Luty 15, 2015
18 ELLEN WHITE AND CURRENT ISSUES SYMPOSIUM 2006
ELLEN WHITE’S TRINITARIAN STATEMENTS: WHAT DID SHE ACTUALLY WRITE?
By Tim Poirier
Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
Certain opponents of the church’s second fundamental belief (“The Trinity”) argue that Ellen White’s supportive statements cannot be trusted as reflecting accurately what she wrote and taught. These persons claim to accept Ellen White’s prophetic writings, but they question the authenticity of her statements that affirm the church’s belief in three distinct, co-eternal, fully divine persons in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This presentation will not attempt to fully define Ellen White’s concept of the Godhead nor discuss the question of whether there was any development in her views. Its interest is in the authenticity of Ellen White’s key statements in the light of available source documents. It should also be clearly stated that the church’s fundamental belief in the Trinity is not based on Ellen White’s writings, but on its understanding of biblical truth.
“Third Person of the Godhead”
For most Adventists, Ellen White’s published statements are conclusive as to her teaching on this question. In The Desire of Ages she writes that “sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power” (p. 671). This is how the text has read since its first publication in 1898. So how do opponents escape its natural interpretation that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead?
First, by suggesting that the expression found its way into The Desire of Ages through the influence of Ellen White’s assistants and/or Herbert Lacey or W. W. Prescott.1 Second, by pointing out that the words “third person” are not capitalized in the original 1898 printing, signifying to them that the word “person” is used in a more “general sense.”2 Third, by suggesting that while there are in reality only two persons in the Godhead, “the net effect for us is that there are three divine beings,” since the Holy Spirit iscalled “another Comforter.” In this view, the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit (presence) of the Father and/or Christ,” and not in actuality a distinct third divine person.
We will not pursue the third interpretation, except to look later at a further Ellen White statement that speaks of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as “three distinct agencies” working together on behalf of humanity. But the first two observations are aimed at the authenticity of the text—our interest in this presentation.
Can this passage in The Desire of Ages be trusted as representing what Ellen White actually penned? What does the original manuscript say?
The White Estate often receives this type of inquiry from persons who question the reading or teaching of a published statement. Some are surprised when we tell them that Ellen White did not write out her chapters by longhand as they appear in books like Steps to Christ and those in the Conflict of the Ages Series.
She was certainly the author of the text, but most of the material comprising the chapters as we have them was compiled from her many earlier works, including her sermons, letters, and articles.4
So to find the original manuscript for any given passage in a book like The Desire of Ages, we must determine the source document and whether a handwritten draft of that document is extant.
What, then, is the source for this sentence on page 671 of The Desire of Ages? We find it in a letter Ellen White addressed to “My Brethren in America,” dated February 6, 1896. She wrote, “Evil had been accumulating for centuries, and could only berestrained and resisted by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power.”5 This letter was copied and sent from Australia to church leaders in Battle Creek, where the General Conference president, O. A. Olsen, published it the next year in a pamphlet circulated among church leaders and ministers (Special Testimonies, No. 10, pp. 25-33). This contemporary publication provides another evidence—beyond the obvious copyright date—that this passage in The Desire of Ages reads as it did when first published in 1898.
Exhibit 1 is a scan of the first page of this letter, showing the key sentence in the second paragraph. The skeptic will ask how we know that this letter actually came from Ellen White. What does the handwritten original say? Unfortunately for us who live in 2006, Ellen White rarely preserved original drafts of her letters once they had been transcribed and received her approval. We will see that, in certain other instances, we are fortunate to have her original drafts, but for this letter the handwritten original is not known to be extant. But we do have other evidences of its authenticity. Pages 5, 6, and 7 contain Ellen White’s handwritten interlineations, which she often added after further reading of a document. Exhibit 2 is a scan of page 6, showing these interlineations and providing the evidence that this letter was indeed reviewed by Ellen White herself. So we are on sure ground in concluding that this key sentence in The Desire of Ages was not slipped past Ellen White’s eye into the manuscript of the book either by her assistants or other church leaders.
What should we make of the second argument, that the words “third person” were not capitalized in the earliest printings? As we saw in Exhibit 1, the phrase was also not capitalized in the original letter. Further comparison between Ellen White’s letters and her published articles and books indicates that editorial style, not theological intent, governed such matters as to whether pronouns referring to deity should be capitalized. If the argument is to be made that the use of lower case characters in “third person” shows that Ellen White was not attributing deity-status to the Holy Spirit, then one has to explain why, in the same earliest printings, the personal pronoun “He” (referring to the Holy Spirit) is twice capitalized in the immediately preceding paragraph (671:1), and elsewhere in the same chapter.
