Lecture Outline

Ellen G. White as a Writer:
Case Studies in the Issue of Literary Borrowing

Denis Fortin

    Of the many "problem" issues regarding the writings of Ellen G. White one, in particular, has been more successful in destroying confidence in, and the credibility of, Ellen G. White, as a true, authentic prophet of the Lord, than any others.  It is the "plagiarism" charge.

    One of the best documents addressing this issue is Roger W. Coon's lecture outline, "Ellen G. White and the So-Called 'Plagiarism' Charge: An Examination of Five Issues," (April 30, 1999). In this document, Coon draws a distinction between plagiarism and literary borrowing.  His conclusion is that Ellen White is not guilty of the former and only used literary borrowing in the production of some of her writings.

    Coon argues that in agreement with Ellen White's own admission of literary borrowing in the Great Controversy, literary borrowing "occurs when one writer utilizes and employs - "borrows" - the ideas, or words, of another, for his own personal ends, for the purpose of making a particular point. . . . The question of the identity of the original author is not, here, the germane issue (as it is in plagiarism). And the practice of literary borrowing does not, ipso facto, constitute plagiarism. Literary law recognizes what it defines as the "fair use" by one writer, of the ideas and even of the words of another, and of converting them to serve the particular purpose of the second writer (apart, of course, from pretending to be the original author - that's plagiarism!). And literary law specifically exempts such "fair use" practice from the arena of plagiarism" (p.4).

    In her introduction to the Great Controversy, Ellen White openly admitted this practice.

"The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works." (GC, xi-xii)
    And for that matter so did John Wesley.
"It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon further consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point of view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value." (Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, Preface, quoted in F.D. Nichol, Ellen G. White and Her Critics, p. 406.)

    One of the best ways to understand the levels and types of literary borrowing in her writings is to consider some case studies. Two of the best known examples of literary borrowing are found in her 1883 book Sketches From the Life of Paul on the experiences of Paul in Ephesus and her Manuscript 24, 1886 on the subject of inspiration (found in Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 19-21). Needless to say that her critics have considered these two examples as flagrant cases of plagiarism but a close comparative study between the source documents and her writings will show how she used her sources and adapted them to fit her thought and spiritual applications.

I. The Life of Paul

    In writing her commentary on the life of Paul, Ellen White borrowed many expressions and descriptions from one book found in her library by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. Covering similar themes and historical events as her own book, this book contains descriptions and analyses of the historical context and culture of the Middle East as it relates to the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. This book was well known among Adventists and was in fact recommended as good reading.

    In the February 22, 1883 edition of the Signs of the Times an advertisement appeared on page 96 about Conybeare and Howson's book. Ellen White endorsed this book with the following comment: "The Life of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson, I regard as a book of great merit, and one of rare usefulness to the earnest student of the New Testament history."

    This study will compare two chapters in each book: chapters 14 (pp.382-395) and 16 (pp.427-440) in Conybeare and Howson's The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, and chapters 13 (pp.128-140) and 14 (pp.140-149) in White's Sketches From the Life of Paul. The similarities in thought and wording are obvious between these two books. Sometimes Ellen White used or borrowed similar thoughts by using key words and expressions from Conybeare and Howson's book and then paraphrased their thoughts; other times she borrowed directly from them changing only a few words in some sentences. The literary borrowing was almost entirely limited to historical information and backgrounds, and was often rearranged by White to fit her thought and chapter outline. Whereas Conybeare and Howson give very little spiritual application of and commentary on the events Paul encountered, White attends to the spiritual lessons to be gained from these events and borrows little from Conybeare and Howson when it comes to the spiritual applications of the stories and events from the life of Paul.

    In two letters to L.E. Froom (January 8, 1928 and December 13, 1934), now found in Selected Messages, book 3, W.C. White shared how her mother used some of the historical materials she found in other books.

