Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ellen White Food for worms, is it conditional

I am going to interrupt the review of the book previously mentioned because this weeks Lesson Study Guide is designed to counter the type of criticism mentioned in my last post review of It’s Okay Not To Be A Seventh-day Adventist. Specifically I will deal with February 3 lesson because unlike many other lessons in our history this lesson deals with a specific statement of Ellen White which many cite as a false prophecy. Here is what the lesson says:

The fulfillment of most prophecies (exceptions are the end-time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation) is dependent on the actions and attitudes of the people concerned. Jonah made the clear-cut statement, given him from God, that in 40 days Nineveh would be “overturned” (Jonah 3:4, NIV). Yet, it never happened. Was Jonah a false prophet? Of course not. Instead, the prophecy was conditional; its fulfillment depended upon how the people responded to the message God had given them.

This principle may explain why a particular prophecy made by Ellen White in 1856 did not come to pass. In 1856, Mrs. White declared: “I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: ‘Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.’ ”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 131, 132.

All who were alive way back then are now, of course, dead. How do we explain this? The answer is conditional prophecy. We must remember that she was told God’s kingdom could have come in her lifetime. In 1896 she wrote: “If those who claimed to have a living experience in the things of God had done their appointed work as the Lord ordained, the whole world would have been warned ere this, and the Lord Jesus would have come in power and great glory.”—Review and Herald, Oct. 6, 1896.

In the last volume of the Testimonies for the Church, published in 1909, she wrote, “If every soldier of Christ had done his duty, if every watchman on the walls of Zion had given the trumpet a certain sound, the world might ere this have heard the message of warning. But the work is years behind. While men have slept, Satan has stolen a march upon us.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 29. If we apply the principle of conditionality to her 1856 vision, the problem disappears. See also Friday’s lesson.

First of all does overturned in Jonah 3:4 mean destroyed? If we look up the word overturned in a lexicon we see this definition:


  1. to turn, overthrow, overturn
    1. (Qal)
      1. to overturn, overthrow
      2. to turn, turn about, turn over, turn around
      3. to change, transform
    2. (Niphal)
      1. to turn oneself, turn, turn back
      2. to change oneself
      3. to be perverse
      4. to be turned, be turned over, be changed, be turned against
      5. to be reversed
      6. to be overturned, be overthrown
      7. to be upturned
    3. (Hithpael)
      1. to transform oneself
      2. to turn this way and that, turn every way
    4. (Hophal) to turn on someone

So even if Jonah thought, or hoped Nineveh would be destroyed; to turn away, turn from, to change or reverse their course are all legitimate meanings for the word used. Jonah may have thought his prophecy failed but that would only be if a certain meaning is used to the exclusion of other meanings. The story is pretty clear that Jonah wanting the city to be destroyed even if God did not. There are also the other problems with the book of Jonah used to compare to Ellen White’s food for worms quote. First there are only 8 words recorded of Jonah’s message. If we assume that those were the only 8 words then we have a problem logically because why would anyone listen to a stranger in town repeating those words. At some point you would have to assume he identifies who he is and who his God is. The other problem with using Jonah as a comparison is that there is a pretty even split between Biblical scholars whether the book is supposed to be literal history or an analogy; a parable to demonstrate the grace of God over the nation of Israel’s tendency to self importance. Since there has never been any evidence that Nineveh worshiped the God of Israel I tend to think it is meant as a parable.

Next there is the possibility of conditional prophecies, but they are not all conditional and simply saying the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are not conditional because they say so is pretty poor reasoning. In any case the verse which is most applicable to Jonah’s prophecy is found in Jeremiah as the lesson study guide mentioned:

Jeremiah 18:6-10 (New International Version)

6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

Is that applicable to Ellen White statement where she said:

I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said (132) the angel: "Some food for worms, [SISTER CLARISSA M. BONFOEY, WHO FELL ASLEEP IN Jesus ONLY THREE DAYS AFTER THIS VISION WAS GIVEN, WAS PRESENT IN USUAL HEALTH, AND WAS DEEPLY IMPRESSED THAT SHE WAS ONE WHO WOULD GO INTO THE GRAVE, AND STATED HER CONVICTIONS TO OTHERS.] some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus." {1T 131.3}

Solemn words were these, spoken by the angel. I asked the angel why so few were interested in their eternal welfare, so few preparing for their last change. Said he: "Earth attracts them, its treasures seem of worth to them." They find enough to engross the mind, and have no time to prepare for heaven. Satan is ever ready to plunge them deeper and deeper into difficulty; as soon as one perplexity and trouble is off the mind, he begets within them an unholy desire for more of the things of earth; and thus their time passes, and, when it is too late, they see that they have gained nothing substantial. They have grasped at shadows and lost eternal life. Such will have no excuse. {Vol 1 Testimonies to the Church p. 132.1}

Clearly the angel gives no conditions in fact Ellen White asks the angel why people are not preparing for their last change and makes it clear there is no excuse if they are not ready and lose eternal life. It is quite the opposite of a conditional prophecy. The lady mentioned here and in Ellen White’s book “Spiritual Gifts” certainly did not think it was conditional as Ellen White writes:

