June 5, 2020

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[originally posted on 16 January 2001, from correspondence dated 10 January 2001]


This discussion came about as a result of the brief “live chat” of 29 December 2000 between Dave Armstrong and Bishop White, in the latter’s IRC chat room. The Bishop objected to my statement in the footnotes to that chat, concerning bishops and the status of that office among Baptists (see below). Vigorous  disputation then followed, which is reproduced here, unedited. Bishop White’s words will be in blue.


Hi James,

Thanks for your letter. And you can call me “Dave” if you like . . . I was planning on doing other things tonight (no such luck), but here I am. This will make a good paper for my website itself, though, so I thank you for the opportunity to strengthen my case even further (just as you did on December 29th :-). Oh, by the way, that was a funny line about Anselm not being a “father.” I missed it at the time (in your whirlwind of questions fired at me), but I much appreciated the humor, reading it later.

I was sent a link to your highly annotated version of the online discussion.  I found what little I read of it fascinating.

I’m glad you liked it. If you had read all of it, perhaps you could have experienced even more enjoyment and fascination (I love to spread joy whenever I can)! And when you start reading my papers completely, then I will read your books from beginning to end, too. But given our unfortunate personal history (which I have taken great pains to try and rectify), I suppose I should be thankful that you read my papers at all, even partially. That matter aside, I do understand being busy, though, believe me. We all struggle with that annoying fact of life.

I especially found this most interesting:

Dr. White, being a Baptist, of course doesn’t believe in bishops, which is strange, seeing that it is an explicit biblical office. He can hardly call this an extra-biblical” idea. Why, then, does his affiliation expunge it? Perhaps, then, we should invent the term “sub-biblical” or “anti-biblical” to describe the myriad subtractions and omissions of various Protestant Christianities?

It is difficult not to laugh out loud at such an absurd paragraph.

Feel free! Laughing is good for you. I’ve often laughed about your words and various logical and biblical absurdities as well, so that would just make us even. :-)

If I wrote, “Roman Catholicism rejects the office of pastor, and replaces it with priests and stuff,” you would have reason to laugh, since such would demonstrate my ignorance of Roman theology.  If you were concerned about accuracy on any level, you would know something about a topic before addressing it.

Aw, c’mon James. I thought we were (at long last) progressing in the civility of our discussion. I was even encouraged. Let’s not digress at this late hour. You know full well what I meant, and you are also well-acquainted, I’m sure, with the debates over Church government, which are not (as always) by any means confined solely to the Catholic vs. Protestant debate. There are serious definitional disputes as to bishop, and it is not “ignorant” of me to simply hold to a different definition than you do, as if this is unheard-of. Do you say R.C. Sproul is “absurd” or lacks “accuracy on any level” because he espouses infant baptism, over against your view which (also by definition) would regard that as anathema? Of course not. But I am a lowly “Roman” . . .

We can be sure that if you were addressing an Anglican or certain types of Lutherans (who accept bishops more or less in my definition) that you would not sling around such polemical and disparaging language (despite your disdain for them as lowly Arminians). Besides, you do the same thing I do: for example, you have certain ideas and definitions of what is “biblical” and “extra-biblical,” with which I would disagree (and I explored that a bit in my commentary on the live chat).

You would disagree with John Calvin (correct me if I am wrong) as to the appropriateness of the term sacrament, with regard to baptism and the Eucharist (in my experience, Baptists use the word ordinance — which has a different meaning). This is a definitional dispute. Etc., etc. If I remember correctly, we had a run-in about that in our lengthy 1995 exchange, with you writing something to the effect of “sacraments replace the grace of God” (I can get the exact quote later).

In critiquing your ecclesiology I don’t have to resort to the ubiquitous claims of lack of “accuracy” and sheer ignorance. I simply argue that you are mistaken, without all the highly charged ad hominem baggage and assaults on credibility and intellectual honesty, etc. It takes all the fun out of good dialogue. Can’t we get beyond that? I remember in our long postal “exchange” (since you deny that it was a debate), that you more or less scornfully scoffed at my claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that God the Father (their “Jehovah”) had a body. Then I produced the citation from one of their writings. But of course, I didn’t hear back from you because you never responded to my final (in my opinion, devastating), 36-page installment. That is merely one example of my alleged “inaccuracy” and your vaunted “accuracy.”

The fact remains that, according to historic Christianity, from the second century onwards (even according to historians who reject the concept, such as Philip Schaff and the Baptist Kenneth Scott Latourette), there is such a thing as an episcopacy (NT Gk. episkopos = bishop, for the sake of others who may read this) and apostolic succession, as the prevailing mode of ecclesiology. You can’t possibly deny that. I won’t bother to document this here. I can’t imagine any legitimate historian (even a Baptist successionist) who would deny it. Facts is facts.

Obviously, Baptists, Anabaptists, Churches of Christ, other non-denominational Protestant groups with congregational government, and suchlike, deny apostolic succession and episcopacy (in the historic and patristic sense of those terms), but that doesn’t undermine the fact that this institution existed very early on (I say from the beginning) and that it was well-attested by such early fathers as St. Clement, St. Ignatius, and St. Irenaeus.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (1985 edition, “episcopacy”), for example, asserts (italics added):

 . . . The origins of episcopacy are obscure, but by the 2nd century AD it was becoming established in the main centres of Christianity. It was closely tied to the idea of apostolic succession, the belief that bishops can trace their office in a direct, uninterrupted line back to the Apostles and Jesus . . .During the Reformation in the 16th century, episcopacy was repudiated by many Protestant churches, partly on the grounds of its corruption but also because many believed the system was not based on the New Testament. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Old Catholic, Swedish Lutheran, and some other churches have the episcopal form of church government . . .

Now (assuming the factuality of the above, as I do), if you can contend (from your premise of sola Scriptura) that episcopacy in the traditional sense is unbibical and not found in the New Testament (or if you define it differently, on the same biblical grounds), why cannot I say (from my premise of apostolic succession and a flow and consistency of Church history, and much biblical support which I will produce below) that certain Protestants (including Baptists, or their forerunners, at any rate) “repudiated” it at the so-called Reformation?

Both points of view are interpretations of the above historical and ecclesiological data, and both are valid from within their own paradigms. One can dispute the definitional and ecclesiological premises if they wish. But I was not misrepresenting anything, because I use the traditional definition of bishop (which was far more common historically — and still the view of the vast majority of Christians today –, than your view). Could I have communicated my thought better? Of course (that’s always true), but then, I am clarifying now (again, I thank you for the opportunity) and can easily create a link to this from that portion of the notes, for those readers who care enough to pursue the issue. Ah, the wonders of HTML links!

Likewise, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd edition, edited by Cross and Livingstone, Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, “Bishop,” p. 176) agrees (italics added):

. . . for St. Ignatius (early 2nd cent.), Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons were already quite distinct . . . By the middle of the 2nd cent. all the leading centres of Christianity would appear to have had their Bishops, and from then until the Reformation, Christianity was everywhere organized on an episcopal basis.

As for apostolic succession, the same work states (p. 76, “Apostolic Succession”):

The fact of the succession of the ministry from the apostles, and of the apostles from Christ, was strongly emphasized by Clement of Rome before the end of the 1st cent.; and the necessity for it has been very widely taught within the historic Church.

How can we Catholics possibly accept such outrageous “late inventions”!!????? The late first century, huh? . . . lessee, that’s, um, more than 267 years before someone (St. Athanasius) finally figured out the precise 27 books of the New Testament. Yet, for you, the NT canon is an unquestioned axiom, while historic episcopacy is an unbiblical outrage. It’s a strange world we live in.

You claim it is “extra-biblical”? In the same 2nd century which saw a rapid development of episcopacy (which even its enemies confirm), the NT canon was far from complete or known. Yet there was still this ethereal, necessarily  tradition-bound thing called “Christianity,” operating quite well despite the impossibility of this “historical entity” of the 2nd century being grounded on any notion of sola Scriptura, as we know and love it today.

Good ole J.N.D. Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper, rev. 1978) confirms many of my arguments as well: he states that St. Ignatius “seems to suggest that the Roman church occupies a special position” (p. 191; section: “The Beginnings of Ecclesiology”). He generalizes:

What these early fathers were envisaging was almost always the empirical, visible society; they had little or no inkling of the distinction which was later to become important between a visible and an invisible Church . . . . For the fuller development of the theory of the invisible, pre-existent Church we have to look to Valentinian Gnosticism. (p. 191)

As to St. Irenaeus’ ecclesiological views:

. . . the identity of oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles [Against Heresies, 3, 2, 2; 3, 3, 3; 3, 4, 1] . . . Indeed, the Church’s bishops are on his view Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed ‘an infallible charism of truth’ (charisma veritatis certum) [ibid., 4, 26, 2; cf. 4, 26, 5]. (p. 37)

If I am so “laughably” wrong on this point, then I am in very good (Reformed) company, to some extent. Baptist theologian Augustus Strong railed against John Calvin himself (for his “objection to the identity of the presbyter and the bishop . . . on the ground of 1 Tim 5:17”) in terms reminiscent of much of your polemic, when one disagrees with you. In his Systematic Theology (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1907, rep. 1967, p. 915), Strong approvingly cites one Dexter and his book Congregationalism (p. 52):

Calvin was a natural aristocrat, not a man of the people like Luther . . . He believed in authority and loved to exercise it. He could easily have been a despot . . . He resolved church discipline into police control. He confessed that the eldership was an expedient to which he was driven by circumstances, though after creating it he naturally enough endeavored to procure Scriptural proof in its favor.

So once again, we find that honest disagreement must lead to the usual personal attacks and aspersions upon motives. Calvin was (we are told) a despot, and came to his ecclesiology based on expedience rather than biblical proof. This is a rare occasion when I can empathize with Calvin! LOL

And this was a relatively minor dispute. Calvin was not exactly a flaming advocate of episcopacy! He begrudgingly acknowledged the historic episcopacy (including patriarchs and archbishops, synods and general councils), claiming that it was “connected with the maintenance of discipline” (Inst., IV, iv, 4). But of course he denies that this was a “hierarchy.” He does admit, however, that:

. . . the ancient bishops did not intend to fashion any other form of church rule than that which God has laid down in his Word.

Well, if the above scenario was the “intention” of these bishops, then it is certainly a form of government well in accord with that of Catholicism as I know and understand it (and far from both Baptist and present Reformed ecclesiology).

Biblically speaking, sir, the offices of bishop, overseer, elder, or pastor, are one.  There is no differentiation between them in the relevant NT passages.  I am an elder in the church: hence, I am a bishop, overseer, pastor, of a local body of believers, the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church (www.prbc.org).

So you say. Contrary to your assertions of my woeful and inexcusable ignorance, I indeed dealt with this very topic in great depth some five years ago:

The New Testament refers basically to three types of permanent offices in the Church (Apostles and Prophets were to cease): bishops (episkopos), elders (presbyteros, from which are derived Presbyterian and priest), and deacons (diakonos). Bishops are mentioned in Acts 1:20, 20:28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:1-2, Titus 1:7, and 1 Peter 2:25. Presbyteros (usually elder) appears in passages such as Acts 15:2-6, 21:18, Hebrews 11:2, 1 Peter 5:1, and 1 Timothy 5:17. Protestants view these leaders as analogous to current-day pastors, while Catholics regard them as priests. Deacons (often, minister in English translations) are mentioned in the same fashion as Christian elders with similar frequency (for example, 1 Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:8-13).As is often the case in theology and practice among the earliest Christians, there is some fluidity and overlapping of these three vocations (for example, compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with Titus 1:5-9). But this doesn’t prove that three offices of ministry did not exist. For instance, St. Paul often referred to himself as a deacon or minister (1 Corinthians 3:5, 4:1, 2 Corinthians 3:6, 6:4, 11:23, Ephesians 3:7, Colossians1:23-25), yet no one would assert that he was merely a deacon, and nothing else. Likewise, St. Peter calls himself a fellow elder (1 Peter 5:1), whereas Jesus calls him the rock upon which He would build His Church, and gave him alone the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:18-19). These examples are usually indicative of a healthy humility, according to Christ’s injunctions of servanthood (Matthew 23:11-12, Mark 10:43-44).

Upon closer observation, clear distinctions of office appear, and the hierarchical nature of Church government in the New Testament emerges. Bishops are always referred to in the singular, while elders are usually mentioned plurally. The primary controversy among Christians has to do with the nature and functions of both bishops and elders (deacons have largely the same duties among both Protestants and Catholics).

Catholics contend that the elders/presbyters in Scripture carry out all the functions of the Catholic priest:

  • 1) Sent and Commissioned by Jesus (the notion of being called): Mark 6:7, John 15:5, 20:21, Romans 10:15, 2 Corinthians 5:20.
  • 2) Representatives of Jesus: Luke 10:16, John 13:20.
  • 3) Authority to “Bind” and “Loose” (Penance and Absolution): Matthew 18:18 (compare Matthew 16:19).
  • 4) Power to Forgive Sins in Jesus’ Name: Luke 24:47, John 20:21-23, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, James 5:15.
  • 5) Authority to Administer Penance: Acts 5:2-11, 1 Corinthians 5:3-13, 2 Corinthians 5:18, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Titus 3:10.
  • 6) Power to Conduct the Eucharist: Luke 22:19, Acts 2:42 (compare Luke 24:35, Acts 2:46, 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:16).
  • 7) Dispense Sacraments: 1 Corinthians 4:1, James 5:13-15.
  • 8) Perform Baptisms: Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38,41.
  • 9) Ordained: Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:23.
  • 10) Pastors (Shepherds): Acts 20:17,28, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 5:1-4.
  • 11) Preach and Teach: 1 Timothy 3:1-2, 5:17.
  • 12) Evangelize: Matthew 16:15, 28:19-20, Mark 3:14, Luke 9:2,6, 24:47, Acts 1:8.
  • 13) Heal: Matthew 10:1, Luke 9:1-2,6.
  • 14) Cast Out Demons: Matthew 10:1, Mark 3:15, Luke 9:1.
  • 15) Hear Confessions: Acts 19:18 (compare Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9; presupposed in John 20:23).
  • 16) Celibacy for Those Called to it: Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7:7-9,20,25-38 (especially 7:35).
  • 17) Enjoy Christ’s Perpetual Presence and Assistance in a Special Way: Matthew 28:20.

Protestants — following Luther — cite 1 Peter 2:5, 9 (see also Revelation 1:6) in order to prove that all Christians are priests. But this doesn’t exclude a specially ordained, sacramental priesthood, since St. Peter was reflecting the language of Exodus 19:6, where the Jews were described in this fashion. Since the Jews had a separate Levitical priesthood, by analogy 1 Peter 2:9 cannot logically exclude a New Testament ordained priesthood. These texts are concerned with priestly holiness, as opposed to priestly function. The universal sense, for instance, never refers to the Eucharist or sacraments. Every Christian is a priest in terms of offering the sacrifices of prayer (Hebrews 13:15), almsgiving (Hebrews 13:16), and faith in Jesus (Philippians 2:17).Bishops (episkopos) possess all the powers, duties, and jurisdiction of priests, with the following important additional responsibilities:

  • 1) Jurisdiction over Priests and Local Churches, and the Power to Ordain Priests: Acts 14:22, 1 Timothy 5:22, 2 Timothy 1:6, Titus 1:5.
  • 2) Special Responsibility to Defend the Faith: Acts 20:28-31, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Titus 1:9-10, 2 Peter 3:15-16.
  • 3) Power to Rebuke False Doctrine and Excommunicate: Acts 8:14-24, 1 Corinthians 16:22, 1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:10-11.
  • 4) Power to Bestow Confirmation (the Receiving of the Indwelling Holy Spirit): Acts 8:14-17, 19:5-6.
  • 5) Management of Church Finances: 1 Timothy 3:3-4, 1 Peter 5:2.

In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), episkopos is used for overseer in various senses, for example: officers (Judges 9:28, Isaiah 60:17), supervisors of funds (2 Chronicles 34:12,17), overseers of priests and Levites (Nehemiah 11:9, 2 Kings 11:18), and of temple and tabernacle functions (Numbers 4:16). God is called episkopos at Job 20:29, referring to His role as Judge, and Christ is an episkopos in 1 Peter 2:25 (RSV: Shepherd and Guardian of your souls).The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29) bears witness to a definite hierarchical, episcopal structure of government in the early Church. St. Peter, the chief elder (the office of pope) of the entire Church (1 Peter 5:1; cf. John 21:15-17), presided and issued the authoritative pronouncement (15:7-11). Then James, bishop of Jerusalem (kind of like the host-mayor of a conference) gives a concurring (Acts 15:14), concluding statement (15:13-29). That James was the sole, “monarchical” bishop of Jerusalem is fairly apparent from Scripture (Acts 12:17, 15:13,19, 21:18, Galatians 1:19, 2:12). This fact is also attested by the first Christian historian, Eusebius (History of the Church, 7:19).

Much historical and patristic evidence also exists for the bishopric of St. Peter at Rome. No one disputes the fact that St. Clement (d.c.101) was the sole bishop of Rome a little later, or that St. Ignatius (d.c.110) was the bishop at Antioch, starting around 69 A.D. Thus, the “monarchical” bishop is both a biblical concept and an unarguable fact of the early Church. By the time we get to the mid-second century, virtually all historians hold that single bishops led each Christian community. This was to be the case in all Christendom, east and west, until Luther transferred this power to the secular princes in the 16th century, and the Anabaptist tradition eschewed ecclesiastical office either altogether or in large part. Today many denominations have no bishops whatsoever.

One may concede all the foregoing as true, yet deny apostolic succession, whereby these offices are passed down, or handed down, through the generations and centuries, much like Sacred Tradition. But this belief of the Catholic Church (along with Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism) is also grounded in Scripture:

St. Paul teaches us (Ephesians 2:20) that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles, whom Christ Himself chose (John 6:70, Acts 1:2,13; cf. Matthew 16:18). In Mark 6:30 the twelve original disciples of Jesus are called apostles, and Matthew 10:1-5 and Revelation 21:14 speak of the twelve apostles. After Judas defected, the remaining eleven Apostles appointed his successor, Matthias (Acts 1:20-26). Since Judas is called a bishop (episkopos) in this passage (1:20), then by logical extension all the Apostles can be considered bishops (albeit of an extraordinary sort).

If the Apostles are bishops, and one of them was replaced by another, after the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, then we have an explicit example of apostolic succession in the Bible, taking place before 35 A.D. In like fashion, St. Paul appears to be passing on his office to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-6), shortly before his death, around 65 A.D. This succession shows an authoritative equivalency between Apostles and bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles. As a corollary, we are also informed in Scripture that the Church itself is perpetual, infallible, and indefectible (Matthew 16:18, John 14:26, 16:18). Why should the early Church be set up in one form and the later Church in another?

All of this biblical data is harmonious with the ecclesiological views of the Catholic Church. There has been some development over the centuries, but in all essentials, the biblical Church and clergy and the Catholic Church and clergy are one and the same.

The historical evidence of the earliest Christians after the Apostles and the Church Fathers is quite compelling as well: there exists virtually unanimous consent as to the episcopal, hierarchical, visible nature of the Church, which proceeds authoritatively down through history by virtue of Apostolic Succession.

St. Clement, bishop of Rome (d.c. 101), teaches apostolic succession, around 80 A.D. (Epistle to Corinthians, 42:4-5; 44:1-3), and St. Irenaeus is a very strong witness to, and advocate of this tradition in the last two decades of the 2nd century (Against Heresies, 3: 3: 1, 4; 4: 26: 2; 5: 20: 1; 33: 8). Eusebius, the first historian of the Church, in his History of the Church, c. 325, begins by saying that one of the “chief matters” to be dealt with in his work is “the lines of succession from the holy apostles . . .” [translated by G. A. Williamson, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965, p. 31].

With regard to the threefold ministry of bishop, priest (elder/presbyteros), and deacon, St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, offers remarkable testimony, around 110 (Letter to the Magnesians, 2, 6:1; 13:1-2, Letter to the Trallians, 2:1-3; 3:1-2; 7:2, Letter to the Philadelphians, 7:1-2, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8:1-2 – the last also being the first reference to the “Catholic Church”). St. Clement of Rome refers to the “high priest” and “priests” of Christians around 96 (1 Clement, 40). Other prominent early witnesses include St. Hippolytus (Apostolic Tradition, 9) and St. Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, 6:13:107:2), both in the early third century.

