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What Are Seventh-Day Adventists?

What are Seventh-Day Adventists? The answer to this question intrigues me because until I wrote this article I knew only that they keep the Sabbath and try to eat healthy. Their story, however, is interesting, even if I disagree with their rescue of William Miller's false prophecy.

This site is all about telling stories, but if you just want to know what Seventh-Day Adventists' believe today, you can skip the stories and jump down to the beliefs section below.


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The Seventh-Day Adventists are descendants of the Millerites, followers of William Miller. Miller, born in 1782, taught that Jesus would return in 1844. He based this on the 2300 days mentioned in Daniel 8:44, the time until "the sanctuary will be cleansed."

William Miller and the Millerites.

Surprisingly (to me), Miller amassed a large following. Based on his own estimate he had 50,000 to 100,000 followers (Encyclopedia Britannica), but, as you probably know, Jesus did not return in 1844. This became known as "The Great Disappointment," and Miller lost most of his followers.

Though I have referred to them as Millerites, which is common, they called themselves "adventists." They were awaiting the "advent" (i.e., coming) of Christ. Some groups hung on even after The Great Disappointment, and they probably would have slowly disbanded if it had not been for a teenage girl name Ellen Harmon.

Excursus on Adventists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Advent Christian Church.

My use of "adventists" in the section below this one will give you some insight into how I research and write web pages. I noticed as I was writing about Ellen G. White below, that her biographers refer to the scattered remains of the Millerite movement as "adventists" rather than "Seventh-Day Adventists." This is despite the fact that White was keeping and teaching the seventh-day Sabbath from shortly after her marriage in 1946, less than 2 years after The Great Disapointment. It was only then that I researched the origin of the name "Seventh-Day Adventists."

As it turns out, some adventists took the name "Seventh-Day Adventists" in 1860, then confirmed it again at a conference in 1863. Others, though, not Sabbath keepers, formed the Advent Christian Church in 1960.

As a result, I researched "Advent Christian Church." It turns out that Edward Fudge, whose biographical movie, "Hell and Mr. Fudge," I really enjoyed, is a fan of the Advent Church although he is a member of a different denomination. In his article, "A Good Word About Advent Christians," he made a passing comment about William Miller and the Millerites. As I result, I came back up to the top of this page to add Fudge's comment here.

Few people are aware of the fact that the William Miller revival of the mid-1800s was responsible for awakening American and British Christians of all denominations to the reality that Jesus can return at any moment. Before Miller’s preaching, it was commonly thought that Jesus would not return until after the millennium, which Alexander Campbell [one founder of Fudge's own church], for example, believed would be ushered in by the conversion of the entire world to Christ.

While my knowledge of modern Christian history is better than the average Christian's, I could never write a book on it like I did on the Council of Nicea (Decoding Nicea) and the rise of the papacy (Rome's Audacious Claim). Instead, I research as I go, trying to do a thorough job with good sources, which I almost always link. I had no idea, assuming Fudge is correct, that Christians did not generally believe that Jesus could return at any time before William Miller's preaching. I will have to verify that some day.

Note: Another interesting thing is that I received my first snail-mail request for money from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency while I was researching this article! It reminds me of the time a salesman came in my office for the first time, and the next day Facebook suggested my secretary as a friend for him.

Ellen Harmon/Ellen G. White

You have probably heard of this girl, though not as Ellen Harmon, but instead as Ellen G. White. About 2 years after her vision roused the remaining adventists from their slumber, she married an adventist co-laborer named James White. Since her writings were published under the name Ellen G. White, and since the Ellen G. White® Estate claims that her books have been translated into more languages than any other American author, it is her married name that is famous.

In the beginning, though, she was just a teenage girl, recently turned 17, who had a vision that the Portland, Maine adventists felt all adventists should hear about. In the vision, Ellen was taken high above the world, and she scanned the landscape below for the adventist people. She saw none, and she was told to look up. The adventist people were walking above her on a straight and narrow path that went to the heavenly city. At the beginning of the path was a bright light, shining on the path from behind them, which was "the midnight cry," a term not explained in her prophecy. It appears to be a reference to Matthew 25:6, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes" (

Note: While Ellen G. White's Early Writings uses "straight and narrow," as so many of us do, referring to the path to life that Jesus described in Matthew 7:14, the word actually used in the King James Version is "strait," as in "the Strait of Gibrarltar," a narrow channel of water between Spain and Morocco that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The path is "strait," another word for narrow, not straight.

