"Top 7 Myths: #2: Wrote Steps to Christ"
This charge comes to us from Dirk Anderson's and Robert Sanders' web
sites. It utilizes one of the most common accusations out there, namely, that Ellen White plagiarized her
material from other writers. See if you think there's a case to be made on this one.
The most likely author of the book is Fannie Bolton. Ms. Bolton joined Ellen White's staff in 1888,
and Steps to Christ was published in 1892. Later, Ms. Bolton would claim that she wrote the book and Mrs.
White took the manuscript and published it under her name . . . .
Part of the material used in Steps to Christ came from Mrs. White's previously published writings
(for example, paragraph 1, p. 12 from RH 12/16/1884; paragraph 1, 2, p. 15 from 4T 563, 46; the chapter
on "Confession" from ST 3/16/1888 and 5T 635-641; page 83 from 3T 246, 247; pages 121-123 from
RH 2/3/1885). Parts of the book were
plagiarized from other Christian authors. Following is one example taken from the book,
White Lie: . . . .
now know that "Steps to Christ" was
plagiarized from uninspired authors by Ellen's assistants? [sic.] This was
Fannie's habit in writing for Ellen. . . .
- Here are examples of
plagiarism from "The White Lie," by Walter Rae [sic.], pp.
378,379, 388. . . .
Given the above, it shouldn't be too hard to determine whether Fannie was the one who "plagiarized,"
if that is the correct term. If either of the two examples of alleged plagiarism copied from Walter Rea
were in fact taken from things written prior to 1888, then
Fannie could not be the one who did the "plagiarizing." However, if these particular
quotes cannot be found in Ellen White's earlier writings, then Fannie may indeed be the culprit
Let's now take a look at the two examples copied from Walter Rea:
Steps to Christ
E. G. White 1892
 If we take counsel with our doubts and
fears, or try to solve everything that we cannot see clearly,
before we have faith, perplexities will only
increase and deepen…But if we
come to God…and in humble, trusting faith make known our wants
to Him…who governs everything with his will and His word, He can and
will attend our cry, and will let light shine into our hearts. Through
sincere prayer we are brought into connection with the mind of the
Infinite. We may have no remarkable evidence at the time that the face of
our Redeemer is bending over us in compassion and love, but this is even
so. We may not feel His visible touch, but His hand is upon us in love and
Night Scenes in the Bible
Daniel March 1868-1870
 While we take counsel with our doubts and
fears, or try to solve the problem of the universe in the cabinets
and laboratories of science, or to explore the depths of eternity with the
feeble taper of human reason, we shall only increase
our perplexity and deepen our disappointment…
 But let them go up to the mount of God…in humble, trusting
prayer…that the supreme power governing the universe,,, [sic.] and look
only to him who sees everything at one view and governs everything with a
word…Let them believe that…he will hear their voice and attend to
their wants. And then the darkness and perplexity will vanish from their
In every act of sincere prayer the soul
comes into living contact with the infinite Mind. We see no face vending [sic.]
over us with looks of compassion. No voice answers to our humble cry. No
hand is let down for us to grasp…as the child seeks the parents
(Walter Rea, as quoted by Robert Sanders.)
This selection from pages 96 and 97 of Steps to Christ
is taken from Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, page 323, which in turn is taken from
a personal letter written by Mrs. White in 1873 to a young minister and his wife
(The Progressive Years, p. 388).
(See comparison between Testimonies and Steps to Christ here.)
Thus, this first selection was written 15 years before Fannie Bolton began working for Mrs. White.
Steps to Christ
E. G. White 1892
 Another element of prevailing prayer
is faith. "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He
is a rewarder of them that diligently gently [sic.] seek Him." Hebrews
But to claim that prayer will always be
answered in the very way and for the particular thing that we desire is
God's Will Known and Done
Almon Underwood 1860
 Another requisite of prevailing
prayer is faith. "He that cometh unto God, must believe that he is, and
that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him." Heb.
are not to expect it to come in a particular way, nor necessarily at just
such a time.
|(Walter Rea, as quoted by Robert Sanders.
We took the liberty to add back the
first quotation mark to Underwood that Sanders left out.)|
The portion of Steps to Christ in blue comes from an article by Ellen White
published in the August 21, 1884, issue
of Signs of the Times, four years before Fannie Bolton became an employee of Mrs. White.
The portion in red is taken from a November 18, 1886, issue of the same journal, still more than a
year before Fannie was around. (See comparisons between Signs articles and Steps to Christ
The portion in red is similar only in thought, not in word, to Underwood. Because of this, and because
the two Signs articles were published two years apart, the similarity in thought
between the red portions of Underwood and Ellen White is merely coincidental.
Intentionally or not, either Walter Rea or his researcher made Underwood's quote more like Steps to Christ
than it really is. In the original, there are no quotation marks or reference for Hebrews 11:6.
Indeed, there shouldn't be any quotation marks, for Underwood paraphrased the verse slightly.
—White Estate Photograph
Of course the question remains, was there plagiarism, even if Fannie Bolton wasn't involved? The answer to
that question depends upon how you define plagiarism, and whether you define it according to
present-day standards or 1892 standards.
For example, in some circles today, if only ideas and not words are borrowed, there is no plagiarism.
