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Ellen Gould Harmon White (1827-1915) is the most prolific, most published and most influential author amongst some thirteen million Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) currently distributed within 204 nations.1 White's literary career began in New England during the 1840s and endured into the second decade of the twentieth century, involving extended travels in the United States of America as well as in parts of Europe and Australasia.2
Early attempts at analysis of White's concepts and use of Scripture were hampered by the difficulty of achieving access to her entire corpus and the absence of adequate finding aids for her voluminous writings. Beyond individual attempts, the church has fostered effective indexing and to that end it has produced useful publications, especially in 1926, 1962-3, 1977 and 1992. It has also published illuminating compilations from White's writings and increasingly facilitated better access to her unpublished manuscripts and letters, especially since the 1940s.3Although the effects of these related initiatives have flowered with the advent of computer technology, analyses of White's perception and use of Scripture are still indicative rather than definitive.4 This paper seeks to build on existing studies of these related matters, offering examples of the type of development that characterised her thought during seven decades of prophetic ministry and citing illustrations of the variety of ways the Scriptures are treated within her writings.5 However, its ultimate purpose is to inform one facet of Seventh-day Adventist hermeneutics in ways that have significance within Western cultures early in the twenty-first century.
I. SOME ILLUSTRATIVE DILEMMAS
A theology student spends countless hours with the four Gospels establishing the order of the events in Christ's earthly life. In part, his method is to correct the Gospel harmonies available to him on the basis of the only source believed to be definitive, White's writings. Conclusions reached are recorded systematically with a mapping pen in the student's wide-margin Bible. While the effort is prodigious, one of its outcomes is a sense of chronological and sequential certainty for a couple of decades during the delivery of sermons and Bible studies. However, a simple comparison of The Spirit of Prophecy, II (1877), with The Desire of Ages (1898) shows that White adjusted her understanding of the order of events. This revision has the potential to influence applications made of biblical statements. For instance, the 1877 account when describing the experience of the disciples during a storm on Galilee states: "In their agony of fear they turn to him, remembering how he had once saved them in a like peril," pages 307-8. But if the "like peril" is in the future, it cannot be remembered. In other words, an altered sequence may invalidate an interpretation or necessitate the reinterpretation of comment made in an earlier piece of writing.6 Therefore, the core of the student's research project and the way it informed years of ministry are brought into serious question.
A biblical scholar concludes the Old Testament offers a "good" revelation of God that meets the needs of its time and place but the New Testament makes an even "better" disclosure, culminating as it does in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity. He discovers that a similar type of development is apparent in White's experience and writings. He illustrates this reality by noting the change in White's emphasis from the awesome "power" of Sinai to the winsome "goodness" of Calvary. The Adventist Review publishes an abbreviation of his research in a five-part series, an action that remains a point of concern for some earnest believers.7
A respected district pastor with an earned M.A. degree and a reputation for a constructive understanding of Scripture and history decides to offer a series of seminars on the twenty-seven Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. His most vigorous congregation, in a city approaching thirty thousand people, includes several congregants noted for their determination to monitor ministerial orthodoxy. They bring a number of White's books to church week by week and leaf through these volumes diligently during the pastor's presentations, preparing questions to pose as the pastor greets members in the foyer. With a sense of triumph, on the day the seminar focuses on "The Church," a member avers that the SDA church is "teaching heresy" because Fundamental 11 states that the church is the bride of Christ whereas White declares in The Great Controversy (pages 426-7) that "the people of God are said to be guests at the marriage supper" and therefore "they cannot be represented as the bride" of Christ.8
These dilemmas are cited from the experience of three ordained SDA ministers who are actively teaching and preaching in 2003.9 A survey of ministers might quickly multiply such illustrations, for they are frequent within the regional and the world church. More than that, the church's archival collections include abundant evidence that dilemmas of this type have surfaced within Sabbatarian Adventism repeatedly since its early decades, often creating career uncertainties even for well-known and respected leaders.10 This reality has helped to provide a rationale for heterodoxy and it has supplied grist for the mills of heresy. Also, it has helped fuel internal controversies and construct effective weapons for persons who criticise the church.11
Clearly, it is a matter of importance for the church to foster an adequate understanding of White's writings in general and their inspiration in particular. For pastors who face situations like those cited above, a doctrine of inspiration grounded in reality may be expected to facilitate more effective Bible study and preaching; it may support a sustainable application of White's counsels; and it may help to transmute divisive controversy into more effective relationships within the church and fuller cooperation in the church's mission to the world. However, while this paper acknowledges the importance of the doctrine of inspiration, it will only address that issue in an oblique fashion. Its purpose is to offer comment toward the development of a sustainable hermeneutic for Scripture in terms of White's writings.
