November 7, 2019

Anti-Catholic polemicist Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White, among many other childish potshots at Catholic apologists and the Catholic Church, mocked the interpretation of Revelation 12 and the “woman clothed with the sun” as the Blessed Virgin Mary, in his post entitled, “And So They Trudge on in Defense of Mother Church” (8-12-09). His words will be in blue.


Revelation 12 (complete: RSV) And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; [2] she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. [3] And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; [5] she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. [7] Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, [8] but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. [9] And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. [10] And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. [11] And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. [12] Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” [13] And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child. [14] But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. [15] The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. [16] But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had poured from his mouth. [17] Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

. . . the argument is but one of many to be raised against Rome’s abuse of the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation 12. But it is a perfectly valid issue to raise, since it is Rome, not the objector, who is forcing the imagery to “walk on all fours” and to serve as one of the few texts the Roman Catholics can use as support of its clearly unbiblical complex of Marian dogmas. . . . 

There are numerous reasons, biblically and historically, to reject Rome’s later identification of Mary in this text. No one is saying, “Oh, I grant all that, but look at this one objection.” It is part of a complex of problems Rome’s eisegesis creates with the apocalyptic text. And if you want another example of the “context doesn’t matter, Rome does” method of biblical manhandling (shades of Harold Camping!), the beginning of birth pangs in the destruction of Jerusalem is somehow related to this imagery in Revelation, so that the term “birth” becomes the valid means of connection? Ah, the glory of Rome’s “interpretation” of the Bible. . . . 

I’m still waiting for that official list of infallibly interpreted texts. Aren’t you?

No. I provided this list in a paper of mine dated 9-14-03 (by my math almost six years since White’s paper I am presently refuted). I cited a tract from Catholic Answers which must have been earlier than that. Yet White was still seeking this answer six years later. There are seven passages for sure; possibly two more. That’s it. This passage is not among them, so we simply look at it and use our heads and utilize other scriptural knowledge to interpret it (just as Protestants do). There is a strong exegetical tradition in Catholicism, of course, that it is about Mary, as well as the Church.

But back to our topic.  First of all, as just alluded to, most Catholic exegetes and commentators hold to a dual application in their interpretation of Revelation 12: i.e., Mary and the Church. This is a not-uncommon motif in interpretation of prophecy in Scripture. Thus, we have no problem in someone applying several portions of the passage to the Church; we only object to a denial that it has anything to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary. The following are some of the considerations I would bring forth, in arguing that it does apply at least partially to Mary the Mother of God (Jesus):

Psalm 2:7-9 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.[8] Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. [9] You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (cf. Rev 12:5)

Revelation 19:13-16 He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. [14] And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. [15] From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords. (cf. Rev 12:5)

Psalm 2:7-9 is a messianic passage, which Christians believe refers to Jesus. Revelation 19:13-16 clearly refers to Jesus, from the description of “Word of God” (John 1) and reference to Psalm 2. “Rule them with a rod of iron” (19:15) is almost identical to 12: 5. We also know for sure it is Jesus by a comparison with Revelation 17:14: “they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, . . .” “Lamb” is used many times in the book of Revelation, with clear reference to Jesus, referring to a “slain” Lamb (5:6, 12; 13:8), “blood of the Lamb” (7:14: 12:11), worship of the Lamb (5:8, 12-13), “twelve apostles of the Lamb” (21:14), etc.

The next seemingly undeniable clue is the phrase “caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5). The association of the Lamb (Jesus) and His sitting on or being near God’s “throne” occurs in nine passages in the book of Revelation 12 (5:6, 13; 6:16; 7:9-10, 17 [the latter verse states “the Lamb in the midst of the throne”]; 22:1, 3).  

If we’re talking about Jesus’ mother, that has to be Mary, because Jesus wasn’t born of the Church; He set up the Church (Matthew 16). Jesus was not a product of the Church, since He preceded it and initiated it. Therefore, that part is specifically talking about Mary. The Bible never uses a terminology of Jesus being a “child” (Rev 12:5) of the Church. He is the child of God the Father (His Divine Nature) and of Mary (as a person with both a Divine and human nature). The Church is “of Christ”; Christ is not “of the Church”; let alone its “child.” Those categories are biblically ludicrous and indeed almost blasphemous. 
“Caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5) can’t mean “the twelve thrones” referred to in Matt 19:18 (cf. Lk 22:30; Rev 4:4; 11:16) because it says “His [i.e., God’s] throne.” Only Jesus is connected directly with that, because He is God. And so we see Jesus (unlike any created men) sitting on God’s throne (Matt 19:28; 25:31; Heb 1:8; Rev 7:17; 22:1, 3).
I can cite many Protestant commentators regarding Revelation 12:5, too. Baptist A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament – six volumes), says of Rev. 12:5: “There is here, of course, direct reference to the birth of Jesus from Mary”. Eerdmans Bible Commentary likewise states: “the ‘catching up’ is sufficiently similar to the victorious ascension of Jesus to make plain its real meaning in this context.” Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary states: “rod of iron . . . ch. 2:27; Psalm 2:9, which passages prove the Lord Jesus to be meant. Any interpretation which ignores this must be wrong.” It also notes the reference to the ascension.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers states: “There can be no doubt that this man child is Christ. The combination of features is too distinct to admit of doubt, it is the one who will feed His flock like a shepherd (Isaiah 40:12), who is to have, not His own people, but all nations as His inheritance (Psalm 2:7-9), and whose rule over them is to be supreme and irresistible.”
Meyer’s NT Commentary: “These words taken from Psalm 2:9 (LXX.), which are referred also to Christ in Revelation 19:15, make it indubitable that the child born of the woman is the Messiah; but the designation of Christ by these words of the Messianic Psalm is in this passage the most appropriate and significant, since the fact is made prominent that this child just born is the one who with irresistible power will visit in judgment the antichristian heathen.”
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “This designation of the Son proves beyond question who He is, see Revelation 2:27 as proving, if there could be any doubt about it, how Psalm 2:9 is understood in this book.”
Pulpit Commentary: “This reference and Psalm 2:9 leave no doubt as to the identification of the man child. It is Christ who is intended. The same expression is used of him in Revelation 19, where he is definitely called the “Word of God.” And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. The sentence seems plainly to refer to the ascension of Christ and his subsequent abiding in heaven, from whence he rules all nations.” 

Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible“These two clauses open and close this verse; and the whole biography of the earthy life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God is here compressed into nineteen words! The critics have really had a fit about this. Some have even denied that the birth of Christ is mentioned here. . . . Despite such views, the pregnant woman, the travailing in birth, and the delivery of a man child in this passage can mean nothing else except the birth of Christ; and the compression of Jesus’ whole biography into such a short space is perfectly in harmony with what the author did by presenting the entire Old Testament history in a single verse (Revelation 12:4). To suppose that the birth is not included here would make the passage mean that the woman brought forth his death and resurrection; because the emphatic statements of her pregnancy and her being delivered clearly makes her the achiever of whatever happened in Revelation 12:5. This therefore has to be a reference to Jesus’ physical birth in Bethlehem.”

Richard Lenski also agrees. 

All of this (which White will ignore, as he always does), yet the good “Dr.” [???] states “There are numerous reasons, biblically and historically, to reject Rome’s later identification of Mary in this text.” I got news for Jimbo: it ain’t just Rome making the claim . . . And we wait with baited breath for him to overturn and refute all of this Protestant (not just Catholic) exegesis of Revelation 12.
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Photo credit: Madonna in Glory (c. 1670), by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
September 20, 2019

This is a reply to Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White’s article, “Truths of the Bible or Untruths of Roman Tradition?: James White Responds to Tim Staples’ Article, “How to Explain the Eucharist” in the September, 1997 issue of Catholic Digest (1 March 2000).

See my Introduction to what will be a very long series (and the other installments). Words of James White will be in blue.


Catholic apologists know the situation well.  The Evangelical Christian has his Bible and is making waves at a family reunion.  It’s a common situation since 1) Evangelicals are evangelical; that is, they share their faith, and few Catholics even view their faith as something that is “sharable”; and 2) evangelicals love and study the Bible, believe it, and seek to share its message with those around them.  So the new breed of Catholic apologists have to find ways to get their followers into the “game” so to speak.

This is true (to our shame). It’s why I write articles like these:

“Why Don’t Catholics Read the Bible?” [6-26-02]

Bibles & Catholics, Sunday School?, Memorization, Etc. [9-25-08]

Why Are Catholics So Deficient in Bible-Reading? [National Catholic Register, 11-22-17]

In the September, 1997 issue of Catholic Digest, Tim Staples, a former member of the Assemblies of God, attempts to provide Catholics with a way of replying in a “biblical” fashion so as to answer the question, “Why Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ.”  In this little article, Staples provides “practical advice” on how to shut the mouth of the Bible-believer so as to promote the Roman Catholic position.  But let’s look closely at what he says.

And let’s also look closely at the falsehoods and fallacies in Bishop White’s replies.

[J]ust because Jesus uses the terminology of flesh and blood [in John 6] doesn’t mean we are justified in forcing such terms into a wooden literality.  Jesus used symbols to convey greater truths, and if the context of the passage indicates this is what He is doing, we have no reason at all to force Him into some absurd literality.  And that is exactly what we have here.  Those who walked away were the grumbling Jews who forsook Him and did not understand His message.  Looking to them for guidance to the meaning of Jesus’ words is probably a very, very bad idea.

I have examined in great depth the claim that Jesus was only speaking symbolically in John 6, and show why — all things considered — this view can’t hold up under scrutiny:

Transubstantiation, John 6, Faith and Rebellion [National Catholic Register, 12-3-17]
But Tim is resolute.  He informs us that in other instances, such as John 4:32, Jesus cleared up misconceptions in His disciples’ minds quickly (4:34). 
Indeed. I provided many more instances of that in the first paper above.
When Augustine commented on this passage, he wrote:

“He that comes unto Me: this is the same as when He says, And he that believes on Me: and what He meant by, shall never hunger, the same we are to understand by, shall never thirst. By both is signified that eternal fulness, where is no lack.”

There is no literality in Augustine’s understanding.  Note his further comments on the passage:

Let them then who eat, eat on, and them that drink, drink; let them hunger and thirst; eat Life, drink Life. That eating, is to be refreshed; but you are in such wise refreshed, as that that whereby you are refreshed, does not fail. That drinking, what is it but to live? Eat Life, drink Life; you will have life, and the Life is Entire. But then this shall be, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ shall be each man’s Life; if what is taken in the Sacrament visibly is in truth itself eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually. For we have heard the Lord Himself saying, It is the Spirit that gives life, but the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life.”

Here are a few more just for the fun of it:

Augustine (Faustus 6.5): “while we consider it no longer a duty to offer sacrifices, we recognize sacrifices as part of the mysteries of Revelation, by which the things prophesied were foreshadowed. For they were our examples, and in many and various ways they all pointed to the one sacrifice which we now commemorate. Now that this sacrifice has been revealed, and has been offered in due time, sacrifice is no longer binding as an act of worship, while it retains its symbolical authority.”

Augustine (Faustus 20.18, 20): “The Hebrews, again, in their animal sacrifices, which they offered to God in many varied forms, suitably to the significance of the institution, typified the sacrifice offered by Christ. This sacrifice is also commemorated by Christians, in the sacred offering and participation of the body and blood of Christ. . . . Before the coming of Christ, the flesh and blood of this sacrifice were foreshadowed in the animals slain; in the passion of Christ the types were fulfilled by the true sacrifice; after the ascension of Christ, this sacrifice is commemorated in the sacrament.

Where is the literality?  It is not there, which is why there were debates a thousand years after Christ concerning this very issue: and Augustine was one of the chief Fathers cited by those who opposed the absurdly literal interpretation that lead to transubstantiation. 

In a paper I wrote detailing my odyssey to the Catholic Church, I recounted my own use of the approach I am now critiquing:

I claimed that St. Augustine . . . adopted a symbolic view of the Eucharist. I based this on his oft-stated notion of the sacrament as symbol or sign. I failed to realize, however, that I was arbitrarily creating a false, logically unnecessary dichotomy between the sign and the reality of the Eucharist, for St. Augustine — when all his remarks on the subject are taken into account — clearly accepted the Real Presence. The Eucharist — for Augustine, and objectively speaking — is both sign and reality. There simply is no contradiction.

A cursory glance at Scripture confirms this general principle. For instance, Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah, comparing the prophet Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the fish to His own burial in the earth (Mt 12:38-40). In this case, both events, although described as signs, were quite real indeed. Jesus also uses the terminology of sign in connection with His Second Coming (Mt 24:30-31), which is believed by all Christians to be a literal event, and not symbolic only.

Now, on to St. Augustine’s statements which very strongly support the opinion that He held to the Real Presence in the Eucharist:

IV. From Ludwig Ott (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, translated by Patrick Lynch, edited by James C. Bastible, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1974 [orig. 1952 in German]):

1) The bread which you see on the altar is, sanctified by the word of God, the body of Christ; that chalice, or rather what is contained in the chalice, is, sanctified by the word of God, the blood of Christ. (Sermo 227; on p. 377)

2) Christ bore Himself in His hands, when He offered His body saying: “this is my body.” (Enarr. in Ps. 33 Sermo 1, 10; on p. 377)

3) Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it. (Enarr. in Ps. 98, 9; on p. 387)

4) Referring to the sacrifice of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18 ff.):

The sacrifice appeared for the first time there which is now offered to God by Christians throughout the whole world. (City of God, 16, 22; on p. 403)

Ott cites other references or beliefs of St. Augustine:

A) Interpretation of Jn 6:51b-58 as referring to the Eucharist (p. 374)

B) Christ was both the sacrificing Priest and the sacrificial Gift in one Person (City of God, 10, 20; Ep. cf. 98, 9; on p. 406)

C) The sacrifice of the Mass is that foretold by Malachi [1:10-11] (Tract. adv. Jud. 9, 13; on p. 406)

D) The Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice bringing about remission of sins and the conferring of supernatural gifts (De cura pro mortuis fier. 1, 3; 18, 22; Enchir. 110; on p. 413)

V. William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 3, edited and translated by Jurgens, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979:

5) He took flesh from the flesh of Mary . . . and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation . . . we do sin by not adoring. (Explanations of the Psalms , 98, 9; on p. 20)

6) Not all bread, but only that which receives the blessing of Christ, becomes Christ’s body. (Sermons, 234, 2; on p. 31)

7) What you see is the bread and the chalice . . . But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice the Blood of Christ. (Sermons, 272; on p. 32)

8) Christ is both the priest, offering Himself, and Himself the Victim. He willed that the sacramental sign of this should be the daily sacrifice of the Church. (City of God, 10, 20; on p. 99)

9) Not only is no one forbidden to take as food the Blood of this Sacrifice, rather, all who wish to possess life are exhorted to drink thereof. (Questions of the Hepateuch, 3, 57; on p. 134)

VI. Hugh Pope, St. Augustine of Hippo, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1961 (orig. 1937):

10) The Sacrifice of our times is the Body and Blood of the Priest Himself . . . Recognize then in the Bread what hung upon the tree; in the chalice what flowed from His side. (Sermo iii. 1-2; on p. 62)

11) The Blood they had previously shed they afterwards drank. (Mai  26, 2; 86, 3; on p. 64)

12) Eat Christ, then; though eaten He yet lives, for when slain He rose from the dead. Nor do we divide Him into parts when we eat Him: though indeed this is done in the Sacrament, as the faithful well know when they eat the Flesh of Christ, for each receives his part, hence are those parts called graces. Yet though thus eaten in parts He remains whole and entire; eaten in parts in the Sacrament, He remains whole and entire in Heaven. (Mai 129, 1; cf. Sermon 131; on p. 65)

13) Out of hatred of Christ the crowd there shed Cyprian’s blood, but today a reverential multitude gathers to drink the Blood of Christ . . . this altar . . . whereon a Sacrifice is offered to God . . . (Sermo 310, 2; cf. City of God, 8, 27, 1; on p. 65)

14) He took into His hands what the faithful understand; He in some sort Bore Himself when He said: This is My Body. (Enarr . 1, 10 on Ps. 33; on p. 65)

15) The very first heresy was formulated when men said: “this saying is hard and who can bear it [Jn 6:60]?” ( Enarr . 1, 23 on Ps. 54; on p. 66)

16) Thou art the Priest, Thou the Victim, Thou the Offerer, Thou the Offering. (Enarr . 1, 6 on Ps. 44; on p. 66)

17) Take, then, and eat the Body of Christ . . . You have read that, or at least heard it read, in the Gospels, but you were unaware that the Son of God was that Eucharist. (Denis , 3, 3; on p. 66)

18) The entire Church observes the tradition delivered to us by the Fathers, namely, that for those who have died in the fellowship of the Body and Blood of Christ, prayer should be offered when they are commemorated at the actual Sacrifice in its proper place, and that we should call to mind that for them, too, that Sacrifice is offered. (Sermo, 172, 2; 173, 1; De Cura pro mortuis, 6; De Anima et ejus Origine, 2, 21; on p. 69)

19) We do pray for the other dead of whom commemoration is made. Nor are the souls of the faithful departed cut off from the Church . . . Were it so, we should not make commemoration of them at the altar of God when we receive the Body of Christ. (Sermo 159,1; cf. 284, 5; 285, 5; 297, 3; City of God, 20, 9, 2; cf. 21,24; 22, 8; on p. 69)

20) It was the will of the Holy Spirit that out of reverence for such a Sacrament the Body of the Lord should enter the mouth of a Christian previous to any other food. (Ep. 54, 8; on p. 71)

Lutheran (later Orthodox) Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, explains Augustine’s views

It is incorrect, therefore, to attribute to Augustine either a scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation or a Protestant doctrine of symbolism, for he taught neither — or both –– and both were able to cite his authority. (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 305, emphasis added)

Pelikan had just given several examples of rather obvious and extreme Eucharistic realism and literalism (many if not all included in my own proofs). The simple fact of the matter is that Augustine speaks in both ways. But we can harmonize them as complementary, not contradictory, because Catholics, like Augustine himself, tend to think in terms of “both/and” rather than the dichotomous “either/or” prevalent in Protestantism. Thus, when some Augustinian symbolic Eucharistic utterance is found, it is seized upon as “proof” that he thereby denied the Real Presence.

It is difficult to conceive of anyone denying that St. Augustine believed in the Real Presence (or the Sacrifice of the Mass) after perusing all of this compelling evidence. His other symbolic utterances have been sufficiently explained and are easily able to be synthesized with the above beliefs. St. Augustine is indeed an “insufficient witness” to Protestant belief in a symbolic, or “dynamic” Eucharist.

