I think it is safe to say that it was her use of the term “amalgamation” used to describe how Satan corrupted the world (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, pgs. 64, 75 and Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, pgs. 69, 78). I was reminded of this just yesterday when Dr. Timothy Standish, a research fellow at the Geoscience Research Institute, gave a presentation on the topic for graduate students at AIIAS. In a nutshell, he gave arguments from our article on the topic that we co-authored for the Ellen White Encyclopedia. Of course we wrote that piece over a decade ago so I was interested to know what research he has done in the meantime.
The first thing that Dr. Standish mentioned was a reference to the inter-testamental book Jasher (4:18-19):
“And their judges and rulers went to the daughters of men and took their wives by force from their husbands according to their choice… and taught the mixture of animals of one species with the other… The Lord said, I will blot out man that I created…”
Apparently the idea of mixing animals with humans was so objectionable to God that it called for the destruction of the human race at the time of Noah.
Back to Ellen G. White. She wrote:
“But if there was one sin above another which called for the destruction of the race by the flood, it was the base crime of amalgamation of man and beast which defaced the image of God, and caused confusion everywhere.”
If that was all she wrote, then this would not be her most controversial statement. Yet she goes on to state:
“[T]he confused species which God did not create, which were the result of amalgamation, were destroyed by the flood. Since the flood there has been amalgamation of man and beast, as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men.”
“It is the second part,” as quoted above by Dr. Standish, “that really sets people off.” As a result, Dr. Standish referenced four possible interpretations that are highlighted in our Ellen White Encyclopedia article. They are:
- Genetic combination of human and animal chimeras.
- Intermarriage of the righteous with the heathen.
- Corruption of animals by sin to the point that they are no longer recognizable as forms of the original creation.
In the lecture Dr. Standish highlighted points 1 & 2 (already well-documented in our article, which I would refer readers for a detailed description), but spent quite a bit more time on point 4, which we had begun to tease out a decade ago, but which my colleague has developed more succinctly in the interim.
It is of interest to note that the first theory (chimeras) was the almost immediate response by both critics and apologists of Ellen G. White soon after the amalgamation statement was published. Uriah Smith went to great lengths to defend Ellen G. White using arguments that would be quite shocking to modern sensibilities. In large part most Ellen White apologists of the twentieth century have followed Smith’s interpretation. Dr. Standish observed: “One of the reasons I include this [these apologetic arguments] is as a warning, don’t think too badly of Uriah Smith, he was stating to himself what was a self-evident truth. This should make us all think about what we consider to be self-evident truth that we don’t even question but believe to be true. We should consider whether they are biblical. These arguments simply are not very good, especially from a logic perspective.”
The one thing that can be agreed upon, by both critics and apologists of Ellen G. White, is that Ellen G. White removed all references from these earlier books after 1870. The reasons for this are numerous: W. C. White argues that the purpose of her later books was different and that the statement was terribly misused, especially in the south (when she first made the statement, in 1864, it should be noted that this was in the midst of the American Civil War). And despite apparent controversy, she never clarified what she meant by it.
A second school of interpretation has focused on the statement as meaning interracial marriage. This line of reasoning can be traced to George McCready Price who strongly opposed Darwinian evolution. Others, such as Frank Marsh and later F. D. Nichol, developed this interpretation. In essence this interpretation hinges on the ambiguity of the phrase “of man and beast” because such an interpretation would conflict with science (perhaps in the 1940s, but not anymore). What Ellen White really mean to say was the “amalgamation of man and [of] beast.” The results were new “species of animals” and “races of men.” While this may seem strange today, for Americans during the time of the American Civil War there was this paternalistic attitude toward African-American slaves. Some expositors of slavery argued that “Negros” were created with the animals and therefore subject to the dominion of Adam. In one 1851 example: “Time nor circumstance nor climate affect not the negro race, all nature forbids an amalgamation between them and the Caucasians. Nature tolerates not hybrids, or mules, or mulattoes.”
These first two schools of thought are well-known in Ellen White Studies. It is the fourth option that I found most interesting: as already mentioned, Dr. Standish developed this fourth area more fully with the argument that what Ellen G. White really simply equated amalgamation with pollution. This latter theory is far less titillating because it removes some of the potentially racist implications of other interpretations. Yet it seems to fit well Ellen White’s other uses of the term “amalgamation”:
“All tares are sown by the evil one. Every noxious herb is of his sowing and by his ingenious methods of amalgamation he has corrupted the earth with tares” (Ms. 65, 1899, in Selected Messages, vol. 2, pg. 288).
“Those who profess to be followers of Christ . . . [and have] union with the world, the character of God’s people becomes tarnished, and through amalgamation with the corrupt, the fine gold becomes dim” (Review and Herald, Aug. 23, 1892).
The Bottom Line
According to Dr. Standish: “I think that if this was really important Ellen White would have made it plain. She was certainly capable of making plenty of other things plain. The fact that she chose to take them out and never to explain them is probably an indicator to me that they are not that important. I know there are people who really, really disagree with me. I do believe she was a prophet inspired by God, but I do believe that if somebody writes something and later edits it, probably the edited version should be the authoritative version. Even prophets are allowed to change their minds.” In conclusion he reminded people of the text from Ephesians 5:32: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
In many ways this discussion reminds me of the debate about being “baptized for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Over 40 interpretations of this obscure reference have been offered, and some groups (Latter Day Saints) develop a ceremony based on this singular and obscure reference. Sometimes we need to be content with our lack of knowledge. “What God wants us to know he has communicated to us,” observes Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, “what he has not told us may still hold our interest, but our uncertainty at these points should make us hesitate about being dogmatic” (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003], 69). In the case of Paul and being “baptized for the dead” the reference is so singular that there is no contextual information so the meaning is probably forever lost to us. With regard to Ellen White and the term “amalgamation” it seems likely the same thing holds true for her, too. The weight of her overall life and ministry make it certain that she grew in her understanding, and that both before and after her amalgamation references she placed herself solidly toward racial equality.