How the E.G. White Books were Written—1

Arthur L White begins a series dealing with the preparation, expansion, and revision of various editions of his grandmother's works.

Arthur L. White is a lifetime member of the Board of Trustees of the E. G. White Estate, and currently is working on a biography of his grandmother.

Some Adventists down through the years, especially those who hold concepts of inspiration that would call for a mechanical writing by Ellen White of what was revealed to her, question the relationship of subsequent revisions and expansions to the visions themselves that were given her, and the extent to which her literary assistants may have been responsible for portions of the writing.

The object of this series is to allow some of those who assisted Ellen White to speak in full statements as they did on several occasions in an enlightening fashion. No attempt at an exhaustive presentation is made here. There will be some overlapping and repetition, which will not be offensive when the reader takes into account the overall object of letting these individuals make their presentation in full statements.

Ellen White speaks of her helpers

Some statements by Ellen White and those associated with her have appeared in various publications about her work. It was a source of regret to her that her schooling had been very brief and her knowledge of the technical rules of writing limited. In 1906 she told of the course she followed:

"While my husband lived, he acted as a helper and counselor in the sending out of the messages that were given to me. We traveled extensively. Sometimes light would be given to me in the night season, sometimes in the daytime before large congregations. The instruction I received in vision was faithfully written out by me, as I had time and strength for the work. Afterward we examined the matter together, my husband correcting grammatical errors and eliminating needless repetition. Then it was care fully copied for the persons addressed, or for the printer.

"As the work grew, others assisted me in the preparation of matter for publication. After my husband's death, faithful helpers joined me, who labored untiringly in the work of copying the testimonies and preparing articles for publication.

"But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true." —Selected Messages, book 1, p. 50.

Speaking of the work of her helpers, in 1900 Ellen White made the following interesting statement about the part taken in her work by Marian Davis, who assisted her for more than twenty years. After referring to another of her assistants, Fanny Bolton, she wrote: "Marian's work is of a different order altogether. She is my book-maker. Fanny never was my book-maker.

"How are my books made? . . . She [Marian] does her work in this way. She takes my articles which are published in the papers, and pastes them in blank books. She also has a copy of all the letters I write. In preparing a chapter for a book, Marian remembers that I have written something on that special point, which may make the matter more forcible. She begins to search for this, and if, when she finds it, she sees that it will make the chapter more clear, she adds it.

"The books are not Marian's productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings. Marian has a large field from which to draw, and her ability to arrange the matter is of great value to me. It saves my poring over a mass of matter, which I have no time to do.

"So you understand that Marian is a most valuable help to me in bringing out my books." —Letter 61a, 1900.

As Marian's life was coming to a close in 1904, Ellen White made another reference to her faithful work, stating:

"We have stood side by side in the work, and in perfect harmony in that work. And when she would be gathering up the precious jots and tittles that had come in papers and books and present it to me, 'Now,' she would say, 'there is something wanted. I cannot supply it.'

"I would look it over, and in one moment I could trace the line right out. We worked together, just worked together in perfect harmony all the time."—Manuscript 95, 1904.

The full significance of this will open up as this series continues. Miss Bolton, for a time one of Ellen White's literary assistants, explained.

"'The editors in no wise change Sister White's expression if it is grammatically correct, and is an evident expression of the evident thought. Sister White as a human instrumentality has a pronounced style of her own, which is preserved all through her books and articles, that stamps the matter with her individuality. Many times her manuscript does not need any editing, often but slight editing, and again a great deal of literary work; but article or chapter, whatever has been done upon it, is passed back into her hands by the editor.'—Fannie Bolton in 'A Confession Concerning the "Testimony of Jesus Christ,'" written in 1901."—Messenger to the Remnant, p. 60.

Story of the writings of Ellen G. White

Let us call on Elder W. C. White, Ellen's son, to speak on this point, using a statement he made on April 18, 1926, at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, General Conference session.

