Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Misuse of the Term Spirit of Prophecy

A recent sermon I heard reminds me that I have not posted anything on one of the distortions that seems to pervade the Seventh-day Adventist community. The sermon I heard was essentially the reading of a series of Ellen White quotations, not even a terribly well balanced series of quotations for that matter. It was a good example of the wisdom not to use her material from the pulpit.

The sermon presentation arrived at the introduction of Ellen White by means of the use of Biblical remnant references. Using classic Adventist interpretation the sermon used the formula similar to that set forth by the statement approved and voted by the General Conference session in Utrecht, the Netherlands, June 30, 1995.

In Revelation 12, John the Revelator identifies the church in the last days as the "remnant . . . which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (verse 17). We believe that in this brief prophetic picture the Revelator is describing the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which not only keeps "the commandments of God" but has "the testimony of Jesus Christ," which is "the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10).

In the life and ministry of Ellen G White (1827-1915), we see God's promise fulfilled to provide the remnant church with the "spirit of prophecy." Although Ellen G White did not claim the title "prophet," we believe she did the work of a prophet, and more..

There are a number of problems with this type of Bible interpretation. The first problem is that it misuses the term Spirit of Prophecy as if it was a prediction of Ellen White. The term, while only used once in the Bible is contextually a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the source of inspiration. This is more easily seen in some of the other translations of Rev 19:10

For testimony to Jesus is the spirit that inspires prophets. (New English Bible)
This witness to Jesus inspires all prophecy (Phillips)
For the truth revealed by Jesus is the inspiration of all prophecy. (
Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit." (Contemporary English Version)
The witness Jesus gave is the same as the spirit of prophecy. (The
Jerusalem Bible)
For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets. (Today’s English Version)
For, the witness of Jesus, is the spirit of the prophecy. (
because the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (
Holman NT)
For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets. (Good News Translation)
For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus. [Or is the message confirmed by Jesus].(New Living Bible Translation)

Since the term Spirit of Prophecy is only used one time in the Bible yet it is equated to the Testimony of Jesus we can determine accurately what the testimony of Jesus or testimony of God means.

Revelation 1:2 identifies the testimony of Jesus with the Word of God. who testifies to everything he saw-- that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Rev 1:9 is similar: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (NIV)

John gives us further understanding when he speaks of the testimony of God:
I John 5:9-12
We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (NIV)

It is by the Spirit of God that reveals to us who Jesus Christ is, as Matt 16:15-17 says:
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (NIV)

The testimony of Jesus is the witness of who Jesus is, it is the testimony of God that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God, the way the life and the truth. It is the inspiration of God that shows people the way to salvation. As the Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains:

The "testimony of Jesus" is Jesus' own testimony that he bore in his life and teaching and especially in his death. Those who hold to or proclaim this testimony are Christian prophets. Thus "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The words spoken by the Christian prophets come from the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of the risen Jesus; they are the very words of God.

This is probably not the best explanation because any Christian can have or proclaim the testimony of Jesus such as a pastor, a teacher or any believer and it does not mean they have any special prophetic office or a gift of prophecy. But it is the same source that inspires the prophet that inspires the Christian believer to follow and witness for Christ.

There is another problem with this typical Adventist use of the Spirit of prophecy and that is seen in the frequent Biblical phrases which indicate divine characteristics, some examples include:

Spirit of Truth - John 14:17
Spirit of Jesus - Acts 16:7
Spirit of Holiness - Rom. 1:4
Spirit of life - Rom. 8:2
Spirit of Christ - Rom. 8:9
Spirit of sonship - Rom. 8:15
Spirit of the Living God - 2 Cor. 3:3
Spirit of His Son - Gal. 4:6
Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation - Eph. 1:17
Spirit of Jesus Christ - Phil. 1:19
Spirit of Power, love and Self Discipline - 2 Tim. 1:7
Spirit of Grace - Heb. 10:29
Spirit of Glory - 1 Pet. 4:14

The pattern seen in these and many other examples is the “Spirit of” is used to describe characteristics or attributes of God manifested through the Spirit of God in common Christian language the Holy Spirit, the method through which the spirit of God (mind of God) communicates with the spirit of man (through the mind of man). The Spirit of Prophecy then refers to activities of the Spirit of God the Holy Spirit, whether manifested in prophets, teachers, or simply believers. It is not a reference to any particular human beings writings.

The final problem is that of making a claim that someone’s writings are the “Spirit of Prophecy”. Contextually anything that is true about God could be termed to have been inspired by God. In which case any Christian writing from the Bible to the Early Church Fathers to Martin Luther to this blog could be considered the results of the Spirit of Prophecy. It becomes egotistical to claim that one person holds that title for themselves. In actuality the claim that Ellen White’s writings are the Spirit of Prophecy is a self fulfilling prophecy that is based upon a misreading of Bible verses.

In 1916 A.T Jones wrote an article entitled THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY THE FALSE AND THE TRUE in which he points out some of the real problems that come about from the use of the term Spirit of Prophecy for Ellen White’s writings. Here are a couple of excerpts that begin in reference to a communication in an SDA magazine (Western Canadian Tidings) for families to buy “The Testimonies”:

First there is quoted Rev. 12:17 and 19:10 Then upon that, there is said the following:

We wish to emphasize the words, "and have the spirit of prophecy." Yes, they have the volumes of the spirit of prophecy in their homes for the purpose of getting the counsel into their hearts.

That word says that these people "have the spirit of prophecy" by having or because they "have the volumes of the spirit of prophecy in their homes."

And that is only plainly to say that these "volumes" are "the spirit of prophecy": and that the people and that denomination "have the spirit of prophecy" by, and only by, having "the volumes of the spirit of prophecy in their homes."

If that be so, then what of the volumes of the Bible In their homes? Are not these the spirit of prophecy too? To this question the S.D.A.'s answer "No." And they have always answered "No."

Now it is indisputable that whatever is the spirit of prophecy, is of a higher order and character than anything that is not the spirit of prophecy.

Therefore, when they say that the volumes of the Bible are not the spirit of prophecy, and that these "volumes" are the spirit of prophecy, then in that, beyond all question, they give to the volumes of "the Testimonies'' a higher order and character than they allow to the volumes of the Bible. That fact they never can escape.

They can not shift their hitherto always occupied ground, and now say that the volumes of the Bible are the spirit of prophecy; for that will be only to say that the volumes of the Bible always have been the spirit of prophecy.

And then by their own words it will be admitted that all through the ages those who had these volumes of the Bible, thereby and therein had the spirit of prophecy in their homes, for the purpose of getting its counsel into their hearts

Further: The basis of their claim that those volumes of "the Testimonies" are the spirit of prophecy, is that they were written by Mrs. E. G. White and that in these times "the spirit of prophecy was manifested through Mrs. E. G. White and through Mrs. E. G. White alone'': who was thereby "a prophetess."

But in the autumn of 1915 Mrs. E. G. White died. Then even they could not claim that the spirit of prophecy is manifested through a person who is dead.

Therefore they are now under the necessity of shifting the spirit of prophecy from that person to that person's writings: and even these writings only in a certain "set" of "volumes."

This shift then is assertive of the claim that whoever has the writings of a person who while he lived had the spirit of prophecy, after that person is dead has in his writings still the spirit of prophecy.

But that is again to say that whoever has the writings of the prophets of the Bible, has in those writings the spirit of prophecy; and that all through the ages this has been so. And this destroys the very foundation of their claim as a denomination that because of the spirit of prophecy as manifested through Mrs. E. G. White and now in these "volumes," that denomination has a specific and peculiar standing and character as the true church and people of God.

1 comment:

MICHAEL said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You