After the Bible, the writings of Ellen White are read more than any other author in our church. And for good reason! Her writings are deeply spiritual and have blessed millions of people—in the church and outside of the church. Many of us have marked copies of Desire of Ages or Steps To Christ that have been read, pondered and prayed over numerous times. Since the publication of Folio Views—a research depository of her writings—and the development of egwwritings.org, even more interest and understanding has come. More recently the publishing of her "unpublished" writings, has been exceedingly helpful.
But casual devotional reading, and really studying her writings, are two different things.
To study her writings means to carefully study a particular subject, looking at words and meanings—sometimes shades of meaning—to understand what she really meant. This is challenging because she had a rich vocabulary that exceeds—far exceeds—the vocabulary used by most of us, and uses many obscure and little known English words from an earlier era. Further complicating the study, some of the familiar words had a different meaning in her day, and therefore must be looked at with the meaning she understood. There is also the volume of pages to look at. Accordingly, studying is challenging.
I began to seriously read her books when I was still in academy and continue to read her to this day, discovering new insights and appreciating her more as I read. I have also read extensively from many other Christian authors—I taught on the history of Christian—or Bible-based—spirituality for ten years at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, which required reading many authors. I can assure you that no author begins to compare with Ellen White. My students also agreed with me most of the time. We have a treasure in her writings, even though they are often under-appreciated and sometimes maligned!
I was privileged to do the research on the transformation section of the new encyclopedia of Ellen White. That was an eye-opening experience. For one thing, the outcome was not to reflect my biased opinions, rather it was to reflect what she said. Accordingly, I read hundreds of quotes in context, and carefully put them in a database to try and figure out what she meant when she spoke of overcoming self. I also read related articles. Wow. What insights! What blessings! I also tracked when she made certain statements to see how her thinking may have evolved over time.
In the course of that study I finally learned how to study her writings in depth: do searches of different words, carefully compile them in a database; ponder what she was saying, and write a report. This website reflects that approach.
I quickly realized that the key to studying her writings was discovering all the words that she used when discussing a particular topic. Searching using words I was familiar with brought some quotes but ignored many others, or brought an overwhelming number of quotes, that was beyond my ability to study out—try looking up 5,000 quotes and you will soon realize it is an impossible task. However, by using word pairs in quotation marks, and discovering the many words she used in discussing a subject, I began finding new quotations and discovering new insights, in the ocean of resources that were available.
To help you better understand what I am talking about, the challenge of studying Ellen White is similar to the challenge an American traveling in England would experience when seeking to have a car repaired at a service garage. Lets say there is need for a repair of something in the trunk. Queries about the trunk get met with blank stares? Questions are asked: "What is the trunk?" The service repair people point out there isn't room in the car for a trunk (large piece of luggage), nor for an elephant (which has a long trunk on the front of its face). They ask, "What are you referring to?" You point to the back of your car? "Oh," they say smiling, "you mean the 'boot.'" Well, you didn't know you were referring to the "boot," but now you do and you ask for a repair of the "boot."
Getting back to Ellen White, she used vocabulary from her day that we are less familiar with. So, for example, if you want to learn what she wrote on murmuring, you may want to look up quotes on the word "repining."? Regarding the study of prayer, did you think of the words "imploring," and "importuning"? The key to gaining the rich meanings is knowing which words she used.
In doing my research on transformation I began carefully noting the words she used and studied them out. That brought insights. Over time I came to realize that this key would immeasurably help those studying her writings to better understand her.
I tested my theory with my students at the seminary, asking them to study a particular topic. A week later they enthusiastically gave their reports, sharing the new insights they had discovered—even asking for the research results of the other students in the class. Even students who had been somewhat disdaining of her writings as irrelevant, commented that they had come to realize that her writings were principle-based and very relevant, and had caused them to come under deep conviction in the area they were studying.
In my own efforts to study, I eventually learned how to do boolean searches in the Folio Views resource, which saved me enormous time and gave me many focused quotes on the particular subject area chosen.
I also began to keep track of when she wrote some of these quotes, to track how the meaning changed over time. More insights! More blessings! This has been especially helpful when studying the godhead, where understandings were progressively gained over time, particularly after the watershed publishing of the Desire of Ages in 1898 and the new incontrovertible assertions regarding the eternal divinity of Christ: "In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived." Remember, truth does not change, but God may progressively share more insights on a particular truth over time.
On this page about key words, I share a bit on how to study the subject of prayer. I first talk about a lexicon on prayer—the words she used, how to search using phrases by putting words in quotation marks, using boolean search—searching using parentheses with boolean operators, and list some of the key words I have found over time. I think you will find the information helpful and it may begin your own journey of studying more deeply.
I am writing this at 4 AM in the morning, testimony to the interest that has developed in my life in studying more deeply what the Bible and her writings say on particular subjects. At the present time I am studying the godhead, the Sabbath, raising children and overcoming. I pray you will find the same joy in studying.—Dan
There are currently 130 books in circulation of the writings of Ellen White. These include books, compilations, special collections, etc. Then there are the 5,000 articles. Don't forget the six volume biographies. And did I mention the unpublished manuscripts and letters? To get meaningful results from such a mass of information, it is important to understand the categories of resources that are available. Having a knowledge of our history is also helpful.
Because some of the books are highly focused compilations, it sometimes helps to selectively target certain books when searching for quotations. On this page I talk a little about the various categories of books available to search from, and some of the ways to use the egwwritings site more effectively searching. (forthcoming)
I sometimes hear people complain of not knowing how to find quotes. They enter what seem to be key words, but do not seem to obtain the hoped for results. This deficit could be the result of not knowing how to use the search tools, not knowing which books to search in, or not knowing which words to search for. On this page I talk about Ellen White's rich vocabulary, the use of words from an earlier era, and the changing meaning of those words. If you just put in the word "prayer" you will miss the quotes associated with entreat, supplicate, importune, etc. So key to finding the quotes is searching for words she used when writing upon a particular subject. What are the words? How do you find them? I share here what I have learned on this important topic. (work in progress)
To find key quotations in the 100,000 page ocean of writings available one must effectively search for words used in her exceedingly rich vocabulary. On this page I talk about some of the challenges encountered, as well as solutions to overcoming the challenges, including searching phrases in quotation marks, and searching with boolean search operators. I think you will find this very helpful if you are trying to do serious research.