Seventh Day Adventism at the Crossroads – Program 2

By: Rev. Walter Rea, Dr. Desmond Ford; ©1982
Did Ellen G. White borrow much of her supposedly divinely inspired writings from 75 previously published books on history, doctrine and the Bible?

Did Ellen G. White Borrow Many of Her Teachings from Others?


Dr. Desmond Ford—Widely respected Adventist theologian, author and pastor. He received his PhD from Manchester University, England, and has served as a theology professor at several Adventist seminaries and colleges. He is the author of nine books and many articles published in Adventist journals, and has sat on the highest doctrinal body of the church, The Biblical Research Institute.
Rev. Walter Rea—Scholar, author and pastor. Rev. Rea is recognized as the leading authority on the writings of Ellen G. White and has written more concerning her works than any other person.


Ankerberg: We are glad that you are here. And, gentlemen on the platform tonight, you are written up in Time magazine as we do this show. Walter Rea, they say about you in Time magazine, August 2, 1982 issue, “Ford’s challenge was mild compared with the bombshell dropped by Walter T. Rea of Paterson, California, a veteran pastor. Rea, in the course of Ph D research, stumbled across some long buried writings by forgotten divines that matched huge swatches of prophet White’s books.” And it goes on to say, “Rea was the first to document the vast scale of borrowing from 75 assorted books on history, doctrine and the Bible. And last April Rea issued his full findings in a book entitled The White Lie.” You are holding The White Lie in your hand. For people that don’t know who Ellen G. White is, tell us.
Rea: Of course, I had no Adventist background, John. I came into the church, I was a Christian before I was an Adventist, but I was not denominationally oriented. So when I became an Adventist I became acquainted with Mrs. White, which is the Seventh-day Adventist’s prophet. And I was always a devotee of Mrs. White and began to read. She fascinated me; she covered all the doctrines from Genesis to Revelation and our Christology and eschatology, mainly our main points of doctrine. And I had spent probably 25 years of my lifetime devoted to her study.
I had written three books, Bible biographies—Old and New Testaments—in which I had accumulated all of the published and unpublished works of Mrs. White and sent them out to the Bible houses of the Adventists. They were used in all of our schools and universities. Also, the book of Daniel and Revelation. All of her statements I could find, I had sent that out, but not commented on them, merely because I felt that they were something special that had been given by divine revelation. Some critics have said I believe in their verbal inspiration. I really don’t believe that is correct. I did believe they had authority and much more authority than anyone else that had written.
Ankerberg: Des, would it be fair to say that the man sitting next to you has published more on Ellen G. White than anybody else?
Ford: Walter Rea has done more research on the origin of the Ellen G. White’s writings than any person that has ever lived. So we are taking not only contemporary Adventists but the Adventists over a century. That is certain.
Ankerberg: And you loved her, believed in her, knew her writings, published them.
Rea: I think anyone who does this, John, is known in Adventism as a conservative; that is, they really are true believers. And I think it is fair to say I was a true believer.
Ankerberg: Okay, and as you had these large pastorates in different places, people gave you books. What happened?
Rea: The first book that came to my attention was while I was in Florida from one of our eminent doctors, Dr. Kress, and gave me the book Sketches From the Life of Paul, written by Conybeare & Howson, and I naively started to read it. And one of the members who was an older member and knowledgeable said, “Well, that’s the book the Adventists would rather forget because Mrs. White’s Sketches from the Life of Paul was largely taken from that material. So I did a study and found that the criticism was correct, that there were similarities.
Ankerberg: What did you think when you saw that?
Rea: I was shocked, because we had been taught,… you have to understand what you are taught in Adventism, at least in our generation…
Ankerberg: Okay, what were you taught?
Rea: We were taught that Mrs. White was not influenced by outside sources. And while I never thought that through at the time, it sounded logical. So, that was one thing that bothered me.
Ankerberg: Where did you think that she got this?
Rea: Well, she got it directly from God by revelation or inspiration, without outside influence.
Ankerberg: Yes.
Rea: Second is, in most of Mrs. White’s counsel she counseled against all of our ministers using outside sources. So as a theologian I found it very difficult to get my degrees without reading all this, you know, so-called “trash in the outside world.” And we weren’t supposed to use this.
Ankerberg: Yes.
Rea: And so it was shocking to find from the standpoint, “Well, wait a minute; she was using what she condemned and said we shouldn’t use.”