II. ELLEN WHITE AND THE BIBLE
Most Seventh-day Adventists are well aware that White affirms Scripture as the church's only rule of faith and practice, the foundation of faith and the test of Christian experience.12 As she reflected on her role during the church's formative years, she indicated that often it was to confirm steps already taken on the basis of prayerful yet diligent Bible study. She also describes her ministry as a "lesser light" leading to the "greater light" of Scripture. 13 It is instructive to observe the way in which she refused to settle theological debates even when her legitimacy was, thereby, brought into serious question. Her lifelong attitude is well illustrated by the occasion in 1901when she quite bluntly counselled assembled leaders to lay her writings aside until they understood the Scriptures. 14
White is often described as a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. From the vantage point of nineteenth-century historians, this makes her one of a group of innovative people who account in part for clusters of thought identified as Mormon, Seventh-day Adventist, Christadelphian, Christian Science and Jehovah's Witness. 15 Of the founders of these religious bodies, White used Christian authors most extensively as background material for her writings. This fact, in addition to her Methodist upbringing, helps to make her more orthodox than the others, from the perspectives of historic Christianity. More than that, she pointed her spiritual descendants cogently toward an effective relationship with the Bible in a number of ways. This fact has tended over time to narrow the gap between Seventh-day Adventists and mainstream Christianity. 16 How, then, may White's perception and use of Scripture be described?
At the outset it is important to observe that White made a concerted attempt to understand, employ and apply the whole of Scripture. This reality alerts those who value her writings to the fact that she will lead their Bible study in directions quite different from those fostered by the founders of the other religious movements that arose in nineteenth-century America. Her persistence in encompassing the thought of the entire Bible is intimated visually by indices to her writings. For instance, seldom in a relative sense is a chapter in the SDA Bible Commentary devoid of citations to White's writings.
Further, White maintained for seven decades a focus on the apocalyptic literature of Scripture, demonstrating thereby both the promise and the problems of millenarian thought. Her experiences as a Millerite, as a "Shut Door" Sabbatarian Adventist, as an "open door" Adventist, as a pioneer of Health Reform and Righteousness by Faith, were impacted by the apocalypticism of Daniel and Revelation in particular. Even as there is a creative tension between the classic prophets of the Old Testament and those suffused with the characteristics of the apocalyptic mind, there is a tension in White's writings between the now and the not yet, occupation and imminence. This is a tension which must never be resolved if the Christian is to balance the teachings of Scripture. White's experience and diary-like comment on the relevant issues during the founding years and early maturity of Adventism illumine the past and offer instructive comment for the ongoing present. 17
Thirdly, White revealed during her ministry a growing interest in basic principles of exegetical Bible study. Exegesis requires attention to linguistic, syntactical and contextual considerations, openness to the illumination provided by historical and archaeological studies, recognition of the immediate life setting of the text under consideration and the relationships that exist between the various parts of the Bible, and so on. While White is not an academician in these respects, her writings demonstrate a genuine interest in Bible study that either takes account of or leaves room for exegetical endeavours. 18 Unlike some of her most ardent supporters at the present time, she welcomed translation initiatives that improved upon the delivery of God's Word through the King James Version.
A fourth consideration is the way in which major themes in White's literary endeavours led her to persistent Bible study. One of the best examples to note in this regard is the "Great Controversy" theme. Fortunately, the development of her writing on this concept is now well documented and widely understood. 19 Ten years after her introduction to the idea, she begins to express it in Spiritual Gifts (1858-1864), followed by four Spirit of Prophecy volumes (1870-1884), and five Conflict of the Ages tomes (1888-1917). While these books illustrate they do not encompass her engagement with the theme. Indeed, the controversy between Christ and His angels and Satan and his angels provides the most comprehensive framework for her entire corpus. Early Writings is probably the most accessible early expression of this strand within White's writings; it both illustrates the concept and resonates with the way New England's religious culture understood and applied the related insights of John Milton. She continues to explicate the theme throughout her life in the books mentioned above and in many others, especially Testimonies for the Church (1855-1909), Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing (1896) and Christ's Object Lessons (1900). This engagement continues in many of her five thousand periodical articles and in uncounted numbers of letters, manuscripts and oral discourses.
