The Great Controversy plagiarism


This topic deals with the plagiarism of The Great Controversy and other plagiarisms in Ellen G. White's (EGW) writings and the authors EGW lifted material from, and sources which EGW failed to give credit.

Adventist researcher Fred Veltman: How do you harmonize Ellen White's use of sources with her statements to the contrary? Do you think the introductory statement to The Great Controversy constitutes an adequate admission of literary dependence?"

I must admit at the start that in my judgment this is the most serious problem to be faced in connection with Ellen White's literary dependency. It strikes at the heart of her honesty, her integrity, and therefore her trustworthiness.

As of now I do not have—nor, to my knowledge, does anyone else have—a satisfactory answer to this important question. The statement from The Great Controversy comes rather late in her writing career and is too limited in its reference to historians and reformers. Similar admissions do not appear as prefaces to all her writings in which sources are involved, and there is no indication that this particular statement applies to her writings in general.

Adventist researcher McAdams: "If every paragraph in The Great Controversy were footnoted in accordance with proper procedure, almost every paragraph would be footnoted." The White Lie, p. 85, Rae quoted from, Glendale Committee, "Ellen G. White and Her Sources," (tapes 28-29, January 1980), McAdams remarks. 

Robert Olsen of the EGW Estate: "There was no question in Ellen G. White's mind about the over all inspiration of The Great Controversy, although possibly 50 percent or more of the material in the book was drawn from other sources."  Ellen G. White's use of historical sources in The Great Controversy, by Robert Olsen, Adventist Review, February 23, 1984.


Does Elder Spicer play fair with young educators?

The Gathering Call, January-February 1938, pp.16-23.

By Edward S. Ballenger

Elder W, A. Spicer delivered two morning talks at the World's Educational Conference held at Blue Ridge, North Carolina, on August 19 and 20, 1937. These two lectures were published in the R. & H. in four issues beginning with Jan. 6, 1938. We pass over many interesting features of these addresses for lack of space, but wish to devote some time to the consideration of the second section as found in the R. & H. of Jan. 13. Quite a portion of this number is devoted to Mrs. White's plagiarisms. Among other excuses for Mrs. White's literary thefts, Elder Spicer says: "The carefulness among later writers in giving credit, did not obtain so essentially a generation or two ago."

This is not true. It did obtain. In 1891 T. DeWitt Talmage, in his book FROM MANGER TO THRONE, gives credit to thirty-three authorities from which he drew his material; and Edersheim, in his LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS THE MESSIAH, published in 1883, cites no less than 300 authorities. It was always recognized as a sin and a crime to use other people's thoughts, without credit. Some had tried to excuse Mrs. White's plagiarisms because of her youth and inexperience; but, when she wrote GREAT CONTROVERSY she was fifty-seven years old. She had already been writing nearly forty years.

Did Elder Spicer Tell the Truth?

Elder Spicer saw that when Mrs. White's attention was called to the fact that she had not given credit for some material that she used, "She immediately gave instructions to her helpers to go through her books, and mark every sentence or paragraph she had taken from those historians, and insert the proper punctuation for introducing a quotation. ... She saw to it herself that this was done for the next edition of the book." Notice, he says: "She immediately gave instruction." We have the first, the third, and the ninth editions of GREAT CONTROVERSY, and several editions after that which are not numbered; and not one of them gave credit for the facts and thoughts she used from other authors. She published many editions after her attention was called to her plagiarisms before she gave credit. It must have taken her helpers a long time to search out her plagiarized portions. GREAT CONTROVERSY was first published in 1884, and proper credits were not given until the edition of 1911, a period of 27 years. You can put all the confidence you care to on Elder Spicer's "immediately."

A Pponeer tells the truth

We have a letter from an old S. D. A. worker bearing on this question, a portion of which we reproduce here: "I called W. C. White's attention to the flagrant plagiarisms and literary piracies in The Great Controversy a short time before and his mother went to Australia.. [They went to Australia in 1891] . . . Besides being wicked it was stupid and I told him that it would destroy all respect for the special authority claimed by the author as well as for the integrity of the authors or publishers.

"I turned to the preface and called his attention to the claims made in the preface of a supernatural source for the information given in the book. His defense was as foolish as his conduct. He said in effect, 'It is ideas that counts and not words. When mother finds in reading the writings of other persons statements of facts which have been revealed to her, there is no reason that she should not copy them. The fact that she uses the same words does not matter.' "I replied, 'Of course your mother has the right to incorporate such statements into her writings. It is perfectly all right for her to do so if she wishes, but in doing so she should use quotation marks and should give credit to the persons to whom the Lord revealed the ideas before he did to her. ' "

He leaves out damaging evidence

Eld. S. tries to excuse her practice by citing an example from the writings of John Wesley. He quotes a part of a paragraph from Wesley's EXPLANATORY NOTES UPON THE NEW TESTAMENT.

We will introduce what Elder Spicer copied, together with some of the preface just preceding what he quotes. In the following quotation, that which is in bold face type did not appear in Elder Spicer's article in the R. & H. of Jan. 13, page 9, middle of first column.

After acknowledging his indebtedness to Bengel's Gnomon Novi Testamenti, Wesley says: "Many of his excellent notes I have therefore translated. Many more I have abridged, omitting that part which is purely critical, and giving the substance of the rest. . . .

"I am likewise indebted for some useful observations to Dr. Heylin's Theological Lectures: and for many more to Dr. Guyse, to the Family Expositor of the late pious and learned Dr. Doddridge. It was a doubt with me for some time, whether if 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 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 in view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value."

The question arises, Is there a genuine parallel between the method of writing used by Wesley and by Mrs. White?

Wesley was writing in the middle of the 18th century; Mrs. White did most of her writing during the latter part of the 19th century.

