To hear some people tell it, some of Ellen White’s writings were tainted, nay, even corrupted, by the actions of those who helped prepare her manuscripts for publication. We’re not talking about compilers, here–people who take quotes on a single topic from various sources and put them together in one place; no, we’re talking about copy editors, those who correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and generally polish up earlier drafts.
Oddly enough, blogs are one of the few places where you will read words not influenced by editorial assistants. Everything else I have published has been at least looked at by editors, and it is not uncommon for small changes to be made. A book manuscript has no fewer than two editors look at it, and after that the author goes through what are called the proofs one final time. There is a saying in journalism school:
There is no good writing; there is only good re-writing.
As a very definitely not inspired writer, I am grateful to editors of all kinds. We may have our disagreements, but we have the same goal; to make my published writing the best it can be. And at least 90% of the time their efforts improve the final product. Another 5% of the time, their revisions make no substantive difference, but are stylistic choices to which I have no objection. The remaining 5% of the time, I may be mistaken.
Ellen White, as we know, was forced to leave school for health reasons at a very early stage in her education. Nevertheless, some of the prose she wrote is both beautiful and majestic. But, like any mortal creature, she sometimes had difficulty with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. English is a very rich, and therefore very difficult language. In addition, Mrs. White wrote voluminously, by hand. In an age where telephones either did not yet exist, or were rarely used for common communication, she wrote thousands of letters. Some of these were later collected–by now virtually all of them have been–and organized into books, such as the Testimonies.
Then there are the multitude of books she wrote. The Conflict of the Ages series alone runs several thousand printed pages. Imagine how many handwritten pages it would occupy!
Still, some are concerned that these other “assistants” may have contaminated or twisted what she wrote. This overlooks the simple fact that for those books and articles published in her lifetime, she was available to object, to point out any “tampering” if it had taken place. Oddly enough, those who have no concerns about her meaning being twisted when it comes to compilations which Mrs. White never saw, are often quite worried about the content of material published while she was still alive.
This often comes down to the (often unstated) belief in verbal inspiration. One prominent Adventist writer, before his outing as a sexual predator, used the expression “fully inspired,” concerning both the Bible and Ellen White. The context and usage of that phrase made it clear he believed in verbal inspiration.
It is also true that many who believe–whether explicitly or implicitly–in verbal inspiration like to say things like, “Sister White’s writings are on the same level as the Bible.” Now, she explicitly denied that, calling her writings a “lesser light,” among other things. But let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that was actually so. Would that mean that the involvement of an editorial assistant would be out-of-bounds. Well, let’s consider the biblical evidence.
It comes in two forms. First, there is the evidence of the language in the gospel of John, and the book of Revelation. The Greek in use in the two books could hardly be more different. The Greek of the Gospel is so simple and elegant that it has been used to teach New Testament Greek for centuries. But the Greek of Revelation is rough and “Hebraicized,” that is, it sounds like a native Hebrew speaker writing in Greek. You know what I mean.
When I was young, a German grandmother lived next door. She would say things like “Around the corner go,” because German often places the verb, “go,” at the end of the sentence rather than at the beginning–“Go around the corner”–as a native English speaker would say.
Also, some of the words are basically Hebrew words spelled in Greek letters. I experienced something very near to this one morning in Sweden, where my host had gone to some trouble to provide me with cornflakes–his idea of the quintessential American breakfast. The box had the name “corn flakes” or its equivalent in many different languages. They were quite varied. For example in Spanish, “corn flakes” are “es copos de maíz,” literally, “it is flakes of maize.” But one was quite different than the others. Amused, my host pointed out the Greek. It said “Кορνφακες.” (substituting letter for letter, “Kornphlakes”). In other words, it was just the English word spelled out in Greek letters. Some of the words in Revelation are like that.
So what explains the vast difference between the Greek of Revelation and the Greek of John, though both were written by the same man? Revelation was written on Patmos, where John was imprisoned. He probably did not have a scribe available to help him with the Greek. For the Gospel, written after his imprisonment, probably from Ephesus, he most likely had scribal help–an editorial assistant–available. But that’s only probable.
There is better evidence. For one thing, we have in scripture itself testimony that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, who then had Baruch write it down. Peter says he employed Silvanus to write his first epistle (see 1 Peter 5:12). And in several of Paul’s epistles, he says, “see, I’m writing this with my own hand,” evidence that the rest of the epistle was in another’s hand. But for those still skeptical, we have the following:
I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Couldn’t be plainer. Not only do we know that in ancient times the use of scribes was commonplace, we have this direct testimony, in an inspired epistle, that Paul employed Tertius to write for him. And think about it. There were no typewriters or printers. A scribe not only had to know the correct syntax and grammar, he had to be able to write it compactly–since parchment and papyrus were expensive–and clearly at the same time.
Ellen White employed editorial assistants, and typists when typewriters became available, for similar reasons. Like that “Old Time Religion,” if it was good enough for Paul, and Peter, and Jeremiah, wouldn’t the use of editorial assistants and stenographers be “good enough” for Ellen White?
Seems obvious to me.