It is a mere twenty-five years since Adventists in the South Pacific Division started to hear about Walter Rea's research into the sources that White used so copiously in her extensive writings. Four years later, near the highest point of the intense controversy surrounding Rea's claims, no doubt motivated by a commendable desire to stabilise the understanding of the Australian church, an article was published suggesting that the literary relationship between White's writings and the work of other authors was in the order of 0.002 per cent. 20 The painstaking, four-volume study by Fred Veltman and suggested a figure 15,000 times higher may apply to fifteen randomly selected chapters of The Desire of Ages. In a public lecture during September 2002, Rea offered further evidence that the discovery of literary parallels is ongoing, significant and includes the content of such books as The Great Controversy. The debate over percentages will remain contentious until we examine candidly a range of models that take account of all the known evidence and foster sustainable configurations.
White states that "scenes," "views" and "representations" were disclosed to her mind in prophetic visions and dreams. Her son, William White, who more than any other person associated with her during her long literary career, described these experiences as "flashlight" or "panoramic" scenes. If her 1858 Great Controversy vision was like a two-hour video of the war between righteousness and sin, subsequently reinforced by flashbacks and similar experiences, there was every reason for her to explore and select from the multiple sources she used in writing on the Old Testament, New Testament, Christian and Adventist history. There was rationality in her reliance on literary assistants, advisers and editors in the initial process of preparing her writings for publication and in the subsequent revision of such works as the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy. When Bible and history teachers met with administrators during 1919, the recorded discussion makes it clear that such processes were remembered within the group quite adequately. However, obscurantist impulses were so apparent at the time that the records of the 1919 discussions were packaged, stored and lost to the memory even of the church's thought-leaders. So, during the next six decades, the entire Adventist community largely forgot the vibrant lessons offered by this aspect of its past. It moved White's writings away from their historic role toward making them the definitive and authoritative encyclopaedia of Adventist thought and practice as her authority in the church increased markedly after her death. Therefore, the church needed the factual disclosures of the 1970s and 1980s, even though these revelations seemed traumatic to some at the time. Because of the church's failure to remember the way the Lord had led and taught it during its past history, there was much for it to fear and it experienced great loss. 21
There remains a tendency amongst some Adventist apologists to continue to claim too much for White's writings, a fact that undermines her credibility. For instance, the McAdams study of sources for the John Huss chapter in The Great Controversy indicates that she followed known historians "page after page, leaving out much material, but using their sequence, some of their ideas, and often their words," even their "historical errors and moral exhortations."22 Such practice is consistent with the "divine video" understanding of White's experience which presented Huss as a man of God who stood for truth and righteousness. This visionary input may well have left White to determine a host of related matters: When and where did Huss live? What were the main events of his life? Who were his contemporaries? How was his witness received within his time and place? The common Adventist mistake when reading volumes like The Great Controversy was to think White was writing history. In actual fact she was interpreting history. The first is a human endeavour; the latter needs divine disclosure if it is to rise above the level of human analysis and offer a sustainable theology of human experience.