Sr. Bonfoey remarked to a sister as we left the meeting-house, "I feel impressed that I am one that will soon be food for worms.” The conference closed Monday. Thursday Sr. B. sat at the table with us apparently well. She then went to the Office as usual, to help get off the paper. In about two hours I was sent for. Sr. B. had been suddenly taken very ill. My health had been very poor, yet I hastened to suffering Clara. In a few hours she seemed some better. The next morning we had her brought home in a large chair, and she was laid upon her own bed from which she was never to rise. Her symptoms became alarming, and we had fears that a tumor, which had troubled her for nearly ten years, had broken inwardly. It was so, and mortification was doing its work. {Vol 2 Spiritual Gifts p. 208.2}

Jeremiah’s statement is specifically for a “nation or kingdom” Ellen White is addressing a group of people at a conference, not even the SDA church because they did not exist yet. Jeremiah also says that if someone prophesies something good then you really know they are true because it is too easy to prophecy troubles:

(Jeremiah 28:8 NIV) From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms 9. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true."

Ellen White’s food for worms prophecy also includes the very best news; “translated at the coming of Jesus”. Ellen White’s statement fails to meet any of the conditions of Jeremiah’s statements.

What about the method the Lesson Study guide uses, it is the same method the White Estate uses when it quotes Ellen White’s explanation that if people had done their duty Christ would have returned before the time she made the statement. How would we verify the accuracy of that statement? If we allowed that type of reasoning then it would be impossible to ever show anyone to be a false prophet. All that so called prophet would have to do is give an excuse why their prophecy did not occur (the excuse being in the form of another prophetic statement). Rather like the Jehovah’s Witnesses saying that Armageddon and the consummation of the age would occur in 1914. When Armageddon did not occur it became the invisible return of Christ and began to rule in heaven. Click here for more.

There is no doubt if Jeremiah’s conflict with the false prophet Hananiah had used the rules as interpreted by the Lesson Study guide above prophets would have lost all meaning as what they said could or could not happen and their would be no consequence either way. Any so called prophet can prophesy their way out of any failed prophesies.

Ultimately it makes prophecy meaningless and testing of prophets worthless.


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Will said...

Hi friend,
Some quick thoughts...

"Clearly the angel gives no conditions"

neither did God in the book of Jonah. Yet God was merciful. So He is with us, giving us a little more time to proclaim His message. Therefore you might want to reconsider that point.

"Jeremiah’s statement is specifically for a 'nation or kingdom' Ellen White is addressing a group of people at a conference, not even the SDA church because they did not exist yet"

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. ~ John 18:36

God's kingdom will contain His people so it is fair to say that Jeremiah's statement applies if God is talking about His people.

"Ellen White’s food for worms prophecy also includes the very best news; 'translated at the coming of Jesus'. Ellen White’s statement fails to meet any of the conditions of Jeremiah’s statements."

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. ~ 1 Thess 4:16

So her vision fulfilled these two points..
1 - Some will be food for worms - We can agree on that
2 - Some will be translated at the coming of Jesus. (1 Thess 4:16) I would hope so! I don't want my dead body :)

Everything else MUST be conditional, else it would be time setting the coming of the Lord.
Regarding the last plagues and those who are alive and remain until the coming of Jesus...

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." ~ Matthew 24:36 or Mark 13:32

So if an angel is proclaiming it is must be conditional on the will of the Father.

I invite you to reconsider the beliefs of the Adventist church. Not by someone's book, but by the scriptures. Let us ask for God's guidance and a spirit of discernment. I pray that you and others are blessed by these comments. Have a blessed week!

Will said...

One more thing that just popped into my head... Paul writes and it sounds like he also is expecting Jesus to come and some of the people in his generation to be alive when Christ returns (exactly like sister White's vision)...

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

When Paul writes "Then we who are alive and remain" shouldn't it be "Then those" instead of "Then we"? By saying we he is including some people in his time. Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding me! (conditional) Why would this 1856 prophecy be condition, when other advents in the bible have not come to pass before Jesus comes? Why give a prophecy like this (what we had years to learn we have only a few months)when other prophecies have not even come close to being fulfilled in 1856?
this conditional excuse, is just that an excuse!

they went in to this long drug-out excuse to prove there point,trying to use the bible to justify it, but in turn you are using Ew to prove the bible, saying the bible did this to you see! But you are implying it in the wrong way! and in doing so proves nothing!(in the content of this prophecy) but fail to see this is a failed prophecy!

Anonymous said...

it does not matter in 1856 if sda was not formed at that time, that is like saying, well some of the beliefs the early adventist were wrong, but that don't matter they did not legaly form untill 1863. That dog won't hunt! because most of the beleifs held today by sda's came into play before 1863.

and the small group of people she was talking to, she also said there will be some of you that will be alive an go through the 7 last plauges.
and then years later said, that Jesus would have come if the advent people would have done what they should have. So then Jesus's come was depened on the few sda's. when at that time 1856 early-sda's were not even known on a major scale.
And also how can this prophetcy be conditional when if fact, even what the sda says about the end times had not even come close to have happened in 1856? for one- this Sunday law thing! See this 1856 prophetcy conflicts with sda's view and EW's other prophetcies, and what the bible says about the end time!
Can't you see this error! This prophetcy is not conditional! It is a FAILED Prophetcy!