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The Great Controversy Over Plagiary: The Last Interview of Walter Rea


Can we hold something in the back of our head that we are absolutely sure about, and that most of the brethren stand with us on?—can we hold those things back and be true to ourselves? And furthermore, are we safe in doing it? Is it well to let our people in general go on holding to the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies? When we do that, aren’t we preparing for a crisis that will be very serious some day? It seems to me that the best thing for us to do is to cautiously and very carefully educate our people to see just where we really should stand to be consistent Protestants, to be consistent with the Testimonies themselves, and to be consistent with what we know we must do, as intelligent men, as we have decided in these meetings.  J. N. Anderson. 1919 Bible Conference.

On Thursday, October 23, 1980, the captivating headline across the front page of the Los Angeles Times read “Seventh-day Adventist Controversy Plagiarism Found in Prophet Books.”1 The Adventist Church was jolted in the public media by wrenching skepticism and doubt about the verity of its prophetess. Only this time, the defense of Ellen White’s legacy, glued to the pedestal of church authority, would have to rely on refutations and defenses provided by “Stewards of the Lord” (to use Mrs. White’s phrase). Syndicated in the Associated Press, the article traveled worldwide and swept into other media—some estimated that the “plagiarism story” was published in hundreds of newspapers and magazines.2

The L.A. Times religion news reporter, John Dart, had been researching Spectrum, Claremont Dialogue, Adventist Review, Ministry, and apologetical statements from the Ellen G. White Estate discussing the crisis created by Ronald L. Numbers’ Prophetess of Health (1976). Prophetess of Health was widely read by the curious, and many readers had become unsettled by the evidence that Ellen White’s health messages had been shaped or borrowed from contemporary health reformers—and did not require a supernatural explanation. When it came time to interview sources, Dart already knew much about White’s liberal borrowing (a euphemism for plagiarism) and the lively debate over the nature of her inspiration that had emerged during the past few years.3 Dart began his article by stating that he believed the main reason for her prodigious output could be explained by plagiarism.4 In a church body where “most persons…believed that White’s words came to her directly from God,” he continued; thinking that the Spirit of Prophecy was a “word thief” struck at the very heart of Adventism.

Ellen White typically denied any literary dependency. Paraphrasing White herself, Dart wrote, “She was dependent on the spirit of the Lord in receiving and writing her views.” He also quoted from one of her letters: “Yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.” From another letter, written by White in 1906, Dart quoted White explaining that “all who believe the Lord has spoken through Sister White and has given her a message will be safe from the many delusions that will come in these last days.” Dart went on to give several examples of literary borrowing in the prophet’s books, noting that “[Walter] Rea is completing a manuscript for a book based on his research on White . . . that he has not found any major work by White that did not use a previously published source.” Rea, shockingly, identified White as “a plagiarist.”5

Robert Olson, secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, said, “The church is not denying the accumulating evidence of White’s copying…. But Olson also said he puts credence in a theory advanced by Adventist Warren H. Johns (then associate editor of Ministry Magazine) that White had a photographic memory and unconsciously used the phrasings and word choices of other writers in many cases.”6

Historian Ronald L. Numbers (University of Wisconsin) explained to Dart that White’s psychological profile failed to support her claims of divine inspiration: “When you look at her visions, hallucinations, depression and loss of speech, if she weren’t a religious leader, you would have had her in therapy.”

“Nonetheless,” Dart pointed out, “delegates to the International Adventist convention in Dallas approved a resolution affirming White as inspired in the same sense as were the Bible prophets and as the Lord’s messenger her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth.” For most Adventists, the L.A. Times article was probably the first time that the church’s prophet had been exposed in the public view to plagiarism since the first newspaper article on Ellen White’s use of sources appeared beyond memory in the Healdsburg Enterprise on March 13 and 20, 1889.

