Inspiration and the 1911 Edition of
The Great Controversy

By Arthur L. White

From The Later Elmshaven Years, pp. 322-337

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A Review of What Was Done to the Book
Paraphrased and Quoted Materials in The Great Controversy
Statements Regarding the Papacy
Changes Affecting the Sense
"The Great Bell of the Palace"
Inspiration and Details of History
The Appendix Notes
Did Church Leaders and Scholars Interfere?
E. G. White Authority to Change Her Published Writings
Ellen White's Letter of Approval

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, and not having thought the matter through, 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. Here is the wording:

We believe the light given by God to His servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rare cases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed.--RH, Nov. 27, 1883 (in MR, p. 65, and 3SM, p. 96).

Ellen White's clear-cut statements on the point in her introduction to The Great Controversy in 1888 should have given guidance to Seventh-day Adventists. There were also specific circumstances and incidents that should have educated the church to this end. But in spite of all this, many still looked upon inspiration as more or less a mechanical process.

This inaccurate view on inspiration laid the foundation for questions when the new edition of The Great Controversy came out.

In fact, while the work was in progress, and on receiving the finished book in July, 1911, Ellen White joined her son in explanations of what was done and why, even though there was no real reason for anyone to be disturbed by what had taken place. So few and minor in nature were the changes made that C. C. Crisler in discussing the matter wrote:

We do not wish to make prominent anything that would indicate this is a revised and improved edition; it is rather, a reset edition.

The paging has been preserved throughout the work; it is essentially the same, even if it is greatly improved in some respects, notably in the verification of quoted matter, and the insertion of new or improved illustrations and the betterment of the indexes.--C. C. Crisler to Manager, Review and Herald, Feb. 19, 1911.

And in the matter of dealing with questions about the work, W. C. White, on February 5, 1911, wrote to the manager of the Review and Herald:

Our work of research has been difficult and expensive beyond all calculation. We do not regret the time nor begrudge the money. We believe that our people everywhere will appreciate what has been done.

A few days ago I had a talk with Elder Haskell about this. At one time he was quite unreconciled to the work we were doing, supposing we were making unnecessary changes; but when we told him we were glad that when the moss-backs said to us, Let bad enough alone, we could say, It is not necessary. And when the modern critics said, You must make many changes to make this harmonize with modern historians, we could say, It is not necessary, because we find in the most trustworthy historians full corroboration of the positions taken in this book.

A Review of What Was Done to the Book

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With this having been said, and the new printing of The Great Controversy now on the market, it was important to take particular note of exactly what was done in preparing the copy for the resetting of the type for the 1911 edition. W. C. White was in charge of the work at Elmshaven; he was the principal spokesman during the period of work on the book, and quite naturally was the one to make explanations that might be called for.

On July 24, 1911, a few days after receiving a copy of the new book, W. C. White wrote a letter addressed to "Publishing House Managers," which he repeated the next day in a letter to "Our General Missionary Agents" (publishing department leaders). This he later included in a statement read to the General Conference Committee in its Autumn Council held in Washington, D.C. These W. C. White letters of explanation, quoted extensively in this chapter, carried Ellen White's written approval. [AN AFFIDAVIT TO THIS EFFECT READS:



Because of limitations in space only excerpts can be included in this chapter. The reader is urged to pursue them in full in appendix A of Selected Messages, book 3.

After mentioning that the new book runs page for page, and each chapter begins and ends on the same page, he introduced the principal features:

The most noticeable change in the new edition is the improvement in the illustrations. Each of the forty-two chapters, together with the preface, introduction, contents, and list of illustrations, has a beautiful pictorial heading; and ten new full-page illustrations have been introduced, to take the place of those which were least attractive.

The thirteen appendix notes of the old edition, occupying thirteen pages, have been replaced by thirty-one notes occupying twelve pages. These are nearly all reference notes, intended to help the studious reader in finding historical proofs of the statements made in the book.