Even John Calvin, contrary to many of his later followers, taught that the Church was visible and a “Mother” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, 1, 1; IV, 1, 4; IV, 1, 13-14), the wrongness of sectarianism and schism (IV, 1, 5; IV, 1, 10-15), and that the Church includes sinners and “hypocrites” (IV, 1, 7; IV,1, 13-15: he cites Matthew 13:24-30, 47-58). His difference with Catholics here is that he defines the visible Church as his own Reformed Church.

And in another paper of mine defending Catholic ecclesiology:

The universal, visible Church is clearly indicated in a verse such as Acts 15:22:

Then it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. (RSV)

This was in the context of the Jerusalem Council. They had councils in those days. Imagine that!!! Who continues to have Ecumenical Councils of the whole Church? On the other hand, the reference to local churches occurs in Acts 15:41 (similar to the seven churches of Revelation).Another clear instance of a reference to the visible, universal Church appears in Acts 20:28:

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [ episkopos / bishops ], to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (cf. Mt 16:18)

Church (singular) and bishops who are overseers of that Church. You can’t get much more visible than that. So in one verse we see 1) hierarchy, 2) visibility, and 3) universality / oneness.

Whew! An awful lot of work and dense biblical argument (agree or disagree, and including an awareness of the threefold ministry and Protestant views of same) for one concerning whom you wrote above: “If you were concerned about accuracy on any level, you would know something about a topic before addressing it.” I think the above extensive biblical/historical argument qualifies at the very least as knowing a wee, dinky, little bit about the topic (i.e., in its biblical parameters), wouldn’t you agree, James? Most reasonable people will readily grant that point (and observe the “inaccurate” extremity in your language), even if you can’t see it, perhaps due to the very denominational presuppositional and hermeneutical blinders you accuse me of possessing.

To say that Baptists do not believe in bishops is to demonstrate 1) you know nothing about Protestant ecclesiology,

Again, the above demonstrates that it is a gross slander and falsehood to claim that I “know nothing about Protestant ecclesiology.” I submit that I know more about it (or I should say, rather, “them”) than you know about Catholic ecclesiology, or, say, development of doctrine. At any rate, I am not foolish enough to make such ridiculous sweeping claims about an opponent who can easily shoot them down with much documentation on his large and popular website for all to see. That rather undermines your overall case, don’t you think?

and 2) you read everything else with Roman eyes, reading back into the Bible and history a modern meaning (i.e,. a bishop, for you, must be the modern Roman concept, not the ancient or biblical one).

You never cease to amaze me. I don’t deny that I have a Catholic bias, any more than you have a Baptist bias,. This is natural and normal, and it would be silly for anyone to deny it. But — as usual — you have to go far beyond that truism, and go on to charge that I am special pleading, eisegeting, revising history, making anachronistic claims, and suchlike. This is absurd, for the simple reason that I have backed up my arguments above with vast documentation from both Holy Scripture and Protestant historians and scholarly reference works — not a single Catholic one. No Catholic dogmatic sources. Zilch.

They more than amply demonstrate that:

1) The Bible does differentiate between the offices in some fashion, as even Calvin argues, earning him derision from Baptist theologian Strong. The Bible also teaches apostolic succession, as shown.


2) Historians are virtually unanimous in asserting that the episcopacy was strongly in place by the mid-2nd century. I cited the Encyclopedia BritannicaThe Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, and J.N.D. Kelly. I read similar passages in Latourette (Baptist), Schaff (German Reformed), and Pelikan (then Lutheran), all of whom I could easily quote in my favor, and demolish your contention that I am “reading back into . . .  history a modern meaning.”


3) I need not argue a “modern Roman concept” of a bishop in order for my point to be firmly established as one of historical record. Otherwise, my citations would be meaningless, as they all state the facts of history, obviously not from a partisan, “Roman” standpoint (as they are not Catholic). I could easily have argued from an Orthodox, or Anglican notion of a bishop, which would just as decisively refute your apparent contention that episcopacy was not present in the early Church (if you wish to rail against me for arguing that it was). What, pray tell, is the “ancient concept” of a bishop, if not what I presented above? Please tell me; I’m dying to know.

I find that you are much more comfortable writing in debate than doing debate.

And vice versa for you, as you have refused to engage me in any substantive writing debate for now five-and-a-half years.

I believe your attempts to rehabilitate the Marian dogmas would fail, quickly, and easily, under the most simple of cross-examinations.  And to prove this, I’d like to know if you would come on our webcast and defend your comments against me, live, for 90 minutes?  Please let me know.

Of course, but with negotiations on details. It is not an appropriate forum for rapid-fire, precise questions about particular fathers, etc. (I can’t even cut-and-paste, nor do I wish to in such a live exchange). I want to have a normal discussion/conversation, just as Tim and I pretty much did, though we never got to our planned dialogue portion. But if you utilize the same tactic, I will simply add a bunch of footnotes to the website version (which I, of course, will again require), and show how your reasoning is fallacious, factually incorrect, and at times sophistical.

[I misunderstood Bishop White, thinking he was referring to a live typewritten chat in his IRC chat room, rather than a spoken broadcast. Soon after this, after I refused to engage Dr. White in live oral debate, our exchange quickly degenerated and Dr. White asked me to completely avoid him in the future. I have happily complied with his request for over a year now, as of this footnote, and plan to indefinitely, short of a change of heart on his part, and true biblical personal reconciliation]

God bless,



Related Reading

James White Deacons-Elders-Bishops Controversy (Original title: “Dumbbells and Deacons: Does No Protestant Denomination Whatsoever Regard Deacons as the Equivalent of Pastors and Elders — or Even Bishops?) [6-16-07]

Vs. James White #9: White’s Self-Title of “Bishop” (I Use It!) (+ Why He Called Himself a Bishop, According to His Reformed Baptist Beliefs / White Responds, Arguing that Calling Him His Own Title is “Slander”) [3-14-17; slightly revised 11-13-19]


June 5, 2020

[originally posted on 1-18-10]


This is a follow-up discussion (Round Two) to my previous four-part critique of a post by Jason Engwer. Jason is now starting to counter-reply, with preliminary remarks and the beginning of more substantive response, in his latest post, Papias, Apostolic Succession, Oral Tradition, And “Relativism”. Near the end I also reply to his article, “Where Are ‘Apostolic Succession’ And ‘Authoritative Tradition’ In Papias?”. His words will be in blue. Past comments of mine that he cites will be in green.


Yesterday, I posted some introductory remarks [linkabout a series of posts by Dave Armstrong that was written in response to an article I posted in 2008. What I want to do today is address some comments Dave made about one church father in particular, Papias. I do so for a few reasons. For one thing, it was in response to something I said about Papias that Dave issued some of his harshest criticism.


And some of his other comments about Papias are relevant to his claims to “copiously document everything” and his objection that I’m not offering enough documentation for my own views. His comments on Papias also illustrate just how misleading it can be to use terms like “apostolic succession” and “oral tradition” to describe the views of a father.

Well, we’ll see about that as we go along.

In the course of his series of posts responding to me, Dave repeatedly accuses me of “relativism”.

That’s because his position on this business of the rule of faith in the fathers entails it, as I will be happy to elaborate upon and clarify. I don’t make any serious charge lightly, and readers may rest assured that when I do, that I have very good reason to do so: a rationale that I can surely defend against scrutiny and/or protest (as indeed I am doing presently).

I said that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn’t adhere to sola scriptura. I went on to comment that “If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn’t follow that it couldn’t be appropriate later, under different circumstances.” Dave responded:

And he is employing the typical Protestant theological relativism or doctrinal minimalism….After having expended tons of energy and hours sophistically defending Protestantism and revising history to make it appear that it is not fatal to Protestant claims (which is a heroic feat: to engage at length in such a profoundly desperate cause), now, alas, Jason comes to his senses and jumps on the bandwagon of fashionable Protestant minimalism, relativism, and the fetish for uncertainty. He resides, after all, in the ‘much different position’ of the 21st century. He knows better than those old fuddy-duds 1500 years ago. What do they know, anyway?…Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought?

What Dave claims I “now” believe is what I had been saying for years, long before I wrote my article in 2008.

That comes as no surprise. But my “now” was primarily intended in a rhetorical / logical sense, not a chronological one, anyway. But in a larger sense it is part of Jason’s overall approach (which is not without self-contradiction, which I was partially alluding to there): what I call the “slippery fish” or “floating ducks at the carnival sideshow” approach. Protestants of a certain type (nebulous evangelicals, primarily: I still have no idea even what denomination Jason attends; perhaps he will be so kind as to inform me) reserve the right to criticize Catholicism endlessly; yet if we dare to dispute their arguments and ask if they have anything superior to offer, it’s often the moving or unknown target runaround. Or there is the retreat into obfuscation: Jason’s own specialty.

First, we hear from these circles that the fathers believe in sola Scriptura, period (I will have more on this below). Then we are blessed with a more clever, subtle argument: that they didn’t believe in sola Scriptura per se, but that, nevertheless, what they did believe (whatever it was, in many variations), is definitely closer to Protestantism than to Catholicism. This has been Jason’s general approach through the years, as I understand it. Now we enter into a third phase, so to speak: the fathers didn’t always believe in sola Scriptura, but it doesn’t matter, because times were different, then, and different times demand a changing rule of faith. The moving target . . .

And I didn’t say or suggest that “it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought”.

Mostly what matters to Jason is how he can poke holes in what he (sometimes falsely) believes to be Catholic belief.

Anybody who has read much of what I’ve written regarding the church fathers and other sources of the patristic era ought to know that I don’t suggest that they’re “old fuddy-duds” whose beliefs “don’t matter a hill of beans”.

He picks and chooses what he thinks will hurt the Catholic historical case. Jason’s method is nothing if it is not that. But he’s highly selective and the “grid” that he tries to fit all of this data into is incoherent and changes to suit his polemical needs at any given moment.

My point with regard to Papias, which I’ve explained often, is that God provides His people with different modes of revelation at different times in history, and there are transitional phases between such periods. For example, Adam and Eve had a form of direct communication with God that most people in human history haven’t had. When Jesus walked the earth, people would receive ongoing revelation from Him, and could ask Him questions, for example, in a manner not available to people who lived in earlier or later generations. When Joseph and Mary could speak with Jesus during His childhood and early adulthood, but the authority structure of the New Testament church didn’t yet exist, a Catholic wouldn’t expect Joseph and Mary to follow the same rule of faith they had followed prior to Jesus’ incarnation or would be expected to follow after the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy.

Catholics agree with many, if not all of these points. But how Jason goes on to apply this in his analysis will eventually involve a self-contradiction that isn’t present in the Catholic view of history and development of doctrine.

Catholicism doesn’t claim to have preserved every word Jesus spoke or everything said by every apostle. A person living in the early second century, for example, could remember what he had heard the apostle John teach about eschatology and follow that teaching, even if it wasn’t recorded in scripture or taught by means of papal infallibility, an ecumenical council, or some other such entity the average modern Catholic would look to.

Of course. Both sides agree on that.

Because of the nature of historical revelation in Christianity (and in Judaism), there isn’t any one rule of faith that’s followed throughout history. And different individuals and groups will transition from one rule of faith to another at different times and in different ways.

This is where the differences emerge. Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the “three-legged stool”: Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession). There is a great deal of development that takes place over time: especially when we are looking at the earliest fathers (Papias lived from c. 60 to 130, so he was actually in the apostolic period for a good half of his life). But the rule of faith did not change into anything substantially or essentially different.

Papias had the Scripture of the Old Testament and he even had much of the New Testament even at that early stage, as the Gospels and Paul’s letters were widely accepted as canonical, very early on. Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history.

The position that Jason is staking out: that Papias wouldn’t have lived by sola Scriptura, and indeed, that he didn’t have to, for the Protestant historical position to make sense, entails not a consistent development, but an essential break: there was one rule of faith in the earliest periods, and then suddenly, with the fully developed canon of Scripture, another one henceforth.

Needless to say, this is merely yet another arbitrary Protestant tradition: a tradition of men: just as sola Scriptura itself is. There is nothing in the Bible itself about such a supposed sea change. The Bible teaches neither sola Scriptura, nor this view of tradition at first, and then sola Scriptura after the Bible. But these are cherished Protestant myths, despite being absent altogether in Holy Scripture.

These complexities can be made to seem less significant by making vague references to “oral tradition” or “the word of God”, for example, but the fact remains that what such terms are describing changes to a large extent over time and from one individual or group to another.

There are complexities in individuals and exceptions to the rule (of faith), but there is also a broad consensus to be observed and traced through history, as we see with all true doctrines. Jason wants to assert both a radical change and the absence of a consensus. At the same time he denies the interconnectedness of all these related concepts having to do with authority, as I have noted in my previous critique.

In any event, he dissents from some of the allegedly best lights in Protestant research about the rule of faith in the fathers; for example, the trilogy of books about sola Scriptura by David T. King and William Webster (Vol. I (King) / Vol. II (Webster) / Vol. III (King and Webster), where it is stated:

The patristic evidence for sola Scriptura is, we believe, an overwhelming indictment against the claims of the Roman communion.
(Vol. I, 266)

Such statements manifest an ignorance of the patristic and medieval perspective on the authority of Scripture. Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages. (Vol. II, 84-85)

When they [the Church Fathers] are allowed to speak for themselves it becomes clear that they universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. (Vol. III, 9)

Sales pitches for the trilogy on a major Reformed booksite (Monergism Books) echo these historically absurd assertions:

It reveals that the leading Church fathers’ view of the authority and finality of the written Word of God was as lofty as that of any Protestant Reformer. In effect, Webster and King have demonstrated that sola Scriptura was the rule of faith in the early church.

–Dr. John MacArthur, Pastor/Teacher of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA

William Webster and David King have hit the bull’s eye repeatedly and with great force in their treatment of sola Scriptura. The exegetical material sets forth a formidable biblical foundation for this claim of exclusivity and the historical argument illustrates how the early church believed it and traces the circuitous path by which Roman Catholicism came to place tradition alongside Scripture as a source, or deposit, of authoritative revelation.

–Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

(on the book page for Vol. I)

[Description]: In this Volume, William Webster addresses the common historical arguments against sola Scriptura, demonstrating that the principle is, in fact, eminently historical, finding support in ‘the unanimous consent of the fathers.’

The authors show, with painstaking thoroughness, that sola Scriptura is the teaching of the Bible itself and was central in the belief and practice of the early church, as exemplified in history and the writings of the Fathers.

–Edward Donnelly, Minister of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey, and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological College, Belfast, Northern Ireland

King and Webster have utterly destroyed that position by showing that the consent of the fathers teaches the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

–Jay Adams, co-pastor of The Harrison Bridge Road A.R.P. Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina, founder of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation of Laverock, Pennsylvania

In painstaking detail, Webster and King systematically dismantle the unbiblical and ahistorical assertions made by modern Roman Catholic apologists who all too often rely on eisegetical interpretations of the Bible and ‘cut and paste’ patrology.

–Eric Svendsen, Professor of Biblical Studies at Columbia Evangelical Seminary

[The Forewords of this volume (II) and Vol. I were written by James White]

(on the book page for Vol. II)

[Description]: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the principle is illegitimate because, she claims, it is unhistorical. By this she means that sola Scriptura is a theological novelty in that it supposedly has no support in the teaching of the early Church. Roman apologists charge that the teaching on Scripture promoted by the Reformers introduced a false dichotomy between the Church and Scripture which elevated Scripture to a place of authority unheard of in the early Church. The Church of Rome insists that the early Church fathers, while fully endorsing the full inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, did not believe in sola Scriptura. . . .

The documentation provided reveals in the clearest possible terms the Church fathers’ belief in the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. By material sufficiency we mean that all that is necessary to be believed for faith and morals is revealed in Scripture. Formal sufficiency means that all that is necessary for faith and morals is clearly revealed in Scripture, so that an individual, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone, can understand the essentials of salvation and the Christian life. Page after page gives eloquent testimony to the supreme authority that Scripture held in the life of the early Church and serves as a much needed corrective to Rome’s misrepresentation of the Church fathers and her denigration of the sufficiency and final authority of Scripture.

(for the book page of Vol. III)

This is the standard anti-Catholic-type boilerplate rhetoric about sola Scriptura and the fathers. At least it is consistent (consistently wrong). But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias’ views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view.

He always has that “out” (which is rather standard Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics): “but that ain’t me / us.” It’s like a wax nose that can be molded to any whim or desire. Papias ain’t Protestant but (and here is the important part) he certainly ain’t Catholic (!!!) — so sez Jason Engwer. Yet I have shown (and will continue to demonstrate) that his views are perfectly consistent with the Catholic rule of faith, taking into account that he is very early in history, so that we don’t see full-fledged Catholicism. We see a primitive Catholic rule of faith: precisely as we would and should suspect.

Jason thinks he contradicts our view because (as I discussed in my Introduction to the previous four-part series) he expects to see the Catholic rule of faith explicitly in place in the first and second century: whereas our view of development, by definition, does not entail, let alone require this. Thus, he imposes a Protestant conception of “fully-formed from the outset” that he doesn’t even accept himself, onto the Catholic claim.

I could agree with the vague assertion that we’re to always follow “the word of God” as our rule of faith, for instance, but that meant significantly different things for Adam than it did for David, for Mary than it did for Ignatius of Antioch, for Papias than it does for Dave Armstrong, etc.

It depends on what one means by different: different in particulars; different in time-frames (David had no NT or revelation of Jesus); difference in amount of development, etc. What was in common was that all accepted “the word of God” (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura.

To accuse me of “relativism”, “minimalism”, and such, because I’ve made distinctions like the ones outlined above, is unreasonable and highly misleading. The average reader of Dave’s blog probably doesn’t know much about me, and using terms like “relativism”, “minimalism”, and “fetish for uncertainty” doesn’t leave people with an accurate impression of what a conservative Evangelical like me believes.

Jason can hem and haw all he likes. The fact remains that he has expressly denied that Papias would have believed in sola Scriptura. But the standard anti-Catholic historical argumentation is what I have documented: “Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages” (William Webster); they universally taught sola Scriptura . . . embracing . . . formal sufficiency of Scripture” (David T. King and William Webster)So which will it be? There are three positions to choose from:

1) Papias was one of the fathers who “universally” held to sola Scriptura.

2) Papias didn’t hold to sola Scriptura, but also didn’t espouse a rule of faith consistent with Catholicism.

3) Papias didn’t embrace sola Scriptura, and his rule of faith was consistent with Catholicism.

#1 is the standard boilerplate anti-Catholic Protestant position, as I have shown above. #2 is Jason’s pick-and-choose “cafeteria patristic” view, that contradicts #1. #3 is my view and the Catholic view.

In some other comments about Papias, Dave writes:

Jason will have to make his argument from Papias, whatever it is. J. N. D. Kelly says little about him, but what he does mention is no indication of sola Scriptura…When we go to Eusebius (III, 39) to see what exactly Papias stated, we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition. He even contrasts oral tradition to written (as superior): ‘I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice’ (III, 39, 4).

I didn’t cite Papias as an advocate of sola scriptura.

Exactly. From what we can tell, James White wouldn’t say that. Webster and King and Svendsen and John MacArthur wouldn’t. Why is it, then, that they aren’t out there correcting Jason? He disagrees with them (Papias doesn’t teach sola Scriptura) just as much as he does with me (Papias doesn’t hold to a primitive version of the historic Catholic rule of faith; he contradicts that). He’s betwixt and between. He needs to go back to King’s and White’s and Webster’s books to get up to speed and get his evangelical anti-Catholic act together.

I didn’t cite Papias as an advocate of sola scriptura. And we have much more information on Papias than what Eusebius provides. See here.

Thanks for the great link.

I referred to Richard Bauckham’s treatment of Papias in Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). See, particularly, pp. 21-38. Bauckham goes into far more depth than J.N.D. Kelly did in the work Dave is citing.

Cool. And what position did he take, choosing from #1, #2, and #3 above? I was able to read pp. 21-38 on Amazon, and discovered that Bauckham tries to make a big deal of the distinction between oral history and oral tradition, with the former directly relying on eyewitness accounts (of the sort that Papias tried to collect). Bauckham’s stance, then, is a subtler version of #2. He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words.