Anglican historian J. N. D. Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, 447), summarizes:

    One could multiply texts like these which show Augustine taking for granted the traditional identification of the elements with the sacred body and blood. There can be no doubt that he [Augustine] shared the realism held by almost all of his contemporaries and predecessors.

White cites eminent Protestant historian Philip Schaff, writing about how the Church fathers had both literal and symbolic understandings of the Holy Eucharist. He cites Augustine as in the latter camp. But wait! Schaff also wrote the following:

The doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist was not a subject of theological controversy . . . . till the time of Paschasius Radbert, in the ninth century . . .

In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim……

[Augustine] at the same time holds fast the real presence of Christ in the Supper . . . He was also inclined, with the Oriental fathers, to ascribe a saving virtue to the consecrated elements.

Augustine . . . on the other hand, he calls the celebration of the communion ‘verissimum sacrificium’ of the body of Christ. The church, he says, offers (‘immolat’) to God the sacrifice of thanks in the body of Christ. [City of God, 10,20] (History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A.D. 311-600, revised 5th edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, reprinted in 1974, originally 1910, 492, 500, 507)

Note: Schaff had just for two pages (pp. 498-500) shown how St. Augustine spoke of symbolism in the Eucharist as well, but he honestly admits that the great Father accepted the Real Presence “at the same time.” This is precisely what I would argue. Catholics have a reasonable explanation for the “symbolic” utterances, which are able to be harmonized with the Real Presence, but Protestants, who maintain that Augustine was a Calvinist or Zwingian in his Eucharistic views must ignore the numerous references to an explicit Real Presence in Augustine, and of course this is objectionable scholarship.

It seems historians do not share Tim’s viewpoint, and for good reason.  We could cite from Tertullian and Theodoret and many others, . . . Of course, it is easier to make universal claims about history that are inaccurate than it is to provide a meaningful and truthful response.

Two can play that game, and I can and do cite from many Church fathers, as well (see my Fathers of the Church page, “Eucharist and Sacrifice of the Mass” section): showing how they accept the real, substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And as for historians, here’s what five eminent Protestant ones say about patristic views on the Eucharist:

1) Otto W. Heick, A History of Christian Thought, vol. 1, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965, 221-222:

    The Post-Apostolic Fathers and . . . almost all the Fathers of the ancient Church . . . impress one with their natural and unconcerned realism. To them the Eucharist was in some sense the body and blood of Christ.

2) Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, revised by Robert T. Handy, New York: Scribners, 1970, 90-91:

    By the middle of the 2nd century, the conception of a real presence of Christ in the Supper was wide-spread . . . The essentials of the ‘Catholic’ view were already at hand by 253.

3) J. D. Douglas, editor, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, revised edition, 1978, 245 [a very hostile source!]:

    The Fathers . . . [believed] that the union with Christ given and confirmed in the Supper was as real as that which took place in the incarnation of the Word in human flesh.

4) F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd edition, 1983, 475-476, 1221:

That the Eucharist conveyed to the believer the Body and Blood of Christ was universally accepted from the first . . . Even where the elements were spoken of as ‘symbols’ or ‘antitypes’ there was no intention of denying the reality of the Presence in the gifts . . . In the Patristic period there was remarkably little in the way of controversy on the subject . . . The first controversies on the nature of the Eucharistic Presence date from the earlier Middle Ages. In the 9th century Paschasius Radbertus raised doubts as to the identity of Christ’s Eucharistic Body with His Body in heaven, but won practically no support. Considerably greater stir was provoked in the 11th century by the teaching of Berengar, who opposed the doctrine of the Real Presence. He retracted his opinion, however, before his death in 1088 . . .

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual. The suggestion of sacrifice is contained in much of the NT language . . . the words of institution, ‘covenant,’ ‘memorial,’ ‘poured out,’ all have sacrificial associations. In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . . .

From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.

5) Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 146-147, 166-168, 170, 236-237:

By the date of the Didache [anywhere from about 60 to 160, depending on the scholar]. . . the application of the term ‘sacrifice’ to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the ‘pure offering’ commanded in Malachi 1:11 . . .

The Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference . . .

. . . the doctrine of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which did not become the subject of controversy until the ninth century. The definitive and precise formulation of the crucial doctrinal issues concerning the Eucharist had to await that controversy and others that followed even later. This does not mean at all, however, that the church did not yet have a doctrine of the Eucharist; it does mean that the statements of its doctrine must not be sought in polemical and dogmatic treatises devoted to sacramental theology. It means also that the effort to cross-examine the fathers of the second or third century about where they stood in the controversies of the ninth or sixteenth century is both silly and futile . . .

Yet it does seem ‘express and clear’ that no orthodox father of the second or third century of whom we have record declared the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist to be no more than symbolic (although Clement and Origen came close to doing so) or specified a process of substantial change by which the presence was effected (although Ignatius and Justin came close to doing so). Within the limits of those excluded extremes was the doctrine of the real presence . . .

The theologians did not have adequate concepts within which to formulate a doctrine of the real presence that evidently was already believed by the church even though it was not yet taught by explicit instruction or confessed by creeds . . .

Liturgical evidence suggests an understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, whose relation to the sacrifices of the Old testament was one of archetype to type, and whose relation to the sacrifice of Calvary was one of ‘re-presentation,’ just as the bread of the Eucharist ‘re-presented’ the body of Christ . . . the doctrine of the person of Christ had to be clarified before there could be concepts that could bear the weight of eucharistic teaching . . .

Theodore [c.350-428] set forth the doctrine of the real presence, and even a theory of sacramental transformation of the elements, in highly explicit language . . . ‘At first it is laid upon the altar as a mere bread and wine mixed with water, but by the coming of the Holy Spirit it is transformed into body and blood, and thus it is changed into the power of a spiritual and immortal nourishment.’ [Hom. catech. 16,36] these and similar passages in Theodore are an indication that the twin ideas of the transformation of the eucharistic elements and the transformation of the communicant were so widely held and so firmly established in the thought and language of the church that everyone had to acknowledge them.

But at this point in debates, White invariably splits, because his presentation has been revealed as bogus and historically dishonest. Once his sophistical schtick is exposed for what it is, he has nothing else to offer. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about, having dealt with this man for now 24 years.

Most don’t carry around notes with quotations from patristic sources so as to be ready for such claims.

That’s right. But an apologist like myself has them at the ready, in my 2500+ articles and 50 books (the result of now 38 years of continual research and writing). And we see how the debate goes once the relevant data is fairly explored.


Photo credit: Christ Crucified (c. 1632), by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


September 19, 2019

This is a point-by-point response to Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White’s article, “The Believer’s Security — A Response to James Akin” (12-5-98).

See my Introduction to what will be a very long series (and the other installments). Words of James White will be in blue.


Mr. Akin begins with a five paragraph discussion of how Protestants, under the influence of sola scriptura, misread the Bible. He takes as his text the precious words of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of John, specifically, John 6:37 and John 10:27-30. To help with context, however, we provide a little more context:

(John 6:36-40) “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. [37] “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. [38] “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. [39] “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. [40] “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

(John 10:26-30) “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. [27] “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; [28] and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. [29] “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] “I and the Father are one.” . . . 

In the final four paragraphs, Mr. Akin insists that John 6 and John 10 are merely “partial” statements of the truth that have to be understood in light of another passage in John, that being John 15:1-2, 6, 9-10.

[John 15:1-2, 6, 9-10 (RSV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . [6] If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. [9] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. [10] If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (cf. Mt 3:10; Lk 3:9)]

He insists, “But if the believer fails to bear fruit and abide in God’s love, God himself will take him out and, barring repentance, the believer will end up in hell.” . . . 

Interestingly, Mr. Akin falls into his own trap when he refers to John 15. First, he offers us only the most shallow interpretation of the passage, which assumes the exact same audience is in view in the fifteenth chapter as in the sixth and tenth. He then assumes that this means that true believers, Christ’s sheep, those given to Him by the Father, can, by their own lack of fruitfulness, be lost.

It depends how Jesus is defining “sheep” in these contexts. We can’t know for sure, I don’t think, if He means the elect; i.e., those who are finally or eschatologically saved in the end (who obviously, then, would not fall away), or those who follow for a while (“sheep” for a time) and fall away. In John 15:2 He refers to “branch of mine” which would appear to be saying that they truly were grafted in the “true vine”, as Christians and sheep, but fell away.

These particular branches did in fact “abide” in Jesus and then later they did not. John 15:2 also states that these believers who fell away did so because they bore “no fruit” (cf. Mt 7:19-20) whereas White expressly denies this very thing, that they “can, by their own lack of fruitfulness, be lost.” It takes considerable chutzpah to directly contradict and reject the words and teaching of Jesus.

We will see below that this is not a possible interpretation of John 6, and that the Lord Jesus utterly precludes the idea that any who are given to Him by the Father could ever perish.

Again, this would be true of the elect, but this doesn’t preclude believers falling away from grace and the faith. John 6 makes this abundantly clear by describing some followers of Jesus (three times) as “his disciples” (6:60-61, 66), and then proceeding to note that “many “of these “drew back and no longer went about with him” (6:66: appropriate verse number, huh?!). Moreover, in the parable of the sower (Mt 18:23) it’s implied that believers can fall away.

Jesus noted two kinds of followers: one “receives it [the word of the kingdom: 13:19] with joy” (13:20) but then “falls away” because of “tribulation or persecution” (13:21). The other kind “hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (13:22). But the one who remains and doesn’t fall away “bears fruit, and yields” (13:23).

And of course, what White deliberately overlooks about John 6 is the explicit passage about His real, substantial  presence in the Eucharist having saving power:

John 6:48-58  I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [50] This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [52] The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” [53] So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; [54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. [55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. [56] He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. [57] As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. [58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

But what of John 15? Is Mr. Akin’s assumed interpretation the only one borne out by the text? By no means.

Mr. Akin misses the important contextual fact that when Jesus speaks to the disciples in John 14-17, Judas, who has been with them for the entire length of the ministry, has now left. One of the “branches” has been cast aside, pruned by the Vinedresser, who is the Father.

Yes, but he was a branch for a time, which is our point. If Calvinism is true and no one can ever fall away, he couldn’t have been a branch at all, or abiding in Christ, or be called a disciple (as Judas was: Jn 12:4; cf. Mt 10:1-4; 20:17; 26:20-21, 47), or an apostle (as Judas was: Mt 10:2-4). See many other instances of “the twelve” (disciples or apostles).

1) the Lord Jesus uses language He used elsewhere to describe surface level or false believers (cf. Mark 4:5-6).

White refers to the parable of the sower, and this would be the expected Calvinist response. They start with the premise that “a true believer cannot possibly fall away” and then approach the Bible and try to force it into that false framework. The problem with this interpretation is the factors I have brought out above: abiding in Jesus, being “a branch of mine” [Jesus talking], and being a disciple or apostle, and then falling away. There are other passages, even more compelling that I will cite later.

2) It is merely an assumption that outward appearance equals inward reality, that is, that any branch, as long as it has the appearance of a branch, therefore represents one of Christ’s sheep.

It’s not, given the descriptions of such people that I have been highlighting.

3) The branches that are pruned by the Father are those that abide in Christ. Again, this is not an action that comes from the branch but from the vine. That is, those branches that have a vital union with the vine are the ones that bear fruit. The fruitfulness of the branch is a function of the vine, not of the branch itself! The error of man-centered theology is in thinking that it is the branch that bears fruit by its own effort, while in reality, it is the vine that makes for the fruitful branch.

Catholic theology of grace and salvation states that any good work and the entire enabling cause of salvation lies in God. But we do cooperate with or reject this grace, out of our own free will. It’s not either/or: all God and no man at all. It’s man “working together with him” (2 Cor 6:1) and being “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9). This is not merely Catholic theology and supposed “inventions.” It’s straight from Paul!

Most importantly, it is merely the assumption of Mr. Akin (and many other interpreters who attempt to present this passage as one that promotes a conditional relationship between Christ and His sheep) that the branches that do not bear fruit are, by their nature, indicative of true believers. The text indicates otherwise, as only those who abide in the vine can bear fruit, for apart from the vine, the branch can do nothing. Those branches, then, that “do nothing” were obviously “apart from” the vine, apart from Christ.

Yeah, eventually they were apart, in their rejection, but not always. Otherwise, how could Jesus call such a person a “branch of mine” (Jn 15:2)? If he or she never was, He simply couldn’t say that.

[T]here is no such thing as a person who truly comes to Christ apart from the enablement of the Father (John 6:44, 65). There is no Christian who sought out God on his or her own without His first drawing them by His power and regenerating them by His grace (Romans 3:11). 

We totally agree (Trent teaches this), and Catholics believe in the predestination of the elect, but it doesn’t follow, therefore, that no believer could ever fall away. And now we bring in the “big guns” of biblical proof of apostasy:

1 Samuel 18:12 Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul.

1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Galatians 4:9 but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?

Galatians 5:1, 4 . . . stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Colossians 1:22-23 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, [23] provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, . . .

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.

1 Timothy 5:15 For some have already strayed after Satan.

Hebrews 3:12-14 Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy . . .

Hebrews 6:11-12 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, [12] so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 10:26-29, 36, 39 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. [28] A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? . . . [36] For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. . . . [39] But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled;

2 Peter 2:15, 20-21 Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, . . . For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Revelation 2:4-5 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. [5] Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Obviously, if we believed that salvation was the work of man, and man was the one who got himself into the relationship with Christ, it would be more than understandable how man could, then, get himself out. If we were the ones who initiated our relationship with Christ, we could obviously end it, too.

That’s not what we believe [straw man alert!]. It’s Pelagianism, which has been consistently rejected by the Catholic Church as heresy (reiterated again at Trent). What we do believe is that the true disciples of Jesus will inevitably produce good fruit and good works, as evidence of a genuine faith, which is what Luther and Calvin also taught. It’s for this reason that when the Bible discusses the Final Judgment, these confirming works are what are always discussed (I found 50 biblical examples). Strikingly enough, faith alone is never given as the reason why God accepted someone into heaven.

And when the rich young ruler asked Jesus how he could obtain eternal life, Jesus never mentioned faith in Him. He asked him if he observed the commandments, and then told him to go sell all that he had (i.e., two things related to observance of laws and works).

The divine decree of the Father in giving a people to Christ is the grounds of our coming to Christ. Hence, since it is God’s will that the elect come to Christ, and it is God’s initiative that has brought about their regeneration and their union with Christ, it is not within man’s power to sever that relationship. Not only this, but since the elect are given a new nature in Christ, one that loves Christ and longs to be with Him, the idea of one of His elect ones desiring to be severed from Christ is unthinkable.

The fifteen passages I produced above demonstrate that a true believer can fall away:

1) The Lord was “with” Saul and “departed.”

2) Even Paul (a chosen apostle) could be “disqualified.”

3) Paul warns the believer to “take heed lest he fall.” Paul was addressing the Corinthians, whom he described as follows: “the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . . [4] I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, [5] that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge — [6] even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you” (1 Cor 2:4-6).

Now White would no doubt highlight 1:7-8: “our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end”. Yes He will. But we can reject that sustenance, which is why Paul warns in the same book to “take heed” in order to avoid a “fall” and noted that he himself could be “disqualified.” Thus, we have to incorporate all of the relevant data in a harmonious fashion. I believe the Catholic interpretation does that, while White’s Calvinism does not. Lastly, his view would logically require that every individual in the Corinthian church could and would never fall away. They were all in the elect: all eschatologically saved. This is self-evidently false.

4) Those who “have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” can fall away (Gal 4:9).

5) Believers can be “severed from Christ” and can fall “away from grace” (Gal 5:4).

6) Paul says that “some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim 4:1). How can they depart if they were never in it?

7) The author of Hebrews says that we can “fall away from the living God” and can “share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end” (3:12-14), and that “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God” can “commit apostasy” (6:4-6), and refers to “the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (10:29).

8) Peter talks about those who partook of “the right way” and “the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”; those who “have known the way of righteousness”; these same people can forsake all that and “turn back” (2 Pet 2:15, 20-21).

What more proof is needed? I can’t imagine these texts being any more plain than they are, and opposed to eternal security and Calvinist perseverance.

While most of those who teach that Christ’s work of salvation is imperfect are not aware of it (and what else is it to deny the unconditional position of the elect in Christ than to deny the perfection of Christ’s work?), they are, in fact, saying that it is possible for the Son either to fail to do the will of the Father, or to disobey the Father. 

This is hogwash. Of course the elect will be saved and cannot be not saved. It’s the very definition of the word. It’s like saying, “the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984 and it cannot be otherwise.” Duh! Everyone agrees. They won it. It’s an accomplished fact. That’s how the elect are. They will go to heaven. And Catholics agree that they are predestined to go there, but not without their free will cooperation.

We’re not talking about the elect (this is simply a sleight-of-hand that White keeps introducing), but rather, followers or disciples of Christ who fall away from a faith and a grace and relationship with Christ that they truly possessed. Once that happens, and they die in that state, it more or less proves that they were not in the elect, but it doesn’t prove that they were never in Christ. The Bible repeatedly indicates that they were. Meanwhile, even John Calvin agreed that we can’t know who is of the elect. Only God knows that.

The will of the Father for the Son is tied to the elect, those the Father “has given to Me.” Of those who are so given (and who is a part of this group is indeed the decision of the Father, based upon His own mercy and will, Ephesians 1:4ff), Jesus says He is to lose none.

Exactly! The elect will be saved. No one disagrees with that. It’s the definition of the word: one who is saved in the end. As finite, fallible human beings, we can’t know for sure who these people are.

[T]hese words strike at any religious system that gives place to the will of man rather than the will of God. Men, so concerned about their “freedom,” trample under foot the freedom and sovereignty of God. 

This is the Calvinist and fundamentalist caricature of not just Catholicism, but non-Calvinist forms of Protestantism (Arminianism, Wesleyanism), and Orthodoxy. If you have to misrepresent and lie about what you are opposing, you’re no further ahead. You only show how misinformed you are. This is classic James White: always warring against straw men.

Nothing is said, we note in passing, about this eternal life being a just reward given to the good works of the sheep that are done in a state of grace.


Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

Matthew 25:20-23 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, `Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ [21] His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ [22] And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, `Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ [23] His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25:34-36, 41-43 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; [35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ . . . [41] Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; [42] for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Luke 3:9 (+ Mt 3:10; 7:19) Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

John 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Romans 2:5-13 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

2 Thessalonians 2:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, [8] inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. [9] They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds . . .

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Revelation 2:23 . . . I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

Revelation 20:12-13 . . . And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. [13] . . . and all were judged by what they had done.

Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.


Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park: Prescribed Pile Burning, 30 May 2019 [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]


September 18, 2019

This is a continuing reply to the arguments of James White: from his oral debate with Gerry Matatics (article posted on 13 November 1992: transcript of the debate that took place on 11-13-92). I will be replying point-by-point to White’s arguments: which virtually never occurs in oral debates such as this. For background, see my reply to White’s Opening Argument (#2 in this series).

See my Introduction to what will be a very long series (and the other installments). Words of James White will be in blue.


First Rebuttal

And I do stand under the authority of the Word of God and if it can be demonstrated from the Word of God that what I believe is untrue than I will most assuredly follow in that direction.

Great! Then if White ever reads this, he’ll be in a good position to change his mind, because I’m giving him tons of Scripture (far more than he has provided thus far), and it is all in the direction of Catholicism, not his Reformed Baptist Calvinism.

II Timothy 1:13-14, Paul, writing to Timothy says–the same passage in which he says, “Pass on what I have spoken to you,”–“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” This is what he is to be passing on. The pattern of sound doctrine, the pattern of sound words. And that certainly is what we have in the New Testament is that pattern of sound words. Look at I Timothy 6:20-21, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some profess and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” This is not something different than what you have in Romans or Galatians. This is not something about Immaculate Conception. This is not some oral tradition that exists separately from the New Testament at all. [my added bolding]

The problem — again — is that Paul was not referring to the New Testament, which wasn’t yet all written at this time. White simply makes the assumption that he is doing that, based on? . . . well, nothing. It’s his Protestant principle of “inscripturation”, which means, in his usage, that any oral tradition (which he acknowledges, existed) floating around before the Bible was written and/or canonized would have to either make it into Scripture itself or else be discarded as of no import and authority. Conservative Bible scholars date 2 Timothy to the middle 60s. The Gospel of John wasn’t written until probably 80-85 at the earliest.

At this early period, according to conservative Protestant Bible scholars (folks like the New Bible Dictionary and Norman Geisler), the book of Acts was scarcely known or quoted, and Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were all not considered to be part of the biblical canon. Thus, this tradition that Paul was passing on to Timothy, did not include at least ten New Testament books. Even the Synoptic Gospels were just being written around the same time (let alone being spread around by then).

James White is living in a fantasy world, immune to historical facts, when he argues like this. It’s blind faith, and be gone with serious historical analysis of the dates of the writing of New Testament books and also dates for wide acceptance and canonization of each one. The first person we know of who listed all 27 New Testament books is St. Athanasius in 367: which was three centuries after the time that Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy. So to argue that all Paul is referring to is what we have in the New Testament, and only could be that, is patently ridiculous, and based on no evidence whatsoever. This is why White provides no biblical or historical evidence for these sorts of wild assumptions: because there is none.

Look at II Thessalonians 3:6, if you want to see some other passages where Paul discusses this very thing. I don’t hear too many pages turning out there. II Thessalonians 3:6, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Well, here it is again. NIV uses “teaching,” other translations use “tradition.” Well, where did this tradition come from? Is this some tradition that exists outside the New Testament? No! Look back at I Thessalonians 4:1-2. “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” We are not talking about something that exists separately from the New Testament that is different and in fact that the Church does not even find out about for many, many centuries after they were supposedly delivered.

We agree that whatever it is, it is harmonious with New Testament teaching. White’s error is in his equating it with the New Testament. There is simply no evidence for that. Therefore, he gives none. He cites a passage that he seems to think supports this thesis, but it does not at all. It provides nothing within a million miles of this “inscripturation” thesis.

I would like to read just a few passages for you. For example, when the great early Father, Augustine, long after the Council of Nicaea, wrote a letter to Maximun, the Arian. Again, here come the Arians again. Why is that important? Well, because the Arians deny a very central foundational doctrine of faith, the deity of Christ. When he wrote to Maximun, the Arian, he knew that Maximun could cause him some problems. Do you know why? Because there were church councils held during the Arian ascendancy that denied the deity of Christ. Sermium, Arminum, church councils that erred, that made mistakes on that subject. And so what did Augustine say? “I must not press the authority of Nicaea against you, nor you that of Arminum against me. I do not acknowledge the one as you do not the other. But let us come to ground that is common to both, the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.” Where is the oral tradition? Why don’t we say, “Well, oral tradition teaches the deity of Christ, and you must bow to it.” That’s not what he does. He argues from Scripture to demonstrate that.

Augustine, again, “Let us not hear, ‘This I say, this you say’ but ‘Thus says the Lord.’ Surely it is the books of the Lord on whose authority we both agree and on which we both believe. Therefore, let us seek the church. There let us discuss our case in the Scriptures.”

This is absurd, and doesn’t prove at all that Augustine was denying the supreme authority of ecumenical councils. All it shows — and very clearly so — is that he knew the Arians wouldn’t acknowledge its authority; therefore, he didn’t use it to press his argument. He used Scripture because the Arians accepted its authority: precisely the same reason I have an overwhelming biblical focus in my counter-Protestant apologetics efforts (it’s one thing I’m most know for: one of my trademarks). Augustine explains exactly why he did so, by saying, “let us come to ground that is common to both” and “on whose authority we both agree”. We know that St. Augustine’s rule of faith was thoroughly Catholic, not Protestant. I documented this in August 2003. Here are a few highlights (bolding added presently):

As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, . . .For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church. (Letter to Januarius, 54, 1, 1; 54, 2, 3; cf. NPNF I, I:301)

I believe that this practice [of not rebaptizing heretics and schismatics] comes from apostolic tradition, just as so many other practices not found in their writings nor in the councils of their successors, but which, because they are kept by the whole Church everywhere, are believed to have been commanded and handed down by the Apostles themselves. (On Baptism, 2, 7, 12; from William A. Jurgens, editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 volumes, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 3: 66; cf. NPNF I, IV:430)

. . . the custom, which is opposed to Cyprian, may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings. (On Baptism, 5,23:31, in NPNF I, IV:475)

The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than “salvation” and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than “life.” Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? (On Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism, 1:34, in NPNF I, V:28)

[F]rom whatever source it was handed down to the Church – although the authority of the canonical Scriptures cannot be brought forward as speaking expressly in its support. (Letter to Evodius of Uzalis, Epistle 164:6, in NPNF I, I:516)

The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants [is] certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except Apostolic. (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 10,23:39, in William A. Jurgens, editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 volumes, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 3: 86)

St. Augustine refers to “the authority of plenary Councils, which are formed for the whole Christian world . . .” (On Baptism, ii, 3, 4) and “the full illumination and authoritative decision of a plenary Council” (ibid., ii, 4, 5). He states: “He who is the most merciful Lord of faith has both secured the Church in the citadel of authority by most famous ecumenical Councils and the Apostolic sees themselves . . . ” (Ep. 118 [5, 32]; to Deoscorus [written in 410]). I could go on and on with this (having edited The Quotable Augustine also). Once again, White selectively presents one quote, and even it does nothing to prove the point he was trying to make.

For example, Augustine again, “What more shall I teach than that what we read in the Apostles, for holy Scripture speaks as the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore, I should not teach you anything else except to expound you the words of the teacher.” The rule of our doctrine it speaks by what? Scripture plus tradition? Scripture plus oral tradition? I don’t believe so.

Yes, that’s what White arbitrarily and unscripturally believes. Augustine, the apostles and fathers, and the Catholic Church do not. I already proved this above, but repetition is a good teacher:

. . . other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, . . . or by plenary Councils,

I believe that this practice [of not rebaptizing heretics and schismatics] comes from apostolic tradition, . . .

. . . had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, . . .

But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, . . . [there’s the “three-legged stool” right there, folks!]  (On the Trinity, 4,6:10; NPNF I, III:75)

Protestant Church historian Heiko Oberman summarizes St. Augustine’s rule of faith:

Augustine’s legacy to the middle ages on the question of Scripture and Tradition is a two-fold one. In the first place, he reflects the early Church principle of the coinherence of Scripture and Tradition. While repeatedly asserting the ultimate authority of Scripture, Augustine does not oppose this at all to the authority of the Church Catholic . . . The Church has a practical priority: her authority as expressed in the direction-giving meaning of commovere is an instrumental authority, the door that leads to the fullness of the Word itself.But there is another aspect of Augustine’s thought . . . we find mention of an authoritative extrascriptural oral tradition. While on the one hand the Church “moves” the faithful to discover the authority of Scripture, Scripture on the other hand refers the faithful back to the authority of the Church with regard to a series of issues with which the Apostles did not deal in writing. Augustine refers here to the baptism of heretics . . . (The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, revised edition of 1967, 370-371)

I am heartened to see that White does nuance his treatment of St. Augustine at least to some extent:

Mr. Matatics then brought up Augustine and I don’t think he understood what I was saying. He turned to me and said, “Are you saying that Augustine never appealed to any tradition outside of Scripture?” and I said, “No, I am not saying that.” Because he most definitely did.

That’s good. But then he immediately forms a dubious theory for why Augustine did that:

Augustine was in a hard spot, as Gerry knows. Augustine was fighting against the Donatists. And who did the Donatists have on their side? Cyprian, the great bishop of Carthage. And when Augustine had to go up against what Cyprian had to say, you bet he referred to all sorts of other things outside of Scripture because he was fighting a losing battle, in some respects, on some of the things that he was saying. I’m not saying that Augustine was perfectly consistent . . . 

I highly doubt that this can explain every Augustine appeal to tradition, apostolic succession, councils, or other Church pronouncements as binding authorities.

Basil. Listen to what he says, “The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign.” That is what I believe. We should test anything we are taught by our teachers by what standard? By papal encyclicals? Vatican II? The Council of Trent? No, by the inspired Scriptures.

But St. Basil the Great, too, believes in the “three-legged stool” (including oral traditions) as I documented last time (just go there and search his name, to see it). White leaves himself wide open for decisive rebuttal, with this sort of selective citation and ignoring of other relevant data regarding the one cited. It’s pathetic . . .

I want to read from Augustine again, “You ought to know this and particularly store in your memory that God wanted to lay a firm foundation in the Scriptures against treacherous errors, a foundation against which no one dares to speak who would in any way be considered a Christian.” Listen closely: “For when he offered himself to them to touch,” (he’s talking about the resurrected Lord) “this did not suffice him unless he also confirmed the heart of the believers from the Scriptures. For he foresaw that the time would come when we would not have anything to touch but would have something to read.” Even in the resurrection of the Lord, he confirms their hearts from the Scriptures because he knew that someday they would not have something to touch but would have something to read. My friends, that is what I’m talking about here.

Augustine did not believe in sola Scriptura, as I demonstrated above (and as even White in effect concedes). And what he states above does not contradict Catholic teaching, which he held to. The Bible does have exactly this role to play, along with many others. But it is consistent with the Catholic view; thus, is no disproof of it and no proof of sola Scriptura. But Protestants can always chuck and reject any Church father if and when they are shown to disagree with their novel innovations (supremacy of the individual conscience, private judgment, and sola Scriptura, you see). Luther did. Calvin did.

And I want to again emphasize that Mr. Matatics must demonstrate that this oral tradition, what he is wanting us to accept as being authoritative beyond this, must be God-breathed. He must be able to define what is in it outside of what’s in here and that it is God-breathed. That, truly, is the focus of the debate.

He is under no obligation (nor is any Catholic) to do any such thing. White once again employs this false theory that anything that is authoritative / infallible / binding must be also literally inspired, or part of revelation. That is untrue, and is not an idea or belief that can be found in Holy Scripture. If it can be, then by all means, let him or any other Protestant who believes such an odd thing produce it. He not only keeps repeating this falsehood, but also makes it the “focus of the debate.” This is a very poor performance indeed . . . 

Second Rebuttal

Mr. Matatics says that, “Well, the canon–it was done by the councils. Hippo and Carthage. They’re the ones who determined the canon.” That’s interesting. The Muratorian fragment, which dates to nearly 200 years prior to either Hippo or Carthage, listed 97 percent of the canon of the Scripture that I use long before any council began to look at that. 

Not quite. According to the chart as determined by Bible scholars, shown in the Wikipedia article, even if we include three “probable” canonical books and two “maybes” we still have 23 out of 27 books, which is 85%. And it also includes in its canon (which fact White conveniently passes over), the Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon. So, yeah: much of the New Testament (especially the Gospels and Pauline epistles) was fairly widely accepted relatively early on.

But there still needed to be an authoritative pronouncement, once and for all. That was provided by the Catholic Church in the 390s (which Church some extreme anti-Catholics think ceased to even be Christian upon the ascension of Emperor Constantine, who ruled from 306-337). It remains true that a complete list of New Testament books only appeared in 367, from St. Athanasius. The “blessed assurance” of that complete list simply wasn’t present before that time. But we stray from your subject matter proper . . .

Chrysostom says, “If anything is said without Scripture the thinking of the hearers limps. But the where the testimony proceeds with divinely given Scripture it confirms both the speech of the preacher and the soul of the hearer.” Elsewhere he says, “Whatever is required for salvation is already completely fulfilled in the Scriptures.”

I have written two papers about St. John Chrysostom’s denial of sola Scriptura and Catholic rule of faith:

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [8-1-03]

Chrysostom & Irenaeus: Sola Scripturists? (vs. David T. King) [4-20-07]

I won’t bother to cite them (and him) this time. Any reader who wants the documentation can simply follow the links.

If we say you have to look to the Church to authenticate God’s Word, what are we saying about the Church? That is not the church of the New Testament. The Church of the New Testament is the Bride of Christ. She is obedient to the Word of God. She does not authenticate the Word of God. This is not something we should hear coming from a presentation that is supposed to be biblical in nature.

We agree that the Church doesn’t “authenticate” what is intrinsically inspired revelation. But the Church was needed to authoritatively identify the canon and put the differences to rest once and for all. White can talk about “self-authentication” all he wants (and I’ve written about that):

Were Apostles Always Aware of Writing Scripture? (6-29-06; abridged on 9-25-16)

But the fact remains that many good and holy Christians disagreed on the exact formulation of the canon until almost 400 AD. After the Church spoke and definitively declared the canon (which is certainly a profound and seemingly binding authority, isn’t it?), this stopped.

Closing Remarks

First of all, Mr. Matatics has again asserted that Apostolic preaching was inspired. He said it in such a way it sounded like I had denied it. I didn’t. He said that this preaching was passed on to us in a separate way outside of the New Testament, again asserting, and I believe without every having proven it, that what is contained in the Apostolic preaching was different than what was found in the Apostolic writing. Athanasius didn’t believe that. I don’t believe that. 

St. Athanasius (like all the Church fathers) also denied sola Scriptura.

Mr. Matatics wants to add to the inspired Scriptures an oral tradition he claims comes from the Apostles.

I still can’t believe that White keeps making this ridiculous claim over and over (I haven’t even cited all of them) . . . And I don’t believe that he could possibly have kept asserting this, these past 27 years. He couldn’t possibly be that dense. Or could he?

Now I’d like, if you still have your Bibles out, for you to turn to Psalm 119:89. I would like to invite you this evening, if you have the opportunity tonight, to read this entire psalm, to read the whole thing and ask yourself if this is the view of the Word of God that you have. Psalm 119:89, “Your word, Oh, Lord, is eternal. It stands firm in the heavens.” . . . The Psalmist knew what the Word of God was. The Psalmist does not cite oral traditions. You won’t find Psalm 120 being in praise of the oral traditions. You find Psalm 119 in praise of the written Word of God.

As far as the terminology “word of God” in the Old Testament, it actually only appears three times in RSV.  In 1 Samuel 9:27 and 1 Kings 12:22 it is clearly oral in nature (right from God to a person who proclaims it) and not referring to Scripture. In Proverbs 30:5 it’s not clear that it is written Scripture, either.

“Thy word” appears more times, and mostly in Psalm 119, and many times (2 Sam 7:28; 1 Ki 8:26; 18:36; 2 Chr 6:17 it refers to oral revelation from God to persons: not originally written as Scripture. It’s not absolutely clear that “thy word” in Psalms 119 must refer to written Scripture. I actually think that it probably does, while at the same time noting that the phraseology is not confined to descriptions of only Scripture.

It’s much more clear with regard to the phrase “word of the Lord”: which appears 243 times in the Old Testament in the RSV. These instances are overwhelmingly oral: usually God speaking to prophets and other notable people: Abraham (Gen 15:1), Joshua (Josh 8:27), Samuel (1 Sam 3:21), Nathan (2 Sam 7:4), Gad (2 Sam 24:11), Solomon (1 Ki 6:11), Ahi’jah (1 Ki 14:18), Jehu (1 Ki 16:1), Elijah (1 Ki 18:1), Shemai’ah (2 Chr 11:2), Jeremiah (2 Chr 36:21), Isaiah (Is 38:4), Ezekiel (Ezek 1:3), Hosea (Hos 1:1), Joel (Joel 1:1), Jonah (Jon 1:1), Micah (Mic 1:1), Zephaniah (Zeph 1:1), Haggai (Hag 1:1), Zechariah (Zech 1:1), and Malachi (Mal 1:1).

Note: “And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Sam 3:1). And the book of Psalms sometimes uses it in an obviously non-Scriptural way: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (33:6). Now, with all this “oral communication” going on, clearly, “word of God” / “word of the Lord” / “Thy word” is not  confined to written Scripture. And just because one Psalm (119) seems to refer to written Scripture, it doesn’t follow that these terms always referred to inspired writing. Therefore, plainly “oral traditions” existed in Old Testament times, contrary to White’s fanciful imagination.

In fact, mainstream Judaism believed that Moses received oral tradition on Mt. Sinai alongside the written.  This was what the Pharisees believed (which Paul more than once called himself). The Sadducees, who were sort of the theological liberals of the time (denying, e.g., the resurrection of the body), denied it. They were the Jewish sola Scripturists. I have an article that discusses many possible Old Testament references to oral tradition or the oral Torah. And I have written about how the Old Testament Jews denied sola Scriptura.

I want you to listen very, very closely to what was said by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning but from the Holy Scriptures.” What does that say? What does that say?

I’ve written about St. Cyril’s denial of sola Scriptura three times (White has clearly not listened “very, very closely” enough to Cyril):

Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [8-1-03]

David T. King and William Webster: Out-of-Context or Hyper-Selective Quotations from the Church Fathers on Christian Authority: Part I: St. Cyril of Jerusalem [11-9-13]

Sola Scriptura, Cyril of Jerusalem, Logic, & Anti-Catholics [11-9-17]

I’m not saying that the Church is teaching that oral tradition is superior to Scripture. Please, that’s not what I’m saying. But functionally, that is exactly what happens. 

That’s how it looks to an either/or unbiblical thinker who doesn’t fully grasp the Catholic rule of faith. They can only pit one thing against another because they can’t comprehend complementarity. It’s trying to force preconceived notions onto Scripture, which is the dreaded and unworthy practice of eisegesis.


