In the previous section we noted that Ellen White did not claim verbal inspiration for her writings or the Bible, nor did she classify them as either inerrant or infallible in the sense of being free from factual mistakes. In spite of the efforts of Mrs. White and her son to move people away from too rigid a view of inspiration, many have continued on in that line. Down through the history of the denomination some have sought to use Ellen White's writings and the Bible for purposes for which God never intended them. Likewise, claims have been made for prophetic writings that transcend their purpose.

As a result, we find individuals who go to her writings to substantiate such things as historical facts and dates. Thus S. N. Haskell could write to Ellen White that he and his friends would "give more for one expression in your testimony than for all the histories you could stack between here and Calcutta" (S. N. Haskell to E. G. White, May 30, 1910).

Yet Ellen White never claimed that the Lord provided every historical detail in her works. To the contrary, she tells us that she generally went to the same sources available to us to get the historical facts that she used to fill out the outlines of the struggle between good and evil across the ages that she portrays so nicely in The Great Controversy. In regard to the writing of that volume, she wrote in its preface that "where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject." Her purpose in such books as The Great Controversy was "not so much . . . to present new truths concerning the struggles of former times, as to bring out facts and principles which have a bearing on coming events" (p. xii).

That statement of purpose is crucial in understanding her use of history. Her intention was to trace the dynamics of the conflict between good and evil across time. That was her message. The historical facts merely enriched its tapestry. She was not seeking to provide incontrovertible historical data. In actuality, as she put it, the "facts" she used were "well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world" (ibid., p. xi).

What is true of Ellen White's use of facts in post-Biblical church history is also true of her practice when writing of the Biblical period. As a result, she could ask her sons that they request "Mary [Willie's wife] to find me some histories of the Bible that would give me the order of events. I have nothing and can find nothing in the library here" (E. G. White to W. C. White and J. E. White, Dec. 22, 1885).

"Regarding Mother's writings," W. C. White told Haskell, "she has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority on history. . . . When '[The Great] Controversy' was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as an authority on historical dates and use it to settle controversies, and she does not now feel that it ought to be used in that way." (W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, Oct. 31, 1912; italics supplied; cf. Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 446, 447.)

Twenty years later W. C. White wrote that "in our conversations with her [Ellen White] regarding the truthfulness and the accuracy of what she had quoted from historians, she expressed confidence in the historians from whom she had drawn, but never would consent to the course pursued by a few men who took her writings as a standard and endeavored by the use of them to prove the correctness of one historian as against the correctness of another. From this I gained the impression that the principal use of the passage quoted from historians was not to make a new history, not to correct errors in history, but to use valuable illustrations to make plain important spiritual truths" (W. C. White to L. E. Froom, Feb. 18, 1932).

Not only do we need to avoid using Ellen White to "prove" the details of history, but the same caution must be expressed in the realm of the details of science. In saying this I do not mean to imply that there is not a great deal of accuracy in the scientific inferences of Ellen White's writings--and the Bible's, for that matter--but that we must not seek to prove this and that scientific detail from them.

Let me illustrate. Some claim that John Calvin, the great sixteenth-century Reformer, resisted Copernicus's discovery that the earth rotated around the sun by quoting Psalm 93:1: "The world also is stablished; that it cannot be moved." In a similar vein, many have pointed out that the Bible talks about the four corners of the earth and the fact that the sun "comes up" and "goes down." In such cases, the Bible is merely making incidental remarks rather than setting forth scientific doctrine.

Remember that the Bible and Ellen White's writings are not intended to be divine encyclopedias for things scientific and historical. Rather they are to reveal our human hopelessness and then point us to the solution in salvation through Jesus. In the process, God's revelation provides a framework in which we can understand the bits and pieces of historical and scientific knowledge gained through other lines of study.