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Exhibit 2. Letter 8, 1896, p.6.
“Three living persons”
We will look next at a significant statement published in the book Evangelism. Evangelism is a compilation published in 1946, a decade before the Adventist-evangelical dialogues that resulted in Questions on Doctrine. Nevertheless, the cloud associated with that period has caused some to cast a skeptical backward shadow on this clearly Trinitarian statement:
There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will cooperate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ.6
Does this statement accurately represent what Ellen White penned?
Exhibit 3 is a scan of the title page for the source of the quotation in Evangelism—Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7. Of particular interest is the note at the bottom, “Published for the Author.” Exhibit 4 is a scan of the page containing the key sentence. So whatever alleged “conspiracies” led to the wording that appears in Evangelism, they could not have originated with the brethren in the 1940s. The passage appeared in print in 1906, published for the author—Ellen G. White.
Tracing the source of this material, we find that it comes from Manuscript 21, 1906, written in November 1905 and bearing the transcription date of January 9, 1906. Exhibit 5 is a scan of page 4 on which this key statement appears. The sentence is identical to what was published in Series B, except that in the printed version a semi-colon is substituted for the comma after “heavenly trio.”
Exhibit 6 is a scan of the first page of this manuscript showing Ellen White’s handwritten interlineations—evidence that she had personally reviewed the typescript. So we see that what is published in Evangelism accurately reprints what is published in Series B, which, in turn, accurately reproduces Ellen White’s manuscript, as reviewed by her.
Exhibit 6.Manuscript 21, 1906, p.1, showing Ellen White’s
We can go one step further, however, in this instance. Exhibit 7 is scanned from a page in one of Ellen White’s diary/
journals where is found the original unedited handwritten draft for Manuscript 21, 1906. This is what was transcribed by Ellen
White’s secretaries. The key passage, as originally penned by Ellen White, reads: “Here are the living three personsalities of the
heavenly trio in which every soul repenting of their sins, receiving Christ by a living faith, to them who are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost….”
Exhibit 7. Excerpt from handwritten draft of Manuscript 21, 1906.
Now we encounter an interesting question. Putting aside the routine grammatical improvements Ellen White’s assistants were
instructed to make when transcribing her first draft manuscripts, what are we to make of her changing “three persons” to “three
personalities”? Here is evidence, non-Trinitarian promoters argue, that Ellen White was seeking to make a distinction between
“personalities” and “persons,” as the sentence finally reads in the transcribed manuscript.
Should we read something substantive into this change from “persons” to “personalities”? A comprehensive study of
Ellen White’s usage of these terms is outside the parameters of our interest in this presentation, but suffice it to say that, as its
first definition, Webster defines “personality” as “the quality or state of being a person”; and in its theological usage, “quality or
state of consisting of distinct persons, said of the Godhead.”7 My own study of Ellen White’s usage is that she used the two terms
interchangeably, which is no doubt why she was quite satisfied with the final reading of the transcription, as we saw in Exhibits 5
Furthermore, if by writing “three personalities” Ellen White meant to steer clear of referencing three persons in the Godhead,
we are hard pressed to explain why she clearly wrote “three persons” in an earlier document, Manuscript 57, 1900, published
in the SDA Bible Commentary:
The work is laid out before every soul that has acknowledged his faith in Jesus Christ by baptism,
and has become a receiver of the pledge from the three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.8
Exhibit 8is a scan of this manuscript, and as in the previous example, we are fortunate to have the original handwritten draft
that was transcribed by Ellen White’s secretaries. As we see in Exhibit 9, there is no question that Ellen White wrote “the three
persons—the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
Exhibit 9. Excerpt from handwritten draft of Manuscript 57, 1900.
Ellen White’s use of “third person” and “three persons in the heavenly trio” plainly indicates her belief that not only are there
three beings in the Godhead, but that they are “persons.” Another statement published in Evangelism says it in no uncertain terms:
The Holy Spirit is a person, for He beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.9
Again we are asked, what did Ellen White actually pen? Exhibit 10 is a scan of the source quoted in Evangelism—
Manuscript 20, 1906, p. 9. Not only does this manuscript bear Ellen White’s approval at the top of its first page—“I have read
this carefully and accept it”—(Exhibit 11), but we also have the original handwritten draft that was transcribed by her secretaries.
