"Hold Fast What Is Good"

JUST HOW extensive and sound is the Biblical foundation for the Seventh-day Adventist belief that the writings of Ellen G. White are the product of a genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy in contemporary times?

-an associate professor of theology and assistant dean of the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University at the time this article was written

JUST HOW extensive and sound is the Biblical foundation for the Seventh-day Adventist belief that the writings of Ellen G. White are the product of a genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy in contemporary times?

Let's begin our investigation with a well-known prophecy in the book of Joel, chapter 2, verses 28-31.* "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the manservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit. And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."

Of course, we recognize that this prophecy was fulfilled, according to Peter, on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:15-20). But the question arises, "Was it fulfilled completely or is there evidence that another, fuller fulfillment might well be expected?" While there were manifestations of unusual activity of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is no evidence that the physical phenomena in the heavens mentioned in Joel 2:30, 31 and Acts 2:19, 20 either preceded or fol lowed that activity. In fact, they did not appear until hundreds of years later.

On that memorable day, Peter could well have taken the phrase "the day of the Lord" to mean the second coming of Jesus Christ. Since the Holy Spirit was being poured out in such a mighty way, he might have thought that the wonders in the heaven above and signs in the earth beneath he speaks of in Acts 2:19, 20 were soon to appear as harbingers of that glorious day. Had he not heard Jesus Himself speak in this vein on the Mount of Olives (see Matt. 24, cf. Mark 13 and Luke 21) just a little more than 50 days before? '

A reading of 1 Peter 1 and 2 Peter 3 will show that Peter believed that the coming of the Lord was near at hand. Was the inspired apostle wrong? No. God had not seen fit to give him total knowledge. Even Jesus when He was on earth did not know the day nor the hour of His second coming (see Matt. 24:36).

Revelation 6:12-17 records a chain of events that occur under the sixth seal. While nothing is said about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh and the resultant prophecies, dreams, and visions, the second and third events in the chain, the darkening of the sun and the moon turning to blood, are the very ones mentioned in Joel 2:31.

1. Continuous-Historlcai Method

Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally used the continuoushistorical method in the interpretation of the Apocalypse. (Among others, Wycliffe, Luther, Joseph Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, William Whiston, Elliott, Vitringa, Bengal, and Barnes were advocates of this method.) Thus, it is not strange that we believe that the "great earthquake" which marks the opening of the sixth seal is the Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755, that "the sun became black as sackcloth" on "the Dark Day" of May 19, 1780, that "the full moon became like blood" when it first became visible that night, that "the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale" on November 13, 1833, and that the next and last event under the sixth seal is the second coming of Christ as described in verses 14-17.

On this basis we hold that the prophecy of Joel 2:28-31 began to meet its final and complete fulfillment in 1780. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh and the manifestation of the gift of prophecy ("your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions") would take place between that time and the second coming of Jesus Christ ("before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes").

Another line of prophecy comes in for consideration here. It is found in the 12th chapter of Reve lation. In verses one and two the prophet sees the church, sym bolized by a pure woman (cf. Jer. 6:2 and 2 Cor. 11:2), travailing in birth. Verses 3-5 reveal Satan's preparation to destroy the child as soon as He is born; the birth of the man child; His identity (cf. Rev. 19:11-16; John 1:1-3, 14; Acts 1:9-11; and Heb. 8:1, 2); and Satan's attempt to destroy Christ, which was thwarted by the intervention of God.

Verses 7-10 record the Son of Cod's victory over Satan and his hosts in two decisive engagements. The first one was in heaven, when Lucifer's disaffection erupted into open rebellion and he became "the great dragon . . . that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan" (cf. Isa. 14: 12-14 and Eze. 28:11-19, K.J.V.). In this battle the Son of God met him and defeated him as Michael the archangel (cf. Jude 9 and 1 Thess. 4:16, 17). The second one was on the earth. In this struggle the Son of Cod met- Satan as the son of man, and not only defeated him as far as His own person was concerned but, through His death on the cross of Calvary, He opened the prison house of Satan and made it possible for every one of his captives to be set free (see Rom. 5:18).