General Conference President Neal C. Wilson was quoted as defensively admitting that most of Rea’s incontrovertible evidence was already known “while acknowledging that White used sources more extensively than previously recognized.”

Prior to the L.A. Times' story, in January 1980, Wilson had appointed an ad hoc committee to study Rea’s findings and reported in the Adventist Review that “the degree of borrowed material and literary dependence is of alarming proportions.” The committee recognized that if church members found this out without proper preparation it could prove to be disastrous. Wilson cautioned the Rea-study committee against using such terms as “literary dependency and extensive borrowing and paraphrasing.” In the L.A. Times interview Wilson used a little-known defense about how this borrowing might have happened. He explained to Dart that “the Holy Spirit helps the messenger to select his material carefully….The prophet’s use of existing materials does not necessarily mean that the prophet is dependent on these sources.” Dart quoted Wilson as saying that “originality is not a test of inspiration.” He added, “The Holy Spirit helps the messenger to select his materials carefully….The prophet’s use of existing materials does not necessarily mean that the prophet is dependent on these sources.”

As soon as Walter Rea’s wife Helen read the L.A. Times article over breakfast that Thursday morning, her reaction was immediate without equivocation. Helen put down the newspaper, looked at Walter, and said: “Now you will be fired.” He turned and asked, “What for?”

It was difficult to find the newspaper in newsstands around Loma Linda that day. The next day the same article appeared in the Washington Post.

The core of the L.A. Times article centered on recent literary discoveries attributed to Elder Walter T. Rea. In this case, the source criticism came from inside the church rather than from outside. Responding to Dart’s interview, Rea said, “The important thing is that she and the denomination always claimed that she didn’t copy and that she wasn’t influenced by anyone.”

Before Rea “spilled the beans,” he had been an able and flamboyant Adventist pastor in the Southern California Conference, the pastor of a 350-member congregation in Long Beach.

As expected, the L.A. Times article triggered a defensive and emotional reaction from the church.7 Within a few days, Mrs. White’s grandson Arthur White wrote a letter to his children commenting on the L.A. Times story. “Last Thursday and Friday probably you read either in the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Star that Ellen G. White, your great-grandmother, plagiarized much of what was published in her many books.

“So you see that Ellen White’s use of the writings of others in helping her express what she wanted to say was quite in keeping with what others were doing…. There is no use trying to correct it in the press. Better let folks forget it.”8

While all of this was going on, a scandal erupted over the bankruptcy of Donald Davenport, an investor of substantial funds from individual administrators and ministers in the church and funds of the Adventist church. Davenport’s wife was a member of Rea’s church along with Jerry Wiley, Associate Dean of the Law School at the University of Southern California. Both would play an important role in unfolding future events in the life of their pastor in what became known as the Davenport Affair (see below).

A year later President Wilson was interviewed in Christianity Today. The literary borrowing problem was narrowed to “Satan’s subtle sophistry and cunningness.”9 Over the course of the next few years, great lengths would be taken by the church to refute the so-called evidence of plagiarism or to simply brush aside the facts and provide new meanings regarding White’s inspiration.10

After the L.A. Times article appeared, the faithful (including “big names of my denomination”) came calling to Rea’s Long Beach home. “People from all over Adventism are calling or coming, and I’ve had over a thousand people in my home sitting around the table…. I have letters from the world, phone calls from over the globe.”11

There was already considerable upheaval in the life of the church. The sheer intensity of the Merikay Silver discriminatory lawsuit at Pacific Press over wages, the financial losses in the Davenport bankruptcy, intellectual attack on the Seventh-day Adventist belief in the Investigative Judgment from Desmond Ford, the source indebtedness in the health reform writings, and now the widespread markings of plagiarism in other manuscripts and books was enough to sow seeds of discord among pew sitters.12 "What is going to happen? Where is our authority and identity?"13

A journalist in the South Bend Tribune reported, “Neal Wilson is afraid. He doesn’t want to be known as the president who let the denomination blow apart.”14

Preparing to Visit Walter Rea September 2011

In 2011, a minister friend of my father and long-time sympathizer to Walter Rea told me that Rea had just recovered from triple bypass surgery. I asked if he thought Rea might accept an interview. Calling Rea on the telephone (he does not have access to the internet) and assuring him that I wanted to create a story of his intellectual journey, he approved my interview request but warned me of possible interruptions throughout the day because he was taking care of his ailing wife.

