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How Church Liberals Undermine the Bible--Part 1 PDF  | Print |  E-mail


(The Use of Higher Criticism to Interpret the Bible)
[Excerpted from the author’s Must We Be Silent?]
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D.
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference


    There is a bug in Seventh-day Adventist hermeneutic [method of biblical interpretation], a deadly virus attacking the church’s approach to Scriptures. This bug threatens the church’s message and mission. The good news is that, as a result of the heated discussions on homosexuality, women’s ordination, divorce and remarriage, and contemporary worship styles, ordinary church members are becoming aware of this problem. The bad news is that some of the experts and leaders of the church who are supposed to fix the problem are pretending that the problem is not real.

    This chapter identifies the hermeneutical bug, arguing that the on-going crisis within contemporary Adventism arises from the attempts by some to employ modified aspects of liberalism’s higher criticism. The chapter also summarizes how this cold-war over the Bible has been waged in our church during the past decade.

    The Cold War in the Church: 1990-2000

    For almost 30 years now, a cold war has been waged in the Seventh-day Adventist church over the nature of the Bible’s inspiration, trustworthiness, and interpretation. This crisis over the Bible has divided our church scholars into liberal and conservative factions. The liberals believe that, in the study of the Scriptures, Adventists can legitimately employ the method of higher criticism without its anti-supernaturalistic assumptions. The conservatives disagree, arguing that the method cannot be isolated from its basic assumptions, and that the use of the method ultimately leads to a rejection of basic biblical teachings.

    In the 1980s, following years of internal debate over the Bible, the Seventh-day Adventist church expressed its official position in two carefully worded documents, both of which express a high view of Scripture. The first is our Fundamental Belief #1 (1980):

The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.

     The second church document sets forth the hermeneutical presuppositions, principles, and methods that are to govern its members’ approach to Scripture. Approved at the 1986 Annual Council of church leaders, held in Rio de Janeiro the "Methods of Bible Study” document (or the "Rio Document,” as it is popularly referred to) is "addressed to all members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with the purpose of providing guidelines on how to study the Bible, both the trained biblical scholar and others.” Among other things, the church rejects "even a modified use” of the historical-critical method as inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture itself. [1]    

    These two works—Fundamental Belief #1 and “Methods of Bible Study”— became the basis of the exposition found in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (1988). [2]

    But in spite of the overwhelming support of the church’s position by members around the world, certain segments of Adventist scholarship have never fully accepted the church’s view. They continue to argue that (1) some parts of the Bible are more inspired than others, (2) there are inconsistencies, discrepancies, contradictions, or inaccuracies in Scripture, (3) the Bible contains “factual mistakes” or “factual errors”and, therefore, it is not always accurate in its historical and scientific details, and that (4) some teachings of the Bible are "culturally conditioned,” that is, they suffer from the cultural limitations, prejudice, and ignorance of the Bible writers.

    These assertions grow out of liberalism’s higher criticism (the so-called historical-critical method). Because they undermine the authority of the Bible and threaten the church’s message and mission, Bible-believing Adventists throughout their history have always rejected these positions. [3] However, during the past decade moderate liberals have attempted to domesticate these aberrant views in the church by employing some of our leading denominational publishing houses and publications.

    The Debate in the Early 1990s. As a result of the attempt to challenge the church’s established position, the 1990s witnessed a renewed debate within our ranks over what the church’s understanding ought to be on the Scriptures. The debate was intensified by the publication of the controversial Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers (1991). [4] Apart from its use of the historical-critical method, Inspiration was controversial because the method led the book’s author to question some longstanding Seventh-day Adventist teachings.

