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Criticism of Ellen G. White

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Criticism of Ellen G. White

A number of critics have voiced doubts as to the reliability of Ellen G. White as a true prophet and the authenticity of her visions, a few of which are summarized here.


Mental illness

At the age of nine, Ellen was struck with a rock thrown by a fellow student. The injury severely disfigured her nose, and left her in a coma for three weeks. Some neurologists have commented that this may have caused partial complex seizures and hallucinations which led her to believe that she had visions of God.[1] Ellen White was posthumously diagnosed as having symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy by the pediatrician Delbert H. Hodder in 1981 and again in 1984 by Molleurus Couperus, a retired dermatologist.[2][3] Dudley M. Canright, a Seventh-day Adventist minister who left the church, claimed that she had a “complication of hysteria, epilepsy, catalepsy, and ecstasy” and stated that her “visions were merely the result of her early misfortune.[4]

The symptoms experienced by patients who are recovering from a severe head injury include headaches, dizziness, depression, slowness in thinking, and impairment of concentration and memory. These symptoms are noted in Ellen White's writings following the head injury, she states that "it was almost impossible for me to study, and retain what I had learned." When she did attend school her hand trembled so much that she could make no progress in her writing; and when studying she says "the letters of my book would run together, large drops of perspiration would stand upon my brow, and I would become dizzy and faint." Her teacher advised her to leave school until her health improved, which she did. Three years later, when she was twelve, she attempted to go to school again; but her health failed once more and she was forced to leave school permanently.[5][6]

Her physical experiences during the visions revolved around, becoming unconscious, losing control of her arms and legs, shallow breathing and visual phenomena all of which are symptoms of an epileptic fit such as automatic movements of the hands or mouth, altered ability to respond to others, unusual speech, or unusual behaviors all of which were experienced during these visions.[7] Moreover, following each of these seizures, there is some period of recovery in which neurological function is altered. This is called the postictal state. These states were independently witnessed by Ellen G. White's followers,[7]

"When she came out of vision, all was total darkness whether in the day time or a well-lighted room at night. She would exclaim with a long-drawn sigh, as she took her first natural breath, “D-a-r-k.” She was then limp and strengthless."[8]

Another symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy, as noted by Sachdev and Waxman in 1981, is the frequency and degree of hypergraphia. This is seen continuously throughout Ellen White's life noted in her writings 'I felt that I should have rest, but could see no opportunity for relief. I was speaking to the people several times a week, and writing many pages of personal testimonies.... The blood rushed to my brain, frequently causing me to reel and nearly fall. I had the nosebleed often, especially after making an effort to write. I was compelled to lay aside my writing, but could not throw off the burden of anxiety and responsibility upon me.... I then wrote out a portion of that which was shown me in regard to the Institute, but could not get out the entire subject because of pressure of blood to the brain....I supposed that after resting a few days I could again resume my writing. But to my great grief I found that the condition of my brain made it impossible for me to write. The idea of writing testimonies, either general or personal, was given up, and I was in continual distress because I could not write them."114 (Testimonies, vol. 1, pages 576-577).[9] Remaining congruent with modern medical symptomatology and following examination from the perspective of current clinical knowledge it remains plausible that the visionary experiences of Ellen G. White and her behavioral characteristics may have been influenced from an underlying neurological disorder.


Some critics have accused Ellen White of plagiarism. One such was Walter T. Rea, who argued against the "original" nature of her supposed revelations in his book The White Lie. Another critic is Ronald Numbers' Ellen White: Prophetess of Health (originally published in 1976).[10] In this text Numbers argues that her understanding of health reform was simply plagiarized from other health reformers and therefore did not come from divine revelation.

