A little more than a year ago we published an article by Tim Poirier that provided some valuable help in understanding the much-discussed topic of Ellen White's views on Christ's human nature. Poirier framed the question in these terms: "Did Christ take the sinless humanity of Adam before the Fall, or a nature identical to ours this side of the Fall?" 1
In response one of our readers wrote, "It seems to me that Sister White answered the question very clearly, and I just wonder why her own answer was not used in the discussion." This reader enclosed a photostat of a couple pages from Selected Messages. He had underlined a sentence in which Ellen White said that Christ's human nature was "identical with our own."2
Yet on another occasion, this same Ellen White wrote, "Let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be."3
A superficial glance at these two statements may suggest to us that they contra dict each other. But the problem does not lie in the statements. Rather, it lies in our regarding them as direct answers to the question we have supplied: What was Christ's human nature like?
Herein lies an important principle: we will misunderstand Scripture, Ellen White's writings, or those of any other author if we haphazardly regard them as answers to our questions. Of course, the flip side of this principle is that to under stand what an author, any author, is saying, we must first discover that author's concern--what he or she is writing about, what questions he or she is answering. If our question parallels the author's, then we can accept the answer given as directly helpful to us. If it does not, we will have to search for the principle underlying the message given and extrapolate from that to our concern--or, as the case may be, we may simply have to admit that the author has nothing to say on the subject about which we are inquiring.
Applying the principle
To illustrate: In the case of the first Ellen White quotation above, Mrs. White directly stated the question she was answering. The one to whom she was writing had asked, In light of the fact that Christ was one with God, could His human nature yield to temptation? Ellen White answered that, though Christ's divinity could not be tempted, He was as truly human as we are and so could be tempted as strongly as we, and could just as certainly have yielded to temptation.
The question centered on whether or not His human nature was subject to temptation, not on whether it was like ours in every respect. Only when we recognize that can we correctly understand Ellen White's answer.
The other Ellen White's statement we mentioned came in response to a different concern. In the first instance, Mrs. White was dealing with someone who so emphasized Christ's divinity that he had lost sight of the reality of His humanity. In the second case, the recipient of her counsel focused almost exclusively on Christ's humanity. Here Ellen White warned of two dangers. First, this individual was close to suggesting that, like the other descendants of Adam, Christ had evil propensities. And second, he was losing sight of the fact that Christ was more than merely human. She counseled, "You need to guard strenuously every assertion, lest. . . you lose or dim the clear perceptions of His humanity as combined with divinity. "4
So when she said that Christ was not "altogether human, such an one as our selves," she was not meaning to imply that His humanity was of some other kind than ours. Rather, she was simply delineating between our propensities to sin and Christ's sinlessness, and between our utter humanity and His unique status as fully divine while fully human. 5
Careful consideration of context--both literary and historical--is crucial to understanding anyone's communication. Finding the question the author is addressing is an essential part of understanding that context. --David C. Jarnes.
1 Tim Poirier, "Sources Clarify Ellen White's
Christology," Ministry, December 1989, pp. 7-9.
2 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washing
ton, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980),
book3, p. 129.
3 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White
Comments, vol. 5, p. 1129.
4 Ibid., p. 1128. (Italics supplied.)
5 In a manuscript she had written earlier than
either of these she had combined the concepts that
appear in these two statements. She wrote that
Christ's humanity was "perfectly identical with our
own nature, except without the taint of sin."
(Manuscript 57, 1890; italics supplied). Poirier includes
this statement in the box accompanying his article.
Interestingly, this statement parallels the one
in Selected Messages even to the point of contrasting
Christ's human nature and the nature of angels. It
differs mainly in including the italicized distinction
between His human nature and ours that He was