It was nearly thirty-one years since the explosive L.A. Times exposé. Rea was in his eighties—older and wiser—and I was told he had become more cautious with considerable realignment of his former religious beliefs. However, he had not recanted his criticism of Ellen White’s authority or renounced his book (The White Lie).

Before going to see Rea I researched the archives in the Heritage Room at Loma Linda University to determine the depth and nature of the apologetic pleadings that followed the publication of Rea’s “debunking book.” The White Lie has been translated into five languages and is available on the Internet for free. At least one Adventist theologian writing in Spectrum at the time that The White Lie was published hoped that Rea’s “research will help Seventh-day Adventist deal more realistically with Ellen White and better understand the phenomenon of inspiration.” This was something I wanted to discuss with Rea: “What was his impression on how much change had been effected on the overall impact of Mrs. White’s inspiration?”15

I learned that before his sourcing research, Rea was known for assembling Ellen G. White statements into Bible biographies and selling these books in Adventist bookstores. Over time Ray completed three volumes based on White’s works and sold these in many Adventist Book and Bible Houses. Some schools in North America used these same volumes. It was not unusual for him to bring White’s books to the pulpit and read quotations during his Sabbath sermons to reinforce his preaching. Before getting sideways to Adventist leadership, Rea served on the conference committee and was a delegate to the Vienna General Conference. Going into the 70s, Rea was considered by some a hidebound, Ellen White fundamentalist.16

It looked like the Ellen G. White Estate (hereafter White Estate) reluctantly conceded most of Rea’s major points on literary borrowing except that Mrs. White was not guilty of “any copyright infringement” based on the opinion of attorney Vincent Ramik.17 Also, in a broader sense, articles written by academics in Spectrum and Adventist Today led many church intellectuals to abandon the inerrant and infallible inspiration theory held for many decades.18

As expected, fundamentalists continued shoring up belief in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the prophetess’s writings.19 However, the doors were flung open during the Numbers/Rea era to bring about general melancholy over the awareness of frequent borrowing and its impact on inspiration.20 As Robert W. Olson, then secretary for the White Estates, explained, “Maybe I don’t like the idea of a prophet’s copying from somebody else, or borrowing, or whatever you want to call it. But whether you like it or not, if the Bible writers did it, then I can’t question Ellen White for being like the Bible writers in this respect.”21 The trustworthiness of the Bible also came into question.

It seemed a little peculiar that White’s plagiarism (assuming that literary borrowing is equivalent to plagiarism) was defended most vigorously by invoking the memorandum of understanding created by Catholic attorney Vincent L. Ramik, hired by the church to render an opinion on whether or not Ellen White was a plagiarist. Invoking nineteenth-century plagiarism standards, Ramik reassured the church with the assertion that Ellen White was no different than her contemporaries who employed free use of earlier works to improve their own. He claimed that copyright laws were feeble in the nineteenth-century.22 Ramik was not hired to address the ethics of Ellen White’s claims that her writings were her own even though Ramik conceded plagiarism was at work. Best-selling historians and writers have countered the Ramik’s view that plagiarism gained the widespread acceptance in the nineteenth-century.23

The discussion that follows seeks to place Ellen White’s writings within the broader sweep of Adventist heritage and the full scope of the historical revisionists as seen in the discoveries of Walter T. Rea. Did he provoke the controversy in the L.A. Times and Washington Post and how did Rea’s book that followed two years later, come into existence?