Such remarks are predicated on the belief that White's work has an inner consistency, whether she is interpreting Scripture, history or other matters. The overarching themes she treats disclose the essence of her unique advantage over other authors. However, we do her a great disservice when we hold her to ransom over mundane details. God gave us what we needed: a trail blazed by an intrepid explorer, for a journey during which we are sustained by His grace as we follow the Guidebook illumined by the Holy Spirit. God chose not to give us the equivalent of a paved and lighted freeway with controlled access to facilitate an unthinking glide into the Kingdom of Glory. Or, to change the metaphor, we should be grateful for a direction setting, panoramic vision of a vast landscape with evident landmarks rather than lamenting that we lack a contour map and a street directory. 23 Ours is a journey to be undertaken by faith, not by sight. Our decisions are to be made after considering the weight of evidence, not on the basis of 20/20 vision. We are to seek the level of Christian maturity intimated in Ephesians 4 and illustrated aptly by such authors as Kohlberg and Fowler. 24
The picture that emerges from these considerations is reinforced by reference to other areas of White's writings, including the theme of healthful living. The recent research of a Melbourne surgeon, Don McMahon, provides the church with another useful window into White's world with particular reference to her health counsels. A number of competent observers imply that McMahon's findings merit careful consideration. 25 McMahon's studies indicate that White's "what" and "why" health statements achieve about twice the credibility rating of the "what" and "why" health statements of her contemporaries. This is evidence that she received input from a Source far more reliable than Graham, Alcott, Jackson and Kellogg combined.26 Those who take her health counsels seriously are apt to live seven or more years longer than the general population.27 However, even as White's writings leave room for continued biblical enquiry, they leave room for the development of medical science on the bases of diligent observation and intentional research. Thus the health emphasis that she initiated now embraces scientific medicine and its advocates are able to hold their heads high in a world that is very different from that of her lifetime. 28 It is remarkable indeed that, according to McMahon's findings, her "health and medical statements" in books like Spiritual Gifts (1864) and The Ministry of Healing (1905) may merit about a seventy per cent credibility score amongst health professionals and that this score may even improve as medical research continues to develop.
The evidence that White's biblical and theological writings are related to the North American and Adventist cultures of her time is well documented. A similar clarity derives from the evidence that her historical writings are related to those of Protestant historians and that her health writings are related to those of American health reformers. William White notes that her literary dependence was especially significant in the general areas of prophetic and doctrinal exposition. 29 The reversionist response within Adventism has continuing problems with the recognition and application of such data. From a polar opposite position, the rejectionist response seeks resolution from acute cognitive dissonance by creating distance from the prophet and in some instances from the Adventist community. By contrast, the transformationist response accepts all the known data and searches for ways to be faithful to the entire body of evidence as conclusions are formed and applications are made. Only the latter pattern is sustainable and unifying.30
It may well be claimed that these remarks are theoretical. The next section will, therefore, seek to concretise them by noting examples of the way in which White related to biblical themes and employed specific Bible passages during her long literary career.
III. ELLEN WHITE, BIBLICAL THEMES AND SELECTED PASSAGES
Theology is literally word or discourse about God. 31 For about seven of Sabbatarian Adventism's founding years, White along with most other leaders and members denied saving truth about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. To declare that God had rejected the sinful world and that the time for the salvation of sinners was past meant that serious heresy was proclaimed. 32 The process whereby the church has dealt with this matter is instructive. In the early years, White's writings were edited to remove problematic expressions and ephemeral items were lost sight of as the movement developed. Thus, over time, relevant evidence became hard to access until effective archives were established throughout the Adventist world during the 1970s. Therefore, even a prominent author like Francis D. Nichol could expend great energy in denying the reality of the problem. 33 Since 1982 the church has placed this matter increasingly within a coherent framework. It is clear that God leads His people step by step; indeed, the orthodoxy of one period may become the heresy of the next and, contrariwise, the heresy of one era may develop into the orthodoxy of the next. White is emphatic that the Adventist movement has many, many lessons to unlearn as well as many things to learn. 34 Examples of the essential unlearning process are numerous from the 1840s to the present. For instance, Miller used fifteen evidences to identify 1844 as a prophetic date whereas in 2003 probably no informed Australian Adventist could conscientiously support fourteen of them. More than that, Miller was wrong about the event that he predicted would occur in 1844. Yet we firmly believe that God led Miller and his colleagues to proclaim an essential "present truth." Similarly, we are now able to demonstrate cogently that the evidence used by early Adventists to adduce the idea that the door of mercy closed in 1844 is invalid, but that the "Shut Door" teaching served an important purpose, holding the fledgling movement together while it established a membership base with more viable biblical and organisational foundations. 35