The biographical notes have been omitted, and the general index has been enlarged from twelve to twenty-two pages, thus greatly facilitating the finding of desired passages.

In the body of the book, the most noticeable improvement is the introduction of historical references. In the old edition, over 700 Biblical references were given, but in only a few instances were there any historical references to the authorities quoted or referred to. In the new edition the reader will find more than 400 references to eighty-eight authors and authorities.--WCW Letter, July 24, 1911 (see also 3SM, p. 434).

Paraphrased and Quoted Materials in
The Great Controversy

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In this connection it should be stated that as Ellen White, in response to the biddings of the Spirit of God, had traced the history of the controversy down through the centuries, she had, as a matter of convenience, drawn quite heavily from historians, both in outline of the narrative and the use of words (see The Great Controversy, pp. xi, xii). At times she quoted, at times paraphrased, and at times depicted in her own words the events as she had witnessed them in vision. She and those associated with her did not consider this use of available materials as quoting in a manner that called for specific recognition.

The same was true in dealing with the Advent Movement and the development of lines of truth that emerged as the result of Bible study after the 1844 disappointment. She was with the pioneers in their Bible study and discussions, and when they reached an impasse, God often spoke through her to clarify and to confirm. The resulting consensus, whether put into written form by J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, or James White, was considered common property. In expressing these truths, one frequently drew from the other. It was in such cases, both in historical description and doctrinal presentation, that she followed the course she described in her Introduction to The Great Controversy, in the second-from-the-last paragraph.

While quotations in the 1888 edition, made directly from historians, were used without specific credits, they did stand in quotation marks. It was these that, in the 1911 edition, were traced down and properly credited. No attempt was made to find isolated words or phrases in paraphrased materials or those quoted only in part. Her explanation in the foreword sufficed in this.

Statements Regarding the Papacy

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Ellen White was eager that nothing should stand in the way of gaining favorable attention of the Roman Catholic readers of her books. Her son explained modifications in wording to avoid offending the Catholic reader.

In several places, forms of expression have been changed to avoid giving unnecessary offense. An example of this will be found in the change of the word "Romish" to "Roman" or "Roman Catholic."--Ibid. (see also 3SM, p. 435).

On the matter of statements that might be disputed, he also wrote noting Ellen White's assent:

On pages 50, 563, 564, 580, 581, and in a few other places where there were statements regarding the Papacy which are strongly disputed by Roman Catholics, and which are difficult to prove from accessible histories, the wording in the new edition has been so changed that the statement falls easily within the range of evidence that is readily obtainable.

Regarding these and similar passages, which might stir up bitter and unprofitable controversies, Mother has often said: "What I have written regarding the arrogance and the assumption of the Papacy is true. Much historical evidence regarding these matters has been designedly destroyed; nevertheless, that the book may be of the greatest benefit to Catholics and others, and that needless controversies may be avoided, it is better to have all statements regarding the assumptions of the pope and the claims of the Papacy stated so moderately as to be easily and clearly proved from accepted histories that are within the reach of our ministers and students."--Ibid. (see also 3SM, p. 436).

One matter called to the attention of the Elmshaven staff for study in the W. W. Prescott letter was what seemed to some to be an apparent contradiction in the chapter "A Warning Rejected." The word alone was added at the top of page 383. Here is the reason for the change: In the 1888 Great Controversy, Ellen White consistently makes it crystal clear that the Roman Church is referred to in prophecy as "Babylon." She does so on page 382, in the chapter just referred to, noting:

The woman, Babylon, of Revelation 17, is described as "arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots." Babylon is further declared to be "that great city, which reineth over the kings of the earth." The power that for so many centuries maintained despotic sway over the monarchs of Christendom, is Rome.

Next, she introduces the fallen Protestant churches, noting that Babylon is said to be "the mother of harlots."

By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing the truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world.--Pages 382, 383.