The writers from whom Mrs. W. borrowed freely were as follows:

D'Aubigne, whose History of the Reformation was published between 1835 and 1853. Wylie, whose History of Protestantism was published about 1875 or 1876. Conybeare and Howson, whose Life and Epistles of St. Paul was published in various editions, 1854, 1869, etc.

Uninspired authors give credit

What was the practice of these writers with reference to giving credit to authorities whom they consulted and used? There are footnotes on practically every page of every one these writers in which they give exact references to the sources of their material. These authors were contemporaries of Mrs. White. Hundreds of other books of the period could be listed to show that conscientious writers were just as careful to give credit where credit was due. Mrs. W. had the example of' D'Aubifne, Wylie, and Conybeare and Howson before her; and if she did not know before reading them the correct form for acknowledging the debt of one writer to another, she could have learned it from them.

Why did not Elder Spicer give to these young educators the other part of Wesley's introduction bearing on this question? Our enemies have maliciously accused us of taking statements out of their setting and putting a wrong construction on them. Are we unjustly harsh on Elder Spicer when we express our conviction that he had a definite purpose in omitting a part of this introduction? He knew that if he had reproduced it all, it would have shown Mrs. White's dishonesty instead of excusing her conduct. Wesley was honest enough to put in his preface the fact that he had used other people's, thoughts, and he did not claim inspiration. Mrs. White, who claimed that every word. she wrote was a divine revelation, made no mention of the fact that she used thoughts and words from other writers. Granted that it would have been all right for Mrs. White to do as Wesley did, there still remains the question of inspiration. Was Wesley inspired or is Elder Spicer comparing an inspired writer with an uninspired writer? He speaks of "a few paragraphs from the historians." Does he not know that whole chapters from Sketches from the Life of Paul were merely paraphrases from Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul? It is barely possible that Elder Spicer quoted from another edition of Wesley's notes; but we have consulted two different editions and they agree in every particular. Therefore, we are forced to believe that he omitted certain portions of Wesley's introduction for a purpose.

The editor of the Youth's Instructor hard on Mrs. White

It is quite fitting that we should reprint an editorial which appeared in the Youths' Instructor of Dec. 25, 1917:

"Thus it goes. On every hand there are similar evidences of dishonesty. It is just as wrong to appropriate to one's self credit for productions written by another as to steal a horse. One who boldly signs his name to another's article, and allows it to appear in print as his own, is a thief of the darkest hue.

"Taking another's knowledge and parading it as one's own is a despicable thing to do. The student who copies at examination time is dishonest; but plagiarism is a meaner kind of thievery, if there are degrees of dishonesty.

"Why do people do it? It is a crime punishable by law. It is as much of a disgrace, to say nothing of the sin, as to break into a neighbor's house and steal his goods.

"All who profess common decency, much less Christianity, should eschew all forms of dishonesty. Let us be true and pure in all we do, that the Lord may claim us as His own, and that we may not grieve Him again by playing a Judas part in Life." (Emphasis supplied)

Elder White's explanation falls down

Elder W. C. White attempted to excuse her plagiarisms by saying that if she had taken others' thought, and used them as her own, she would not have quoted from such popular authors as D'Aubigne and Wylie. This explanation no doubt satisfied many of her followers. We wrote to every public library in Southern California in cities of 30,000 or more, and not a single set of Wylie's HISTORY OF PROTESTANTISM could be found. The great library of the city of Los Angeles—declared to be one of the finest and most complete libraries in the world—has not a copy of Wylie's HISTORY OF PROTESTANTISM. They are extremely rare; probably not one in a million of the inhabitants of the U. S. A. has ever seen a set.

Mrs. White plagiarized whole articles

The first page article in every issue of the WATCHMAN, a weekly magazine published by the S. D. A. publishing house, at Nashville, Tenn. was given to Mrs. White's writings in 1906, excepting one issue which was devoted to reporting the proceedings of the Southern Union Conference. In the issue of May 1, is an article signed by Mrs. E. G. White, entitled RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. Not a word of this was written by Mrs. White. It was written wholly by Elder George E. Fifield, and published by him years before it appeared in the WATCHMAN. Nevertheless, it is inserted in this magazine as a revelation from God.

If this is not fraud, we will let our critics name it. Here is a whole article, not a word of which Mrs. White wrote; yet she published it as a direct revelation from God. We recognize that some people will say that Mrs. White was not responsible for this blunder. This, in a certain sense, may be true. If she delegated others to send out material over her name, and they selected anything that suited their fancy, and published it to the world as divine revelation, then she was responsible for entrusting such power or privilege to any of her helpers. If they were in the habit of practicing this deception, then how may we know that anything that is put in print over her name is authentic?

This is not the only case of its kind that has come to our attention. At the general conference of 1909, held at Washington, D.C., the last conference Mrs. White attended, Elder W. A. Colcord was handed a batch of Testimonies supposedly from Mrs. White, to read at a special session of the Religious Liberty Association. In reading it over, previous to the session, he discovered an article that was quite familiar to him, and behold, the whole article was a product of his own pen, which he had sent to Mrs. White two or three years before, yet it was assigned to him to read as a revelation from God. We would be pleased to have Elder W. A. Spicer offer a satisfactory explanation of this kind of plagiarism."


  • Does Elder Spicer play fair with young educators?
  • Did Elder Spicer tell the truth?
  • A pioneer tells the truth
  • He leaves out damaging evidence
  • Uninspired authors give credit
  • The editor of the Youth's Instructor hard on Mrs. White
  • Elder White's explanation falls down
  • Mrs. White plagiarized whole articles

Robert K. Sanders, Founder and Editor of Truth or Fables, 1997–2012
Life Assurance Ministries assumed ownership of Truth or Fables in 2012
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