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Inspiration/Revelation: What It Is and How It Works - Contents
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    Physical Phenomena

    When in vision state, the prophets experienced supernatural physical phenomena. The tenth chapter of Daniel best illustrates the nature and scope of such singular phenomena. Daniel tells us that in this condition he saw things that others about him did not see (vs. 7); he sustained a loss of natural strength (vs. 8) and then was endowed with supernatural strength (vss. 10, 11, 16, 18, 19). He was totally unconscious of his immediate surroundings (vs. 9), and he did not breathe during this time (vs. 17).IRWHW 48.2

    Ellen White experienced all these phenomena in the vision state. However, it should be noted that although her lungs did not function at such times, the heart did continue to circulate blood through the body; her face did not lose color.IRWHW 48.3

    Perhaps, as already noted above, there may be a startlingly literal interpretation to theopneustos—“God-breathed”—as it related to the physical phenomena associated with a prophet in vision.IRWHW 48.4

    In Ellen White’s experience, the physical phenomena of “open visions” were more characteristic of her earlier years; from the 1880s onward all of her inspired messages apparently came from the Lord in prophetic dreams. This leads us to consider the purpose of physical phenomena.IRWHW 48.5

    First, physical phenomena were not prerequisites for receiving messages from God. The prophetic dreams of the night seem to make this clear. But God, who has a purpose for everything He does, obviously had a purpose in providing these dramatic supernatural exhibitions.IRWHW 48.6

    Perhaps the dramatic nature of these exhibitions gives us a clue to Heaven’s intention. In the case of Ellen White, we have a 17-year-old girl claiming, “I have a vision from the Lord!” “Well,” one might wonder, “how do we know?”IRWHW 48.7

    In the early days of a prophet’s ministry, when he has made few written or spoken pronouncements, it is difficult to apply the test of consistency with previously inspired testimony (Isaiah 8:20). The test of fruitage (Matthew 7:16, 20) is equally difficult to apply until a few years pass and results are seen in the life of the prophet and in the lives of those who have followed the prophet’s counsels. The test of fulfilled prediction (Jeremiah 28:9, Deuteronomy 18:22) cannot be applied until enough time has elapsed to allow a judgment about whether any prophecies made have come to pass.IRWHW 48.8

    Obviously, God needed to do something to arrest attention, to suddenly cause people to sit up and take notice. Physical phenomena serve this purpose. God had used such methods before (probably for the same reason) at Pentecost when tongues of fire were seen above the heads of the 120, and these men and women spoke contemporary languages they had never previously studied. 47See Acts 2.IRWHW 48.9

    Perhaps God used physical phenomena to validate the fact that something supernatural was here at work. Of course, witnesses would still need to validate, to authenticate the messages by means of the conventional Bible tests.IRWHW 48.10

    However, the fact that Satan can and does counterfeit many natural and supernatural phenomena should lead us to make a crucial distinction: Physical phenomena are an evidence of supernatural activity, but they are never to be a test of the authenticity or legitimacy of a prophet.IRWHW 48.11

    Today it has become fashionable among the critics of Ellen White to call for a “demythologizing” of Adventists’ historic prophet. One critic in particular recently called for the burying of legendary tales involving “magic.”IRWHW 48.12

    Concerning stories of Mrs. White holding a large Bible for an extended period of time on her outstretched, upraised hand while in vision, this critic alleges that at the 1919 Bible Conference it was declared emphatically that the event never really happened, that no one had ever seen it; indeed, no one was even there to witness it! 48From the stenographically prepared transcript of Walter Rea’s lecture, “White Lies,” Adventist Forum, San Diego, Calif., February 14, 1981, p. 10. In a letter dated July 17, 1981, I requested in writing that Walter Rea grant me permission to quote him directly from his verbatim transcript. In his reply dated July 21, Rea in effect declined the request, tacitly admitting that he might have made some small errors in his presentation to the Forum. Instead, he appealed to me not to get into minor nitpicking but to stay with the larger issues. Physical phenomena is one such larger issue, and Walter Rea had tended to emphasize it by alleging that published reports of Ellen White’s holding a large Bible in vision are mythical and without foundation.IRWHW 48.13

