I recently received a very thoughtful question from a young friend of mine:
My question is this: a fundamental belief of the
SDA church is not just that Ellen White was a prophet, but that her
writings are an authoritative source of truth. As a Protestant, I
personally believe in “sola scriptura.” Not to say that what Ellen
White wrote wasn’t true – I believe it is – but as an example, if I
say the sky is blue, that’s a true statement, but it doesn’t make me
the _authoritative_ source on the matter. If I say “God is love,”
that’s true, but it doesn’t make anything I say authoritative. How do
you reconcile with that particular word in that particular belief?
Here is my short answer to the question about Ellen White and authority.
Many prophets in Bible times wrote no books, or at least none that have been
preserved. And as you can tell from my latest post, I think God had a hand
in deciding which were preserved and which were not. We also know from
references in 1 Corinthians, that Paul had already written a letter to the
Corinthian church, of which nothing remains except the references in the
So, let me ask you your question. If the Corinthian church received a letter
from Paul, but God did not see fit to include it in scripture, was that
letter authoritative for the Corinthians, or not?
Inclusion in the canon indicates that the timely truths are also timeless
principles or applications of those timeless principles which will be
normative and beneficial for the church at all times. Exclusion does not
mean they are not authoritative, only that their authority was more
appropriate to a particular set of circumstances, and that they were either
time-bound, or would have added nothing to the examples in the canon. To be
useful, the canon must contain only those things essential to faith, only
those things which must be known, if you will; not everything that might be
For me, then, the Bible is the measuring stick, the source, the standard for
understanding what we need to be in a saving relationship with Jesus, and a
guide for everyday living. If we keep adding to the measuring stick, or add
everything possible, we change it in subtle ways. So we leave it a lone. We
measure everything else by it.
Ellen White’s counsel was largely pastoral, that was her view, and directed
almost exclusively to a new and rapidly growing movement. None of our
doctrines came from her work. We do not, should not, must not add her to the
canon. For that reason, I’m uneasy with the Clear Word Bible. Not because I
think Jack Blanco did anything wrong, but because a lot of believers now
look at that as a MORE authoritative Bible. That’s one error. The other, it
seems to me, is to say her works have no authority, simply because they are
not included in the canon.
In summary, her works are A source of authority–or perhaps ‘authoritative
counsel’ is better– for the Adventist movement. They are, in her words, “a
lesser light,” but light none the less.
Thank you for such a great question! I love tackling real questions for real people. The way we build faith is by facing those questions, not by ducking them.
P.S. I want to make it clear that Clear Word Bible is a good and useful thing, especially as a devotional tool. The danger is that some will believe that it is better or truer than the Bible all by itself, that it will color our view of certain passages to the point that we no longer actually hear the Bible’s original voice.