This vision happened in a prayer meeting with four other ladies. It was told to the adventists in Portland, then sent to other enclaves that were still clinging to adventist hopes.

The next thing Ellen felt from the Lord was that it was her duty to "reprove wrong and point out error in the pockets of adventist believers still around." (A lot of this biography comes from her bio at the Ellen G. White® Estate web site, though the summation of Ellen's vision came from Early Writings, published under her married name, Ellen G. White).

Ellen Harmon Marries James White

The vision was mere weeks after the Great Disappointment (of October, 1844), and Ellen went right to work traveling to and exhorting the various little groups. James White was another worker among the adventists, their paths crossed, and they eventually married in August of 1946.

Already at this point, just two years after William Miller's failed prophecy, we know why the Seventh-Day Adventists were called adventists, but why "Seventh Day"?

Shortly after James and Ellen married, they read Seventh-Day Sabbath by Joseph Bates, a 46-page booklet. It convinced them, and they began keeping the Sabbath at the time the Old Testament teaches, from the setting of the sun on Friday evening to sunset on Saturday. Six months later, Ellen White had a vision of the ark of the covenant with the tablets of the 10 commandments within. All the commandments were lit up, but there was a special glow on the fourth commandment. The Whites took this as confirmation of the Seventh-Day Sabbath.

Not long after that, James and Ellen had their first child. James had to work and preach, so Ellen eventually left the child with friends so she could continue her teaching to the scattered adventists.

James began a twice a month publication called "The Present Truth" in 1849. He would continue to publish periodicals throughout his life, but Ellen wrote books. She began with A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White in 1851 and fixed the name "Ellen G. White" in the minds of adventists and outsiders alike with the many books that followed.

The Whites had 6 children, though one died in infancy, and they traveled extensively among the adventists, reaching to California and finally settling in Battle Creek, Michigan, which is still a Seventh-Day Adventist headquarters. James would die there in 1881.

Ellen White lived until 1915. She spent nearly 10 years in Australia from 1891 to 1900 and established a Seventh-Day Adventist Bible college in Melbourne. Interestingly, James Edison White, one of her sons, built a Mississippi River steamboat and used it for a decade to reach African Americans in Tennessee and Mississippi.

White spent her last 15 years writing in California.

The Seventh-Day Adventists and Healthy Living

James White's death in 1881 was preceded by years of weakness and ill health brought on by his travels and extensive work among the adventists. During the late 1870s, Ellen G. White and others began pushing for a healthy lifestyle among the adventists, largely prompted by the ill health of James White and other adventist workers.

No matter how much you disagree with the Seventh-Day Adventists doctrinally, there can be no doubt that they have studied healthy living wisely. I googled "life expectancy seventh day adventists" and it is reported everywhere that Seventh-Day Adventist men live 7.3 years longer and women 4.4 years longer than the average American. A scientific study done in Poland reported that survival rates among SDA members there "were markedly higher than in the general population of Poland."

A particular note of interest is that Loma Linda, CA, which has a very high population of Seventh-Day Adventists, is a "blue zone." This means that Loma Linda has at least 10 times the number of 100-year-olds than would be expected in the United States. There are only 5 blue zones in the whole world (NBC News).

Ellen G. White's books

The most notable of E.G. White's books is The Great Controversy. Originally, it was The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels in 1858. It was a spiritual history of the world from her viewpoint. Since it is hard to cover the extent of world history in one volume, she added to it throughout her life. What made the book famous outside the adventists was an illustrated hardback edition she put out in 1884. The adventists sold 50,000 copies in California by going door to door.

By 1888, Ellen's book and teachings had spread to Europe, and there, in European languages, the title was shortened to The Great Controversy. It is that book that is now known everywhere. If you shop at thrift stores or used bookstores, like I do, you have definitely run across the book multiple times.

