Ellen G. White Writings

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Basic Rules of Interpretation-Internal and External, Page 9

without one heretical sentence.” 7Selected Messages 3:52. That is a remarkable statement for any author to make, especially one who had been writing for more than sixty years. 8“The light that I have received, I have written out, and much of it is now shining forth from the printed page. There is, throughout my printed works, a harmony with my present teaching.”—The Review and Herald, June 14, 1906.

On some subjects that many consider important today, Mrs. White wrote nothing. Movies, television and radio programs, abortion, cremation, organ transplants, etc., were not current topics in her day.

Little Said on Some Subjects

On some subjects she said very little. We have relatively few statements on life insurance, 9Testimonies for the Church 1:549-551 (1867). To understand this statement we must also employ “hermeneutic rule number two.” and only one on the wedding ring. 10Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 180, 181 (1892). Her comments on two “special resurrections” are brief—she mentions a special resurrection of some on Christ’s resurrection morning 11The Desire of Ages, 785-787, 833, 834; Early Writings, 184, 185, 208; The Great Controversy, 18, 667; Selected Messages 1:304-308. and another immediately prior to Christ’s second coming. 12Early Writings, 285; The Great Controversy, 637.

On some subjects she wrote abundantly—topics such as Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, faith, and divine-human cooperation.

Certain subjects have frequently caused unnecessary disagreements within the church because students did not apply this first rule of hermeneutics. For example, statements such as “eggs should not be placed upon your table” should be balanced, according to other statements Ellen White has written concerning eggs and her principle of “step-by-step” understanding of truth (see pp. 282, 310, 311). 13Testimonies for the Church 2:362, 400. Note some helpful statements in Testimonies for the Church 7:135; Testimonies for the Church 9:162; The Ministry of Healing, 320.

Other subjects in the writings of Ellen White that profit from a fair use of this first hermeneutical rule include appropriate clothing, Sabbath observance, and counseling. Theologically, one is wise to follow this first rule when studying such topics as the atonement, the nature of Christ, the nature of sin, how sin is punished, and the relation of the “latter rain” to the Second Coming. Several of these subjects have polarized Adventists because some put more weight on expressions in a private letter than on the general instruction of a book, or on a paragraph lifted out of context that seems to fly in the face of full chapters in a published book. 14“If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works.”—Testimonies for the Church 5:696. See George Knight, Reading Ellen White, pp. 121-123.

Rule Two: Every statement must be understood within its historical context. Time, place, and circumstances under which that statement was made must be studied in order to understand its meaning.

Although this rule seems obvious, it lies at the root of many deep disagreements. In the day of selective media bites, most anyone in the public eye has been misunderstood by having his/her statements taken out of context. How often a misquoted person is heard saying, “But that is not what I meant!” Or, “I said that, but they didn’t include everything I said!”

If living today, Ellen White could often say, “But that is not what I meant!” “Yes, I said that, but they didn’t include everything I said!” Let us note three times that she emphasized the importance of this second rule of hermeneutics.

In 1875 she pointed out that that “which may be said in truth of individuals at one time may not correctly be said of them at another time.” 15Testimonies for the Church 3:471. Why did she say this? Because she was being criticized for her endorsement of certain leaders who later fell from grace or apostatized.

In 1904 she appealed to the fact that God “wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things.” 16Selected Messages 3:217. See p. 345.

In 1911 she emphasized that “regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered.” 17Selected Messages 1:57.

Here we have three fundamental categories: time, place, and circumstances—all of which must be considered when one seeks to understand the meaning of any statement. These categories are not synonymous.

Time. Some Ellen White statements need to be understood in terms of when she made them. For instance, on January 16, 1898, she wrote: “We are still in probationary

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