Satan trembled when Jesus cried out as He hung dying upon the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The devil knew that his kingdom was doomed and that he and his angels would go down to eternal destruction. Yet he would not give up the great controversy. The stinging defeat that the Son of Cod had inflicted upon him in creased his hatred of Christ. He could no longer reach Him in per son, but he would intensify his warfare against the one supreme object of Christ's affection, the woman, or the church (see Eph. 5:21-32).

Two Periods of Persecution

Verse 6 and verses 13-17 unveil the history of the church between the two advents of Christ in the setting of Satan's intensified war fare against her. It is not strange then that the two periods of the most severe persecution are singled out. The first is introduced in verse six. Then there is a break in thought that carries on for six verses, the content of which we have discussed above, before there is a return to the same subject in verses 13-16. The time element spoken of in verse 6 appears again in verse 14. It is expressed differently, but the context argues that it is the same. This is the 1260 days or years (see Num. 14:34; Eze. 4:6) of papal supremacy, A.D. 538-1798, during which there were periods of intense persecution of those who remained loyal to the Lord.

Verse 17 introduces us to the second and last period when Satan directs his wrath against the "remnant" church. In other words Satan declares war on the members of the church that remain after 1798. And notice that two specific characteristics of the remnant are mentioned. They "keep the commandments of Cod, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (K.J.V.).

"Testimony of Jesus"

The phrase "the testimony of Jesus" appears six times in the book of Revelation, twice in the first chapter, once in the twelfth chapter, twice in the nineteenth chapter, and once in the twentieth chapter. Were it not for the way it is interpreted in Revelation 19:10, and for the fact that in Revelation 12:17 it says that the remnant have (echonton, genitive masculine present participle of echo, "to hold, to have, to possess") the testimony of Jesus, it could be taken to be an objective genitive and translated "the testimony to Jesus" or "the testimony about Jesus"in every case.

In Revelation 19:10 (K.J.V.) the angel rejects the worship of John on the basis that he is a fellow servant of John and John's brethren who have (echonton) the testimony of Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation 22:9 adds further light. The content of Revelation 19:10 and 22:9 is similar. There is, however, a significant difference. In Revelation 22:9 the angel says, "I am a fellow-servant with you and your brethren the prophets." For this reason then, we can say that it is the prophets who have the testimony of Jesus or the Spirit of prophecy.

Furthermore, we can agree with Don Neufeld's suggested amplified translations of the phrase "spirit of prophecy." "When prophecy operates it is Jesus who is bearing witness," or "The characteristic of prophecy is that Jesus is bearing witness" (Don F. Neufeld, Review and Herald, August 17, 1967, p. 13). These not only fall within the category of legitimate translations according to the original Greek construction, they also fit the immediate context and agree with Peter's testimony in 1 Peter 1:10, 11: "The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory."

One of the designated characteristics of the remnant church after 1798, according to Revelation 12:17, is that they have the "testimony of Jesus." In other words, in the light of what we have discovered in our study of Revelation 19:10 and 22:9, they will have the Spirit of prophecy and, therefore, a prophet or prophets among them through whom Jesus will bear testimony.

We have seen that both Joel and John the revelator point to the nineteenth century and on to the second coming of Christ as being a period when the prophetic gift will be active in the church founded by Christ and His apostles.

Scriptural Evidence

Do we have any corroborative scriptural evidence to support this conclusion? We answer, "Yes." In four different passages the apostle Paul speaks of gifts in the church (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 1: 4-7, 12, 14; Eph. 4:8-15). We shall consider only two of these.

Paul devotes the whole of 1 Corinthians 12 to a discussion of spiritual gifts in the church. The entire chapter is important, but let us single out verse 28. "And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, . . . speakers in various kinds of tongues." Paul places no time limit on these gifts. He gives no hint that any of them is to terminate at the close of the first century of the Christian Era. He does tell us, however, in verse 8 that the Spirit is the source of all of these gifts.