    For example, among other things, the author of Inspiration (a) makes a dichotomy between saving acts and factual statements, so that in scriptural accounts some things are “essential” and others are “debatable”; (b) rejects the Bible’s claim that the original sanctuary in the wilderness was constructed as a copy of the heavenly (Ex 25:40), suggesting that the idea was borrowed from surrounding Canaanites; (c) claims that when the book of Hebrews referred to the “heavenly” sanctuary, the reference should be understood in terms of Platonic dualism; (d) accepts the miracle of the Exodus but maintains that the exact “number of people involved in the Exodus is not that crucial”; (e) acknowledges a miraculous flood in Noah’s day but holds that the biblical flood was “less than [a] universal event”; (f) believes in biblical history and yet argues that information on numbers, genealogies, and dates may have been “distorted.” [5]

    Despite the book’s troubling conclusions, Inspiration was endorsed by certain thought leaders and has been widely promoted in some quarters of the church. [6] This book has also become the hermeneutical compass for church scholars who have uncritically embraced the assumptions of moderate liberalism or who want to marry the church’s high view of Scripture with the methodology of higher criticism.

    However, church scholars who understood the full theological and hermeneutical implications of the book raised some serious concerns. [7] The most detailed response to Inspiration was provided by eight well-known scholars in their book Issues in Revelation and Inspiration (1992). [8] In the assessment of these church scholars, the earlier book Inspiration evidenced an uncritical reliance on liberalism’s historical-critical method[9] and a serious lack of understanding of the crucial theological issues involved in the doctrine of Scripture. [10]

    In any case, these two works–-Inspiration and Issues in Revelation and Inspiration–-were influential in bringing the scholarly debate on the Bible from the scholarly arena into the churchly domain. During the first half of the 1990s, opinions in the church divided along the views expressed in those works.

    Developments in the Late 1990s. The second half of the 1990s witnessed an escalation in the cold war over the Bible. As noted by a perceptive church historian and theologian, two works came to represent “the two main conflicting poles around which gravitate[d] the contemporary discussions on inspiration” during this period. [11] They were Receiving the Word (1996) [12] and Reading Ellen White (1997). [13]

    The impetus for this round of debate was the book Receiving the Word (1996). In addition to challenging the method of moderate liberalism, this work also documented how the use of contemporary higher criticism (the historical-critical method) was undermining key Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and practices.

    Reactions to Receiving the Word were predictable, tending to follow those manifested towards Inspiration and Issues in Revelation and Inspiration. Generally, scholars who embrace the church’s official positions were very supportive of the book. [14] But others with a different hermeneutical temperament denounced the book. [15]

    As noted in the previous chapter, because Receiving the Word attempted to uplift the trustworthiness of Scripture by demonstrating that many of the Bible’s alleged errors, mistakes, or contradictions are the result of our failure to understand its true meaning, [16] some of the book’s critics mistakenly suggested that Receiving the Word teaches fundamentalism’s “inerrancy and verbalism,” popular expressions often used to suggest a mechanical or verbal dictation view of Scripture. [17]

    Though lacking any factual basis, the critics of Receiving the Word employed the terms “fundamentalism and “verbal inspiration” as rhetorical decoys by to divert attention from the attempts by certain church scholars to deny the Bible’s full inspiration, complete reliability in history and science, and internal consistency. [18]

    One such scholar, who had earlier endorsed the controversial book Inspiration, set forth his own view in his book Reading Ellen White (1997). [19] There is much to be appreciated in this author’s book. A careful reading of this work, however, shows that while purporting to describe Ellen White’s understanding of the Scripture’s inspiration, the author injected his own views into what he claims was Mrs. White’s position on the Bible. Unfortunately, not everyone who reads Reading Ellen White will readily discern where Sister White’s views on the Bible leave off and the book’s author’s begin.

    For instance, when the author of Reading Ellen White argued that “inspiration is not infallible, inerrant, or verbal,” he set up a straw man, a false dilemma, by implying that one must choose between two mistaken notions on the Bible: (1) the erroneous belief that the Bible was the product of a verbal word for word dictation (which he rejects), and (2) a defective view of inspiration which allows for historical and scientific mistakes in the Bible (which he proposes).