Photo credit: Davidbena (2-25-18): Yemenite Torah scrolls [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]


September 17, 2019

This will be a reply to the James White Opening Argument of a debate between him and Gerry Matatics (article posted on 13 November 1992: transcript of the oral debate that took place on 11-13-92). I will be replying point-by-point to White’s arguments: which virtually never occurs in oral debates such as this.

For example, each person gives their opening statement. But the opponent will almost never systematically refute the opponent’s opening, as I will be doing. In most cases, he or she wouldn’t even know what was in it, prior to the debate. This is the beauty of written debate. It’s much more comprehensive and serious: minus all the grandstanding and carnival barker aspects of live oral debates: which in my opinion are often little more than circuses: although assuredly the Catholic always has a golden opportunity to spread Catholic truth and refute anti-Catholic lies, to a mixed audience, so it’s not a complete loss or waste of time.

When my good friend Gary Michuta debated White on the deuterocanon in May 2004 I was supposed to go with him to Long Island. I wanted to support him, even though I take a dim view of these debates. But we got our signals crossed and I wasn’t able to attend. I would have likely met White at that time. I’m a friendly and cordial, easy-going guy, with everyone. I don’t know how White would have reacted. He has on occasion even refused to shake hands with debate opponents. It would have been fascinating.

I won’t even be reading the Matatics portion (he has now departed the Catholic faith and gone beyond even sedevacantism. Pray for him). So his material won’t influence my answers at all. It will be as if I am debating White all by myself: as I did two-and-a-half years later in writing, in our sole extensive back-and-forth exchange. I’ve written more about sola Scriptura and the rule of faith than any other topic (including three books [one / two / three] and parts of several others), including very extensive debates on patristic views, so I have plenty to say! I’m eagerly looking forward to it!

See my Introduction to what will be a very long series (and the other installments). Words of James White will be in blue.

[Link to Part 2 of this reply]


Opening Argument

I want to take you back, as we discuss sola Scriptura this evening, to the period following the Council of Nicaea in 325. You may recall from your church history that the Council of Nicaea the full deity of Our Lord Jesus Christ was affirmed by the council–that Jesus Christ was not a creature, he was not a created being– yet you may also be aware that in the period that followed the Council of Nicaea, for the next number of decades, Arianism reigned supreme in the Church. For example, Athanasius, the great bishop, was driven from his See five times during the period of time following Nicaea because of the political activities of the Arians. During that particular period of time, Athanasius, writing to his friend, Adelphius, against the Arians, wrote the following. Please listen closely.

Such then, as we have above described is the madness and daring of those men (speaking of the Arians). But our faith is right and starts from the teaching of the Apostles and tradition of the fathers, being confirmed both by the New Testament and the Old. For the Prophets say, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’ which is being interpreted ‘God with us.’ What does that mean, if not that God has come in the flesh? While the apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, ‘For as much then as Christ suffered for us in the flesh’ and in what Paul writes, ‘Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.’

Now why do I bring this to your attention? First of all, if you read Athanasius’ letter, he argues solely from the Scriptures as the rule of faith against the Arians. 

His summary statement is patently false. It’s as if he literally has blinders on and can’t read this statement from St. Athanasius. Thus, I have bolded the “tradition” sections. Clearly, Athanasius believes that apostolic / patristic tradition (including apostolic succession) is part of the rule of faith alongside Scripture. The Catholic rule of faith is a “three-legged stool”: including also magisterial Church proclamations (such as these very ones at the Council of Nicaea that White alluded to). It’s completely  consistent with the Catholic view. How odd, then, that White seems to think it supports his view.

He argues that this is what defines what Christians are to believe. In fact, if you listened to the passages that he cited, for example, Titus 2:13, a passage that I have often cited in dealing with modern Arians and there are many of them out there today–Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Way International, individuals who deny the deity of Christ–Titus 2:13 is one of the passages that I have frequently used as well. He uses those same Scriptures and he defines the apostolic tradition by the words of Scripture. Apostolic tradition, in this letter from Athanasius, refers to the Scriptures and that may explain why this same writer, Athanasius, said, for example, “The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth.” And he also said, “These canonical books are the fountain of salvation so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them. In these alone the school of piety preaches the Gospel. Let no man add or take away from them.”

This is what we get from White as regards Athanasius, before he moves onto St. Basil the Great and Holy Scripture. I’ve been through this routine and runaround in analyzing the fathers and the rule of faith over and over with Protestants. They cite what seems at first glance to support their view, while ignoring other relevant passages from any given Church father, that go against their view and support ours. It’s all half-truths and partial truths, which give a distorted overall picture.

I wrote extensively about St. Athanasius’ rule of faith in June 2003, and again (replying to White) in April 2007. Let’s see what Athanasius thought about these matters: his entire outlook, and the whole truth: not just carefully selected passages. I can’t cite everything (read the links for that), but I will hit the major highlights:

[L]et us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers kept. (To Serapion 1:28)

But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, . . . (Festal Letter 2:6)

We may see easily, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches, to the reading of inspired Scripture. (Discourse Against the Arians 3:28)

See, we are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father; but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases? . . . that which from the beginning those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word have handed down to us. For the faith which the Council has confessed in writing, that is the faith of the Catholic Church; to assert this, the blessed Fathers so expressed themselves while condemning the Arian heresy; . . . (Defense of the Nicene Definition, 27; A.D. 355; in NPNF2, IV:168-169)

But the sectaries,who have fallen away from the teaching of the Church, and made shipwreck concerning their Faith . . . (Contra Gentes, 6; A.D. 318, in NPNF2, XIV:7)

For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. (De Decretis 4; A.D. 351, in NPNF2,IV:153)

[The Fathers at Nicea]…but concerning matters of faith, they did not write: ‘It was decided,’ but ‘Thus the Catholic Church believes.’ And thereupon they confessed how they believed. This they did in order to show that their judgement was not of more recent origin, but was in fact Apostolic times; and that what they wrote was no discovery of their own, but is simply that which was taught by the apostles. (De Synodis 5; A.D. 362,in NPNF2,IV:453)

The blessed Apostle approves of the Corinthians because, he says, ‘ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you’ (1 Cor. xi. 2); . . . (De Synodis 14; A.D. 362, in NPNF2, IV:453)

But the word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicea, abides forever. (Ad Afros 2; A.D. 372, in NPNF2, IV:489)

Remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the traditions of the Fathers, . . . so that all every where may ‘say the same thing’ (1 Cor. i. 10), and think the same thing, and that, . . . it may be said and confessed in every Church, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. iv. 5), . . . (De Synodis 54; A.D. 362, in NPNF2, IV:453)

[B]e ye all zealous for the Lord; hold fast, every one, the faith we have received from the Fathers, which they who assembled at Nicaea recorded in writing, and endure not those who endeavour to innovate thereon. . . .

Had these expositions of theirs proceeded from the orthodox, from such as the great Confessor Hosius, and Maximinus of Gaul, or his successor, or from such as Philogonius and Eustathius, Bishops of the East, or Julius and Liberius of Rome, or Cyriacus of Moesia, or Pistus and Aristaeus of Greece, or Silvester and Protogenes of Dacia, or Leontius and Eupsychius of Cappadocia, or Caecilianus of Africa, or Eustorgius of Italy, or Capito of Sicily, or Macarius of Jerusalem, or Alexander of Constantinople, or Paederos of Heraclea, or those great Bishops Meletius, Basil, and Longianus, and the rest from Armenia and Pontus, or Lupus and Amphion from Cilicia, or James and the rest from Mesopotamia, or our own blessed Alexander, with others of the same opinions as these;–there would then have been nothing to suspect in their statements, for the character of APOSTOLICAL MEN is sincere and INCAPABLE OF FRAUD. (Ad Episcopos 8; A.D. 372,in NPNF2, IV:227)

(NPNF2 = Philip Schaff, et al., editors, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Church Fathers, 14 volumes, Series 2)

J. N. D. Kelly, the Anglican patristic scholar, summarizes what Athanasius and the fathers actually believed about the rule of faith (and it ain’t sola Scriptura):

So Athanasius, disputing with the Arians, claimed that his own doctrine had been handed down from father to father, whereas they could not produce a single respectable witness to theirs . . .. . . the ancient idea that the Church alone, in virtue of being the home of the Spirit and having preserved the authentic apostolic testimony in her rule of faith, liturgical action and general witness, possesses the indispensable key to Scripture, continued to operate as powerfully as in the days of Irenaeus and Tertullian . . . Athanasius himself, after dwelling on the entire adequacy of Scripture, went on to emphasize the desirability of having sound teachers to expound it. Against the Arians he flung the charge that they would never have made shipwreck of the faith had they held fast as a sheet-anchor to the . . . Church’s peculiar and traditionally handed down grasp of the purport of revelation. . . .

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness. (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition, 1978, 45, 47-48)

When the early Church Father, Basil, was attacked by his opponents regarding his beliefs about the Godhead, he replied much like Athanasius. When his opponents talked about the customs they had he responded, “If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them.” Listen closely. “Therefore, let God-inspired Scripture decide between us and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.”

Yes, Scripture is unique, being inspired revelation, and it can resolve almost all theological questions in and of itself. But it refers to sacred tradition and Church authority: so we can’t discount the latter two. I have written about Basil’s rule of faith in August 2003 and November 2013. Some highlights:

Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. (The Holy Spirit, 9:22)

The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of “sound doctrine” is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by leveling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors, – of course bona fide debtors. – they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. (The Holy Spirit, 10:25)

Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce [Christian] message to a mere term. (The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375])

For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is there who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? (The Holy Spirit, 27:66)

Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? . . . If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on “the mystery of godliness is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers; – which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches; . . .? (The Holy Spirit, 27:67)

Is answer to the objection that the doxology in the form “with the Spirit” has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. “I praise you,” it is said, “that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you;” and “Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle.” One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time. (The Holy Spirit, 27:71)

. . . that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day. (The Holy Spirit, 30:79)

These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God’s judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware . . . ( Letter 261)

Protestant patristics expert J. N. D. Kelly cites these sections in his footnotes and comments:

Basil made the liturgical custom of baptizing in the threefold name a pivot in his argument for the coequality of the Spirit with Father and Son, pleading that the apostolic witness was conveyed to the Church in the mysteries as well as in Scripture, and that it was apostolic to abide by this unwritten tradition. (Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 45)

What then, is Sola Scriptura?

Well, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura simply states that the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fide, the rule of faith, for the Church. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture and in no other source. That which is not found in Scripture is not binding upon the Christian conscience. To be more specific, I provide the following definition. The Bible claims to be the sole and sufficient rule of faith for the Christian Church. The Scriptures are not in need of any supplement. Their authority comes from their nature as God-breathed revelation. Their authority is not dependent upon man, church or council. The Scriptures are self-consistent, self-interpreting and self-authenticating. The Christian Church looks to the Scriptures as the only and sufficient rule of faith and the Church is always subject to the Word and is constantly reformed thereby.

I agree that this is how Protestants define sola Scriptura. The only thing I would add is the word infallible; i.e., [for Protestants] “Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith.” This denies the infallibility of councils and sacred tradition. This word was used in the important recent definitions of Protestant apologists Norman Geisler and Keith A. Mathison, and in fact, was used by White himself in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy (1996). See the Introduction of my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura (Catholic Answers Press, 2012) for the full quotations.

In II Timothy 3:16 we read that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.” We learn from this that Scripture’s authority is God’s authority. You don’t have Scriptural authority over here then God’s authority over here. You don’t have different authorities in the Church. The authority of the Church is one: God’s authority. And when God speaks in Scripture that carries His authority.

Yes, but it doesn’t follow that it is the only infallible and binding authority in Christianity. This classic “proof text” for sola Scriptura is in fact not what it is purported to be at all. I have written about it:

Sola Scriptura, 2 Tim 3:16-17, & “Man of God” [1-27-12]

Answer to Sola Scriptura “Prooftexts” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 & Romans 16:15-16 (vs. David T. King) [6-26-12]

Notice, for example, from the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 22 when he is talking with the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, he says, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures, nor the power of God, for in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are as the angels in Heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead have you not read what God spoke to you, saying ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’” Please notice that from the Lord Jesus’ perspective that which was found in Scripture was God speaking and he held those men responsible for what God had said to them, even though what was spoken had been written a thousand years earlier. Scripture is God speaking to man. It is theopneustos. God-breathed.

Yes, of course it is. No one disagrees. But that is different from the assertion that it is the sole, exclusive, only infallible authority in the Christian life. It’s not, and Scripture itself teaches that it is not, since it asserts both authoritative tradition and authoritative, binding Church decrees.

Note as well Peter’s words in II Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first of all that no Scriptural prophecy ever came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For no prophecy ever was born by the will of man. Rather, while being carried along by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.” That is why the Scriptures can function as a rule of faith for the Church, because they are God-breathed. What God says is the final authority for the Church.

All Scripture has to be interpreted, and the authoritative interpretation comes from the Church and sacred tradition. Hence:

Acts 8:30-31 (RSV) So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” [31] And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?”

2 Peter 3:15-16 . . . our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

This was understood even in the old covenant:

Nehemiah 8:8 And they [the Levites] read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

The great reformer of Geneva, John Calvin, said concerning this, “This, then, is the difference. Our opponents (speaking of the Roman Catholic Church) locate the authority of the Church outside God’s Word, that is, outside of Scripture and Scripture alone.

This is false. We locate it (as the Bible does) in Holy Scripture, in the Holy Church, and in Sacred Tradition: all harmoniously working together like the three legs of a stool: all necessary. Protestant historian Philip Schaff noted that even the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther made a very strong statement indeed, in favor of an authoritative Church and tradition, as regards the real presence in the Eucharist. Luther wrote, in a letter to Albrecht, Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, dated April 1532 by some and February or early March by others:

Moreover, this article has been unanimously believed and held from the beginning of the Christian Church to the present hour, as may be shown from the books and writings of the dear fathers, both in the Greek and Latin languages, — which testimony of the entire holy Christian Church ought to be sufficient for us, even if we had nothing more. For it is dangerous and dreadful to hear or believe anything against the unanimous testimony, faith, and doctrine of the entire holy Christian Church, as it has been held unanimously in all the world up to this year 1500. Whoever now doubts of this, he does just as much as if he believed in no Christian Church, and condemns not only the entire holy Christian Church as a damnable heresy, but Christ Himself, and all the Apostles and Prophets, who founded this article, when we say, ‘I believe in a holy Christian Church,’ to which Christ bears powerful testimony in Matt. 28.20: ‘Lo, I am with you alway, to the end of the world,’ and Paul, in 1 Tim. 3.15: ‘The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth.’  (italics are Schaff’s own; cf. abridged [?] version in Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther [Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911], pp. 290-292; Johann Adam Mohler, Symbolism, 1844, p. 400)

Now this assertion of a second inspired source of God’s truth has led, I feel, to some tremendously false beliefs.

We don’t believe that tradition and Church proclamations are ‘inspired” but rather, infallible and authoritative / binding under certain carefully specified conditions. This is a surprising mistake from White on an elementary matter.

For example, John O’Brien, author of the popular work The Faith of Millions, wrote in a pamphlet entitled Finding Christ’s Church, “Great as is our reverence for the Bible, reason and experience compel us to say that it alone is not a competent nor a safe guide as to what we are to believe.” That is certainly not what I believe to be the faith of the Church historically or in any other way. As time permits this evening we shall see that such was not the view of the Apostles, of the Lord Jesus Christ, the prophets of old or the early fathers.

Nonsense. Philip (Acts 8:30-31) and Peter (2 Pet 3:15-16) thought the Bible needed to be interpreted, and so did the writer of Nehemiah (8:8): see all above. The need to be properly interpreted takes nothing away from the Bible. It’s simply how it is, since the Bible is a book, and a rather complex one. Not everyone can figure it out on their own. And as Mr. White well knows, the heresies of history like the Arians and Gnostics and their successors today, like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all appeal to Scripture, and all think their grossly mistaken interpretation is the correct one. The Arians were the sola Scipturists of their time, while the fathers in the Catholic Church (like Athanasius and Basil above), appealed not to Scripture alone, but rather, to apostolic succession and things believed from the beginning, to prove that Catholicism was true and Arianism false.

But right now, I want to focus our attention on what this debate must be about. To defend sola Scriptura is, in a sense, impossible. Why? Well, because sola scripture is a negative. It is a statement that there is no other source of authority for the Church.

It wouldn’t / shouldn’t be difficult to prove at all if in fact this were the biblical teaching. All White or any Protestant would have to do is produce the Bible passages that assert that only the Bible is an infallible authority / rule of faith. This they have never done, and never will, because it ain’t there! Nothing even comes close. Therefore, what they assert is (how ironic!) merely an arbitrary tradition of man, since it can’t be located in the Bible itself. Sola Scriptura is also a viciously logically circular assertion. If the Bible is the only such infallible authority, then obviously, the claim that it is so would have to come from itself, in the nature of the case. As it does not, the claim collapses in a heap.

Well, the Roman Catholic position must demonstrate that that the “oral tradition” that is supposed to exist not only contains revelation from God that differs in content from what is found in the New Testament, but that this “oral tradition” is theopneustos, that is, God-breathed, inspired.

White again commits basic category mistakes: twice. We don’t claim that oral tradition is “revelation” (although the oral teaching delivered to Moses from God on Mt. Sinai would be that). Nor do we claim it is inspired. He wrongly assumes that the only binding and infallible authority in Christianity is Holy Scripture; hence that only inspired revelation can be binding. But the Bible simply doesn’t teach either of his claims here. He’s pulling them out of a hat from late-arriving, Protestant man-made and unbiblical tradition. The burden of proof is on White to show that Scripture does teach these novel concepts. Maybe he attempts that later in the debate, but it’s not in his opening.

The Bible asserts an authoritative, infallible tradition and Church, and in so doing, it refutes this myth of sola Scriptura. The Bible never states anything remotely like, “all that the believer is bound and required to believe is explicitly found in the pages of this Bible.” And even if it did say that, the contents of the Bible itself were determined by sacred tradition and the Catholic Church: so that we don’t even get the Bible without those authorities and authoritative proclamations and traditions. In other words, authoritative and infallible sacred tradition is inevitable and inescapable. And so is the Church, which authoritatively declared which books were in the Bible and inspired (which were intrinsically inspired, as the Catholic Church teaches: not just because the Church said so).

Without such a demonstration, the denial of sola Scriptura is empty and meaningless

This doesn’t follow at all because of the ludicrous category mistakes that White just made. All we have to do is demonstrate that Scripture teaches an authoritative (not inspired or revelatory) tradition and Church: which it does, and which is rather easy to show. I’ve done so myself, many times (see both my Bible & Tradition web page and Church web page: especially the papers on the Jerusalem Council). Then of course it would be a separate argument to specifically identify said traditions. But the Bible merely granting tradition and Church per se, binding authority as a general principle, is more than enough to demolish sola Scriptura.

