Bible Study

Finding the Center of Scripture

In the Writings of Ellen G. White

Richard Davidson
Finding the Center of Scripture

Modern biblical scholars have offered many suggestions as to what idea represents the theological “center” of the Scriptures. Some have said it is the covenant; others believe it is God as Lord. Some argue it is faith; righteousness; a four-part combination of deliverance, community, knowledge of God, and abundant life; or the mission of God. Other scholars say there is no central theme. With so many ideas swirling about, how does one decide which, if any, is correct?

In a regular nonfiction book, you discover the main idea by reading its introduction and conclusion. Why not with the Bible? God inspired the Bible to be written so it could be understood. Would He not have used a way familiar to us in reading other books to clarify its major focus? In my biblical study I have found that the central thrust of the Bible appears in its opening and closing chapters and has a multifaceted focus.¹ Ellen White’s writings seem to agree.


Ellen White identifies several themes as elements of the center of Scripture. For example, this paragraph from the book Education highlights three of these ideas under the category of the “grand central theme” of Scripture: “The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, [1] of God’s original purpose for the world, [2] of the rise of the great controversy, [3] and of the work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two principles that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their working through the records of history and prophecy, to the great consummation. He should see how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience; how in every act of life he himself reveals the one or the other of the two antagonistic motives; and how, whether he will or not, he is even now deciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found.”²

Adventists have followed Ellen White’s lead in summarizing this central theme as the Great Controversy. Recent evangelical studies have also begun to recognize this “warfare worldview” as permeating and even central to Scripture.³


Ellen White makes clear that the major issue in the great controversy is the character of God. The first words of her five-volume Conflict of the Ages series are “God is love,” and the last words are “God is love.”⁴ In between is an exposition of how this is true. This emphasis upon the character of God is made explicit in Patriarchs and Prophets: “[In Scripture] The curtain that separates the visible from the invisible world is lifted, and we behold the conflict of the opposing forces of good and evil, from the first entrance of sin to the final triumph of righteousness and truth; and all is but a revelation of the character of God.”⁵

Several statements reiterate that Jesus is the center of Scripture: “Jesus is the living center of everything”; “Christ is the center to which all should be attracted”; “The great center of attraction, Jesus Christ . . .”⁶ More specifically, Christ’s work of substitutionary atonement on Calvary is placed by Ellen White at the center of Scripture: “The cross of Calvary is the great center.”⁷ “The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary.”⁸ “The standard of truth is to be uplifted and the atonement of Christ presented as the grand, central theme for consideration.”⁹

The conclusion of the great controversy, occurring at the Second Advent and beyond, is described using a synonym of center: “The doctrine of the second advent is the very keynote of the Sacred Scriptures.”¹⁰ Finally, utilizing another synonym, Ellen White highlights the role of the sanctuary in the great system of biblical truth: “The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God’s hand had directed the great advent movement and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people.”¹¹

Ellen White also summarizes the center of Scripture using the phrase “the redemption plan.” “The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise of the Revelation, ‘They shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads’ (Rev. 22:4, KJV), the burden of every book and every passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme—man’s uplifting. . . . He who grasps this thought has before him an infinite field for study. He has the key that will unlock to him the whole treasure house of God’s Word.”¹²

Some have suggested that simply to underscore their importance, Ellen White exaggerated the word “center” or one of its synonyms to describe certain themes of Scripture. From what I’ve seen in the introduction and conclusion of Scripture, where these themes emerge I believe that Ellen White is not overstating this idea. Rather, she pinpoints the very themes that Scripture itself identifies as constituting its multifaceted theological center.

I commend to all Bible scholars, teachers, pastors, and laity this grand central theme of Scripture as the key that will unlock the whole treasure house of God’s Word!

¹ For the biblical support for this multifaceted center of Scripture, see Richard M. Davidson, “Back to the Beginning: Genesis 1-3 and the Theological Center of Scripture,” in Christ, Salvation, and the Eschaton, ed. Daniel Heinz, Jiří Moskala, and Peter M. van Bemmelen (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Old Testament Department, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, 2009), pp. 5-29. Available for download at
² Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903, 1952), p. 190.
³ Gregory A. Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997).
⁴ Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 44; Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn, 1911), p. 678.
⁵ E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 596.
⁶ Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 186; Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 1, pp. 259, 383.
⁷ Ellen G. White letter 201, 1899, in The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1955, 1977), Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 4, p. 1173.
⁸ Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 315.
⁹ Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 8, p. 77.
¹⁰ E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 299.
¹¹ Ibid., p. 423.
¹² E. G. White, Education, pp. 125, 126.

Richard Davidson