Case by Casebolt: Why BRI Considers Ellen White to Be "Incorrect"

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Published:
March 4, 2022

Editor's note: Introducing a new series for Spectrum

Donald Casebolt published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White in 2021. This book detailed several little-appreciated facets of her life prior to age seventeen, particularly her mindset when she was converted to William Miller's date-setting theories at age twelve. His upcoming book, William Miller's Daughter, details the specific prophetic influence that Miller's allegorical-typological-historicist method had in determining Ellen White's understanding of scriptural interpretation. This article starts a new series, “Case by Casebolt,” which will analyze the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from Miller.


William Miller computed fifteen mathematical proofs that he asserted proved the second coming would occur in 1843. He interpreted many other scriptures in a manner that Francis D. Nichol characterized as "far-fetched." Since Ellen White endorsed Miller as a Second Advent John the Baptist, several of Miller's failed prophetic intervals and signs of the end were retained in her writings. These were purportedly literal, commonsense interpretations that Miller obtained by Scripture and a concordance alone. Ellen White's community claimed to follow the same literal method of merely letting the Bible interpret itself. But as this series will demonstrate, Miller was immensely dependent on previous Bible commentators, and his interpretations are as fanciful and allegorical as the early church father, Origen of Alexandria. These vestigial remnants of Millerism have become more and more untenable as we approach the second centennial of Ellen White's birth in 2027. This initial column begins with a prophetic period, the 2,520-year “Time of the Gentiles,” which Ellen White endorsed but that the Biblical Research Institute itself has branded as "incorrect."

The vast majority of Seventh-day Adventists are only acquainted with one or two day-year prophetic periods and have almost forgotten the several other prophetic periods espoused by William Miller and included in the 1843 Millerite chart, the chart that Ellen White said was especially directed by God's very own hand:

I have seen that the 1843 chart was directed by the hand of the Lord, and that it should not be altered; that the figures were as He wanted them; that His hand was over and hid a mistake in some of the figures, so that none could see it, until His hand was removed.[1]

These "figures," plural, included many more prophetic periods than the 2,300-day-year interval. Prominent among them was the Seven Times of the Gentiles, or 2,520-year prophecy. In 1836, Miller asserted that this interval lasted from 677 BC to exactly 1843. After establishing this 2,520-year period, he founded his 2,300-year proof to coincide with it. Miller explained: “I was satisfied that the seven times terminated in 1843. Then [emphasis added] I came to the 2300 days; they brought me to the same conclusions.”[2] In short, the 2,520-year calculation led Miller to his 2,300-year calculation, and the seventeenth lecture in his book Evidence was devoted to his 2,520-year prophetic proof.[3]

In 1884, Ellen White asserted God instigated the 1843 Millerite chart. God's Spirit "moved upon Charles Fitch" in 1842 to create the 1843 Millerite chart, and it was "directed by the hand of the Lord." That is, the entire 1843 chart, not merely the single 2,300-year period, was divinely ordained, according to White.

As early as 1842, the Spirit of God had moved upon Charles Fitch to devise the prophetic chart, which was generally regarded by Adventists as a fulfillment of the command given by the prophet Habakkuk, "to write the vision and make it plain upon tables."[4]

Since the 1843 chart was inspired by the Spirit of God and the "figures were just as He wanted them," the "figures" of all the prophetic periods in this chart must be valid. Yet the Biblical Research Institute, a champion of historicism, seems to have forgotten Ellen White's prophetic endorsement of the 2,520-day-year prophetic period. One of BRI's authors, Clinton Wahlen, penned an article titled "Does Leviticus 26 Contain a Time Prophecy of 2,520 years?"[5] He concludes that answering this question in the affirmative is "misguided" and lists five reasons why Leviticus cannot be a time prophecy. Yet paradoxically, Ellen White claimed that she had had a vision authorizing her to create a new and improved version of the 1843 chart that included it.