Exhibit 12 is a scan of the key sentence, “The Holy Spirit is a
person for He beareth witness with our spirit. . . .”
But, say non-Trinitarian promoters, the Father and the Son are persons. “The reference does not say, “the Holy Spirit is a person, separate and distinct from God the Father.”10
No, this reference does not. But Ellen White has more to say on the subject elsewhere. Manuscript 93, 1893 reads:
The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, in Christ’s name. He personifies Christ, yet is a distinct personality.11
Exhibit 13 is a scan of Ellen White’s original handwritten draft, backing up the transcription. Manuscript 27a, 1900 adds this
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, powers infinite and omniscient, receive those who truly enter
into covenant relation with God.12
Note how the attributes of deity are applied to each person. This is followed by the statement:
Three distinct agencies, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, work together for human beings.13
Exhibit 11. Manuscript 20, 1906, p.1, showing Ellen White’s approval at the top of the page: “I have read this carefully and accept it.”
Exhibit 12. Excerpt from handwritten draft of Manuscript 20, 1906.
Exhibit 13. Handwritten original of Manuscript 93, 1893.
The original handwritten draft for this manuscript is not extant, but the transcription not only bears Ellen White’s signature but
also her interlineations throughout, as seen in Exhibits 14 and 15.
Is the Holy Spirit “Christ’s representative” or Christ “himself”?
With Ellen White’s unambiguous statements about the “heavenly trio” in mind, let us examine another passage relating
to the nature of the Holy Spirit that non-Trinitarian promoters look to for support. It appears on page 669 of The Desire of Ages:
The Holy Spirit is Christ’s representative, but divested of the personality of humanity, and independent
thereof. Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally. Therefore it was for their
interest that He should go to the Father, and send the Spirit to be His successor on earth. No one could then
have any advantage because of his location or his personal contact with Christ. By the Spirit the Saviour.
Exhibit 15. Manuscript 27a, 1900, p.8, showing Ellen White’s signature.
would be accessible to all. In this sense He would be nearer to them than if He had not ascended on high.
The focus of this passage is the presence of Christ through Hisrepresentative—the Holy Spirit. The personal distinction between Christ and the Holy Spirit is carefully expressed in the text, but non-Trinitarian promoters point to the manuscript source for this passage. We find it in a letter to Edson White and his wife, dated February 18, 1895.14 How does it read in the original letter?
Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally; therefore it was altogether for their
advantage that he should leave them, go to his Father, and send the Holy Spirit to be his successor on earth.
The Holy Spirit is himself, divested of the personality of humanity, and independent thereof. He would
represent himself as present in all places by his Holy Spirit, as the Omnipresent.15
What is of particular significance to non-Trinitarians is that where The Desire of Ages reads “the Holy Spirit is Christ’s
representative,” the original letter reads “The Holy Spirit is himself.”
The handwritten original is not known to be extant, but the letter as transcribed by Ellen White’s secretary bears her signature
and other interlineations, signifying her approval of the letter. See Exhibit 16.
Does the wording of the original letter establish that EllenWhite believed the Holy Spirit and Christ are not distinct
We have already looked at several Ellen White statementsaffirming that there are “three persons” in the Godhead, and that
the Holy Spirit is a “distinct personality.” As these statementschronologically both precede and follow the writing of this letter,
consistency would lead us to expect that she is not interjecting anew understanding of the Spirit in this passage. Indeed, we find
the same language of “representation” used in this letter as wefind in The Desire of Ages. The paragraph in the letter where this
sentence appears begins with the statement: “Although our Lordascended from earth to heaven, the Holy Spirit was appointed as
his representative among men.”
Ellen White further explains the meaning of her words “theHoly Spirit is himself” by adding that “Christ would represent
himself as present in all places by his Holy Spirit.”
In the mysterious union that exists between the membersof the Godhead, the Holy Spirit’s presence is synonymous with
the personal presence of Jesus, yet their distinct identities are preserved.