White's perception of "present truth' is a crucial consideration for those who would place such theological development within a sustainable and constructive context. God is infinite truth but human perceptions of truth are always partial. Therefore, within the Adventist community of faith, truth is well defined as "progressive." Our constant expectation is that "the Lord will send us increased truth." Conversely, it is a Satanic deception to conclude that "we have all the truth essential for us as a people." The faithfulness and zeal of our forebears are exemplary for us and we may well be judged and condemned if we do not "improve our light as they improved theirs." 36
Critics of White and the church are apt to hurl a host of colourful missiles in their attempt to demolish her credibility and that of the movement with which she sustained a symbiotic relationship. It has proved impossible to parry some of these missiles in the way Nichol and other apologists tried to do. Conversely, White's prophetic ministry is not imperilled by the actuality of such minor mistakes.37 Her understanding of the descent of the human race into iniquity is a case in point. Genesis 6 expresses this concept in unmistakable terms. White reaches into her culture and employs a nineteenth-century idea to illustrate antediluvian degeneracy. Her understanding of amalgamation, interpreted as the interbreeding of humans and animals, is clarified by Uriah Smith's Review and Herald defence of her statement. James White's action clinches the interpretation decisively: he republished Smith's apologetic in book form for wide distribution at Adventist camp meetings.38 From our vantage point it is evident that a minor flaw like White's adoption of such an idea does not militate against her credibility for those who have developed an adequate understanding of her inspiration. 39
Often the reader of White's writings is helped to understand their appropriate application by learning more about how she did her work. For instance, the theology student who sought to develop a definitive chronology of Christ's life (see page 2, above) needed to reshape his approach after reading a pamphlet from White Estate, "How The Desire of Ages Was Written." 40 This document and its exhibits make it apparent that White laid no claim to ultimate knowledge about matters such as the order of the events in Christ's earthly life. Rather, with the help of her staff, she used the best harmony that happened to be available to her at the time. More than that, she was open to consider insights from the people around her, such as those gleaned by her longest-serving literary assistant, Marian Davis, from attendance at classes in the Melbourne Bible School. White's Life of Christ project was located within responsible nineteenth-century Evangelical Christian thought in terms of the thirty known sources that she valued. The nature of the revision that White implemented for her writings is illustrated aptly by her response to 105 suggestions made by W.W. Prescott for the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy. In short, many of the conclusions reached by the theology student distorted the author's intent for her classic volume. The student's studies might have proceeded usefully had he read page 22 of The Desire of Ages as an indication of the book's theme: "to know God is to love Him." The book is a peerless production within Adventism because it is such a winsome invitation to develop a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
White's 1888 statement that the church is not the bride of Christ (see page 2, above) is only a problem if her subsequent statements are unheeded, declaring without reservation that the church is the bride of Christ. The concept of development within her understanding of Scripture illumines a host of apparent contradictions. Alden Thompson (as noted above) has identified and described a helpful example of the constructive development that characterises her thought. Rolf Poehler provides a comprehensive framework for understanding continuity and change in Christian doctrine, Adventist heritage and White's thought.41 Fritz Guy offers ""how to" ideas that will help the church rise above controversy and develop a constructive future.42 Therefore, instead of being threatened by the reality of doctrinal development that is evident in White's personal experience and writings, Adventist pastors should enable their members to understand and rejoice that God leads errant human beings (including prophets) toward the increasing light of His perfect day.
Due to limitations of space, we shall notice only three further illustrations of the way in which White related to important biblical concepts over time: "the daily," "the schoolmaster" and "the holiest." Each of these expressions might be interpreted fruitfully in the light of decades of discussion within the church, but we must focus upon them chiefly in terms of White's perspectives.
