Commentary on introduction to "The Prophetic Gift"
The agenda of this Sabbath-school quarterly is obvious before the first lesson begins. Its author, Gerhard Pfandl, introduces it with these words about John the Baptist:
“Yet, according to Jesus, John was the greatest of [all the prophets]? How fascinating, especially because, unlike Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Moses—John the Baptist had no writings in the Bible, and yet John was a greater prophet than all those who, at least before him, did! The point? The prophetic gift wasn’t limited only to the prophets whose writing became Scripture. No, the prophetic gift included those whose work for the Lord involved something other than writing books of the Bible.” (P. 2)
The “point” of Jesus' statement about John being the greatest prophet was not that “the prophetic gift” was “limited only to the prophets” whose writings are included in the Bible. The point that Jesus made, and the point that John had made in his preaching, was that one was coming who was the fulfillment of all of the prophecies of the Old Testament. John the Baptist was the greatest prophet because he was the final prophet in a long line of prophets that had told about the coming Messiah. John was the last in the line of Old Testament prophets, and the only one of whom we have evidence that actually witnessed the coming of the Messiah in the flesh.
Ellen G. White is introduced as one whose writings, although not included in the Bible, must be given the same authority as Biblical writings because, as will be claimed, it is the same Spirit inspiring E. G. White who also inspired the Biblical prophets.
Discussion on Inspiration
“How do inspiration and revelation work?” “If these questions still generate discussion within Christendom after centuries of debate, we’re hardly going to solve them all in the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide this quarter. But we sure will do our best to try.” (P. 2)
Reading the introduction on pages two and three, we see how Pfandl intends to answer these perennial questions.
“Issues regarding the nature of the prophetic gift and inspiration have been especially important to Seventh-day Adventists. In the book of Revelation, God promised that there will be a special manifestation of the prophetic gift at the time of the end (Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 22:8, 9). Seventh-day Adventists believe that the gift of prophecy has been manifested in the ministry of Mrs. Ellen G. White (1827–1915).” (P. 2)
Rather than ask how one determines whether a person's writings are Biblical or not, Pfafl already assumes that the SDA acceptance of the prophetic gift of Ellen G. White is biblical. In the quote above he states that the book of Revelation promises a “special manifestation of the prophetic gift at the time of the end.” Upon checking those verses of scripture, there is no indication of an end-time special manifestation. Revelation 12:17 has nothing to do with such an eschatological prophetic gift. Rather, the text is specifically dealing with the issue that the enemy of God has attacked and continues to attack God's people. This is not just an end-time scenario. It was true of the woman (Mary) as she delivered Jesus to the world, as she and Joseph and the Baby were driven out of Israel to Egypt, and it has always been true of the people of God, wherever they have been found throughout the history of this world.
Revelation 19:10 is partly a scene that occurs in heaven when the angel tells John about the marriage supper of the Lamb. After John attempts to worship the angel and is forbidden, he is told that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. The next scene John witnesses is that of the coming of Jesus as the ruler of the world who is about to slay the “kings, “commanders,” “mighty men,” “horses and of those who sit on them,” “all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” (NASB)
As John is told, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. And who shows up when John is told this? Jesus comes on a white horse with a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Jesus himself is the spirit of prophecy. This passage is not about a spiritual gift that will be manifested near the end of the world, it is specifically about Jesus and nothing else. Jesus' revelation of Himself and the witness of those who know Jesus manifest the spirit of prophecy.
Revelation 22:9 is not about a prophetic gift at the end of time. The angel is here telling John that he (the angel) is “a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book.” The angel then commands John to “worship God” as opposed to falling at the feet of the angel as John again attempted to worship the angel.
Pfandl provides an understanding that is only to be found in and promoted by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The reasons the Adventist organization promotes these teachings are varied, but they include self-preservation, separation from all non-Adventist Christians (denying that they are worshipping the true God if they choose to “keep” Sunday as a sacred day unto the Lord,) and an addition of works (keeping the seventh-day Sabbath) as necessary to salvation, especially for those living at the end of the age.