But he doesn’t prove at all that Papias’ approach is inconsistent with the Catholic three-legged stool rule of faith. Of course we would expect Papias to seek eyewitness accounts, since he lived so early. How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me. The following distinctions must be made and understood:

View of Tradition I:

I. 1) Legitimate tradition relies on eyewitness testimony only.

I. 2) Once the eyewitnesses die, then there is no longer true [binding] tradition to speak of.

View of Tradition II:

II. 1) Legitimate tradition relies primarily on eyewitness testimony where it is available.

II. 2) Legitimate tradition after eyewitness testimony is no longer available continues to be valid by means of [Holy Spirit-guided] unbroken [apostolic] succession, so that the truths originated by eyewitnesses continue on through history.

Jason and Bauckham appear to be asserting I. 1. But I. 2 does not necessarily follow from what we know of Papias’ views. We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don’t know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate. In other words, it is the claim of exclusivity that involves the prior assumption brought to the facts. The Catholic view is Tradition II, which is perfectly consistent with what we know of Papias, or at the very least not ruled out by what we know of him.

The biggest problem with Tradition I is that it is not biblical. It contradicts what the Bible teaches. St. Paul, after all, was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus (though he did have a post-Resurrection encounter with him that remains possible to this day). Yet he feels that he can authoritatively pass on Christian apostolic traditions (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, 14). Thus, whoever learned Christian truths from St. Paul did not receive them from an eyewitness. Paul had to talk to someone like Peter to get firsthand accounts (or Bauckham’s “oral history”).

He was passing on what he himself had “received” from yet another source (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13). He even specifically instructs Timothy to pass on his (oral) traditions to “faithful men,” who in turn can pass them on to others (2 Tim 2:2). So just from this verse we see four generations of a passed-on tradition (Paul: the second generation, Timothy, and those whom Timothy teaches). This tradition is not even necessarily written by Paul or anyone else (Rom 10:8; Eph 1:13; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 1:13-14; cf. Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 1:25). There is no indication that the chain is supposed to end somewhere down the line.

Secondly, even Papias, according to Eusebius, didn’t claim to talk to the apostles, but only to their friends:

2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.

7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, . . . (Ecclesiastical History, III, 39, 4)

That makes Papias a third-hand witness; not even second-hand (someone who talked to apostles).

Contrary to what Dave claims, there is no “explicit espousal of apostolic succession” in Papias. And the “living and abiding voice” Papias refers to is a reference to proximate and early testimony that was soon going to die out.

This doesn’t rule out apostolic succession; to the contrary, it is a perfect example of it. He talked to people who knew the apostles. His testimony was third-hand. He “received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles’] friends.” What is that if not succession? It is more or less independent of Scripture. Papias’ rule of faith was:

Apostles and apostolic doctrine —> friends of the apostles —> Papias

But the Protestant methodology and rule of faith is:

Apostles and apostolic doctrine —> Scripture —> Papias and everyone else

The theme Papias is referring to is taken from, among other sources, the historiography of his day. As Bauckham notes, Jerome’s rendering of the passage in Papias indicates that he understood Papias as Bauckham does (pp. 27-28).

He says that Jerome understood Papias as referring to access to living witnesses as his preferred mode of collecting information. But as I have already shown, I think, this in no way is inconsistent with Catholic tradition. It’s plain common sense. What Jason doesn’t mention, however, is Bauckham’s observation right after citing Jerome, translating Papias:

Jerome here seems to take Papias to mean that he preferred the oral communication of eyewitnesses to the written records of their testimony in the Gospels. (p. 28)

And that sounds distinctly unProtestant and contrary to sola Scriptura, doesn’t it? If we’re gonna mention one aspect of St. Jerome’s thought (even if it is falsely thought to bolster some anti-Catholic line of reasoning), why not the other also, even if it doesn’t fit in with the game plan? Get the whole picture, in other words.

Here are some of Bauckham’s comments on the subject:

Against a historiographic background, what Papias thinks preferable to books is not oral tradition as such but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events – in this case ‘the disciples of the Lord.’ He is portraying his inquiries on the model of those made by historians, appealing to historiographic ‘best practice’ (even if many historians actually made much more use of written sources than their theory professed)….What is most important for our purposes is that, when Papias speaks of ‘a living and abiding voice,’ he is not speaking metaphorically of the ‘voice’ of oral tradition, as many scholars have supposed. He speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant – someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and is still alive….Papias was clearly not interested in tapping the collective memory as such. He did not think, apparently, of recording the Gospel traditions as they were recited regularly in his own church community. Even in Hierapolis it was on his personal contact with the daughters of Philip that he set store. What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants. (pp. 24, 27, 34)

Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of is key premises is unfactual. And then we have Paul espousing authoritative fourth-hand tradition in Scripture. In any event, Bauckham appears to contradict himself:

Bauckham I: “what Papias thinks preferable to books is not oral tradition as such but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events – in this case ‘the disciples of the Lord.’ . . . when Papias speaks of ‘a living and abiding voice,’ he . . . speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant – someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and is still alive . . . ”

Bauckham II: “Even in Hierapolis it was on his personal contact with the daughters of Philip that he set store. What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants.”

Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It’s something other than eyewitness testimony. Protestants have been rejecting, for example, St. Ignatius, as too “Catholic” (therefore corrupt), for centuries. They thought the books with his name weren’t even authentic for a long time, till they were indisputably proved to be so. Now they are authentic, but still disliked by Protestants because they are already thoroughly Catholic.

In other words, the traditions that he teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles. St. Ignatius (c. 35 – c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest “Catholic” flavor in it. Anti-Catholicism is the driving force: not some great goal of getting close to apostles via those who talked to them or to those who knew them.

Bauckham goes into much more detail than what I’ve quoted above. He gives examples of Polybius, Josephus, Galen, and other sources using terminology and arguments similar to those of Papias. He emphasizes that Papias is appealing to something more evidentially valuable than, and distinct from, “cross-generational” tradition (p. 37).

It is more valuable, in evidential or strictly historiographical terms. But this is no argument against Catholic tradition. It simply notes one special, early form of apostolic tradition.

As he notes, the sources Papias was referring to were dying out and only available for a “brief” time. The historiography of Papias’ day, from which he was drawing, was interested in early oral tradition, the sort we would call the testimony of eyewitnesses and contemporaries, not an oral tradition three hundred, a thousand, or two thousand years later. He got it from individuals and his own interpretation of their testimony, not mediated through an infallible church hierarchy centered in Rome. It wasn’t the sort of oral tradition Roman Catholicism appeals to.

Sure it was. This is apostolic tradition. Much ado about nothing . . . Jason will try to kill it off by his “death by a thousand qualifications” methodology, but it won’t fly. Nothing here (in the case of Papias) causes our view any problems whatsoever. The only problems are whether (in the Protestant paradigms) one wants to claim Papias as one of the fathers who supposedly “universally” believed in sola Scriptura, or to deny that he did so, as Jason does. The contradiction arises in Protestant ranks, not between Papias and Catholic tradition.

Modern Catholics aren’t hearing or interviewing the apostle John, Aristion, or the daughters of Philip and expecting such testimony to soon die out.

Thanks for that valuable information.

That’s not their notion of oral tradition.

It’s perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things.

And it won’t be sufficient for Dave to say that he doesn’t object to that other type of oral tradition that we find in Papias.

It will do just fine!

He’s accused me of “relativism” for making such distinctions.

No. Jason was accused of that because he arbitrarily decides that sola Scriptura kicks in later on and not from the first (itself a wacky Protestant tradition, and not biblical at all). He has a “jerky,” inconsistent view of Church history. But the Catholic view is a smooth line of development.

(It’s not as though Papias would disregard what he learned about a teaching of Jesus or the apostle John, for example, until it was promulgated in the form of something like papal infallibility or an ecumenical council.

Exactly. More truisms . . .

Rather, the oral tradition Papias appeals to makes him the sort of transitional figure I referred to above. He didn’t follow sola scriptura, but he didn’t follow the Catholic rule of faith either.)

He followed the latter in a primitive form. What he believed is no different in essence from what Catholics have believed all along, and from what I believe myself, as an orthodox Catholic. But it’s sure different from what Protestants and Jason believe. Even he concedes that, and is half-right, at least.

And Dave’s appeal to “oral tradition” in a dispute with an Evangelical is most naturally taken to refer to the common Catholic concept of oral tradition, not the form of it described by Bauckham.

Which is a species of ours . . .


If Dave agreed all along that Papias’ oral tradition was of the sort Bauckham describes, then why did he even bring up the subject?

My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition. I think I have succeeded in showing that, if I do say so.

It’s at least misleading to refer to Papias’ view as “oral tradition” in such an unqualified way in a dispute with an Evangelical.

One doesn’t have to go through every fine point and distinction at any given time. There is an oral element here that is different from sola Scriptura. The Jason method won’t work (i.e., note any distinction or exception whatever to be found, and then thrown that in the Catholic’s face as a supposed disproof). It hasn’t worked in the past, and it is failing again now.

How many of Papias’ oral traditions, such as his premillennialism, does Dave agree with?

I don’t believe in that (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father’s view on anything, but to look at the consensus.

In response to my citation of Bauckham in my article in 2008, Dave wrote:

I’m not gonna go read all that. I’ve spent enough time on this as it is. Whatever Jason’s argument is involving Papias, can be presented anew, if he thinks it is worthwhile to consider.

The point being that if Jason wants to drop scholars’ names, then he can at least cite some of it rather than making his readers go look up everything. He didn’t even link to the Amazon book, where, fortunately, I could read the section he referenced. He cites it now; but that bolsters my point. He could have done that before, rather than just dropping names.

Yet, in his articles responding to me he frequently links us to other articles he’s written, without “presenting anew” what he said previously.

I didn’t know it was too hard for Jason to click on a mouse (take all of a third of a second to do that “work”) or to do a simple word search within articles. I am providing instant access to support for some point I am making if I cite past articles and link to them.

[Part II]

Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the ‘three-legged stool’: Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession).

When Papias spoke with the daughters of Philip (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39), for example, were they giving him information by means of “apostolic succession”?

I would think that was a manifestation of it, yes: transmission of firsthand apostolic information through another party (in this case, daughters of an apostle).

Dave hasn’t given us any reason to think that Papias attained his oral tradition by that means.

What means? If he was talking to Philip’s daughters, that was part of the tradition. What else would it be? Homer’s Odyssey? Betting on chariot races? It’s primitive Christian apostolic tradition being passed down: “delivered” and “received,” just as St. Paul uses those terms. Jason can’t get out of the obvious fact by nitpicking and doing the “death by a thousand qualifications” game that he has honed to a fine art.

To the contrary, as Richard Bauckham documents in his book I cited earlier, Papias refers to the sort of investigation of early sources that was common in the historiography of his day, and we don’t assume the involvement of apostolic succession when other ancient sources appeal to that concept.

The two are not mutually exclusive at all. Now, routine historiographical investigation (because of historical proximity to the apostles), is pit against tradition, as if one rules out the other. The NT is good history; it is also good tradition. The twain shall meet: believe it or not.

Why should we even think that what Papias was addressing was a rule of faith?

He demonstrated the rule of faith in how he approached all these matters. This is how he lived his Christianity: his standard of authority. That’s the rule of faith. Nothing about Scripture Alone here: even Jason admits that, because he accepts a “herky-jerky” notion of the rule of faith being one thing early on and then magically transforming into something else later on. That’s not development; it is reversal: the very opposite of development.

When he attained information about a resurrection or some other miracle that occurred, for example, why should we conclude that such oral tradition became part of Papias’ rule of faith once he attained it?

Why should any Christian believe anything that he hears (from the Bible or whatever)? Why should Papias believe Philip’s daughters or other close associates of the apostles? Why should Jason question everything to death? Why can’t he simply accept these things in faith? Why does he have to play around with every father he can find, to somehow make them out to be hostile to Catholicism (if not quite amenable to Protestantism)? Why can’t he see the forest for the trees?

Why does he keep arguing about Papias, when even he admits that he didn’t abide by sola Scriptura? Why doesn’t he then explain why the rule of faith supposedly changed? Why doesn’t he show us from Scripture that it was to change later on? If he can’t do that, then why does he believe it? Would it not, then, be a mere tradition of men? If Protestants can arbitrarily believe in extrabiblical traditions of men, then why do they give Catholics a hard time for believing traditions that are documented in the Bible itself?

See, I can play Jason’s “ask 1000 questions routine: to muddy the whole thing up beyond all hope of resolution” game. I came up with twelve rapid-fire questions. I’m proud of myself! It’s kind o’ fun, actually, but you do have to type quite a bit and strain your brain to come up with a new hundred questions for any given topic at hand, so that nothing can ever be concluded, as to any given Church father believing anything. Of course I rhetorically exaggerate, but I trust that those who have been following this, get my drift.

Cardinal Newman himself describes Jason’s overly skeptical methodology, hitting the nail on the head:

It seems to me to take the true and the normal way of meeting the infidelity of the age, by referring to Our Lord’s Person and Character as exhibited in the Gospels. Philip said to Nathanael “Come and see”—that is just what the present free thinkers will not allow men to do. They perplex and bewilder them with previous questions, to hinder them falling under the legitimate rhetoric of His Divine Life, of His sacred words and acts. They say: “There is no truth because there are so many opinions,” or “How do you know that the Gospels are authentic?” “How do you account for Papias not mentioning the fourth Gospel?” or “How can you believe that punishment is eternal?” or, “Why is there no stronger proof of the Resurrection?” With this multitude of questions in detail, they block the way between the soul and its Saviour, and will not let it “Come and see.” (Letter of 11 January 1873, in Wilfred Ward’s The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Vol. II, chapter 31, p. 393)

I’m not saying Jason is skeptical of Jesus. It’s an analogical point. He applies the same method that the skeptics Newman describes, use: only applied to patristic questions.

Some of his oral traditions would be part of his rule of faith, but not all of them.

Probably so (but this is self-evident). I didn’t see anyone (let alone myself) making a literal list of what is and what isn’t.

Dave is appealing to what Papias said about oral tradition in general, but Catholicism doesn’t teach that all oral tradition within Papias’ historiographic framework is part of the rule of faith.

Correct. All we’re saying is that his methodology does not fit into the Protestant rule of faith. Why is this still being discussed when Jason has already conceded that, and has moved on to another tack in trying to account for that fact?

When Papias uses the historiographic language of his day to refer to oral tradition, including traditions that wouldn’t be part of a Christian rule of faith and premillennial traditions, for example, it’s misleading for Dave to cite Papias’ comments as a reference to his rule of faith and claim that he agreed with Catholicism.

At this early stage, there will be anomalies and vague things. Newman’s theory incorporates those elements within itself. Hence he writes in his Essay on Development of the “Fifth Note of a True Development—Anticipation of Its Future”:

It has been set down above as a fifth argument in favour of the fidelity of developments, ethical or political, if the doctrine from which they have proceeded has, in any early stage of its history, given indications of those opinions and practices in which it has ended. Supposing then the so-called Catholic doctrines and practices are true and legitimate developments, and not corruptions, we may expect from the force of logic to find instances of them in the first centuries. And this I conceive to be the case: the records indeed of those times are scanty, and we have little means of determining what daily Christian life then was: we know little of the thoughts, and the prayers, and the meditations, and the discourses of the early disciples of Christ, at a time when these professed developments were not recognized and duly located in the theological system; yet it appears, even from what remains, that the atmosphere of the Church was, as it were, charged with them from the first, and delivered itself of them from time to time, in this way or that, in various places and persons, as occasion elicited them, testifying the presence of a vast body of thought within it, which one day would take shape and position.

We find exactly this sort of thing in Papias. His view is consistent with a Catholic one, that would be far more developed as time proceeded; but not consistent with the Protestant sola Scriptura.

Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history.

The question is whether he should have, and I’m not aware of any reason why an adherent of sola scriptura ought to think so.

How about the existence of the Old Testament? Or is that no longer considered Scripture by Protestants these days, or adherents of sola Scriptura. We’ll have to start calling it sola NT, huh? How about the Gospels and most of Paul’s letters, which were accepted as canonical very early: well within Papias’ lifetime?

Papias was at least a contemporary of the apostles, and, as I’ll discuss in more depth below, most likely was a disciple of one of the apostles as well.

That’s not what Eusebius stated. But even if he was, no problem whatever, because I showed (following Eusebius’ account) how he also accepted tradition from secondhand witnesses, and that St. Paul refers to fourth-hand reception of apostolic tradition. But of course, that is a part of my paper that Jason conveniently overlooked, per his standard modus operandi of high (and very careful) selectivity in response. We mustn’t get too biblical in our analyses, after all. You, the reader, don’t have to ignore the Bible, and can incorporate actual relevant biblical data into your informed opinion.

But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias’ views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view.

Dave keeps accusing me of “playing games”, being “relativistic”, etc. without justifying those charges.

Right. I gave an elaborate argument, point-by-point, just as I am doing now.

The fact that my view allows me to point to inconsistencies between Papias and Catholicism without having to argue that Papias adhered to sola scriptura doesn’t prove that my view is wrong.

That’s right, but Jason has failed in his attempt to prove that anything in Papias is fundamentally at odds with the Catholic view on the rule of faith. Where has he done this? It just isn’t there. I haven’t seen it. Maybe Jason will travel to Israel and find a new stone tablet that seals his case: primary evidence. Anything is possible. I’d urge him to keep optimistic and not to despair: something, somewhere may prove his anti-Catholic case vis-a-vis Papias once and for all. I won’t hold my breath waiting for it, though . . .

I’ve given examples of other transitional phases in history, during which the rule of faith changed for individuals or groups. Dave said that he agreed with “many, if not all of these points”, but then accused me of “relativism” and such when I applied the same sort of reasoning to Papias. Why?

I don’t know. I’d have to go back and see what I said, in context. I’m too lazy to do that (doin’ enough work as it is). But I know that I already adequately explained it, so I recommend that he go read it again (so that he doesn’t need to ask me what I meant).

What was in common was that all accepted ‘the word of God’ (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura.

To say that everybody from Adam to Mary to Papias to Dave Armstrong followed the same rule of faith, defined vaguely as “the word of God”, is to appeal to something different than the “Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession)” that Dave referenced earlier.

Here we go with the word games . . . As Ronald Reagan famously said to Jimmy Carter, “there you go again . . .” I was referring, of course, to the Christian era, not Adam and Eve, etc.

Adam and Eve didn’t have scripture or a magisterium.

Very good observation, Jason! But who needs apostles or Scripture, anyway, when you’re able to talk directly to God?

Even under Dave’s view, a change eventually occurred in which the word of God was communicated by a means not previously used. The sort of direct communication God had with Adam isn’t part of the average Catholic’s rule of faith today.

Exactly. What this has to do with anything is beyond me, I confess.

A Protestant could say that the rule of faith has always been “the word of God”, and thus claim consistency in the same sort of vague manner in which Dave is claiming it.

No, because Protestants tend to collapse “word of God” to Scripture alone, when in fact, in Scripture, it refers, many more times, to oral proclamation. This is the whole point: Scripture all over the place refers to an authoritative tradition and an authoritative Church. Scripture doesn’t teach that it alone is the infallible authority. Sola Scriptura ain’t biblical.

He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words.

I don’t know how familiar Dave is with Richard Bauckham and his work. Bauckham isn’t interacting with Catholicism in the passage of his book that I cited. As far as I recall, he never even mentions Catholicism anywhere in the book, at least not in any significant way. Bauckham is a New Testament scholar interacting primarily with other New Testament scholars and scholars of other relevant fields.

Great. I interacted with his arguments, and saw some inconsistencies in them. Implicitly he is opposing, in a way, those Christian traditions that stress tradition, in his pitting of oral history against oral tradition, as I already noted. I say it is “both/and” — not “either/or.”

How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me.

Papias’ position wouldn’t have to be contrary to the Catholic position in order to be different than it. If Papias can take a transitional role under the Catholic view, in which he attains his rule of faith partly by means of the historical investigation he describes, then why can’t he take a transitional role under a Protestant view?

His position shows no semblance of a Protestant view in the first place, but it is not at all contrary, or even different from the Catholic view. It’s simply a primitive Catholic rule of faith: exhibiting exactly what we would expect to see under the assumption of Newmanian, Vincentian development.