White’s and Protestants’ burden of proof, on the other hand, is much harder (and I say, impossible): provide a verse that spells out the definition of sola Scriptura and all of its essential elements: Scripture as the only infallible binding, authority in the Christian life. I’ll save them a ton of trouble in looking for such a passage. It doesn’t exist. So all this is literally much ado about nothing: a mythical supposedly “biblical” view that never was from the start. It only began when Martin Luther was backed into a corner at the Leipzig Disputation in June-July 1519, and had to come up with a position that would undermine Church and conciliar authority. So he espoused the historic heretics’ denial of apostolic succession and the default position of “Bible Only” as a rule of faith. This is where it originated (outside of the heretics throughout history); not in the Bible itself.

Remember the title of the debate. We are talking about an infallible rule. Is the Bible the only infallible rule? And the only way to demonstrate that’s wrong is to point to another infallible rule, that when placed next to Scripture shows that Scripture is not unique in being God-breathed, inspired revelation from God. That is the task that lies before us.

Ah, now he has used the word “infallible” that should have been in his definition earlier. But fair enough. It’s here now. Again, he posits the absurd notion that either tradition or the Church is, or “must” be “inspired.” It’s essentially a straw man or a diversion tactic. If we don’t think in White’s confused, convoluted categories, then we can’t possibly succeed in our task. Nice try, clever, but no cigar . . . The clearest and most unanswerable proofs of authoritative Church and tradition lie in the exegesis of 1 Timothy 3:15 and the Jerusalem Council. Here is how I argued regarding the former in my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura (2012, pp. 104-107, #82):

1 Timothy 3:15  if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

Pillars and foundations support things and prevent them from collapsing. To be a “bulwark” of the truth, means to be a “safety net” against truth turning into falsity. If the Church could err, it could not be what Scripture says it is. God’s truth would be the house built on a foundation of sand in Jesus’ parable. For this passage of Scripture to be true, the Church could not err — it must be infallible. A similar passage may cast further light on 1 Timothy 3:15:

Ephesians 2:19-21 . . . you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

1 Timothy 3:15 defines “household of God” as “the church of the living God.” Therefore, we know that Ephesians 2:19-21 is also referring to the Church, even though that word is not present. Here the Church’s own “foundation” is “the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” The foundation of the Church itself is Jesus and apostles and prophets.

Prophets spoke “in the name of the Lord” (1 Chron 21:19; 2 Chron 33:18; Jer 26:9), and commonly introduced their utterances with “thus says the Lord” (Is 10:24; Jer 4:3; 26:4; Ezek 13:8; Amos 3:11-12; and many more). They spoke the “word of the Lord” (Is 1:10; 38:4; Jer 1:2; 13:3, 8; 14:1; Ezek 13:1-2; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jon 1:1; Mic 1:1, et cetera). These communications cannot contain any untruths insofar as they truly originate from God, with the prophet serving as a spokesman or intermediary of God (Jer 2:2; 26:8; Ezek 11:5; Zech 1:6; and many more). Likewise, apostles proclaimed truth unmixed with error (1 Cor 2:7-13; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11-14; 2 Pet 1:12-21).

Does this foundation have any faults or cracks? Since Jesus is the cornerstone, he can hardly be a faulty foundation. Neither can the apostles or prophets err when teaching the inspired gospel message or proclaiming God’s word. In the way that apostles and prophets are infallible, so is the Church set up by our Lord Jesus Christ. We ourselves (all Christians) are incorporated into the Church (following the metaphor), on top of the foundation.

1 Peter 2:4-9 Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; [5] and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [6] For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [7] To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,” [8] and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. [9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (cf. Isa 28:16)

Jesus is without fault or untruth, and he is the cornerstone of the Church. The Church is also more than once even identified with Jesus himself, by being called his “Body” (Acts 9:5 cf. with 22:4 and 26:11; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; 4:12; 5:23, 30; Col 1:24). That the Church is so intimately connected with Jesus, who is infallible, is itself a strong argument that the Church is also infallible and without error.

Therefore, the Church is built on the foundation of Jesus (perfect in all knowledge), and the prophets and apostles (who spoke infallible truth, often recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture). Moreover, it is the very “Body of Christ.” It stands to reason that the Church herself is infallible, by the same token. In the Bible, nowhere is truth presented as anything less than pure truth, unmixed with error. That was certainly how Paul conceived his own “tradition” that he received and passed down.

Knowing what truth is, how can its own foundation or pillar be something less than total truth (since truth itself contains no falsehoods, untruths, lies, or errors)? It cannot. It is impossible. It is a straightforward matter of logic and plain observation. A stream cannot rise above its source. What is built upon a foundation cannot be greater than the foundation. If it were, the whole structure would collapse.

If an elephant stood on the shoulders of a man as its foundation, that foundation would collapse. The base of a skyscraper has to hold the weight above it. The foundations of a suspension bridge over a river have to be strong enough to support that bridge.

Therefore, we must conclude that if the Church is the foundation of truth, the Church must be infallible, since truth is infallible, and the foundation cannot be lesser than that which is built upon it. And since there is another infallible authority apart from Scripture, sola scriptura must be false.

The Bible provides another crystal-clear example of the Church exercising its infallible authority in the council of Jerusalem: since it made a pronouncement expressly guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28-29), which was binding upon the faithful, and proclaimed as such by St. Paul himself, in his missionary journeys:

Acts 16:4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

In the same way [as with Mormons] I challenge the Roman Catholic claim that there is an additional revelation from God–this mysterious oral tradition that supposedly needs to be added to the Scriptures to have all that God would have us to have.

It’s not our claim that it is additional revelation, so there is nothing to defend in that respect. White needs to get his facts straight. I think likely he did later on in his career (this stuff is from 1992), but at this point he’s considerably confused about Catholic views. The first rule in debate is to “know thy opponent.” The great debater even knows his opponents’ views better than the opponent does. White is simply setting up straw men and mowing them down, which impresses no one skilled in debate, but is awful amusing.

Now, to win this debate, since Mr. Matatics already agrees with me, I believe, that the Bible is inspired and, hence authoritative, he must demonstrate that there is an oral tradition that is both unique in its contents, that is that it contains revelation other than what we have in the New Testament or the Old Testament and that it is inspired on exactly the same level as the New Testament, that is that it is God-breathed.

He makes the same category mistake again! It’s becoming a pretty bad and ineffective opening statement. We are under no such burden, as this is not our view in the first place. Moreover, certainly the Bible never requires that [technically] non-biblical authority must be inspired. This is simply some fairy tale that White came up with or that he sopped up from some other anti-Catholic polemicist: equally out to sea.  The Bible teaches that tradition and Church can be infallible, as I believe I just demonstrated. It need not be “revelation” nor “inspired.” The council of Nicaea was not inspired and not revelation. It was infallible and binding. So was the council of Jerusalem.

If not, if it is on some lower level of inspiration, if it is not God-breathed,

It’s infallible . . .

then obviously you cannot unequally yoke it with the Bible. It cannot be an equal authority. Oral tradition must be inspired in exactly the same way as the Scriptures for it to function as Rome has claimed.

Nonsense again. The proper way to put it (in a far more learned and properly nuanced way than Mr. White does) is how Anglican Dr. Kelly did (cited above):

Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, . . .

And Protestant historian Heiko Oberman, describing the views of “the pre-Augustinian Church” adds: “Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled . . .” (The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, revised 1967 edition, 367).

My patience is just about exhausted by this point, but by God’s grace, I shall continue on to the end of the Opening Statement.

I’d like to ask you to look with me at Matthew 15:1-6. I will begin, as time is fleeting, with verse 3, “Jesus replied, ‘Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother and anyone who curses his father and mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me as a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to honor his father with it. Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

. . . so what did the Lord Jesus do? What he tell all of us to do? To test that teaching, that tradition, not just corrupt tradition, any tradition, on the basis of the Scriptures. “Thus (verse 6) you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition.” Obviously the Word of God does not fall into the category of tradition in that passage, does it? And yet it does in so many Roman Catholic writings as a part of sacred tradition. Tradition is tested by Scripture.

Yes it is, and Scripture is canonized by tradition and Church authority, and Scripture is authoritatively interpreted within a received orthodox community, that received a passed-down tradition of interpretation and orthodoxy by means of Holy Spirit-led apostolic succession. All of that can be shown to be clear biblical teaching, and I have done some of it above. I would be delighted to apply White’s principle in the last sentence to his own views on the rule of faith. I’ve been testing the man-made unbiblical tradition of sola Scriptura by the criterion of Scripture, and it fails miserably. It itself is never asserted there, and contrary (refuting) views are frequently asserted. Conclusion: it is a false and unbiblical (i.e., contrary to the Bible) tradition of men and must be discarded. As St. John stated: “no lie is of the truth.” (1 Jn 2:21).

Now one of the most important passages that we need to look at is II Thessalonians 2:13-15. Let me read just verse 15. I’ll read verses 13 and 14 in a moment. “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught either by word or by a letter of ours.” Now it is alleged by Roman Catholic apologists that here you have a positive command to pass on the oral tradition as a separate tradition, separate from the written, that this is to be passed on through the Church down through the ages. But is that what we have here? No, this is a command to stand firm and hold fast to a single body of traditions already delivered to the believers. There is nothing future about this passage at all. He says to stand firm and hold fast to traditions that will be delivered? No, already has been delivered to the entire church, not just the episcopate, not just the bishops, but to everyone in the church at Thessalonica.

This is absurd because 2 Thessalonians was one of the earliest books of the New Testament: dated around 50 AD by conservative Bible scholars (e.g., Introduction to the New Testament, Zondervan, 1992, by D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, p. 347). The same book states that “the preponderance of evidence” dates the Gospel of Matthew “most probably during the sixties” (p. 79). As for Mark, they conclude: “either in the late fifties or the middle sixties. While the latter is the majority view, we favor the late fifties” (p. 99). They date Luke in “the early 60s” (p. 116), and as for the Gospel of John, “we may very tentatively advance A.D. 80-85” (p. 167). Thus, none of the four Gospels had yet been written by this time, let alone “delivered” to the Thessalonians (or anyone else).

This raises several insuperable problems for the good Bishop White. If he wants to say that this injunction has no reference to the future, he excludes the Gospels, as well as most of the rest of the New Testament. That would be quite a stunted, incomplete new covenant tradition and rule of faith to live by. If he ditches that desperate, unfounded assertion, his argument collapses, and he must concede some sense of ongoing tradition.

Secondly, White’s overall argument is that any legitimate tradition is eventually “inscripturated”: which is its basis of validation. For him, there is no valid tradition that does not end up in the Bible. Needless to say, such an idea is never stated in the Bible, and is yet another arbitrary tradition of men, based on nothing but wishful thinking and special pleading. But assume it is true for a moment, for the sake of argument. That would mean that Paul is commanding his hearers to “hold fast” to to all these traditions that were not yet in the Bible (which Bible was not completed till around 100 AD and not finally canonized till the late fourth century). And these even include oral traditions (“by word” as distinct from “by a letter”). One can see that his position is hopelessly incoherent.

Much more sensible and plausible in interpreting this passage is the Catholic view that there was an identifiable body of apostolic tradition (whether yet in the Bible or even if it never made it into the Bible) that is consistent with Christian teaching, including the Bible, and which was passed down and authorized by the Catholic Church. In other words, it’s perfectly consistent with the Catholic rule of faith as it has always been, but literally impossible to synthesize with sola Scriptura.

This single body of traditions was taught in two ways. First, orally, that is, when Paul was personally with the Thessalonians, and by epistle, that being the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Now, what does the term “orally” refer to? For the Roman Catholic to use this passage to support his position, two things must be established. First, that the oral tradition element refers to a specific passing on of revelation to the power of the episcopate and secondly that what is passed on is different in substance from what is found in the New Testament.

White again confuses legitimate tradition with “revelation.” Vatican II: Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) very eloquently explains the much more coherent and biblical Catholic view:

9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. [from the Holy See translation]

We say that this tradition is infallible if an apostle with the authority of Paul confirms it and passes it on. And it is partially oral: which was simply, as White puts it, “when Paul was personally with the Thessalonians.” Now, in a single night, if Paul was a good talker (I’m sure he was!), there could very well have been more of this “tradition” transmitted (in sheer volume) than perhaps the total words of the New Testament. And it’s absurd to claim (let alone arbitrarily assert) that everything Paul would have said in a night of wonderful sermons / lectures or discussions would have to be in the Bible eventually: part of the canon.

Therefore, by simple common sense, and by the logic of White’s own statement, this tradition was not identical to what we have in the New Testament. It was consistent and harmonious with it, but it was not identical, and it was neither inspired nor a portion of revelation.

The traditions of which Paul speaks are not traditions about Mary or papal infallibility.

No one is claiming that they are.

Instead, the traditions Paul is talking about is simply the Gospel message itself.

We don’t know that. Again, think of a night of Paul talking, and the wide variety of topics he would likely cover (judging by the nature of his epistles). White is bound by this silly false tradition that he can’t prove by the Bible. Yet the internal logic of his position requires him to do so. Note how he never attempts to prove his premises from the Bible in this opening statement.

Note what he said in his first epistle to the Thessalonians about what he had spoken to them, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”

That is likely the simple gospel message of salvation, but it has no direct bearing on the present dispute.

Now, in II Thessalonians 2:15 Paul says to “stand firm”, the Greek term, stekete. He also uses that term in I Corinthians 16:13, when he says, “Be on your guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be men of courage. Be strong.” What Paul is saying in II Thessalonians 2 is that we are to stand firm in the Gospel message which has been preached to the people. There is nothing here about Immaculate Conception or papal infallibility, or some second source of inspired revelation whatsoever.

Again, no one is saying that there is (all of those being doctrines that were highly developed for centuries to come). All I’m contending is that the content of this tradition that Paul refers to cannot plausibly merely be what we have in the Bible. Included in it were likely a number of particulars that weren’t in the Bible. After all, if the Bible never even lists its own books, there could be a host of other topics concerning which it is silent or at least not very explicit. And it barely mentions major doctrines like the virgin birth and original sin.

The remainder offers nothing particularly new, so I will leave it at that, as this paper is now almost 9000 words.

[Link to Part 2 of this reply]


Photo credit: mary1826 (30 August 2019) PixabayPixabay License]


September 16, 2019

James White wrote his first known anti-Catholic article in May 1991, for the Pros Apologian theological journal, entitled: “Papal Pretensions: Evaluating the New Roman Catholic Apologists.” He was responding to the rapidly budding Catholic apologetics movement, of which I am a part: spearheaded by Scott Hahn, Karl Keating (who had just begun Catholic Answers), and Keating’s co-worker, Patrick Madrid (all of whom have enthusiastically recommended my work).

Prior to that time he had concentrated on (agreeable) anti-cult apologetics: particularly Mormonism, and some Jehovah’s Witnesses research also. We actually came out of the same milieu: the evangelical anti-cult movement, which included Dr. Walter Martin and his Christian Research institute. Some of my earliest apologetics, like White’s, starting in 1981, was devoted to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and biblical evidences regarding the deity of Christ, and the Holy Trinity. My only radio appearance as an evangelical (November 1989), was a discussion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I was an Arminian / Wesleyan evangelical, and not anti-Catholic, whereas White was Reformed Baptist, which view largely tends to be also anti-Catholic.

So he wrote the above article, and I was received into the Church three months earlier (after having written a long letter to Karl Keating in February 1990, as a Protestant, and having first met Scott Hahn the day before I was received). I had my first “officially published” Catholic article in The Catholic Answer in January 1993 (on Martin Luther) and my conversion story was included in Pat Madrid’s runaway bestseller Surprised by Truth in 1994. In March 1995 I wrote to White and we engaged in our only sustained debate (i.e., before he split and ignored my extensive, 36-page third “round”) ever, and the rest is history.

See my Introduction to what will be a very long series (see other installments). Words of James White will be in blue.


[Footnote] 1. It is ironic to note that they are willing to use the Bible to prove a doctrine that, in reality, asserts that the Bible is not sufficient in and of itself to know religious truth with finality. 

It’s not ironic at all. Catholics agree that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible revelation. We know that in argument with our separated brethren, they will not accept Catholic proclamations or arguments from tradition, so we largely stick to the Bible: the thing we have in common. It’s a straightforward application of the Pauline “I have become all things to all men.” But it’s simply practical common sense. Debates must proceed from shared premises or they go nowhere.

Lastly, the Church fathers massively used Scripture in their argumentation, as do virtually all Catholic magisterial documents. It’s nothing new at all. Utilizing the Bible is not the same thing as an assertion that the Bible is the only infallible and final authority in Christianity (sola Scriptura). But both sides agree that it is the only divinely inspired authority.

In looking for Biblical support for the Papacy, Roman apologists are extremely limited with regard to the texts they can utilize, and for obvious reason. Outside of Matthew 16:17-19, Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-17, there is precious little ground upon which to build papal pretensions.

I disagree, having listed fifty such arguments in one of my more well-known articles. But even if White’s three listed passages were the only evidence, that would be three more passages than ones that support his belief in sola Scriptura, and three more than those in the Bible that list the canon of the Bible. Sola Scriptura is a mere man-made, unbiblical Protestant tradition and the biblical canon is an authentic, apostolic, patristic, and Catholic tradition.

Given this simple fact, what is the Roman apologist to do? Examining the actual structure of the New Testament Church would be disastrous, for the equality of the believers, the lack of the “clergy/laity” split, the universal priesthood of believers,

Protestants sometimes cite 1 Peter 2:5, 9 to the effect that all Christians are priests. But Peter was citing Exodus 19:6: “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The problem with this is that the older passage couldn’t possibly have meant that there was no priesthood among the ancient Hebrews, since they clearly had a separate class of priests (Leviticus: chapters 4-7, 13-14).

This is even seen in the same chapter, since Exodus 19:21-24 twice contrasts “priests” and “people.” Thus, it makes much more sense to interpret 1 Peter 2:5 as meaning a separate, holy, “chosen” class of priests. 

and the equality of the servants of the Church (i.e., elders are bishops, etc.) is all in contradiction to the Roman doctrines.

The absurd low church doctrine that elders = bishops is unbiblical. I extensively debated the issue with James White on 10 January 2001. This was the exchange where he famously stated:

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.

Based on this statement, I have referred to him as “Bishop” ever since. So he falsely ascribes to himself the office of bishop, and also maintains the pretense that he earned a legitimate doctorate (he did not). How’s that for hubris? See also a related paper of mine, responding to Bishop White about deacons.