Denial of the Trinity

Early Seventh-day Adventists came from a wide assortment of nineteenth-century American Protestant churches. As typical among early Adventists, two of the church's principal founders, James White and Joseph Bates, had a background in the Restorationist Christian Connection church, which rejected the Trinitarian nature of God.[11] However, some contend that the teachings and writings of Ellen White, ultimately proved influential in shifting the church from largely Semi-Arian[12] roots towards Trinitarianism.[13]

Some critics have claimed that in some of her early writings Ellen White did not teach the Trinity but Semi-Arianism, the view that Jesus is a lesser being than God the Father. Seventh-day Adventists credit her with bringing the Seventh-day Adventist church into an awareness of the Trinity. Some critics have characterized her descriptions of the Godhead as Tritheistic.[14][15][16] Other critics contend that early Adventism was materialist in theology, and that Ellen White represented the same viewpoint.[17]

Writings on masturbation

Many critics cite Ellen White's views on masturbation, which she called "self-indulgence" or "a solitary vice," to claim she is a false prophet. In her book "A Solemn Appeal" she writes:

"If the practice [self-indulgence] is continued from the age of fifteen and upward, nature will protest against the abuse she has suffered, and continues to suffer, and will make them pay the penalty for the transgression of her laws, especially from the ages of thirty to forty-five, by numerous pains in the system, and various diseases, such as affection of the liver and lungs, neuralgia, rheumatism, affection of the spine, diseased kidneys, and cancerous humors. Some of nature's fine machinery gives way, leaving a heavier task for the remaining to perform, which disorders nature's fine arrangement, and there is often a sudden breaking down of the constitution; and death is the result."[18]
Females possess less vital force than the other sex, and are deprived very much of the bracing, invigorating air, by their in-door life. The result of self-abuse in them is seen in various diseases, such as catarrh, dropsy, headache, loss of memory and sight, great weakness in the back and loins, affections of the spine, and frequently, inward decay of the head. Cancerous humor, which would lie dormant in the system their lifetime, is inflamed, and commences its eating, destructive work. The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity supervenes."[19]

Critics cite a modern study which seems to show that having frequent orgasms can help protect men against heart disease.[20]

Thomas Szasz states the shift in scientific consensus[21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28] as "Masturbation: the primary sexual activity of mankind. In the nineteenth century it was a disease; in the twentieth, it's a cure."[29] Many other medical researchers and state medical education boards support his conclusion.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37]

The criticism is acknowledged by the Ellen White Estate.[38] The estate staff quotes conclusions by David Horrobin in support of Mrs. White's views. However, Horrobin was a researcher of dubious reputation according to his British Medical Journal obituary[39] and according to Stephen Barrett from Quackwatch.[40] But even the White Estate recognizes that Szasz is right when he describes the shift in the medical consensus: "The general view today, however, is that masturbation is normal and healthy."[41]

Ronald L. Numbers, an American historian of science and a graduate of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, criticized Mrs. White for her views on health and upon masturbation, the gist of his criticism being that she followed the medical consensus of her epoch (which was before the advent of evidence-based medicine).[42] Numbers shows that she plagiarized vitalist writers (such as Horace Mann and Larkin B. Coles)[43] for her arguments against masturbation.[42] In fact the Appeal to Mothers contains a quite odd remark, namely that Ellen White did not copy her text from the health reform advocates and claiming that she independently reached such conclusions.[44] Numbers' criticism is acknowledged as significant by the staff of the White Estate, which sought to refute it in A Critique of the Book Prophetess of Health.[45] Specifically, Richard W. Schwarz from the Department of History, Andrews University, has tried to explain away such plagiarism through supernatural inspiration of all those authors.[46]

Mainstream Bible scholars claim there is no Bible verse which supports the view that masturbation would be sinful.[22][47] The consensus opinion of biblical scholars is that the story of Onan does not refer to masturbation, but to coitus interruptus.[48][49][50][51][52]

Writings on novels/fiction

Critics also cite statements that she wrote which seem hyperbolic, such as her views on novels:

"That mind is ruined which is allowed to be absorbed in story-reading. The imagination becomes diseased, sentimentalism takes possession of the mind, and there is a vague unrest, a strange appetite for unwholesome mental food, which is constantly unbalancing the mind. Thousands are today in the insane asylum whose minds became unbalanced by novel reading, which results in air-castle building and love-sick sentimentalism."

This statement is part of an article published in The Signs of the Times on February 10, 1881.


Some critics claim that Ellen White wrote racist (and biologically inaccurate) statements in her book Spiritual Gifts.

