Forbidding Marriage

By D. Anderson


 
In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul warns us of what to expect in the last days of earth's history...

"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
It is a well-documented fact that Mrs. White encouraged her followers to abstain from meat and animal products even though she ate meat most of her life. Therefore, the evidence indicates Mrs. White met one of the conditions of Paul's warning, by commanding her followers to abstain from meats. But what about the forbidding of marriage?

Mrs. White patently denied forbidding marriage:

"We have, as a people, never forbidden marriage, except in cases where there were obvious reasons that marriage would be misery to both parties. And even then, we have only advised and counseled."1
In many passages Mrs. White endorses marriage in beautiful terms:
"Marriage has received Christ's blessing, and it is to be regarded as a sacred institution. True religion does not counterwork the Lord's plans. God ordained that man and woman should be united in holy wedlock, to raise up families that, crowned with honour, would be symbols of the family in heaven. And at the beginning of His public ministry Christ gave His decided sanction to the institution that had been sanctioned in Eden. Thus He declared to all that He will not refuse His presence on marriage occasions, and that marriage, when joined with purity and holiness, truth and righteousness, is one of the greatest blessings ever given to the human family."2
Despite these endorsements, a closer study of her writings reveals instances where she did indeed object to marriage. Let us examine these instances in detail.

A Wile of the Devil

Prior to their own marriage, Ellen and James seemed opposed to it. James White wrote in 1845 of two Adventists who had...

"...denied their faith, in being published for marriage. We all look on it as a wile of the Devil. The firm brethren in Maine who are waiting for Christ to come have no fellowship with such a move."3
Despite their reservations, James White married Ellen Harmon the very next year after questions were raised about the propriety of their traveling together. According to Ellen, she "never expected to be married."4

Too close to the end of the world for Marriage

Forty years later, in 1885, she penned the following testimony for the church:

"In this age of the world, as the scenes of earth's history are soon to close and we are about to enter upon the time of trouble such as never was, the fewer the marriages contracted, the better for all, both men and women."5
While this testimony does not absolutely forbid marriage, it would certainly tend to discourage the practice.

Marriage among SDA workers

Mrs. White had particular concerns about marriage among Seventh-day Adventist workers. She seemed to feel that marriage would make some workers less efficient. In one testimony, Mrs. White lamented the fact that a missionary (Brother C.) had taken a wife:

"How much better would have been the influence of both if they had not married ... Brother C. could have done a very good work for the Master, had he devoted himself to this work as the Lord's servant. When married, his work has not been more than one-half what it might have been."6

Marriage to unbelievers

Mrs. White did forbid the marriage of Adventists to unbelievers:

"The curse of God rests upon many of the ill-timed, inappropriate connections that are formed in this age of the world."

"Never should God's people venture upon forbidden ground. Marriage between believers and unbelievers is forbidden by God."7

Marriage at a young age

She also discouraged early marriages:

"Before assuming the responsibilities involved in marriage, young men and young women should have such an experience in practical life as will prepare them for its duties and its burdens. Early marriages are not to be encouraged."8

Age differences in Marriage

The following statement on marriage is noteworthy because it is so outlandish, implying that if the age of the parents differs widely, the children will be somehow physically or morally deficient:

"Another cause of the deficiency of the present generation in physical strength and moral worth, is, men and women uniting in marriage whose ages widely differ. It is frequently the case that old men choose to marry young wives. By thus doing, the life of the husband has often been prolonged, while the wife has had to feel the want of that vitality which she has imparted to her aged husband. It has not been the duty of any woman to sacrifice life and health, even if she did love one so much older than herself, and felt willing on her part to make such a sacrifice. She should have restrained her affections. She had considerations higher than her own interest to consult. She should consider, if children be born to them, what would be their condition? It is still worse for young men to marry women considerably older than themselves. The offspring of such unions in many cases, where ages widely differ, have not well-balanced minds. They have been deficient also in physical strength. In such families have frequently been manifested varied, peculiar, and often painful, traits of character. They often die prematurely, and those who reach maturity, in many cases, are deficient in physical and mental strength, and moral worth."9
It is worth noting that the Bible never forbids such marriages. In fact, one of the great romances in the Bible is between Ruth and Boaz, a man who was much older than Ruth.10 Ruth gave birth to Obed, who gave birth to Jesse, father of David. It is doubtful that Obed was "deficient in physical and mental strength, and moral worth" just because Boaz was a generation older than Ruth!

Interracial Marriages

Another form of marriage forbidden by Mrs. White was between those of different races:

"...there should be no intermarriage between the white and the colored race."11

Again, while the Jews were not permitted to marry other races, there is no specific prohibition in the Bible regarding interracial marriages. In fact, Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman.12

Celibacy in Marriage

At one point Mrs. White even sent out a testimony admonishing Seventh-day Adventists who were already married to be celibate, although this testimony was quickly withdrawn:

"The time is and has been for years, that the bringing of children into the world is more an occasion of grief than joy..... Satan controls these children, and the Lord has but little to do with them. The time has come when, in one sense, that they that have wives be as though they had none."13

Conclusion

While Mrs. White made no blanket statement absolutely forbidding marriage, she certainly discouraged it among church workers at times, and forbid marriage between those of widely differing ages and those of different races--restrictions that are not found anywhere in the Bible. Believers in Ellen White should examine these statements carefully in light of Paul's warning, and take heed so as not to be deceived by seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.


NOTES

1. Ellen White, Letter 60, 1900. Published in Testimonies on Sexual Behaviour, Adultery, p. 14.

2. Ellen White, Bible Echo, Aug. 28, 1899.

3. James White letter to Brother Jacobs, Day Star, October 11, 1845.

4. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, p. 208.

5. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 5 p. 366.

6. Ellen White, Counsels Regarding Parenthood, DF 360A, White Estate, p. 7.

7. Ellen White, Adventist Home, pp. 62-63.

8. Ellen White, Ministry of Health, p. 358.

9. Ellen White, Testimonies on Sexual Behaviour, Adultery, pp. 36, 37.

10. In Ruth 2:6 the Hebrew word na`arah (Strong's 05291) is used of Ruth. This word is translated as girl/damsel/little girl/young woman/marriageable young woman. In all likelihood she was in her teens or twenties. Internal Biblical evidence indicates Boaz to be at least 40 years old, and probably older. "Boaz comments that Ruth has not run after younger men and he refers to her as daughter.[Ruth 2:8] This would be an appropriate comment for a man of Boaz' age, for he would be about fifty now, if he were born in the first year of planting after the conquest of the land. Or between 40 and 60 years old, if Rahab, his mother, was 20 at the time of the fall of Jericho, and could bear children until she was 40." (Bruce Alan Killian, "The Relative Place of the Ruth Story in Time", ScriptureScholar.com). In Rabinical literature, Boaz was said to be eighty and Ruth forty years old ("Boaz", JewishEcyclopedia.com).

11. Ellen White, Manuscript 7, 1896; Selected Messages Book 2, p. 343, para. 2.

12. Numbers 12:1-8.

13. Ellen White, Manuscript 34, 1885. Some have questioned the legitimacy of this testimony because it was withdrawn and does not appear in any of the published writings of Ellen White. The legitimacy of the testimony is proven by the fact it appears in document DF-360A which was published by the White Estate on July 15, 1934, and was written by her son Willie White and D.E. Robinson (Ellen White's secretary). The authors quote from the testimony as if it were a valid Ellen White testimony.