Words that still speak

When a prophet’s words are disliked, debated, and discarded in the name of science, what should be the stand of those who believe in the inspiration of the Word?

Most public figures are familiar with interactions involving a disbelieving and even hostile audience. People can be fickle in their responses to information and advice given. This is nicely illustrated during presidential elections. Personal fortunes can change rapidly following ill-considered statements or an awkward revelation.

Not only presidential candidates but also prophets have found popularity an illusion. Consider the prophet Jeremiah. He commenced ministry in his youth (Jeremiah 1:6) and was instructed by God to speak without considering the consequences (1:7, 8). When he did this, his faithful preaching led to persecution and to plots against his life (11:18-23; 26:6-11; 38:6). His words were disliked, debated, and discarded by some (e.g., 26:8-24; 38:4-28; 39:1-6).

Our own prophet, Ellen White, encountered disbelief and hostility in her day. Her own comments are revealing: “Every opposer to our faith makes Mrs. White his text. They begin to oppose the truth and then make a raid against me. What have I done, if evil, then let them bear witness of the evil. ...”1 It is no secret that critics and the disbelieving have multiplied since her death.

I must admit that a prophet’s words are not always easy to understand. When I was young, some of Ellen White’s statements dealing with scientific matters caused me considerable difficulty. Her statements could not be explained satisfactorily by reference to credible information then available. Fortunately, I chose to wait patiently and to reserve my judgment. Others, unfortunately, declared her to be misguided and printed their doubts. This experience has functioned in my mind to highlight both the nature of knowledge and the prophetic gift.

Knowledge is both tentative and progressive, and humans are unwise to be too hasty about accepting scientific knowledge in total, because soon they may be shown to be not so correct after all. Concerning the prophetic gift, a prophet’s work is varied. It can be quite ordinary, and the advice given may come from a number of sources: from principles derived from impeccable sources (e.g., Bible-based or previous revelations2), logical deductions from astute observations of human behavior3, or extensions of knowledge through extrapolation. Ellen White extrapolated information in the promotion of Graham bread. Her enthusiasm was based on the proposition that the closer to the natural product a food item was (Edenic diet), the more nutritious and beneficial it was likely to be.4 On the other hand, special revelations or God-given impressions stand in a different category and take us beyond our current knowledge base.

The prophet Daniel’s revelations on the rise and fall of nations and his time prophecies are an excellent example of statements that often took many years to be fulfilled. No doubt detractors existed in his day, and since then some have arisen to discount even the most amazing of his predictions. This is done irrespective of the clarity of history. Similar choices are given to us today with both ancient and modern prophets: we can choose to examine the evidence under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or we can approach the issues with a critical, disbelieving, and dismissive attitude. I will illustrate how a number of White’s puzzling statements can be resolved and have led to a faith-strengthening experience for the author.

Something fishy about yellow rice

The Japanese were the first to connect eating mold-discolored cereal grain with disease. They demonstrated the toxic effects of eating such food in 1891, and the work was extended in 1920. However, their investigations were not widely known.5 Experts in universities and the United States Department of Agriculture did not accept that molds produced toxins injurious to animal health, even up to 1913.6 However, after 1960 the consequences of eating mold-contaminated grain was widely understood. The year 1960 is famous for the death of 100,000 turkeys in Britain through eating mold-contaminated peanut meal and the almost simultaneous development of cancers among rainbow trout-fed inferior cottonseed rations in the United States.7

It is fascinating that Ellen White warned in 1885 that those who used decayed apples to produce popular products (wine and cider) were introducing poisons into the body. Then she stated: “This pleasant beverage [cider] is often unfit for the human stomach,” as microscopic examination will show. She said that boiling the juice would render it less injurious.8 Then in 1887, she stated without hesitation that fruits and vegetables chosen for eating should not show the “slightest sign of decay.” She indicated that more deaths than imagined result from eating decayed fruits and vegetables.9 These were provocative statements, but they have gained credibility in recent years. Since the 1960s, many toxic substances have been found in foods associated with the growth of microorganisms.10

The famous mold (found on apples) capable of producing a toxin was discovered in 1874, but no one was aware that it produced a toxin until 1943. The toxin is called patulin, and its toxicity is reduced by heat. Due to its toxicity to animals, world health authorities have nominated a provisional maximum tolerable daily intake limit. In some countries, the level detected exceeds that considered safe for infants and young children.11 Now, the molds associated with fruit and vegetables and the production of toxins are relatively few, but the principle of avoiding mold-contaminated foods (a generalization that can be made from White) is one of great significance that science has realized relatively recently.12