Pfandl concludes the Adult SS Quartely indicating that this quarter's lessons are about “the God we serve, and that's the God we seek to reveal in this quarter's lessons.” (P. 3) The next few weeks will reveal how much about God will be revealed in comparison to the amount of material in the lessons about the person, inspiration and writings of Ellen G. White.
One final note: The Office of the Adult Bible Study Guide in cooperation with Adventist Deaf Ministries has prepared an Easy Reading Edition of these lessons. Here, Pfandl makes the “point” a little more blatantly, acutally using the term “gift of prophecy” interchangeably with the term “prophets whose writings are in the Bible.”
“What is the point? The gift of prophecy was not limited only to the prophets whose writings are in the Bible. No, the prophetic gift included those who did far more than just write books of the Bible.” (P. 2)
Perhaps the most troubling statement in the Easy Reading version is found in a footnote on page two. There the term inspiration is defined as follows: “inspiration—the process by which the Holy Spirit influenced (caused) the prophets to have certain thoughts or feelings.” By reducing the gift of inspiration to “thoughts or feelings” the author as neutered God. In the Adventists' minds, God does not normally convey information to his prophets in words, but He causes scenes to pass before him/her, for which the writer then attempts to find the right words to convey the meaning, even adding to what was presented to assist God with presenting his message, as if God were not capable of communicating to humans in human language. The Biblical Research Institute of the Seventh-day Adventist Church makes this clear in their presentation of inspiration. From their website one can find the following:
“Does the divine communication come to the prophet in a specific set of words which he simply repeats? While this may be true at times, the evidence indicates that it is not always true.
“Sometimes the writers are told to describe what they see. Various representations are then caused to pass before their vision with little or no verbal instruction. It would seem reasonable to surmise that the prophet in such cases used his own language patterns. Expressing the divine messages in his own words would allow a writer to change individual terms or to add to a writing if in doing so he could strengthen or clarify the expression of the divine purposes.
“Those who argue for the theory of verbal inspiration for the original autographs are for all practical purposes limited to the thoughts as expressed by the wording of extant manuscripts. But we would believe that the biblical evidence points to a fuller functioning of the human personality. There is a blending of the divine and human agencies.”
(From: The Biblical Research Institute of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, official website; http://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/documents/Inspiration%20&%20Authority.htm. Copyright © 2008 Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists®. All emphases mine.”)
Also, in relation to Ellen G. White’s pronouncements on inspiration, we find the following:
“Any attempt to interpret the concept of thought inspiration in E. G. White [along the lines of the radical dichotomy that we mentioned] is a distortion of what she has to say on the subject. Here is her classical statement:
'It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God.'” [Quoting from Selected Manuscripts, Vol. 1, p. 21] (Manuscript 24, 1886; written in Europe in 1886).
(From: The Biblical Research Institute of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, official website; http://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/documents/issuesrevelationinspiration.html. Copyright © Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists®. All emphases mine.)
Gerhard Pfandl, this quarters lesson author, is standing squarely in line with the historical Adventist understanding of inspiration. The sole purpose of downgrading the Biblical prophets is for the purpose of elevating Ellen G. White in the minds of Adventists. She must be lifted up, otherwise, one may go the way of Walter Rae, Dale Ratzlaff, and numerous former Adventist ministers who realized that her writings do not square with the Bible.
As you study these lessons this quarter, notice the effort that has been expended here to elevate Ellen G. White back to the status of a prophetess (messenger) of God. Her status has been downplayed since the fateful events of the 1950's. The Adventist Church has suffered much loss due to this change in the status of Ellen G. White. Her prophetic gift must be recovered if the Adventist Church is to recover from so many of the losses in the last 50 years.
Some questions for your Sabbath-School class:
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The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide and the corresponding E.G. White Notes are published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's editions are pictured above.
Official Adventist Resources
Standard Edition Study Guide Introduction
Teacher's Edition Study Guide Introduction
Easy Reading Edition Study Guide Introducion