Interviewing Walter Rea at His Home in Patterson, California

I met Rea in his large study adjacent to his home (actually another home converted to a study). As I entered his study, I noticed award plaques, recognitions, and diplomas on the wall above his desk. Rea acquired two bachelor’s degrees in theology and speech and three Master’s degrees in history, speech, and theology. Looking around his study, it was obvious he was still involved in continuing research on how Ellen White put her narratives together. This was evidenced by scattered religious volumes on the tables. Some were held opened by weights or rubber bands.

Rea was energetic, witty, personable, gracious, and spry at eighty-eight years. His appearance was your average, bald-headed, spectacles-wearing, genteel grandfather wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a long-sleeved shirt. During the day he offered me Mountain Dew—his favorite drink. He drove me back and forth to my RV in a bright yellow Ford pickup. Rea lived on ten acres of orchards near the edge of Patterson, California.

Because Rea was taking care of his wife in the adjoining home, he gave me two notebooks to read while he was out of his office. Once he returned, Rea was not vague in answering my questions and provided a running stream of impressions overlooked by Adventist apologists trying to undermine Rea. He was relentless in his own defense. During our time, together he was also interrupted by telephone calls and individuals who required his signature (he served as Foreman on the Stanislaus Grand Jury). He explained that he was involved in several organizations as a volunteer,providing expert accounting and management advice, including the Patterson Cemetery.

While interviewing him, I observed that he has an excellent memory and recalled many happy times in the ministry. His most pleasant were the twenty-plus years spent in junior camps teaching young people archery. Today, he is secure financially. And I should add he possesses a fine sense of drama, a bit high-strung (perhaps because of attention deficit), with induced restlessness and presumably an inherited disorder in the way he skips around and organizes his documents. Rea with his present wife attends the Turlock Seventh-day Adventist church. Unlike Dr. Desmond Ford, Rea’s ordination has not been annulled or called into question.

Fear of Rea writing a book on his Davenport findings caused the church administration to abnegate his retirement when he was discharged even though his years of service qualified him legally. Rea hired James Walters, an Adventist lawyer, to regain his church-affiliated sustentation. After two years of negotiations his retirement and medical coverage were reinstated, but it came with a non-binding stipulation that Rea would not publish another book (by then The White Lie had appeared).24 Like many his age, Rea has had his share of disappointments. His first wife Helen passed away in 1996. About two year later, he married Eleanore Whitchurch who also was widowed. They were friends in college.

Rea was not raised an Adventist. He ran away from home around high school age and enrolled in Lodi Academy, finishing in 1941. At Pacific Union College, he learned to type by practicing with Messages to Young People. As a theology major, he began collecting Ellen White statements he could use in future sermons. Graduating in three years from Pacific Union College, in the winter quarter of 1944, he was called into the ministry of the Central California Conference. He held evangelistic meetings and established the first company in Lompoc, California. His career involved building new schools, new churches, and baptizing new members. He was ordained to the ministry in July 1949. After ordination, he was called to the Florida Conference, continuing to build schools, baptizing 25 to 30 members each year, and conducting weeks of prayer in the boarding schools. In Orlando, Florida, he grew the congregation of 92 to 600 members. In 1958 he came back to California, first to the Pomona church for nine years. When the Conference was financially struggling with the Alhambra church, he was moved in order to solve the nearly $200,000 debt to the San Gabriel Academy. After nine years, he was moved to the Long Beach church, which also faced major financial problems and declining membership. Rea had a reputation for building up churches and schools and for resolving debts.

While in Orlando, Florida Rea was given a book published by Ellen White. It was titled Sketches from the Life of Paul, published in 1883. When he showed this book to a church member, he was told that the problem with the book was that it had been copied from another book with the same title. Rea began a comparison study and found some of the literary borrowing in this book unsettling.

