Was Ellen White a prophet like those who wrote the Bible?

If you are a C. S. Lewis fan (or even if you’re not), you will probably ap-preciate this paragraph from his Mere Christianity. It is the last paragraph of his chapter “The Shocking Alternative”:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Isn’t there a parallel to how we regard Mrs. White? It’s on a much lower level, of course—she didn’t claim to be God. But she did claim that her visions and her messages came from God by supernatural means (a claim C. S. Lewis never made about himself). If Mrs. White was wrong about that, what basis do we have for calling her inspired at all? Are there alternatives to concluding that she was who she said she was—a “messenger of the Lord”—or she was a lunatic or an agent of Satan?

If we had a documented account, you might find it convincing, even de-finitive. But I wouldn’t recommend that you believe her claim on the strength of such an account. In fact, I think I would warn you against doing so. Why? Because the Bible doesn’t say that the evidence of seeing a prophet in vision is a test of the genuineness of the gift. Further, experience has shown that such evidence may be counterfeited, either by evil people or by evil supernatural powers.

For example, after Mrs. White’s death, a woman named Margaret Rowen claimed to be Ellen G. White’s successor. People saw Margaret Rowen in “vision” and noted that she evidently did not breathe while in that state. This convinced a number of Adventists that she had the genuine gift. But she didn’t. She forged a document naming her as Mrs. White’s successor, which she claimed came from Mrs. White, and she lied about it to a doctor to get him to smuggle this document into Mrs. White’s papers where it would be “found.” She stole money that supporters sent to her office, and when the whole thing unraveled, she tried to kill the doctor when he turned against her. She ended up serving time in prison in California—but her visions had looked real!

The Bible gives us tests by which we are told to evaluate someone who claims to have the true prophetic gift.

  1. A true prophet’s predictions are fulfilled (see Deuteronomy 18:21, 22; Jeremiah 28:9). The Bible explicitly makes this a test for us to apply. But it also tells us that there are conditions, whether stated or implied, in some Bible prophecy. (See, for example, Jeremiah 18:7–10.)
  2. A true prophet’s messages harmonize with the Word of God (see Isa-iah 8:20). Note the context—telling the true messenger from the false. So this is another Bible test.
  3. A true prophet’s ministry bears fitting fruit (see Matthew 7:15, 16). The Bible itself names one such fruit: that a prophet will give people God’s message and turn them away from their sins. (See Jeremiah 23:22, and note the context preceding it.)
  4. A true prophet tells the truth about Jesus’ incarnation (see 1 John 4:1–3). The Bible says that a true prophet will acknowledge that Jesus’ incarnation was real—that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, NASB).

I wonder if the “lucrative profit” motivation is all it is cracked up to be. A few years after Mrs. White’s death, the trustees she had appointed in her will to look after her writings entered into an agreement with the General Conference. The agreement arranged for the church to support the work of the White Estate—the General Conference would underwrite the budget of the White Estate, and for its part, the White Estate would turn all royalties from Mrs. White’s books into the General Conference treasury. This agreement is still in force. How is it working out? Well, the budget the church puts into the Ellen G. White Estate is about six times the amount it receives in royalties from the books. It’s pretty hard to find the profit motive there!

In my view, the church supports Mrs. White (including the White Estate) because it truly believes that her work was “a gift of light” that continues to shine on our path. Our experience has shown that when we have followed that gift of light, we have been blessed spiritually and our work has been effective. When, on the other hand, we have ignored that light and gone on our own, we have suffered loss.

We do not make Mrs. White another Bible writer—she herself ruled that out in such statements as this famous one: “Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light” (Colporteur Ministry, 125). But we do believe that the Lord used the same means of bringing light to her that He used with the Bible writers, and that He communicated with her more directly than He did with C. S. Lewis and other fine, insightful Christian writers.