Ellen White, Scripture and Theology Denis Fortin June 22, 2005 SEEDS Plus!
Ellen White’s recommendation • In 1851, at the end of her first booklet, Ellen White stated: “I recommend to you dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged” (EW 78).
Take it as it is “I take the Bible just as it is, as the Inspired Word. I believe its utterances in an entire Bible.. . . . Men of humble acquirements, possessing but limited capabilities and opportunities to become conversant in the Scriptures, find in the living oracles comfort, guidance, counsel, and the plan of salvation as clear as a sunbeam. . . .
Take it as it is “No one need be lost for want of knowledge, unless he is willfully blind. We thank God that the Bible is prepared for the poor man as well as for the learned man. It is fitted for all ages and all classes. (Ms 16, 1888 in 1 SM 17-18)
The presence of God “In the Bible the will of God is revealed to His children. Wherever it is read, in the family circle, the school, or the church, all should give quiet and devout attention as if God were really present and speaking to them.” (5T 84)
Books on the Bible • Conflict of the Ages series : • Patriarchs and Prophets • Prophets and Kings • Desire of Ages • Acts of the Apostles • Great Controversy • Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing • Christ’s Object Lessons • Ministry of Healing • Education
Only devotional writings? In recent years, many people have claimed and argued that Ellen White’s writings were primarily devotional and as such not intended for doctrinal and theological guidance; that because she was not a trained biblical scholar, or exegete, we should not view her writings as more than devotional books.
Only devotional? • Many of Ellen White’s books were pastoral in nature: • Testimonies for the Church • Many books of counsels • Other books were more philosophical and practical: • Education • Ministry of Healing
Only devotional? • Are Ellen White’s writings on biblical stories and themes, such as the Conflict of the Ages series, only devotional? • How did Ellen White use Scripture? • Was she able to think theologically and to express her writings within theological categories?
Primarily a commentator In her writings, but primarily in her Conflict of the Ages series, Ellen White ‘commented’ on the biblical story from the origin of sin in heaven to its final eradication from the universe after the millennium. She articulated her thoughts around major themes: great controversy, love of God, and salvation in Jesus.
Types of biblical interpretation • Typologies • Moralisms • Character sketches • Biblical analogies and parallelisms • Spiritual warfare • Exegesis
Typology A typology is to understand or perceive a person or event in the Old Testament as a figure or illustration–a type–of something or someone in the New Testament or in the Church.
Elijah a type of the remnant “Elijah was a type of the saints who will be living on the earth at the time of the second advent of Christ and who will be "changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump," without tasting of death. 1 Cor 15:51, 52. It was as a representative of those who shall be thus translated that Elijah, near the close of Christ's earthly ministry, was permitted to stand with Moses by the side of the Saviour on the mount of transfiguration. In these glorified ones, the disciples saw in miniature a representation of the kingdom of the redeemed. . . .
Elijah a type of the remnant “They beheld Jesus clothed with the light of heaven; they heard the "voice out of the cloud" (Luke 9:35), acknowledging Him as the Son of God; they saw Moses, representing those who will be raised from the dead at the time of the second advent; and there also stood Elijah, representing those who at the close of earth's history will be changed from mortal to immortal and be translated to heaven without seeing death.” (PK 227)
Moses a type of Christ During the idolatry at Mount Sinai: “Moses was a type of Christ. As Israel's intercessor veiled his countenance, because the people could not endure to look upon its glory, so Christ, the divine Mediator, veiled His divinity with humanity when He came to earth. Had He come clothed with the brightness of heaven, he could not have found access to men in their sinful state. They could not have endured the glory of His presence. Therefore He humbled Himself, and was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), that He might reach the fallen race, and lift them up.” (PP 330)
Moralism • Another way Ellen White uses Scripture is moralism. • Moralism is weaving moral lessons from events that happen to biblical people and applying these lessons to the Church today.
Aaron and idolatry at Sinai “How often, in our own day, is the love of pleasure disguised by a "form of godliness"! A religion that permits men, while observing the rites of worship, to devote themselves to selfish or sensual gratification, is as pleasing to the multitudes now as in the days of Israel. And there are still pliant Aarons, who, while holding positions of authority in the church, will yield to the desires of the unconsecrated, and thus encourage them in sin.” (PP 317)
Nadab and Abihu The story of Nadab and Abihu a few chapters later is fraught with moral lessons for God’s people (359-362). • Lack of firmness in their education • Lack of reverence for God • Use of alcohol
Character Sketches • Given the overarching theme of the great controversy in her writings, how people relate to God in this controversy between good and evil allows her to illustrate how one’s life today should be lived in order to be victorious or to be defeated by the foe. Plenty of character sketches illustrate her narratives. • Among her favorites in the Scriptures : Joseph, Daniel and the apostle John.
The greatest want of the world “The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” (Ed 57)
Biblical analogy and parallelism • Ellen White draws parallels between various Bible stories, events, people, or texts. • In the chapter “Idolatry at Sinai”, she draws a biblical analogy between God’s judgment of idolatry with what is predicted will happen at the end of time (PP 326).
Biblical analogy and parallelism Often, Ellen White explained the meaning of a story by drawing on many texts of the Bible. In connecting together many stories and texts, she saw a basic harmony between all of the books of the Bible.
“God with us” In the first chapter of Desire of Ages in which she explains the meaning of Jesus’ first advent, Ellen White refers to: • Isa 9, Ps 65, Ps 95, John 6-8, Mal 4, Rom 16, John 3, Isa 14, Phil 2-3, Heb 10, Exo 25, John 1, Heb 2, 4, Ps 40, Exo 3, John 10, 14, Mat 28, Isa 53, Heb 7, 11, Zech 9, Eph 2, 3.
