Jim Elliot’s last journal entry

Censored for 65 years, the anguished final words of an Evangelical hero are revealed

Jonathan Poletti
I blog God.
7 min readOct 25, 2021


He’s been a hero of Evangelical Christianity since the late 1950s. Three books about him by his widow, Elisabeth Elliot, have been all but required reading.

But even after getting through them—Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty and Passion and Purity — or even his published journals, how much does one know about Jim Elliot?

He was killed in Ecuador in 1956. He seemed to be forever anticipating his death, and he really, really didn’t want to get married.

I’ve been taking a hard look at the Elliot story—finding his sexual reticence could read differently.

My viral post “The ‘Purity’ Hoax” laid out a suspicion that Jim was on the LGBT side, if under pressure to suppress it.

I guess I got a little well-known for the theory. I was reading the recently-released official biography of Elisabeth Elliot, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, by Ellen Vaughn, realizing I was reading about me:

“In recent years at least one determined blogger has claimed that Jim’s deep friendships with other men indicate that he was sexually attracted to them, and that his indecision about Betty was the by-product of homoerotic repression.”

She’d dismissed the idea, but I read the biography as a bit teasing on the subject of Jim’s sexuality, as if Vaughn suspected more than the gig allowed her to say. Then she threw in a shocker. She reprinted the final entry of Jim’s journal, but with more text.

And there was an ellipses that suggested she’d edited out even more.

I wrote Vaughn about it. She replied, but seemed oddly daffy and clueless.

I’ve recently had a chance to get to Wheaton College, where Jim’s papers are held.

I was able to examine his journals. It was exciting to sit in front of a text that is essentially a sacred text of the religion I was raised in. Millions of people have quoted from Jim’s journal.

When she published Jim’s journals in 1978, Elisabeth Elliot noted in the preface that she’d omitted some material from her earlier presentations, “trying not to include what seemed too private.”

She kept that up in her editing, she added, making “deletions” which amounted, she guessed, to “two or three pages.”

Still, I was unprepared to see the journals in the state she left them.

photos by author at Wheaton College (2021)

The censored passages all seem to concern sex.

More could be said about that, but I darted ahead to Jim’s final entry, when at age 28 he was about to go into the jungle.

The final entry has been something of a mystery. None of Elisabeth Elliot’s books quote it. For decades she withheld it. A profile of the missionary killings in Reader’s Digest of August 1957 had reported:

“The last entry in his diary read: ‘God, send me soon to the Aucas.’”

But that’s the November 26th entry — the entry prior to the final one.

Elisabeth Elliot gave excerpts from Jim’s journal to an Evangelical outlet, His magazine, ending with the November 26th entry, and added a parenthetical note: “With the exception of one brief entry concerning a non-pertinent matter, this is the last entry in the diary.”

She had known something was wrong.

‘Betty’, as Elisabeth Elliot was called, had seen Jim was in a dark place as he was heading into the jungle. It should’ve been a triumphant moment full of hope, expectation, etc., but wasn’t.

In her own diary entry after he left, as revealed in Ellen Vaughn’s biography, Betty had written:

“I sensed a great gulf between us in this last month, and longed to bridge it somehow . . . I can hardly restrain myself from pouring out my love for him, telling him how I love him and live for him.”

After his death, Betty read Jim’s journals.

In an undated letter to her mother, apparently around April 1956, she refers to the final entry. After noting that Jim’s fellow missionary Roger Youderian, had been depressive, she adds:

“Jim, too, strangely enough, had a spiritual battle in December. I found evidence of it in his diary after he had gone. I had realized there was something wrong, but he said nothing about it.”

When she published the journal, the final entry made a quiet appearance, with no note that it had been edited.

There was, in fact, more text.

Ellen Vaughn had restored a few sentences, but she left one out. So, for the first time publicly, here’s the full final journal entry by Jim Elliot.

I’ll transcribe and discuss the entry, but here’s a photo of it.

Jim Elliot journal, volume 4, final page (photo by author)

I’ll boldface all text not included in the published journal, and put brackets around the ‘new’ sentence.

“December 31, 1955
A month of temptation. Satan & the flesh have been on me hard on the dreadful old level of breasts & bodies. How God holds my soul in life and permits one with such wretchedness to continue in His service I cannot tell. Oh, it has been hard.
Betty thinks I have been angry with her, when really I have simply had to steel myself to sex life so as not to explode. [How can I ever make her understand this kind of thing — she apparently feels no passion ever except for me?] And my unworthiness of her love beats me down. I have been very low inside me struggling & casting myself hourly on Christ for help. Marriage is divorce from the privacy a man loves, but there is some privacy nothing can share. It is the knowledge of a sinful heart.
These are the days of the New Year’s believers’ conference on the Sermon on the Mount. Yesterday I preached and was helped on ‘whoever looks on a woman . . .’!
‘Let spirit conquer though the flesh conspire.’”

For Jim, having sex with his wife is a problem.

He tries to “steel to” the task. According to the dictionary that means “to prepare yourself for something unpleasant.”

He finds himself getting “angry with her.” She thinks she’s to blame, but he privately reasons he is keeping ahead of an “explosion.”

The published journal had both removed words and inserted one. Jim wrote: “How God holds my soul in life” — but the published copy has: “How God holds my soul in His life…”

The phrase “His life” is some odd spiritual idea. But “holds my soul in life” means that Jim is surprised God allows him to remain alive.

The censored sentence was censored because it has upsetting information.

There’s a sense of violation here—especially the line where Jim mulls how he would tell his wife about his problem. This is a situation that can’t be hidden any longer.

What is his problem? He doesn’t name it, but says that it is not going to be easy to explain to her:

“How can I ever make her understand this kind of thing…”

Could Jim be committing adultery with another woman? He does reference Matthew 5:27–28, and marks the phrase “whoever looks on a woman” with an exclamation mark.

But to me, Jim’s references—from “sinful heart” to a longing for solitude, to the apparent novelty and unfamiliarity around his problem—seem difficult to explain in a heterosexual context.

When Jim refers to preaching against “lust” using the text of Matthew 5:27–28, I take him to suggest that he was “helped” by the verses because Jesus had narrowed the violation to lust for women.

Jim didn’t seem to like being married.

Even in the journal entry as published, we find him—in his last days of life—openly wishing he hadn’t married his wife. This sentence has been on full view, but that I know of, never discussed in Evangelical circles.

To imagine Jim’s actual situation as he goes to his death is a new project, because we’ve only known Evangelical fictions. Jim uses the word “divorce” and the prospect seems to hover around the final journal entry. Even if the cause was kept quiet, such an event would mean an excommunication from Christianity as he had known it.

That he wants to die is indicated all throughout his journal. He’d often raised the prospect of his trip into the jungle resulting in his death.

Jim’s famous doom-eagerness, indeed, could be re-read as a symptom of his sexual problem. He may have felt he could only redeem himself before God by some desperate act of self-sacrifice.

Elisabeth Elliot left a clue as to what she understood Jim to mean.

At his words “sinful heart,” there’s her penciled note: ‘p.123’.

On page 123 of the journal we find Jim’s entry of May 8, 1952, which is his description of her body:

“All I know is that it doesn’t matter if her breasts are small, or her shoulders are slight, or her nose not finely shaped, or her front teeth set apart.”

He likes her, he adds, but “psychologically”—as the impression is left that he’s not really drawn to her sexually. 🔶