cast off the restraints of his law. All right, let us assume for a moment that is correct. Mrs White added another priceless bit of information in her story of Asshur's return to the north. She claims the return happened "about the time of the dispersion from Babel." Now, according to the consensus of Bible interpreters, the dispersion from Babel is to be dated in the days of Peleg (Gen 10:25). Now Peleg, whose name means "division", was one of the sons of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Arphaxad (Gen. 10:24). Arphaxad was one of Shem's sons, and a brother of Asshur's (Gen. 10:22). Therefore, Asshur and Shelah were cousins. So, according to Mrs White, Asshur left Babylon in the days of his cousin's grandson and he founded several cities. Impressive! One could wonder how he managed to populate so many cities. Perhaps he had a lot of grandchildren and greatgrandchildren!
This attribution of the founding of Nineveh and other Assyrian cities to Asshur creates a problem. Micah 5:6 calls Assyria "the land of Nimrod", which would seem to indicate that the KJV for Gen. 10:11 is wrong. The NIV has the correct translation, "From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah". The person who Gen. 10:11 says went to Assyria is, of course, Nimrod who is mentioned in the preceding verses. Contrary to Asshur, who was a Shemite, Nimrod was a Hamite, since he was the son of Cush, the son of Ham. So, it would appear that Mrs White's inspiration was no better than that of the translators of the King James Version. Her notion that Asshur founded Nineveh is not a complementary revelation, but a blunder caused by the KJV translators that she was unable to detect.
4. Wrong about Mary
In Desire of Ages Mrs. White writes:
"But now in His own familiar voice Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' Now she knew that it was not a stranger who was addressing her, and turning she saw before her the living Christ. In her joy she forgot that He had been crucified. Springing toward Him, as if to embrace His feet, she said, 'Rabboni.' But Christ raised His hand, saying, Detain Me not; 'for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.' And Mary went her way to the disciples with the joyful message."8
In this quote Mrs. White is telling us that Mary never touched Jesus. She moved toward Christ as if to embrace Him, but Jesus halted her with uplifted hand. While this is consistent with events as described in the KJV of John 20:17, it contradicts the original Greek. The Greek literally says that Jesus said, "stop clinging to me".9 Modern versions give a more accurate rendering of the Greek:
New American Standard Bible: "Jesus said to her, 'Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father...'"
5. Wrong understanding of the word "after"
In Patriarchs and Prophets, Ellen White quotes 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and interprets the KJV word "after" in a temporal sense, as relating to a point in time after the arrival of spiritualism:
Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, points to the special working of Satan in spiritualism as an event to take place immediately before the second advent of Christ. Speaking of Christ's second coming, he declares that it is "after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." 2 Thessalonians 2:9.10
The Greek word for "after" is kata, which does not convey time, but rather means "according to".11 Modern translations render it correctly:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders... (NKJV)
Accepted newer translations because of her supernatural insight into the original languages?
Arthur White's statement at the top of this page suggests Mrs. White accepted newer translations of the Bible because they more accuratley matched the "light" that had been revealed to her in vision. Is this true? There is no evidence Ellen White accepted or approved of newer versions because they more closely matched what she saw in vision. In fact, in an article Arthur wrote earlier on the subject of versions of the Bible, he provides evidence showing Mrs. White chose to use new versions because the English in them was easier for people to read and understand. For example, W.C. White relates one instance where Mrs. White chose to use the Revised Version:
"Sister White's attention was called from time to time by myself and Sister Marian Davis, to the fact that she was using texts which were much more clearly translated in the Revised Version. Sister White studied each one carefully, and in some cases she instructed us to use the Revised Version."12
This shows that Sister White's book-writing staff encouraged her to use the other versions because they were more readable. A second example from W.C. White provides the same reason:
"When Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, was printed and it seemed desirable to make some lengthy quotations from the Psalms, it was pointed out to Sister White that the Revised Version of these Psalms was preferable, and that by using the form of blank verse the passages were more readable. Sister White gave the matter deliberate consideration, and instructed us to use the Revised Version."13
Thus, it seems Mrs. White's decision to use other versions was more due to readability than to them more accurately matching what she had seen in vision.
These examples illustate some instances where Mrs. White did not know more than the translators of the KJV Bible. If Mrs. White was closer to the original languages in some other cases, one possible reason could be her use of other, more modern and more accurate translations of the Bible. Arthur White tells us Mrs. White used the English Revised Version and "the American Standard Revision when it became available in 1901."14 She also "used the Revised Version renderings, also the marginal reading of texts, in nearly all of her books published after 1885, the year of the appearance of the complete English Revised Version."15
1. Arthur L. White, The Ellen G. White Writings, chapter 2, (Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1973).
2. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 659, (1911). See also The Great Controversy, pages 494, 503, 660, 673. Patriarchs and Prophets, page 35. Prophets and Kings, page 350.
3. Brian Tegart, "Isaiah 14:12, Job 38:7 & Revelation 22:16 - Will The Real 'morning star' Please Stand Up...", http://www.tegart.com/brian/bible/kjvonly/isa14_12.html.
4. Strong's Hebrew Definition for # 0376 'iysh: 1) man, 1a) man, male (in contrast to woman, female), 1b) husband, 1c) human being, person.
5. Tegart, "UPDATE 2: "Lucifer" Identified!", http://www.tegart.com/brian/bible/kjvonly/helel.html.
6. Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, October 18, 1906, paragraph 2.
7. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 118.
8. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 790.
9. NIV Scofiled Study Bible, p. 1125. "to fasten one's self to, adhere to, cling to" Strong's.
10. Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), p. 686.
11. Strong's G2596.
12. Arthur L. White, "The E. G. White Counsel on Versions of the Bible", (Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1953), p. 3.
13. Ibid., p. 3-4.
14. Ibid., p. 1.
15. Ibid., p. 3.
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