Then pointing out the timing of the second angel's message of Revelation 14 announcing the fall of Babylon, Ellen White takes the position that that message is aimed particularly at the "daughters," "religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt," and in a sense "cannot refer to the Romish Church." But was the Roman Church exempt? Was it not Babylon? To remedy what seemed to some to be an inconsistency in wording, the sentence in question, without in any way changing the arguments put forth for the fallen state of both the "mother" and the "daughters," the word alone was added, making the sentence in question read in the new edition:

The message of Revelation 14, announcing the fall of Babylon, must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt. Since this message follows the warning of the judgment, it must be given in the last days; therefore it cannot refer to the Roman Church alone, for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries.--Page 383.

The addition of the word alone applies the term Babylon to both the apostate Christian church of many centuries, and the fallen Protestant churches of the 1840s, and thus does not exempt the Roman Catholic Church from the classification given to it both in Scripture and in her writings.

Dores Robinson, who assisted in the work on The Great Controversy in 1911, explained what took place, showing Ellen White's responsibility in this matter:

The criticism was brought to Mrs. White's attention, and in order to clarify the thought, she inserted the word alone, so that in the new edition it reads: "It cannot refer to the Roman Church alone." Not a word is altered in what precedes, with its application to the Roman Church. Not a word is altered in the pages that follow in which some of the Protestant churches are shown to answer to the picture.--DF 85e, D. E. Robinson, in "Is It a Contradiction?"

Changes Affecting the Sense

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In some places the wording was tightened up, making it less sweeping and more accurate or exact; technically the changes could be said to alter the sense, even ever so little.

On page 27, the word nearly was added, making the sentence read:

For nearly forty years after the doom of Jerusalem had been pronounced by Christ Himself, the Lord delayed His judgments upon the city and the nation.

On page 52, an explanatory phrase was added:

Satan, working through unconsecrated leaders of the church, tampered with the fourth commandment also.

On page 53, the modifying word many made the statement more accurate. Not each and every Christian followed the majority. The modified sentence reads:

But while many God-fearing Christians were gradually led to regard Sunday as possessing a degree of sacredness, they still held the true Sabbath as holy of the Lord and observed it in obedience to the fourth commandment.

On page 564, the modifier well-known is substituted for recent:

A well-known writer speaks thus of the attitude of the papal hierarchy as regards freedom of conscience.

Significant changes listed as affecting the sense are such as those relating to the order of the Jesuits on page 234. The clause, reading "cut off from every earthly tie and human interest," was changed to read: "cut off from earthly ties and human interests."

On the next page, the word often is added, softening the statement: "But under this blameless exterior the most criminal and deadly purposes were often concealed."

Because of changing figures each year, the statement on page 287 regarding the accomplishments of the Bible societies was modified. In the 1888 book, it read:

When the British Society was formed, the Bible had been printed and circulated in fifty tongues. It has since been translated into more than two hundred languages and dialects. By the efforts of Bible societies, since 1804, more than 187,000,000 copies of the Bible have been circulated.

The 1911 book reads:

In 1804 the British and Foreign Bible Society was organized. This was followed by similar organizations, with numerous branches, upon the continent of Europe. In 1816 the American Bible Society was founded. When the British Society was formed, the Bible had been printed and circulated in fifty tongues. It has since been translated into many hundreds of languages and dialects. (See Appendix.)

The appendix note gives data on Bible circulation up to 1910. This could be changed in the future more easily than the text.

On pages 287 and 288 of the 1888 edition, after the formation of foreign mission societies are discussed, eight lines are devoted to mention of Carey and Judson as examples of a thrust in foreign mission work. For space reasons and because of some inexactness in wording, these were omitted in the text of the 1911 edition and an appendix note filling a full page took its place, reviewing the advance in foreign missions.

On page 383, the 1888 Great Controversy carries the phrase "in a message which is yet future." This was omitted in 1911, because there would come a time in history when it would be present and not future. The omission does no injustice to the text. In the 1888 edition the sentence read:

Furthermore, in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation, in a message which is yet future, the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon.

