Sola Scriptura: Reply to James White (Akin Debate)

Sola Scriptura: Reply to James White (Akin Debate) May 16, 2024

Baptist anti-Catholic apologist James White debated Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin on the topic of sola Scriptura at First Baptist Church of Livingston, Louisiana, on April 24, 2024 [see the YouTube video]. This is my response to the White portion only. His words will be in blue. I use RSV for Bible citations.


1:14 I say that sola Scriptura is the default biblical position . . . the Bible says the Lord Jesus said scripture is God speaking to each and every individual who reads its words in Matthew 22:31, where he held men accountable for what had been written 1400 years before them, as if God had spoken it directly to them. Peter wrote that prophetic scripture does not find its origin even in the prophet but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit [2 Peter 1:21] and Paul directed Timothy to that which is God breathed so that he might be thoroughly equipped for every good work 2 Timothy 3:16-17. You will not find any other source spoken of in these ways.

None of this proves that the Bible is the only rule of faith. It proves that it is inspired revelation, which is not in dispute. The rule of faith need not always be inspired. It can also be infallible (which in Catholicism, includes the Church, tradition, apostolic succession, the papacy, and ecumenical councils). White himself highlighted this characteristic of infallibility in his definition elsewhere:

The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church. (The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 59)

At 3:26 White also stated: “we believe scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith of the church.”

This being the case, if the Catholic can show how the Bible regards the Church or tradition or apostolic succession or the papacy or ecumenical councils as infallible authorities functioning as a rule of faith, then it inexorably follows that the Bible doesn’t teach sola Scriptura.

2:40 is there anything else that we can meaningfully describe as equal to Scripture in nature and hence in authority? If we cannot point to anything else that is the specific revelation of God outside of scripture then clearly sola scriptura is the default position.

It’s not clear at all. This is the same category mistake again. Scripture’s intrinsic nature and whether it shares authority with anything else in terms of the rule of faith are two different things. White assumes a thing that is itself unbiblical: the notion that only inspired revelation can be the rule of faith. The Bible doesn’t teach that! The quickest and easiest disproof of that is in the following Bible passage:

1 Timothy 3:15 . . . the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

Once that is exegetically and logically unpacked (as I have done), we see that it is definitely presupposing an infallible, authoritative Church. Another clear passage is the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Church (and papal) authority is exhibited there, guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), and proclaimed far and wide as binding by no less than the Apostle Paul (Acts 16:4).

3:04 so do we find Jesus or the apostles directing us to any other ultimate source of authority?

Yes. St. Paul appeals to tradition many times:

1 Corinthians 11:2  I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me . . . guard the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

For more, see: Biblical Evidence for Apostolic Oral Tradition [2-20-09]. Our Lord Jesus did the same. See, for example, “Jesus, the Oral Law, and the Talmud,” by James Pyles (9-11-11).

3:59 by the way, elder, bishop, and overseer are synonymous in the New Testament. They are not different offices. A bishop is not above an overseer. These are all the same office.

This is why I have called White a “bishop” these past 23 years. He wrote to me personally back then and made this same point and noted that as an elder in a church he was also a bishop. Yet he has objected all that time to me calling him what he called himself. Go figure . . .

5:18 it is claimed that during the days of the apostles a certain paradigm was established, that it is said Rome continues to follow to this day and that those who oppose Rome’s authority claims must prove was changed after the apostles passed from the scene, so you have to prove: “where does the bible teach that the paradigm is going to change after the apostles pass from the scene?”

Very good! This is the burden for those who posit this notion of “inscripturation,” which I have critiqued. I’ve never seen Bishop White adequately answer that, and I really didn’t expect that he would do so for the first time I’ve ever seen in 29 years of critiquing him, in this debate. In fact, he immediately obfuscated and changed the subject (in case someone didn’t notice that) — classic White debate tactics. So, once again, we aren’t informed of exactly where in the Bible this Protestant tradition of inscripturation is taught. Failing that, there is no ironclad, unquestionable evidence that anyone must believe in the notion. Why would we? Just because the good bishop says so?

7:41 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is misused at this point where Paul instructed the Thessalonians, “so then brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught whether by word — that is orally — or by epistle from us.” But in context Paul is talking about the gospel; just look at the preceding two verses.

