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Case By Casebolt: Non-Contextual Eisegesis Is Not Plain, Literal Exegesis

Millerite prophecy chart and drawings of William Miller, O. R. L. Crosier, James White, and Ellen WhiteS. S. Snow,

“Case by Casebolt” is an ongoing series examining the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from William Miller.

The Millerite method of interpretation, long described as being literal and commonsense, is its opposite. It utilizes eisegesis. In my first seven cases, I have demonstrated that Miller’s method, far from being literal (ex-egesis) [to bring out of the text], employs a non-contextual imagination (eis-egesis) [to read into] texts an explanation foreign to its intent. Cases eight and nine demonstrated how Snow continued Miller’s eisegesis. O. R. L. Crosier continued the same type of eisegesis. Proto-Adventists then presumed that the Bible foretold and described the Millerite movement and its aftermath, the Adventist Church, and its prophet. As they read passages of the Bible that they considered to be eschatological, they believed that events of the 1840s were predicted by multiple biblical passages. The shut-door faction of ex-Millerites continued this practice after the Great Disappointment. They repeatedly unearthed biblical passages that they imagined were allegorical to their experience at each stage. This practice was carried over into their interpretations of 1845–51, several of which crystallized into key doctrines of what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s fundamental beliefs. Merlin Burt of the White Estate describes the phenomenon:

For Bridegroom Adventists their basic theological argument was drawn from the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. They made the parable allegorical to their 1844 experience [italics added], and believed that on or about October 22, 1844, Jesus had gone into a heavenly wedding. The Advent Mirror divided the marriage into two steps; the actual marriage and the marriage supper.[1]

According to Bridegroom Adventists’ eisegesis, this parable provided a precise chronology of the 1840s, “the time of the end.” Crosier, whom Ellen White credited with having received the true light of God on the topic asserted: “There in Mat 25.10 is the chronology of the marriage or setting up of the kingdom clear as noonday.”[2]

They believed that they must be among the last in a sequence of historical periods and that the “time of the end” began in 1798 with the end of a 1260-year prophetic period. This was simultaneously the end of a 1290-year prophetic period that had begun in 508. The “time of the end,” they asserted, would climax at the end of a 1335-year prophetic period that stretched from 508 to 1843. They conceived of themselves as “the wise” because they were living after 1798, which they defined as “the end times.” The entire Bible was viewed through this lens.

Multiple Examples of the Habitual Use of Eisegesis

Ezekiel 12:22–24 is an example that the Millerites made allegorical to their personal experience. After Miller’s prediction that the second advent would occur by March 21, 1844, failed, Snow explained this failure by interpreting it as allegorical to the events of the Millerite movement during the years 1843 and 1844. Rather than the proverb of Ezekiel 12:22 happening in Ezekiel’s day, Snow said it was fulfilled in the spring of 1844. Snow asserted that the Ezekiel passage predicted that the masses of Millerites would make a mistake in calculating the date of the second coming to be in the spring of 1844. Therefore, those dubious of the Millerite dogma would taunt them with the charge that “the days are prolonged, and every vision faileth.”

According to Snow’s letter of June 27, 1844 (italics added):

It was necessary that a mistake should be made in regard to the ending of the days, and that this mistake should be general among the expectants of the kingdom, in order that their faith might be tried. . . . Had not such a mistake been made, there are some prophecies which could never have been completely fulfilled. Such for instance as Ezek. 12:22, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth?” Also Hab. 2:2,3.[3]

Jeremiah 51:45–56 was another example. Linking Jeremiah 51:45–46 inextricably to the specific years of 1843 and 1844, Snow quoted it with his commentary:

“A rumor shall both come one year, and after that there shall come in another year a rumor, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler.” What is the rumor here spoken of? It is the Advent message. And what is the first year of the message? It is the Jewish year 1843. And God foresaw the passing by of that year of the rumor, he saw it necessary lest the hearts of his people should faint.[4]

“One year” referred to 1843. “Another year” referred to 1844. Then “there should come another message, and in another year, after the first.” Therefore, “the periods could not terminate before the seventh month of the Jewish sacred year in A. D. 1844.” Thus, the Jeremiah passage referring to events regarding Babylon in Jeremiah’s time was taken out of historical context and marshaled in favor of an exact year and season for the second coming: autumn 1844. Snow’s bald assertion that “one year” referred to 1843 and that “another year” referred to 1844 was pure eisegesis. This was the basis of Crosier’s assertion that “a chronology founded on a consecutive order of events is of the strongest and safest kind. We have such a chronology.”[5] This “biblical chronology” was a key element constituting Ellen White’s assurance.