Daniel 8:13 and its reference to "the daily" was an important theme within Millerism before it became a staple in Sabbatarian Adventism. Linked with "the transgression of desolation" and the treading under foot of "the sanctuary and the host," the daily has demonstrated a potential to both engage constructive dialogue and create divisive controversy. Was it to be interpreted in terms of "sacrifice," the supplied word in the King James Version? Was the attack upon the sanctuary by paganism in its Babylonian, Greek or Roman manifestations? Or was the attack by apostate Christianity, as in the papacy? Or was the attack by another non-Christian religion, Islam? More than such considerations, it was important to ask if the sanctuary under discussion was a Jewish temple on earth or the "true tabernacle" in heaven. Once the relations between the daily, "the little horn" and "the king of the north" were included in the discussion, the potential for controversy was intensified. Adventist heritage collections preserve accounts of debates point by point in books, periodicals, document files and microform materials. Some of these controversies persisted for decades, often subsumed under titles (like "The Eastern Question") that have long since lost their earlier intensity. 43
In the post-1844 years White supported the concepts of Owen Crosier and his colleagues as they began to move away from those who interpreted the daily as paganism. During the controversy of 1850, White saw a need to divert the Sabbatarians from an interest in a physical return to a literal Jerusalem that was associated with continued date setting. Therefore she returned to the Millerite concept as "the correct view" of the daily. This support, remembered and interpreted as affirming that the daily should be understood as paganism, seemed to locate White at variance with the "new" view that was becoming popular fifty years later. Early in the twentieth century the church found itself in quite a different situation with thought-leaders like L.R. Conradi and W.W. Prescott better able to research both history and Scripture. Some observers came to believe that White was reversing her earlier position by being open to the new view. This perception raised deep concern about her prophetic reliability and even the integrity of Adventism. However, after the passing of another century the entire issue is much clearer and can be discussed without fear or rancour. 44
In the 1840s White fostered a view that was embryonic at the time yet was moving in a direction that would in the longer term prove the most fruitful because it better apprehended the ministry of Jesus Christ. In the 1850s she seemed to revert to the Millerite position in order to steer the young Sabbatarian movement away from a destructive heresy. In the early 1900s she was open to a more inclusive attempt to exegete the Bible, understand history and emphasise the Christ-centred nature of the biblical revelation. In no case did she present her writings as the final authority in the matters of biblical interpretation that were in focus. Always her counsel sought to limit destructive controversy by helping to envision and implement a present that could develop a productive future for the Advent movement. 45
In Galatians 3, the Apostle Paul presents the law as "our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." The Adventist discussion over whether this law is ceremonial or moral has simmered for much of the history of the movement. Like Mount Vesuvius it has proved able to erupt with destructive force, as it did in the context of the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888. Once again White's relation to the issue is instructive. For a time she had seemed to support the concept that Paul's opposition to law should be understood as directed against the ceremonial law. That position enabled a fitting apologetic for the perpetuity of the moral law and hence the continuing significance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. At a later time, when the identity and continuance of the Sabbath were well established, the burning issue in focus was the problem of the misuse of law by legalistic thought and behaviour. The perception that White had altered her understanding of the schoolmaster raised distress amongst Adventist literalists, some of whom feared that to identify the schoolmaster as the moral law may imperil the Sabbath and also destroy White's prophetic authority. Others were unpleased that White chose to embrace both the ceremonial law and the moral law within the schoolmaster concept. Reversionist concern and rejectionist criticism of White's stances on the schoolmaster are not well founded when they are viewed in the light of varying historical contexts or in the glare of present research.46
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle is intent on showing Jewish Christians that Jesus Christ is a better high priest offering ministering in a better sanctuary offering a better sacrifice. The reading of such passages as Hebrews 6:19 and 20 and 10:19-22 has tended to raise concerns for believers ever since Crosier sought to distinguish a daily atonement for the forgiveness of sins and a yearly atonement for the blotting out of sins. In 1844 Hebrews created a landmark for Sabbatarian Adventists as they began to focus on Christ as minister of "the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched." But for some believers, Hebrews seemed to erode the very landmark that it helped to create, by implying that Jesus at His ascension entered "within the veil," indeed "into heaven itself" to appear there "in the presence of God for us." How could it be that even New Testament Christians may have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus"?
Once again White's writings offer enormous help to the Advent Movement on this matter. She affirms the stances of Crosier and Edson in the 1840s, but she moves far beyond both of them in later decades. We can now discern more clearly that Crosier and Edson led the young movement in the right direction, they did not arrive at the ultimate destination of consummate understanding. Even the "Shut Door" concept embodied a "present truth," despite its biblical inadequacy. James White and Uriah Smith continued the Adventist journey, as did major doctrinal statements of the 1870s, 1890s and 1930s. Fundamental 23 adopted in May of 1980 formed a new and important climax in a long process but even its refined understanding was not the church's last word. In August of the same year, at the largest-ever assemblage of Adventist thought-leaders convened for study of the sanctuary doctrine, the conferees probably came closer to agreement with the biblical data than any other Adventist assembly had been able to do up to that point. Thousands of pages of documents indicate that since that time the process of constructive development has continued as Adventists have diligently studied their Bibles. Consequently, in hindsight, White's potential as a coalescing agent within Adventism can be discerned with increasing clarity. The sincerity of those who have used her writings as a centrifugal force may be such as to merit deep respect, but both the hermeneutical evidence now available and the historical results that can be documented call loudly for continuing change in attitude and practice.
