Attention has been called to statements that seem to show that Ellen White made grievous errors regarding scientific issues. Prophets are not called to update encyclopedias or dictionaries. Nor are prophets (or anyone else) to be made "an offender by a word" (Isa. 29:21). If prophets are to be held to the highest standards of scientific accuracy (every few years these "standards" change, even for the experts), we would have cause to reject Isaiah for referring to "the four corners of the earth" (Isa. 11:12) and John for writing that he saw "four angels standing at the four corners of the earth" (Rev. 7:1).

Some point to the phrase, "As the moon and the stars of our solar system shine by the reflected light of the sun," charging that Ellen White was untrustworthy in scientific matters. [1] But most readers would recognize this use of "stars" for "planets of our solar system" as a non-technical description easily understood by laymen.

Some have declared Ellen White was in error when she allegedly said that she had visited a "world which had seven moons," [2] and that the planets visited were Jupiter and Saturn. In point of fact, she never named the "world which had seven moons." But there is more to the story.

Less than three months after she and James were married in 1846, she had a vision at the Curtis home in Topsham, Maine, in the presence of Joseph Bates. Although Bates had seen Ellen White in vision on several occasions, he still had doubts about her prophetic gift; but through the Topsham vision he was convinced that "the work is of God." [3] James White reported that, in this vision, Mrs. White was "guided to the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and I think one more. After she came out of vision, she could give a clear description of their moons, etc. It is well known, that she knew nothing of astronomy, and could not answer one question in relation to the planets, before she had this vision." [4]

What was it that convinced Bates, the old sea captain and amateur astronomer, that Ellen White was "of God"? After the vision, she described what she had seen. Knowing that she had no background in astronomy, Bates said, "This is of the Lord."

Obviously, what Bates heard corresponded to his knowledge of what telescopes showed in 1846. Almost certainly this vision was given in Bates's presence to give him added confidence in Ellen White's ministry. If she had mentioned the number of moons that modern telescopes reveal, it seems clear that Bates's doubts would have been confirmed. [5] (See "Avoid Making the Counsels 'Prove' Things They Were Never Intended to Prove.")

[1] Education, p. 14 (same statement, The Desire of Ages, p. 465).

[2] Early Writings, p. 40. This vision was first described in the Broadside, To those who are receiving the seal of the living God, first published Jan. 31, 1849.

[3] A Word to the Little Flock, p. 21, cited in F. D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics, p. 581.

[4] Ibid., p. 22. Ellen White wrote: "I was wrapped in a vision of God's glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets" (Life Sketches, p. 97; see also Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 83). No evidence exists that this is the same vision described in Early Writings, p. 40. See pages 144, 145.

[5] Further information regarding this 1846 vision is found in Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 257-260. For a discussion of how Loughborough's memory of his conversation with Bates many years earlier fits into this memorable moment for Bates, see Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics, pp. 93-101.

[Adapted from Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: the Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa, Idaho.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), pp. 490, 491.