    The great events occurring in the life of our Lord were presented to her in panoramic scenes as also were the other portions of The Great Controversy. In a few of these scenes chronology and geography were clearly presented, but in the greater part of the revelation the flashlight scenes, which were exceedingly vivid, and the conversations and the controversies, which she heard and was able to narrate, were not marked geographically or chronologically, and she was left to study the Bible and history, and the writings of men who had presented the life of our Lord to get the chronological and geographical connection.
    Another purpose served by the reading of history and the Life of Our Lord and the Life of St. Paul, was that in so doing there was brought vividly to her mind scenes presented clearly in vision, but which were through the lapse of years and her strenuous ministry, dimmed in her memory.
    Many times in the reading of Hanna, Farrar, or Fleetwood, she would run on to a description of a scene which had been vividly presented to her, but forgotten, and which she was able to describe more in detail than that which she had read. (Selected Messages 3:459, 460)

    In some of the historical matters such as are brought out in Patriarchs and Prophets, and in Acts of the Apostles and in Great Controversy, the main outlines were made very clear and plain to her, and when she came to write up these topics, she was left to study the Bible and history to get dates and geographical relations and to perfect her description of details. (Selected Messages 3:462)

    In the following pages, one will find two parallel columns placing side by side many paragraphs or sentences from the chapters studied in these two books. Words underlined represent direct wording from authors used by White.
Ellen G. White
Sketches from the Life of Paul
W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson
The Life and Epistles of St. Paul
The Jews, now widely dispersed in all civilized lands, were generally expecting the speedy advent of the Messiah. In their visits to Jerusalem at the annual feasts, many had gone out to the banks of the Jordan to listen to the preaching of John the Baptist. From him they had heard the proclamation of Christ as the Promised One, and on their return home they had carried the tidings to all parts of the world. (129) Many Jews from other countries received from the Baptist their knowledge of the Messiah, and carried with them this knowledge on their return from Palestine.... But in a position intermediate between this deluded party and those who were travelling as teachers of the full and perfect gospel there were doubtless many among the floating Jewish population of the empire whose knowledge of Christ extended only to that which had been preached on the banks of the Jordan. (385-386)
On his arrival at Ephesus, Paul found twelve brethren, who, like Apollos, had been disciples of John the Baptist, and like him had gained an imperfect knowledge of the life and mission of Christ. (129) Apollos, along with twelve others who are soon afterward mentioned at Ephesus, was acquainted with Christianity only so far as it had been made known by John the Baptist. (385)
The city was famed for the worship of the goddess Diana and the practice of magic. (134) This city was renowned throughout the world for the worship of Diana and the practice of magic. (392)
Here was the great temple of Diana, which was regarded by the ancients as one of the wonders of the world. Its vast extent and surpassing magnificence made it the pride, not only of the city, but of the nation. Kings and princes had enriched it by their donations. The Ephesians vied with one another in adding to its splendor, and it was made the treasure-house for a large share of the wealth of Western Asia. (134) This was the temple of Artemis or Diana, which glittered in brilliant beauty at the head of the harbor, and was reckoned by the ancients as one of the wonders of the world....The national pride in the sanctuary was so great that when Alexander offered the spoils of his Eastern campaign if he might inscribe his name on the building, the honor was declined. The Ephesians never ceased to embellish the shrine of their goddess, continually adding new decorations and subsidiary buildings, with statues and pictures by the most famous artists. (429-430)
The idol enshrined in this sumptuous edifice was a rude, uncouth image, declared by tradition to have fallen from the sky. (134) If the temple of Diana at Ephesus was magnificent, the image enshrined within the sumptuous enclosure was primitive and rude. (431)
Upon it were inscribed mystic characters and symbols, which were believed to possess great power. When pronounced, they were said to accomplish wonders. When written, they were treasured as a potent charm to guard their possessor from robbers, from disease, and even from death. Numerous and costly books were written by the Ephesians to explain the meaning and use of these symbols. (134-135) Eustathius says that the mysterious symbols called 'Ephesian Letters' were engraved on the crown, the girdle, and the feet of the goddess.... When pronounced they were regarded as a charm, and were directed to be used especially by those who were in the power of evil spirits. When written they were carried about as amulets.... The study of these symbols was an elaborate science, and books, both numerous and costly, were compiled by its professors. (392)