In the 1911 edition the sentence reads:

Furthermore, in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon.

"The Great Bell of the Palace"

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One of the points called to the attention of the staff at Elmshaven, and Ellen White, in connection with the study of The Great Controversy was regarding St. Bartholomew's massacre and the bell that gave the signal. Page 272 states that it was "the great bell of the palace" tolling in the dead of night that was the signal for the slaughter. Among the criticisms and suggestions received, one reads thus:

All the histories dealing with the French Revolution which I have been able to consult state that it was the original plan to toll the bell of the palace as the signal, but owing to special circumstances, the signal was given by the ringing of the bell of the church of St. Germain.--W. W. Prescott to WCW, April 26, 1910.

An investigation by the staff at Elmshaven revealed that historians differed as to just which bell rang first. They found ample support for Ellen White's statement. Most likely in vision she had heard the tolling of a bell. For the detail, she had depended upon the historians. When it was learned that they differed, and that one of three bells might have been involved--the bell of the palace, the bell of the palace of justice, and the bell of the church of St. Germain, all within the distance of a city block--Ellen White, having no desire to settle fine historical points, modified the wording to the simple statement as it reads in the 1911 book: "A bell, tolling at dead of night, was a signal for the slaughter."

Inspiration and Details of History

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This leads us to an important point as The Great Controversy is studied, namely, just how much of detail was opened up to Ellen White in vision. In W. C. White's 1911 statement, one she twice read and fully approved as "a true and correct statement," he explained:

Mother has never claimed to be authority on history. The things which she has written out are descriptions of flashlight pictures and other representations given her regarding the actions of men, and the influence of these actions upon the work of God for the salvation of men, with views of past, present, and future history in its relation to this work.

In connection with the writing out of these views, she has made use of good and clear historical statements to help make plain to the reader the things which she is endeavoring to present. When I was a mere boy, I heard her read D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation to my father. She read to him a large part, if not the whole, of the five volumes. She has read other histories of the Reformation.

This has helped her to locate and describe many of the events and the movements presented to her in vision. This is somewhat similar to the way in which the study of the Bible helps her to locate and describe the many figurative representations given to her regarding the development of The Great Controversy in our day between truth and error.--WCW Letter, July 24, 1911 (see also 3SM, p. 437).

In writing in 1912 to the head of the publishing department of the Southwestern Union Conference, he explained:

Regarding Mother's writings and their use as authority on points of history and chronology, Mother has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority regarding the details of history or historical dates.

The great truths revealed to Mother regarding the controversy between good and evil, light and darkness, have been given to her in various ways, but chiefly as flashlight views of great events in the lives of individuals and in the experiences of churches, of bands of reformers, and of nations.

He explained further what took place in the process of writing the book:

When writing out the chapters for Great Controversy, she sometimes gave a partial description of an important historical event, and when her copyist who was preparing the manuscripts for the printer made inquiry regarding time and place, Mother would say that those things are recorded by conscientious historians. Let the dates used by those historians be inserted.

And he emphasized the point regarding historical sources by repeating:

When Controversy was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as authority on historical dates or use it to settle controversy regarding details of history, and she does not now feel that it should be used in that way. Mother regards with great respect the work of those faithful historians who devoted years of time to the study of God's great plan as presented in the prophecy, and the outworking of that plan as recorded in history.--WCW to W. W. Eastman, Nov. 4, 1912 (see also 3SM, appendix B, pp. 446, 447). (Italics supplied throughout.)

This understanding removes any fine points of a problem in handling historical quotations, et cetera, in the book. Furthermore, W. C. White, in the 1911 statement approved fully by his mother, addressed himself specifically to the matter of verbal inspiration in his mother's writings. He pointed out:

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.--WCW Letter, July 24, 1911 (see also 3SM, p. 437).