She wrote many more books during her lifetime, and to this day her writings are considered inspired by the Seventh-Day Adventists. They are careful to point out that this does not mean that SDA churches regard them as Scripture, but instead that they consider her a special prophet whose insights and visions bring out the meaning of Scripture.

The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. ( "Belief 18: The Gift of Prophecy")

Ellen G. White wrote 40 books during her lifetime, but Seventh-Day Adventists have used the manuscripts she left to produce more. White's books now number more than 100 and have been translated into more than 140 languages, making her the most translated woman author in history and the most translated non-fiction, American author, man or woman (reference)

"Adventists" to "Seventh-Day Adventists"

As I wrote Ellen G. White's history, I used "adventists" rather than "Seventh-Day Adventists" because the histories I read from the Ellen G. White® Estate used adventists throughout. Actually, though, a conference in 1860, some 21 years before James White's death, agreed on the name "Seventh-Day Adventists."

This was largely prompted by James White's periodical, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. The fact is, though, that not all adventists agreed with the Whites, James and Ellen, on the Sabbath, and not all the Sabbath-keeping adventists became part of the Seventh-Day Adventists. The Encyclopedia Britannica reports that the "Advent Christian Church" also formed in 1860, surely consisting of those who rejected the White's seventh-day Sabbath teaching. Edward Fudge, who wrote The Fire That Consumes and whose biography is given in a very enjoyable, even cute, movie called "Hell and Mr. Fudge," is fond of the Advent Christian Church and wrote of them:

The AC folk are the Sunday-meeting descendants of the William Miller “Adventual” revival of the mid-19th century which also spawned the larger and better-known Seventh-day Adventists. (

SDA Beliefs: Primary Differences with Mainstream Churches

I was astonished at how much the Seventh-Day Adventist statement of faith resembles the statement of faith of more mainstream Protestant denominations. I list all 28 points of their statement of faith below, but they do have several beliefs that conflict with mainstream evangelicals.

  1. They meet on Saturday and keep the Jewish Sabbath (and all "moral"—vs.—ceremonial) laws from the Jewish law).
  2. They believe that Jesus entered the Holy Place in the heavenly temple in 1844. Their wording is: "In 1844, the ministry of Jesus expanded to begin the process of the judgment. Not only is He available to forgive sins and to intercede on our behalf. Now He is working with His Father to see who has decided to let Him be their Savior and Lord" ("Christ's Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary"
  3. They believe the dead are unconscious until the final judgment. (As a side note, they believe there will be one judgement for believers before the millennium and another for unbelievers after the millennium).
  4. They keep Jewish food laws and have made staying healthy, in both diet and exercise, a central part of their Christian discipline.

In my reading, and in my experience with them (in person, on TV, and in videos), these are the things they emphasize. Well, they don't really emphasize the 1844 entrance of Jesus into the holy place, which I would guess they are somewhat embarrassed about. The doctrine is important because it is what makes them "adventist" and rescues William Miller from being just one more person who misunderstood prophecy and picked a date for Jesus' return.

Seventh-Day Adventist Statement of Beliefs gives 28 beliefs for SDA churches. I have listed them below. If you follow the link I just gave, you can read descriptions of each one.

  1. The Holy Scriptures
  2. Trinity
  3. Father
  4. Son
  5. Holy Spirit
  6. Creation
  7. Nature of Humanity
  8. The Great Controversy
  9. The Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ
  10. The Experience of Salvation
  11. Growing in Christ
  12. The Church
  13. The Remnant and Its Mission
  14. Unity in the Body of Christ
  15. Baptism
  16. The Lord's Supper
  17. Spiritual Gifts and Ministries
  18. The Gift of Prophecy
  19. The Law of God
  20. The Sabbath
  21. Stewardship
  22. Christian Behavior
  23. Marriage and the Family
  24. Christ's Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary
  25. The Second Coming of Christ
  26. Death and Resurrection
  27. The Millennium and the End of Sin
  28. The New Earth
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