    The author of Reading Ellen White was correct in asserting that the historic Adventist position, including that of Ellen G. White, has always been to reject verbal inspiration, understood to mean a mechanical dictation inspiration, in which the Bible writers functioned as passive secretaries to transcribe what the Holy Spirit dictated to them. [20] As long as we use the term verbal inspiration and explain to our audience that by it we are referring to mechanical (dictation) inspiration, there is no problem with such a usage. And we can affirm that Adventists, including Ellen G. White, do not believe in verbal inspiration. [21]

    But while the author of Reading Ellen White correctly rejected “verbal inspiration” (understood as mechanical dictation), he proceeded to argue (erroneously) that since God did not dictate Scriptures to the Bible writers, the words of the inspired writers cannot always convey God’s message in a trustworthy manner. For him, the Bible is not fully trustworthy in the realms of science and history; it merely contains “a great deal of accuracy.” [22]

    In other words, he went beyond discrediting mechanical-dictation theory of inspiration when he suggested that there are factual mistakes in inspired writings, and that those writings are infallible only “as a guide to salvation”---not necessarily infallible in the areas of history or science. [23]

    In making this assertion, the author of Reading Ellen White was simply re-echoing his earlier attempt in 1993 to make Ellen White a party to his own “moderate stance on inspiration” which he also terms a “common-sense flexibility on inspiration.” Without any shred of support from Ellen White and contrary to what she unambiguously asserted in several places in her works, this scholar popularized the revisionist reinterpretation of Ellen White’s position. He wrote: “The Bible, she held, was infallible in the realm of salvation, but it was not infallible or inerrant in the radical sense of being beyond any possibility of factual difficulties or errors.” [24]

    But is it true that Sister White believed in the possibility of factual errors in Scripture, as claimed by the author of Reading Ellen White? [25] A careful study of Ellen White’s writings will show that while she acknowledged the possibility of copyist and translational errors, she did not teach that there were factual mistakes (e.g., errors in history and science) traceable to the Bible writers themselves. Mrs. White wrote:

Some look to us gravely and say, ‘Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators [of the Bible]?’ This is all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God. Yes, they would just as easily stumble over plain facts that the common mind will accept, and discern the Divine, and to which God’s utterance is plain and beautiful, full of marrow and fatness. All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth (Selected Messages, 1:16, emphasis supplied).

    Ellen G. White’s recognition of copyist and translator errors in the Scriptures should not be misconstrued to mean the existence in the Bible of factual errors in history, science, geography, etc. To make this kind of claim is to woefully misunderstand, if not completely misrepresent, Mrs. White’s position on the trustworthiness of Scripture.

    Also, Mrs. White’s rejection of a “mechanical/dictation” theory of inspiration should not be interpreted to mean that Scripture is not trustworthy in some of its historical or scientific assertions. She acknowledged that in the giving of the Bible to human beings, God did not communicate in a “grand superhuman language.” Instead He enabled the Bible writers to use “imperfect” human language to communicate divine truths. Yet, she never suggested that the truthfulness of Scripture was compromised when the writers embodied “infinite ideas” in “finite vehicles of thought.” [26]

    Contrary to the claims in Reading Ellen White, Sister White never drove a wedge between biblical statements of salvation (deemed to be infallible) and other statements (believed to be riddled with “possible factual difficulties or errors”). She held that God’s Word was “infallible,” and should be accepted “as it reads” (Review and Herald, February 11, 1896; cf. The Great Controversy, vii; cf. 68, 102) and as “the only sufficient, infallible rule” (ibid., 173; cf. 89, 177, 238).