The Appendix Notes

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Early in his July 24 letter, W. C. White, as noted earlier, explained:

The thirteen appendix notes of the old edition, occupying thirteen pages, have been replaced by thirty-one notes occupying twelve pages. These are nearly all reference notes, intended to help the studious reader in finding historical proofs of the statements made in the book.--Ibid. (see also 3SM, p. 434).

While the objective may have been primarily to give reference to authentic and helpful sources, some explanations were carried through into the new book. Correspondence during the period the book was being studied indicates an earnest desire that the reader should have at hand every easily available support for the important statements in the volume. W. C. White, in a letter written to Edward Forga on June 12, 1910, speaks of these as "notes to prove disputed points regarding the acts of the Papacy."

Many of the earlier appendix notes had to do with the Papacy and the claims of the Roman Church, giving references to both Catholic and Protestant works. As to "The Bible and the French Revolution," a rather crucial chapter in the book, more than two pages in the appendix are devoted to supporting documentation for the statements made there.

In addition to these notes, comprehensive documents supporting The Great Controversy presentation were prepared in the Elmshaven office, some supplied to the publishers, and of course, copies retained in the White Estate Document File. Clarence Crisler and his associates, who had gone to great pains in the work of verification of quoted materials, were eager that what was done by way of revision should serve in the future should questions be raised.

These appendix notes were prepared, some by C. C. Crisler, some by Elder M. C. Wilcox, editor of Signs of the Times, and some by certain scholars called upon to assist in the work. Ellen White wrote none of them, but most likely read them and approved. [IN 1950, IN CONNECTION WITH THE RESETTING OF THE TYPE FOR THE GREAT CONTROVERSY, THESE APPENDIX NOTES WERE AGAIN EXAMINED CAREFULLY, BY TWO ADVENTIST SCHOLARS. IN SOME CASES, REFERENCES TO BOOKS OUTDATED OR HARD TO FIND WERE REPLACED BY REFERENCES TO NEWER OR MORE AUTHORITATIVE WORKS.]

Did Church Leaders and Scholars Interfere?

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To allay any suspicion that General Conference leaders or editors, as A. G. Daniells, W. W. Prescott, or M. C. Wilcox, influenced the work done at Elmshaven, W. C. White declared:

Our brethren at Washington and at Mountain View have done only that which we requested them to do. As stated in the beginning, we took counsel with the men of the Publishing Department, with State canvassing agents, and with members of the publishing committees, not only in Washington, but in California, and I asked them to kindly call our attention to any passages that needed to be considered in connection with the resetting of the book.

When it was pointed out that some of the historical data were questioned and challenged, we asked them to give us a written statement that would help us in our research. They did as we requested and nothing more. All decisions as to what should be changed, and what should be printed word for word as in the old edition, were made in Mother's office, by persons in her employ and working under her direction. Therefore, there is no occasion for anyone to say a word against the General Conference Committee men or the literary men at Washington, or against the book, because of anything done by the brethren in Washington or elsewhere in connection with this work.--Ibid. (see also 3SM, pp. 439, 440). (Italics supplied.)

He also stated:

If you hear reports that some of the work done on this latest
edition was done contrary to Mother's wish or without her
knowledge, you can be sure that such reports are false, and
unworthy of consideration.--Ibid. (see also 3SM, p. 436).

The people working at Elmshaven--Ellen White and her staff--were grateful for the suggestions that at their request came to them. These, as they related to the handling of quotations, the including of wording that would not offend, and the bringing about of more precision in statement, were welcomed and helped to make the new edition of The Great Controversy a more attractive and useful book. The few suggestions that questioned prophetic dates, prophetic applications, and doctrine were turned down. Ellen White was adamant on points of this character.

"In a few places where ambiguous or misleading terms have been used, Mother has authorized a changed reading," wrote W. C. White, "but she protests against any change in the argument or subject matter of the book."--DF 83b, WCW to AGD, June 20, 1910.

