To Make Man Whole: The Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Health Message and Its Unique Emphasis on Wholistic Healing (1840s-1900s)

Abstract by Theodore N. Levterov

Seventh-day Adventists are known for their promotion of healthy living. After all, several recent studies have demonstrated that Adventists are significantly healthier and live on average seven to ten years longer than the general population. What is unique about the Adventist health message, however, is its emphasis on wholistic healing and lifestyle. For Seventh-day Adventists, health is not only about being physically well, but includes the wellbeing of the whole person—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Contemporary medical trends have also begun to emphasize the importance of whole person care. But how did Seventh-day Adventists begin to promote wholistic healing? What prompted them to have this somewhat unique philosophical health tradition?

This paper will examine the historical developments of the Seventh-day Adventist health message and its unique emphasis on wholistic healing from the 1840s to the early 1900s. Part one will describe the 19th-century context of health and healing practices. Part two will show how early Sabbath-keeping Adventists fitted into that context. Curiously, early Adventists, in general, were not health enthusiasts during the 1840s and 1850s. Health and healing, they thought, were not a part of their mission. That attitude would change, however, and by the early 1860s they would make a “turning point.” In part three, we will look at the main reasons (both practical and supernatural) that led the young Seventh-day Adventist denomination to change its attitude and make health and healing a part of its mission to the world. Part four will examine some major developments that led to the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist wholistic health traditions up to the first decade of the 20th century. The emphasis on wholistic health and healing became (and still is) a major signature of the Adventist health message around the globe. At the end, I will offer some concluding perspectives and suggestions that may be beneficial to contemporary Seventh-day Adventism and its promotion of wholistic health and healing in the 21st century.