The verse before is, “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this doesn’t necessarily have any direct correlation to the next verse. Nothing there requires the reader to equate the “traditions” and the “gospel” altogether. The same applies to 2:13, which refers to being “saved” and to “sanctification.” But there is no  requirement to equate the “traditions” of 2:15 with only the saving gospel. It’s very shoddy thinking and exegesis.

31:22 he referred to apostolic tradition as teachings taught alongside scripture, and said that the apostles were referring to this. What the apostles were referring to was the preaching of the gospel.

He can’t absolutely prove that, beyond all doubt. The Catholic view is at least as plausible; I think more so, because we take the word “tradition” at face value, rather than forcing it to be the equivalent of “gospel” every time it appears, because of a view already assumed before one even examines Scripture, “requires” us to do so.

31:36 the gospel is recorded for us in the New Testament
Yes it is. But we don’t disagree on what the gospel — as presented in the Bible — is. We disagree that it is everywhere and always the exact same thing as what is called “tradition.”

3. Peter’s words are the first recorded and most important in the upper room before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-22).

4. Peter is the first person to speak (and only one recorded) after Pentecost, so he was the first Christian to “preach the gospel” in the Church era (Acts 2:14-36).

5. Peter’s proclamation at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) contains a fully authoritative interpretation of Scripture, a doctrinal decision and a disciplinary decree concerning members of the “House of Israel” (2:36) – an example of “binding and loosing.”

6. Peter was the first “charismatic”, having judged authoritatively the first instance of the gift of tongues as genuine (Acts 2:14-21).

7. Peter is the first to preach Christian repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38).

8. Peter (presumably) takes the lead in the first recorded mass baptism (Acts 2:41).

9. Peter works the first miracle of the Church Age, healing a lame man (Acts 3:6-12).

10. Peter utters the first anathema (Ananias and Sapphira) emphatically affirmed by God (Acts 5:2-11)!

11. Peter is the first to recognize and refute heresy, in Simon Magus (Acts 8:14-24).

12. Peter was the first traveling missionary, and first exercised what would now be called “visitation of the churches” (Acts 9:32-38, 43). Paul preached at Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20), but hadn’t traveled there for that purpose (God changed his plans!). His missionary journeys begin in Acts 13:2.

13. Peter is the first person after Christ to raise the dead (Acts 9:40).

14. Cornelius is told by an angel to seek out Peter for instruction in Christianity (Acts 10:1-6).

15. Peter is the first to receive the Gentiles, after a revelation from God (Acts 10:9-48).

16. Peter commanded the first Gentile Christians to be baptized (Acts 10:44-48).

17. Peter instructs the other apostles on the catholicity (universality) of the Church (Acts 11:5-17).

18. Peter is the object of the first divine interposition on behalf of an individual in the Church Age (an angel delivers him from prison – Acts 12:1-17).

19. The whole Church (strongly implied) offers “earnest prayer” for Peter when he is imprisoned (Acts 12:5).

White misrepresents what happened at the Jerusalem council. From Acts 15, we learn that “after there was much debate, Peter rose” to address the assembly (15:7). The Bible records his speech, which goes on for five verses. Then it reports that “all the assembly kept silence” (15:12). When James speaks, he refers right back to what “Simeon [Peter] has related” (15:14). He adds nothing to it.

This highly suggests — it seems to me — that Peter’s talk was central and definitive. James speaking last could easily be explained by the fact that he was the bishop of Jerusalem and therefore the “host.” St. Peter indeed had already received a relevant revelation, related to the council. God gave him a vision of the cleanness of all foods (contrary to the Jewish Law: see Acts 10:9-16).

46:20 Apostolic tradition is what Jesus teaches the apostles and what the apostles teach, that’s called the gospel

Once again he asserts what he needs to prove — offering no biblical arguments for his bald assertion. Merely repeating it again and again makes it no more believable.

48:10 you cannot find anything today including in the Vatican, anything that is properly described as God breathed

It doesn’t have to be, to be an infallible rule of faith. This is the same fallacy about “only inspired documents can be a rule of faith” repeated again.



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Photo credit: Photograph by “klimkin” (7-19-16) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

Summary: Anti-Catholic Baptist James White debated sola Scriptura against Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin in April 2024. I respond to on-topic portions of his arguments.

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