E. G. White Authority to Change Her Published Writings

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W. C. White wrote of Ellen White's authority in making changes:

A study of these changes may lead some to ask the question, "Has Sister White the authority and right to make changes in her published writings, either by addition, or by omission, or by any change whatever in the forms of expression, the manner of description, or the plan of the argument?"

It is generally admitted that in Sister White's discourses, spoken to the people, she uses great freedom and wisdom in the selection of proofs and illustrations, to make plain and forcible her presentation of the truths revealed to her in vision. Also, that she selects such facts and arguments as are adapted to the audience to whom she is speaking. This is essential to the attainment of the best results from her discourses.

And she has always felt and taught that it was her duty to use the same wisdom in the selection of matter for her books that she does in the selection of matter for her discourses.--WCW Letter, July 25, 1911 (see also 3SM, p. 441).

When the new book came out, she took great pleasure in looking over and rereading it. Said W. C. White, "She was glad that the work we have done to make this edition as perfect as possible was completed while she was living and could direct in what was done."--Ibid., July 24, 1911 (see also 3SM, p. 437).

Ellen White's Letter of Approval

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After receiving and reading large portions of the new printing of The Great Controversy, and after reading W. C. White's letters of explanation dated July 24 and 25, Ellen White wrote to Elder F.M. Wilcox, president of the Review and Herald board and editor of the general church paper, the Review and Herald:


Sanitarium, California
July 25, 1911

Dear Brother Wilcox:

A few days ago, I received a copy of the new edition of the book Great Controversy, recently printed at Mountain View, and also a similar copy printed at Washington. The book pleases me. I have spent many hours looking through its pages, and I see that the publishing houses have done good work.

The book Great Controversy I appreciate above silver or gold, and I greatly desire that it shall come before the people. While writing the manuscript of Great Controversy, I was often conscious of the presence of the angels of God. And many times the scenes about which I was writing were presented to me anew in visions of the night, so that they were fresh and vivid in my mind.

Recently it was necessary for this book to be reset, because the electrotype plates were badly worn. It has cost me much to have this done, but I do not complain; for whatever the cost may be, I regard this new edition with great satisfaction.

Yesterday I read what W. C. White has recently written to canvassing agents and responsible men at our publishing houses regarding this latest edition of Great Controversy, and I think he has presented the matter correctly and well.

When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages.

As a result of the thorough examination by our most experienced workers, some changing in the wording has been proposed. These changes I have carefully examined, and approved. I am thankful that my life has been spared, and that I have strength and clearness of mind for this and other literary work.

(Signed) Ellen G. White.
--Letter 56, 1911.

And so The Great Controversy, the book Ellen White treasured "above silver or gold" and for which she wished a wider circulation "than for any others" she had written, (CM, p. 127), was now launched on its renewed and ever-widening mission. With the knowledge of what was done in its preparation and of Ellen White's close supervision in the work, the new printing was received with enthusiasm.

Some who had entertained concepts of verbal inspiration were perplexed, and there was just a little grumbling. Ellen White's own statement on inspiration in her introduction to the 1888 book proved most helpful. Criticism soon faded. And the book Seventh-day Adventists knew God had inspired her to write, with its historical quotations, continued to serve in reminding them of their history, of God's providence, and of great events yet to take place.

As the work of the church was broadening to take in many countries and many languages, steps were taken to translate the new book so that the peoples of many tongues might read. One of the first was the Spanish, undertaken almost immediately. As this work was entered upon, it was observed that no place had been given to the reformation in Spain. As counsel was taken with Ellen White, it was decided it would be well if in the Spanish printing, a supplementary chapter compiled by competent writers could be added. Thus, the Spanish Great Controversy carries forty-three chapters in place of the forty-two in other printings. Chapter thirteen in that book, titled "The Awakening in Spain," is clearly designated as a work of "collaboration" and has a footnote stating:

This chapter was compiled by C. C. Crisler and H. H. Hall, and was inserted in this book with the approval of the author.--Page 252.

The chapter has been much appreciated, and no confusion has resulted.


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