During a morning devotion in an early chapter of the book Patriarchs and Prophets, I read one of those astonishing insights from Ellen White that had to have been all but FedExed from heaven to her. I don’t remember now what it was, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer audacity of it; suddenly the focused realization that what I was reading was the truth almost brought me to tears. Why? Because almost 40 years ago, once it hit me that truth, as in The Truth, had to exist, I wanted to know it, whatever it was and no matter the cost. And though I believe that long ago I found it (or, rather, He, as in “I am . . . the truth” found me) the reality of my discovery honed in on me at that moment like sunlight through a magnifying glass.
Look at those first 10 chapters of Patriarchs and Prophets alone. Talking about Satan in the Garden of Eden, Ellen White wrote: “The serpent was then one of the wisest and most beautiful creatures on the earth. It had wings, and while flying through the air presented an appearance of dazzling brightness, having the color and brilliancy of burnished gold. Resting in the rich-laden branches of the forbidden tree and regaling itself with the delicious fruit, it was an object to arrest the attention and delight the eye of the beholder.”[i]
Or, look at this about the fall of Adam and Eve: “As they witnessed in drooping flower and falling leaf the first signs of decay, Adam and his companion mourned more deeply than men now mourn over their dead. The death of the frail, delicate flowers was indeed a cause of sorrow; but when the goodly trees cast off their leaves, the scene brought vividly to mind the stern fact that death is the portion of every living thing.”[ii]
About Abel and his offering, we are told, “Fire flashed from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.”[iii]
Referring to Enoch, she wrote: “Through holy angels God revealed to Enoch His purpose to destroy the world by a flood, and He also opened more fully to him the plan of redemption. By the spirit of prophecy He carried him down through the generations that should live after the Flood, and showed him the great events connected with the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.”[iv]
Then, writing about Noah after everyone and everything was safely on the ark, she gave us this: “A flash of dazzling light was seen, and a cloud of glory more vivid than the lightning descended from heaven and hovered before the entrance of the ark. The massive door, which it was impossible for those within to close, was slowly swung to its place by unseen hands.”[v]
These references, though based on Scripture, go so audaciously beyond Scripture that they don’t leave us middle ground regarding their origin, do they? Demon-inspired? Outright deception? Mental illness? Epilepsy from the rock incident in her childhood? Come on! It’s hard to imagine how anyone who knows anything about Ellen White’s life, ministry, and writings, and whose heart and soul isn’t petrified in a yin-yang of bitterness and hatred, could with a straight face chalk up her work of almost 70 years to any of the above. Which leaves what other option? That she was, as she claimed, “a messenger of the Lord.”
Sure, the Spirit of Prophecy has been abused, and questions about authority, or about how inspiration works, will probably be never fully answered this side of eternity. But so what? These are flimsy issues in contrast to the amazing corpus of her work, which includes the light blazing from those first 10 chapters of Patriarchs and Prophets.
Only problem? Those first 10 chapters are based on a “fundamentalist” understanding of Scripture. Which means that in an evolutionary model of origins every word she wrote about the six days of creation and God resting on the seventh, a sinless Adam and Eve, the fall, the flood—and all the amazing revelations therein—are relegated to fairy tales, even worse, flat-out lies. Any professed Seventh-day Adventist who believes in theistic evolution must dismiss those first 10 chapters and the theology that arises from them—such as Adam’s sin leading to Christ’s death on the cross (see Rom. 5:12-20; 1 Cor. 15:22)—as erroneous.
When I challenged an Adventist, an adamant evolutionist to boot, about those first 10 chapters, he tried to dismiss them by bringing up Ellen White’s statements about amalgamation. So what? We have more than 100,000 pages of her work, and those few lines, which the church has dealt with, supposedly nullifies the rest? Give me a break!
I confronted another Adventist who always piously quotes the same half dozen beautiful Ellen White references about treating each other kindly, but who also rejects things such as the universal flood. He then tried to diss those first 10 chapters by pointing to the time-worn argument that she once said John the Baptist’s life was hard, and once she said it was good—a supposed contradiction that, hence, nullifies the amazing insights of those first 10 chapters. Please!
Sorry, but these cheap moves remind me of the religious leaders in the Gospels who, though given so many reasons to believe in Jesus, looked for any excuse, no matter how cheap, not to.
Of course I can hear it now: Oh, Goldstein, you believe in a literal six-day creation and world-wide flood because of Ellen White, not the Bible. Wrong. It’s precisely because I believe in the literal biblical teaching, i.e., six-day creation, sinless Adam and Eve, a universal flood, that I accept all the amazing insights that Ellen White has added to those teaching. Her writings simply help confirm my “fundamentalist” position, thank you.
In the face of the powerful testimony of those first 11 chapters in the Bible and in the first 10 chapters of Patriarchs and Prophets, why do some within the church still reject a six-day creation, a sinless Adam and Eve, and the worldwide flood? The answer is what I have been harping about for years now. “Because it’s science!” Science says that these things could not have happened as depicted in Scripture, so that’s it—these things did not happen as depicted in Scripture, period. Hence, though explicit about a six-day creation, a sinless Adam and Eve, and a worldwide flood, the Bible really didn’t mean a literal six-day creation, a literal sinless Adam and Eve, or a literal world-wide flood. Rather, according to these Adventists, it’s all merely the fruit of primitive ancients trying to understand the world.
Of course, they can’t say that about Ellen White, which is why they have to find some way, no matter how cheap, to write off those first 10 chapters in Patriarchs and Prophets.
Lord, have mercy! What a dangerous place to be.
My humble, and pastoral, advice: Take off your shoes, friends, for you are standing on holy ground.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.
[i] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), p. 53.
[ii] Ibid. p. 62.
[iii] Ibid, p. 71.
[iv] Ibid, p. 85.
[v] Ibid, p. 98.