Did Ellen G. White, The Prophet of God, Plagiarize?
One of the great theological questions of our time is the concern, that various people have presented, about Ellen G. White (EGW) copying other peoples writings without giving them credit and then claiming that her writings were original and sent from God. Many people perceive EGW’s copying as not in harmony with the principles of Christ. They declare that anyone who does not live in harmony with 21st century moral standards musts have been an intellectual thief in the 1900s. Then people consider that a prophet of God would not do anything that the people would consider unethical and then decide that EGW was not a prophet of God, otherwise they, the people, would not be offended at something she did.
The paragraph above has many concepts woven into it and it is the purpose of this article to briefly address the thoughts and principles presented and try to bring some clarity to the subject so that the average person investigating a prophet would be able to evaluate the issues and come to a reasonable conclusion about God’s prophets and how they function in the real world.
First of all let us define what plagiarism is, and what it was. Wikipedia defines plagiarism in the following manner:
“Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement, while in the previous centuries authors and artists were encouraged to "copy the masters as closely as possible" and avoid "unnecessary invention."”
Notice that this definition indicates that plagiarism as a moral problem emerged in the 1700s. History indicates that the principle of plagiarism as a problem did not get formalized until in the 1900s. So those who wrote in the 1700, 1800s, and early 1900s would still be operating on principles that were in effect that were earlier. For example in the artistic community, as well as in the literary community, plagiarism – the issue of copying someone else’s writings was complimentary to the original writing. Notice the following ideas from Wikipedia’s article on plagiarism.
“The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal, emerged in
“It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed [copied word for word] some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon further consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point of view, and receiving what was spoke[n] only according to its own intrinsic value (p. 8). John Wesley - Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, Preface, Page IV, Section 8, 11th Edition, Volume 1, (London: John Mason , 1831) (Authors highlighting)
In EGW’s book The Great Controversy 1911 edition EGW takes a stance similar to John Wesley. She states the following on pages xi – xii of the introduction:
“The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works.”
So both John Wesley, and EGW, both quoted from other author’s not to steal material but to use phrases and concepts to present the truth of a matter in the best way possible with the best materials possible, and at hand.
A second concept from the opening paragraph is the idea of whether EGW’s materials are original and from God if she copied materials from other people? It is my understanding of how God sends visions and information to prophets to put the thoughts in their minds, show them things, that are not available to us under normal circumstances and then to help the prophet to write out these things while coming through the human mind, and experience. Many people have the idea that God dictates the words, and if that were so there would be no need to use materials from anybody else because God would have already provided the words necessary. But one of the mysteries of the Bible is how God could use all of the difference prophets in the Bible and how the materials and ways of expression would be different from prophet to prophet, and still God’s concepts would be expressed clearly to the searching eye and the listening ear. We all would accept the book of Amos, written by the shepherd of God, did not express things in the legal style of Paul, or in the poetic styles of David and Solomon. None the less all four of these authors, expressed God’s ideas through their personal style of writing, and all four of these authors are in full harmony with the mind of God. As the Bible prophets were given information and guidance so with EGW and her writings. She claims she was given visions and dreams and then it was her job to write these out and send out letters to people appointed by God, or to write the messages out and publish them in magazine articles, or in books.
This brings up a third issue that came from the initial paragraph. It is one thing to claim to be a Bible prophet, and to write many materials, but how does one test the prophet to see if they are of God? Any person claiming to be sent by God with a message must meet the tests of the prophets. The must be written in harmony with the Bible for if they are not in harmony with the Bible, for it is the standard of all spiritual assessment, then it is not of God. Isaiah 8:19-20. All of a prophet’s writings must be written with the idea that Jesus is Lord and is the Christ/Messiah. (I John 2:18-22). Those who believe that Jesus came in sinless flesh, and not in the flesh of David and Abraham (Romans 1:3; Hebrews 2:16-18) are determined to be writings of Anti-Christ. (I John 4:1-3; II John 7). The predictions of a prophet must come to pass (Deuteronomy 13:1-5) while taking into account the issues of repentance and changes of heart when confronted by God. (Jeremiah 18:1-10 and Jonah 1-4). When all of these issues are taken into account and a prophet speaks in harmony with all of the protective concepts of God’s Word then we can know for sure that that person, and their writings, have been approved of by God, for they are in harmony with His mind – His Word.
The fourth issue that I would like to bring up regarding EGW and her use of materials is whether a person would be offended by a prophet’s writings and by their use of materials. One of the principles of the Bible is that God is greater than we are. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are greater than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-11) All good thoughts, and ideas, are from God. He gives them to mankind to be used to be a blessing to others. Sin has been the element that causes men to take good thoughts and abuse them and use them in ways not approved of by God. When God sends a prophet, it is this writer’s opinion, that that prophet is sent by God to use any and every thought given by God to further the gospel cause. God is not tied to mortal man’s concepts of plagiarism. When God wants to use something He is free to use as He sees fit, while still taking into account the needs and issues of the person to whom He has given His blessings. God does not abuse us, but we often abuse one another. So when God sends forth His prophets they are to ask Him for guidance and if He appoints that prophet to use an idea, that ideas belongs to God originally.
Lastly, in this brief article, I would like to give my own personal testimony of whether EGW plagiarized materials to abuse others, and to steal their ideas to profit from their labors without giving credit where credit is due. It has been this author’s privilege to read many of the books by EGW. I have learned how she writes, and her style, just as I would recognize Shakespeare, or Kipling, or any other writer that I chose to read. In my time as a Christian I had also had the privilege of reading many other Christian authors. I have also had the opportunity of reading some of the materials that people have claimed that EGW plagiarized from. When I have compared what EGW wrote, and the books that she supposedly plagiarized I have been shocked at the wide gulf of quality between that of EGW and that of the original authors. In my personal opinion, and after much reading I believe that EGW’s quality of writing, and breadth of understanding, and firmness of opinion, is so very much higher that other author’s writings are poor in comparison to what I have found in the writings of God’s prophet EGW.
In conclusion it is my opinion that EGW was not a plagiarist. I believe that her writings are of a significantly higher grade than all other religious author’s that I have read and studied. I have also found the writings of EGW to be of superior Bible study quality and that when I have done intensive Bible study, when finished I have found the writings of EGW to be in full harmony with the Scriptures. So for me I give my full endorsement to Ellen G. White as a prophet of God.
I would like to include a few more resources for those who want to study this question out for them selves. I want to leave a few links for further study so that if there are additional questions they can compare their research with others. Dr. Fred Veltman completed an exhaustive study on whether EGW plagiarized on her book the Desire of Ages.
Another writer who studied the Desire of Ages, and compared the writings of EGW to other Christian Authors on the life of Christ was David Conklin. Much of his research can be found at:
http://dedication.www3.50megs.com/David/index.html In addition Mr. Conklin's study can be purchased in full by paying $10 on Paypal at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A EGW friendly author, Herbert Douglass has a written a book about her and how she developed her materials. For those who want to continue to study about the plagiarism charge I would suggest you look into his book about her writings and especially of the charge of plagiarism.
http://www.whiteestate.org/books/mol/TOC.html#Understanding How the Books Were Written
One last reference and that is to a lawyer, Vincent Ramik, who was commissioned to give his legal opinion regarding whether or not EGW plagiarized as a writer. His legal brief is located at:
I hope you find this information helpful to you in your personal research.