After transferring to California, Rea met the Welleley P. Magan Family—members of his congregation. At the death of Wellesley’s father, his widow Lillian Magan gave Rea a book from the Magan family library—Elisha the Prophet (1882) by Alfred Edersheim. On the flyleaf was White’s signature.

I asked Rea to trace the events leading up to his expanding awareness that Ellen White had appropriated or adapted the literary works of others to give her own writings their beautiful stylistic and poetical power. He replied, “It was a chance encounter. I was enrolled in a Ph.D program at the University of Southern California. One day on the second floor of the library, I happened to see Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, published in 1883. Almost immediately, I was struck by the parallels between Edersheim and The Desire of Ages." He said he noticed also the chapter titles and illustrations published in 1890 in White’s Patriarchs and Prophets.

I asked him, “What was your perception or definition concerning the inspiration of Ellen White at the time and her use of sources without attribution?”

Without sounding pompous, with a slight delay while clearing his throat, and speaking in his finest preacher’s voice, he said, “I thought that Ellen G. White was divine, a voice from God, and everything that she wrote came straight from God. And I was no different than most other churchgoing Adventists.” Then he handed me an article written by Arthur L. White, a grandson of Ellen White which revealed what the church was teaching at the time he was a student at Pacific Union College.

Arthur White’s statement said, “Mrs. White guarded against reading that which might have a bearing on her initial presentation of a basic topic. In this light it is easy to understand her declaration in 1887: ‘I have not been in the habit of reading any doctrinal articles in the paper, that my mind should not have any understanding of anyone’s ideas and views, and that not a mold of any man’s theories should have any connection with that which I write.’”25

“There you have it; that was what I absolutely believed,” Rea said. Following his discovery, Rea researched deeper into the implications of the very familiarity of the words, chapter titles, illustrations, patterns of thought, even biblical texts out of context, found in Edersheim, Harris, Melville and other authors when compared with the “originality of White’s writings. Finally, it struck him. “At this point, I was so dumbfounded that I went home, closed the door to my study, sat at my desk and wept!”

“But Walter,” I said, “many college educated in the church, who questioned the White Estate’s promotions of Ellen White’s inspiration, saw her prophetic gift in a broader interpretation than merely receiving and reporting of visions. Much of her writings were not directly attributable to visions.”

“I know.” he said, “The trouble was she led us to believe that her prophetic gift was not an on-then-off inspiration. We took the whole of her writing as divinely inspired. How would you know when she said, 'I have been shown,' or 'it has been clearly presented to me'? How would you know that she was borrowing the very words that followed were from a passage in an article or book? Nearly everyone in my era believed in complete inspiration; otherwise, you end up with circumstantial inspiration.”

After contemplating what this all meant to him, he began to reflect (I should say with a certain sadness) on the “sheer recklessness of plagiarism by Ellen White while claiming to be a prophet of God and still appropriating the works of others to save time or to create a better article or book to increase her fame.” Rea went on to elaborate. “She was asked at one point, when confronted about her copying, who had been harmed? Well, I suppose you could say that plagiarism could do no harm to anyone today because the copyrights are extinguished. But now, of course, it is not what has been copied that harms the church, but what the copying and her explicit and implicit denials reveal about the character of Mrs. White.”

I asked him if he remembered how his theology professors at Pacific Union College educated or indoctrinated him and his colleagues in preparation for the ministry concerning the church’s trademark for the Spirit of Prophecy. He rose from his desk and handed me a quotation from the Adventist Review. “I don’t remember anyone occupying any doubt on the subject of verbal or even inerrant inspiration.” He handed me another quote to reinforce the point.

