By Colleen Tinker
On February 22, 2017, NASA announced the discovery of seven rocky exoplanets orbiting around a red dwarf star called Trappist-1. On March 22, the Adventist Review ran an article by Clifford Goldstein, the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide, more commonly known as the Sabbath School Quarterly. In this article, Goldstein recounts his conversion from atheism to Seventh-day Adventism and his discovery of Ellen White’s vision describing “other worlds” where sin had not defiled the people living there.
Goldstein explains that NASA’s report made him think about Ellen White’s vision and reveals his belief that the recent discovery “adds credence” not only to Ellen White’s descriptions of other inhabited planets where the people have not succumbed to the temptation of their trees of knowledge and good and evil but also to EGW’s whole great controversy paradigm.
Here is Ellen White’s vision as quoted by Goldstein from EGW’s Early Writings, p. 39, 40:
“The Lord has given me a view of other worlds. Wings were given me, and an angel attended me from the city to a place that was bright and glorious. The grass of the place was living green, and the birds there warbled a sweet song. The inhabitants of the place were of all sizes; they were noble, majestic, and lovely. They bore the express image of Jesus, and their countenances beamed with holy joy, expressive of the freedom and happiness of the place. I asked one of them why they were so much more lovely than those on the earth. The reply was, ‘We have lived in strict obedience to the commandments of God, and have not fallen by disobedience, like those on the earth.’ Then I saw two trees, one looked much like the tree of life in the city. The fruit of both looked beautiful, but of one they could not eat. They had power to eat of both, but were forbidden to eat of one. Then my attending angel said to me, ‘None in this place have tasted of the forbidden tree; but if they should eat, they would fall.’ Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated.”
Goldstein then asks, “Why not? What an incredible waste of space for the Lord to have created the universe for just one inhabited planet, ours.”
According to EGW, these supposed inhabitants of other planets are part of the great controversy battleground. These sinless beings who have remained loyal to God’s law are part of the universal “proof” that God’s law is not too difficult for His creations to keep. Moreover, they are watching with breathless interest to see how the great controversy on sinful earth will resolve.
In the January/February, 2008, issue of Proclamation!, Martin Carey wrote an article entitled, “Are Other Worlds Watching Us?” He addresses EGW’s claims of life on other planets as well as her insistence that they play a role in the Great controversy.
Among other things, Martin explains that Graham Maxwell, the Adventist theologian who taught religion at Loma Linda University for nearly three decades, used Colossians 1:19-20 to defend the idea of a “watching universe” and the existence of a great controversy. Martin addresses Maxwell’s claims by saying,
Building up a Great Controversy is not needed to make sense of this text. Romans 8:20-22 states that the whole creation, and that includes everything God has made in the entire cosmos, “was subjected to frustration” and “bondage to decay,” and “has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” All of the universe has been traumatized and continues to suffer. There is nothing in the universe that has not been affected by sin and death in some way, including the unfallen angels. Since they have suffered with us in some sense, they need reconciliation, freedom, and peace as well.
Martin further explains that Romans 8:20, 21 includes all creation when it says,
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
The entire universe, Martin explains, is in bondage to decay. “The most distant galaxies are as much in bondage to decay as our bodies are…death is much more than just a natural consequence of violating law. The futility of death we share with each other, our pets, and the stars, ‘is because of him who subjected [creation]”.
Besides the obvious problem with Ellen White’s apparently seeing other inhabited planets, there is the critical issue of her seeing details that no biblical writer was allowed to see or tell. First, EGW states that these beings “bore the express image of Jesus.” This statement assumes that she actually saw Jesus and knew how He looked. Further, she states that she began her tour of the other worlds in “the city”, the heavenly Jerusalem.
The details she describes are details no biblical author has ever described. Further, Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was taken to the “third heaven” and saw things he was not permitted to tell. No extra-biblical prophet can be believed if he or she describes the details of heaven, the Lord Jesus, or the distant creation that He did not allow a biblical prophet to tell.
Moreover, the Bible never describes sentient beings on other planets. Rather, it describes Jesus’ condescension to take the body of a man in order to become sin for us and to make propitiation for our sins (2 Cor. 15:21 and Hebrews 2:17).
Ellen White’s details about these unfallen beings also defy biblical revelation. For example, she, a sinful mortal, supposedly conducted a conversation with sinless humanoid beings in which she asked them why they were so much more lovely than people on earth. Their answer was immediate, “We have lived in strict obedience to the commandments God, and have not fallen by disobedience, like those on the earth.” She proceeded to say they also had two trees, one like the tree of life “in the city”, and the other from which they were not supposed to eat. There is absolutely no hint anywhere in Scripture that God has other human-like creations, nor that our earth’s story and the edenic trees has ever been repeated anywhere else.
Rather, the Lord Jesus’ incarnation on earth was a singularity that divided and changed all of history, and he forever identifies with us, not otherworldly beings, as a our brother (Heb. 2:11, 17).
Even more astonishing, perhaps, EGW describes seeing “good old Enoch, who had been translated”. Interestingly, her supposed glimpse of Enoch was not in heaven but on a “world which had seven moons”. The Bible never states that humans go to any other planet. It is worth noting, however, that it is a central Mormon doctrine that worthy Mormon men will be given their own planets after their deaths on earth.
Furthermore, Ellen White’s early visions of extra-terrestrial life are integral to her great controversy motif. Moreover, her descriptions of life on other planets and her explanations that their sinlessness depended upon keeping God’s commandments by passing a test of a forbidden tree are far from biblical. For Adventism, however, all of reality depends upon the idea that God’s creations must keep His law (which to them means the Ten Commandments).
Scripture, however, is clear that the Lord’s mission was to save humanity. No other sentient creatures apart from angels are mentioned in Scripture, and the Bible explicitly states that Jesus did not “help” angels, even the sinful ones:
For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Ellen White’s visions paint a very different picture from what we read in Scripture (and more closely resemble the worldview of Mormonism than of biblical reality). She develops ideas that have utterly no basis in Scripture, and she developed an entire theology, the great controversy motif, from details and interpretations that have no scriptural basis.
The existence of exoplanets does not confirm Ellen White’s visionary images. Rather, Scripture explains what is real, and we wait now with the whole groaning creation for the promise of the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:20-23).