Ellen White was one of the most prolific writers of all time. She left an extremely large and valuable mine of books, articles, letters, and unpublished materials. At the time of her death in 1915, only 24 books from her pen were in print, and two more were almost ready for publication. Over the years, many new compilations and, more recently, some condensed books and editions in today’s language have been published.
Some have questioned the validity and reliability of such new publications. For them, only the books published during her own lifetime are of real value and should be taken seriously. So it is crucial for us to understand the nature and purpose of those new publications.
Two main reasons have led the trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate to prepare new compilations from her writings. The first was Ellen White’s own desire and provision for them to be produced. In her last will and testament (1912) she granted the trustees of her estate the responsibility for “the printing of compilations from my manuscripts.”1
Ellen White’s writings were not only to be kept safely in the files of her estate, but also to continue to speak to the people “as long as time shall last.”2 In her own words: “The matter that has been brought before the people must be brought before them over and over again. The articles that are printed in our papers are soon forgotten by the readers. They must be brought together, reprinted in book form, and placed before believers and unbelievers.”3
The same principle applied to her unpublished writings. She explained, “I have much written in the diary I have kept in all my journeys that should come before the people if essential, even if I did not write another line. I want that which is deemed worthy to appear, for the Lord has given me much light that I want the people to have.”4
The second reason for the preparation of new compilations is the emerging needs and challenges of the church. One could argue that all believers should study the writings of Ellen White for themselves; that’s the ideal. But from a practical perspective, not everyone has the time and expertise to master her huge body of written work. Compilations can help readers find in one single volume the main quotations dealing with a given topic. If readers want to double-check the original content from which the quote was taken, they can do so by accessing the Web site EGWwritings.org.
Some readers may wonder if personal letters should ever be included in those compilations. We should remember that many books of the New Testament are open letters (or epistles) to specific churches, even personal letters. If no letters can be used in a compilation from inspired writers, then much of the New Testament would need to be discarded as well, which is completely unthinkable.
Condensations and extracts
The most significant condensations of Ellen White’s standard books are of the five volumes of the Conflict of the Ages Series. The book Patriarchs and Prophets was condensed and published as From Eternity Past (1983); Prophets and Kings, as From Splendor to Shadow (1984); The Desire of Ages, as From Heaven With Love (1984); The Acts of the Apostles, as From Trials to Triumph (1984); and The Great Controversy, as From Here to Forever (1982).
The content of some smaller missionary books, published for mass distribution, was extracted from larger books by Ellen White. For instance, The Great Hope (2012) was taken from The Great Controversy; and Story of Hope (2016), from The Story of Redemption. In both cases, the attention of the reader is called to the original standard book.
These condensations and extracts should never be regarded as replacing the standard books from which their content is derived. They are intended (1) to provide helpful glimpses of the basic content of those books at a more affordable price, and (2) to reach a busy generation that would never buy and/or read the original book. As a rationale, one could say that it is far better for someone to read at least excerpts of a given book than not to read it at all.
Ellen White’s writings are now more than 100 years old, and reflect the literary style of that time. Some words she used have changed meaning over time. For example, she used the word “intercourse” with the notion of socializing, instead of intimacy,5 and the word “nicest” with the sense of delicate instead of kindness.6 So how do we make some of her most popular writings understandable for new generations unfamiliar with that language?
One attempt was the issuing of Steps to Christ in a simpler everyday language, published as Steps to Jesus (1981). Other books have been updated with modern English. For example, the book Education was adapted as True Education (2000); The Ministry of Healing, as The Ministry of Health and Healing (2004); and the above-mentioned condensed versions of the Conflict of the Ages Series, as Beginning of the End (2007), Royalty and Ruin (2008), Humble Hero (2009), Unlikely Leaders (2010), and Love Under Fire (2011).
All those publications—compilations, condensations and extracts, and today’s language editions—are intended to make the writings of Ellen White more accessible and understandable to our contemporary world. Whenever the language is updated, it is carefully reviewed by competent readers to ensure that the thought remains the same as in the original. This process is carried out under the assumption that the Holy Spirit gave to prophets the divine message that they expressed in their own human language.7 As already pointed out, none of these adaptations are intended to replace the original books, and they carry new titles to further distinguish them.
1 Published in Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1998), p. 571. For a more detailed discussion of compilations from Ellen White’s writings, see pp. 528-533.
2 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 1, p. 55.
3 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1946), pp. 145, 146.
4 E. G. White, Selected Messages, book 3, p. 32.
5 E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 2, p. 123.
6 Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 15.
7 See E. G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 15-23.
Alberto R. Timm, Ph.D., is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.