Reading Ellen White Isn't Bible Study

August 25, 2018 | Martin Weber

A newly baptized Adventist phoned our home, distraught about a Bible study promoted in her church’s bulletin. She brought her Bible but discovered they were studying Ellen White’s Early Writings.

“I love reading Ellen White,” she protested, “but this is supposed to be a Bible study!”

“It is a Bible study,” they insisted. “We focus on verses Sister White quotes — that ensures we are studying the most important Bible texts for Adventists.”

Is that a good way to search the Scriptures — through the eyes of Ellen White in Steps to Christ, Desire of Ages or the Testimonies? Or should we study the Bible itself to know what it’s saying?

Instead of consulting our personal opinions, let’s do an actual test right here, using the biblical book of Philippians. We will simply tally up how many times Ellen White quotes each of 18 well-known verses in Paul’s epistle. With that indisputable quantified data we can compare Ellen White’s inspirational priorities with what we see in Scripture.

Our world church has made Ellen White’s entire writings convenient and without cost on Selecting the setting “Lifetime Works” limits our results to what she actually wrote, avoiding compilations put together by church committees during the century since her death.*

Now we are ready to paste into the search box each of the following 18 verses in the King James Version, Ellen White’s lifelong standard. The number of times she quotes each one is shown after the text:

  • “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6) = 9 times. (In 70 years of writing, Ellen White quotes this verse an average of once every eight years.)
  • "For to me to live is Christ" (1:21) = 2 times (once in 1898 and again in 1911).
  • “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2) = 22 times.
  • “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (2:9-10) = 31 times.
  • “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:10-11) = 36 times.
  • "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12) = 249 times.
  • “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (3:1) = 0 times.
  • We “worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (3:3) = 0 times.
  • “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (3:7) = 13 times.
  • “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8) = 45 times.
  • “That I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ” (3:9) = 11 times.
  • “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection” (3:10) = 22 times.
  • “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14) = 37 times. 
  • “My brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord” (4:1) = 13 times.
  • “… whose names are in the book of life” (4:3) = 9 times.
  • “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (4:11) = 0 times.
  • “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (4:13) = 26 times.
  • “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19) = 5 times.

The dominant theme in Philippians is joyous confidence for all believers through a relationship with Jesus on the basis of His death and resurrection. Yet some who read only Ellen White’s writings may miss this important theme. While she quotes Phil. 2:12 nearly as much as all other 17 texts above combined, nearly half of those passages emphasize working out salvation with fear and trembling without including the qualifying promise in the rest of the passage: "for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."

When we read only what others have written about Scripture — even from Ellen White — we may end up with an incomplete understanding of God’s great plan of redemption.

Before you prepare a letter to the editor, let me be clear on this point: Ellen White’s ministry with and for our church was a God-inspired gift with which we should gratefully engage for counsel. But the lesser light, as she described it, should never replace the greater light. If you want a balanced view of Scripture, consider going directly to God’s Word and reading it for yourself — which, by the way, is exactly what Ellen White herself recommended.

*Underneath the upper left search box, you will see “Search All.” Click the little arrow to change that setting to “Lifetime Works,” which includes everything she wrote during her lifetime — books and pamphlets with all her released letters.