    For Ellen White, Scripture shares in the infallibility of God. “God and heaven alone are infallible” (Selected Messages, 1:37; cf. Testimonies to Ministers, 30, 105). “Man is fallible, but God’s Word is infallible” (Selected Messages, 1:416). She repeatedly argued for the trustworthiness of Scripture in all that it teaches and touches upon–whether in the realm of salvation or in the sphere of history, science, etc. She left no doubt that the Bible is “an unerring counselor and infallible guide,” the “perfect guide under all circumstances of life”; “an unerring guide,” “the one unerring guide,” “the unerring standard,” “an unerring light,” “that unerring test,” and “the unerring counsel of God.” [27]

    Against those who questioned the historical reliability of Scripture, she asserted that because the Holy Spirit “guided the pens of the sacred historians” (Gospel Workers, 286), biblical history is truthful, authentic, and reliable (Fundamentals of Christian Education, 84-85; Testimonies for the Church, 4:9-10). The accounts in the Bible are “unsullied by human pride or prejudice” (Education, 173); Patriarchs and Prophets, 596; Testimonies for the Church, 5:25). “The unerring pen of inspiration” traces biblical history with “exact fidelity” (ibid., 4:370). The Bible is equally trustworthy even in its statements having to do with scientific issues–e.g., questions about origins and geology (Education, 128-130).

    Summarizing his findings from an extensive study of Ellen’s White’s writings, one careful Adventist professor of church history and historical theology wrote: “Although Ellen White recognized the existence of transmission errors and difficulties in Scripture, I have been unable to find any instance in which she mentioned specific factual errors in Scripture. As silent as the writers of the New Testament had been in pointing out factual errors in the Old Testament, so was Ellen White in regard to the total canon.” [28]

[Continue with Part 2]



[1]    At the 1986 Annual Council meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, church leaders representing all the world fields of the Seventh-day Adventist church approved the report of the General Conference’s "Methods of Bible Study Committee as representative of the church’s hermeneutical position. This document was published in the Adventist Review, January 22, 1977, pages 18-20, and reproduced as Appendix C in my Receiving the Word, 355-362. Generally, loyal Adventists embrace the 1986 "Methods of Bible Study” document as reflective of the principles of interpretation that have been accepted historically by Adventists. For a discussion of how Adventist scholars have reacted to the "Methods of Bible Study” document, see my Receiving the Word, 75-99.

[2]    Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (Washington, DC: Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), 4-15. Produced by some 194 Seventh-day Adventist thought leaders around the world, this "carefully researched” volume is to be received "as representative of . . . [what] Seventh-day Adventists around the globe cherish and proclaim,” and as furnishing "reliable information on the beliefs of our [SDA] church” (ibid., vii, iv, v).

[3]    The most detailed discussion of Seventh-day Adventist views on the nature and authority of the Bible can be found in Alberto R. Timm’s “A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844-2000),” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 10/1-2 (1999): 486-542. For a brief history of Adventist hermeneutics, see C. Mervyn Maxwell, “A Brief History of Adventist Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 4/2 (1993): 209-226; Don F. Neufeld, “Biblical Interpretation in the Advent Movement,” in Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics, ed. Gordon Hyde (Washington, DC: Biblical Research Institute, 1974), 109-125; George Reid, “Another Look At Adventist Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 2/1 (1991): 69-76; cf. Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books, 1996), 75-99.

[4]    Alden Thompson, Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1991). Thompson is a professor of biblical studies at an Adventist college in the United States.

[5]    Thompson, Inspiration, 248, 202, 222, 247, 248, 229, 214-236.

[6]    Besides George R. Knight, J. David Neuman, and Ralph Neall, whose endorsements appear on the back jacket of Alden Thompson’s Inspiration, other scholars who recommended the book include Gosnell L. O. R. Yorke (in his review of the book in Ministry, December 1991, 28) and Gerhard van Wyk (in his “A Practical Theological Perspective on Adventist Theology and Contextualisation,” Journal of Adventist Thought in Africa 1/1 [November 1995]:132-149). Evidence of the book’s continued appeal in certain quarters of Adventism is indicated by the fact that in 1998 Inspiration was translated into German.