We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don’t know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate.

I didn’t claim that we know the latter. Remember, Dave is the one who claims that Papias was a Catholic, cited him in support of “oral tradition” (in a dispute with an Evangelical and without further qualification), etc.

Until we see anything that suggests otherwise, which we haven’t, that is a perfectly solid position to take.

His testimony was third-hand. He ‘he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles’] friends.’ What is that if not succession?

Why should we define apostolic succession so vaguely as to include “the apostles’ friends”? In the same passage of Eusebius Dave is citing, Papias is quoted referring to these people as “followers” of the apostles. Many people, including individuals outside of a church hierarchy, can be considered friends or followers of the apostles. And, as I said above, the historiographic concept Papias is appealing to doesn’t limit itself to apostolic successors or an equivalent category in its normal usage. Why think, then, that the concept has such a meaning when Papias uses it?

How is what he did contrary to apostolic succession? It isn’t at all. Papias was a bishop, who received Christian tradition from friends or relatives of the apostles. This ain’t rocket science. There is nothing complicated about it: much as Jason wants to obfuscate.

Dave originally claimed that “we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession” in Papias. He still hasn’t documented that assertion.

Of course I have. This is another annoying constant in debates with anti-Catholics: one is forced to simply repeat things three, four, five times or more, because the anti-Catholic seems unable to process them, even after five times. It’s as if one is writing to the wind. Three strikes and you’re out.

Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of [Bauckham’s] key premises is unfactual.

Dave makes that point repeatedly in his article. But Richard Bauckham argues against Eusebius’ position elsewhere in the book I’ve cited. I’ve argued against Eusebius’ conclusion as well. See, for example, here.

Earlier, I cited an online collection of fragments by and about Papias. Eusebius’ dubious argument that Papias wasn’t a disciple of any of the apostles is contradicted by multiple other sources, including Irenaeus more than a century earlier (a man who had met Polycarp, another disciple of John). Some of the sources who commented on Papias when his writings were still extant said that he was even a (or the) secretary who wrote the fourth gospel at John’s dictation. Eusebius wasn’t even consistent with himself on the issue of whether Papias had been taught by John. See the citation from Eusebius’ Chronicon on the web page linked above. The only source I’m aware of who denied Papias’ status as a disciple of the apostles, Eusebius, wasn’t even consistent on the issue. The evidence suggests that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John.

Fair enough. But if we grant this, of course it has no effect on my position: that his views are consistent with the Catholic rule of faith. Either way, it works the same: if he knew the apostles, it was apostolic succession (just more directly). If he didn’t, it was still apostolic succession, since that is an ongoing phenomenon. Moreover, as I reiterated again above, Paul refers to apostolic succession from fourth-hand sources. So it is valid apart from necessarily knowing an apostle personally. And knowing one does not, therefore, rule out apostolic succession. It is completely harmonious with it.

Bauckham appears to contradict himself…Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It’s something other than eyewitness testimony.

No, Bauckham explains, in the section of his book I cited, that though eyewitnesses were the primary source of interest, other early sources were involved as well. Even if you disagree with the historiographic standard in question, the fact remains that Papias was appealing to that standard. It involved witnesses who would quickly die out rather than going into the “fourth-hand or later generations” Dave refers to. Even apart from that ancient historiographic standard, it makes sense to differentiate between a source who’s one step removed and other sources who are five, twenty, or a thousand steps removed.

St. Paul didn’t think so, as I have shown: not in terms of accurate transmission of apostolic tradition.

We don’t place all non-eyewitnesses in the same category without making any distinctions. Why are we today so focused on the writings of men like Tertullian and John Chrysostom rather than modern oral traditions about them?

We go back as far as we can, and we do make judgments as to relative trustworthiness of sources.

In other words, the traditions that he [Ignatius] teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles.

Like Dave’s rejection of Papias’ premillennial tradition, the soteriological tradition of Hermas (his belief in limited repentance), etc.?

What St. Ignatius taught (real presence, episcopacy, etc.) was universal in the early Church, unlike the two things above. Huge, essential difference, but nice try, Jason. The arguments get increasingly desperate. My friend, Jonathan Prejean, made a great comment today on another blog, that has relevance here:

What I would find far more troubling, were I a Protestant, is the new patristics scholarship of the last 40 years, which convincingly demonstrates that, while giving nominal adherence to the ecumencial creeds, Protestants have done so according to the same defective interpretation as the heretics. The modest claims of papal authority, which in any case are not refuted by what you cited (and I’ve read them), are trivial compared to the fact that the Protestant account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the Christian account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The physical presence (i.e., real presence according to nature) of God in the Church and its necessity for salvation is unanimously agreed by all Catholic and Orthodox Christians, echoing St. Cyril of Alexandria, the great “Seal of the Fathers.” Yet Protestants deny it, making the spiritual resemblance to God merely moral (hence, imputed justification) and not physical.

That’s a Nestorian account of salvation, plain and simple. And the historical evidence about the heterodoxy of Nestorianism has been piling up over the last couple of decades (see, e.g., J.A. McGuckin, Paul Clayton) after some scholarship suggesting that Nestorius might have been orthodox (mostly based on Nestorius’s own erroneous claims; see, e.g., F. Loofs), and therefore, that Calvin’s identical beliefs might have been as well. But that has been crushed even more convincingly than the admittedly excessive claims of some Catholics about papal infallibility, and it is a much more serious error in any case. This is why I stopped even bothering with these debates, at least until I saw David [Waltz] wavering, because Newman’s prophetic words about being “deep in history” were absolutely vindicated by the neo-patristic scholarship. Protestants today have no hope of being orthodox in the historical sense; they have to redefine orthodoxy to be broad enough to include what they believe (see, e.g., D.H. Williams).

St. Ignatius (c. 35 – c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest ‘Catholic’ flavor in it.

Ignatius’ earliness is significant to me. I often cite him and often refer to the significance of his earliness. But I prefer the more accurate interpretation of Ignatius offered by an Ignatian scholar like Allen Brent to the interpretation of somebody like Dave Armstrong.

Great. J. N. D. Kelly (also an Anglican patristics scholar) thought that St. Ignatius “seems to suggest that the Roman church occupies a special position” (Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, 191). Brent writes (cited by Jason in his linked previous paper):

Ignatius doesn’t make any reference to apostolic succession as later defined by men like Irenaeus and Cyprian and by groups like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is exactly what we would expect under a thesis of development. Obviously he wouldn’t write as explicitly about apostolic succession as it was “later defined.” This poses no difficulty for us whatever. It is only a difficulty if one (as Jason habitually does) constructs a straw man of what Catholic development in the late first and early second century supposedly was (far more developed than we should reasonably expect).

The primitive state of development that we expect to find in St. Ignatius is reflected in a Brent remark such as “The low Trinitarianism in Ignatius’ letters supports an early date.” He also had a “low ecclesiology” because he was so early. But even Jason agrees (in the same former post) that St. Ignatius already in his time had a rather robust Catholic ecclesiology:

I agree with Brent that Ignatius seems to have been trying to convince other churches to adopt or retain his preferred form of church order, involving a monarchical episcopate, thus explaining why he mentions the subject so much in his letters. However, I suspect that the monarchical episcopate was already more widespread than Brent suggests. The truth probably is somewhere between Brent’s concept of Ignatius as an innovator and the view that all of the early churches had a monarchical episcopate all along. (Brent prefers not to use the term “monarchical episcopate” when discussing Ignatius’ view, but I’m using it in a broad sense, which I think is more common, to refer to having a single bishop who leads the remainder of the church hierarchy.)

It’s perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things.

Catholics “ditched” the approach of Papias long ago. They don’t appeal to an oral tradition attained by means of historical investigation,

It’s tough to meet associates of the apostles these days; sorry, Jason. If he builds me a time machine, I’d be more than happy to go talk to them. Probably couldn’t afford a ticket, though . . .

without the mediation of the Catholic hierarchy acting in its infallible capacity, and they don’t think that their oral tradition is soon going to die out, as Papias’ “living and abiding voice” was about to.

The tradition continues being accurately transmitted after the eyewitnesses die out, as St. Paul believed. That’s sufficient for me. Jason prefers Brent to me; I prefer St. Paul’s opinion on tradition and succession to his.

My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition.

No, Dave went further than that. He said that we find in Papias “an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition”. He also refers to the fathers in general as Catholic, which presumably would include Papias.

Yes on both counts, as explained. But the word “explicit” was relative insofar as someone that early can only be so explicit. “Direct” would have been a better term to use in retrospect, because of the meaning of “explicit” in discussions having to do with development of doctrine. I trusted that readers acquainted with the broad parameters of the discussion would understand that, but sure enough, Jason didn’t, and so keeps trying to make hay over this non-issue. No doubt he will classify this very paragraph as special pleading or sophistry, but most readers will understand that it is simply clarification of a phrase used.

I don’t believe in that [premillennialism] (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father’s view on anything, but to look at the consensus.

If Dave doesn’t accept Papias’ premillennial oral traditions, and he’s identifying Papias’ oral traditions as part of the rule of faith followed by Papias, then it follows that Papias’ rule of faith involved a doctrine that Dave rejects.

But since that particular belief isn’t a dogmatic one in the first place, it is quite irrelevant. No Catholic is obliged to believe it, or much of anything else in eschatology, as I understand. No one is saying that any given father is infallible, so if he is wrong on that one item, this causes no problem to our view.

Was premillennialism part of the rule of faith in Papias’ generation, but not today? Did Papias follow a different rule of faith than others in his generation? Would that qualify as “relativism”?

He got some things wrong. So what? One could collect a huge bucket of seaweed and other marine items from the sea and discover that a pearl was also part of the collection. The pearl is “transmitted” along with the rest. Not everything in the bucket is equally valuable. Again, this is no problem for us whatever. The real problem is Protestant rejection of beliefs virtually universally held by the fathers, such as, for example, the real presence or baptismal regeneration.

If Dave wants to argue that he wasn’t referring to Papias’ rule of faith when he made comments about “authoritative tradition” and “oral tradition” in Papias, then what’s the relevance of such fallible tradition that’s outside of a rule of faith? As I said before, that sort of “authoritative tradition” and “oral tradition” isn’t what people normally have in mind when Catholics and Evangelicals are having a discussion like the current one, so Dave’s comments were at least misleading.

Since we don’t hold individual fathers to be infallible, this is much ado about nothing.

And Papias thought he got his premillennialism from the apostles. It was apostolic tradition to him. It’s not to Dave.

The Church in due course makes all sorts of judgments as to what is authentic tradition and what isn’t. Jason knows this, but he mistakenly thinks he has scored some sort of point here, so he runs with that ball.

How does one see a Catholic concept of apostolic succession in a phrase like “the apostles’ friends” or a Catholic concept of oral tradition in a historiographic phrase like “living and abiding voice”? In much the same way one sees everything from papal infallibility to a bodily assumption of Mary in scripture and an acorn of Catholicism in the writings of the church fathers.

I have done my best to explain. I trust that open-minded readers can be persuaded of some things, and that my efforts are not in vain, in that sense.

Jason Engwer has made a third response dealing with Papias: about whom we know very little. He basically rehashes the same old arguments again, thinking that this somehow makes them less weak and ineffectual than they were before.


Photo credit: Mosaic, c. 1000, in St. Sophia of Kyiv. From the left: Epiphanius of Salamis, Clement of Rome, Gregory the Theologian, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archdeacon Stephen. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


May 27, 2020

Also, Bishop “Dr.” [???] White’s 2001 Debate Proposal vs. My Various (Declined) Debate Proposals

I refuted James White’s paper on the Council of Nicaea after he had practically dared and begged any Catholic apologist to do that, in his article, “For the Serious Minded” (3-29-07). White wrote (his words in blue as throughout):

When I checked on the link I have used a number of times recently for my Nicea article in the CRI Journal of July/August, 1997, I discovered it had gone dead. So I contacted CRI, and they contacted their webfolks who are busy migrating their website to a new format. They jumped my article to the head of the line and it is now available again, here. . . .

I would like to invite Jonathan Prejean, Patrick Madrid, Dave Armstrong, and the rest of that group of RC apologists, to post links to the paper as well. Why? Well, they are all claiming the paper is a glowing example of how unscholarly I am, how ignorant I am, and why no Roman Catholic should ever listen to anything I have to say.

I haven’t said one word about it. I don’t even participate on the Envoy Discussion Board. So I don’t know why White thinks I have. Maybe it’s because I am (so sez he) a “stalker”, so he just assumes I am in on the evil Jesuit conspiracy to prove that he is so ignorant?

So, how about posting this link along with the Envoy article [see original article link], and my brief response (which was limited, by the way, by publication word limits)?

His wish is granted. I’m happy to be of service.

That way, you can let your audience find out if Hugh Barbour was actually dealing with what I wrote, or was doing as I have said, writing nothing but a shameless hit piece that mocks the very nature of sound scholarship?

Being a lover of two-sided dialogue myself, I am ecstatic to present one such example and let readers decide.

And would it not be a great benefit for Madrid and Prejean and Armstrong to post my article as an example of just how dull I am?

I don’t know if “dull” is the best word to describe Bishop White. I would prefer “sophist” or “obtuse” or “intellectual coward” in light of how he has interacted with me these past twelve years.

I mean, each of them should be able to provide a far superior summary of the main issues at Nicea, Constantine’s role, the primary personalities involved, and make it all understandable to the interested layman, and do it all in 4500 words, right?

I might just take up this challenge, but will Mr. White, for his part, promise to respond if I do so, rather than high tail it for the hills, like he has done virtually every other time I have critiqued his writing? One tires of cowardice, poorly masked by bombast and relentless arrogant, self-congratulatory trumpeting of one’s supposedly singular debating abilities.

I mean, since I failed so miserably at it, they should be able to pull it off, right? So I look forward to their demonstrating their integrity and honesty by posting the link along with their far superior articles.

Oh goodie! I have regained my integrity! It took just 23 days too!

And now White has made a substantive, meaningful reply [choke].

My supposed “vow” to never debate anti-Catholics again

The centerpiece is a posting of mine from 14 March 2001 (that’s six years ago, folks), that wasn’t even on my site, as I recall, but on Steve Ray’s discussion board, as a result of a dare (probably calculated, judging by the way the anti-Catholics have tried to throw it in my face ever since).

[Anti-Catholic apologist] Eric Svendsen cited a statement I made in 2001 after being fed up with anti-Catholics and their idiocies and evasions. I said I would never talk to them again, and no one else should, either. This was obviously too extreme of a statement, and impossible for an apologist like myself to abide by (since I have to deal with error of that sort, by profession).

So it was wrong and stupid for me to make such a resolution. Indeed I broke it. But I don’t see this as even a sin. We all break resolutions all the time (diets, not smoking or drinking anymore, to control our tempers, better use of time, etc.).

I can admit that. I have no problem with it (I already have done so in public, long ago). I spoke with too much extremity and set myself up for later mockery by these anti-Catholic clowns. If mine was a sin at all (I’m not so sure, but possibly) it is certainly venial, and long since confessed.

But Svendsen takes it to a whole other level: that of pretending that this resolution was a vow or an oath. Svendsen has repeated this charge many times (to try to discredit me as a lying fool), but it is a bald-faced lie, and I soundly refuted it. Vows and oaths are an extremely serious matter and of a far higher importance than resolutions.

Anyone can do a word search of the Svendsen article citing my older words and see for themselves that the words “vow” or “oath” never appear. Nor does the word “swear” appear; let alone “swear by God” or “under God” or some such. This is an elementary distinction, so for anyone to not understand this, shows a fundamental deficiency in understanding of this ethical point of Christian / biblical / Catholic theology.

A quick glance at the online Catholic Encyclopedia (“Vows”) could have brought [Svendsen and now White] to speed in 20 seconds maximum:

A vow is defined as a promise made to God. The promise is binding, and so differs from a simple resolution which is a present purpose to do or omit certain things in the future.

But even a vow allows for some “loopholes”:

Dispensation from a vow is ordinarily justified by great difficulty in its fulfilment or by the fact that it was taken without due deliberation, or by the probability of some greater good either to the person taking it or to others, . . .

My mere resolution was obviously too difficult to reasonably abide by (esp. as an apologist) due to its extremity, and it was made on the spur of the moment without due deliberation (in fact, as I recall, I was goaded into it by another anti-Catholic).

The article on “Oaths” is similar:

An oath is an invocation to God to witness the truth of a statement. It may be express and direct, as when one swears by God Himself; or implicit and tacit, as when we swear by creatures, since they bear a special relation to the Creator and manifest His majesty and the supreme Truth in a special way: for instance, if one swears by heaven, the throne of God (Matthew 5:34), by the Holy Cross, or by the Gospels.

Traditionally, Eric Svendsen (post of 1-13-05) and other anti-Catholics have used this statement of mine to “prove” that I am supposedly a “liar” or an “oath-/vow-breaker”. White has now offered an interesting new twist on the perpetual smear campaign (the Big Lie and talking points about me seem to change roughly every 6-8 months). Rather than accusing me of lying, he opts for psychological or mental illness, “stalker”, untrustworthiness, and my allegedly being not “stable”.

Very clever (very unethical too). It’s amazing how many excuses intellectual cowards will come up with. Along with this latest evasive tactic, anti-Catholics like Frank Turk have also been making out that I am begging for attention because no leading anti-Catholics supposedly think I am “relevant” or “important” in apologetics anymore, and simply laugh me off as a washed-up has-been.

Right; funny, then, that my paperback books are bestsellers in the field: three are now consistently in the Top 100 for the Catholic Theology category on amazon, and often two are in the top 20, a new book is coming out in May, plus my blog hits are 900 a day average (more than Turk and Hays), and I get letters all the time informing me of conversions to Catholicism partially or largely because of my work. By any objective criterion of “success” in what I do, I’m more effective as a vessel of Catholic apologetics than ever. All glory to God.

Of course this very statement will be thrown in my face as “bragging” (even though James White talks about results he gets in his ministry in similar fashion all the time, often with considerable paranoia, as seen in his new “stalking” charge). But the anti-Catholics have to come up with something: to rationalize their unwillingness to answer critiques or to do necessary, fundamental debates, some hogwash so that they don’t have to ever seriously consider anything I write, so this fits the bill. Whether it is true or not is utterly irrelevant to them.

Smear and propagandistic tactics are never concerned with the truth, but rather, with their goal to find something that works for the purpose of putting someone down and trashing their person and integrity, despite, in the teeth of, the actual facts of the matter. But if they want to ignore me, that’s fine. It only helps my work succeed all the more, because they have effectively removed any opposition to it. So I have a free reign to influence Protestants to seriously consider the fullness of Catholicism. Thanks, guys!

White, in this latest post, uses the description “vow[ing]” twice, with regard to my past resolutions about desired non-interaction with anti-Catholics. As anyone can see in a word search of the ancient post of mine that he has reproduced in its entirety, as I noted above:

The words “vow” or “oath” never appear. Nor does the word “swear” appear; let alone “swear by God” or “under God” or some such.

Nor did I use this language of “vow” or “oath” in 2005. Not at all. That can easily be proven as well. So White is lying again and misrepresenting what I have done. I left his discussion of my book The Catholic Verses because he couldn’t stay on the subject and had to make it yet another mudfest (including charges that I am knowingly deceptive about the falsity of various Protestant beliefs). It was an insult to anyone’s intelligence to continue that discussion. So I left. It had nothing to do with fear or inability, as White vainly loves to pretend. A few months later I refuted (at extreme length) his position on Moses’ Seat and he never replied to that, as usual.

All of this pompous flatulence from Bishop White is a transparent cover for his inability to defend the positions he takes. He challenged: I took it up, and rather than make a rational reply, White opts for ridicule: his tactic where I am concerned for now 12 years. Some highlights of this classic of Bishop White condescension:

He collapsed into a puddle of goo, ran for the hills, vowing to never again have anything to do with “anti-Catholics.”

He’s become downright nasty and demeaning, but again, this is nothing new for DA.

He truly strikes me as a kind of stalker.

Anyway, I explained to him that arranging a debate with him would be problematic for the obvious reason that he can’t be trusted. He is not stable. He swings from pillar to post, and if we did, in fact, arrange a formal debate today, how could anyone trust that next week he won’t have yet another change of heart, make another vow to avoid anti-Catholics, and bag out?