In other circles, the borrowing of ideas alone may constitute plagiarism. In some circles today, one may copy
freely from oneself and not be a plagiarist. In other circles, copying from one's own writings is definitely
plagiarism, and can result in rather stern penalties.
Thus, if Mrs. White had published Steps to Christ as an article in one of today's scientific
journals, she would have been condemned by her peers as a plagiarist, not because some wording appears
similar to March and Underwood, but because she freely copied from her earlier writings without
using quotation marks and without giving any credit to herself whatsoever. As absurd as that may sound,
it's the truth.
On the other hand, 6 words and a Bible verse out of a paragraph of 502 words from Underwood are
found in Steps to Christ, and 37 words out of 6 paragraphs totalling 1126 words from March can be found
in Steps to Christ. (See the original quotations of all three authors, without any ellipses,
The latter 37 words first appeared two decades prior to the publishing of
Steps to Christ in a personal letter of encouragement to a young minister and his wife. Thus, if
borrowing 6 words out of 502 constituted plagiarism in 1884, then Ellen White was indeed a plagiarist,
if we assume that she really did borrow those 6 words. (Given the fact that any two writers writing
on the same subject are going to use some of the same words, it would indeed be an assumption that
Ellen White was copying those 6 words from Underwood.) Or, if intentionally or unintentionally
borrowing 37 words out of 1126 when writing a personal letter constituted plagiarism in 1873,
then Ellen White was guilty of plagiarism.
Dealing with the big "if" of what was plagiarism and what wasn't in the nineteenth century goes
beyond the scope of this web page. To read up on copyright laws of that era,
see "Plagiarism Defined."
The Author: Fannie vs. Ellen
Robert Sanders provides on his site a scanned copy of a 1952 letter by Edward S. Ballenger.
In this letter Ballenger claims that Fannie told him that she, not Mrs. White, had written
Steps to Christ. Ballenger is also the one that published in the 1930's the accusation
that Ellen White had plagiarized pictures, pictures she had paid for.
(See "Even the Pictures Were Plagiarized!")
Yet after our discovery that the portions allegedly plagiarized actually came from Mrs. White's
own writings, we are puzzled to know exactly what portions Fannie supposedly wrote herself.
Indeed, the fair and honorable thing for Sanders to have done would have been to quote from
Fannie herself regarding this matter:
Sister White . . . is
responsible for every thought, for every expression, in her
writings. Every manuscript that is edited goes back to her for
examination, . . . .
Now as far as changing Sister White's expressions are
concerned, I can say that just as far as it is consistent with
grammar and rhetoric, her expressions are left intact.—DF 445b,
Fannie Bolton to Miss Malcolm, Nov. 11, 1894. . . .
The editors in no wise change Sister White's expression if it
is grammatically correct, and is an evident expression of the
evident thought. Sister White, as human instrumentality, has a
pronounced style of her own, which is preserved all through her
books and articles, that stamps the matter with her individuality.
Many times her manuscript does not need any editing, often
but slight editing, and again, a great deal of literary work; but
article or chapter, whatever has been done upon it, is passed
back into her hands by the editor, and the Spirit of Prophecy then
appropriates the matter, and it becomes, when approved, the
chosen expression of the Spirit of God.—DF 445a, "A Confession
Concerning the Testimony of Jesus Christ," written in early 1901
to "Dear Brethren in the Truth."
(Quoted in Arthur White, The Australian Years, pp. 247-249)
That Fannie Bolton may have elsewhere contradicted her own testimony lends nothing
to her credibility as a witness, especially if no one can discover which portions of
Steps to Christ she actually wrote.
Fannie Bolton had nothing to do with any alleged plagiarism in the writing of pages 96 and 97 of
Steps to Christ, since the material was already written and published by Ellen White before
Fannie joined Mrs. White's staff.
That is, unless we say that Fannie assisted in plagiarizing from Mrs. White's own writings. Using the
extreme standards of some of today's academic and professional circles, since Mrs. White never
put quotation marks around or gave references for her previously published material,
she indeed plagiarized most of Steps to Christ.
In our (non-legal) opinion, Mrs. White would have had no legal grounds for suing herself
for plagiarism in 1892.
We can trace the page on Dirk Anderson's site back to 2000, and the page on Robert Sanders' site
back to 1999. Since Ellen White's writings came out on CD a decade earlier around 1990, it would have been a simple
matter to discover that when Fannie Bolton came along Ellen White had already written the material in question.
Additionally, they would have discovered that "But to claim that prayer will always be answered . . ."
was not taken from Underwood.
While Dirk and Robert did give credit to Walter Rea for the material they got from
him, it would have been best if they had verified his findings before making public these accusations. We
therefore strongly recommend that critics of Mrs. White do their own independent research, rather than merely
copying from one another.
Give Us Your Opinion
|Did Fannie Bolton plagiarize when working on Steps to Christ?|
|She most certainly did. She plagiarized from a lady named Ellen White.
|My gut feeling is that nothing wrong was done in this matter.
|Can't copy from yourself when writing a book about Jesus without being accused of plagiarism? What is this world coming to!
|I need to do some research about the meaning of plagiarism in the nineteenth century.
Total Votes: 154|