Some critics have accused Ellen White of plagiarism – the representation of another author’s works as her own. This, they say, is problematic mainly for two reasons:
- It is morally questionable at best.
- If other authors were the source of her writings, it was not God. If her writings were not from God, she wasn’t a prophet.
Is Ellen White truly guilty of plagiarism? Two separate studies where undertaken, one by a Roman Catholic lawyer, Vincent L. Ramik, and one by the Adventist General Conference, both in the 1980s. Both concluded that Ellen White’s writings did not exhibit plagiarism. Ramik’s report states:
It is impossible to imagine that the intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected in her writings and the unquestionably prodigious efforts involved therein, was anything other than a sincerely motivated and unselfish effort to place the understandings of Biblical truths in a coherent form for all to see and comprehend. Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind's understanding of the word of God. Considering all factors necessary in reaching a just conclusion on this issue, it is submitted that the writings of Ellen G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic.1
Critics have especially targeted Ellen White's book The Great Controversy, arguing it contains plagiarized material. However, in her introduction she wrote.
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.2
Ellen White had nothing to hide. If she had intended to plagiarize other writers’ content, she hardly would have called attention to it in the introduction to her book. What she did was fully in line with the customs of the time.
God as the Source in Spite of Literary Sources
According to some people, God conveys every word to the prophet, who merely acts as God’s pen. This, however, is not in agreement with either the Bible or statements by Ellen White. Luke wrote at the very beginning of his letter:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.3
Even though God would teach and guide his prophets, they themselves had to write things down in their own words. This explains the big variety in style found among the various writers of the Bible. As Ellen White wrote in the introduction to The Great Controversy (see above), she would use accurate and eloquent accounts which agreed with what she was shown, simply because it made sense and she knew them to be true.
Inspiration involves a collaboration between God and human beings, thus rendering it a very dynamic process. This explains how prophets can draw from other writers’ materials and yet acknowledge God as the source. He is the initiator and directs the prophet as far as needed for accuracy, but doesn’t dictate every word.
Not only did Ellen White not plagiarize by any legal standard, her copying from certain authors also does not create a conflict with the concept of inspiration. God is the ultimate source of her writings.