DISCOVERING THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
Foundations for Ellen White’s
“When the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent” (Jer. 28:9, NASB).*
By Gerhard Pfandl
Adventist World magazine has published a selection from the writings of Ellen G. White in each edition since its launch in September 2005. Through the next two years, special articles about the biblical gift of prophecy will also appear in this space every other month to help Seventh-day Adventists around the world appreciate and learn more about God’s special gift to His remnant people. These “Discovering the Spirit of Prophecy” features will include explorations of Bible teaching about spiritual gifts, practical articles about applying insights to everyday life, and helpful methods to share the richness of this gift with friends and neighbors.
From the beginning the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church referred to themselves as the remnant. One of their earliest publications, issued in 1846, was a little pamphlet titled To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad; and in 1849 Joseph Bates used Revelation 12:17 to identify the small group of Advent believers as the remnant.1
One of the identifying marks of the remnant in Revelation 12:17 is “the testimony of Jesus.” This phrase occurs six times in the book of Revelation (1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10 [twice]; 20:4). In Revelation 1:2 we are told that John bore witness to “the word of God” and to “the testimony of Jesus.” “The word of God” is commonly understood to refer to what God says; and “the testimony of Jesus” in parallel to “the Word of God” must therefore mean the testimony which Jesus Himself gives. How did Jesus testify? While here on earth, He testified in person to the people in Palestine. After His ascension, He spoke through His prophets. In Revelation 19:10, therefore, John explains that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
What is the “Spirit of Prophecy”?
For the early Christians the “spirit of prophecy” was a reference to the Holy Spirit, who imparts the prophetic gift to God’s messengers. This also becomes evident when we compare Revelation 19:10 with 22:8, 9.
And I fell at his feet to worship him,
But he said to me, “See that you do not do that!
I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus.
Worship God for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
As compared to
The situation in both passages is the same. John falls at the feet of the angel to worship him. The words of the angel’s response are almost identical, yet the difference is significant. In Revelation 19:10 the brethren are identified by the phrase, “who have the testimony of Jesus.” In Revelation 22:9 these brethren are simply called “prophets.”
According to the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture, this leads to the conclusion that “the spirit of prophecy” in 19:10 is not the possession of church members in general, but only of those who have been called by God to be prophets. That this is not purely an Adventist interpretation can be seen from the writings of other scholars. The Lutheran scholar Hermann Strathmann, for example, says concerning the phrase “testimony of Jesus” in 19:10: “According to the parallel in 22:9 the brothers referred to are not believers in general, but the prophets. … This is the point of verse 10c. If they have the marturia Iesou [the testimony of Jesus], they have the spirit of prophecy, i.e., they are prophets, like the angel, who simply stand in the service of marturia Iesou.”4
In summary, we can say that one of the identifying signs of the remnant church, which according to prophecy exists after the 1,260-day period, i.e., after 1798, is the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy, or the prophetic gift. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, from its very beginning, has believed that in fulfillment of Revelation 12:17 the spirit of prophecy was manifested in the life and work of Ellen G. White.
Testing a Prophet
1. Dreams and Visions—Numbers 12:6. In Scripture, genuine prophets received prophetic dreams and visions. During her 70-year ministry from 1844 to 1915, Ellen G. White received approximately 2,000 visions and prophetic dreams.
2. Agreement With the Bible—Isaiah 8:20. What a prophet claims to have received from God must be in harmony with the rest of God’s Word, because God does not contradict Himself (Ps. 15:4; Mal. 3:6). Although Ellen G. White was not a trained theologian, her messages are in harmony with Scripture.
3. The Witness to Jesus—1 John 4:1, 2. Anyone familiar with the writings of Ellen White, such as the books The Desire of Ages or Steps to Christ, will have to admit that she not only accepted all that the Bible teaches about Jesus, but that she continually pointed people to Him as their Lord and Savior.
4. Fulfilled Prophecy—Jeremiah 28:9. The proof of a true prophet lies, in part, in the fulfillment of their predictions. Although Ellen White’s work did not primarily consist of predicting the future, she did make a number of predictions that have been fulfilled in a remarkable way.5
5. The Orchard Test—Matthew 7:20. The orchard test takes time. Ellen White lived and worked for 70 years under the critical eyes of millions of people, largely skeptical, doubtful, suspicious, and in some cases openly hostile. Any fault or inconsistency was and still is exposed with great satisfaction by her opponents. Nevertheless, the fruit of her life and labor attests to her sincerity, zeal, and Christian piety.
While counterfeit prophets may pass one or two of these tests, a true prophet will pass them all. Ellen White certainly did. God’s gracious guidance through the prophetic gift of Ellen White should make us more aware of the responsibility we, as the remnant church, have; and it should spur us on to finish the work God has given us to do.
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1Joseph Bates, A Seal of the Living God (New Bedford, Mass., 1849), pp. 45, 46.
Gerhard Pfandl is the associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.