As Paul was brought in direct contact with the idolatrous inhabitants of Ephesus, the power of God was strikingly displayed through him. The apostles were not always able to work miracles at will. The Lord granted his servants this special power as the progress of his cause or the honor of his name required. Like Moses and Aaron at the court of Pharaoh, the apostle had now to maintain the truth against the lying wonders of the magicians; hence the miracles he wrought were of a different character from those which he had heretofore performed. As the hem of Christ's garment had communicated healing power to her who sought relief by the touch of faith, so on this occasion, garments were made the means of cure to all that believed; "diseases departed from them, and evil spirits went out of them." Yet these miracles gave no encouragement to blind superstition. When Jesus felt the touch of the suffering woman, he exclaimed, "Virtue is gone out of me." [italics hers] So the scripture declares that the Lord wrought miracles by the hand of Paul, and that the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, and not the name of Paul. (135) This statement throws some light on the peculiar character of the miracles wrought by Paul at Ephesus. We are not to suppose that the apostles were always able to work miracles at will. An influx of supernatural power was given to them at the time and according to the circumstances that required it. And the character of the miracles was not always the same. They were accommodated to the peculiar forms of sin, superstition, and ignorance they were required to oppose. Here, at Ephesus, Paul was in the face of magicians, like Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh; and it is distinctly said that his miracles were 'not ordinary wonders,' from which we may infer that they were different from those which he usually performed .... A miracle which has a closer reference to our present subject is that in which the hem of Christ's garment was made effectual to the healing of a poor sufferer and the conviction of the bystanders. So on this occasion garments were made the means of communicating a healing power to those who were at a distance, whether they were possessed with evil spirits or afflicted with ordinary diseases. Yet was this no encouragement to blind superstition. When the suffering woman was healed by touching the hem of the garment, the Saviour turned round and said, 'Virtue is gone out of me.' [italics theirs] And here at Ephesus we are reminded that it was God who 'wrought miracles by the hands of Paul' (v.11), and that 'the name,' not of Paul, but 'of the Lord Jesus, was magnified' (v.17). (393)
Sorcery had been prohibited in the Mosaic law, on pain of death, yet from time to time it had been secretly practiced by apostate Jews. At the time of Paul's visit to Ephesus, there were in the city certain Jewish exorcists, who, seeing the wonders wrought by him, claimed to possess equal power. Believing that the name of Jesus acted as a charm, they determined to cast out evil spirits by the same means which the apostle had employed. (136) The stern severity with which sorcery was forbidden in the Old Testament attests the early tendency of the Israelites to such practices.... This passage in Paul's latest letter [2 Tim. 3:13] had probably reference to that very city in which we see him now brought into oppositions with Jewish sorcerers. These men, believing that the name of Jesus acted as a charm, and recognizing the apostle as a Jew like themselves, attempted his method of casting out evil spirits. (393-394)
An attempt was made by seven brothers, the sons of one Sceva, a Jewish priest. Finding a man possessed with a demon, they addressed him, "We adjure thee by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth." But the evil spirit answered with scorn, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?" and the one possessed sprang on them with frantic violence, and beat and bruised them, so that they fled out of the house, naked and wounded. (136) One specific instance is recorded which produced disastrous consequences to those who made the attempt, and led to wide results among the general population. In the number of those who attempted to cast out evil spirits by the 'name of Jesus' were seven brothers, sons of Sceva, who is called a high priest... But the demons, who were subject to Jesus, and by his will subject to those who preached his gospel, treated with scorn those who used his Name without being converted to his truth. 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?' was the answer of the evil spirit. And straightway the man who was possessed sprang upon them with frantic violence, so that they were utterly discomfited, and 'fled out of the house naked and wounded.'" (394)