If they were to examine Peter’s own writings, they would be unable to find a single instance where he claimed to be the “Vicar of Christ on earth” or the “Holy Father,”

[later in his article] . . . the Vicar of Christ on earth (who, of course, is the Holy Spirit of God, not the bishop of Rome).

We need not find specific terms to prove our case, any more than Protestants can (or are required to) find the terms “Trinity” or “Two Natures” of Christ or “original sin”: none of which are biblical terminology. Even their beloved faith alone doctrine is mentioned once in the Bible: and expressly denied:

James 2:24 (RSV) You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Nor do “Scripture alone” or Scripture only” ever appear.

I have shown, I think, that “Vicar of Christ” and “Holy Father” are terms that are perfectly consistent with Holy Scripture

nor could they even begin to find any other passage in Scripture where anyone else gave any indication of viewing Peter in this way, either. So the above mentioned passages must somehow be made to stretch to fit the task assigned to them. 

To the contrary, there are many indications of Peter’s authority and leadership among the disciples and in the early Church. Even the great Protestant scholar F. F. Bruce, whom White often cites, wrote:

A Paulinist (and I myself must be so described) is under a constant temptation to underestimate Peter . . . An impressive tribute is paid to Peter by Dr. J.D.G. Dunn towards the end of his Unity and Diversity in the New Testament [London: SCM Press, 1977, 385; emphasis in original]. Contemplating the diversity within the New Testament canon, he thinks of the compilation of the canon as an exercise in bridge-building, and suggests that

it was Peter who became the focal point of unity in the great Church, since Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity.

Paul and James, he thinks, were too much identified in the eyes of many Christians with this and that extreme of the spectrum to fill the role that Peter did. Consideration of Dr. Dunn’s thoughtful words has moved me to think more highly of Peter’s contribution to the early church, without at all diminishing my estimate of Paul’s contribution. (Peter, Stephen, James, and John, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1979, 42-43)

Another rock-solid Protestant scholarly work states similarly:

In the . . . exercise of the power of the keys, in ecclesiastical discipline, the thought is of administrative authority (Is 22:22) with regard to the requirements of the household of faith. The use of censures, excommunication, and absolution is committed to the Church in every age, to be used under the guidance of the Spirit . . .

So Peter, in T. W. Manson’s words, is to be ‘God’s vicegerent . . . The authority of Peter is an authority to declare what is right and wrong for the Christian community. His decisions will be confirmed by God’ (The Sayings of Jesus, 1954, p. 205). (New Bible Dictionary, edited by J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1018)

Obviously, then, not all Protestants (including those far more eminent than he himself) agree with White’s opinion on this. They disagree with the papacy, of course, but not with a strong biblical view of Peter as an early Church leader: which is the present consideration.

The primary passage used in defense of the Papacy continues to be Matthew 16:17-19. . . .

They have ready answers for anyone who would dispute that Peter is the “rock” spoken of here. In fact, they have plenty of quotations from Protestant commentaries to back them up in identifying Peter as the rock! 

Yes we do: citing many Protestant scholars.

Without turning what should be a readable article into a small book, we point out that the Roman position is inconsistent at a number of points. First, since Romanism claims that their understanding of Petrine supremacy is in “accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church,” it is instructive to realize that the interpretation of Matthew 16:18 upon which this supremacy is based is by far the minority position of the early Fathers.

But this is a red herring. The assertion is that papal primacy and supremacy was always there in some form, from the beginning, not that the only basis for same is Matthew 16. Thus, it is irrelevant for White to note that many Fathers disagreed with the “Peter is the Rock” interpretation of Matthew 16. It was mixed, and even White noted that 17 fathers agreed with it. The irony is that many Protestant scholars now agree with us that Peter is the Rock referred to in Matthew 16: not merely his faith, or Christ as the rock. Peter means rock, so it would seem pretty straightforward:

Matthew 16:18-19 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. [19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

“But,” the Roman apologists retorts, “your own Protestant scholars admit that Peter was the rock.” Let’s now examine this, always keeping in mind that even if it could be established without question that this is the proper interpretation, it does not follow that the bishop of Rome has some kind of supremacy! Nothing in Matthew 16:18 establishes an office that is to be passed on to others. 

I don’t think it is inconsistent with the notion at all. After all, if Peter was indeed appointed as leader in the Church, why wouldn’t that office be passed on for posterity: just like most of the other offices? A strong argument can be made for papal succession, and I have made it; even more than once.

I do not necessarily agree with the interpretation put forward by Hendrickson, Cullmann, etc., with reference to Peter being the rock. However, the point is that the modern-day Roman apologist who refers to these men must be held accountable for telling the people all that these Protestant writers are saying. It is often the case that the Catholic is left with the impression that these Protestant writers accept the Roman Catholic understanding of Peter as the “rock” with all that entails, and this simply is not the case.

We Catholic apologists agree that Protestant scholars saying Peter was the rock does not imply at all that they agree with either papal succession or the office of the papacy as a perpetual one (no Catholic apologist I am aware of has made those arguments; we simply note that hey are denying that “rock” refers only to Peter’s faith). But it surely means something significant, and I think honest Protestants have to ask themselves what that is. The Catholic biblical argument for Petrine primacy and the papacy that we think developed from it is a multi-faceted and cumulative one.

Another twist that has been added, especially by Scott Hahn . . . has been the use of Isaiah 22:21- 22. This passage has been pressed into service to attempt to find some kind of basis for asserting that the supremacy supposedly given to Peter in Matthew 16 actually has the character of a dynastic office replete with successors. Here we read of Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. The passage reads,

And I will clothe him with your tunic, and tie your sash securely about him, I will entrust him with your authority, and he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Jacob. Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, when he opens no one will shut, when he shuts no one will open.

Roman apologists assert the following things. First, the position Eliakim was put into was a dynastic position, i.e., one that had successors. Secondly, they point out the usage of the term “key” and connect this with Jesus’ statements in Matthew 16:19, going so far as to directly assert that Jesus is quoting Isaiah 22:22 of Peter. Obviously, they then parallel the “opening and shutting” of Isaiah 22 with the “binding and loosing” of Matthew 16. Peter, they assert, is the “Prime Minister” of the Church. There is no tension or “tug-of-war” between Peter and Jesus, just as there was none between the king and the prime minister in the Old Testament.

Scott Hahn spent some time establishing this connection in a talk entitled “Peter and the Papacy.” He insists that Jesus is quoting this passage from Isaiah 22 with reference to Peter, and that Jesus would never quote a passage from the Old Testament and wrench it from its original context. Since, therefore, the passage in Isaiah refers to an office that has successors, then Jesus must mean Peter to have successors as the “prime minister” of the Church, that is, the Pope. Hahn says,

The long and short of all of this, is, that when Jesus entrusts to Peter the keys of the kingdom, He is designating and appointing Simon to be the prime Minister; and with the keys you have a clear symbol showing us that an office is being instituted; so that when Peter dies there automatically assumes a successor; and when that successor dies, yet another one, and so on and so forth. We do have the biblical grounds for believing that Jesus instituted Peter’s office to include successors known as the popes.

Again, if so eminent a Protestant scholar as F. F. Bruce thought this was a plausible interpretation (and adopted it himself), it ain’t just “special pleading Catholic polemics”:

The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or majordomo; . . . About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. (The Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983, 143-144)

Several other Protestants make the same sort of exegetical argument:

New Bible Commentary

Eliakim stands in strong contrast to Shebna . . . Godward he is called `my servant’ (v.20; cf. `this steward’, v.15); manward, he will be `a father’ to his community (v.21) . . .

The opening words of v.22, with their echo of 9:6, emphasize the God-given responsibility that went with it [possession of the keys], to be used in the king’s interests. The `shutting’ and `opening’ mean the power to make decisions which no one under the king could override. This is the background of the commission to Peter (cf. Mt 16:19) and to the church (cf. Mt 18:18). (p. 603)

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (R. T. France): 

Not only is Peter to have a leading role, but this role involves a daunting degree of authority (though not an authority which he alone carries, as may be seen from the repetition of the latter part of the verse in 18:18 with reference to the disciple group as a whole). The image of `keys’ (plural) perhaps suggests not so much the porter, who controls admission to the house, as the steward, who regulates its administration (cf. Is 22:22, in conjunction with 22:15). The issue then is not that of admission to the church . . . , but an authority derived from a “delegation” of God’s sovereignty. 

Oscar Cullmann:

Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord puts the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so does Jesus hand over to Peter the keys of the house of the kingdom of heaven and by the same stroke establishes him as his superintendent. There is a connection between the house of the Church, the construction of which has just been mentioned and of which Peter is the foundation, and the celestial house of which he receives the keys. The connection between these two images is the notion of God’s people. (St. Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1952 [French edition], 183-184)

Note that Scott Hahn was born in 1957 and became a Catholic in 1985. White says that this argument from him was some new “twist.” Yet, the four Protestant scholars or reference sources cited above made this argument in the years 1983, 1970, 1985, and 1952, respectively. Obviously, then, Hahn didn’t invent it or pull it out of a hat. For all we know, he may have actually discovered it in Protestant exegetes and commentators such as these.

What we do know for sure is that this take is not exclusively a Catholic one. Protestant Bible scholars (and very good ones that White can’t dismiss) also hold this position. And that is significant and proves that it is an exegetical argument to be seriously grappled with by people like White. But, true to form, he doesn’t. Rather, he states: “does the argument hold water? When all the excess verbiage is stripped away, we find out that it is an argument built upon air.”

One of the most amazing things that I have noted in listening to the defenses provided by the new Roman apologists is the selectivity with which they present their arguments. Rarely is the Protestant argument portrayed in its best formulation, that is for certain! Straw men abound, but straw men that are skillfully constructed by men who should, it would seem, know better, given their background and training. But here with reference to Isaiah 22, I have been amazed to note this one single thing: . . . Each time I have listened to these men or read their discussions of the supposed connection between Isaiah 22:22 and Matthew 16:18-19, I have never once heard them inform their audiences that Isaiah 22:22 is specifically cited by the Lord Jesus, with reference to Himself, in Revelation 3:7! Note what the Word says,

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one will open, says this:

That’s funny; I had no problem in including it in the Protestant citations I utilized in my paper, Primacy of St. Peter Verified by Protestant Scholars. It appears three times there. It took me less than a minute in a Google search to find Scott Hahn not only mentioning it in this respect, but incorporating it into his argument:

Jesus, the root and offspring of David, alone holds the kingdom’s keys (see Revelation 1:183:722:16). In giving those keys to Peter, Jesus fulfills that prophecy, establishing Peter—and all who succeed him—as holy father of His Church.

Scriptural passages often have a dual application. Surely, James White: an avid student of the Bible, must know this. I could think of a dozen examples just off the top of my head. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11, 14), but the Greek for shepherd here (poimḗn: Strong’s word 4166), is translated as pastor in Ephesians 4:11. So Jesus applied it to himself and then Paul applied it to pastors. St. Paul again writes about the same idea, referring to congregations or laypeople as the “flock”:

Acts 20:28-19 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. [29] I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;

So does St. Peter:

1 Peter 5:2-3 Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, [3] not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.

And of course the risen Jesus said to St. Peter, the first pope:

John 21:15-17 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Patrick Madrid — in a classic article from 1992 — elaborates upon this:

Jesus is the shepherd of his flock the Church (Jn 10:16), yet he shares his shepherdhood in a subordinate way with others, beginning with Peter (Jn 21:15-17) and extending it later to others (Eph 4:11). It is true that Jesus says he is the only shepherd (Jn 10:11-16), yet this seemingly exclusive statement does not conflict with him making Peter shepherd over the flock (Jn 21:15-17) or with his calling others to be shepherds as well (Eph 4:11). Peter emphasizes that Jesus shares his role as shepherd with others by calling Jesus the chief shepherd, thus implying lesser shepherds (1 Pt 5:4). Note also that the Greek construction of John 10:16 ([there is] one shepherd, heis poimen) is the same as 1 Timothy 2:5 ([there is] one mediator, heis mesites). The apostles and their successors, the bishops, are truly shepherds also.

God even shares his glory with His creatures, for heaven’s sake. And we know that God saves whoever is saved, and gives all the grace to (solely) make that possible yet we see Paul saying that he and Timothy (as “God’s fellow workers”: 1 Cor 3:9) “save” people too, and Paul and Peter talking about distributing God’s grace!:

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it [his many sufferings: 4:8-12, 17] is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you . . .

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (cf. 1 Cor 7:16; James 5:20; 1 Pet 3:1)

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

So Jesus has the keys in Revelation 3:7? No biggie (ho hum). Of course He does. No one is denying it. But Jesus says that He will give them to Peter (“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”: Mt 16:19), so White has to grapple with and come to terms with that. What does it mean?

Who is speaking here? The Lord Jesus, of course. And is there any question whatsoever that the Lord is citing Isaiah 22:22? None at all! He mentions the “key of David,” and then quotes the rest of Isaiah 22:22 directly! And who is the one who holds (present tense-since this is spoken after the resurrection, and, it would seem probable, after the death of Peter, then why isn’t the Pope, Peter’s supposed successor, holding this key?) the key? Jesus Christ Himself! Obviously, therefore, the entire Roman Catholic position falls flat on its face with the simple acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus is a better interpreter of Scripture than the modern apologists of Rome, and He obviously felt that Isaiah 22:22 was fulfilled in Himself, not in Peter or the bishop of Rome!

This is all overcome by understanding the notion of dual or double application in Scripture; examples of which were just provided. White thinks in the hyper-rationalistic, typically Protestant either/or way, rather than the biblical and Catholic both/and, paradoxical way, and so he misses this. No one is so blind as he who will not see.

When one then considers all the time that is spent by Hahn and Matatics in developing this argument, and all that without even attempting to deal with Revelation 3:7, what is obviously the death-blow to their entire concept, one is tempted to wonder about much of what they have to say. Surely the Roman Catholic who listens to such apologetics should be aware of this kind of tremendously selective interpretation! It is, in my opinion, nothing short of dishonest to present the Isaiah 22/Matthew 16 connection as a support of the Roman concept of the Papacy without even trying to deal with Revelation 3:7 and the simple fact that Jesus did not interpret Isaiah 22:22 in the same way the apologist is suggesting we should! Hahn insisted that it was important to remember that Jesus would never twist or contort the context of the Old Testament passages He was citing. We agree. But when we apply Hahn’s own words to himself, we find that Jesus’ use of Isaiah 22:22 in Revelation 3:7 forever shuts the door on Hahn’s forced interpretation of Isaiah with reference to Matthew 16:18-19.

How melodramatic! This is White’s tedious method: over-argue to the extreme and then prematurely and triumphantly declare victory. It makes it — admittedly — fun to debate him, because (as someone on my Facebook page noted today) he “falls hard.” And so he does here, and (I predict) will many many more times, as I proceed with this series. You can’t “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” White could be the most brilliant rhetorician and polemicist in the history of the world, but if he is defending falsehood, it won’t matter.

You can only go so far with that: like a lawyer defending a client who truly is guilty. The person possessing the truth, and who knows how to effectively contend for it, will prevail, because the truth has an inherent divinely ordained power within itself, whereas falsehood comes from the devil: the father of lies. That’s the advantage of the Catholic who is dealing with an anti-Catholic, and the blessing of the Catholic apologist (strengthening our faith all the more, all the time, as we see the weakness of the opposing arguments). It’s not mere empty and prideful triumphalism: it’s the power of truth.


Photo credit: Detail of Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter (1481-82) by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

March 17, 2017

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648), by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


[see all the other installments of this multi-part debate on my James White web page: second section]


Mr. White’s words will be in blue; my former words in green.


My reply to White’s Part VI:

Dave Armstrong “shows his cards” so to speak, and in so doing reveals the true motivation behind his use of Matthew 23, in these words:

Thirdly, because they had the authority and no indication is given that Jesus thought they had it only when simply reading Scripture, it would follow that Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only nonscriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed. (p. 49)

What “cards” or “true motivation”? Interest in historical truth and in presenting the beliefs of others accurately? I happily plead guilty to those accusations. Whatever “motivation” I had was already plainly presented in the subtitle in this chapter: Oral and Extrabiblical Tradition in the New Testament. So why would White or anyone else think I am “revealing” anything at this “late stage” of the chapter? I was simply stating a rather obvious fact (based on what we know about the Pharisees’ belief system). Because that fact disagrees with White’s preconceived notions of what is “supposed” to be New Testament teaching, he has to either deny it or melodramatically pretend that my straightforward acknowledgment of it is itself an inaccurate presentation. It’s fascinating to observe.

Here we see the full impact of Armstrong’s reading, and, I believe, misreading of the entire opening to Matthew 23. The full power of sola ecclesia is here seen, . . .

As stated before, the Catholic position is not sola ecclesia . . .

. . . for when you can turn the opening phrases of condemnation of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy into a binding of believers to Pharisaical traditions that are explicitly condemned therein, you are obviously operating with a very, very strong external authority.

This is, of course, an absurd characterization of my position, as if I am contending that Jesus condemned some traditions out of one side of His mouth, and bound believers to the same traditions out of the other side. This is a very clever tactic, but it doesn’t hold up well when exposed. My true position is that some Pharisaical traditions were corrupt (therefore, Jesus condemned them), but when they taught traditions which were perfectly consistent with the Bible, then folks were bound to those. It could be that White is unaware of the Hebrew idiom, whereby “everything” does not mean “absolutely everything without a single exception, ever.” Christians were not bound to teachings or commands which were against God or the Bible. But most of Pharisaical teaching was good, since Jesus and Paul followed it themselves, for the most part. As a fundamentalist might say: “if it’s good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me!” “Gimme that old time tradition, gimme that old time tradition . . . ”

But before we go further, let’s document the two lengthy citations from Protestant sources, that White chose to omit from his reply (remember, how in the beginning, he complained about my less-than-total citation of his argument), because doing so would work against his plan to portray my argumentation as strictly “Catholic” and based on that “external authority,” rather than biblically based and historically grounded, as confirmed by Protestant sources (which he can’t accuse of being biased in favor of the Catholic position and therefore, readily dismissible, because Catholicism is the “Beast,” “Whore of Babylon,” etc.). Here they are, from pages 49-50:

. . . the Torah was not merely ‘law’ but also ‘instruction’, i.e., it consisted not merely of fixed commandments but was adaptable to changing conditions . . . This adaptation or inference was the task of those who had made a special study of the Torah, and a majority decision was binding on all . . .

The commandments were further applied by analogy to situations not directly covered by the Torah. All these developments together with thirty-one customs of ‘immemorial usage’ formed the ‘oral law’ . . . the full development of which is later than the New Testament. Being convinced that they had the right interpretation of the Torah, they claimed that these ‘traditions of the elders’ (Mk 7:3) came from Moses on Sinai.

