Visions And The Mechanics of Inspiration

How does prophetic inspiration work? Is the prophet a mouthpiece for God, delivering messages verbatim from God to his people? Does God inspire words or thoughts? And how exactly does a thought, an idea or a set of instructions or counsels move from the mind of God to the prophet to the printed page and the people with nothing being lost in translation?

Over the span of Ellen White’s fruitful ministry of 70 years, she received over 2000 visions and dreams. During the first forty years of that time, many her visions were given to her in public forums where she manifested various physical signs such as superhuman strength or not breathing for the entire duration of the vision. This was so that those present could be convinced of the authenticity of the gift and could also act as witnesses to establish its veracity in the minds of others. However during the last thirty years of Ellen White’s life the messages she received we given to her mainly through the agency of dreams at night while she slept.

So how were these messages translated onto the printed page with every component intact and in the same order? The first part of the process took place when Ellen White wrote down what she was shown. Generally, she was shown a broad sweep of history or a current situation sometimes in allegorical form and she was at liberty to employ her own words and expressions to relay the messages she had been given. Often if not always she had an attending angel who guided her through the vision, instructing and providing context and explanations for what she saw during the vision. More often than not she would quote the words her guide spoke verbatim when she conveyed the message.

Commenting on the process of communicating the messages that were given to her Ellen White wrote “ although I am as dependant upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.” At times she cited extra sources in order to more fully relate the historical facts and other contextual details that would help to convey what she had seen most clearly.

After Ellen White had produced a first draft the manuscript was then passed on to her literary assistants who would type up multiple copies of it on carbon paper. As they were doing this they would make adjustments to the grammar, punctuation and spelling as needed. Sometimes they would improve the quality of the language without changing the meaning or context of the text.

Commenting on this Ellen White stated “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”

Onto The Printed Page

Once her literary assistants had finished their work they would then hand the manuscript back to Ellen White who would review it to ensure that it conveyed the message that it was intended to. If needed she would make additional interlineations, which were basically edits which she noted between the lines. The manuscript would then be retyped and re-read for any last minute changes that were needed. Sometimes Ellen White wrote out testimonies by hand and either delivered them or read them aloud to the parties concerned.

Another part of the process was when either Ellen White or church leaders felt the need for a book, an article or any other short publication to be prepared on a particular topic. Then Ellen White and her assistants would begin the task of compiling a new publication. This was done either by piecing together excerpts of existing letters and manuscripts on the topic or by Ellen White writing a fresh manuscript on the topic using any materials that had been previously written as a reference point. A galley proof would then be produced which was a preliminary printing of the manuscript with wide margins that would allow for any edits to be made. The manuscript would then be reviewed by the book committee at the publishing house.

Once the galley proof had been approved the book would be printed. Nothing appeared in print without meticulous preparation. The manuscript was thoroughly reviewed in order to ensure that the intended message was relayed with clarity.  

The gift of prophecy was given as a tool to guide and instruct God’s people especially as they prepared themselves and others for Christ’s second coming. It was not intended to be a club that would be used to assault unsuspecting victims though it is true that many of her messages are pointed and sharp. Two of the constant themes that can be seen throughout Ellen White’s writings are Jesus and the Bible. “I want you to read the Bible and see the matchless charms of Jesus. I want you to fall in love with the Man of Calvary” she wrote referencing these two themes. We have been given a sure word of prophecy to light our paths and shine into the dark places of our lives leading us ever nearer to Jesus and bringing us back to God’s infallible word.

Further Reading

  • White, E.G. (1980) – Selected Messages (Book 3)