"It was in the year 1851 that Mrs. E. G. White wrote the book Experience and Views. A supplement to Experience and Views was brought out in 1854, and the volume entitled [The] Great Controversy in 1858. This latter constitutes the latter part of Early Writings as we have it now. "In 1860, she wrote My Christian Experience, Views, and Labors, comprising 304 pages. This is really the basis of Life Sketches. Spiritual Gifts was the basis of [The] Great Controversy.

"A little later she brought out Facts of Faith, and in the same year another volume carrying forward that history. Then there comes in the article on 'The Messiah,' an article on health,. . . and one on progress. Now those were bound up in four volumes under the title of Spiritual Gifts. That constituted the complete series of the E. G. White writings. After a few years those books were sold, and the brethren wanted them reprinted exactly as they were.

"Sister White said, 'No, that will never do. Since those were written the Lord has given me a view of the things. He has repeated that view, and I now . . . want to write it out much more fully, more in detail, and bring in a great many things that were not written in the first volumes, and I must rewrite it more fully.' . . .

"So there was brought out in 1870 a book entitled [The] Great Controversy, Volume One. This deals with Old Testament History from the beginning down to Solomon. And then, skipping the Old Testament history from that point on, she brought out Volume Two on the life of Christ during the years 1870 to 1877. The third volume, brought out in 1878, was on Christ and the work of the apostles. In 1883 she brought out The Great Controversy, Volume Four from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the Controversy. This was just an enlargement of Spiritual Gifts. These books were written with the Seventh-day Adventists in mind.

"The things revealed to Sister White were not given to her like the repeating of a story that she must repeat. In vision she seemed to be looking down through a great opening in the sky and she saw multitudes of people in action, and the angels of God ministering to them.* She was not given the language. Many times she remembered what the angel said, but many times she had to describe what she had seen the very best she could. As the work advanced, and she prepared it over and over again, her description was more complete, and she wanted the people to have the more complete description.

"Some of the people said that this book [volume 4 of the series The Great Controversy] ought to sell everywhere, and it was a great surprise to see how well it could be sold. . . . The publishers said if that could be sold they wanted to get up a better edition, put it in thicker paper, use different illustrations, and sell it for $1.50. It sold splendidly, and they told Sister White how it was going.

"'Well,' Sister White said, 'I had much more matter to put into that when it was printed. Now if you are going to make a larger book of it, let me bring in additional matter.' This was done.

"When she got to Europe she saw many things which reminded her of what she had seen in vision. One day when we came to the old cathedral where Zwingli taught, she said, 'Oh, I have seen this place before,' and she began to tell us about the place. She wanted to write these things out and put them into Controversy. . . .

Chronology and genealogy

"Sister White was not given much detail about chronology or genealogy, and she went to her Bible history to get these things. One day, Sabbath afternoon, I was down in a little corner room reading Wylie's history, and I came to a chapter where he described an experience of the Roman army coming out to destroy a little band of Protestants, and when they first caught sight of them the Roman army took a panic and fled.

"That was interesting to me and I ran up to Mother's room and said, 'Mother, let me read something to you.' I read along a page or so . . . , and she picked up the story and began to tell it. She told it as Wylie had given it, only she told more. She told a lot that Wylie did not have. 'Mother, where did you get that?' I asked. 'Saw it,' she replied. 'Did you ever read it anywhere?' 'No.' And she went on and told me more of how the armies came over the passes to catch those little bands that were hidden in the valleys, and how angels of God revealed themselves to them as armies of fighting men, and the Roman armies, thinking that there were large armies meeting them, turned and ran.

" 'Why, Mother,' I asked, 'why didn't you put that into your book?' 'I didn't know where to put it' was the answer. "But when she got the geography and the chronology, then she put in the story just as it was presented to her in vision.

"When she was completing this book, and she came to 'God's People Delivered,' she did not know where to put it. This was repeated to her the second, the third, and the fourth time, and then she didn't know where it belonged. Three times we heard her shouting in the night in a musical voice, "They come, they come, holy, harmless, and undefiled.' See The Great Controversy, p. 636.

