Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 18/2 (Autumn): 223–242.Article copyright by Don Leo M. Garilva.The Development of Ellen G. White’sConcept of Babylon in The GreatControversyDon Leo M. GarilvaMountain View College, PhilippinesOne of the liveliest topics of discussion among nineteenth-centuryAmerican Christians, particularly toward the year 1844, was the identityof Babylon in the book of Revelation.1 At this early period, there wasfrequent disagreement about the meaning of Babylon in Rev 14:8 andRev 17.2 However, both the Millerites and other Protestants, up throughthe summer of 1843, identified Babylon with the Roman CatholicChurch.3 This discussion was especially popular among the members ofthe Millerite Movement.4 The early Sabbatarian Adventists,5 who were1William Miller, Dissertations on the True Inheritance of the Saints and the TwelveHundred and Sixty Days of Daniel and John with An Address to the Conference of Believers in the Advent Near (Boston: Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 36. Cf. P. Gerard Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1977), 46-48; Reinder Bruinsma, Seventh-day Adventist Attitudes toward Roman Catholicism 1844-1965 (Berrien Springs: Andrews UP, 1994), 45; Charles Fitch,“Come Out of Her, My People”: A Sermon (Rochester: E. Shepherd’s Press, 1843), 1-4.2 Damsteegt, 179.3 Ibid., 46-47. Cf. Moses Stuart, Commentary on the Apocalypse (New York: Allen,Morill and Wardwell, 1845), 296-297.4 The Millerite Movement was an interdenominational movement that flourished inthe United States from 1840 to 1844. The movement got its name from William Miller, afarmer from upstate New York, who preached that Jesus’ second coming would bearound the year 1843. See Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1976 rev. ed., s.v.“Millerite Movement”; Richard W. Schwartz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: AHistory of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, rev. ed. (Boise: Pacific Press), 35-49.5 The Sabbatarian Adventists were one of the three splinter groups that came out ofthe Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844. Of the three divisions, the Sabbatarian223

JOURNAL OF THE ADVENTIST THEOLOGICAL SOCIETYall former Millerites, shared in this lively discussion.6 This was EllenWhite’s immediate religio-political milieu when she wrote the book TheGreat Controversy.In this study, we will consider four things. We will trace the development of Ellen White’s concept of Babylon in the book The Great Controversy from the 1858 edition to the 1911 edition. We will compare herview with that of her contemporaries. We will also compare her viewwith that of selected 20th-century and 21st-century scholars. Finally, wewill determine whether there is a progressive development (from narrowto broad) of her understanding of Babylon in The Great Controversy. Herideas on this issue are especially important as The Great Controversy isconsidered to be one of her most influential and important works.7 Of allher books, this book has the longest history of development.Ellen White’s Concept of Babylon Vis-à-vis Her ContemporariesThe interpretation of Babylon became more significant in the contextof the preaching of William Miller and his associates prior to October 22,1844. Miller, in his lectures on prophecy, identified Babylon with thepapacy. This was his interpretation of the “little horn” in Dan 7:25 andthe harlot woman in Rev 17.8 However, Charles Fitch, in his famoussermon of 1843, identified Babylon with the Antichrist and identifiedCatholics and Protestants as constituting the Antichrist.9The Millerites’ change of concept on Babylon was due to a widespread opposition from Protestant churches against the Millerite teachings.10 This was Ellen White’s immediate background when she receivedAdventists emerged the last and was the smallest, but it came to see itself as the true successor of the Millerite Movement. See George R. Knight, A Brief History of Seventh-dayAdventists (Hagerstown: Review & Herald, 1999), 28-30.6 Samuel Kibungei Chemurtoi, “James White and J. N. Andrews’ Debate on theIdentity of Babylon, 1850-1868” (M.A. thesis, AIIAS, Silang, Cavite, Philippines),1-2.7 Arthur L. White considered The Great Controversy to be Ellen White’s most important book. A. White, Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years (Washington: Review and Herald, 1982), 6:305.8 Miller, 36. Cf. Joshua V. Himes, Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology: Selected from Manuscripts of William Miller, With A Memoir of His Life (Boston:Joshua V. Himes, 1842), 46; Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller (Boston: JoshuaV. Himes, 1853), 190.9 Fitch, 15.10 George Knight, Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of MilleriteBeliefs (Hagerstown: Review and Herald), 141.224