The same idea is found in other Ellen White passages, such
When you come to receive Christ as your personalSaviour, there will be a marked change in you; you
will be converted, and the Lord Jesus by His HolySpirit will stand by you.16
I testify to my brethren and sisters that the church of Christ, enfeebled and defective as it may be, is the only object on earth on which He bestows His supreme regard. While He extends to all the world His invitation to come to Him and be saved, . . . He comes personally by His Holy Spirit into the midst of His church.17
How do we account for the change in wording in The Desireof Ages? We have only the 1895 letter, no working drafts for
the finished chapter, leaving us with the conclusion that what was published in 1898 represents the edited reading approved by the author.18 The language adopted by Ellen White in The Desire of Ages helps the reader to avoid a misinterpretation that arises when the sentence as first constructed is isolated from the entire paragraph of its original context.
In conclusion, we cannot approach the subject of the Godhead without acknowledging the limitations of human conception and
language. It is one thing to examine what an inspired author has written, it is quite another to say that we have fully understood it. Our interest in this presentation, however, has not been the mystery of the Godhead but the trustworthiness of certain
descriptive statements found in Ellen White’s books. We have found that the original handwritten manuscripts, her approved
transcriptions, and/or the first editions of her published works support the Trinitarian expressions found today in her writings.
Addendum (added May 2012)
Further evidence that Ellen White believed that the Godhead consists of three beings may be found in a Sabbath sermon she
delivered on October 20, 1906. The full sermon is reproduced in Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, pp. 360-383. The key statement is
found on p. 367: “You are born unto God, and you stand under the sanction and the power of the three holiest Beings in heaven,
who are able to keep you from falling.” Some have questioned the authenticity of the statement because it was not published in
Ellen White’s lifetime. How do we know that we can trust the
reading in Sermons and Talks? The source of the sermon is Ellen White’s Manuscript 95, 1906, which was a part of Ellen White’s
file ever since the sermon was transcribed in 1906 as evidenced by other portions of the sermon which Ellen White published in the December 13, 1906, Review and Herald.
Exhibit 17 is a photograph of Ellen White’s 1906 letter book which contains Ms 95, 1906, on pages 19-42. Exhibit 18 is scan of the
manuscript’s first page, identifying the document, and Exhibit 19 is a scan of the page containing the “three holiest beings”
statement (in the second paragraph).
Exhibit 18. Scan of the manuscript’s first page,
identifying the document.
Exhibit 19. Scan of the page containing the “three holiest beings”
statement (in the second paragraph).
1For example, see Rachel Cory-Kuehl, The Persons of God (n.p.:
Aggelia Publications, 1996) , pp. 159-188.
ePioneer.html (accessed 11/14/2005).
3Cory-Kuehl, pp. 187, 177.
4For The Desire of Ages, this process is described in Arthur L. White,
Ellen G. White: The Australian Years, 1891-1900 (Hagerstown, MD:
Review and Herald, 1983), chapter 32, and in greater detail in Robert
W. Olson, How The Desire of Ages Was Written (Washington, DC: Ellen
G. White Estate, 1979), and Fred Veltman, Full Report of the Life of
Christ Research Project (n.p.: Life of Christ Research Project Review
5E. G. White, Letter 8, 1896.
6E. G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald,
1946), p. 615, from Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, published in
7Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Springfield,
MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003); Webster’s New International Dictionary,
2nd Edition, Unabridged (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam, 1954).
8E. G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1074, emphasis
9Evangelism, pp. 616, 617.
10Cory-Kuehl, p. 177.
11E. G. White, Manuscript 93, 1893, published in Manuscript
Releases, vol. 20, pp. 323-325, emphasis supplied.
12E. G. White, Manuscript 27a, 1900, published in SDA Bible
Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1075, emphasis supplied.
13E. G. White, Manuscript 27a, 1900, p. 7. This portion is not
published in the SDA Bible Commentary.
14E. G. White, Letter 119, 1895.
15Published in Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 93.
16E. G. White Manuscript 13, 1897, published in Mind, Character,
and Personality, vol. 1, pp. 124, 125.
17E. G. White, Letter 2d, 1892, published in Testimonies to Ministers,
18Against the claim that the published reading does not reflect Ellen
White’s teaching is the fact that the text remained unchanged by her for
the next 17 years prior to her death, and that the passage was repeated in
ELLEN WHITE’S TRINITARIAN STATEMENTS
44 ELLEN WHITE AND CURRENT ISSUES SYMPOSIUM 2006
an article she supplied for the Week of Prayer Readings published in the
Review and Herald, November 19, 1908.