(J. D. Douglas, editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 981-982)

Likewise, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes in its article on the Pharisees:

Unlike the Sadducees, who tried to apply Mosaic Law precisely as it was given, the Pharisees allowed some interpretation of it to make it more applicable to different situations, and they regarded these oral interpretations as of the same level of importance as the Law itself.

(F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, editors, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1983, 1077)

This is the central assertion, in my opinion, and hence will be the primary focus of my response (which, to the shock of some, I will, eventually, get to).

I am shocked that White responded at all. I’ll be even more shocked if he actually tries to interact with my present reasoning, and either retract his opinions where necessary or fully defend them against the present scrutiny.

Next, Armstrong makes the interesting observation that the Pharisees did indeed have their “traditions” that were extra-biblical,

Correct. Now this is either historically verifiable or it is not. I have provided the documentation, especially in my last reply. This discussion needs to proceed on the grounds of verifiable historical fact, not presuppositionalism or wishful thinking. Also, I should reiterate that “extra-biblical” is not the same thing as “non-biblical” or “unbiblical” or “contrary to the Bible” or “a contradiction against the Bible.” It simply means “traditions which are not included in the letter of the Bible, but which are in perfect harmony with the Bible.” But a certain kind of Protestant (of which White is one) hears “extra-biblical” and they immediately equate that with “fallible [rather than infallible] traditions of men [rather than of God] which are obviously contrary to Scripture and not allowed by Scripture.” Ironically, this is contrary to Scripture, not the notion of tradition per se. But White labors under these false premises, and that weighs down the discussion and prevents it from ever becoming constructive, for those who think as he does.

. . . and since he is seeking to present as positive a picture of the Pharisees as possible, . . .

So was St. Paul, obviously, since, after all, he called himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). That’s pretty “positive,” I would submit. That said, I am “seeking” historical truth, not trying to pull off a silly ploy of selectively presenting facts which back me up and oppose what I oppose. We see that White is the one who wants (from all appearances) to avoid certain uncomfortable biblical and historical facts. Thus, he passed over the two extremely relevant citations from Protestant sources, which I happily provided for readers, a little bit above.

Those who have a weak case in the first place almost invariably pick and choose things from their opponents’ arguments, leaving out particularly damaging bits of evidence and argumentation. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. But I’m not interested in “debater’s tricks.” I’m interested in the truth. Period. I don’t deny that Mr. White has the same motivation; I just think that he has “debated” for so long that he uses cute little tricks that many might not notice. They come as easily and naturally to him as breathing or a heartbeat, and need not be conscious at all that he is engaging in these methods. I notice them, because I’ve been around the block a few times, debate-wise, too, and I don’t pick-and-choose when I reply. There is a right way and a wrong way to debate. The wrong way is called sophistry.

. . . he identifies the Sadducees as the “Jewish sola Scripturists and liberals of the time,” an odd combination when one thinks about it.

This is no more odd than “Protestants and sola Scripturists.” Neither position is a biblically-based one. Nor is it “odd” in light of the fact that it was Protestantism and its Bible Only rule of faith that produced (in terms of cultural milieu) what we know and love as moden liberal theology (and many of the larger modern cults and heresies, such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Science). The ancient Arians, for example (who thought Jesus was created, and were similar to Jehovah’s Witnesses) believed in Scripture Alone, whereas the orthodox trinitarian Church believed in apostolic succession, tradition, and Church authority. It has always been those who accept a larger tradition, beyond, but in harmony with Holy Scripture, who preserve orthodoxy. Thus, Pharisees, preserved the ancient Jewish theological tradition which was developed into Christianity. Sadducees and their Bible-Only position, were rapidly rejecting several tenets which Christianity accepted, as noted previously.

In support of what he realizes is, in fact, his central assertion (the third point just noted), . . .

I didn’t “realize” anything. I consistently and openly developed my arguments from the beginning of the larger chapter on “Bible and Tradition.”

Armstrong seeks to establish more positive connections to Pharisaism (in reference to a passage that begins the longest denunciation of them in all of Scripture–don’t let that irony pass) by asserting that “it was precisely the extrabiblical (especially apocalyptic) elements of Pharisaical Judaism that New Testament Christianity adopted and developed for its own—doctrines such as resurrection, the soul, the afterlife, eternal reward or damnation, and angelology and demonology (all of which the Sadducees rejected).”

Exactly. Now, the interesting thing would be to see what White thinks of that, since he believes that Jesus’ view of the Pharisees was either totally or overwhelmingly condemnatory. But (not surprisingly at all), White doesn’t tell us. In the meantime, he opted to pass over the second half of this paragraph. Here it is:

The Old Testament had relatively little to say about these things, and what it did assert was in a primitive, kernel form. But the postbiblical literature of the Jews (led by the mainstream Pharisaical tradition) had plenty to say about them. Therefore, this was another instance of Christianity utilizing nonbiblical literature and traditions in its own doctrinal development. (p. 50)

Immediately the reader is probably surprised to discover that Christian beliefs in these areas are actually found in the traditions of the Pharisees (it is hard to refrain from refuting this directly from the previous chapter, but I shall do so for the moment) rather than from the Scriptures themselves, . . .

This is a classic, blatant, example of one of White’s many false, irrational dichotomies. Let me rephrase what he is arguing here, to make it more clear from a logical standpoint:

General undeniable premise or axiom:

Christian beliefs didn’t come from nowhere, and had historical pedigree (going back to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, among others).

1. White’s major unproven premise / conclusion (as his “argument” is logically circular, the two are identical) : Christian beliefs came solely from the Scriptures themselves.

2. Dave’s query: from what theological / cultural background did the Scriptures come? (answer: the Jews). And which Jewish group preserved that heritage most fully, without giving up indispensable doctrines? (answer: the Pharisees).

3. White’s hidden minor premise (#2) : What comes from Scripture cannot also come from a particular people, or school of the same people.

4. Dave’s assertion: many Christian beliefs can be derived historically from the Pharisees.

5. White’s ultimate premise / conclusion: Christian beliefs could not in any way be derived from the Pharisees because they were derived from Scripture.

The fallacy here is obvious. No argument was made; instead, a false dichotomy is accepted. But it is patently obvious that it is false, by the example of biblical inspiration:

1. God wrote inspired Scripture. It is, in fact, “God-breathed” (theopneustos).

2. Men [inspired and enabled by God] wrote inspired Scripture.

3. Conclusion (by White’s “logic”): this can’t be! One or the other had to write it, because it is a contradiction!

4. Historical Christian conclusion (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox alike): both statements (#1 and #2) are true. God wrote through men, and preserved inspiration and infallibility despite human error.

White’s conclusion might hold for Islam, where it is believed that the Koran came down from heaven, written and delivered by Allah, with no human participation whatever, but not in Christianity. Therefore, his previous reasoning collapses by analogy:

Christian doctrine came from God through the Bible, but the Bible came through the Jews (culturally, historically) and Jewish writers (in terms of individual documents).

Both notions are true. But James White can’t see that, because presuppositional apologetics is proudly, self-consciously circular in its “logic.”

. . . let alone from the very traditions Jesus condemned so thoroughly (remember, we have only a few examples of explicit Pharisaical traditions on the lips of Jesus, but the Corban rule is one of them, and remember the Lord’s view of such things).

White apparently believes that if you repeat a half-truth or a fallacy enough times, people will start believing it. How many times now has he repeated this non sequitur (in light of all the relevant considerations)? Seven, eight times now?

Armstrong’s next point is to continue seeking to prop up the Pharisees as a group, pointing out that Paul respected Ananias in Acts 23:1-5, and that Paul said he was a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). I believe the reader can judge for himself the relevance to the point at hand.

Yes, so do I. So I’m delighted that White breezily dismisses a highly-important consideration and thinks it to be of no relevance or force whatsoever. I happen to think that it is, and I offered an actual argument in the previous installment for why I think so (citing my entire paragraph, rather than merely summarizing it). One continues to hope that White will raise himself to the level of rational argument in many of these crucial issues that he either mocks or cavalierly dismisses. I think people would be more impressed, were he to try that.

Next he misunderstands the reason why I cited the incident in Nehemiah 8, assumes I am trying to draw a parallel to the Pharisees and Moses’ seat (I was simply pointing out the centrality of the Word of God in worship, revival, and its reading in the gatherings of God’s people)

Fair enough, but then, that doesn’t resolve anything in this dispute, as no Christian of any stripe would deny this. I hear far more Scripture at every Catholic Mass than I ever did in Protestant services in my 13 years as an evangelical Protestant.

and can’t help but include yet another unfounded “swipe” by writing, “He (White) conveniently neglects to mention, however, that Ezra’s Levite assistants, as recorded in the next two verses after the Evangelical-sounding Amens, “helped the people to understand the law” (8:7) and “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (8:8).” (p. 51).

Of course, I could respond that it is Mr. Armstrong who “conveniently neglects to mention” that such an observation is utterly irrelevant to either my use of the text, nor my understanding of Scriptural sufficiency. The fact that instruction was offered is perfectly in line with what I do as an elder in the church every Lord’s Day;

That’s right, but that is not the sense in which the text is relevant to this discussion, which has to do with historical Judaism, and what they believed, not present-day (historically “Johnny-come-lately”) Baptist ecclesiology, and what it holds, with regard to the issue of Bible and Tradition. White is consistent with his own false premises, in his own religious practice, but he can’t apply those to the ancient Jews. That is where his inconsistency lies.

further, to be relevant to Armstrong’s position, this instruction would have to include the binding of extra-biblical traditions upon the people, which, of course, is not what the text says.

It’s relevant precisely because the Jews then, and the Pharisees later, held to oral tradition, which was incorporated into its understanding and interpretation of Scripture. We know that from the historical record. It’s true that the text does not specifically mention this, but once we understand what the Jews have historically believed about oral tradition (cultural background being a very important consideration in good exegesis), it is far more plausible to conclude that it was part of this “instruction”; far more than engaging in historical revisionism, superimposing the 16th century Protestant innovation of sola Scriptura onto the text and Jewish worldview, and concluding that only Scripture was discussed, and that no “extra-biblical” tradition whatsoever was involved. History, as so often, tilts the discussion decisively in the “pro-traditional” (or “proto-Catholic”) direction. But let’s also include my next paragraph (since White did not), which greatly clarified my meaning and intent:

So this supposedly analogous example (that is, if presented in its entirety; not selectively for polemical purposes) does not support the position of White and Gundry that the authority of the Pharisees applied only insofar as they sat and read the Old Testament to the people (functioning as a sort of ancient collective Alexander Scourby, reading the Bible onto a cassette tape for mass consumption), not when they also interpreted (which was part and parcel of the Pharisaical outlook and approach). (p. 51)

Gratuitous swipes at a person’s character and honesty based upon ignorance of that person’s beliefs are one element of reading “apologetic” literature that I find very distasteful.

I made no such swipe (and vehemently deny that I did). I think White is honestly, sincerely engaging the text, according to his worldview and theology. But I think he is severely (sincerely) biased, and often operates on false and inadequately-examined premises, which often leads to atrocious and false conclusions. But if White finds this so “distasteful,” then why did he make precisely this accusation against me in our earlier runaround over my book? (italics added):

Armstrong simply doesn’t understand the process of scholarly examination of a text, and as a result, runs headlong into walls trying to act like he does.

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part II], 1-1-05)

This kind of utterly amazing mishandling of Scripture is sad to observe, let alone to realize it has appeared in publication.

(The Catholic Verses: Luke 1:28 [Part III], 1-2-05)

This next statement is especially hypocritical and enlightening, given White’s false charge that I have accused him of dishonesty:

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.

(Armstrong’s Reading List, 12-31-04)

So White is quick to accuse me falsely, without sufficient grounds, of what he clearly did to me. In Christian circles, we call that hypocrisy, and I do openly accuse White of that, but not dishonesty. And this is doubly ironic, since we are discussing the Pharisees, and White endlessly repeats his mantra that Jesus accused them of hypocrisy, which we all knew already, so it adds nothing to the discussion. My explanation fully incorporates that fact into the analysis.

Next we have an odd, brief explosion of a complete straw-man argument:

One does not find in the Old Testament individual Hebrews questioning teaching authority. Sola Scriptura simply is not there. No matter how hard White and other Protestants try to read it into the Old Testament, it cannot be done. (p. 51)

For some, this is a form of argument, but for most, it is little more than another “confession of faith.” What teaching authority did individual Hebrews not question?

I’m delighted that Mr. White is inquisitive enough to ask. That indicates a willingness to learn. Good for him! To give just two examples of many:

1) Deuteronomy 17:8-13: the Levitical priests had binding authority in legal matters (derived from the Torah itself). They interpreted the biblical injunctions (17:11). The penalty for disobedience was death (17:12), since the offender didn’t obey “the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God.” Cf. Deuteronomy 19:16-17, 2 Chronicles 19:8-10.

2) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, and even death (7:25-26).

I think that with a possible death penalty lurking in the background, most folks would be inclined to obey. But we know that they were often disobedient, as all of us are at one time or another. In any event, there was clearly a strong authoritarianism in place, even regarding matters of interpretation of Scripture.

The OT Papacy? The Vatican in Jerusalem? We aren’t told.

Well, now “we” have been (and I had presented this kind of biblical data long ago on my website, so it is nothing new); and I would love to hear a counter-response, not only to this, but to all my argumentation. I won’t hold my breath, given Mr. White’s abysmal past track record of fleeing from rational discussions, just when they get interesting, and when his positions look the weakest and most indefensible.

It is ironic indeed, in a passage where Jesus instructs His disciples and the crowds to examine the teachings and actions of the Pharisees, discern right from wrong, and not follow them into false behavior, that Armstrong can find in this passage a basis for such rhetoric.

It’s not only “ironic,” it is absolutely untrue that I did this. In this statement I wasn’t commenting on Matthew 23 at all; I was making a general observation, in opposition to White’s tendency to absurdly superimpose sola Scriptura onto the Old Testament and the Jews. The immediate context was an indirect comment on the passage I cited two paragraphs before: Nehemiah 8 (also in the Old Testament; last time I checked). Quite odd. But this isn’t the first time that White has completely misconstrued and/or misrepresented some argument of mine, and it sure won’t be the last.

Armstrong ends his presentation with two more main points.

White skipped yet another two paragraphs from my book, but for the sake of space, I won’t cite those. I am replying at all under the assumption that this was a “point-by-point” rebuttal attempt from White (which I assumed, as it had eight parts). But alas, it is not. Why am I not surprised?

First, he draws from his own anecdotal experience as a Protestant to assert that “individual Christians” have the right and duty to rebuke their pastors for “unbiblical” teaching. I find it odd that Roman Catholics will lionize those who stood up to the corrupt Papacy in the past, and then turn around and demonize a non-Catholic who would seek biblical fidelity from his or her leaders. Be that as it may, yes, every member of Christ’s body has the duty to believe the truth, and, if there is trouble in the camp, so to speak, to bring his or her concerns to the elders (note Armstrong doesn’t seem to understand the plurality of elders polity position). He relates a bad experience he had in what sounds like a single-pastor situation, not realizing that in the biblical model the local church is not under the control of a despot, but under the direction of a group of men who fit the qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This changes the dynamic greatly, for instead of a one-on-one “power struggle” you have one of the sheep bringing a concern which may be valid, or may be based upon ignorance or misunderstanding, to a group of men, not just a single person.

This is not the time to get into a broad ecclesiological discussion (nor of the fine points of private judgment and sola Scriptura). White’s “plural elder” ecclesiology is not at all the predominant position, even among the hundreds of Protestant denominations.

White then cynically summarizes my next four-paragraph argument and dismisses it with no real argument of his own. As I am sick to death of that tactic by now, I won’t even bother quoting his remarks, since he grants me no such courtesy.

So, with all of that said (probably took me more room to review/summarize his position than he spent in the book itself!), I move to my response, and I promise to keep it as brief as possible. I could not resist the temptation to respond a bit as we were going along, but I wish to outline a response to the entire argument that should be useful to anyone encountering the use of Matthew 23 by Roman Catholic apologists. I shall do so in our next, and possibly final, installment.

Six parts to “review/summarize” a position? And now we will be blessed with a two-part “response”? I agree that the six-part soliloquy has been no “response,” but it is strange to see white himself implicitly acknowledge the same. It’s clear that White is now setting the stage for a general argument that will utterly ignore all or most of the particulars of my argument. As such, it will be worthless as a “response” because it won’t be specific enough. I’m predicting this (I haven’t read Parts VII and VIII yet). In any event, his reply-before-the-true-“response” has been pathetically weak and insubstantial, and I have no doubt that it’s final quarter-portion will continue to be so. Let’s see how accurate my prediction will be. I have to amuse myself somehow, as I continue to sit and wait for a decent argument to respond to.

I would remind readers that James White is widely considered by anti-Catholics to be one of the leading champions of their position. He has participated in many oral debates, written many books, and has a lot of material on the Internet. He also does a daily webcast. So please bear in mind that if one of the supposedly “best” anti-Catholic (which is different from merely Protestant, because it denies that Catholicism is Christian) apologists makes arguments this weak and easily-answered, what does that tell us about the strength of the position that he advocates? I think it reveals quite a bit.


My reply to White’s Part VII and Part VIII:

It’s clear that (as predicted), White has no intention of actually attempting to rationally refute my response. That is especially true in Part VII, where he mostly repeats what he already wrote, or replies to someone else’s argument.

Regular readers of this blog are already well aware of the fact that in almost every instance of apologetic conflict with the various religions of men the issue comes down to either the validity and accuracy of the Bible as the Word of God, or, to the proper exegesis of the text of the Bible itself. And surely that is the case here as well.

It certainly is. White and I only disagree as to where the improper exegesis lies. After repeating a citation, White opines:

We have already pointed to the many problems with the far-reaching attempt of Armstrong to find in the introduction to the announcement of judgment upon the Pharisees its polar opposite. Rather than seeing the main point in Jesus’ words (the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and the judgments coming upon them), Armstrong’s commitment to Rome helps him to find the opposite: Jesus hasn’t gotten around to condemning the Pharisees yet; instead, he starts off lauding them as possessors of divine tradition passed down from Moses himself! The screeching transition into the condemnation of them is hard to imagine, but keeping this text consistent with the surrounding inspired material has never been a high priority of those who interpret via Roman decree.

I thoroughly answered this charge. White, throughout has simply assumed what he is trying to prove, with the following shallow “reasoning”:

1. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.