The discomfiture and humiliation of those who had profaned the name of Jesus, soon became known throughout Ephesus, by Jews and Gentiles. Unmistakable proof had been given of the sacredness of that name, and the peril which they incurred who should invoke it while they had no faith in Christ's divine mission. Terror seized the minds of many, and the work of the gospel was regarded by all with awe and reverence. Facts which had previously been concealed were now brought to light. In accepting Christianity, some of the brethren had not fully renounced their heathen superstitions. The practice of magic was still to some extent continued among them. Convinced of their error by the events which had recently occurred, they came and made a full confession to Paul, and publicly acknowledged their secret arts to be deceptive and Satanic. (136-137) This fearful result of the profane use of that holy Name which was proclaimed by the apostles of all men soon became notorious, both among the Greeks and the Jews. Consternation and alarm took possession of the minds of many, and in proportion to this alarm the name of the Lord Jesus began to be reverenced and honored. Even among those who had given their faith to Paul's teaching, some appear to have retained their attachment to the practice of magical arts. Their conscience was moved by what had recently occurred, and they came and made a ful confession to the apostle, and publicly acknowledged and forsook their deeds of darkness. (394)
Many sorcerers also abjured the practice of magic, and received Christ as their Saviour. They brought together the costly books containing the mysterious "Ephesian letters," and the secrets of their art, and burned them in the presence of all the people. When the books had been consumed, they proceeded to reckon up the value of the sacrifice. It was estimated at fifty thousand pieces of silver, equal to about ten thousand dollars. (137) The fear and conviction seem to have extended beyond those who made a profession of Christianity. A large number of the sorcerers themselves openly renounced the practice which had been so signally condemned by a higher power, and they brought together the books that contained the mystic formularies and burnt them before all the people. When the volumes were consumed they proceeded to reckon up the price at which these manuals of enchantment would be valued.... Hence we must not be surprised that the whole cost thus sacrificed and surrendered amounted to as much as two thousand pounds of English money. (394-395)
The month of May was specially devoted to the worship of the goddess of Ephesus. The universal honor in which this deity was held, the magnificence of her temple and her worship, attracted an immense concourse of people from all parts of the province of Asia. Throughout the entire month the festivities were conducted with the utmost pomp and splendor. ... The officers chosen to conduct this grand celebration were the men of highest distinction in the chief cities of Asia. They were also persons of vast wealth, for in return for the honor of their position, they were expected to defray the entire expense of the occasion. The whole city was a scene of brilliant display and wild revelry. Imposing processions swept to the grand temple. The air rung with sounds of joy. The people gave themselves up to feasting, drunkenness, and the vilest debauchery. (141) The whole month of May was consecrated to the glory of the goddess.... The Artemisian festival was not simply an Ephesian ceremony, but was fostered by the sympathy and enthusiasm of all the surrounding neighborhood ... so this gathering was called 'the common meeting of Asia.' ... [They enjoyed] the various amusements which made the days and nights of May one long scene of revelry. ... About the time of the vernal equinox each of the principal towns within the district called Asia chose one of its wealthiest citizens, and from the whole number thus returned then were finally selected to discharge the duty of asiarchs. ... Receiving no emolument from their office, but being required rather to extend large sums for the amusement of the people and their own credit, they were necessarily persons of wealth. (435)
It had long been customary among heathen nations to make use of small images or shrines to represent their favorite objects of worship. Portable statues were modeled after the great image of Diana, and were widely circulated in the countries along the shores of the Mediterranean. Models of the temple which enshrined the idol were also eagerly sought. Both were regarded as objects of worship, and were carried at the head of processions, and on journeys and military expeditions. An extensive and profitable business had grown up at Ephesus from the manufacture and sale of these shrines and images. (142) One of the idolatrous customs of the ancient world was the use of portable images or shrines, which were little models of the more celebrated objects of devotion. They were carried in processions, on journeys and military expeditions, and sometimes set up as household gods in private houses. ... From the expression used by Luke, it is evident that an extensive and lucrative trade grew up at Ephesus from the manufacture and sale of these shrines. Few of those who came to Ephesus would willingly go away without a memorial of the goddess and a model of her temple; and from the wide circulation of these works of art over the shores of the Mediterranean and far into the interior it might be said, with little exaggeration, that her worship was recognized by the 'whole world'. (431-432)
Those who were interested in this branch of industry found their gains diminishing. All united in attributing the unwelcome change to Paul's labors. Demetrius, a manufacturer of silver shrines, called together the workmen of his craft, and by a violent appeal endeavored to stir up their indignation against Paul. (142) Doubtless, those who employed themselves in making the portable shrines of Diana expected to drive a brisk trade at such a time, and when they found that the sale of these objects os superstition was seriously diminished, and that the preaching of Paul was the cause of their merchandise being depreciated.... A certain Demetrius, a master-manufacturer in the craft, summoned together the workmen, ... and addressed to them an inflammatory speech. (436)