“If the messages borne by Ellen G. White had their origin in surrounding minds or influences; if the messages on organization can be traced to the ideas of James White or George I. Butler; if the counsels on health had their origin in the minds of Drs. Jackson, Trall, or Kellogg; if the instruction on education was based upon the ideas of G. H. Bell or W. W. Prescott; if the high standards upheld in the Ellen G. White articles and books were inspired by the strong men of the cause—then the Spirit of Prophecy counsels can mean no more to us than some very good ideas and helpful advice!”26

Ray continued, “We all believed what Mrs. White’s grandson was telling us at the time, and none of our professors objected to his accounts although now I suspect they knew better,” he said. “If she was God inspired, why would she copy others and in the future possibly raise doubts about her unique claims? I found many instances in long letters to individuals where she would copy entire paragraphs from non-Adventist sources to make her letters appear more stylish.These letters were used by her literary assistants to create articles in the Signs of the Times or compiled into the Testimonies and then rewritten again to enter her books. Each time changes were made by her literary assistants, so unless you have the original letters, you will only begin to see downstream the cycle of varying degrees of paraphrasing that is occurring from the letter plagiarisms. And another thing—many of the unique health things we thought she wrote were already in the writings of her contemporaries. Ron Numbers showed that in Prophetess of Health. We were told she was a hundred years ahead of her time on health—what nonsense.”

At times our conversations consisted of a series of interruptions because Rea moved quickly from one idea to the next. Often, it seemed there was something left out before we advanced to the next topic. It seemed to me his own truths were his life and the companion of his thoughts and insights. In this respect, Rea was certainly still vigorous and sure. At one point, I tried to get him to elaborate an important concept he found in his research. It had to do with a subtle emphasis or direction of the copying that Mrs. White employed to bolster the confidence of her readers compared to her borrowed source. So, I asked Rea if he could provide an example of improving sentences from others that entered her illuminations and then were used to produce greater assurances to her readers. He wanted to know more and after further discussions caught on to what I was asking.

Using an example from Calvin Stowe’s (Origin and History of the Books of the Bible) in her appropriations for inspiration, Rea pointed to the phrase written by Stowe: “For the time being the utterances of the man are the word of God.” But when Mrs. White copied this phrase, she simply wrote, “The utterances of the man are the word of God.” In this instance, Mrs. White preferred to leave out ‘for the time being’ from Stowe in her parallel probably because Stowe is limiting the word of God in which inspiration acts upon the prophet.”27

“Clearly, she had similar views with Stowe, but her indebtedness would often be more objective, positive, and definite. As in other examples of literary indebtedness where the source might be more tentative, she used less imagination and provide a stronger subjective flavor.”

Rea bolstered his persuasive intellectual claims for finding literary parallels by saying that he had “spent more than thirty years as a hard-core devotee of Ellen White.” At this point, it seemed to me that Rea’s memory and temperament were like a fifth string on a banjo. They fit him for an even greater role in detecting literary parallels, something his critics have ignored or failed to take into account as to how he sees more appropriations of original works than others.

His discoveries were done without a computer. Rea types out his letters and manuscripts the old fashion way at 50-60 words a minute on a typewriter and has never taken up the Internet, Google, email, or modern software to detect literary dependency. I asked him if he was familiar with computer software used by professors to detect when student plagiarize their offerings for a grade. We talked about Turnitin®, but he said he did his appraisals from reading Ellen White and estimating the amount of copying. He admitted that the 50 to 90 percent paraphrasing or copying was just an impression.

I picked up Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing lying on the table and randomly opened to the middle of the book and began reading. He stopped me halfway through and began quoting the rest of the page with only a few errors. I was impressed!

There was more to our discussions, so I will summarize. Rea has abandoned any sustainable belief that Ellen White was a “true prophet.” He accepted her pioneer role as pastoral or historic. He talked volubly about the need for cultural and social change and financial transparency in the church. Ministers are afraid to express themselves. During our conversation, he frequently drew my attention to certain representative passages in the books or church papers scattered about the room or in file cabinets to emphasize his arguments.