[7]    See, for example, Norman R. Gulley’s review in Ministry, December 1991, 28-30; cf. Peter van Bemmelen’s review in College and University Dialogue 3/3 (1991): 27-28; Fernando Canale’s review in Andrews University Seminary Studies 29 (Autumn 1991): 278-279; Robert K. McIver, “The Historical-Critical Method: The Adventist Debate,” Ministry, March 1996, 15.

[8]    Frank Holbrook and Leo van Dolson, eds., Issues in Revelation and Inspiration, Adventist Theological Society Occasional Papers vol. 1 (Berrien Springs, MI: Adventist Theological Society, 1992). The book contains articles by Raoul Dederen (two), Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Norman R. Gulley, Richard A. Davidson, Gerhard F. Hasel, Randall W. Younker, Frank M. Hasel, and Miroslav Kis. Summing up the consensus of the above writers in their rejection of Inspiration’s conclusions, the editors of the Adventist Theological Society book point out in their Preface that Inspiration evidences “the fruits of the historical-critical method,” a method that the 1986 Annual Council rejected as “unacceptable” for Adventists (Holbrook and Dolson, “Preface,” Issues in Revelation and Inspiration, 7). Issues in Revelation and Inspiration has recently been translated into German, Offenbarung und Inspiration (2000) by the Adventist Theological Society, Haydnstr. 10, D-35075 Gladenback.

[9]    Cf. Richard M. Davidson, “Revelation/Inspiration in the Old Testament: A Critique of Alden Thompson’s ‘Incarnational’ Model,” in Issues in Revelation and Inspiration, 105-135; Gerhard F. Hasel, “Reflections on Alden Thompson’s ‘Law Pyramid within a Casebook/Codebook Dichotomy,” in ibid., 137-171; Randall W. Younker, “A Few Thoughts on Alden Thompson’s Chapter: Numbers, Genealogies, Dates,” in ibid., 173-199.

[10]    See especially Raoul Dederen’s two articles in Issues in Revelation and Inspiration: “The Revelation-Inspiration Phenomenon according to the Bible Writers,” and “On Inspiration and Biblical Authority,” 9-29, and 91-103; cf. Frank M. Hasel, “Reflections on the Authority and Trustworthiness of Scripture, in ibid., 201-220; Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, “An Analysis and Evaluation of Alden Thompson’s Casebook/Codebook Approach to the Bible,” in ibid., 31-67.

[11]    Alberto Timm, “A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844-2000),” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 10/1&2 (Spring-Autumn, 1999): 535.

[12]    Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books) 1996.

[13]    George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White: How to Understand and Apply Her Writings (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1997).

[14]    Besides the favorable review of the book by the Director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference, George W. Reid, in Ministry, December 1997, 30-31, Receiving the Word was also endorsed by the following prominent thought leaders of the church: Norman R. Gulley, Paul Gordon, Raoul Dederen, Clifford Goldstein, Alberto R. Timm, William H. Shea, Keith Burton, C. Raymond Holmes, Artur A. Stele, and Randall W. Younker.

[15]    George R. Knight, “Review of Receiving the Word,” in Ministry, December 1997, 30; cf. his, “The Case of the Overlooked Postscript: A Footnote on Inspiration,” Ministry August 1997. See also Charles Scriven, “Embracing the Spirit,” Spectrum 26 (September 1997): 28-37; Norman H. Young, “‘Moderate Liberalism’ Threatens Adventism,” Spectrum 26 (May 1997): 49-50; cf. Timothy E. Crosby, “The Bible: Inspiration and Authority,” Ministry, May 1998, 18-20; Robert M. Johnston, “The Case for a Balanced Hermeneutic,” Ministry, March 1999, 10-12.

[16]    See Receiving the Word, 279-304.

[17]    See, especially, Charles Scriven, “Embracing the Spirit,” Spectrum 26 (September 1997): 28-37; George R. Knight, “Review of Receiving the Word,” in Ministry, December 1997, 30; cf. his “The Case of the Overlooked Postscript: A Footnote on Inspiration,” Ministry, August 1997; Norman H. Young, “‘Moderate Liberalism’ Threatens Adventism,” Spectrum 26 (May 1997): 49-50.

