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Bible Commentary: “Ellen G. White and the Bible”

Part three on the Bible Commentary, excerpted from Raymond Cottrell’s 1985 Spectrum article, “The Untold Story of the Bible Commentary.” You can read the intro and the section on “Theological Booby Traps & Road Blocks.” Comments will be open on the final post.

One of Elder Nichol’s basic requirements was that the Commentary should at no point express any concept that could be construed as a contradiction of the writings of Ellen White. We were, of course, familiar with her published works, but nevertheless kept one editorial eye fixed on the Conflict of the Ages series, which parallels the Bible account. In addition, we asked the various readers of galleys and foundry proofs to call our attention to any items we as editors might have missed.

First and foremost we were to be faithful to the Bible, but in so doing we could avoid comment that might appear to contradict comment by Ellen White. Generally speaking, references to her writings in the body of the comment are inserted, not as authority for the statements made, but in confirmation or for comparison.

It was not long before we discovered that Ellen White sometimes construes a passage to mean something different from what the original context requires; we also discovered why she does so. When dealing with a passage in its historical context — as throughout the Conflict series — she consistently deals with it contextually and her comment comports with the Bible. But when her primary objective is homiletical application of a passage to our time she often quotes the Bible out of context, applying the principle involved but in a way that seems to contradict the Bible. In such instances she uses the Bible to illustrate her point, not to exegete the Bible. New Testament writers often quote the Old Testament in the same way. Exegetical and homiletical uses of Scripture are both legitimate, but it is a gross misuse of Scripture to construe their — or her — homily as exegesis.

A prime illustration of Ellen White’s homiletical use of Scripture is her comment on “the law” in the book of Galatians. In Acts of the Apostles, where she deals with the historical situation in Galatia, she consistently identifies “the law” as the ceremonial system — accurate exegesis. But when, as in Selected Messages (pp. 233, 234), she applies the principle of legalism to our day she identifies “the law” as the Decalogue — homily. In effect she is saying that we can no more be saved today by keeping the law than the Galatian believers could be saved by observing the ceremonial law; now, as then, salvation is by faith alone.

Something the same is true of Ellen White’s application of Old Testament predictions that originally applied to Israel of old, and to the closing events of earth’s history. According to Nahum 1:9 for instance, affliction would not arise again from Assyria. Ellen White applies the statement to the ultimate end of all evil in a universal sense (as in The Great Controversy, pp. 485, 612; and Exodus 12:37 cf. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 334). Sometimes she bases her comment on a wrong meaning of an English word (as in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 cf. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 686).

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