Based on the amount of fresh discoveries he continues to find, it is clear he is still sympathetic to his continuing convictions that “the heart of Mrs. White’s Adventist literary output was a derivative from others.” Recently, he sent a copy of his literary evidence to the White Estate, indicating where he claimed every paragraph in The Great Controversy has a parallel connection to different authors through plagiary passages without attribution.28

I thought it would be helpful to review the events that led up to his dismissal as a pastor in trying to understand the “venom and sarcasm” in The White Lie. And I suppose at this point some readers would like to know if he still considered himself an Adventist. He is what may be called a DNA Adventist—as a fallen pastor, he is unfit to lead an Adventist congregation. Now that his ship has sailed, so to speak, into a real-life Proustian storm, would he have done anything differently?

Events Leading Up to Rea’s Plagiary Discovery

In the late 70s, once Rea was persuaded of the potential for widespread copying, he began systematic gathering more examples and sending parallel comparisons and similarities to the White Estate; addressed to his friend Elder Robert W. Olson, Secretary of the White Estate. He explained, “Bob Olson and I were classmates at PUC, and he artfully encouraged me to keep sending him my materials. But unbeknownst to me, the White Estate was planning strategies to persuade believers to withstand the discomforting evidence I was discovering and about to release to the public.” Rea accidentally learned about the details of this strategy a few months later.

Rea’s persistent estimates of the rising amounts of borrowing in Ellen White’s most appreciated works eventually attracted the attention of General Conference president Neal Wilson (Wilson and Rea were classmates at PUC). After taking up Rea’s request to review his findings, Wilson, in conjunction with the General Conference President’s Executive Advisory or PREXAD, agreed to appoint a group of administrators and scholars to study Rea’s evidence. Arthur White vigorously opposed this undertaking!

Wilson encouraged Rea to gather up his data and present his evidence without limitations to a committee of scholars he would appoint. In the letter to summons the review committee, Wilson explained: “We do not really know, and I believe that we should know. I would like to be able to clearly face people, critics or friends, and say that we have looked at the evidence. Elder Rea indicates he has supporting evidence, and that it is overwhelmingly convincing.” At this point Rea, told me how excited he was. All of his research was going to pay off. He was going to get a professional hearing from church scholars. “I felt I really had a chance to educate the scholars in the church about the extent of the borrowings.”


This article is the first in a two-part report. The second part is published here.


T. Joe Willey received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of California, Berkeley and taught at Loma Linda Medical School, Walla Walla College and La Sierra University.  He was a fellow with Nobel Prize winner Sir John Eccles at the University of New York, Buffalo, and served as a research fellow at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA, Los Angeles.



1. The first newspaper criticism of Ellen White was reported by The Church of God (Seventh Day) after splitting from the Seventh-day Adventist church. This account accused White of suppressing some of her earlier writings. The controversy made it into the newspapers in 1866 in Battle Creek and San Francisco.  See Ron Graybill. Visions and Revisions Part II. Editing the Testimonies. Ministry. April 1994. p. 8.

2. See: Steve Maynard. The White Controversy. Three professors say writings—even though borrowed—still play a role in Adventism today. Walla Walla City News. December 4, 1981. A False Prophetess? Newsweek. January 19, 1981, and The Church of Liberal Borrowings. Time. August 2, 1982.

3. The Editor. Ellen White and Literary Dependency. Ministry. June, 1980. 

4. In addition to Walter Rea, Dart also interviewed Robert Olson from the White Estate, Dr. Donald McAdams, president of Southwestern Adventist College; Marilyn Thomsen, communications secretary for Southern California Conference; and Dr. Fred Veltman, chairman of the religion department at Pacific Union College. Quotations from GC President Neal Wilson came from statements in the Review and Herald.

5. See: Richard A. Posner. The Little Book of Plagiarism. Pantheon Books. 2007. p. 37. “The stigma of plagiarism seems never to fade completely, not because it is an especially heinous offense but because it is embarrassingly second rate.”