Ankerberg: So your curiosity was at least awakened.
Rea: Well, it was at least awakened. And I began to correspond with the White Estate, which is the official organization for handling the doctrines of Ellen G. White. And I expressed some of my concern. And they said, well, these are not new concerns and they pointed out that some had found this before.
Ankerberg: Then what?
Rea: Then I moved to California and someone else gave another book on Edersheim, his Old and New Testament.
Ankerberg: Yes.
Rea: I found he was a converted Jew. He had written on the life of Christ. Lo and behold, I found that some of the format for Patriarchs and Prophets written by Ellen G. White had the same titles. I put them in the book, and also that some of the statements were taken directly from Edersheim. This was devastating. In fact, I used to say facetiously at that time, the guilt was overwhelming, and I used to do the study under the bed with the lights out. I was really nervous. And I notified the White Estate, and they wrote back and encouraged me in the study—and I kept the letters—saying, you know, “Keep us informed, although this is not new, we are interested in some of these angles.” Well, I went to a public meeting and there some member of the White Estate denied that there was any borrowing in the book Desire of Ages. By that time I had found a book by Hannah, which was a English writer, on the life of Christ. And this was the most shocking of all.
Ankerberg: Why?
Rea: Well, it was shocking because, chapter after chapter, she was plagiarizing, or taking whole sections of that book and paraphrasing it. So when a person says you can’t find three or four sentences that she copied, this is deceitful. It wasn’t the sentences that she wanted to copy.
Ankerberg: So, the White Estate was saying that there was no borrowing, and here you had all the books showing that it was
Rea: This is true.
Ankerberg: So what did you do?
Rea: Well, then we asked for a meeting. We asked for a meeting with the scholars of the church. And in January of 1980, with picking and choosing, we were allowed to sit before 18 scholars. And after two days those 18 scholars voted six motions. One was that the borrowing was more extensive than they had believed, that it was really shocking. Second, is that it should be brought to the attention of the church immediately in seminars and study groups. Third, I should be given scholarly help to work it out into a printed form. They had discouraged me from publishing anything. And that is important, because when I went before the committee I didn’t have anything published, and they said, “You should have this published.”
Ankerberg: Yes.
Rea: And I said, “Well, you forbade it, and don’t think that you will be the only ones that will read it if I get it, and go to the trouble of publishing it.” So I hadn’t published it. So when they said, “We’ll help you get it in this form,” and then they gave me a vote of thanks. While we were elated, because we felt this was a problem that had long been overdue, had been discussed in scholarly circles—I will grant that scholars do have some benefits—but nonetheless the church as a whole had not known this. And it is erroneous to say that the church has always known this. If they have always known it, why was I fired, and why did they meet with me, and why was the committee upset, and why did they vote? Well, within about 60 days the President’s Advisory Committee of the General Conference wrote a letter—which I put a copy, I think, in the book—and said, “Forget it, we’ll take it from here. We will notify the people what we think they should know, and you go back to your work as a pastor.”
Ankerberg: And then what did you do?
Rea: Well, I wrote them a letter and said that evidently the church has decided that I should not be the one. They felt that I was too harsh in my judgments and perhaps too negative in my approach or conclusion. So I said, “The church has spoken.” I had a decision whether I wanted to stay with the system or get out. And I wanted to stay with the system and work within it.
My purpose was to lower the voice in the church and the administration on Ellen G. White and to put Jesus Christ back in the center of the church where I felt it really belonged. And I felt that Mrs. White, from my study and research, had been a deterrent. She was the one that endorsed the 2,300 days that Des talks about. She was the one that endorsed all the doctrines we held officially. And, therefore, no one was allowed to go beyond the thinking and the endorsement of Ellen G. White and plow new ground. So I merely wanted to lower. And my premise was the five books that Adventists count on, the Conflict Series, from Genesis through Revelation, thus came by human means rather than divine revelation. This they didn’t want to accept.
Ankerberg: Walter, you have touched on the writings of Ellen G. White. You have published more than anybody else. You have done more research in this area than anybody else. Do you use the word plagiarism?
Rea: I do; they don’t.
Ankerberg: Define it for us. What is plagiarism?
Rea: The first time I was acquainted with the word was when John Dart from the Los Angeles Times wrote his article in November and asked me the question, did I believe that Mrs. White was a plagiarist? And I asked him his definition, and he said, “I take an amoral view; that is, I am not including any bad or good motives to it. I am merely saying that this is a person who uses others’ material and uses it as their own.” I said, “In that case, I accept the word plagiarism.” I still do. I think that word has been bantered around in the case of Mrs. White for 100 years.