It is just one of many such examples of the instability of Dave Armstrong.

Pray for this man. My family has started making a habit of doing so every night when we say grace for dinner. Now all we need to do is pray Rosaries on his behalf, or ask the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints to ask God to heal this man from his resentments, slanders, extreme blindness to his own faults and hypocrisies, and severe irresponsibility in matters of truth and falsehood (not to mention intellectual cowardice, which is a strange trait indeed for an apologist to suffer from).

ADDENDUM OF 3-7-17: White’s Own Determination (“Vow”?) to Completely Avoid Me: Made on 1-12-01

This is drawn from an old lengthy paper of exchanges with Bishop White. It probably won’t be available much longer on Internet Archive. But it’s still there for now, and is entitled: “Case Study in Anti-Catholic Intransigence: Dr. James White Rejects Personal Reconciliation, Yet Simultaneously Pushes for an Oral Debate” (1-16-01):

White wrote to me in a letter of 1-12-01 (keep in mind the bum raps about me and my supposed “broken vow” above):

I have done all I could since then [our first “postal debate” from 1995] in light of certain aspects of your behavior to avoid interaction like the plague. My website contains nothing about you for that very reason. . . . It’s a no-win situation, and I am still kicking myself for even thinking about hitting the “reply” button on the first e-mail from you regarding that dialogue. . . . But we all have moments of weakness, I guess. So I apologize for even considering the idea of having ANY contact. As they seem to say amongst the young people today, “My bad.” . . .

I have to trust God’s Spirit to lead His people as He sees fit. I have had a number of folks contact me about your posting of my letters and actually warn me against “casting pearls before swine” in doing what I am doing even now. I had three people say to me this morning, “You are wasting your time.” I will have to accept their counsel after this response.


Mr. Armstrong, I have no interest, whatsoever, in continuing this with you. I don’t like you, and I don’t believe you like me. Until a few weeks ago I had followed the path of wisdom and avoided every entanglement with you. I erred in moving from that path. You will undoubtedly claim “victory” and shout loud and long about my supposed inability to respond to your “tightly reasoned” arguments. So be it. I know different, and what’s more, I think, somewhere down inside, you do too.

Continuing to attempt to reason with you is likewise foolish: if you write an angry e-mail, like yesterday, and I reply to it, the next day you’ll use the calm, rational response, and upbraid me for being nasty. No matter what I do, the end is the same. I knew this years ago. My memory must be failing or something for even making the attempt.

I’m going to ask you to join me in promising to stay as far away from each other as possible. I’m not asking you to not respond on your own website to what I write or doing whatever you want to do when speaking, etc. I am talking about personal interaction. Stay out of #prosapologian. Don’t write to me. Don’t ask to do dialogues, debates, or anything else. You just do your thing, and I’ll do mine. OK?

Let’s leave the issues to those who have a true interest in such things, and given that our personalities are such that we cannot possibly co-exist in the same space (physical or cyber….we’d kill each other on Survivor!), let’s not obscure the issues with our personal clashes. I think that is a fair request, one that would advance the cause of truth no matter how one views the debate. No one needs to waste their time thinking about our inability to get along. That’s just the way it is.

Dave, I pray God’s best for you, and health and blessing upon your family.

The additional silly thing about this is that the day before, White had challenged me to an oral debate, which I turned down, as I always have, because I don’t do them with anyone, out of a principled objection to their nature, as opposed to far-superior written debates. He had challenged me before in 1995, and would again in 2007 (it seemed to be a cycle of every six years). Thus, he had written the day before:

Since we both believe the other is guilty of fallacious, incorrect, and sophistical argumentation, one-on-one, live, is the way to find out who is right and who is wrong, is it not? I do not believe you can defend your position without changing the ground from the actual questions to some massive presentation drawing from all the things you have written before. That doesn’t work in a live situation. You have to be direct, clear, and on-topic. So I repeat my invitation: we do a 90 minute web broadcast.

Continuing on that day or the next, he wrote:

I’ll be right up front with you, Dave: you would never survive a one-on-one debate with me, because you can’t defend your position without using obfuscation and rhetoric. You can’t survive direct cross-examination, and what really bugs you is you know it.

I’ll tell ya what: we have a tentative agreement with someone for the 2002 Long Island Debate. If that falls through, how about you free up some time and face me in public? Let’s do something really unusual that hasn’t been done before, . . . You obviously believe I am utterly incapable of meaningful written debate, So, the easiest way to demonstrate that, and document it on audio and video tape, would be to step into the arena. How about it?. . . offering citations IN CONTEXT against someone who KNOWS the context and can point out the errors of out of context citation is a whole new world, Mr. Armstrong. And using the same old tired citations, as you do all the time on your website, would not work in live debate. . . .

If you want to debate, let’s debate….in person, before observers, where rhetoric and misdirection is quickly and easily detected and refuted. Please stop calling the exchange of a few letters a “debate.” It was, at best, “brief correspondence.” . . .

I am a nobody, Mr. Armstrong. A dope. If I got run over by a truck tomorrow a few folks would notice but the world would go on without so much as a pause. There are many, many people FAR more intelligent and able than I am. As long as you believe that I think otherwise, you’ll keep playing directly into my hands over and over and over again. What is true about me is that I’m passionate about the truth. I detest inconsistency and deception. I detest surface-level assertions and the misuse of facts. That is why you and I don’t get along.

I’m not impressed by rhetoric and bluster and verbosity. There are many who are, I’m not one of them. I have a deep-seated dislike of those who make a show of knowledge for the sake of something other than the truth itself. That’s why I don’t like much of what goes on in “academia” today: it’s all for show, not for the edification of believers in the Church. So at the very least I’m consistent. . . .

Dave, I really don’t find a thirst for “truth” in the notes you added to the online debate. . . . If you think written exchanges have the ability to allow for the kind of interaction that live ones do, well, what can I say? It obviously does not. . . .

So you will defend your statements on the webcast? . . . If our books are so poor, it would follow that exposing their errors in person would be rather easy, would it not? . . . Will you defend what you have written on our webcast or not? Yes or no?

I replied:

No. My challenge to do some sort of writing debate stands, as it has since mid-1995. You have admitted that basically you think I am dumb and without substance. So why do you want to interact with me? Is it the common tactic of Protestants loving to talk to dumb Catholics, so their view can look better?

I don’t do live oral debates, for the reasons I originally gave you in 1995 when you asked me, and recently expanded in a paper of mine on that very topic [“Interacting With Sophists: Reflections on “Debates” With Anti-Catholic Polemicists”]. I did the live chat [with him, about the Blessed Virgin Mary] for a few reasons, which I was very upfront about. I did enjoy it very much (mostly because it remained cordial and respectful). There is no intrinsic ethical objection to adding footnotes to the text, that I can see. If someone doesn’t want to read them, they are below, so they don’t have to, just as they don’t have to watch a lousy TV show. I thought it was a reasonable compromise between an oral debate and a written exchange.

I reminded White of my words in declining his same challenge in 1995:

Finally, I am delighted and (I think) honored that you are eager and “happy” to debate me in public. I love debate, but much prefer informal, conversational Socratic dialogue or written point-counterpoint exchanges to the mutual monologues and often antagonistic and disrespectful affairs which pass for “public debates.” I am not particularly skilled as an orator and lecturer, nor do I have the requisite desire to participate in that type of forum. That said, I would not want to publicly represent the Church to which I give my allegiance, but would rather defer to someone with more abilities for formal debate than I possess, so that we are best represented . . .

Lest you think I’m trying to evade you, however, I am perfectly willing, able, ready, and eager to engage you in debate on any topic you so desire either by letter or in your newsletter (if the latter, I would require prior editorial consent, due to the unscrupulous tactics recounted above). I would demand equal space in your newsletter, so that the fair inquirer could make up his own mind. You’ve observed my debating abilities in this letter and other writings I’ve given you, so I think you’ll agree that timidity and fear are not my reasons for declining public oratorical debate.

He blew that off at the time, writing:

I have to keep reminding myself that you are the same person who has declined my challenge to publicly debate. If you would “devour [George] Salmon for lunch,” Mr. Armstrong, wouldn’t that make me a mere before-dinner snack, given my obvious inferiority to Salmon as a scholar? Sort of makes your protestations about not being an orator rather empty, don’t you think?

All of that is the background of White then switching on a dime, from challenging me to talk on his webcast for 90 minutes, to a position where he wants us to pretend each other doesn’t exist: because I turned him down.

Also, it must be noted that at the time White was challenging me to do a 90-minute show in his venue, I made the following counter-proposal of a live chat:

1. I get to question you for 90 minutes, about anything, where you have to answer, and I go first. That way you can’t run and hide, but will have to defend your beliefs under scrutiny.

2. Then you can question me for 90 minutes about anything: Mary, the pope, episcopacy, whatever you like. In fact, you can question me for 5 hours, or all night if you want (if it is on the weekend). I’m not scared of you. That would give me an opportunity to so expose your falsehoods, that I would jump for joy. Just give me 90 minutes where you can’t run, (like local hero Joe Louis said: “he can run but he can’t hide”).

3. It all goes on my website, and I will footnote it again, if necessary (including this letter and the last one — people need to see your “intellectual” brilliance in action).

4. The slightest ad hominem attack and I leave immediately. If you pull a stunt like this letter in a live chat, I’ll be gone before your next heartbeat. I don’t care a whit what you or others may think about that. It doesn’t concern me.

How could anyone say this isn’t greatly favoring you? I will eagerly await your response.

This was declined, as were several future challenges for a similar debate: always giving him a strong advantage (knowing his fear of me). He turned them all down.

But because I turned down his proposal in 2001, the next day he opted for the tack of “I’m going to ask you to join me in promising to stay as far away from each other as possible. . . . I am talking about personal interaction. . . . Don’t write to me. Don’t ask to do dialogues, debates, or anything else.”

Of course, he didn’t hold to this “resolution” (“vow”?) of his own. He has had many interactions with me after January 2001. Yet he went out several times and pretended that I broke a “vow” of saying I would not interact with him, when I had done nothing more than what he did in the same year (2001): i.e., I didn’t follow a resolution made out of exasperation.

This is the kind of man we’re dealing with: a liar, a sophist, a two-faced hypocrite, and an intellectual coward.

Believe me, I make those charges of anyone only with the greatest reluctance. But I have hundreds of hours of experience with White, going back to 1995, and tons of documentation, and he always consistently acts inconsistently, in the fashion you see above. Charges are either true or false. If they are false, they are slanderous and sinful. If they are true, we are allowed to make them (many examples in the Bible: notably, from Jesus and St. Paul).


Bishop White also declined my suggestion in October 2004 that I come onto his webcast so we could just chat like human beings for an hour.

He kicked me out of his chat room recently when I had done nothing wrong (and had been harangued by the notorious anti-Catholic Pastor David T. King. I wasn’t even allowed to go to the second “debate” chat room. I’m far too threatening, I guess, to enter a place with 25 anti-Catholics. The odds are too stacked in my favor, I reckon.

He declined my challenge to do a live chat debate (on the topic of “What is a Christian? / Is Catholicism Christian?”), where I would give him 90 minutes to cross-examine me whereas I get 60 to question him. This was specifically designed to give him plenty of opportunity for cross-examination, since he frequently extols the glories and supreme importance of same on his blog. His sidekick James Swan then refused the same exact challenge.

All this, and yet White thinks “you would never survive a one-on-one debate with me, because you can’t defend your position without using obfuscation and rhetoric. You can’t survive direct cross-examination, and what really bugs you is you know it.”

To this day (after literally 25 years), our most direct, back-and-forth exchanges remain the initial 1995 postal debate on the definition of Christian, and the live chat debate on Mary (12-29-00; the only “live” and spontaneous one). Since then he has engaged in 95% pure mockery. You be the judge as to who prevailed. It is a matter of fact that I have posted all the words of both parties on my site as soon as I could. White has neither linked to either nor posted a word of either on his site. What does that suggest? That he bested me? I think not. You get both sides on my blog so you can decide for yourself who defended truth and who took the side of falsehood. This is the only fair and intelligent way to go about these things.


(originally 4-4-07; with lengthy additions of older 2001 material, on 3-7-17)


May 26, 2020

Luke 16 (Lazarus & the Rich Man & Abraham) is One of the Most Unanswerable Arguments in Catholic Apologetics

This is a response to Protestant anti-Catholic apologist Jason Engwer’s article, “Do Passages Like Genesis 19 And Luke 16 Support Prayers To Angels And The Deceased?” (6-13-08). It was a direct reply to my article, Bible on Invocation of Angels and Saved Human Beings in Heaven, for Intercessory Purposes (6-10-08). Jason’s words will be in blue.


Dave Armstrong recently posted an article on prayers to the deceased and angels. I’ve written on the subject before (see here, for example), and I won’t repeat everything I’ve said in the past, but I want to comment on some of the issues addressed in Dave’s article.

Dave doesn’t cite any Biblical equivalent of the Roman Catholic prayers Evangelicals object to, because there is no Biblical equivalent.

That would be irrelevant, since my purpose (see my title) was to survey biblical examples of such prayers; whereas the prayers Jason refers to, that Protestants hate, are usually from a much later period, from Catholics, and obviously not part of the Bible. One must always be aware of a writer’s purpose and intent in any given piece of writing. In other efforts of mine, I address and defend precisely these sorts of prayers (regarding Mary): such as from St. Alphonsus de Liguori and St. Louis de Montfort.

Everything in its place and time . . . If there is any Catholic apologist who can be counted on to have addressed virtually every major Protestant objection, it’s me: with my 2900+ blog posts and 50 books. But I obviously can’t do everything in one paper! I get regularly blasted already by our anti-Catholic brethren for overly lengthy papers.

Rather, he cites some Biblical practices that are somewhat similar to the Roman Catholic practice, and he suggests that the former have implications for the latter.

Exactly! As with all doctrines, including the ones held in common by Protestants and Catholics, there is much development, and much after the time of the Bible (e.g., Christology and trinitarianism underwent a healthy development for 600 years after Christ; the canon of the Bible wasn’t finalized for another 300 years, etc.). So it’s altogether to be expected that the biblical data on intercession of the saints would be far less explicit than later developments. But the essential kernel of the doctrine is definitely in the Bible. And that was what I was driving at in this paper.

I don’t think many Evangelicals, if any, would argue that it’s inappropriate to communicate with the deceased and angels in every context. For example, Dave cites Luke 16:19-31, in which a deceased unbeliever, a rich man, communicates with a deceased believer, Abraham. What Evangelical would deny that if one deceased person appears before another, the two can communicate? I doubt that any Evangelical would maintain that two Christians in Heaven wouldn’t be permitted to speak with each other, since they had physically died. The rich man in Luke 16 is no longer living on earth, with all of the limitations and Divine commandments that apply to earthly life, and Abraham is within sight. That context is significantly different than a context in which a man on earth attempts to initiate contact, through prayer, with a deceased person whose ability to hear him he can’t verify, sometimes not even knowing whether the deceased person is saved.

That particular passage and my use of it has to do with two major prior premises in the larger debate of intercession of the saints:

1) Is it proper to “pray” to anyone but God?,


2) is it proper to ask anyone but God to not only pray for, but fufill (i.e., have the power and ability to bring about) an intercessory request?

These are the sorts of questions to which the Luke 16 passage is relevant. The rich man literally prays to Abraham in the passage (which is a story — not a parable! — from Jesus Himself), and asks him to send someone to warn his five brothers, so they can repent and not end up on his miserable state (on the “bad” side of the two divisions in Hades described in the passage).

Now, Protestantism utterly rejects #1 and #2 above; yet Luke 16 (from Jesus) clearly teach them. Hence lies the dilemma. So Jason plays games (in effect, “both people are dead! So how is it relevant?”) rather than squarely face the difficulty for his position. It matter not if both men are dead; the rich man still can’t do what he did, according to Protestant categories of thought and theology.

Distinctions like these aren’t just made by Evangelicals. If a Christian from China visits Dave’s church, and he speaks with that Christian while he’s visiting, Dave won’t assume that he can speak with that Christian through prayer after he returns to China.

Exactly! Jason is making my argument for me (thanks!). So how is it that the rich man prays to Abraham, when supposedly no one can pray to or ask to fulfill a request to anyone but God? The rich man actually makes two such requests, and then repeats the second, after Abraham refused it:

Luke 16:24 (RSV) And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Luke 16:27-28 And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

Luke 16:30 And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

How can that be in Protestant theology? No none has ever adequately explained this to me, and I’ve written about this passage many times:

Dialogue on Sheol / Hades (Limbo of the Fathers) and Luke 16 (the Rich Man and Lazarus) with a Baptist (vs. “Grubb”) [2-28-08]

The Bible on Asking Dead Men to Intercede (Luke 16) [7-8-14]

Dialogue on Praying to Abraham (Luke 16) [5-22-16]

Dialogue: Rich Man’s Prayer to Abraham (Luke 16) and the Invocation of Saints (vs. Lutheran Pastor Ken Howes) [5-3-17]

I already answered Jason’s objection that both men are dead, in the second paper above:

Whether Dives [the “rich man”] was dead or not is also irrelevant to the argument at hand, since standard Protestant theology holds that no one can make such a request to anyone but God. He’s asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him, and then to his brothers, to prevent them from going to hell. That is very much, prayer: asking for supernatural aid from those who have left the earthly life and attained sainthood and perfection, with God. . . .

Jesus told this story, and in the story is a guy praying to a dead man, to request things that the dead man appears to be able to fulfill by his own powers. That is quite sufficient to prove the point. . . .

It remains true that Protestant theology, generally speaking, forbids asking a dead man to intercede (thus, a dead man asking this is part of the larger category that remains forbidden in that theology), and makes prayer altogether a matter only between man and God . . .

In fact, God is never mentioned in the entire story (!!!) . . .

So why did Jesus teach in this fashion? Why did He teach that Dives was asking Abraham to do things that Protestant theology would hold that only God can do? And why is the whole story about him asking Abraham for requests, rather than going directly to God and asking Him: which would seem to be required by [Protestant] theology? . . .

Folks, this just ain’t how it’s supposed to be, from a Protestant perspective. All the emphases are wrong, and there are serous theological errors, committed by Jesus Himself (i.e., from their perspective).

And when Dave wrote an earlier article discussing whether we can pray to Jesus, he didn’t cite the centurion’s conversation with Jesus in Matthew 8 or the disciples’ conversations with Jesus in John 21, for example, to justify the practice of praying to Jesus.

Such comparisons would be irrelevant, since Jesus 1) wasn’t dead, and 2) He’s God in the first place, rather than a created human being, like the rest of us. But insofar as people asked Jesus to bring about a miracle or other desired outcome, in effect they were praying to Him while He was alive on the earth (before His crucifixion and death), and they could because he was God and could fulfill such requests. But Abraham is not supposed to be able to fulfill intercessory requests in the manner of Jesus, according to Protestant theology.

Why, then, does Jesus describe Dives praying to Abraham for precisely that? Note also that Abraham in turn never rebukes Dives, nor tells him that he shouldn’t be praying to him; that he should only pray to God. He merely turns down his request (which in turn proves that he had the power to do it but chose not to). Otherwise, he would or should have said (it seems to me), “I can’t do that; only God can” or “pray only to God, not to me.”

It seems that Dave understands that there’s a relevant difference between speaking with Jesus in a context like Matthew 8 or John 21 and speaking with Him today, while He’s in Heaven.

There is, to some extent, but this has no force to overcome the argument for intercession of saints from Luke 16, as explained. It’s apples and oranges and in the end, simply a non sequitur diversion from the actual issues at hand.

Yet, Dave repeatedly disregards such distinctions when citing Biblical passages about the deceased and angels. For example, he cites Matthew 17:1-4 and 27:50-53, even though those deceased believers had returned to life on earth,

They still underwent death, even though they returned. These two passages are more so about the false Protestant notion that “God wants no contact between heaven and earth; between the afterlife and this life.” So I retort with these passages (Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, and the saints rising from their graves after the crucifixion), about the dead returning. These are but two of the countless biblical refutations of various false precepts of Protestantism. God obviously does want such contact, or else He wouldn’t allow these “weird” instances. See also, the real prophet Samuel  — not a demonic fake — appearing to Saul and telling him he was to die in battle.

yet he doesn’t cite passages like John 21, in which people speak with Jesus after He returned to life on earth, in order to justify prayers to Jesus. Maybe Dave will begin appealing to passages like John 21 in that context, but his apparent failure to do so in the past suggests to me that he’s aware of and agrees with distinctions such as the ones I’ve made above.