In verse 11 he states that the Spirit gives them to "each one individually as he [the Spirit] wills." It shouldn't surprise us then if the Spirit decides to activate the gift of prophecy and thus raise up prophets or prophetesses in the church at any time. (That God has called women to this office in both Old and New Testament times is clear from Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:2; 2 Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36; and Acts 21:9.)

Again, Paul speaks on the theme of gifts in the church in Ephesians 4:8-15. We quote verses 11-15: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some proph ets, some evangelists, some pas tors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ."

Paul once more specifically includes prophets among the gifts Christ gave to His church and indicates that they, along with apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, were to labor for the equipping of the saints and the upbuilding of the body of Christ till all should come into full spiritual maturity in Christ. He says nothing about the termination of these gifts after a certain period of time. Why then should we be surprised if we should find prophets in the church, even in our day?

Gifts Not Limited

As we have seen, Paul places no time or geographical-area limitations on the gifts of the Spirit in the church. We have also noted that it is the Holy Spirit Himself who initiates and distributes these gifts (1 Cor. 12:11). This means that they are His gifts. He is in full control of them, all of them. They are intended for the service of the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11, 12). It is up to the Spirit to determine how many of them are to be activated. Man has no control here.

This implies that if someone arises in the church and claims that the Holy Spirit has given him one of these gifts, we should not denounce him immediately as being false on the basis of some a priori that lacks solid Biblical support and thus run the risk of fighting against the Spirit. Neither should we accept every claim immediately as being genuine, lest we permit Satan to spoil the church.

We have been warned against such spurious gifts as those of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13-15) and false prophets (Matt. 7:15-20). What we should do is to test the genuineness of the supposed gift according to the criteria set down in the Bible for that particular gift. The weight of evidence growing out of this investigation should form the basis of our acceptance or rejection of it.

Paul wrote to the members of the church in Thessalonica: "Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:19-21). The apostle is trying to save us from wrong attitudes toward the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to spiritual gifts in general and prophesying in particular. At the same time he exhorts us to test all gifts that profess to be of the Spirit and to hold fast whatever passes the test with "good marks."

2. Testing the Gift of Prophecy

Our special interest is the gift of prophecy. Does the Bible furnish us with sufficient specific data to enable us to formulate an adequate instrument for the testing of this gift? The Old Testament contains two such criteria and the New Testament contains two.

Although Isaiah 8:19, 20 contains obscure elements and problems in translation, the content and context argue that a criterion whereby one might determine the origin and value or authority of supernatural communication is being enunciated. Verse 20 reads, "To the teaching and to the testimony!" The "teaching" (Hebrew torah; K.J.V. and N.A.S.B. law) might very well be a reference to the Pentateuch, for it is here that warnings against mediums and wizards, mentioned in verse 19, are found. (See Lev. 19:31; 20:6; and Deut. 18:11.) It is also possible that "testimony" (Hebrew te'udah) is a synonym for "teaching" and that the two refer to the Old Testament Scriptures written up to and including Isaiah.

The underlying principle is that the messages given by any true prophet must be in harmony with those given by the true prophets who preceded him. This means that the messages, whether oral or written, of any genuine contemporary prophet would have to be in perfect agreement with the teachings or testimonies of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

The second Old Testament criterion is found in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22. Verses 18-20 set the background. God promises to raise up a prophet like Moses and to put His words into his mouth. That prophet is to speak God's words to His people. If anyone does not listen to these words, God will hold him responsible or accountable. Then follows a general warning addressed to the prophet who presumes to speak in God's name what God has not commanded him or who speaks in the name of other gods "that same prophet shall die" (verse 20).