He represented that their traffic was endangered, and pointed out the great loss which they would sustain if the apostle were allowed to turn the people away from their ancient worship. He then appealed to their ruling superstition.... (142) Demetrius appealed first to the interest of his hearers, and then to their fanaticism. He told them that their gains were in danger of being lost, and , besides this, that 'the temple of the great goddess Diana'... was in danger of being despised.... (437)
This speech acted as fire to the stubble. The excited passions of the people were roused, and burst forth in the cry, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" (143) Such a speech could not be lost when thrown like fire on such inflammatory materials. The infuriated feeling of the crowd of assembled artisans broke out at once into a cry in honor of the divine patron of their city and their craft - 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians!' (437)
A report of the speech of Demetrius was rapidly circulated. The uproar was terrific. The whole city seemed in commotion. An immense crowd soon collected, and a rush was made to the workshop of Aquila, in the Jewish quarters, with the object of securing Paul. In their insane rage they were ready to tear him in pieces. But the apostle was not to be found. His brethren, receiving an intimation of the danger, had hurried him from the place. Angels of God were sent to guard the faithful apostle. His time to die a martyr's death had not yet come. Failing to find the object of their wrath, the mob seized two of his companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, and with them hurried on to the theater. (143) The excitement among this important and influential class of operatives was not long in spreading through the whole city. The infection seized upon the crowds of citizens and strangers, and a general rush was made to the theatre, the most obvious place of assembly. On their way they seem to have been foiled in the attempt to lay hold of the person of Paul, though they hurried with them into the theatre two of the companions of his travels, Caius and Aristarchus, whose home was in Macedonia. (437)
Several of the most honorable and influential among the magistrates sent him an earnest request not to venture into a situation of so great peril. (144) Some of the asiarchs ... sent an urgent message to him to prevent him from venturing into the scene of disorder and danger. (437-438)
The tumult at the theater was continually increasing. "Some cried one thing, and some another; and the more part knew not wherefore they had come together." From the fact that Paul and some of his companions were of Hebrew extraction, the Jews felt that odium was cast upon them, and that their own safety might be endangered. (144) It was indeed a scene of confusion, and never perhaps was the character of a mob more simply and graphically expressed than when it is said that 'the majority knew not why they were come together' (v.32). At length an attempt was made to bring the expression of some articulate words before the assembly. This attempt came from the Jews, who seem to have been afraid lest they should be implicated in the odium which had fallen on the Christians. (438)
He [the recorder of the city] bade them consider that Paul and his companions had not profaned the temple of Diana, nor outraged the feelings of any by reviling the goddess. He then skillfully turned the subject, and reproved the course of Demetrius ... He closed by warning them that such an uproar, raised without apparent cause, might subject the city of Ephesus to the censure of the Romans, thus causing a restriction of her present liberty, and intimating that there must not be a repetition of the scene. Having by this speech completely tranquilized the disturbed elements, the recorder dismissed the assembly. (145-146) Then he [town-clerk] bids them remember that Paul and his companions had not been guilty of approaching or profaning the temple, or of outraging the feelings of the Ephesians by calumnious expressions against the goddess. And then he turns from the general subject to the case of Demetrius.... And, reserving the most efficacious argument to the last, he reminded them that such an uproar exposed the city to the displeasure of the Romans; for, however great were the liberties allowed to an ancient and loyal city, it was well known to the whole population that a tumultuous meeting which endangered the public peace would never be tolerated. So, having rapidly brought his arguments to a climax, he tranquilized the whole multitude and pronounced the technical words which declared the assembly dispersed. (438-439)
His heart was filled with gratitude to God that his life had been preserved, and that Christianity had not been brought into disrepute by the tumult at Ephesus. (146) With gratitude to that heavenly Master who had watched over his [Paul's] life and his works .... (439)
God had raised up a great magistrate to vindicate his apostle, and hold the tumultuous mob in check. (146) Thus, God used the eloquence of a Greek magistrate to protect his servant, as before he had used the right of Roman citizenship and the calm justice of a Roman governor. (439)