GARILVA: BABYLON IN THE GREAT CONTROVERSYthe great controversy vision of 1858. Interestingly, her first attempt towrite this vision became the beginning of the book The Great Controversy.Spiritual Gifts, Volume 1, 1858 Edition. The Great Controversy vision of 1858 happened in Lovett’s Grove, Ohio. On March 14, 1858,there was a funeral, and James White was to give the message of comfort. As James closed his message, his wife stood up to speak.11 WhileEllen spoke she was caught up in vision. When the vision ended, thefriends and relatives of the deceased bore the casket to the cemetery.With great solemnity, others remained to hear Ellen White relate whatwas shown to her.12 In her own words she described what she saw: “Inthis vision at Lovett’s Grove, most of the matter of the Great Controversy which I had seen ten years before, was repeated, and I was shownthat I must write it out.”13Many considered that in this one short paragraph Ellen White introduced what was the principal topic of the Lovett’s Grove vision: a viewof the age-long Great Controversy in its broad sweep. In writing that shehad seen most of this ten years earlier, was she referring to a particularvision ten years before or was she referring to many phases of severalvisions received in the late 1840s? Arthur White posed this question andgave a viable answer. He said that in the absence of a reference to a specific, all-inclusive Great Controversy vision in 1848, the second alternative was left as the only viable choice. In fact, many of the visions EllenWhite received in the late 1840s gave glimpses, and even at times detailed accounts, of the controversy and the triumph of God’s people overthe forces of Satan.14 The 1858 Great Controversy edition better knownas Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, was a diminutive book of only 219 smallpages and 41 short chapters. This was published only six months afterthe March 14 Lovett’s Grove vision. It touched the high points of theentrance of sin, the fall of man, and the plan of salvation. Then it jumped11Ellen White states that she spoke “upon the coming of Christ and the resurrectionand the cheering hope of the Christian.” Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts: My ChristianExperience, Views and Labors: In Connection With the Rise and Progress of the “ThirdAngel’s Message [vol. 2] (Battle Creek: James White, 1860), 265.12 Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, 1827-1862 (Hagerstown: Review & Herald, 1985), 1:367-68. For Ellen White’s own detailed account, see SpiritualGifts, vol. 2, Chapter 35, “Visit to Ohio,” 265-272. For her concise account, see LifeSketches, 161-163.13 E. G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, 270.14 A. White, Ellen G. White, 1:372-73.225

JOURNAL OF THE ADVENTIST THEOLOGICAL SOCIETYto the life and ministry of Jesus. From that point onwards it treatedbriefly the work of the apostles, the apostasy in the Christian church, theReformation, the Advent Movement, and the events up to the secondcoming and the new earth.Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, was one of the three earliest books of EllenWhite incorporated into one volume.15 In the volume Spiritual Gifts, shealready touched on the concept of Babylon in the chapter, “The LoudCry.” Here she made a statement in which she equated Babylon with thefallen churches of her day. She wrote, “The message of the fall of Babylon, . . . have been entering the churches since 1844. The work of thisangel comes in at the right time, and joins in the last great work of thethird angel’s message, as it swells into a loud cry.”16Ellen White added, “The light that was shed upon the waiting onespenetrated every where, and those who had any light in the churches,who had not heard and rejected the three messages, answered to the call,and left the fallen churches.”17 Here Ellen White portrayed the fallenchurches of her day as Babylon. Her comment on this chapter refers toRev 14:8, and it is in connection with her 1844 experience. Babylon heremust refer to the Protestant churches of her time. Prior to her 1858 GreatControversy vision, her husband, James White, in 1850, stated that theProtestant churches, having rejected the first angel’s message, had fallenspiritually and consequently had become Babylon.18 But John Nevins15 Arthur L. White, “The Story of the Great Controversy,” Review and Herald (RH),August 1, 1963, 2-3. This one volume edition, published in 1882, was called Early Writings. Ellen White’s first three books, which composed this volume, are Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (1851), A Supplement to Experience and Views (1854),and Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 1 (1858). In 1945 Spiritual Gifts was reproduced in a facsimilereprint and is currently available.16 Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts: The Great Controversy Between Christ and HisAngels and Satan and His Angels [vol. 1] (Battle Creek: James White, 1858), 194.17 Ibid., 195.18 James White, “The Third Angel’s Message Rev xiv 9-12,” The Present Truth,April 1850, 65-69. Here are some of the reasons why James White excluded the RomanCatholic Church as Babylon in Rev 14:8: (1) The Roman Catholic Church is a “unit,”whereas Babylon signifies “mixture or confusion.” It means that the Roman CatholicChurch “is one in name, and doctrine, ordinances, and all her works.” James White,“‘What is Babylon!’–The Fall–Come Out,” RH, Dec. 9, 1851, 58. This being the case, theRoman Catholic Church cannot qualify since Babylon is characterized by disorder. Ibid.(2) The second angel’s message announcing the fall of Babylon could not be applied tothe Roman Catholic Church since this church has always been corrupt. James White,“The Angels of Rev xiv,” RH, Dec. 9, 1851, 63-64. (3) God’s people were not in the226