Ankerberg: Ellen G. White is the lady that has been known as the prophet within Seventh-day Adventism.
Rea: Correct.
Ankerberg: And it was her interpretation of Daniel 8 on the sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment that, when William Miller said Jesus was going to come in 1844, when Jesus did not come, Ellen G. White came on the scene and gave this interpretation and said Jesus actually wasn’t talking about coming to this earth, he was talking about coming to the Heavenly Sanctuary. Just switching compartments. And at that point, Seventh-day Adventism was off and running and she was its leader. She was the one that spurred it on. Now, as time went along, how many books did she actually write?
Rea: They claim something like 70 books, John.
Ford: That includes compilations; many were repetitive.
Ankerberg: Okay, and these writings have been a source of authority. Supposedly not as authoritative as scripture but in actual practice held up to be the thing that gives you guidance in terms of what the scriptures are actually saying. Is that a correct statement?
Rea: Yes, I think it is fair what Ford is trying to approach, in that we claim, and rightly so; now I have proven that. Now this is what I couldn’t understand, if you claim as Adventists that we did not get any of our doctrines from Mrs. White, why do you get upset when I prove that you are absolutely right, you got it from others? That’s what I couldn’t understand.
Rea: And so she became an endorser of other ideas. The problem was, we accepted the endorsement rather than the theology.
Ankerberg: Alright, you wrote a book called The White Lie.
Rea: Correct.
Ankerberg: Okay, would you hold it up for us there. Inside of this book you have, how many pages of just column after column where you put Ellen G. White’s writing on one side and then you put the author that she copied it from on the other? Just going right straight down the page?
Rea: There were approximately 150 pages.
Ankerberg: 150 pages for anybody that wants to see. Where can they get that book, Walter?
Rea: It is published by M & R Publications in Turlock, California.
Ankerberg: Des, you have also got a book that you…
Ford: This is the manuscript I wrote for the church. It is 1,000 pages on which my trial took place at Glacier View, and this is also available from Desmond Ford Publications, New Castle, California.
Ankerberg: And that this is basically your doctrinal dissertation that you did with F. F. Bruce at Manchester?
Ford: No, it does include some insights on it, but this is the doctrine I write for the church protesting against the traditional view.
Ankerberg: Okay, and that’s written specifically on what?
Ford: This is covering most of the doctrinal problems of Seventh-day Adventism which center…
Ankerberg: Specifically?
Ford: …around the misuse of Ellen White and the Investigative Judgment.
Ankerberg: Okay, in which you concluded she was wrong in her view?
Ford: Yes, that’s right.
Ankerberg: And you brought the denomination back to scripture.
Ford: I do not regard Ellen White as a doctrinal authority. She didn’t regard herself as a doctrinal authority. She time and again said “Only the Bible….” The Church has ignored that.
Ankerberg: But you are saying that scholars have always known that?
Ford: They’ve known it for decades.
Rea: But the reason they fired him was not because he had a different nuance in his idea—they could have accepted that had not Mrs. White endorsed that—he was really challenging the endorsement of Ellen G. White.
Ford: Yes, Ellen White was threatened by the presentation.
Ankerberg: Okay, how much was actually taken from other writers? How much have you found?
Rea: Well, I think it’s fair to say that in the latest Ministry Magazine of the denomination which the Time magazine talks about, they have, for the first time in Adventism to my knowledge, admitted that there was a vast amount of material copied. And they have said in their publication that they have found no book she wrote that doesn’t show copy work. They have found her diaries also had copy work. They have found her visions also had copy work. And that they figured it would take a decade to survey the at least 1,200 books they have at the present time, to find out the extent of the copy work. But it was vastly more than what it seemed. The problem, again, was if they had confessed that or admitted it—they don’t like the word confess—before the book The White Lie had been put out, perhaps there would have been no need for The White Lie. But they didn’t do that.
Ankerberg: You actually approached the Ellen G. White Estate, as well as the denominational leaders, with the fact, “This is the way it is.” It was devastating to you personally. You were shocked when you found this out, because you had always believed in her yourself. But then when you actually saw it, you said, “Okay, this is the way it is,” and you didn’t think it would be a disrupting of Seventh-day Adventism to say, “Okay, this is the way it was; she had some good points, she had some bad points. She wasn’t inspired and inerrant. She was an advisor concerning scripture, and we should hold her that way and keep on rolling” right?