I don’t have to cite John 21, because all Christians agree that we can pray to Jesus, and 2) St. Stephen offers us an explicit example of it. If Protestants start saying we can’t pray to Jesus, then I could and would use this argument and similar ones to show that they would be wrong to do so.

If the people of Biblical times had practiced prayers to the deceased and angels, we would expect to see that practice reflected in the Biblical record. We wouldn’t expect angels to have to initiate contact with people on earth before we saw people on earth speaking to angels, for example. Why didn’t Saul pray to Samuel rather than attempting to contact him through a medium? The people of the Bible would speak with the deceased or angels if the deceased or angels manifested themselves in some manner, but they wouldn’t attempt to initiate communication through prayer to a being who gives no indication of being available for contact.

This is actually a fair point. The short answer is: I don’t know why there wouldn’t be more such examples than there are, but there are some. My guess (and that’s all it is) would be that God wanted to focus in His revelation on prayer to Him, before getting into the fine points of the various sorts of intercession, just as He wanted to overwhelmingly concentrate on Jesus in the Bible and have relatively little about Mary. That would come later, with pious theological reflection. Other doctrines are based on very few direct indications (e.g., the virgin birth and original sin).

But I would go on to say that the doctrine is still firmly taught, as (primarily but not solely) a deduction from plain and obvious biblical principles that we do know about. Many Protestant apologists will admit that there is no direct, explicit statement of even something so fundamental to their worldview as sola Scriptura. Jason himself wrote on 1-10-18:

I don’t think the Bible directly, explicitly teaches sola scriptura. Rather, I think sola scriptura is an implication of Biblical teaching. We limit ourselves to scripture for reasons similar to why we limit ourselves to the extant writings of Tertullian and other historical figures. . . . when we combine 2 Timothy 3 with what other sources tell us about scripture and what we know about other factors involved (e.g., ecclesiology), we arrive at the conclusion of sola scriptura.

I wholeheartedly agree with him here. There certainly is no statement in the Bible remotely like the way Protestant apologists like James White define sola Scriptura: [close paraphrase] “Scripture alone is the final and infallible standard for Christian doctrine, in a way that neither the Church nor tradition are.” But they hold to the doctrine (and indeed base their entire system and rule of faith on it) because they think it is the proper deduction from many other biblical passages. They’re wrong, but that’s what they think.

The canon of the Bible is of this nature as well. The Bible never lists its own books. Protestants know this and freely admit it. That ultimately (undeniably) came from tradition. It incorporated all kinds of biblical input and considerations, but the decision came from an authoritative Church, summarizing the tradition received.

This is how it is also for prayer to angels. In the paper that Jason is partially answering I summarized the evidence:

In summary, then, what have we learned about biblical data for the notion of asking angels . . .  to pray for us and intercede before God for us? Plenty:

1) Men talk to angels (16 scriptural examples given)

2) Men make requests or petitions to angels and their wishes are granted (Gen 19, 32, 48).

3) Angels pray to God on behalf of men; they intercede for us (four examples given).

4) Angels even participate in giving grace (Rev 1:4; cf. Tob 12:12,15).

5) Angels talk to human beings from heaven (Gen 21:17-18).

6) Men see angels in heaven (11 examples given).

7) Angels protect and guard men (seven examples).

It is obvious that angels are aware of earthly events, and care about us. All of the data above leads to the deductive conclusion that it is perfectly permissible to ask an angel to pray for us. Three explicit examples occur in Holy Scripture of this very thing. It matters not where the angel is when it hears (#1) and grants the prayer request or intercedes before God, because, in fact, angels are not in space anyway. Our relation to them is the same wherever they “are.”

Therefore, since Scripture shows that they can be asked by human beings for their help, and fulfillments of these requests are even granted (#2), and grace given through angels (#4), the doctrine is proven, as they are extremely intelligent and are not confined to space. We know that angels intercede for us (four examples: #3). Therefore, since they are acutely aware of us, and in fact, we all have guardian angels (#7), we can ask them to do so. If the objection is to angels not being in front of us to talk to, we reply that in one instance, an angel talked to a person on earth from heaven (#5) and that men have often seen angels in heaven (#6). Thus, in all respects, the doctrine is proven from Holy Scripture.

Moreover, whether an angel appears first and then is asked to fulfill an intercessory prayer request is a secondary, not an essential consideration. Jason may point that out, but it doesn’t release him from the responsibility of explaining how human beings could ask angels to help (pray to them) at all: when we’re supposed to (in the Protestant view) only do that with God. After all, praying to an angel in heaven is not essentially different from asking them to intercede in a direct encounter on earth, since we know that they are aware of earthly events. Indeed, many (most?) Protestants even agree with us that there is such a thing as guardian angels, that watch over us. Billy Graham believed that. I read it in his book about angels.

So, to summarize: “we would expect to see that practice [prayer to angels] reflected in the Biblical record.” Yes, we would, just as we would “expect” (if we are Protestants) at least one clear, explicit, fully developed reflection in the Bible of the definition of sola Scriptura, or the canon of the Bible. But we don’t see either (and many Protestants are shocked to learn of that).  Since Protestants still believe in both things minus explicit proofs; likewise, we do the same with regard to asking angels to intercede. It doesn’t have to be explicit in the Bible (whatever we “expect” to see or not see in Holy Scripture), if there is sufficient deductive evidence. Goose and gander . . . If Protestants do exactly as we do with some of their distinctive doctrines that we reject, then they have no grounds to complain that we do it as regards doctrines they reject.

Furthermore, it’s a bit of a unique scenario, but the Bible gives two instances, of “praying” (at any rate, communicating to / “contacting”) the dead (and also for the dead at the same time), without mediums or spiritists, initiated by the praying person:

John 11:43-44 . . . he cried with a loud voice, “Laz’arus, come out.” [44] The dead man came out, . . .

Acts 9:40-41 But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. [41] And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.

In an article and huge discussion thread from June 2010 on “Prayers to the Dead”, Jason made several statements that expressly contradict the two passages above:

When scripture forbids attempting to contact the deceased, it’s addressing the physically deceased. 

The Biblical passages about attempting to contact the dead are too broad to be limited to “necromancy” as you seem to be defining that term. Passages like Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3 don’t just condemn particular forms of attempting to contact the dead, but rather condemn the broad principle of consulting the deceased.

The fact that mediums and spiritists are mentioned [in Isaiah 8:19] doesn’t prove that the principles Isaiah lays out can only apply to attempts to contact the dead in those particular ways. (For example, Deuteronomy 18:11 mentions mediums and spiritists, then mentions the broad category of “calling up the dead”.

The physically dead are in view when the Biblical authors condemn attempts to contact the dead.

[S]eeking to contact the dead is problematic in itself.

If Isaiah condemns attempts to contact the dead, it doesn’t make sense to assume that only the particular forms of attempting to contact the dead that you disagree with are in view. . . . If Moses and Isaiah only meant to condemn attempts to contact the dead that involve mediums and spiritists, instead of condemning the larger category without such a qualification, then why don’t they only mention mediums and spiritists? Why do they also mention the broader category I’ve been citing? . . . Isaiah is condemning a series of practices broader than merely consulting mediums and spiritists.

I’ve repeatedly argued that scripture condemns attempts to contact the dead, citing passages in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, . . . 

Deuteronomy 18:11 mentions mediums and spiritists, then mentions the broad category of “calling up the dead”. Mediums and spiritists are examples within a larger category.

Jesus raising Lazarus (including speaking to him) and Peter raising Tabitha (including speaking to her) are precisely examples of “contact” with or “calling up” the dead. Therefore, Jason’s repeated statements that any and all such practices to do with the dead are forbidden altogether in Scripture, is clearly false (unless he wants to believe that Jesus and Peter were both violating biblical commands).

Moreover, at least two more Bible passages contradict his claims of this broader condemnation in Scripture. He has to explain how Saul could petition Samuel. All agree that consulting a medium to do so was wrong. Yet when the real Samuel appeared, Saul petitioned him, and Samuel didn’t condemn him for that. I wrote in another related article of mine:

1 Samuel 28:15-16 (RSV) Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?”

. . . Samuel could properly be petitioned or, in effect, “prayed to” but he also could refuse the request, and he did so. As Samuel explained, he didn’t question the asking as wrong and sinful, but rather, refused because the request to save Saul was against God’s expressed will: which Samuel also knew about, as a departed saint. Moreover, Samuel knew (after his death) that Saul was to be defeated in battle the next day and would die (1 Sam 28:18-19).

Lastly, I submitted another scriptural argument in the same article:

The “bystanders” at Jesus’ crucifixion provide another similar instance. They assumed that He could ask (pray to) the prophet Elijah to save Him from the agony of the cross (Mt 27:46-50). They’re presented as allies of Jesus (not enemies), since one of them gave Him a drink (Mt 27:48). Matthew 27:49 shows that this type of petition was commonly believed at the time.

See also my articles:

Does God Forbid All Contact with the Dead? [6-23-07]

Invocation of the Saints = Necromancy? [10-18-08]


Dave often makes comments such as:

“Saints in heaven are aware of earthly events.”

“Angels are aware of earthly events to an extraordinary degree, being super-intelligent beings.”

He claims that deceased believers are “perfectly aware of affairs on earth”.

But the deceased and angels can be aware of some events on earth without being aware of every event.

True, but the important thing is that they are aware, as opposed to being unaware. Once they are aware, then this awareness may quite possibly include awareness of our petitions and intercessions directed to them. The Bible appears to indicate a very profound awareness; for example in Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980; orig. 1887; vol. 4, 536), [a] standard Protestant language source, comments on this verse as follows:

‘Witnesses’ does not mean spectators, but those who have borne witness to the truth, as those enumerated in chapter 11. Yet the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer’s picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith who, after having borne witness to the truth, have entered into their heavenly rest, watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid.

This includes angels, who (Jason will no doubt agree) are “super-intelligent beings.” This is just one verse, but how much it reveals!

Angels have limitations in understanding and interacting with events on earth (Daniel 10:13, 1 Peter 1:12).

All Daniel 10:13 says is that a demon opposed on particular angel, and Michael the archangel came to help him. That’s some sort of “limitation” I suppose, but it doesn’t follow that, therefore, they cannot intercede on our behalf or cause good things to happen. 1 Peter 1:12 is about how the angels seem to find the Good News of the gospel curious, since the good angels never fell and never had any need of salvation. That’s hardly a “limitation” that would hinder their hearing our prayer requests, either. Jason’s grasping at straws.

Passages like 1 Kings 8:38-39 and Revelation 2:23 suggest that only God thoroughly knows the human heart,

That’s true, and only He is omniscient. All Christians agree on those things. But again, angels can know enough to hear prayers and act upon them. They don’t have to “know our hearts” to be able to know what our hearts are expressing, when we verbalize it to them.

and 1 Kings 8 is addressed specifically to the context of prayer. 

It doesn’t logically preclude angelic invocation and intercession, because it’s talking only about prayer to God. Mentioning one thing is not the same as saying it is exclusive in all respects.

We would need some further warrant before concluding that the deceased and angels are aware of people’s thoughts and speech.

I already provided Hebrews 12:1. Jesus told us that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10). Technically, repentance is an interior disposition; so the angels seem to be beware of our thoughts to some extent (not like God, but significantly). Both dead saints (Rev 5:8) and angels (Rev 8:3-4) are somehow aware of our prayers ascending to God. Even the context of one of the verses that Jason brought up above shows that an angel learned about Daniel’s thoughts in prayer: either directly or because God made him aware. Either way, he knew, and was sent and appeared to Daniel to help:

Daniel 10:11-12 . . . “I have been sent to you.” . . . [12]. . . “from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.”

Angels are messengers. They’re sent to perform particular tasks. 

That’s right. And they know lots of stuff, too: including our petitionary requests.

Different angels work in different parts of the universe. The fact that an angel is “aware of earthly events to an extraordinary degree” in the earthly context he’s sent to address doesn’t suggest that he would be aware of a prayer in the heart of a child in some other part of the world, for example.

It suggests at least as much that he would know such a thing, than that he would not, since if it’s said that he has great awareness of one thing, it stands to reason that he would of many other things, and Hebrews 12:1 lays it right out, with no doubt that indeed this is the case for both angels and dead saints.

The Bible addresses thousands of years of human history in a large variety of contexts. There are hundreds of Biblical examples of prayers offered to God. There are many Biblical examples of people interacting with the deceased and angels if they leave the earthly realm (in Heaven, in visions, etc.) or if the deceased or angels manifest themselves in the earthly realm. But we’re never encouraged to attempt to initiate communication with the deceased or angels through prayer.

Well, we are in Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. A dead man (Abraham) is prayed to, and it was initiated by Dives: the rich man. It matters not (with regard to the theological issues here under consideration) that he was also dead, as explained above. Jason still has the burden of explaining how Abraham, who was “far off” (16:23) could be prayed to and how he came to have power to fulfill requests (and to turn them down as well, as he did here).

Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others who believe in praying to the deceased and angels do so millions of times every day, and their behavior leaves many and explicit traces in the historical record. How likely is it that there would be no such traces in the Biblical record if prayer to the deceased and angels had been a practice of the people of God in Biblical times?

As likely as there is no trace in the biblical record whatsoever of the list of the canonical books, and of the precise definition of sola Scriptura that is the very foundational principle of authority in Protestantism. Sometimes things aren’t explicit in the Bible because they are false in the first place (sola Scriptura) or are true even though no explicit passages exist to prove them, and only indirect evidences can be logically deduced (canon of the Bible, invocation of angels).

Or, if we’re to believe that it’s an appropriate practice that didn’t develop until post-Biblical times, then why should we consider it an appropriate development?

Because it was there in kernel and deductively in Holy Scripture: verified by the beliefs and practices of the Church fathers, who passed down the apostolic deposit undefiled and protected by the Holy Spirit.

Nothing in Dave’s article leads us to the conclusion that the deceased and angels are appropriate recipients of prayer.

Then he should dismantle my arguments point-by-point.

Dave doesn’t want us to speak with an angel who has appeared to us on earth, as in Genesis 19. He doesn’t want us to speak with an angel who appears to us in a vision, as in Zechariah 2. He doesn’t want us to speak with deceased believers who return to life on earth, such as the ones in Matthew 27. He doesn’t want us to speak with Abraham if we see him in the afterlife, as in Luke 16. 

When did I ever claim any of this? I know he’s being rhetorical, but its a flawed use of that technique.

Dave wants those of us who are still in this life on earth to try to initiate communication with the deceased and angels through prayer, often when the deceased and angels aren’t known to have entered the earthly realm and without our knowing whether the deceased are saved. There’s a significant difference, and Dave’s article doesn’t do anything to bridge the gap.

It certainly does, in the paper, and especially as presently clarified and reiterated. I think I’ve shown more than enough to establish that such prayer is biblical, and that Protestant disbelief in it is a false and unbiblical doctrine.

I do sincerely thank Jason for providing good food for thought and his side of this dialogue, which allows readers to make up their own minds as to the best biblical case: yay or nay. I’m utterly confident that the Catholic side of the argument prevails, if fairly considered. If someone thinks otherwise, they are more than welcome to challenge this and scores and scores of other papers of mine on similar topics. Have at it. And I will reply back unless it is of exceptionally poor quality.



Photo credit: Three angels visiting Abraham (c. 1612), by Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


May 26, 2020

Anti-Catholic Protestant James White and Catholic Reactionary Steve Skojec Echo Each Other’s Gigantic Whoppers

Exodus 20:16 (RSV) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (cf. other verses on “false witness”)

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

1 Corinthians 6:10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Revelation 21:8 But as for . . . murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.

Many times we make comments that set off a small daily lynching. May the Lord help us to be righteous in our judgments and not to begin or follow gossip that provokes an undeserved condemnation. (Pope Francis, tweet from 4-28-20)

Steve Skojec, the extremist Catholic reactionary repeatedly condemns Pope Francis for supposedly caring nothing about the saving of souls (note how six of these are just from seven hours’ time in one day):

[replying directly to one of the pope’s tweets] Try being rooted in Christ. We’re all rooting for you. (Twitter, 1-10-18)

When was the last time the man talked about saving souls instead of plants and animals? (5-22-20, 12:21 PM)

. . . a pope who, by every appearance, gives not a single damn about souls, and who is obsessed with class warfare, the distribution of material goods, ecology, etc. (5-22-20, 4:50 PM)

[I]n this pontificate, . . . salvation is rarely discussed, but social issues frequently are. (5-22-20, 7:35 PM)

The job of the pope is to help poor schlubs like us understand what God wants of us for the purposes of our salvation. . . . He’s deeply into leftist political ideology, not faith. (5-22-20, 7:42 PM)

I’ve only been documenting the irreligious themes of this papacy for seven years . . . (5-22-20, 7:45 PM)

But for bonus points, did his tweet today give even a hint that it was concerned about the salvation of souls? I’m guessing it did not. It never does. (5-22-20, 7:46 PM)

Likewise, anti-Catholic luminary and apologist / polemicist James White echoes the thought of Catholic reactionaries (who are almost as anti-Catholic and anti-pope as he is):

I just did a scan down through the “Papal feed.” Constant verbiage consistent with the left, but I simply could not find terms such as “gospel” or “repentance”. Old-style RC’s must be wondering what happened. (Twitter, 5-24-20)

These are serious, world-class lies; outright whoppers, the very opposite of the truth: worthy of the old Soviet Union, Communist China, or the Nazi propaganda machine. Where do people get off lying like this? It’s mortal, soul-endangering sin. And when a Catholic commits it against the pope, it’s also blasphemy (yes, blasphemy is more than just lying about God).

Now, what I did was simply search Pope Francis’ Twitter page (since both men above made reference to it), using Google advanced search, for any of the following terms: gospel, good news, salvation, save[d], repent[ant], preach[ing], evangel[ize] [-ism], and faith[ful]. We’ll see how often — as a matter of fact — the Holy Father stresses these things, and some other related ones as well. And the more he does (actually, far more than any of us stress and proclaim them), the more Skojec and White are seen to be damnable, blasphemous liars in this respect. Here are the results, categorized by terms, and in chronological order. You be the judge.