God continues His instruction in verses 21 and 22. "If you ask yourselves, 'How shall we recognize a word that the Lord has not uttered?', this is the answer: When the word spoken by the prophet in the name of the Lord is not fulfilled and does not come true, it is not a word spoken by the Lord. The prophet has spoken presumptuously; do not hold him in awe" (N.E.B.)-†

In general, the common division of the work of the prophet into forth-telling and fore-telling is accurate. Obviously, it is the latter function with which this test is concerned. Where there is prediction, fulfillment must follow and will follow if the fore-teller is truly a prophet of God. When applying this test one must consider the fact that there is such a phenomenon as conditional prophecy that has its source in God. (Read Jer. 18:7-11 and the entire book of Jonah.)

Our third criterion is found in 1 John 4:1-3. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus ["which does not thus acknowledge Jesus" N.E.B.] is not of God."

Here the significance of the acknowledgment of the reality of the humanity of Jesus Christ is brought into sharp focus. No true prophet will be an advocate of Gnosticism or Docetism. He will proclaim the integrity of the human nature of Jesus Christ.

The second New Testament criterion and the fourth one in our series was given by Jesus Himself in the latter part of His Sermon on the Mount. It comes in the setting of a warning against false prophets and is recorded in Matthew 7:15-20. Jesus not only warns His hearers to be on guard against false prophets but proceeds to tell them how to see through their pious pretensions and recognize them for what they really are.

According to Jesus, a prophet is to be judged by his fruits. We understand this to mean his character, his life-style. Is his life characterized by the works of the flesh "immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like" or by "the fruit of the Spirit . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:19-23)?

Moreover, we understand that this principle extends to the ministry of the prophet. Has it served "to equip God's people for work in his service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12, N.E.B.)?

These are the tests, all four of them, that we should apply to any one in the church who claims to have the gift of prophecy. If he measures up on all four we are safe in concluding that the Holy Spirit has indeed called that person to the sacred work of a prophet or prophetess. Corollary considerations such as the vividness or definiteness of the dreams and visions experienced by the prophet, not just impressions, and the manner in which they were given; the timeliness, and the high spiritual plane of the mes sages borne by the prophet; the relation of the prophet to outside influences; and recognition of the prophet by contemporaries both inside and outside the church should be taken into account seriously, also.

3. Tests Applied

Ellen Could Harmon, a young Millerite woman of 17 who signed her name Ellen G. White after her marriage to James White on Au gust 30, 1846, had her first vision sometime during the month of December in 1844. Neither she nor anyone else among her fellow believers in Portland, Maine, had the least idea that God was going to give her a vision that would bring comfort and hope to those who had just passed through the bitter disappointment of October 22. Little did she or anyone else know that on that day in December (the exact date is unknown) the Holy Spirit was bestowing the gift of prophecy upon her and calling her to the prophetic office. Some 1,999 visions and dreams were to follow during the 70 years of her ministry.

When, in response to her divine commission "relate to others what I [Jesus] have revealed to you" (Early Writings, p. 20) she obeyed, what happened? Naturally, there were different reactions. But in the main we can say that the pioneers of what was to become the Seventh-day Adventist Church turned to their Bibles.

As a result of earnest Bible study they discovered evidence parallel to what we have presented above, which led them to conclude that Ellen White might indeed be the recipient of the genuine gift of prophecy in contemporary times. Then they tested her life and ministry by the Biblical norms we have spoken of. The result? A deep, growing conviction that she was a messenger of the Lord, a prophetess tried and true.

Today, Seventh-day Adventists still insist that the person, writings, and total ministry of Ellen G. White be tested by the Bible, the Word of the living God, a perfect and complete revelation, the only rule of faith and practice for the Christian. We encourage every new generation of Adventists and every one who is interested in becoming a member of the Adventist Church to take the relevant Biblical logia and by them test the validity of the Seventh-day Adventist belief that the writings of Ellen G. White are the product of a genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy in contemporary times. The only word we would add is that the investigation be intensive and extensive, rather than superficial and sampling, and that it be carried on in the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 with continual prayer for divine guidance.

* All Bible quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise specified.

† From The New English Bible. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of The Cambridge University Press, 1970. Reprinted by permission.

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-an associate professor of theology and assistant dean of the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University at the time this article was written

August 1975

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