"Every species of animal which God had created were preserved in the ark. The confused species which God did not create, which were the result of amalgamation, were destroyed by the flood. Since the flood there has been amalgamation of man and beast, as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men."[53]
This criticism is compounded by a defense of her statements which was published 8 years later by church leader and personal friend of Ellen White, Uriah Smith, in which the latter inferred that this "amalgamation" produced certain "lesser" races which he claimed were difficult to differentiate from animals:
"Now we have ever supposed that anybody that was called a man, was considered a human being. The vision speaks of all these classes as races of men; yet in the face of this plain declaration, they foolishly assert that the visions teach that some men are not human beings! But does any one deny the general statement contained in the extract given above? They do not. If they did, they could easily be silenced by a reference to such cases as the wild Bushmen of Africa, some tribes of the Hottentots, and perhaps the Digger Indians of our own country.. Moreover, naturalists affirm that the line of demarkation between the human and animal races is lost in confusion. It is impossible, as they affirm, to tell just where the human ends and the animal begins."[54]

Response to criticism

Seventh-day Adventists use apologists to respond to critics with arguments and assertions of their own. Typical responses to these criticisms include:

Mental illness

Seventh-day Adventists reject the charge that Ellen White suffered mental illness or that she had seizures. They point out that there is nothing on record of Ellen White ever having a seizure or showing signs of mental illness. They assert instead that these charges were trumped up by critics many years after her first vision as a way of discrediting her.


A [61] among others, undertook the refutation of the accusations of plagiarism. At the conclusion of Ramik's report, he states:

"It is impossible to imagine that the intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected in her writings and the unquestionably prodigious efforts involved therein, was anything other than a sincerely motivated and unselfish effort to place the understandings of Biblical truths in a coherent form for all to see and comprehend. Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind's understanding of the word of God. Considering all factors necessary in reaching a just conclusion on this issue, it is submitted that the writings of Ellen G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic." [62]

Critics have especially targeted Ellen White's book The Great Controversy arguing in contains plagiarized material.[63] However, in her introduction she wrote...

Denial of the Trinity

Fundamental belief # 2 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the belief of the Trinity. Their belief statement declares "There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present." [64] Ellen White clearly stated that Jesus was divine in her book "The Desire of Ages"

Ellen White also stated that the Holy Spirit was divine and part of the Godhead.

Stance against masturbation

Adventists generally rest their defense on the Bible and state that sin is never beneficial to health but rather “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Christians are called to “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient”. (Colossians 3:5-6) Many Adventists also claim that no true Christian of any denomination would say that masturbation is something Jesus would approve of, for Christians are called to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11) Ellen White states:

It is also often pointed out that while masturbation may appear to have several health benefits, the Bible says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) Of such Ellen White warns:

Writings on novels/fiction

Ellen White gave some specifics regarding her statements


Ellen White wrote the following before the American Civil War

Also, Ellen White stated the following near the end of the 19th century

Besides her strong stance against slavery and racism, Adventist scholars have noted that there is not one instance where her writings hint to a half-man/half-animal race of people.[65] Instead, her amalgamation statements were a reference to Leviticus 19:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14 and Genesis 6:1-5.[66]