Gospel / Good News [39]

Let us not forget: if we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, our lives must bear witness to what we preach. (4-14-13)

To live according to the Gospel is to fight against selfishness. The Gospel is forgiveness and peace; it is love that comes from God. (5-22-13)

Christians are ready to proclaim the Gospel because they can’t hide the joy that comes from knowing Christ. (6-19-13)

Dear young people, put your talents at the service of the Gospel, with creativity and boundless charity. (12-7-13)

he Church is ever on a journey, seeking new ways to announce the Gospel. (11-8-14)

We can bring the Gospel to others only if it has made a deep impact in our lives. (4-10-15)

If God is present in our life, the joy of bringing the Gospel will be our strength and our happiness. (6-28-16)

Today the Lord repeats to all pastors: follow me despite the difficulties, follow me by proclaiming the Gospel to all. (6-29-16)

May people see the Gospel in our lives: in our generous and faithful love for Christ and our brothers and sisters. (8-13-16)

Let us offer the men and women of our time stories marked by the logic of the “good news”. (1-24-17)

Proclaiming to all the love and tenderness of Jesus, we become apostles of the joy of the Gospel. And joy is contagious! (2-25-17)

The Gospel is Good News filled with contagious joy, for it contains and offers new life. (8-2-17)

The Church needs faithful people who proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm and wisdom, instilling hope and faith. (11-4-17)

I encourage all of you to live the joy of your mission by witnessing to the Gospel wherever you are called to live and work. (12-14-17)

The Gospel message is a source of joy: a joy that spreads from generation to generation and which we inherit. (1-18-18)

The Church is young because the Gospel is its lifeblood and regenerates it constantly. (4-15-18)

In a decisive moment of his youth, Saint Francis of Assisi read the Gospel. Still today the Gospel lets you know the living Jesus, it speaks to your heart and it changes your life. (10-4-18)

The newness of the Gospel transfigures us inside and out: spirit, soul, body, and everyday life. (10-10-18)

May the Lord help us understand the logic of the Gospel, that of mercy with bearing witness. (11-8-18)

Lord, focus our gaze on what is essential, make us strip ourselves of everything that does not help to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ transparent. (2-23-19)

Let yourself be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit, in order to bring Christ into every environment and to give witness to the joy and youthfulness of the Gospel! (5-17-19)

The feast of the Ascension urges us to raise our eyes to Heaven, to fulfil, with the grace of our risen Lord, the mission He has entrusted to us: to announce the Gospel to everyone. (6-2-19)

Holy Spirit, breathe into our hearts and let us inhale the tenderness of the Father. Breathe upon the Church, so that she may spread the Gospel with joy. Breathe upon the world the fresh restoration of hope. (6-8-19)

[T]he Church . . .  lives joyfully proclaiming the Good News . . . (9-8-19)

May the memorial of our #HolyGuardianAngels strengthen in us the certainty that we are not alone. May it sustain us in proclaiming and living Christ’s Gospel for a world renewed in God’s love. (10-2-19)

I ask you to accompany this important ecclesial event with prayers, so that it may be experienced in fraternal communion and docility to the Holy Spirit, who always shows the ways for bearing witness to the Gospel. (10-7-19)

I encourage you to bring the light of the Gospel to our contemporaries. May you be witnesses of freedom and mercy, allowing fraternity and dialogue to prevail over divisions. (10-19-19)

As we celebrate the #ExtraordinaryMissionaryMonth, we ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to open the doors of the Gospel to all peoples and to be authentic witnesses of divine love. (10-23-19)

The Gospel is full of questions that attempt to unsettle, to stir and to invite the disciples to set out, to discover the truth that is capable of giving and generating life. (11-21-19)

Protecting all life and proclaiming the Gospel are not separate or opposed; rather each appeals to, and requires, the other. (11-23-19)

The nativity scene is like a living Gospel: it brings the Gospel into homes, schools, workplaces and meeting spaces, hospitals and nursing homes, prisons and town squares. (12-24-19)

In the #GospelOfTheDay (Mt 5:13-16), Jesus calls His disciples to be salt and light in the world. The person who lives and spreads the grace of Christ is salt. The person who lets the Gospel shine with good deeds is light. (2-9-20)

The Amazonian peoples have a right to hear the Gospel: the proclamation of God who infinitely loves every man and woman, and has revealed this love fully in Jesus Christ, crucified for us and risen in our lives. (2-12-20)

I wish you may all learn to look at life from above, from the perspective of heaven, to see things with God’s eyes, through the prism of the Gospel. (2-24-20)

We will be judged on our relationship with the poor. When Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you”, he is saying, “I will always be with you in the poor; I will be present there”. This is at the center of the Gospel, so much so that we will be judged on it. (4-6-20)

In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: “Christ, my hope, is risen!”. This is a different “contagion”, a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is risen!”. (4-12-20)

The #GospelOfTheDay contains the Lord’s final greeting: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel” (Mk 16:15). Faith always carries us out of ourselves. The faith needs to be transmitted and offered above all with witness. Go out so that people might see how you live. (4-25-20)

Receiving the joy of the Spirit is a grace. Moreover, it is the only force that enables us to preach the Gospel and to confess our faith in the Lord. Faith means bearing witness to the joy that the Lord gives to us. A joy such as this cannot be the result of our own efforts. (5-21-20)

The joy of proclaiming the Gospel always shines brightly against the backdrop of a grateful memory. To be “in a state of mission” is a reflection of gratitude. It is the response of one who by gratitude is made docile to the Spirit and is therefore free. (5-21-20)

Salvation [16]

The whole of salvation history is the story of God looking for us: he offers us love and welcomes us with tenderness. (5-31-13)

Jesus is the gate opening up to salvation, a gate open to everyone. (8-27-13)

Before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, only God’s infinite mercy can bring us salvation. (4-28-16)

Jesus conquered evil at the root: he is the Door of Salvation, open wide so that each person may find mercy. (4-29-16)

Open your heart and let the Lord’s grace enter in. Salvation is a gift, not a way of presenting yourself outwardly. (10-16-18)

Baptism is the best gift we have received. Through it, we belong to God and we possess the joy of salvation. (1-13-19)

Let us journey together, allowing the Gospel to be the leaven that permeates everything and fills our peoples with the joy of salvation! (6-1-19)

We are called to be witnesses and messengers of God’s mercy, to offer the world light where there is darkness, hope where despair reigns, salvation where sin abounds. (9-23-19)

St Michael, help us to fight for our salvation. St Gabriel, bring us the Good News that gives hope. St Raphael, protect us on our journey. (9-29-18)

In these days before #Christmas we praise the Lord for the gratuitousness of salvation, for the gratuitousness of life, for everything he gives us for free. Everything is grace. (12-19-19)

Salvation is in the name of Jesus. We must testify to this: He is the only Saviour. (1-3-20)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The “earth” to conquer is the salvation of our brother and sister. (2-19-20)

On the feast of the #ChairOfSaintPeter, we give thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the apostle Peter and his successors: to gather His people from among the nations and guide them in charity and truth along the path of salvation. (2-22-20)

The people of God have a sense of knowing where the Spirit is, of knowing the paths of salvation. The people of God follow Jesus. They can’t explain why, but they follow Him. And they never tire. (3-28-20)

Peter’s secret weapon is Jesus’s prayer. Jesus prays for Peter that his faith might not fail. What He did with Peter He does for all of us. Jesus prays for us before the Father, showing His wounds, the price of our salvation. (4-23-20)

To be Christian is to belong to a people freely chosen by God, and to remember those who have preceded us on the journey to salvation. Let us ask the Lord for the awareness of belonging to the people of God which, in its totality, has the sense of the faith. (5-7-20)

Save[d] [7]

Jesus is our hope. Nothing – not even evil or death – is able to separate us from the saving power of his love. (3-22-14)

The Gospel invites us first of all to answer to God, who loves us and saves us, and to recognize Him in our neighbor. (9-22-17)

Look at the open arms of Christ crucified, and let Him save you. Contemplate His blood shed out of love and let yourself be purified by it. In this way you can be reborn. (4-19-19)

God saved us by serving us. We often think we are the ones who serve God. No, he is the one who freely chose to serve us, for he loved us first. (4-5-20)

This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love. (4-5-20)

It is not easy to live in the light. The light makes us see many ugly things within us: vices, pride, the worldly spirit. But Jesus tells us: “Take courage; let yourself be enlightened, because I save you”. Let us not be afraid of Jesus’s light! (5-6-20)

In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: Christ is risen and is living by our side. (5-7-20)

Faith[ful] [9]

We need courage if we are to be faithful to the Gospel. (11-5-13)

Only faith can transform the end of our earthly life into the beginning of eternal life. (11-8-17)

The beginning of faith is feeling the need for salvation: this is the way that prepares us to meet Jesus. (12-5-18)

Faith grows when we invoke the Lord with confidence, bringing to Jesus who we are, with open hearts, without hiding our sufferings. (2-10-20)

The first requirement for prayer is faith, the second is perseverance, and the third is courage. In these days when we need to pray more, let us ask ourselves if we pray like this. The Lord never deludes! He makes us wait, but He never deludes. (3-23-20)

In the #GospelOfTheDay (John 11:1-45), Jesus tells us: “I am the resurrection and the life… have faith. Amid grief, continue to have faith, even when it seems that death has won. Let the Word of God restore life where there is death”. (3-29-20)

May our Christian existence be like that of our father Abraham: aware of having been chosen, joyful in moving toward a promise, and faithful in fulfilling the covenant. (4-2-20)

#Prayer is the breath of faith. It is like a cry that comes forth from the heart of the believer and is entrusted to God. Faith is having two raised hands and a voice that cries out to implore the gift of salvation. (5-6-20)

In the #GospelOfTheDay (John 14:1-12), Jesus indicates two remedies for being troubled in heart. First: to not depend on ourselves but to have faith in Him. Second: to remember that here we are passing through and that Jesus has reserved us a place in Heaven. (5-10-20)

Repent[ant] [5]

The greater the sin, the greater the love that must be shown by the Church to those who repent. (3-18-16)

God is always moved to compassion whenever we repent. (9-7-16)

Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. (12-19-16)

“Repent”, in other words, “Change your life” (Mt 4:17), for a new way of living has begun. The time when you lived for yourself is over; now is the time for living with and for God, with and for others, with and for love. (3-16-20)

To repent means returning to faithfulness. Today let us ask for the grace to look beyond our own security, and to be faithful even before the tomb and the collapse of so many illusions. Remaining faithful is not easy. May the Lord keep us faithful. (4-14-20)

Preach[ing] [2]

I love to repeat that Christian unity is achieved by walking together, by encounter, prayer and preaching the Gospel. (1-25-17)

Today we give glory to God for the work of Saint Dominic in the service of the Gospel which he preached with his words and his life. (8-8-17)

Evangelism [4]

The principal mission of the Church is evangelization, bringing the Good News to everyone. (10-30-14)

Practicing charity is the best way to evangelize. (1-24-15)

May the Holy Spirit revive in each of us the call to be courageous and joyful evangelizers. (1-15-20)

The Gospel will not go forward with boring, bitter evangelizers. No. It will only go forward with joyful evangelizers, full of life. (1-28-20)

Misc. Related [23]

To men and women missionaries, and to all those who, by virtue of their baptism, share in any way in the mission of the Church, I send my heartfelt blessing. (6-9-19)

God’s mercy is our liberation and our happiness. We need to forgive, because we ourselves need to be forgiven. (3-18-20)

The fire of God’s love consumes the ashes of our sin. The embrace of the Father renews us from inside and purifies our heart. (3-20-20)

If you find it hard to pray, don’t give up. Be still; make space for God to come in; let Him look at you, and He will fill you with His peace. (3-26-20)

During #Lent I invite you to halt in contemplation before the crucified Lord and repeat: “Jesus, you love me, transform me…”. (3-28-20)

The Lord frees and heals the heart, if we call on Him with humility and trust. (3-31-20)

“If you remain in my Word, you will indeed be my disciples” (Jn 8:31). The disciple is someone who is free because he or she remains in the Lord. To remain in the Lord means allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit. (4-1-20)

In these holy days let us stand before the Crucified One and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others. (4-7-20)

From the open heart of the Crucified one, God’s love reaches each one of us. Let us allow His gaze to rest on us. We will understand that we are not alone, but loved, for the Lord does not abandon us and He never, ever forgets us. (4-8-20)

The joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh 8:10). The joy of the Lord is the great strength we possess which drives us to continue being witnesses of life. Today let us ask for the grace of this joy, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (4-16-20)

To be Christian is not only to fulfill the Commandments, but “to be born again” and allow the Spirit to enter in us and carry us wherever He wants. This is the freedom of the Spirit. May the Lord help us always to be docile to the Spirit. (4-20-20)

We need the Lord, who sees an irrepressible beauty beyond that frailty. With Him we rediscover how precious we are, even in our vulnerability. (4-21-20)

Let us allow the love of God – who sent His Son Jesus – to enter into us, and help us see with the light of the Spirit. Let us ask ourselves: Do I walk in the light or in darkness? Am I a child of God? Or have I ended up like a poor “bat”? (4-22-20)

Contemplating together the face of Christ with the heart of Mary,as we pray the #Rosary, will make us more united as a spiritual family and will help us to overcome this trial. (4-25-20)

At times in life we distance ourselves from the Lord and lose the freshness of the first call. Let us ask for the grace to always go back to that first encounter, in which He looked at us, spoke to us, and placed in us the desire to follow Him. (4-27-20)

Our witness opens the way for others. Our prayer opens the door to the Father’s heart. Let us ask the Lord that we might live our work with witness and prayer, so that the Father might draw people to Jesus. (4-30-20)

Christianity is not only a doctrine, a way of behaving, a culture. Yes, it is also these things. But the core of Christianity is an encounter: the encounter with Jesus. A Christian is a person who has encountered Jesus Christ, and was open to that encounter. (4-30-20)

Let us rediscover the beauty of praying the #Rosary at home during May! At the end of each Rosary, we can recite a prayer asking for Mary’s intercession, that the Lord might free us from this pandemic and life might serenely resume its normal course. (5-1-20)

If one follows Jesus, happy to be attracted by Him, others will take notice. They may even be astonished. The joy that radiates from those attracted by Christ and by his Spirit is what can make any missionary initiative fruitful. (5-21-20)

Jesus told his disciples that he would send them the Spirit, the Comforter, prior to his departure. In this way, he also entrusted the apostolic work of the Church to the Spirit for all time, until his return. (5-21-20)

God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Praise be to you! (5-24-20)

The Feast of the #Ascension tells us that Jesus ascended to Heaven to dwell gloriously at the right hand of the Father and remains always among us. This is the source of our strength, perseverance and joy. (5-24-20)

Jesus bore our humanity and brought it beyond death to a new place, to Heaven, so that there where He is, we might also be. (5-25-20)


Any more questions?


Related Reading

Is Pope Francis Against Apologetics & Defending the Faith? [11-26-19]

Debate: Pope Francis on Doctrine, Truth, & Evangelizing (vs. Dr. Eduardo Echeverria) [12-16-19]

Pope Francis Condemns Evangelism? Absolutely Not! [1-1-20]

Dialogue: Pope Francis vs. Gospel Preaching & Converts? No! (vs. Eric Giunta) [1-3-20]

Abp. Viganò Whopper #289: Pope Forbids All Evangelism (?) [4-8-20]

Pope, Peter, & Paul: Evangelize; Don’t Proselytize [4-28-20]


Photo credit: Steve Skojec: Facebook profile picture from 2-7-14.


May 23, 2020

[book and purchase information]


[originally from 1-1-05]


My Introduction to the Series [12-29-04]

Part I: Binding Tradition [12-30-04]

Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion [12-30-04]

Part III: Ad Hominem [12-31-04]

Part IV: I’m an Ignorant Convert? [12-31-04]

Part V: Deceiver Dave [1-1-05]

Part VI: Penance and Redemptive Suffering [1-2-05]


I know what many of you are thinking (scratching your head and shaking it in amazement): “this nonsense is a critique of Dave’s book???!!!” Yes, all of this personal attack is in the midst of a supposed “critique.” It is an exercise in intellectual self-destruction. The latest installment from Bishop “Dr.” [???] White is his “Quick Thought Regarding DA and Exegesis” (12-31-04), where he expresses his confusion and clueless noncomprehension of the replies I have been giving. Here are some highlights (his words in blue):

 . . . it seems to be pretty difficult to follow where he’s going.

. . . [he] simply assumes the Roman interpretation, ignores the need to do any exegesis at all, and after all that, does not avail himself of counter-exegesis when it is only two pages away from passages he cites in his book . . .

I’m confused as well by the fact that when I mentioned looking for an exegesis of Romans 4:6-8 (which seemingly is not forthcoming: I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to see Mr. Armstrong’s exegesis of the text) in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism he accused me of changing the topic; but now I am told to look there for the positive exegesis of these passages from the Roman Catholic side. Which is it? Sorta hard to figure out, isn’t it? Indeed it is.

To which I reply: read my explanations again. It’ll come to you if you keep trying. Moving on, the next post White has blessed his readers with, is “Armstrong’s Reading List” (12-31-04), in response to my last post, where I had to prove that I had done some serious reading as a Protestant (!!!). This is an absolute classic gem of Bishop White’s finely honed art of personal attack, obfuscation, and sophistry. I shall cite it in its entirety:

Mr. Armstrong has provided a reading list on his blog.

[see the previous installment in this series for my lengthy list of books I have read or own]

No; I provided a list of books I had read, and which are in my library: heavily-used for research (because White had ridiculously denied that I was well-read as a Protestant).

In essence, this means that instead of blaming ignorance for his very shallow misrepresentations of non-Catholic theology and exegesis, we must now assert knowing deception.

At this point, White has descended into virtual self-parody and high comedy. Having seen that his contention of my “ignorance” was blown out of the water by a simple citation of the books I have read and/or own, he faced a dilemma: the choice was (1) “admit that Armstrong actually knows something about Protestantism, so that I have been lying about him all these years,” or (2) “deny that he is telling the truth about his reading and books.” He chose (1) (well, the first clause, anyway), and decided to switch to the tactic of accusing me of “knowing deception,” so as to “save face” (so he thinks).

So far, DA has been unable to provide even the slightest meaningful defense of his own published statements and their refutation.

No refutation has occurred (White has almost totally ignored the arguments in the book); what need of defense, then? So, mostly I have been clarifying simple logic and facts.

Which is really only marginally relevant to the real issue: hopefully, aside from demonstrating the exegetical bankruptcy of The Catholic Verses, . . .

Can I help it if White continually shows his inability to grasp the very nature and purpose of the book?

. . . answers are being given to all those observing and learning how to speak the truth to those who likewise would handle the Word from the vantage point of tradition rather than allowing it to speak for itself with its own voice.

Failing any logical argument, simply distort the other’s belief and assert your own radically circular position . . .


Total words: White: (minus his citation of my words): 492
Total words: Armstrong: 377 (or 77% as many as White’s)

Grand Total thus far: White: 4762 / Armstrong: 2001 (or 42% as many as White’s words, or White outwriting Armstrong by a 2.38 to one margin)

My percentage of words over against White’s, compared to his “average” prediction: 0.04% (2001 actual, compared to a predicted 47,620 / 24 times less)

Note Bishop White’s statement on 12-29-04, in commencing this present discussion:

Now, of course, DA will respond with text files (liberally salted with URL’s) that will average 10x the word count of anything I have to say. That’s OK. I shall . . . let him take home the bragging rights to verbosity and bandwidth usage.




May 23, 2020

[book and purchase information]


[originally from 12-31-04]


My Introduction to the Series [12-29-04]

Part I: Binding Tradition [12-30-04]

Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion [12-30-04]

Part III: Ad Hominem [12-31-04]

Part IV: I’m an Ignorant Convert? [12-31-04]

Part V: Deceiver Dave [1-1-05]

Part VI: Penance and Redemptive Suffering [1-2-05]


This is my reply to White’s article, “The Catholic Verses: 91 Reduced to 87 (Part I)” (12-30-04). White later removed it (without retraction or apology: needless to say), so I had to retrieve it at Internet Archive. I reproduce the whole thing, with his words in blue.

One other thing to remember before we move to Armstrong’s comments. Armstrong is identified as a “Protestant campus missionary” on the back of his book prior to his conversion. I do not know what that involved, but one thing that it probably did not involve was a great deal of study of the Puritans, reading of Edwards, or even of someone like Spurgeon.

Calvinist or Reformed theology is not the whole of Protestantism. It is White’s position which is ludicrous, since I have demonstrated that, by his very statements, C.S. Lewis, Philip Melanchthon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, even Martin Luther himself and St. Augustine, could not be Christians at all (according to him, they denied both sola fide and sola gratia)!!! See our initial 1995 debate, where I made this argument at length.

With intellectually vacant baggage like that (which he has never explained), it is beyond laughable for him to accuse me of ignorance and insufficient former “Protestant” status (as he has before), due to not reading, for example, the vehemently anti-Catholic Spurgeon (I did, however, have some of his books in my library).

So when we encounter his views of “suffering” in Protestantism, we need to remember that they are not coming from someone who was, in fact, much more than a layperson, and one who has given very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature to begin with. In fact, I would imagine Armstrong has done more reading in non-Catholic materials since his conversion than before. In any case, this lack of background will resound loudly in the comments he offers, to which we will turn in part 2.

White merely exhibits here his profound ignorance of my background, and usual condescension. He knows virtually nothing about this (and has forgotten whatever I did tell him). In fact, I read many many good books as a Protestant, including the following by Protestant authors (asterisked writers are Reformed / Calvinist, as far as I recall and know offhand):

Have-Read List:

Bernard Ramm (Baptist), Eastman, Walvoord, Michael Green, R.C. Sproul*, Stott, Van Impe, Hal Lindsey (6), C.S. Lewis (5), Josh McDowell (5), A.W. Tozer, Duane Gish (young earth creationist), Henry Morris (young earth creationist), Francis Schaeffer* (7), Harold Lindsell (2), Os Guinness, Roland Bainton — leading biographer of Luther (2), Tim LaHaye, A. Skevington Wood (biographer of Wesley), Ron Sider, Franky Schaeffer* (2), Merrill Tenney, James Montgomery Boice*, Neuhaus (when Lutheran), Lorraine Boettner* (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination), Dave Basinger (editor: Predestination and Free Will), Oswald Allis*, George Marsden* (2), J. Gresham Machen*, Howard Snyder, Kierkegaard (Lutheran philosopher) (3), John MacArthur*, J.I. Packer*, Billy Graham, Walter Martin.