How can such matters be understood coherently? A cluster of considerations must be noted. The maturation of biblical understanding within Adventism had been enhanced by the production of the SDA Bible Commentary and other factors. The experiences and the studies of the 1950s moved some believers toward a more sustainable view of the biblical doctrine of judgment. The concept of theodicy, so deeply imbedded in the Book of Daniel, was emerging into a matter of importance, enhanced by linguistic and other aspects of biblical studies. The implications of the doctrine of Righteousness by Faith were being integrated more effectively into the church's thinking. There was a perceived need to redefine the church's understanding of White's writings in relation to Scripture, following the effervescent discussions of the 1970s.
This latter need was achieved in principle by a short statement voted during August 1980 but the component ideas were not spelled out clearly until1982 and 1983. At last the church was readied to read Hebrews without threat to its faith and to appreciate more fully White's historical reviews of the sanctuary doctrine, her experiential reflections on its process and her intimations of what Calvary meant in terms of the Letter to the Hebrews. 47 A landmark statement of "affirmations and denials" was formed, discussed, amended and published during 1982 and 1983. Welcomed by some church members, its import was little understood by the majority. Therefore, its essence merits restatement at this point.
The single-page statement was read and commented upon by more thought-leaders worldwide before its final publication than most other documents in the history of the denomination. This reality means it has less authority than a statement voted at a General Conference Session but it has greater credence than most other articles in such centrist publications as Adventist Review, Ministry and Record. 48 The document lists ten affirmations, the first four of them relating to Scripture as divinely revealed and inspired in a canon of 66 books that provide "the foundation of faith and the final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice," constituting "the Word of God in human language." The next three statements affirm that "the gift of prophecy will be manifest in the Christian church after New Testament times," that "the ministry and writings of Ellen White were a manifestation of the gift of prophecy" and that, as the product of inspiration, they "are applicable and authoritative especially to Seventh-day Adventists." Affirmation number eight focuses on the purpose of White's writings as including "guidance in understanding the teaching of Scripture and application of these teachings, with prophetic urgency, to the spiritual and moral life." The final two affirmations emphasise the importance White has for the nurture and unity of the church, and they emphasise that her "use of literary sources and assistants finds parallels in some of the writings of the Bible."
These affirmations are followed by ten important denials, as follows:
These affirmations and denials were intended to foster "a correct understanding of the inspiration and authority of the writings of Ellen White" and, therefore, to avoid two extremes: first, "regarding these writings as functioning on a canonical level identical with Scripture" or, secondly, "considering them as ordinary Christian literature." These 1982 statements form the parameters within which this paper seeks to examine and interpret the studies of White's writings undertaken within the church during the past three decades.
In an attempt to summarise the implications of this section, two oral statements White made before important church assemblies seem to epitomise her life-long intent. Amidst the turmoil of Minneapolis she stood tall and enjoined warring Adventists to solve their destructive debate by a deeper study of the Word of God.49 In the charged climate of the 1901 General Conference she pointedly called for her writings to be laid aside in favour of the Scriptures—the precious source of truth she so often challenges her readers to duly search, rightly understand and faithfully apply.50 Such counsels focus attention upon the crucial question, How should responsible Seventh-day Adventists envision from her writings a viable hermeneutic for Scripture in Century 21?
Although this section of the paper needs a book-length treatment, it must be profiled in a few words, much like an artist may try to depict an event or narrate a story with a few strokes. The questions are several yet closely related. What perceptions did White have of the Bible and its study? What example does she model and what counsel does she offer Adventists toward the development of a viable hermeneutic? How does she enjoin the application and outcomes of Bible study? Such an exploration might well begin with the 1962-3 indices by looking up three expressions: Bible, Scripture and Word of God. 51 That exercise will lead to fifty pages listing several thousand references; the scanning of these will yield key words that can be tested and extended with the help of subsequent printed indices and used in a more comprehensive computer-assisted exploration. For convenience, a number of words and phrases that will especially reward a computer search will be presented below in italics. Effective packaging for this vast body of material may include headings such as the following.