Snow asserted that the phrase in Jeremiah “My people, go ye out of the midst of her” was an exact parallel to Revelation 18:2–4: “Come out of her my people.” This phrase in Revelation 18:4, Millerites asserted, was literally fulfilled by Fitch’s July 26, 1843, “comeouterism” sermon and the movement it provoked as Millerites split from their churches of origin. Thus, they made Revelation 18:2–4 allegorical to their collective personal experiences. They associated this together with Revelation 14:8, the second angel, which also spoke of Babylon’s fall. Thus, they asserted that the Millerites’ splitting from their denominations in 1843–44 fulfilled both Revelation 14:8 and 18:2–4. The Adventist Church retains this Millerite eisegetical interpretation. Random verses taken out of context are arbitrarily dated to “fulfill” events of the 1840s.

The tarrying time of Habakkuk 2 was also made allegorical to their personal and corporate experience. Habakkuk 2:3 states, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie, though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” They presumed that the vision of Habakkuk, speaking about the Babylonians of the sixth century BC, was referring to a vision of Daniel’s that they argued was being fulfilled in 1843–44. Specifically, they asserted that Habakkuk 2 predicted the precise “tarrying time” interval of March 22 to October 22, 1844, during which the second advent would “tarry.”

James White’s interpretation of the four watches of the night is another example of making specific Bible verses allegorical to their personal experience. He proclaimed his certainty that Mark 13:35 referred to four precise six-month intervals in the 1840s that would end in October 1845 with the second coming of Christ.[6]

The “little book” of Revelation 10:2–11 is another example of how the proto-Adventists performed eisegesis. They read into these verses their personal and collective experiences. In Saint John’s mouth, the book was very sweet. They associated this with their ecstatic experiences in the 1843–44 expectation of the imminent second coming. The fact that in the belly the book was very bitter they associated with their despair after the Great Disappointment. This was personified by the testimony of Otis Nichols and other proto-Adventists who said they reacted with despair and cried the entire night of October 22, 1844. Revelation 10:11, which mentioned that John was called upon to “prophesy again,” they said was a prediction that the remnant church would have a prophetess, Ellen White, who would “prophesy again before many peoples.” In short, they claimed that the “sweet-bitter” book described two stages of the Millerite movement—just before and after October 22, 1844.

They made Revelation 14:6–9 and its three angels allegorical to their personal experience. They gave precise dates to each of these three angels. They dated the first angel to 1837 and said this predicted the Millerite experience during which they preached the everlasting gospel to every nation and kindred. They dated the second angel to 1843 and associated it specifically with the “Come Out of Babylon” sermon given by Charles Fitch. The second angel thus predicted how those believing in an exact date for the second advent (October 22, 1844) either left their respective Protestant denominations or were excommunicated by them. David Trim writes that the proto-Adventists perceived that Revelation 10 and 11 foretold their own historical experience.[7]

The phrase in Revelation 12:17, that the remnant kept the commandments and had the testimony of Jesus, they said referred to the fact that only Seventh-day Adventists kept all the commandments, especially the Sabbath commandment. They asserted that the “testimony of Jesus” here and in Revelation 19:10 referred to the fact that the “testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” This, they emphasized, was a prediction of White’s role of messenger to the remnant church. When critics charged that they were ignoring the principle of the Bible only, they claimed that White was just as inspired as the canonical prophets but that she did not have the same function. They further asserted that by insisting on the perpetuity of spiritual gifts in the church, they were the only ones who truly upheld the authority of the entire Bible.

Picture this geometrical illustration: Their critics said that the Adventist position was like two separate circles—a circle labeled the Bible Alone, and a second circle identified as Ellen White’s visions. The Adventists denied this representation and said that the Bible Alone contained passages that referred to the perpetuity of “spiritual gifts,” that one of these gifts was the “gift of prophecy,” and that this “gift of prophecy” was present in the person of Ellen White. A geometrical model of this is two nested concentric circles. The smaller inner circle was labeled “spiritual gifts, gift of prophecy, Ellen White,” accompanied with the references Revelation 12:17; 19:10; 1 Corinthians 12:4–10; Ephesians 4:7, 11; Joel 2:18–31. This was contained in a larger circle labeled the Bible Alone. Thus, there was only one large Bible (sola scriptura) circle containing a smaller nested circle labeled Ellen White and her spiritual gift, the gift of prophecy. This was how they maintained sola scriptura plus White. The Bible contained the referenced passages, and all these texts contained Ellen White.