A few notes of analysis and conclusion:

In this parallel study of Ellen White's Sketches from the Life of Paul and Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul we find evidences that Ellen White did get some materials from these two authors.  However, we must recognize that her borrowing was not done in a mindless manner.  She borrowed geographical, archaeological and historical information to supplement her thoughts and descriptions of the events she was describing.  Sometimes she loosely paraphrased what she borrowed, other times the paraphrases are more substantial, still sometimes the passages borrowed are almost word for word, or following the same line of thought.  Yet, it also seems evident that she borrowed what she needed and left out what did not fit her thought.  One draw back of this comparative study is the fact that long sections of Ellen White's chapters are not mentioned because there is no parallel with Conybeare and Howson.  Furthermore, one should note that Ellen White often rearranged Conybeare and Howson's outline and thoughts, she took materials from different pages or chapters and lined them up in her own way.  Most students doing research today do not take the time to rework someone's thoughts and outline to that extent.  This study shows that Ellen White knew what she was borrowing and did not borrow material mindlessly, simply to fill a page.  She interacted with the material which to me indicates she was not plagiarizing.

II. Thoughts on Inspiration

    Our second case study compares Ellen White's thought on the issue of inspiration in her Manuscript 24, 1886 (in Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 19-21) and Calvin E. Stowe's Origin and History of the Books of the Bible, Both the Canonical and the Apocryphal, Designed to Show What the Bible Is Not, What It Is, and How to Use It (Hartford, Ct: Hartford Publishing Company, 1867), pp.13-20.

    In 1971, William S. Peterson asserted that Ellen White took not just fine language and historical information from other authors, but ideas as well. He mentions that Ellen White borrowed not only Calvin Stowe's words, but also his ideas when she wrote Manuscript 24, 1886 (See Spectrum, Autumn, 1971, pp. 73-84). When David Neff (now general editor of Christianity Today) was a Seminary student at Andrews University in 1973 and responded to Peterson's assertion with a carefully researched 29-page paper in which he compares and contrasts Stowe and Ellen White line by line and word by word.  According to Neff:

    "We have evidence of her writing most of the ideas which are common to her and Dr. Stowe at a time prior to the writing of this manuscript. Indeed, some of these references antedate any possible awareness on her part of Dr. Stowe's book. In addition to the common theological material, there are several points at which the two authors diverge or have distinctively different emphases. These are of sufficient importance for us to conclude that in writing Manuscript 24, 1886, Mrs. White was not "appropriating the ideas of another man." (Ellen White's Alleged Literary and Theological Indebtedness to Calvin Stowe, p. 25).
    This study prompted Robert Olson to conclude that "Neff's findings fully support Ellen White's position that her basic concepts or ideas came, not from human sources, but from God" (Ellen G. White's Use of Sources, p. 10, 11).

    In this second case study, much more than in the first one which dealt mainly with historical information and background, Ellen White's thought and theology are clearly different from Stowe's arguments on the concept of inspiration.  This comparison shows that at the end of the manuscript Ellen White leaves out some key words from Stowe's text which directed Ellen White's theology of inspiration in a completely different direction.  Had she kept all of Stowe's words she would have adopted a theology of inspiration similar to that of Karl Barth or Emil Brunner.

    The left column gives the integral text of Ellen White's manuscript as published in Selected Messages, book 1, and the right column gives the parallel passages in Stowe's book. The spacing in the left column has been formatted to allow sufficient space in the two columns to run the parallel accounts.  Words underlined represent direct quotations.