Orientation: reverence in the presence of Scripture. The attitudes and presuppositions of the Bible student are crucial. The sacred or holy Word of the living God is to be approached with awe, reverence and the attitudes of "a learner in the school of Christ." The student may be confident in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, diligent effort is indicated, along with awareness that the mine of truth can never be exhausted. 52
The human interpreter: responsible but limited. Every rational being is responsible for learning the truth from the Scriptures, for exemplifying it and sharing it with others. Yet, because of the scope of the task, the conclusions of any one person are unlikely to convey the fullness of truth. Therefore, the task is best pursued within a community of faith. Disagreements are likely but should be checked by grace and humility as well as by continuing efforts to understand "the truth as it is in Jesus." Strong convictions may be a result of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and as such are to be respected as essential in the experience of Christians. 53
Process and method: respecting text, canon and historical context. The recovery of the authentic text of the Bible and its accurate translation lays a foundation for understanding the Word of God effectively. Linguistic information is useful in this regard. The Bible is its own expositor, so it is fruitful to compare Scripture with Scripture. The recovery of the life setting of any given text may be instructive and may be assisted by reference to the biblical writer, his experience and circumstances as the well as local customs and practices. White's practice demonstrates that it is legitimate to read widely in books about the Bible and to seek to understand the way any given text has been interpreted and applied elsewhere in Scripture as well as in Christian experience and Adventist history. It is likewise fruitful to use White's writings as a lesser light leading to the greater light of Scripture. 54
Theme and purpose: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and salvation. The Old Testament (624) whether it treats history (3,606), precept (1,516) or prophecy (1,992), is irradiated (33) with the glory of Christ (69,227) Jesus (37,038) The New Testament (450) has the same grand (1,403) theme (629). Scripture (1,942) discloses God's (133,323) original (642) purpose (6,514) for this earth (16,508), it describes the origin and development of the great controversy (960) and it profiles the work of redemption (2,742). Every theme in the Bible (8,492) clusters around the plan of salvation (10,090).55
Outcomes and effects: the application of Bible study for the individual, the church and the world. Bible study is to find application in the individual life, in the community of faith and in the church's mission for the world. God's Word received into the soul shapes thought and develops character. Truths learned are to be applied in daily experience. Every dimension of church life is to be guided by Scripture. The truth of the Bible is a trust from God.56 A typical example of White's perception of Scripture exemplifies the mood of many expressions:
The extensive body of material so fleetingly reviewed in this section portrays White as one who stimulates biblical enquiry rather than circumventing it on the basis of superior understanding or prophetic authority. An assumption that guided in the production of the SDA Bible Commentary, that no comment should be seen to challenge any statement by White, is inappropriate as a rubric under which to conduct biblical enquiry in the twenty-first century, not least because of the new circumstances into which the church has been thrust. 58 More than that, it is useful to understand the Gestalt within which White wrote, for the symbiotic relationship she sustained with the Seventh-day Adventist community of faith deeply influenced her counsel and hence the specific applications that she made of Scripture. It is as perilous to claim adequacy for the pious but uninformed studies of the theology student as it is to follow the approach of the earnest congregants (see page 2). One of the most cogent expressions of the doctrine of inspiration applicable to White's corpus as well as the biblical canon has been on the church's corporate desk for over a decade. 59 Therefore, the church needs to take seriously its opportunity to offer effective pastoral care, shepherding wisely that majority of its members who are unlikely to perceive adequately the dynamic nature of the development evident in White's writings or to understand unaided the historical context that may illumine any given statement. 60 The responsibility to offer balanced pastoral leadership is enlarged by the fact that most Adventist members do not have access to the full range of thought represented in White's voluminous literary output, so their anxieties and their criticisms will often be nourished by inadequate information. One of the hopeful indicators that the church may experience enhanced unity, a clearer focus on its identity and a greater commitment to its mission in the near future is the present opportunity to implement comprehensively the South Pacific Division strategy document (1999) with reference to White's writings.