I also listened to many tapes from Walter Martin, as I was involved in counter-cult research, and a ton of Christian talk radio, went to many many Bible studies and other Christian talks and conferences, etc. I was friends with three Baptist pastors: one of whom was a Reformed Baptist.

These are just people whose books I have read in their entirety (in my Protestant period). I have many many more Protestant books in my library to this day. I may not have read every page of these, but I used them a lot for research, then (1977-1990) and since my conversion (reading very large portions; oftentimes the lion’s share of the book):


G.C. Berkouwer* (3), F.F. Bruce (11), D.A. Carson, Gerhard Maier, Ryken, Edersheim (2), R.D. Wilson, Wenham, Arndt, Ladd (2), Albright (biblical archaeologist) (5), Augustus Strong, Charles Hodge*, D. Guthrie, Archer (2), Woodbridge, Jack Rodgers, John Gerstner*, A.A. Hodge*, Warfield*, Dunn, Alford, Westcott, Oswald Chambers, Richard Foster, Reinhold Niebuhr, H. Richard Niebuhr (4), Goodspeed (2), Paul Maier (3), J.B. Lightfoot (5), Peter Berger (6), Os Guinness (3), Enroth (2), Walter Martin (2), Thomas Oden (4), Ankerberg, Billy Graham (4), Dobson (6), Bonhoeffer (13), John Wesley (6 about him), Jonathan Edwards* (two of primary material and one biography), Ronald Nash*, Carl F.H. Henry, R.C. Sproul* (2), LaHaye, Charles Colson* (9), Swindoll, Yancey (3), John Macarthur* (2), J.I. Packer* (2), Sire (2).

Church Historians (emphasizing the 16th century):

J.N.D. Kelly, Roland Bainton (4), Jaroslav Pelikan (4), Philip Schaff (4), Kenneth Scott Latourette (9), Dillenberger (3), Martin Marty (3), Oberman (2), McGrath (2), A.G. Dickens (2), Hillerbrand (2), Harbison (2), Pauck (2), Spitz (2), Henry Chadwick (2), Steinmetz, Rupp, Althaus, Owen Chadwick, Perry Miller (perhaps the leading scholar on Puritanism) and other works about Puritanism (8)

Primary and Secondary “Reformation” Literature:

Martin Luther: 13 volumes from Luther’s Works, [I have since obtained the entire 55-volume set] + 15 more primary works or collections, and 15-20 books about him.
John Calvin: 10 large primary works (Institutes, Letters, Commentaries, etc.), + four biographies.
Melanchthon: two collections of primary writings.
Zwingli/Bullinger: important primary writings.
Anabaptists: important primary writings.
Book of Concord (Lutheran).
Book of Common Prayer (Anglican).

Apologists and Philosophers:

C.S. Lewis (virtually every book by and about him — my favorite writer –, filling up an entire large bookshelf), Norman Geisler (7), William Lane Craig, J.W. Montgomery (5), Josh McDowell (7), Cornelius Van Til*, Bernard Ramm (3), Alvin Plantinga* (2), J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, Kierkegaard (18), Dorothy Sayers (2), Carnell (2), J.N.D. Anderson, Strobel (2).

Scholarly References:

25 or so versions of the Bible, A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures, + one additional), Vine (Expository Dictionary of NT Words), Vincent (Word Studies), Kittel, Thayer, Gesenius, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Nave’s Topical Bible, New Bible Dictionary, Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Eerdmans Bible Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Oden; 3 volumes), Dictionary of Christianity in America (IVP), Strong’s and Young’s Concordances, NRSV Concordance.


I have these Protestant books in my library concerning suffering (and I read the Lewis, Plantinga, and Silvester books):

The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis)
Arguing With God (Hugh Silvester)
God, Freedom, and Evil (Alvin Plantinga)
Theodicy (Leibniz)
Till Armageddon (Billy Graham)
Portraits of Perseverance: 100 Meditations From the Book of Job (Henry Gariepy)
Good Grief (Granger E. Westberg)
A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)
A Loving God and a Suffering World (JonTal Murphree)
God on the Witness Stand (Daniel T. Hans)
How to Find Comfort in the Bible (Herbert Lockyer).

My lengthy paper, “Christian Replies to the Argument From Evil (Free Will Defense): Is God Malevolent, Weak, or Non-Existent Because of the Existence of Evil and Suffering?”, draws heavily on the work of Leibniz, Lewis, and Plantinga.

I think, then, any reasonable person will lay to rest White’s asinine assertion that I have shown “very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature.” I don’t think this is a bad showing at all for a non-formally-trained layman who has had relatively little money to invest in books through the years (most of these having been obtained used). I may not spout my knowledge of all these writers all the time (like someone else I know, who also talks constantly about his vaunted — but questionable — educational credentials), but that doesn’t mean I have not incorporated what they taught me into my overall Christian worldview.

I owe these writers a tremendous debt and deep gratitude for my formation in Christian theology and apologetics. Who could be anti-Protestant with all these treasures to be had? But White manages to dismiss all the wonderful Catholic literature and scholarship, as of little or no value. My position is that both Christian traditions can learn a great deal from each other, in many ways. Those who take the exclusivistic, tunnel-vision approach greatly impoverish their learning and understanding of the totality of Christianity and the Lord’s working on this earth and through salvation history.


I consider this a “footnote” so I won’t do the word count thing this time. This (necessary) aside illustrates, however, how difficult it is to reply with less words than one’s opponent, when said opponent is lying through his teeth about one. To say that I have shown “very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature,” takes all of 18 words. Lies are like that. How can you disprove this in less than 18 words? To refute the ludicrous charge clearly takes many more words (and effort; I’ve just blown a few hours). In this case, I had to list the books I read or have partially read and used for study and research. If White will stop the needless, groundless personal attacks and ignorant stupidities like this, maybe we can get back to his compelling critique that scarcely even interacts at all with what it purportedly critiques! :-)


May 23, 2020

[book and purchase information]


[originally from 12-31-04]


My Introduction to the Series [12-29-04]

Part I: Binding Tradition [12-30-04]

Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion [12-30-04]

Part III: Ad Hominem [12-31-04]

Part IV: I’m an Ignorant Convert? [12-31-04]

Part V: Deceiver Dave [1-1-05]

Part VI: Penance and Redemptive Suffering [1-2-05]


This is my reply to White’s article, “Interesting Replies” (12-30-04). He later removed it (of course without any retraction or apology), so I linked to the archived version. His words will be in blue. I reproduce his entire post.

Interesting Replies

DA has replied to my first comments on his book [see previous installment]. They were…predictable. Armstrong says his book is not “primarily” exegetical. Quite true. It is not secondarily exegetical. It is not exegetical in a tertiary manner. It simply isn’t exegetical at all.

It does contain some exegesis, but here’s the heart of my purpose (from my Introduction):

. . . only rarely do they seriously engage the biblical texts utilized by Catholics to support their positions . . . . critique of common Protestant attempts to ignore, explain away, rationalize, wish away, over-polemicize, minimize, de-emphasize, evade clear consequences of, or special plead with regard to “the Catholic Verses”: 95 biblical passages . . . ultimate incoherence, inadequacy, inconsistency, or exegetical and theological implausibility of the Protestant interpretations . . . (pp. xii-xiv)

But, that’s the whole point. The book pretends to “confound” Protestants with biblical passages, remember? I did not choose the title, Mr. Armstrong did.

Technically, I am not trying to “confound” anyone. It is the Bible which gives Protestants difficulty. I’m merely documenting exegetical bankruptcy, confusion, or irrationality.

And the only way to do that is to provide a meaningful interpretation of those passages.

That’s logically distinct from critiquing Protestant exegesis. Biblical evidence for Catholicism is dealt with in my first two books.

And unless Mr. Armstrong is willing to just come out and say, “Hey, Rome tells me what these passages mean, I can’t even begin to handle the biblical text myself,” then some kind of argument is going to have be offered from the text itself.

That is a separate project. Catholic exegetes are no more bound to “official” interpretation of verses than Protestants. See: The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete / Interpreter + Bible Passages that the Church has Definitively Interpreted [9-14-03].

And what I’m demonstrating is that when most “Dave Armstrong” level RC apologists . . .

Who else would be in this “level”?

 . . . quote a passage, they honestly have no idea what the passage is actually saying in its native context. They are eisegetically misusing the text, as I am documenting in regards to Armstrong. And that’s the whole point of this exercise.

Why respond to silly, false accusations?

Armstrong also informs us that he doesn’t read my books. That’s OK. If he wishes to remain ignorant of the exegetical arguments presented against his position, I have no reason to encourage him to do otherwise.

This book is about failed Protestant attempts to refute Catholic biblical prooftexts. White has yet to deal with those.

It is just odd to me that someone would wish to put arguments into print that have already, and recently, been refuted. ignoratio elenchi.

White’s arguments are not the sum and essence of Protestant exegesis. He has quite the inflated view of his own importance.

When I invited Armstrong to provide us with a meaningful, contextual examination of Romans 4:6-8, his response was classic:

DA [his citing my words]: “Why should I go off on White’s rabbit trail, after he has systematically ignored my critiques of his material for almost ten years? If he actually tries to interact with some of mine, then he will find me much more willing to go off on tangents of his own choosing. But I won’t bow to either (1) a double standard, or (2) diversion tactics to avoid dealing with the topic at hand (which he himself chose, in the present case, oddly enough).”

Well, OK. I guess we will be left to wonder if, in fact, Dave Armstrong can exegete that passage or not.

Wonder away. It’s off-topic. Period.

Maybe someone else can ask and not get that kind of response.

When it is the topic, sure!

But again, I just state the obvious: the author of A Biblical Defense of Catholicism and The Catholic Verses seems, anyway, by his initial responses, to be exceptionally unwilling to engage in exegesis of the text of Scripture. I don’t know, maybe that strikes someone else as odd?

White’s continual dense inability (or unwillingness) to offer a logical and coherent critique is what amazes me.


Total words: White: 423
Total words: Armstrong: 271 (or 64% as many as White’s)
Grand Total thus far: White: 4270 / Armstrong: 1624 (or 38% as many as White’s words, or White outwriting Armstrong by a 2.63 to one margin)

My percentage of words over against White’s, compared to his “average” prediction: 0.04% (1624 actual, compared to a predicted 42,700 / 26 times less)

Note Bishop White’s statement on 12-29-04, in commencing this present discussion:

Now, of course, DA will respond with text files (liberally salted with URL’s) that will average 10x the word count of anything I have to say. That’s OK. I shall . . . let him take home the bragging rights to verbosity and bandwidth usage.



May 22, 2020

[book and purchase information]


[originally from 12-30-04]


My Introduction to the Series [12-29-04]

Part I: Binding Tradition [12-30-04]

Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion [12-30-04]

Part III: Ad Hominem [12-31-04]

Part IV: I’m an Ignorant Convert? [12-31-04]

Part V: Deceiver Dave [1-1-05]

Part VI: Penance and Redemptive Suffering [1-2-05]


This is my reply to White’s article, “The Protestant Verses: Can Dave Armstrong Exegete This Passage?” (12-30-04). White’s words will be in blue.

I’d like to ask Dave Armstrong to provide a biblically solid, textually grounded, linguistically accurate, contextually sound interpretation of Romans 4:6-8:

Romans 4:6-8 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD will not impute sin.”

I scanned through The Catholic Verses and couldn’t find a reference to this passage (I may have missed it);

Obviously, then, it has nothing to do with any argument in my book!

I looked at the Scripture index to A Biblical Defense of Catholicism and it is not listed.

That being another book, it obviously has nothing to do with a critique of my present book, either . . .

I tried googling Armstrong’s blog and website, but got no hits on various ways of listing the passage. If Armstrong has already written something that fits this request, I will be glad to look at it upon referral. But, failing that, I would simply ask: “Who is the blessed man of Romans 4:6-8 in Roman Catholic theology?”

Why should I go off on White’s rabbit trail, after he has systematically ignored my critiques of his material for almost ten years? If he actually tries to interact with some of mine, then he will find me much more willing to go off on tangents of his own choosing. But I won’t bow to either (1) a double standard, or (2) diversion tactics to avoid dealing with the topic at hand (which he himself chose, in the present case, oddly enough).

I would assume Armstrong possesses a copy of The God Who Justifies . . .

He assumes wrongly. I haven’t read any of his books. The only ones I even have are those he sent me for free back in 1995 (thanks again, James!), and one (The Roman Catholic Controversy) that I found for a quarter at a used book sale (I’m willing to pay that much for anti-Catholic material; if it was a dollar, though, I would have thought twice).

(though it is not referred to in his new book, which is especially interesting regarding the 24 page chapter on James 2:14-24 that Armstrong neglects in his book),

Again, White strangely assumes that I always have to deal with his arguments, when my purpose was mainly to examine historic Protestant commentary, from major figures in its history (or does White claim to be that?).

[Note from 3-9-17: I later (on 10-9-13) refuted that chapter in his book. See: Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies. White utterly ignored it, as is his wont almost always with me. At best, he might attempt a feeble “argument” for a paragraph or two, but then will ignore any counter-reply. He’s been doing this now with me for over 21 years]

but should he not, allow me to reproduce the exegesis I offered of this section. I would be very interested in a response-in-kind from Mr. Armstrong. (Please forgive any formatting issues, the lack of italics, and of the footnotes that are in the original. Please refer to the published work for those details):

See my third response previous to this one. I am curious why White is suddenly so interested in my opinions, though, since he has always argued (and still in our previous round) that they have no substance whatsoever.

[deleted his entire citation, due to its being off-topic]

My book is about how Protestants rationalize, special plead, avoid, obfuscate, etc. regarding biblical verses which (from our perspective) suggest some distinctive in Catholic theology. White’s aim above, on the other hand, is to exegete a passage which he considers a strong proof text for Protestantism. Apples and oranges. Perhaps a future book of mine can be devoted to showing how Protestant proof texts are utterly inadequate and able to be sufficiently refuted from a Catholic point of view and dismissed (sounds like a fun project to me).

But that time is not now, in the context of the ongoing critique of my book, and also given White’s past utter contempt and ignoring of my arguments. I’ve always refused to play this game of topic-switching (with White and everyone else). I would do that even if we had the most cordial of relationships and he had answered my past writings and challenges to him. And that is because I maintain strong principles of how to go about a good dialogue properly and in an orderly, constructive fashion.

White, in fact, follows very similar principles himself. In a recent blog post (“Regarding Theological Dialogues” [12-29-04]), he stated that one must take one’s time with serious theological topics, and not rush things. This is very good (nice to agree with White occasionally). Likewise, my principle and determination here is to not go off the previous topic in order to immediately treat some entirely different subject. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the worthiness and importance or value of the particular discussion itself.

In fact, I show much respect towards it by maintaining this principle, because I am saying that serious topics ought to be considered one at a time, carefully and deliberately. And that can’t be done by rushing off on some rabbit trail, because the opponent thinks he has a slam dunk (while double dribbling and missing all his shots in the present “refutation / dialogue” that he seeks to avoid for the moment with a diversion). So, nice try . . .


Total words: White: 2910
Total words: Armstrong: 630 (or 22% as many as White’s)

Note White’s statement on 12-29-04, in commencing this present discussion: “Now, of course, DA will respond with text files (liberally salted with URL’s) that will average 10x the word count of anything I have to say. That’s OK. I shall . . . let him take home the bragging rights to verbosity and bandwidth usage.”


May 22, 2020

[book and purchase information]


[originally from 12-29-04]


My Introduction to the Series [12-29-04]

Part I: Binding Tradition [12-30-04]

Part II: Rabbit Trail Diversion [12-30-04]

Part III: Ad Hominem [12-31-04]

Part IV: I’m an Ignorant Convert? [12-31-04]

Part V: Deceiver Dave [1-1-05]

Part VI: Penance and Redemptive Suffering [1-2-05]


Contrary to his usual “principle” (if one can call it that), Bishop White has actually shown himself willing to take on some of my arguments in writing. This marks a new turning-point in our warm relationship and Christian fellowship. Prior to now, by and large, White has ignored my written arguments and has stuck to mockery of how long and irrelevant and substanceless my papers allegedly are, etc.

He did do a critique of my radio appearance on Catholic Answers Live, concerning Bible and Tradition, on several of his Dividing Line webcasts. I showed how shallow that was, by delving at length (I know, “ha ha”) into one particular example of his “argumentation” there (unresponded to, of course). See: Jerusalem Council vs. Sola Scriptura [9-2-04].

My own suspicion (just a speculation, mind you) is that the “Armstrong writes meaningless sentences, full of sophistry and non sequitur, a million pages long” excuse rhetoric may be wearing thin among some White supporters (such as those he gabs with in his chat room). Perhaps a few of them have urged White to take me on, since (from their perspective) I am doing such harm to “the gospel” by my “verbose” rantings and ravings.

After all, someone’s gotta stop me, right, before I lead further uninformed, poor souls astray with my abominable Catholic apologetics, in defense of lies, the Antichrist, etc.? This excuse of his to avoid rational (and for the anti-Catholic, necessary) theological dispute just doesn’t cut it, even by the rock-bottom, illogical, incoherent standards of discourse and evidence that characterizes the anti-Catholic mindset. So here we go.

Even so, I expect that he will write his thing, I’ll respond, and then it’ll be over (i.e., for that particular sub-topic; presumably one of the Bible passages I write about). That’s how it has been since 1995 with White and I, since our lengthy postal exchange that he prematurely departed.

But hey, he has now decided to change his policy of never engaging me in writing (except to mock and ridicule and dismiss), so maybe we’ll be blessed with another radical innovation in his methodology: going more than one round in a written debate. Here is White’s entire blog entry (12-29-04) [his words in blue]:


The Catholic Verses: Introit

I sometimes feel sorry for ancient artists. Their work gets plastered all across the covers of modern books, but they never get a dime for their efforts. It’s a shame. That odd observation aside, I picked up a copy of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Sophia Institute Press, 2004, 235 pp.), which sports said ancient art (a di Bondone painting) on its cover. I’m a Protestant, and I have yet to be confounded by Dave Armstrong, so I thought it might be interesting to invest some time in using it as a resource here on the blog.

Likewise, I was listening to a debate between a Church of Christ minister and Bill Rutland, another Roman Catholic apologist, yesterday. I was fascinated by Rutland’s bold assertions about the Greek language (I’ll be addressing him in time). When RC apologists like Armstrong and Rutland promote arguments in their writings and debates that are, in fact, invalid, we have a duty to respond to them, even if we have, in fact, responded to similar kinds of errors dozens of times in the past. Why? Because the folks you may be seeking to win to the gospel may have a copy of The Catholic Verses on their nightstand, or a CD of Rutland’s in their car.

Now, of course, DA will respond with text files (liberally salted with URL’s) that will average 10x the word count of anything I have to say. That’s OK. I shall win the award for brevity and concise expression, and let him take home the bragging rights to verbosity and bandwidth usage. Thankfully, there are folks “in channel” who can help me find out if there is, in fact, anything at all of substance in said replies, and if there is, I will seek to note it, again for only one reason: the edification of the saints both in their confidence in the gospel and in their preparation for the task of proclamation.

So we will begin with one of the classic passages in the Catholic/Protestant debate: 2 Thessalonians 2:15. I will start there in the next installment simply because Armstrong notes The Roman Catholic Controversy in his book, hence, his section on the verse should “confound” my own exegesis of the text. Does it? We shall see.


Yes we shall. I think we’ll “see” quite a bit if White intends to take up this discussion in earnest. Just for fun, I will write less words than he does (which is difficult, seeing that his analyses are so filled with errors and misrepresentations — especially of my own arguments — that “brevity” is quite the gargantuan task and an exercise in extreme self-control, for one literally surrounded by falsehoods to be responded to briefly). That will provide a true challenge from White, for a change (if only indirectly), which would be nice.


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