[18]    Notice that in the doctrine of Scripture the expression “verbal inspiration” is a technical theological phrase that means different things to different people. Used negatively, it means “verbal mechanical or dictation inspiration.” Positively, it refers to a “verbal plenary inspiration,” a view which maintains that even though the Holy Spirit did not dictate the words of Scripture (as, for instance, a man would dictate to a stenographer), He nonetheless guided the Bible writers in their choice of words. While rejecting mechanical/dictation inspiration, to preserve the truth that the Holy Spirit guided the Bible writers in the choice of their words, I employed the clumsy phrase “verbal propositional inspiration” in my book Receiving the Word. On one hand, when inspiration is described as “propositional,” it suggests (contrary to neo-orthodox views) that God actually communicated information to the recipients of divine revelation. On the other hand, when I describe inspiration as “verbal” I argue that despite the inadequacies of human language, because of the Spirit’s guidance, the thoughts, ideas, and words of the Bible writers accurately convey God’s message revealed to them (see 368). Apparently misunderstanding my phrase “verbal (propositional) inspiration,” and most likely believing that the Bible contains some historical and scientific inaccuracies, George Knight has mistakenly claimed that Receiving the Word teaches mechanical (dictation) inspiration (see, his review in Ministry, December 1997,:30; cf. his “The Case of the Overlooked Postscript,” 9-11). Note, however, that in the two places I employed the expression “verbal (propositional) inspiration,” I was always careful to add that this expression should not be confused with mechanical (dictation) inspiration, a mistaken theory which claims that the Holy Spirit dictated each single world of Scripture (see Receiving the Word, 51, 265), and a view in which the Bible writers are perceived as passive junior secretaries who merely transcribed what the Holy Spirit dictated to them (ibid., 366-367).

[19]    George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White: How to Understand and Apply Her Writings (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1997).

[20]    For more on this, see Alberto Timm, “A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844-2000),” 493-499.

[21]    While it appears that Ellen G. White herself never used the expression “verbal inspiration” in her writings, her son W. C. White employed that phrase in its popular usage as a reference to the mistaken theory of mechanical (dictation) inspiration, a theory that would also not allow an inspired writer to make revisions in his/her original manuscripts. W. C. White argued accurately that none of the leading Seventh-day Adventist pioneers, including Ellen G. White, ever subscribed to verbal inspiration (understood here to mean mechanical [dictation] inspiration). Notice how W. C. White and Arthur L. White explained the meaning of verbal inspiration and why the pioneers rightly rejected such a view:
    “Mother has never laid claim to verbal inspiration, and I do not find that my father, or Elder Bates, Andrews, Smith, or Waggoner, put forth this claim. If there were verbal inspiration in writing her manuscripts, why should there be on her part the work of addition or adaptation? It is a fact that Mother often takes one of her manuscripts, and goes over it thoughtfully, making additions that develop the thought still further” (W. C. White Letter, July 24, 1911; cf. Selected Messages, 3:437; 454; emphasis mine). Writing to S. N. Haskell in 1911, W. C. White again pointed out that: “There is danger of our injuring Mother’s work by claiming for it more than she claims for it, more than Father ever claimed for it, more than Elders Andrews, [J. H.] Waggoner, or [U.] Smith ever claimed for it. I cannot see consistency in our putting forth a claim of verbal inspiration when Mother does not make any such claim (W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, October 31, 1912).
    Arthur L. White concurs: “To make any changes at all in the text of a book written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, especially a book as widely circulated and studiously read as The Great Controversy, was recognized by Ellen White and the staff at Elmshaven as something that would raise questions in the minds of Seventh-day Adventists. There were many who, jealous for Ellen White and the Spirit of Prophecy, held, for all practical purposes, to a theory of verbal inspiration in the work of God’s prophets. An action disavowing this stance was taken by the General Conference in session in 1883. But by 1911 this was either unknown or forgotten by Adventists generally” (Ellen G. White Volume 6: The Later Elmshaven Years, 1905-1915, 322; cf. 337). “Many of the questions had their foundation in faulty concepts of inspiration. The prophet was thought of as a mechanical agent, speaking or writing each word dictated by the Holy Spirit. This ‘verbal inspiration’ concept at times led to the expectation of more from Ellen White than was justified—more than was demanded of the prophets and apostles of old” (ibid., 91; cf. 365-366).
    It is clear from the above statements that the historic Adventist position has been to reject verbal inspiration, understood to mean a mechanical dictation inspiration, a mistaken theory that would also prevent an inspired writer from revising or expanding upon his/her earlier manuscripts. Thus, in the revised edition of the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1976), the entry under the “Inspiration of Scripture” states that “SDA’s do not believe in verbal inspiration according to the usual meaning of the term, but in what may properly be called thought inspiration.” See, Don F. Neufeld, ed., Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, vol. 10 of commentary series, revised edition (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1976), 648.