(For further study, see Jim Nix, "From Vision to Printed Page," May 19, 1998.)
Ellen G. White
Manuscript 24, 1886
(Selected Messages, 1:19-21)
Calvin E. Stowe
Origin and History of the Books of the Bible
Human minds vary. The minds of different education and thought receive different impressions of the same words, and it is difficult for one mind to give to one of a different temperament, education, and habits of thought by language exactly the same idea as that which is clear and distinct in his own mind. Yet to honest men, right-minded men, he can be so simple and plain as to convey his meaning for all practical purposes. If the man he communicates with is not honest and will not want to see and understand the truth, he will turn his words and language in everything to suit his own purposes. He will misconstrue his words, play upon his imagination, wrest them from their true meaning, and then entrench himself in unbelief, claiming that the sentiments are all wrong. Moreover, human minds are unlike in the impressions which they receive from the same word; and it is certain that one man seldom gives to another, of different temperament, education, and habits of thought, by language, exactly the same idea, with the same shape and color, as that which lies in his own mind; yet, if men are honest and right-minded they can come near enough to each other's meaning for all purposes of practical utility. (17)


This is the way my writings are treated by those who wish to misunderstand and pervert them. They turn the truth of God into a lie. In the very same way that they treat the writings in my published articles and in my books, so do skeptics and infidels treat the Bible. They read it according to their desire to pervert, to misapply, to willfully wrest the utterances from their true meaning. They declare that the Bible can prove anything and everything, that every sect proves their doctrines right, and that the most diverse doctrines are proved from the Bible.
This is the way my writings are treated by those who wish to misunderstand and pervert them. They turn the truth of God into a lie. In the very same way that they treat the writings in my published articles and in my books, so do skeptics and infidels treat the Bible. They read it according to their desire to pervert, to misapply, to willfully wrest the utterances from their true meaning. They declare that the Bible can prove anything and everything, that every sect proves their doctrines right, and that the most diverse doctrines are proved from the Bible.

Here comes in the objection that the Bible can be made to mean everything and anything, all sects build upon it, the most diverse doctrines are derived from it. (17)

