Editorial – The Infallible Guide, Part I

Informed Seventh-day Adventists do not claim infallibility for inspired writings in the strictest sense of the word: “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 37.

“The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, In logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen.” Ibid., 21.

“Some look to us gravely and say, ‘Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?’ This is all probable . . . All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth.” Ibid., 16.

Notice that in the above statement Ellen White is talking about mistakes in the Bible. We do not possess one autograph of one book of the Bible and, as she indicated, mistakes have occurred in the copying process. We know this because when we compare various Greek and Hebrew manuscripts they do not all agree word for word. This is true for the received text, (Textus Receptus) the majority text, and all other ancient textual families of the scriptures. Both in the Bible and the writings of Ellen White grammatical mistakes were made in the writing. This is evident in the Greek New Testament and in the Spirit of Prophecy.

Concerning the Spirit of Prophecy writings given through Ellen White, she wrote, “In regard to infallibility, I never claimed it; God alone is infallible.” Ibid., 37.

Historic Adventists know that the writings of Ellen White were inspired in the same way and to the same extent (prophetic inspiration is an either-or situation) as the Bible, but infallibility in the strictest sense of the word is not claimed for either.

In addition to grammatical mistakes, Ellen White gives us the following insight into mistakes in the Bible. “I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible; yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition. But I saw that the Word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another.” Early Writings, 220, 221.

Even though there are many mistakes, in every translation, which do indeed affect a person’s theological beliefs. And it is for this very reason that we, like William Miller use concordances to check our understanding of the text. We still know that in a larger sense the Bible is infallible, namely it is an infallible guide to eternal life. Not one person will be able to claim in the day of judgment that he attempted to live by every word in the Bible and was lost in consequence. We must compare Scripture with Scripture and follow the weight of evidence, even when we cannot explain every text on a subject.

How to be sure that you will be saved:

“It [the Bible] is an infallible guide under all circumstances, even to the end of the journey of life. Take it as the man of your counsel, the rule of your daily life.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 264.

“They [young people] are infatuated with the subject of courtship and marriage, and their principal burden is to have their own way. In this, the most important period of their lives, they need an unerring counselor, and infallible guide. This they will find in the word of God. Unless they are diligent students of that word, they will make grave mistakes.” Review and Herald, January 26, 1886.

“Christ will be to you an infallible guide if you will choose Him before your own blind judgment. . . . If you had trusted to the True Counselor instead of to your own judgment, you would ever have been guided out of your perplexities in your business transactions.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 457.

The following testimonies have application to the quibbling over the Ellen White writings that we see today, which was exactly what was being done to the Bible in her day:

“The testimony is conveyed through the imperfect expression of human language; yet it is the testimony of God.” Review and Herald, September 30, 1906.

“Brethren, cling to your Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity, and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 18.