[22]    George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White, 116, 111, 110; cf. his Anticipating the Advent: A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (Boise, Id: Pacific Press, 1993), 106-107.

[23]    George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White: How to Understand and Apply Her Writings (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1997), 105, 110, 111, 113-118.

[24]    George R. Knight, Anticipating the Advent: A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1993), 106-107. He wrote: “The loss of Ellen White’s and Adventism’s moderate stance on inspiration during the 1920s set the church up for decades of difficulties in interpreting the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. The resulting problems have led to extremism, misunderstandings, and bickering in Adventist ranks that exist, unfortunately, until the present” (ibid., 107). Knight’s nuanced endorsement of Alden Thompson’s book is found on the jacket cover of the latter’s Inspiration. For helpful correction to the above reinterpretation of Ellen White’s and Adventism’s position, see James H. Burry, “An Investigation to Determine Ellen White’s Concepts of Revelation, Inspiration, ‘The Spirit of Prophecy,’ and Her Claims About the Origin, Production and Authority of Her Writings,” M.A. Thesis, Andrews University, 1991. Cf. P. Gerard Damsteegt, “The Inspiration of Scripture in the Writings of Ellen G. White,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 5/1 (Spring 1994): 155-179; Peter van Bemmelen, “The Mystery of Inspiration: An Historical Study About the Development of the Doctrine of Inspiration in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, With Special Emphasis on the Decade 1884-1893,” unpublished manuscript (1971), available at the James White Library, Andrews University.

[25]    George R. Knight, Reading Ellen White, 116, 111, 110; cf. his Anticipating the Advent: A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (Boise, Id.: Pacific Press, 1993), 106-107.

[26]    Ellen White wrote that rather than speaking in grand superhuman language, “The Lord speaks to human beings in imperfect speech, in order that the degenerate senses, the dull, earthly perception, of earthly beings may comprehend His words. Thus is shown God’s condescension. He meets fallen human beings where they are. . . . Instead of the expressions of the Bible being exaggerated, as many people suppose, the strong expressions break down before the magnificence of the thought, though the penmen selected the most expressive language” (Selected Messages, 1:22). Again, “The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language. Jesus, in order to reach man where he is, took humanity. The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea” (ibid., 1:20). Thus, in their attempt to communicate infinite ideas in finite human language, the inspired writers sometimes employed figures of speech, like parables, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and symbolism. But even this figurative language conveys clear, literal truth.

[27]    Fundamentals of Christian Education, 100; The Acts of the Apostles, 506; Testimonies for the Church, 5:389; The Ministry of Healing, 462; Testimonies for the Church, 5:247; ibid., 4:441.

[28]    Alberto Timm, “A History of Seventh-day Adventist Views on Biblical and Prophetic Inspiration (1844-2000),” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 10/1-2 (1999): 497. Timm is also the director of the Ellen G. White Research Center in Brazil.