Rea: Actually they felt that it would be more disruptive if I printed the book than if they did. I consented to that, I said I am willing for you to bring this material if you will do it. But within three months the PREXAD (The President’s Executive Advisory Committee) letter said, “No, we will not do it.”
Ankerberg: What is the PREXAD letter?
Rea: Well, the PREXAD letter was the political arm of the church which overrode the committee that sat with me and voted. And in essence the letter says, “Well, go back to harvesting, gathering money or whatever the pastors do, and we’ll take it from here.” And so the church was not to know. That was unacceptable to me. I do feel that people would have been less threatened and it could have been accomplished on a more favorable plane if the church had revealed by some method that which I had revealed.
Ankerberg: Evangelicals watching would say, “Hey, if you’ve got Jesus, why is it so important that you have to have Ellen G. White?”
Rea: In my view, which differs from Ford, we do not have Jesus. We have…
Ankerberg: Because of why?
Rea: We have made Ellen White the Adventists’ Savior, and I think that if we could lower the voice and get rid of the “all or none” concept of Ellen White, then we could put Christ in the center of the church.
Ankerberg: You say that is right, Des?
Ford: John, he needs a bit of opposition, so can I come on?
Ankerberg: Certainly.
Ford: Spurgeon once said, “He that doesn’t read will never be read. He that doesn’t quote will never be quoted. He who doesn’t use other people’s brains shows he has no brains of his own.” The early pages of his book on commentaries and commenting warns people not to read books from people that haven’t read widely. I have written a dozen books, at least nine or ten of which have been published. And I read hundreds of books in connection with every book I ever write.
But I have to be more careful in the 19th Century. I can go into the stacks of the Library of Congress and in every area, history, religion, health, medicine I find people using ad nauseam stuff with their quotes. It still happens today. Here for example is a Protestant writer very well known, J. S. Wyle, Christian Doctrine, using word for word another one that I will quote in this page, Brunner, word for word without quote marks whatever. That’s Protestant writers today. Here is a Catholic, here is Fulton Sheen using word for word stuff from Heston, again without quote marks. It still happens, but there is a difference—in the 20th century, we are more careful.
Now it is quite clear that Ellen White recommended certain of the key books that she most used. She recommended them in the church papers, so I don’t really think she was trying to hide too much. Furthermore, there are many, many quotes where she speaks about the duty of gathering scattered gems of truth from erroneous settings and putting them in right settings. She said that even Jesus did that, and today in scholarship we know there is not a phrase in the Lord’s prayer that is original. Jesus did gather out of a lot of rubbish and sawdust the gems and put them together.
And Ellen White felt she was doing that. I do not believe Ellen White was deceptive or a cheat. I believe she was an honest Christian woman but we have had a superstitious view about her as Adventists. And Walter is right, we have engaged in a type of idolatry which is being deleterious to Adventist Christian experience.
Rea: The problem I find with this, John, is that she,… for example, it’s alright for someone to copy. The problem was not copying: Mrs. White claimed to be inspired, she claimed to be a prophet and she also really denied her borrowing. Now let me read the Ministry Magazine saying that, “Did Mrs. White make any attempt to conceal from Adventists? The answer is, No. She even urged some [as Des said] to read.” I would like to let you see what kind of books she urged them to see. It wasn’t the total one she copied from. But notice what they say on the next page. “On the other hand, she did not generally draw particular attention to her use of other authors.” I wish she had. I wish the church could produce one definitive statement ever in the life of Ellen G. White, or James, where she admitted openly that she was using someone else for that particular statement. If she just said, “Now Edersheim says,” or “Ferrar says,” but you see, she never did that. So I think this is the problem.
Ford: She did in her Health Journal.
Rea: I do agree, yes, but now we are beginning to put space between the Health Journal and we are saying, well, it is possible that in her Health Journals now—because some of the statements were ridiculous—she wasn’t speaking as a prophet, she was speaking as an editor. And Arthur White is now saying this revolutionary idea, Des, it’s on tape. And Bob Olsen is saying, “Well, perhaps we are going to have to distinguish between when she was speaking as a prophet and when she was speaking as a compiler or an author.” Amen, let’s keep going.