I saw that the angels' messages, made plain, would have effect. I saw that the old [1843] chart was directed by the Lord, and that not a peg of it should be altered without inspiration. [Presumably White's inspiration.] I saw that the figures on the chart were as God wanted them, and that His hand was over and hid a mistake in some of the figures so that none could see it until His hand was removed. [6]

In the November 1850 issue of Present Truth, James White praised the new 1851 White/Nichols chart because it was "calculated to illustrate clearly the present truth. . . . Those who teach the present truth will be greatly aided by it."[7] In 1851, the 2,520-year prophetic Seven Times of the Gentiles was present truth. Speaking of the 1851 White/Nichols chart, Ellen G. White wrote in a letter dated June 2, 1853, about a vision given at Jackson, Michigan:

I saw that God was in the publishment of the [1851] chart by Brother Nichols [Otis Nichols]. I saw that there was a prophecy of this chart in the Bible.[8]

In October 1850 Ellen White had received instruction in vision that this prophetic chart should be published. During the next few months, Otis Nichols supervised the publication of a chart that was advertised for distribution and sale in January 1851. This chart is the 1851 White/Nichols chart.

Amazingly, Ellen White claims that the 1851 White/Nichols chart was predicted in the Bible. Therefore, the 2,520-day-year period in the 1851White/Nichols chart was included in Ellen White's endorsement of the 1843 and 1851 charts.

Ironically, and doubtless by accident, the BRI determined that Ellen White's interpretation of Leviticus 26 as a time prophecy "is incorrect and any message making belief in such a prophecy a test is misguided."  The BRI's unintended criticism of Ellen White is accurate. White implicitly adopted Miller's chronological interpretation. Miller argued that the English "seven times" meant 7 x 360 years. As Wahlen accurately observes, the Hebrew term "seven times" refers to the intensity of the punishment, not the chronological duration of that action. Miller's opponents already pointed this out in the 1840s, yet White still included it in her 1851 chart. William Miller and Ellen White persisted in considering it a prophetic interval lasting from 677 BC to 1843/44. Wahlen acknowledges that the 1843 Millerite chart included the 2,520-year prophecy. However, he does not acknowledge that Ellen White endorsed Miller's interpretation when she states that angels regularly communed with Miller and opened his mind to "prophecies" plural––not merely the 2,300-year prophecy singular.

I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, and led him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people.[9]

Wahlen justifies relegating the 2,520 years to the dustbin of history because Ellen White never explicitly and specifically "refers to a prophecy of 2,520 years." He also argues that when James White republished the 1843 chart in 1863, "this time period is not mentioned." Evidently, James White had forgotten his initial 1850 support of the 2,520-year prophecy. Both James White and Wahlen neglect to account for the fact that Ellen White did include the "prophecy of 2,520 years" in the 1851 White/Nichols chart. Thus, the BRI finds itself in the ironic position of having unknowingly and unintentionally branded Ellen White "incorrect." Would the BRI have used such categorical expressions if it had been aware of Ellen White's endorsement of the 1851 White/Nichols chart?

The fact that James White felt free to abandon the 2,520-year prophecy only twelve years after Ellen White asserted that the "figures" were accurate and not to be altered one whit except under inspiration demonstrates that Ellen White's prophetic interpretation and authority are more flexible and less inerrant than commonly imagined.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Ellen White, Ellen G. White Letters & Manuscripts (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2014), 243.  

[2]Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism (Sigtuna, Sweden, Datem Publishing, 1990), 97.

[3] William Miller, Evidence From Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ (Boston: J. V. Himes, 1842), 253-161.

[4] White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan: The Lives and Struggles of Christians through the Ages (Altamont, TN: Harvestime Books, 1998), 205–207.

[5] Clinton Wahlen, "Does Leviticus 26 Contain a Time Prophecy of 2,520 Years?" Biblical Research Institute, https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/dose-leviticus-26-contain-a-time-prophecy-of-2520-years/.

[6] White, Ellen G. White Letters & Manuscripts, 242–44.  

[7] Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years (Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1985), 185.

[8] White, Ellen G. White Letters & Manuscripts, 358.

[9] Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review & Herald, 1858), 1:128.

 


Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard Universitat 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, will be published by Wipf & Stock in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner.

Title image: 1843 Millerite prophecy illustration [public domain]

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