Proto-Adventists habitually practiced a non-contextual, allegorical eisegesis to impose upon the text an arbitrary nineteenth-century chronological framework. They assumed that the above eschatological passages were written not to their original recipients but rather were descriptions of the Millerites and Adventists many centuries later.

According to the Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, “The role of Ellen White’s visions in relation to these core doctrines was not to originate them, but to corroborate and confirm them in the thinking of Millerite Adventists.”[8] Yet Trim notes that when the unique doctrine of the sanctuary was crystallizing in August 1948 at Volney, New York, there was considerable debate among the attendees until White had a vision, whereupon “the matter was settled.”[9] As Trim notes, “The Millerite movement attracted adherents from the excitable, extreme fringe of American Christianity,” and “Millerism attracted people who were drawn to the fringe of orthodox religion.”[10] James White ruefully conceded that this resulted in “false applications and interpretations of scripture” that members of the nascent offshoot found difficult to abandon.[11] Thus in the historical record, Ellen White did settle doctrinal debates with visions. In practice, there is not a significant distinction between doctrines that White confirmed and those that she originated. Miller and Snow originated the doctrine that October 22, 1844, marked a date of cosmic importance, but it was White’s prophetic assertion that both men were given divine insight in arriving at this date that was decisive in the church’s adoption of this doctrine—even after Miller repudiated this date in early 1845.

Conclusions

I have demonstrated that William Miller, S. S. Snow, James White, and O. R. L. Crosier, followed by Ellen White, all used eisegesis in interpreting key scriptures, upon which key doctrines are founded. (More broadly, Uriah Smith’s entire verse-by-verse interpretation of Revelation is based on his arbitrary eisegesis of chapter after chapter.) Interpretations based on eisegesis are not biblical. They are foreign bodies from nonbiblical assertions that are imported into and imposed upon the text. They do not come from the text. They are parasitic on it. Second, I have demonstrated that Ellen White conferred upon Miller, Snow, and Crosier’s eisegetical results a divine endorsement that was decisive in the nascent Adventist Church’s adoption of foundational doctrines. These included the concept that October 22, 1844, was a date of cosmic, salvific significance, almost on par with the date of the crucifixion. White insisted that Snow’s midnight cry came directly from Christ’s glorious right arm and was indispensable to salvation. This led to the “right date, wrong event” explanation of what had occurred on October 22, 1844, which burgeoned into a novel and unique “sanctuary” doctrine. White asserted that this eisegetically founded concept, which Crosier originated, was valid because God had given Crosier the “true light.”

From 1844 to the present, the Adventist Church has defended October 22, 1844, and its associated sanctuary doctrine by an integrated, eisegetical, chronological framework. It has retained broad swaths of vestigial Millerite interpretations of multiple “eschatological” events, such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the dark day of 1780, the 1833 meteorite show, and similar treatments of Revelation’s seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. The fact that the events of 1755, 1780, and 1833 are considered apologetically indispensable is very revealing, given that they are so obviously indefensible. These interpretive, eisegetical pillars do not support the theological superstructure imposed on them. They do not withstand “close examination” and should be forthrightly abandoned.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Burt, “ ‘Shut Door’ and Ellen White’s Visions,” 42, n. 3.

[2] Burt, “The Day-Dawn of Canandaigua,” 326.

[3] S. S. Snow, “Letter from S. S. Snow,” The Midnight Cry June 27, 1844.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Burt, “The Day-Dawn of Canandaigua,” 322-23.

[6] James White, "Watchman, What of the Night?" The Day Star September 20, 1845, 25–26.

[7] D. J. B. Trim, Hearts of Faith: How We Became Seventh-day Adventists (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2022), 54.

[8] Jerry Moon and Denis Kaiser, “For Jesus and Scripture: The Life of Ellen G. White,” in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, eds. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013), 34.

[9] Trim, Hearts of Faith, 53.

[10] Trim, Hearts of Faith, 31–32.

[11] Trim, Hearts of Faith, 71.


Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard University at Tubingen, Germany, and spent two years in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. He recently published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White. A second book, Father Miller’s Daughter, was published by Wipf & Stock in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner.

Title illustration by Spectrum: Millerite prophecy chart and drawings of (clockwise) William Miller, O. R. L. Crosier, S. S. Snow, James White, and Ellen White (public domain).

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