Ford: Here we are shifting from the superstitious view. I do not think we should put Adventists in a little box by themselves. I find in fundamentalist America very superstitious views about the Bible; trying to prove the Bible by science. This sort of approach is making science greater than the Bible. The Bible is self-authenticating. And so I don’t think you should put Adventists in a separate camp. The fact is, most of American Protestantism has a superstitious view about how the Bible was written.
Rea: Of course, the thing that puzzles me there is that we claim—and he has read it from Questions on Doctrine—we do not make Mrs. White canonical, but in every case we go back to the Bible to prove Mrs. White. I thought it was the other way around. We were to prove Mrs. White by the Bible and instead, if Mrs. White says it then, “Oh,” we say, “well, the Bible does that too,” you see.
Ankerberg: What would you say is the majority view of people concerning the Bible and Mrs. White?
Rea: The majority view as a pastor of this church is unequivocally that Mrs. White is the authority. And if there is a question on biblical interpretation in our church it is settled by the statements of Ellen G. White, not by the interpretation of the Bible.
Ford: That’s North America, not Europe.
Rea: That’s why Des is out, that’s why I am out.
Ankerberg: And you would want to see it change?
Ford: It depends upon the country where you are.
Rea: It must change if you are going to put Christ in the center.
Ankerberg: Yes, but you would want to see it change regardless?
Ford: Yes, oh, yes. In Germany they are not even teaching Investigative Judgment. I spoke to one of our key scholars from Germany. I said, “You teach Investigative Judgment?” He said, “Oh, no.” You know, he went on to say something like this, “1844’s sold off as an American innovation.”
Ankerberg: What about this thing, too, that the group is the exclusive group, the exclusive community in Christendom to witness to Christ, the remnant?
Ford: This is based on very poor exegesis. Revelation 12:17 is speaking about a remnant yet to be developed. Questions on Doctrine says that all faithful Christians are potential members of that remnant. But most small religious groups have a tendency to an inferiority complex which is compensated for by some extravagant claims. Adventists have been guilty in that area. The things that Walter has just said do fit many parts of North America, but it shouldn’t be thought that this necessarily fits the whole world field. I know hundreds of ministers, I have trained hundreds of ministers in part, and they do know the gospel and they do speak of Jesus. What Walter says is true in many areas; it is not necessarily true of all Adventism.
Ankerberg: The problem that I have noticed in preparing for this program, before you men arrived, was to meet with men in this area. I am not going to name names because they felt they could lose their job. They know the gospel.
Ford: Yes.
Ankerberg: They are afraid to say it.
Ford: Thousands of Adventist ministers know the gospel and many of the laity know the gospel.
Ankerberg: But in Australia you taught most of the guys that are in the clergy there.
Ford: In Australia, yes.
Ankerberg: Okay, taking all of this, what hope do you see for the future?
Ford: If the church will be honest to God and get down to biblical evidences… there’s no basis of 1844 as a biblical datum. The scholars know it; the church needs to admit it. If the church will be honest to God, God will bless the church. It has much to offer the Christian world.
Ankerberg: If the denomination takes the next step and hardens up the line and makes Ellen G. White an extra-scriptural source of authority, which is a possibility, denies justification by grace alone in the sense that the Investigative Judgment stays in there?
Ford: We become a cult if we take those two steps, which deny the gospel.

Ankerberg: I would just like to make a few comments about Seventh-day Adventism at the crossroads. In 1957 evangelical leaders such as Walter Martin and Harold Lindsell approached those in the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventists. They wanted to know what Adventists really believed, in order to determine if they should be classified as truly Christian in doctrine or whether the Seventh-day Adventist Church was merely a cult. Now the evangelical leaders asked two key questions. First, do Seventh-day Adventists hold Ellen G. White to be equal in authority with the Bible; and second, do they really believe in justification by faith? The Adventists’ reply came back in the book entitled Questions on Doctrine. In it they said the Bible was their final authority in matters of belief and that a person was justified by faith in Christ.
Now, based on this response, many evangelicals accepted the Adventists as Christian brethren. But immediately, inside the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, Questions on Doctrine was challenged. In 1980 the denomination appears to have elevated Ellen G. White’s interpretation of scripture to a position equal in authority with scripture itself. Now, it seems, she is the only authoritative interpreter of scripture for Adventists.
Now this crucial decision by the leadership of Adventism has forced evangelical leaders to re-evaluate. It’s the consensus of those with whom I have talked that if, in belief and practice, the Adventists leaders abide by this decision, they will have turned their great church down the road to being a cult by denying the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

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