Ellen G. White or the Bible—Which is More Important to Adventists?
The Bible—without a shadow of a doubt—is the most important book. It’s the standard we use to test all other writings, including those of Ellen White.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that “the writings of Ellen White are not a substitute for Scripture. They cannot be placed on the same level. The Holy Scriptures stand alone, the unique standard by which her and all other writings must be judged and to which they must be subject.”1
We get why you may be asking this question, though. It’s true that Ellen White is a figure unique to Adventism who has provided us with a lot of insights on various Scriptural topics, such as the Sabbath, the Second Coming, and the great controversy between Christ and Satan that envelops our world.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she received and shared insights from God that helped confirm Scriptural truths that later became Adventist doctrine.
But all her writings have pointed back to studying Scripture more deeply to understand these concepts. They originate from the Bible, not from her writings.
She herself wouldn’t have hesitated to say that the Bible is more important than her writings. We’ll unpack some of her own words as we explore these topics:
- Why the Bible is more important
- What Ellen White said about her writings
- How to use Ellen White’s writings in your spiritual journey
Why the Bible is more important
The Bible is the ultimate authority and source of truth. Everything else—including Ellen White’s writings—must be tested by this standard (Isaiah 8:20).
The Bible also has a different purpose than Ellen White’s writings.
It’s a timeless book that provides principles applicable throughout history. It’s our standard for evaluating every other aspect of life. And it’s the basis for every doctrine.
On the other hand, Ellen White’s writings were meant for a specific time and purpose—and they must harmonize with the standard of Scripture. They weren’t meant to provide the basis for doctrines but only to provide a greater understanding of the doctrines in the Bible.
Here’s how Gerhard Pfandl, retired associate director of the Adventist Biblical Research Institute, puts it. He said Ellen White’s writings are:
“…God’s messages for a particular people…at a particular time in history—the end time. Her writings are not a new or additional standard of doctrine, but a help for the church in the time of the end.”4
Ellen White herself very clearly understood her role. So let’s look at what she said.
What Ellen White said about her own writings and the Bible
Ellen White saw the Bible—both the Old Testament and the New Testament—as the ultimate authority and guide for every aspect of Christian faith and life. She called her writings “a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light”—the Scriptures and Jesus Christ.5
She always supported and upheld the Protestant principle of sola scriptura (the Bible only):
“In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience.”6
“God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms”7
And she recognized that the Bible was the standard to test all her teachings too.8
But sometimes, people who heard Ellen White and read her writings misused them. In these cases, she had to give some pretty stern rebukes—and rightly so.
She never wanted God’s Word to be disregarded or ignored in any way because of what she had said.
Here’s an example of a rebuke she had to write to church leaders at the General Conference because they hadn’t followed God’s guidance:
“Do not quote my words again as long as you live, until you can obey the Bible.
“When you make the Bible your food, your meat, and your drink, when you make its principles the elements of your character, you will know better how to receive counsel from God. I exalt the precious Word before you today. Do not repeat what I have said, saying, ‘Sister White said this,’ and ‘Sister White said that.’ Find out what the Lord God of Israel says, and then do what He commands.”9
One time, she even pointed out that her Testimonies for the Church books wouldn’t have been needed if God’s people had studied the Scriptures!
So, what kind of role should her writings have today?
How to use Ellen White’s writings in your spiritual journey
Ellen White’s writings can provide us with inspired guidance, insight, and encouragement. But they should not take the place of Bible study. Keep the Bible as the basis for your beliefs, decisions, and actions.
If you find that Ellen White’s writings are keeping you from spending time in the Bible, then it may be time to reorient yourself. After all, she wanted us to study our Bibles more and to follow what we find there. That was one of the biggest purposes of her writings to begin with!
But truly, when we use her writings properly, it can increase our appreciation of the Scriptures and lead us to want to study it more. It can also help us in applying it to practical situations.
Here are a few tips for that kind of experience:
- As you learn something new in her books, go back to the Bible and study it out.
- Look for the underlying principles from Scripture. Try to understand the context in which she was writing. She often addressed specific people in specific places and circumstances, so it’s important to find her main point rather than grabbing hold of isolated instructions.
- Don’t create new doctrines off of Ellen White’s statements. She herself said this was not the purpose of her writings.11
These simple steps can go a long way in preventing misunderstanding and keeping Ellen White’s writings in their God-given role.
And if you’re wondering where to start, these books are excellent for seeing how she reflects on the Bible’s truths:
The Bible is the rule of faith and practice for Adventists
If Ellen White were alive today and we asked her about the importance of her writings, she might have responded:
“I recommend to you, dear reader, the word of God as the rule of your faith and practice.”12
Seventh-day Adventists continue to take this counsel to heart.
Though we greatly value her counsel, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, we build our faith on the Bible and allow her counsel to point us back to it.
But though Adventists don’t hold Ellen White’s writings above the Bible, you may still be wondering whether believing in her prophetic gift is a requirement to be an Adventist. Discover the answer to this question here: “Do I Have to Believe in Ellen White to Be an Adventist?”
- Seventh-day Adventists Believe, p. 227 [↵]
- “Ellen White vs The Bible w. Dr. George Knight | Biblios 14,” SECmedia [↵]
- Ibid. [↵]
- Pfandl, Gerhard, “The Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings” [↵]
- White, Ellen G., The Review and Herald, January 20, 1903, quoted in The Colporteur Evangelist, p. 37 [↵]
- White, Ellen G., The Great Controversy, p. vii [↵]
- Ibid., p. 595 [↵]
- Ibid., p. vii [↵]
- White, Ellen G., Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 33 [↵]
- White, Ellen G., Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 664 [↵]
- White, Ellen G., A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, p. 63 [↵]
- Ibid. [↵]
It’s natural to be a bit skeptical when you hear about someone being “divinely inspired,” or that something is a “message from God,” etc. And we expect nothing different if you’re hearing about Ellen White, an influential co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for the first time. After all, the Bible tells us that we’re supposed to test these things!
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