    If, however, we go to the transcript of the 1919 Bible Conference, 49Published in Spectrum 10:1 (May 1979), pp. 23-57. we notice, first of all, that the record has been substantially misquoted by the critic. We find General Conference President Arthur G. Daniells discussing the use of physical phenomena as “proof or evidence of the genuineness of the gift.” And he opposes such use as proof of legitimacy—a position the White Estate continues to hold today!IRWHW 48.14

    Instead, said Daniells, “I believe that the strongest proof is found in the fruits of this gift to the church, not in physical and outward demonstrations.”IRWHW 48.15

    Then, addressing more directly the question of the stories about Ellen White holding a large, heavy Bible on an outstretched hand while in vision, looking away from the pages, and yet quoting the texts to which a finger of the opposite hand pointed, Elder Daniells declared: “I do not know whether that was ever done or not. I am not sure. I did not see it, and I do not know that I ever talked with anybody that did see it.” 50Ibid., p. 28.IRWHW 48.16

    One does not need to look far to discover why Daniells had not witnessed such an event. This writer has uncovered four instances thus far where Ellen White held a Bible in vision: three times in 1845 and once in 1847. 51See, for example, “The Witness of the ‘Big Bible,’” by Arthur L. White, September 13, 1979; and “Ellen G. White and the Big Bible,” by Ron Graybill, 1981; both unpublished manuscripts circulated as working papers among the Ellen G. White Estate staff. Arthur Daniells was not born until 1858, at least 11 years after the latest recorded Bible-holding incident took place.IRWHW 48.17

    Research shows that physical phenomena was more characteristic of the earlier days of Mrs. White’s experience. Indeed, the last “open vision” of record took place at a camp meeting in Portland, Oregon, in 1884, only six years after Daniells entered the gospel ministry. 52See The General Conference Bulletin, January 29, 1893, pp. 19, 20; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1976), p. 374; and Paul Gordon’s monograph, “Revelation-Inspiration: Ellen G. White’s Witness and Experience,” July 1978, p. 1.IRWHW 48.18

    We should not be surprised, then, that Daniells never witnessed Mrs. White holding a large Bible in vision. He probably saw very few other manifestations of physical phenomena, which ceased shortly after he entered the ministry. Nor is it surprising that he had not met any contemporaries who had observed such phenomena—they were probably too young, too!IRWHW 49.1

    Some critics hold that the evidence behind at least two of the Bible-holding stories is not reliable because the stories were not recorded until 45 years after the events took place; and because they were written down by one denominational writer who was not a trained historian. While there may be some validity to this concern, the fact remains that the White Estate still holds in its vault an eyewitness account of the event, known to have been written sometime between 1847 and 1860. The observer was Otis Nichols, and the incident he reported took place during what was probably Ellen White’s longest vision, at Randolph, Massachusetts, in the winter of 1845.IRWHW 49.2

    During this vision, which lasted approximately four hours, Ellen Harmon (who was unmarried at the time) picked up “a heavy large quarto family Bible” and lifted it up “as high as she could reach.” The Bible was “open in one hand,” and she then proceeded “to turn over the leaves with the other hand and place her finger upon certain passages and correctly utter their words”—all this with her head facing in another direction! In this activity “she continued for a long time.” 53Eight-page report of Otis Nichols (n.d.), p. 7. From internal evidence it is apparent that Nichols could not have written this first-person eyewitness account before 1847; and it is obvious that it could not have been penned after 1860, since Ellen White quotes three paragraphs of it in Spiritual Gifts 2:77-79 (Battle Creek, Mich.: James White, 1860).IRWHW 49.3

    Ellen White believed this account to be an accurate record of a genuine experience, because she quoted three paragraphs from it in an autobiographical account published in 1860. 54Ibid.IRWHW 49.4

    Arthur G. Daniells never said that the event did not happen, as the critic alleges. Instead, he simply said that he didn’t see it and didn’t know anyone who had. However, had Elder Daniells (who was a member of the White Estate board of trustees) taken the effort to go to the vault and examine the documentary evidence that still is preserved there, he would have had no doubt about whether Ellen White ever held a Bible in vision, or about whether she breathed while in her open visions of the day. 55See “How the Visions Were Given,” in Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 6-8.IRWHW 49.5

    We must emphasize at this point that the position of the Seventh-day Adventist church today is the same as it has always been. Physical phenomena are an evidence of supernatural activity, but it should never be used as a proof because Satan can counterfeit much of the work of the Holy Spirit.IRWHW 49.6

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