Foundations for Ellen White’s
“When the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent” (Jer. 28:9, NASB).*
By Gerhard Pfandl
Adventist World magazine has published a selection from the writings of Ellen G. White in each edition since its launch in September 2005. Through the next two years, special articles about the biblical gift of prophecy will also appear in this space every other month to help Seventh-day Adventists around the world appreciate and learn more about God’s special gift to His remnant people. These “Discovering the Spirit of Prophecy” features will include explorations of Bible teaching about spiritual gifts, practical articles about applying insights to everyday life, and helpful methods to share the richness of this gift with friends and neighbors.
One of the identifying marks of the remnant in Revelation 12:17 is “the testimony of Jesus.” This phrase occurs six times in the book of Revelation (1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10 [twice]; 20:4). In Revelation 1:2 we are told that John bore witness to “the word of God” and to “the testimony of Jesus.” “The word of God” is commonly understood to refer to what God says; and “the testimony of Jesus” in parallel to “the Word of God” must therefore mean the testimony which Jesus Himself gives. How did Jesus testify? While here on earth, He testified in person to the people in Palestine. After His ascension, He spoke through His prophets. In Revelation 19:10, therefore, John explains that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
What is the “Spirit of Prophecy”?
The term “spirit of prophecy” occurs only once in the Bible, only in Revelation 19:10; but the readers in John’s day knew exactly what John meant by this phrase. They were familiar with this expression, which was frequently used in the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament. Thus, for example, Genesis 41:38 in the Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament text says, “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this in whom there is the spirit of prophecy from the Lord?’”2 And in Numbers 27:18 the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man who has within himself the spirit of prophecy, and lay your hand on him.”3
For the early Christians the “spirit of prophecy” was a reference to the Holy Spirit, who imparts the prophetic gift to God’s messengers. This also becomes evident when we compare Revelation 19:10 with 22:8, 9.
But he said to me, “See that you do not do that!
I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus.
Worship God for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
As compared to
Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that!
For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
According to the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture, this leads to the conclusion that “the spirit of prophecy” in 19:10 is not the possession of church members in general, but only of those who have been called by God to be prophets. That this is not purely an Adventist interpretation can be seen from the writings of other scholars. The Lutheran scholar Hermann Strathmann, for example, says concerning the phrase “testimony of Jesus” in 19:10: “According to the parallel in 22:9 the brothers referred to are not believers in general, but the prophets. … This is the point of verse 10c. If they have the marturia Iesou [the testimony of Jesus], they have the spirit of prophecy, i.e., they are prophets, like the angel, who simply stand in the service ofmarturia Iesou.”4
In summary, we can say that one of the identifying signs of the remnant church, which according to prophecy exists after the 1,260-day period, i.e., after 1798, is the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy, or the prophetic gift. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, from its very beginning, has believed that in fulfillment of Revelation 12:17 the spirit of prophecy was manifested in the life and work of Ellen G. White.
Testing a Prophet
How do we know that the prophetic gift in Ellen White’s case was genuine and not a counterfeit? The Bible provides several guidelines for testing the prophetic gift.
1. Dreams and Visions—Numbers 12:6. In Scripture, genuine prophets received prophetic dreams and visions. During her 70-year ministry from 1844 to 1915, Ellen G. White received approximately 2,000 visions and prophetic dreams.
2. Agreement With the Bible—Isaiah 8:20. What a prophet claims to have received from God must be in harmony with the rest of God’s Word, because God does not contradict Himself (Ps. 15:4; Mal. 3:6). Although Ellen G. White was not a trained theologian, her messages are in harmony with Scripture.
3. The Witness to Jesus—1 John 4:1, 2. Anyone familiar with the writings of Ellen White, such as the books The Desire of Ages or Steps to Christ, will have to admit that she not only accepted all that the Bible teaches about Jesus, but that she continually pointed people to Him as their Lord and Savior.
4. Fulfilled Prophecy—Jeremiah 28:9. The proof of a true prophet lies, in part, in the fulfillment of their predictions. Although Ellen White’s work did not primarily consist of predicting the future, she did make a number of predictions that have been fulfilled in a remarkable way.5
5. The Orchard Test—Matthew 7:20. The orchard test takes time. Ellen White lived and worked for 70 years under the critical eyes of millions of people, largely skeptical, doubtful, suspicious, and in some cases openly hostile. Any fault or inconsistency was and still is exposed with great satisfaction by her opponents. Nevertheless, the fruit of her life and labor attests to her sincerity, zeal, and Christian piety.
While counterfeit prophets may pass one or two of these tests, a true prophet will pass them all. Ellen White certainly did. God’s gracious guidance through the prophetic gift of Ellen White should make us more aware of the responsibility we, as the remnant church, have; and it should spur us on to finish the work God has given us to do.
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1Joseph Bates, A Seal of the Living God (New Bedford, Mass., 1849), pp. 45, 46.
2Bernard Grossfeld, The Targum Onqelos to Genesis, The Aramaic Bible, ed. Martin McNamara (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1988), p. 138.
3Ibid., Targum Onqelos to Numbers, p. 145.
4Hermann Strathmann, “martu” “ktl.,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel, trans. G. W. Bromiley, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), 4:501.
5See Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger to the Lord (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1998), pp. 158-163.