The smell of death

The idea that the particles we breathe may contribute to ill health is not something new. In the Old World, pollution and its ill-effects were experienced.13 However, Ellen White was not taken seriously when she wrote in 1905: “No waste vegetables or heaps of fallen leaves should be allowed to remain near the house to decay and poison the air. Nothing unclean or decaying should be tolerated in the house.”14

Vindication began to come after 1932. Relatively recently, it has been found that various bacterial toxins and microbial components are released into the air surrounding decomposing plant material. Scientists now speak of safe limits for airborne microbial toxins.15 Handling organic waste exposes individuals to airborne particles (animal, vegetable, and microbial in origin) and can lead to a variety of health consequences, particularly respiratory diseases.16 Exposure to organic dust (bioaerosols) from indoor organic waste storage containers also has been indicated,17 thus giving additional credibility to White’s statements.

Deadly missiles

Some unusual hypertensive crises (headache, rash, elevated blood pressure) began to be noted by the medical profession in 1963, following the eating of the “stronger” types of cheese when taken with certain medication.18 This was due to the amines present in the food items. Normally, such amines are degraded, but in individuals lacking the appropriate enzyme, symptoms occur. In other individuals, classical migraine headaches may be precipitated by the intake of foods rich in amines such as certain cheeses and chocolate.19 Now, the concentration of amines found in cheese is dependent not only on the length of time the cheese is ripened but also on the bacterial biota and the hygienic conditions maintained during processing and storage. Some well-documented amine poisoning episodes have been recorded. Another group of toxins that can be present are formed by molds. These are often found in mature cheeses, and the toxins may penetrate into the food from the surface growth. The level of contamination of such toxins in cheeses is generally low, although a wide range has been detected.20

This fascinating information triggered my interest in a comment made by Ellen White in 1868 to a couple suffering from ill health. She wrote: “Cheese should never be introduced into the stomach.”21 This advice might have been made in an attempt to lead the couple to select foods easy to digest. However, a more general case might be argued along the lines that the combined effects of eating cheese potentially rich in fats, carrying amines, toxins, and burdened with disease-carrying organisms rendered it unfit for consumption.22 We must remember that environmental and legislative controls were not extensive in the time when Ellen White lived, making some food items, together with drinking water, inherently more dangerous than they may be today.

Somewhat later (1905), she wrote: “Cheese is still more objectionable [than butter]; it is wholly unfit for food.” In the German-language edition of the article, White permitted the editors to use the term “strong and sharp cheese” to underscore what she meant. The editor’s comment accompanying some English print editions indicates that the term did not apply to “cottage cheese or foods of a similar character.”23 This statement was clarified further in Arthur White’s publication when he indicated that Ellen White ate cottage cheese, but not cured cheeses.24

Individuals have puzzled over the meaning and accuracy of the 1868 and 1905 statements. Some have accepted them at face value and have rejected cheese because they perceive Ellen White acted this way after she accepted the health-reform message. Others have sought to understand the principles involved. The following information gives clarity.

In the time in which the first statement was written, milk-borne diseases were prevalent. Infectious diseases were not well understood, and pasteurization had not been discovered. At the time of the second statement, pasteurization had been perfected and was being more generally used, so food-borne diseases were in the process of being reduced. Some have considered the disease load carried by cheese the chief reason for White’s advice. Deeper consideration of this idea leads us to reject it as the primary reason. The statements about cheese mentioned above were made around the same time that other dairy products were spoken about more supportively.25 Furthermore, the manufacturing process for both unripened and ripened cheeses is very similar in the initial phases. It is during the latter phases of the process where we must search for possible clues. An interesting observation is that both unripened and ripened cheeses may carry diseases.26

The point of departure in the preparation of unripened and ripened cheeses is, as the name suggests, in the ripening process. Cottage cheeses are marketed within days of preparation, whereas other cheeses are matured under defined conditions for periods of some months (most cheeses are ripened for at least three months). The length of the maturation time determines the classification of cheddar cheeses as “mild”, “strong,” or “mature.” The first indication that all was not well with some matured cheeses was noted in 1963. Some individuals experienced high blood pressure, headache, fever, and other symptoms when they ate at the same time as taking specific drug medication.27