The writers of the Bible had to express their ideas in human language. It was written by human men. These men were inspired of the Holy Spirit. Because of the imperfections of human understanding of language, or the perversity of the human mind, ingenious in evading truth, many read and understand the Bible to please themselves. It is not that the difficulty is in the Bible. Opposing politicians argue points of law in the statute book, and take opposite views in their application and in these laws. This infelicity it shares with everything else that has to be expressed in human language. This is owing to the imperfection, the necessary imperfection of human language, and to the infirmity and the perverse ingenuity also of the human mind. It is not anything peculiar to the Bible. Hear two opposing lawyers argue a point of statute law in its application to a particular case. Hear two opposing politicians make their diverse arguments in reference to the true intent and force of a particular clause in the United States Constitution. (17)
The Scriptures were given to men, not in a continuous chain of unbroken utterances, but piece by piece through successive generations, as God in His providence saw a fitting opportunity to impress man at sundry times and divers places. Men wrote as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is "first the bud, then the blossom, and next the fruit," "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." This is exactly what the Bible utterances are to us. The Bible is not one unbroken chain of books, chapters, and verses, representing one unbroken series of divine utterances from beginning to end. (13)
Look for no such thing as this when reading the Bible, but rather the contrary. The Scriptures were given to men piecemeal, throughout many ages, as God saw the right opportunities - at sundry times and in divers manners - this is what the Bible says of itself; and not all at once, as if you must have bud, blossom and fruit, all in the same hour. The analogy here between nature and word, as in everything else, holds perfectly. First the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear; this is what the Bible says of itself, and this is just what we find it to be. (13)
There is not always perfect order or apparent unity in the Scriptures. The miracles of Christ are not given in exact order, but are given just as the circumstances occurred, which called for this divine revealing of the power of Christ. The truths of the Bible are as pearls hidden. They must be searched, dug out by painstaking effort. Those who take only a surface view of the Scriptures will, with their superficial knowledge, which they think is very deep, talk of the contradictions of the Bible, and question the authority of the Scriptures. But those whose hearts are in harmony with truth and duty will search the Scriptures with a heart prepared to receive divine impressions. The illuminated soul sees a spiritual unity, one grand golden thread running through the whole, but it requires patience, thought, and prayer to trace out the precious golden thread. Sharp contentions over the Bible have led to investigation and revealed the precious jewels of truth. Many tears have been shed, many prayers offered, that the Lord would open the understanding to His Word. There is but little of external unity in the Bible, it makes no pretensions to any such thing; you need not be at all shaken by the clamors of those who would make this obvious fact an objection to the authority of the Scriptures. As well might it be objected to the miracles of Chrsit that they are not given in philosophical order, beginning with the less and going on to the greater, with just so many and only so many of each kind.  The unity of Scripture is not an external, it is an internal, a spiritual unity, the unity of one grand idea running through the whole.... (13)
The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language. Jesus, in order to reach man where he is, took humanity. The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea. The Bible was given for practical purposes. The Bible is not given to us in any celestial or superhuman language. If it had been it would have been of no use to us, for every book intended for men must be given to them in the language of men. But every human language is of necessity, and from the very nature of the case, an imperfect language. No human language has exactly one word and only one for each distinct idea. (15)
This much is sufficient for all practical purposes, and it is for practical purposes only that the Bible was given. (18)
The stamps of minds are different. All do not understand expressions and statements alike. Some understand the statements of the Scriptures to suit their own particular minds and cases. Prepossessions, prejudices, and passions have a strong influence to darken the understanding and confuse the mind even in reading the words of Holy Writ. Yet prepossessions, prejudices and passions come in so plentifully to darken and confuse men's minds, when they are reading the Bible. He opened their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures. [Luke 24:45] Men in these times need to have their understandings both opened and straightened out, that they may understand the Scriptures. (18)
The disciples traveling to Emmaus needed to be disentangled in their interpretation of the Scriptures. Jesus walked with them disguised, and as a man He talked with them. Beginning at Moses and the prophets He taught them in all things concerning Himself, that His life, His mission, His sufferings, His death were just as the Word of God had foretold. He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. How quickly He straightened out the tangled ends and showed the unity and divine verity of the Scriptures. How much men in these times need their understanding opened. 
The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God's mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God's penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers. The Bible is not a specimen of God's skills as a writer, showing us God's mode of thought, giving us God's logic, and God's rhetoric, and God's style of historic narration. How often do we see men seeking out isolated passages of Scripture, and triumphantly saying that such expressions are unworthy of God, and could not have proceeded from Him. They are unskillful, the mode of thought is faulty, they are illogical, in bad taste, the reasoning is not conclusive, the narrative is liable to exception. God has not put himself on trial before us in any way in the Bible.... It is always to be remembered that the writers of the Bible were 'God's penmen, and not God's pens.' (18)
It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God. It is not the words of the Bible that were inspired, it is not the thoughts of the Bible that were inspired; it is the men who wrote the Bible that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words, not on the man's thoughts, but on the man himself; so that he, by his own spontaneity, under the impulse of the Holy Ghost, conceives certain thoughts and give utterance to them in certain words, both the words and the thoughts receiving the peculiar impress of the mind which conceived and uttered them, and being in fact just as really his own, as they could have been if there had been no inspiration at all in the case. The birth and nature of Christ afford an exact illustration. The Holy Infant in the womb of the Virgin, though begotten of God directly without any human father, ... this infant lived by his mother's life, and grew by the mother's growth, and partook of the mother's nature, and was just as much her child as he could have been if Joseph had been his father, the human and the divine in most intimate and inseparable conjunction. It is this very fact of the commingled and inseparable union of the human and divine, which constitutes the utility, which makes out the adaptedness to the wants of men, both of the incarnation of Christ and of the gift of the word. Inspiration generally is a purifying and an elevation, and an intensification of the human intellect subjectively, rather than an objective suggestion and communication; though suggestion and communication are not excluded. (19)
The Divine mind is, as it were, so diffused through the human, and the human mind is so interpenetrated with the Divine, that for the time being the utterances of the man are the word of God. (19-20).