GARILVA: BABYLON IN THE GREAT CONTROVERSYAndrews, one of the Sabbatarian Adventists’ leading biblical expositors,did not agree with James White. He argued that Babylon comprises allcorrupt religious systems that had ever existed in the history of the Christian Church. This included the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantchurches.19 He maintained that “we cannot restrict the term Babylon tothe Papal church, for it evidently includes all those religious bodieswhich have become corrupt like the ‘mother of harlots.’”20 In 1865, classic Adventist expositor Uriah Smith identified Babylon as “the greatmass of confused and corrupt Christianity.”21Subsequent to Ellen White’s 1858 Great Controversy edition, someof her contemporary Protestant expositors identified Babylon with imperial Rome. Moses Stuart, for example, commented that Babylon in thebook of Revelation refers to imperial Rome, specifically the city ofRome and its great power:Babylon, not literal but figurative, i.e. Rome. . . . Babylonof old was the enemy of God’s people, and persecuted and destroyed them. Babylon was then the metropolis of a most extensive empire, and itself an exceedingly great city. It wasidolatrous and was noted for impiety; as the book of Danielfully shows. On all these accounts it might well representRome, specially Rome in Nero’s day; and particularly so,when the writer of the Apocalyse, as we have already seen onRoman Catholic Church but in Protestant churches at the time of the proclamation of thesecond angels’ message. Ibid., 64.19 J. N. Andrews, “Thoughts on Revelation XIII and XIV,” RH, May 19, 1851, 81.In another article, he identified Babylon with all the corrupt religious bodies that haveever existed. This included the corrupt Jewish Church, the Papal and Greek churches, andthe Protestant churches. Andrews, “What is Babylon?” RH, Feb. 21, 1854, 36.20 Andrews, “Thoughts on Revelation,” 81.21 Uriah Smith, Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation (BattleCreek, Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1865), 233. Inhis 1907 edition, Smith was clearer in his description: “Babylon is not confined to theRomish Church. That this church is a very prominent component part of great Babylon, isnot denied. The descriptions of chapter 17 seem to apply very particularly to that church.But the name which she bears on her forehead, ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Motherof Harlots and Abominations of the Earth,’ reveals other family connections. If thischurch is the mother, who are the daughters? The fact that these daughters are spoken of,shows that there are other religious bodies besides the Romish Church which come underthis designation.” Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation: The Response of History tothe Voice of Prophecy A Verse by Verse Study of these Important Books of the Bible(Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1907), 728.227

JOURNAL OF THE ADVENTIST THEOLOGICAL SOCIETYseveral occasions, designed to speak of Rome in a somewhatconcealed, rather than in an open manner.22Putting Ellen White in the context of her time, we can see that herconcept of Babylon in the 1858 edition was not influenced by either hercontemporary Protestant expositors nor by Sabbatarian expositors likeAndrews and Smith. She, however, seemed to have a view similar to thatof her husband, James White.The Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 4, 1884 Edition. In the 1870s and1880s, more than ten years after the 1858 comprehensive vision a