Notable critics

See also


  1. ^ Gregory Holmes and Delbert Hodder(1981).Ellen G.White and the Seventh Day Adventist Church:Visions or Partial Complex Seizures?Journal of Neurology,31(4):160-161.
  2. ^ Delbert H. Hodder, M.D., “Visions or Partial-Complex Seizures?” Evangelica, vol. 2, no. 5 (November 1981), p. 35
  3. ^ Molleurus Couperus, “The Significance of Ellen White’s Head Injury,” Adventist Currents, vol. 1, no. 6 (June 1985), p. 31
  4. ^ D. M. Canright, Life of Mrs. E. G. White (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1919), p. 171
  5. ^ E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 13
  6. ^ White and White. Life Sketches, 136
  7. ^ a b Sample New Jersey, USA, medical report form:
  8. ^ White, Arthur L. 1985, “Chapter 7 – (1846-1847) Entering Marriage Life”,Ellen G. White: The Early Years, Vol. 1 1827-1862, pages 122-124
  9. ^ H. S. Sachdev and S. G. Waxman, "Frequency of Hypergraphia in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: an Index of Interictal Behaviour Syndrome," Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 44 (1981):358-360
  10. ^
  11. ^ Knight, George, 2000, A Search for Identity, Review and Herald Pub., pp. 30-32
  12. ^
  13. ^ Jerry A. Moon, The Adventist Trinity Debate Part 1: Historical Overview and The Adventist Trinity Debate Part 2: The Role of Ellen G. White. Copyright 2003 Andrews University Press. See also " The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer" by Erwin Roy Gane
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Thomas McElwain, Adventism and Ellen White: A Phenomenon of Religious Materialism. Studies on Inter-religious Relations no. 48. Swedish Science Press, 2010.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^ Jack Boulware, "Sex educator says most people masturbate," at: apud Masturbation: Current medical opinions Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. New URL:
  24. ^ Ornella Moscucci, "Male masturbation and the offending prepuce," at: (It is an excerpt from "Sexualities in Victorian Britain.") apud Masturbation: Current medical opinions Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. New URL: http:/
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ Spanish 'self love' lessons row BBC News, November 13, 2009.
  38. ^ FAQ
  39. ^ "'A rotter, a snake oil salesman, a chancer' - how scientist's obituary sparked a storm. A vitriolic attack in the British Medical Journal has devastated eminent academic David Horrobin's family, reports Robin McKie" Robin McKie, The Oberver, in The Guardian, 25 May 2003.
  40. ^ "Primrose Oil and Eczema: How Research Was Promoted and Suppressed" Stephen Barrett, Quackwatch, 31 January 2004.
  41. ^ Physical and spiritual dangers of masturbation or "self-abuse"The White Estate. Issues. Frequently Asked Questions. Comments Regarding Unusual Statements Found In Ellen G. White's Writings. Subsection:
  42. ^ a b
  43. ^ Numbers (2008:213-214)
  44. ^ Numbers (2008:211)
  45. ^ The Staff of the Ellen G. White Estate A Critique of the Book Prophetess of Health, 2008. Upon the criticism of Mrs. White's views on masturbation see p. 72 of the publication.
  46. ^ The Staff of the Ellen G. White Estate A Critique of the Book Prophetess of Health, third edition (2008), p. 9
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ (official Catholic tract declared free from error by a book censor and approved by a bishop.) Quote: "The Bible mentions at least one form of contraception specifically and condemns it. Coitus interruptus, was used by Onan to avoid fulfilling his duty according to the ancient Jewish law of fathering children for one’s dead brother."
  50. ^
  51. ^ Confirmed by The Web Bible Encyclopedia at quote: "Some have mistakenly assumed that Onan's sin was masturbation. However, it seems clear that this is not the case. Onan was prematurely withdrawing from sexual intercourse with his new wife, Tamar. This is a form of birth control still practiced today (coitus interruptus)."
  52. ^ Church Father Epiphanius of Salamis agrees, according to
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^ The Ramik Report Memorandum of Law Literary Property Rights 1790 - 1915
  56. ^ General Conference Archives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  57. ^ Ellen G. White as a Writer: Part III - The Issue of Literary Borrowing
  58. ^ An Analysis of the Literary Dependency of Ellen White
  59. ^ Ellen G. White as a Writer: Case Studies in the Issue of Literary Borrowing
  60. ^ The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia
  61. ^
  62. ^ Also appears in Review article
  63. ^ See borrowing or plagiarism
  64. ^ Seventh Day Adventist Church Fundamental Beliefs
  65. ^
  66. ^

External links


  • Cult or Christian: Does Seventh-day Adventism Teach the Trinity?
  • Ellen White Exposed
  • exAdventist Outreach
  • Examination of Seventh-day Adventism & Ellen G. White
  • Truth or Fables


  • White Estate: Answers for the critics and criticisms
  • Examines the Critics Allegations
  • Free Ebook - Was Ellen White a Plagiarist?
  • Christian Media Ministry - Will Fults
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