During the ripening of cheese, the protein casein is broken down by rennet and bacterial action (fermentation). Some of the bacteria produce amines. In short-ripened cheeses, the opportunity for the production of various bacterial by-products is limited. In well-matured cheeses, biogenic amines are present. In broad terms, the amine content increases with increases in storage time. Now, cheeses made from pasteurized milk may show much lower levels of amines than those made from raw milk.28

From the scientific evidence available, we can argue with credibility that the advice given by Ellen White is reasonable. First, cheese is more difficult to digest than many foods. Second, we understand that the vegetarian lifestyle can provide a rich source of nitrates coming from plants and perhaps water. The body converts nitrates into nitrites. This process may seem harmless, but when nitrites combine with amines following the consumption of food items (including cheeses), nitrosamines form in the intestinal tract, giving rise to potent cancer-forming chemicals.

White’s writings on cheese are not meant to be read like a recipe book, but rather are to be taken as underlying principles given about some cheeses. We can say that amine-associated illness has been connected with certain cheeses and other food items, and that some individuals are at greater risk than others. Furthermore, individuals may be predisposed to cancers through the intake of nitrosamines and mycotoxins.29 The dangers vary in different parts of the world and have changed over time. It is up to us to be careful when eating all foods rich in amines.

Ellen White urged us to think and to reason from cause to effect. Her books imply that we should follow the best scientific advice. We can assert this with reasonable confidence if we care to trace her instructions regarding the safe use of milk. When the scientific world was divided over the usefulness of heat-treating milk, she chose the correct course when some of the world’s great scientists took the alternative route. We can also say this if we look at the principles underlying her advice regarding the use of three fermented products, namely cheese, olives, and pickles; her advice differs for the three food items mentioned.30 Why is this? And what are we to conclude about the dozens of fermented products that are not mentioned in her books? Are they always safe? As a scientist, I can say that we are in the process of gaining the answers and establishing principles as outlined above.

Concluding comments

Our brief survey of a number of statements made by White has been resolved in view of information coming from scientific sources. Science confirms the accuracy of her statements and gives us added confidence in her ministry. Much of the expert information has come to us recently, which is a clear reminder to readers that hasty conclusions may be incorrect. However, in our broad reading of Ellen White we have been reminded by others that, just as experienced with sacred Scripture, occasional inaccuracies may be encountered. This should not detract from our confidence in either the inspiration or authority of the Bible or the writings of Ellen White.31

Warren Shipton (Ph.D., M.Ed., FASM) obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Sydney; he is a former dean of science, James Cook University, Australia, and former president of Asia-Pacific International University, Muak Lek, Thailand, and currently works for the latter university in an honorary capacity. E-mail: wshipton@gmail.com.