6. Richard A. Posner. Ibid. p. 97. “This unconscious plagiarism is referred to as cryptomnesia. The plagiarist has read something he remembers without remembering he has read it.  Psychologists have investigated the phenomenon and have found no evidence that people can recite entire passages written by someone else yet believe they are their own.”

7. See Press Release from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. November 5, 1980. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not about to disregard Ellen White’s books or lessen its convictions regarding her work as a true prophetess of God, [Robert] Olson concluded.”

8. Arthur White. Ellen G. White and Her Writings. Adventist Review. November 27, 1980.Reprinted.

9. Beset by Critics, Adventist Official Cites “Satanic Influence.” Christianity Today. November 20, 1981.

10. The first to appear after the LA Times article was the announcement of tapes and presentations available through the White Estate. See “Documents on E. G. White Sources.” Adventist Review. November 6, 1980. Various Authors. The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings. Ministry. August 1982. Note: Herbert E. Douglass in Messenger of the Lord (Pacific Press) does not mention Walter Rea or The White Lie.

11.  Ralph Hinman, Jr. Deposed Pastor See Adventist Split. Long Beach Independent Press. Section A. Page 8. January 31, 1981.

12.  Douglas Hackleman. Who Watches? Who Cares: Misadventures in Stewardship. 2008.

13. Ralph Hinman, Jr. Ibid. Page A8.

14. South Bend Tribune. November 21, 1982.

15.  Alden Thompson. The Imperfect Speech of Inspiration. Spectrum. 1982. 12(4). p. 48.

16. Eric Anderson, Must the Crisis Continue? Spectrum. 1981. Vol. 11(3). p. 44.

17. Ronald Graybill. E. G. White’s Literary Work: An Update. Presentation Worship Services at the General Conference. November 15-19, 1981.  Ronald Graybill. The “I Saw” Parallels in Ellen White’s Writings.  Adventist Review.  July 29, 1982.  Robert W. Olson.  Ellen White’s Denials. Ministry. February, 1991. Leonard Brand and Don. S. McMahon. The Prophet and Her Critics. Pacific Press  Publ. Assoc. 2005, Graeme Bradford. More Than a Prophet. Biblical Perspectives. 2006.

18. Various Authors. The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings. Ministry. August, 1982.

19. “And while I do not hold her writings to be equal in authority with the Bible (although inspired in the fullest sense of the word by the same Holy Spirit.” J. R. Spangler. The Two Mind-Sets. Ministry. June 1982. p. 5.

20. Warren H. Johns. Ellen White: Prophet or Plagiarist? Ministry. June, 1982.

21. J. R. Spangler. Ellen White and Literary Dependency. Ministry. June 1980. p. 5.

22. The facts are that it is still literary deceit.

23. Richard A. Posner. Ibid. p. 26. “Paraphrasing or creative imitation is used to throw the reader off the scent of literary copying.”

24.  Rea showed me the outline and several unfinished chapters of this book titled, “Pirates of Privilege.” The book details his involvement from the beginnings of the Davenport bankruptcy and participation of church leadership in the debacle.

25. Arthur L. White. “Who Told Sister White. Review and Herald. Part II.” May 21, 1959. p. 7.

26. Ibid. Part I. May 14, 1959. p. 6.

27. There were other differences between Stowe and Ellen White on the subject of inspiration. For example, Mrs. White omitted Stowe’s denials of thought inspiration. To deny inspiration of the thoughts is to deny inspiration of the prophet. Both Stowe and White held to a theory of progressive revelation and the human character of the writings in the Bible. Almost fifty percent of Mrs. White’s MS 24 (1880) (Selected Messages. Book One. 1958. P. 19-21. shows strong parallel to Professor Stowe’s Origin and History of the Books of the Bible. Hartford, CN: Hartford Publ. Co. 1867.

28. Don McAdams during the January 28-29, 1980 Glendale meeting predicted that this would be the case. Walter Rea presently claims that he has confirmed McAdams suspicion.


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