Spiritual Warfare Ellen White presents to her readers the “behind the scenes” events, conversations between Christ and Satan, or between evil angels, how God interprets or reacts to events, etc. This approach is closely connected with her understanding of the great controversy.
Spiritual Warfare • Chapter 29 in Patriarchs and Prophets, “Satan’s Enmity Against the Law” • Chapter 79 in Desire of Ages, “It Is Finished”
Satan’s new condition “Satan stood in amazement at his new condition. His happiness was gone. He looked upon the angels who, with him, were once so happy, but who had been expelled from Heaven with him. Before their fall, not a shade of discontent had marred their perfect bliss. Now all seemed changed. Countenances which had reflected the image of their Maker were gloomy and despairing.
Satan’s new condition “Strife, discord, and bitter recrimination, were among them. Previous to their rebellion these things had been unknown in Heaven. Satan now beholds the terrible results of his rebellion. He shuddered, and feared to face the future, and to contemplate the end of these things.” (1SP 28)
Exegesis • Although Ellen White was not a trained biblical scholar and exegete, she nonetheless interpreted Scripture. • She explained the meaning of words, talked about the context and circumstances of the passages, referred to other texts to shed light on a passage.
Exegesis • Books such as Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing and Christ’s Object Lessons are genuine Bible commentaries. • Her use of typologies, moralisms, character sketches, and biblical analogies and parallelisms are part of exegesis.
Exegesis of Mat 5:48 "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:48. “The word "therefore" implies a conclusion, an inference from what has gone before. Jesus has been describing to His hearers the unfailing mercy and love of God, and He bids them therefore to be perfect. Because your heavenly Father "is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35), because He has stooped to lift you up, therefore, said Jesus, you may become like Him in character, and stand without fault in the presence of men and angels.” (MB 76)
Emphasis “The space she devotes to Biblical events and persons is not always proportional to the space given in the Bible. Her emphasis on certain events or persons depends on how she believes those events and persons contribute to the unfolding of the Great Controversy Theme.” (Herbert Douglass, Messenger of the Lord, 419)
Doctrinal Guidance Beyond the spiritual and pastoral guidance provided by the writings of Ellen White, her writings also provide doctrinal guidance • valid applications of biblical teachings • interconnectedness of biblical doctrines • steering Adventists away from errors of interpretation
Doctrinal Guidance Ellen White showed doctrinal authority when the church was confronted with difficult doctrinal issues • Kellogg’s teachings on pantheism • Ballenger’s teachings on Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary • Centrality of Christ’s death on Calvary • Importance of healthful living
Theological Guidance • Perhaps more crucial to Adventism is how Ellen White’s writings have provided the church with theological guidance, with interpretative themes and motifs for a proper understanding of God’s revelation. • Major themes: • Great controversy between good and evil • Love of God for humanity • Salvation in Jesus • Second coming of Christ • Christian living
Theological Guidance Ellen White’s theological themes provide Adventism and Christianity with theological presuppositions and assumptions (like a pair of eye glasses) with which to study Scripture and understand its meaning for our lives today as we wait for Christ’s second coming.
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White In his book Meeting Ellen White, George Knight discusses seven themes in her writings (pp. 109-127)
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White • While Ellen White was not a theologian, per se, her writings present many theological themes and ideas which expand on the biblical stories. • A theme represents an idea or concept that helps us understand her writings, her theology and her burden for the church.
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White • Themes integrate various strands of Ellen White’s thinking into a unified network of concepts. • They provide an interpretative framework for not only single documents or books, but for entire sectors of her writings (such as health, education, family living).
Themes in the Writings of Ellen White • Love of God • Great Controversy • Jesus, the Cross, and Salvation • Centrality of the Bible • Second Coming of Jesus • Third Angel’s Message and Adventist Mission • Practical Christianity and Character Development
Love of God Perhaps the central and most comprehensive theme of the writings of Ellen White is that of the love of God. This is a theme that she repeatedly mentions and discusses in her books.
Love of God The phrase “God is love” appears as the first three words of Patriarchs and Prophets and the last three words of The Great Controversy.
Love of God In Ellen White’s writings, God’s love is the central point of the great struggle between good and evil. “God is love” is the phrase that provides the context for her telling of the great controversy story.
Love of God The first chapter of Steps to Christ begins with the words: “Nature and revelation alike testify of God’s love.”
Love of God “The world, though fallen, is not all sorrow and misery. In nature itself are messages of hope and comfort. There are flowers upon the thistles, and the thorns are covered with roses. ‘God is love’ is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass.”(Steps to Christ, pp. 9-10)
Love of God Yet, Ellen White points out, that the things of nature in a world of sin “but imperfectly represent His love.” The supreme and clearest illustration of God’s love for us is God sending Jesus to save us from our sins (SC 10-13).
Love of God In the first chapter of the Desire of Ages she points out that Jesus “came to reveal the light of God’s love” (DA 19).
Love of God “Both the redeemed and the unfallen beings will find in the cross of Christ their science and their song. It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self- sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which "seeketh not her own" has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.” (DA 19-20)
Love of God On the last page of the Desire of Ages, her conclusion is that through Christ “love has conquered” (DA 835).
Love of God “The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” (GC 678)
The Great Controversy The themes of the love of God and the Great Controversy are closely interconnected. Ellen White emphasizes repeatedly that the focal point of the Great Controversy is Satan’s aim to misrepresent the loving character of God.