  1. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 3:350.
  2. --------, Counsels on Diet and Foods (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 487.
  3. --------, Messages to Young People (Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Pub. Assn., 1974), pp. 183, 187.
  4. --------, Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 373, 343, 345.
  5. S. Udagawa and T. Tatsuno, “Safety of rice grains and mycotoxins — A historical review of yellow rice mycotoxicoses,” Japanese Journal of History of Pharmacy 39 (2004): pp. 321–342.
  6. F.W. Tanner, The Microbiology of Foods (Champaign, Illinois: Garrard Press, 1944), p. 128; C.L. Alsberg and O.F. Black, US Department of Agriculture Bulletin 270 (1913): p. 7.
  7. E.W. Jackson, H. Wolf, and R.O. Sinnhuber, “The relationship of hepatoma in rainbow trout to aflatoxin contamination and cottonseed meal,” Cancer Research 28 (1968): pp. 987–991.
  8. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 356; cf. Warren A. Shipton, “The day 100,000 turkeys died,” Adventist Review 162 (No. 57, 1985): pp. 10–11.
  9. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 309.
  10. M. Weidenbörner, Encyclopedia of Food Mycotoxins (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2001), p. 164; M.R. Adams, and M.O. Moss, Food Microbiology (Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemists, 1997), pp. 228–244.
  11. J.E. Welke, M. Hoeltz, H.A. Dottori, et al., “Effect of processing stages of apple juice concentrate on patulin levels,” Food Control 20 (2009): pp. 48–52; O. Puel, P. Galtier, and I.P. Oswald, “Biosynthesis and toxicological effects of patulin,” Toxins 2 (2010): pp. 613–631.
  12. Adams and Moss, pp. 228–244; WHO (Geneva), Environmental and Health Criteria 105—Selected Mycotoxins: Ochratoxins, Tricothecenes, Ergot (1990). Online: http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc105.htm (25/07/2011).
  13. Warren A. Shipton, Health IQ (Muak Lek, Thailand: Institute Press, 2009), p. 61.
  14. Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1955), p. 276.
  15. C.J. Fuller, “Farmer’s lung: A review of present knowledge,” Thorax 8 (1953): pp. 59–64; D. Heedrick, and J. Douwes, “Towards an occupational exposure limit for endotoxins,” Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine 4 (1997): p. 17-19; A. Coghlan, “Sickening smell,” New Scientist 165 (2000): p. 14; D.U. Park, S.H. Ryu, S.B. Kim, et al., “An assessment of dust, endotoxin, and microorganism exposure during waste collection and sorting,” Journal of Air and Waste Management Association 61 (2011): pp. 461–468.
  16. J. Douwes, P. Thorne, N. Pearce, et al., “Bioaerosol health effects and exposure assessment: Progress and prospects,” Annals of Occupational Hygiene 47 (2003): pp. 187–200; I.M. Wouters, S. Spaan, J. Douwes, et al., “Overview of personal occupational exposure levels to inhalable dust, endotoxin, (13)-glucan and fungal extracellular polysaccharides in the waste management chain,” Annals of Occupational Hygiene 50 (2006): pp. 39–53.
  17. I.M. Wouters, J. Douwes, C. Doekes, et al., “Increased levels of markers of microbial exposure in homes with indoor storage of organic household waste,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 66 (2000): pp. 627–631.
  18. A.M. Asatoor, A.J. Levi, and M.D. Milne, “Tranylcyromine and cheese,” Lancet 282 (1963): pp. 733–734.
  19. Glen B. Baker, T.F. Wong James, T. Coutts Ronald, et al., “Simultaneous extraction and quantitation of several bioactive amines in cheese and chocolate,” Journal of Chromatography 392 (1987): pp. 317–331; R.T. Premont, R.R. Gainetdinov, and M.G. Caron, “Following the trace of elusive amines,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA 98 (2001): pp. 9474–9475.
  20. N.M. O’Brien, T.P. O’Connor, J. O’Callaghan, et al., “Toxins in cheese,” in Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology, eds. P.F. Fox, P.L.H. McSweeney, T.M. Cogbin, et al. (San Diego, California: Elsevier Academic Press, 2004), pp. 1:561–572; E.M.A. Ibrahim, and A. Amer, “Comparison of biogenic amines levels in different processed cheese varieties with regulatory specifications,” World Journal of Dairy and Food Sciences 5(2010): pp. 127–133.
  21. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, pp. 67, 68.
  22. See Warren A. Shipton, “Deadly missiles or delicious morsels?” Catalyst 4 (2009): pp. 29–34 for complete reference details. The journal Catalyst is available at Asia-Pacific International University (www.apiu.edu) home page under Publications.
  23. White, Ministry of Healing, p. 302. The editor’s footnote is not present in all hardcopy editions of the book. The details referred to are mentioned in the 2007 CD Complete published edition of Ellen White Writings located at p. 368.5.
  24. Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years 1905–1915 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1982), 6:315.
  25. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 9:162; Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years 1862–1876 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1986), 2:304–305.
  26. S.J. Forsythe, The Microbiology of Safe Food (London: Blackwell Science Ltd., 2000), pp. 154, 171.
  27. B. Blackwell and L.A. Mabbitt, “Tyramine in cheese related to hypertensive crises after monoamine-oxidase inhibition,” Lancet 62 (May 1, 1965): pp. 938–940.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid.; S.C. Larsson, L. Bergkvist, and A. Wolk, “Processed meat consumption, dietary nitrosamines and stomach cancer in a cohort of Swedish women,” International Journal of Cancer 119 (2006): pp. 915–919.
  30. Health IQ.
  31. Gerhard Pfandl, “Ellen G. White and hermaneutics,” in Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach, ed. G.W. Reid (Silver Spring, Maryland: Biblical Research Institute, 2005), pp. 309–328.