"Sister White saw things in action and she was obliged to use her best effort to describe it herself. Many, many of her passages she gives in the exact words of the angel, but many of her views she wrote out [in her own words]. It is the truths that are inspired and not the words." —White Estate Document File 107g.


To be continued.


*In a document specifically approved by Ellen White, W. C. White, on October 30, 1911, read to the General Conference Committee a statement regarding the writing of The Great Controversy and its revision in 1911. He described the manner in which the light presented in The Great Controversy often came to her in this fashion: "The things which she has written out are descriptions of flash-light pictures and other representations given her regarding the actions of men, and the influence of these actions upon the work of God for the salvation of men, with views of past, present, and future history in its relation to this work.'' White Estate Document File 85, "The 1911 Revision of The Great Controversy." Ellen White herself, in an interview on October 5, 1907, made mention of how at times she was instructed: "Now I have light, mostly in the night season, just as if the whole thing was transacting, and I am viewing it, and I am listening to the conversation." —Ms. 105, 1907.


Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church is blessed with a veritable library of Ellen G. White books, covering many fields of inspired counsels, instruction, and exposition. There are the books of the testimony class, filled with instruction for the members of the church and giving counsel concerning its various activities. There are the expository books, including such works as Steps to Christ, Christ's Object Lessons, and the five books of the Conflict of the Ages Series. There are books devoted to one special topic, such as Education and The Ministry of Healing.

Not all of these books were prepared for the press in the same manner. The first Ellen G. White book, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, published in 1851, contained 64 pages, composed of a seven-page sketch of her experiences, followed by visions and admonitions first printed in broadsides, Present Truth and Review and Herald articles published between 1846 and 1851, and some articles not published previously. It was really but a pamphlet and contained the major portion of the Ellen G. White writings up to that time. It was followed in 1854 by a 48-page supplement.

The first bound book from Ellen White's pen was published in 1858 the 219-page The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels. This volume, written to present what had been revealed in the March 14, 1858, great controversy vision, traced in digest form the conflict from the inception
of sin to the new earth. The book, currently available in a facsimile reprint, is referred to as Spiritual Gifts, volume 1. These three Ellen G. White productions of the 1850's were reprinted in 1882 as Early Writings.

During the 1850's the testimony series was started, first with a 16-page "Testimony for the Church," containing seven short articles in which Ellen White set before the believers instruction given to her in the vision of November 20, 1855. A second such pamphlet was published in 1856. These were followed by others of the testimony series published at intervals of about a year in pamphlets of varying size, some exceeding 200 pages. Later, of course, these were drawn together and published in bound volumes, but with the original content format preserved. This unique line of writing appears today as the consecutive writing of Ellen White as the Spirit of God gave to her in vision messages of counsel, instruction, and warning for individuals, churches, church leaders, institutions, et cetera. For a detailed account of the writing and publishing of the Testimonies for the Church, see Messenger to the Remnant, pages 62-67.

A third type of writing, autobiography, came into the picture early. In 1860 a 304-page work was published carrying the extended title My Christian Experience, Views and Labors in Connection With the Rise and Progress of the Third Angel's Message. This second bound Ellen G. White book is usually referred to as Spiritual Gifts, volume 2, and is available today in a facsimile reprint. The next two bound volumes, Spiritual Gifts, volumes 3 and 4, were
published in 1864, the first and half of the second presenting the Old Testament history that, except for the first
three chapters, was skipped over in the 1858 writing of The Great Controversy. These Spiritual Gifts volumes carried the title "Important Facts of Faith, in Connection With the History of Holy Men of Old." The chapters for all the Spiritual Gifts volumes presenting the basic great controversy story were written in consecutive order.

The presentation of this theme through the years by Ellen White was to take on enlarged form, first as the four Spirit of Prophecy volumes (1870-1885) and later in the greatly expanded five volumes of the Conflict of the Ages Series.

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Arthur L. White is a lifetime member of the Board of Trustees of the E. G. White Estate, and currently is working on a biography of his grandmother.

June 1979

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