2. Therefore, they are utterly evil, and nothing good can come from them.

3. Therefore, He couldn’t possibly have been granting them any authority at all; He must have meant something else.

Very briefly I wish to note that the listing of passages Armstrong provided regarding alleged “oral tradition” include some which simply refer to the passing down of historical incidents or facts, which does nothing more than prove that ancient men kept historical records just as modern men do. History does not have to be inspired to be recorded or referenced.

I agree. I wasn’t trying to prove that it always was.

Further, it seems odd to believe that supernatural knowledge could be granted to the writers of Scripture in various portions and yet, when it comes to the NT writers, they must be enslaved to merely human sources.

Yes it is odd, but who believes this?

In any case, it is a huge leap to move from “NT writers did not limit themselves to solely the Scriptures as their source of knowledge” (i.e., they knew other books had been written, they knew of history, and they knew of current events, and used these things in their teaching and exhortation) to “the biblical writers embraced the idea of extra-biblical tradition as inspired and equal to the Tanakh.”

I have given my reasons for believing that such a tradition was authoritative (not “inspired”, which is another White red herring).

As we documented many times in the initial responses to Mr. Armstrong’s book, he is unaware of what he must provide on an exegetical basis to substantiate a particular reading of any text, let alone a disputed one.

The usual charge of profound ignorance . . .

Armstrong is here presenting the simplified version of what has been presented by others, like David Palm, in a more scholarly format . . .

White then goes off on a tangent of the question of oral tradition itself, with long quotes intended originally for David Palm. As this is not the topic at hand, it is irrelevant to our current discussion. I won’t be diverted by this tactic.

These questions are just as applicable to Armstrong as they were years ago in this context.

As I said, that’s another discussion. Here the topic was supposedly Moses’ seat. We’ve seen how bankrupt White’s arguments have been. He claimed in Part VI that he was ready to issue his actual “response.” I have yet to see it, and now it’s already on to Part VIII, after marveling at White’s weakest, most irrelevant presentation yet.

But let us hurry to the real issue:

What a novel concept! Here we are at Part VIII and White is now prepared to arrive at the “real issue”. I suppose some people are slow learners. Maybe white will give us something of significant substance this time, at long last.

Armstrong wrote, “…Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only nonscriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed.” Armstrong assumes no distinction between practice, interpretation, or doctrine, regarding the teaching of the Pharisees, ignoring the function of the seat of Moses in the synagogue, and assuming an entire mountain of later Roman Catholic concepts in the process.

Huh? Is this an argument? No; once again, it is a declarative statement, and largely a non sequitur. I have made my case at great length, and have now defended it at almost equally great length. At no time have I assumed “an entire mountain of later Roman Catholic concepts.” I don’t have to do that for my argument to succeed, and it would be dumb and historically anachronistic anyway. I didn’t do it, but White (with more of his patented cynical wishful thinking) thinks I did. As usual, he provides no proof of his curious charges. What else is new? If most of his “arguments” are logically circular, it shouldn’t surprise us that his accusations are also circular and incoherent.

But there is a simple, easy way of determining if Armstrong’s central assertion is true (indeed, without it, the rest of his argument is vacuous and irrelevant): are we to seriously believe that the opening words of the condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy and opposition to God’s truth are in fact commendations of the theology of the Pharisees, so that their extra-biblical traditions are to be taken as normative for Christians? Let’s test this theory.

No argument again; just a repetition of his earlier remarks. I guess this must be what White does in his oral debates: he plays to the crowds with boilerplate and non sequiturs and straw men. I could see how that would work with your average anti-Catholic, but it won’t fly with mainstream Protestants or Catholics or open-minded individuals trying to decide between the two presented positions.

And yet, in the immediately preceding chapter, the Lord Jesus had defended the truth about the resurrection (did He get this truth from the Pharisees or did the Pharisees simply believe the truth about the subject?) against the Sadducees, had He not? And how did He do so? If we are to believe Armstrong, he would do so by reference to Pharisaical tradition, since, as he said, the Old Testament is not clear enough, and besides, it is much clearer in the oral traditions, correct? Of course not!

I dealt with this false dichotomy last time. White, almost more than anyone I have ever seen, is such a prisoner of his false premises and presuppositions, that he makes some amazingly weak arguments, yet thinks they are so compelling. This is a striking example of one such “argument.”

How did Jesus respond?

Matthew 22:29-33 29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 32 ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB ‘? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

Did Jesus appeal to Pharisaic traditions? Surely not. He took His opponents directly back to the text of Scripture itself, held them accountable for the words as if God had spoken them directly to them that very day, and proved that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. And please note the reaction of the crowds: they were astonished at His teaching. This was not the first time.

Jesus appealed to Scripture in making arguments. Wow, what an astounding realization! I’m delighted that White informed me of this little-known fact. I’ll have to remember this (and so I take out my handy-dandy notebook to record the momentous tidbit of truth from White).

This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Jesus respected Pharisaical traditions or not. He did because He observed several of them. White’s reasoning is as silly as saying that, because I emphasize almost exclusively biblical argumentati0n for Catholic doctrines in my first two books, that therefore I must not accept Catholic tradition. It proves exactly nothing. The assumption would be dead wrong in my case, and it is exceedingly likely (if not certainly) just as wrong with regard to our Lord Jesus.

White continues on with this sort of utterly-irrelevant argumentation, which resolves nothing in our discussion, concluding that “He did not argue from tradition, but from the Scriptures” (as if there is an absolute separation of the two in the first place: this is yet another of White’s false, unbiblical dichotomies).

This is just the opposite of the conclusions we would draw from Armstrong’s position.

Since White adopts one side of a false dichotomy; he assumes that we Catholics must adopt the other extreme side. But of course, a false dichotomy is just that: false. We don’t accept “tradition-only” as a viable option for anything. Our position is Bible-Tradition-Church: all in harmony with each other. Sola Traditio is just as silly as sola Ecclesia, and neither is the Catholic position. But note how White vainly tries to make it so. That’s what we call a “straw man,” folks.

But most compellingly the interpretation offered by Armstrong (and others) falters with finality when we ask a simple question: even if we were to grant all the inserted ideas about the centrality of “tradition” here, the fact is that Armstrong’s interpretation goes directly against Jesus’ own teaching in Matthew 15. You just cannot make these two passages fit together.

This is the passage concerning the Corban rule, which we have already dealt with, and disposed of, as any sort of successful objection at all.

Note the text: 1) These are Pharisees, the very ones Armstrong refers us to as carrying divine traditions as those who have seated themselves in Moses’ seat. 2) The Pharisees begin with reference to one tradition (note it is behavioral in orientation, interpretive of other laws, not doctrinal or revelational) and the Lord respond by reference to a completely different tradition–but both are encompassed by the one phrase, “the tradition of the elders,” which, no matter how hard Armstrong may try, is definitional of the entire body of tradition to which he wishes to bind us via his reading of Matthew 23. 3) If Armstrong is right, the Corban rule to which Jesus refers here would be properly defined by the Pharisees and properly taught from “Moses’ seat.” Does it not follow, inexorably, that for Jesus’ followers to do as He commands in both Matthew 15 and Matthew 23 that they would have to exercise the very discernment and examination of the Pharisees’ teaching that Armstrong decries? The Corban rule was just as much a part of “oral tradition” as anything else. It was an “interpretation” of the law concerning a man’s duties to his parents as well as the laws dealing with giving to the temple and its worship. But it was a false teaching, as Jesus here makes clear. It was an allegedly divine tradition that men should have examined and rejected on the basis of their own reading of the Scriptures.

That’s right: people should reject corrupt traditions. No argument there . . . this gets back to a statement I made earlier, concerning the modern misunderstanding of Hebrew idiom of “everything” and “all.” It was not understood in the sense of having no exceptions whatsoever. That was a later, more logical, “Greek” mode of thinking. So it is entirely possible in the Hebrew mind that the Pharisees could have authority, while they might teach some things that are corrupt, and to be rejected (just as civil governments have authority, but in extreme cases, must be disobeyed, in matters of conscience). But by and large, they were authoritative. This is no contradiction; a paradox, maybe, but not another of White’s false dichotomies.

In fact, it seems plain beyond contradiction that Jesus is here teaching the Scriptures are so clear and compelling on this point in relationship to honoring one’s father and mother that there is surely no need for a magisterium to tell you this, for the “magisterium” of the day was telling you just the opposite!

Here White smuggles in his prior disposition of sola Scriptura, which doesn’t follow simply from Scripture being clear enough to clinch a particular argument. That can be, and often is, true, but it has no inherent implication that, therefore, authority does not exist, or exists only in a provisional sense. White’s general fallacy here is arguing from the particular to the general, and “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Just because one corrupt tradition was rebuked does not mean that Pharisaical authority was null and void. He can’t prove his case from the single case of the Corban rule. All the relevant data must be taken into consideration. But White refuses to do that because it doesn’t help his superficial “case” for the matter to be examined too closely. We mustn’t do that!

But how could Jesus say these things about the Pharisees, who had seated themselves in Moses’ seat, in Armstrong’s scenario? He couldn’t!

No??!! He can say them just like Paul rebuked Peter. If someone is being a hypocrite, or has corrupted one aspect of their teaching, they should be rebuked. White seems to have forgotten that God made an eternal covenant with David, which wasn’t broken even by murder and adultery.

But if we simply allow the context to speak, and realize Matthew 23:1-3 is not a positive statement about the Pharisee’s authority, but the beginning of their condemnation, and their having seated themselves in Moses’ seat in the synagogue only adds to their condemnation (but has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with later Roman Catholic theories of authority or tradition), then we find a consistent reading of Jesus’ words.

This is not a plausible interpretation at all, as shown in previous installments, at great length.

In Conclusion

While there is much more that could be said, we have certainly said enough. Mr. Armstrong was unwise to sub-title his book, “95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants” when he is manifestly ill equipped to provide the “goods” to back up his claims. His work is convincing only to the already convinced, but surely not to anyone who is actually familiar with what is necessary to show respect to God’s Word by handling it aright. It is truly my prayer that the time I have invested in demonstrating the lack of substance in this work will help those who are seeking to minister the gospel of grace to those who have been ensnared by Rome’s false and deceptive “gospel.”

Thank you, James, for a clear summary of your position (and derision). I will pass on my own summary, preferring to let what I have already written speak for itself. I continue to await a substantive, rational, biblically sound reply to my argument from James White.

March 17, 2017

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648), by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


[see all the other installments of this multi-part debate on my James White web page: second section]


Mr. White’s words will be in blue; my former words in green.


Reply to White’s Part IV:

I would like to expand, momentarily, on a thought with which I closed the last installment in this series. Mr. Armstrong is right to say that the text does not provide us with a direct listing of what the Pharisees did or did not teach when speaking in the synagogue. That can only be determined on the basis of other texts, if at all . . .

Good. But it’s not like we are historically ignorant; as if no source outside of the Bible can help us learn what they taught (or the subsequent history of Judaism).

(and I believe such texts as Matthew 15 do tell us a good bit about that).

We learn some things, but not nearly enough for White’s sweepingly negative, unqualified rejection of both the Pharisees and also of tradition outside the bounds of what sola Scriptura permits.

But is it truly a “gratuitous” assumption on my part, based upon sola scriptura to believe that there is no warrant here for believing that the text is relevant to an establishment of some second source of divine authority in the views of the Lord Jesus?

Yes. It’s presuppositional-type apologetics, which is not particularly compelling for anyone who does not already accept it on faith.

I firmly believe so, and once again the grounds for this is not a gratuitous assumption, but that wonderful thing called context. As I pointed out originally, these words are the introduction to a lengthy pronouncement of woe and judgment upon the scribes and Pharisees.

I dealt with the context of Matthew 23 and the Pharisees in general and their theological relationship to early Christianity in the last installment. White’s fallacy is that He sees Jesus rebuking them for hypocrisy and corruption, and incorrectly, illogically concludes that He therefore must deny that they have any authority at all. This has been the usual historic Protestant response (especially among those, who — like Baptists and even Lutherans — want to drive a big, unbiblical wedge between Law and Grace, as if they are literally antithetical). The Moses’ seat issue (as well as continued Christian observance of sacrifices and matters of the Law in one form or another) precisely shows that they still do have authority. This can be fully harmonized with Matthew 23 and the scathing denunciations, rightly-understood. No problem there . . .

But White has a huge problem squaring this other data with the notion that Jesus was absolutely rejecting both the Pharisees and Tradition outside the Bible (however one defines “Bible” at that early stage of canonization). I give more biblical evidences for my position in my book, which I will cite as necessary, in due course. White may or may not respond to those, with either a real rational reply, or just more boilerplate and standard, ultimately ineffective sola Scriptura rhetoric, which doesn’t truly take into account the nature or strength of objections. I’m answering as I read his eight-part critique, so I don’t know what he does later on in the series. I strongly suspect that he will try to avoid and evade many relevant issues, because that has always been my experience with him in the past. So I will state my predictions on that now, and the reader can see — with me — whether it comes true or not.

As we will see, Armstrong is forced, in his attempt to force Matthew 23 into his theological mold, to speak of how indebted the early Christians were to the Pharisees, and to in essence speak positively about them.

I don’t have to force it into any “mold”; I simply have to highlight, document, and follow the facts: from the Bible and history. I don’t need to force those facts into anything that they aren’t. White is the one who must do that, because the facts in this instance go against his “pet theory.” Therefore, he is the one forced (by necessity of his unproven presuppositions) to minimize any positive historical fact concerning the Pharisees, or any of their contributions to early Christian theology. He can certainly try to do this, but he won’t succeed, because the historical evidences are too compelling.

And while one may well say positive things about Pharisees in various contexts (I would argue the issue of their traditions would not be one of those contexts),

Again, he can try to argue and believe this way, but it won’t succeed, because there were plenty of these traditions that the early Christians adopted wholesale. It’s impossible to make a blanket condemnation of all their traditions. Jesus didn’t do that, so neither should Mr. White.

. . . this passage in Matthew 23 is singularly contradictory to such a discussion.

Not in the slightest, as already shown in my last reply. This is very simple logic, but White commits a rather elementary (but momentous in its results) fallacy, which is common when one is trying to defend a position in the teeth of contrary facts; the facts and logic are the first thing to go.

The fact of the matter is that Armstrong’s comments do not flow from the text at all. His position does not start with a recognition of the context of the text being examined. Instead, he clearly proceeds from the position demanded of him by Rome.

Sheer nonsense. Anyone can see that I have incorporated the context into my analysis, and it has not been a happy result for White’s position. White is far more forced by his sola Scriptura position to interpret the passage in a particular (eisegetical) way, than I am forced by “Rome.” It so happens that nothing here contradicts Catholic teaching about tradition. Plenty, however, contradicts Protestant false, unbiblical tradition of sola Scriptura.

The fact that these words must be heard in a condemnatory, not congratulatory, context, must be kept in mind. And when we do this, we see that the fact that these men sat in positions of leadership within the people of God only increases their guilt. This theme will build to a crescendo in the following verses.

This doesn’t undermine the fact that Jesus told His followers to “practice and observe whatever they tell you” (thus, they have authority), “but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (authority does not preclude hypocrisy and bad example; and the latter do not forbid continuing authority) — Matthew 23:1-3.

Armstrong continues:

Secondly, White’s assumption that Jesus is referring literally to Pharisees sitting on a seat in the synagogue and reading (the Old Testament only) — and that alone — is more forced and woodenly literalistic than the far more plausible interpretation that this was simply a term denoting received authority. (p. 47)

Of course, my whole point (and this is clear when the sections DA did not include are read with the citation) is that Jesus is addressing synagogue worship and the position the Pharisees have taken in that worship. The disciples (and the crowds, v. 2) would know to what He referred by the mere reference to Moses’ seat, and to the primary functions in synagogue worship of that seat. It was a position of honor to read from the Word of God, and Jesus’ admonition is to do what they tell you in that context, but not to do what they practice.

If by this, White means more than a literal sitting in the seat, then good. His phrase, “sitting on Moses’ seat” suggested to me a literal chair, and folks sitting in it. I stand corrected if I misread him. Hypocrisy is still being referred to, and that is a different issue from authority.

If Armstrong wishes to expand Moses’ seat beyond the role it had in the synagogue and include within it some kind of “received authority” including the ability to bind men to extra-scriptural traditional teachings (which is, after all, what Armstrong is driving at), . . .

The Pharisees did indeed believe in “extra-scriptural traditional teachings.” This is the whole point. There was plenty of “tradition in that tradition,” both written and oral. Thus, if these Pharisees still possessed authority, according to our Lord Jesus, then that would obviously include oral tradition as well, because that’s what they believed in their system. They weren’t bound to arbitrary, man-made rules of faith such as sola Scriptura. But we mustn’t have that! We must pretend that this authority extended only to a sola Scriptura-like, Bible-Only mentality, completely overlooking the role of tradition (particularly oral) in mainstream Pharisaical thought.

They had authority, and we know the nature of this authority. It’s a simple historical question, easily-answered. But if one doesn’t like the implications of the answer, then one starts minimizing, ignoring, dismissing things that go against one’s pet hypothesis (as White is — quite openly — doing presently). And this type of dynamic and “canned response” was exactly what my book dealt with: the processes of rationalization and evasion that occur when faced with “anomalous” biblical and historical facts. White is a classic, almost quintessential case of this process-in-progress. That’s why I cited him regarding Moses’ Seat. His current responses merely confirm what we already knew about the incoherent and forced nature of his position. For that, I heartily thank him: for being such a picture-perfect textbook example of the very thing my book was devoted to examining.

. . . some explanation must be offered for why Jesus specifically limits their authority as He does.

I see no specific limits. Where are they? White thinks he sees some. Let’s see what he can come up with:

He tells His disciples and the crowds not to do what they do. Well, what do they do? The rest of Matthew 23 tells us. In essence, they were hypocrites (v. 28).

Exactly, just like many Christians today are. For example, there are some Christians who are such hypocrites and rigid legalists that they can’t even recognize certain entire classes of other Christians, or acknowledge any good thing that other Christians (whom they define as non-Christians and in “darkness” on no legitimate grounds whatsoever) do — even when they would totally agree with that particular thing! So the worst aspects of the corruptions of the Pharisees definitely live on today, in the equally-unworthy traditions of certain backward, muddleheaded, irrationally and uncharitably judgmental, theologically-obtuse sectors of Christianity.

And what was one of the main ways they demonstrated their hypocrisy? Matthew 15:1-8 tells us: the binding of extra-biblical traditions upon men’s backs in contradiction to the Word of God.

This was one particular corruption of a tradition, that was unbiblical, or contrary to the Bible. That doesn’t prove that no legitimate tradition whatever exists: one that is not technically included in the letter of the Bible, yet in harmony with it. White would love the text to prove all that, but it clearly does not, so all he can do is engage in wishful thinking, and greatly exaggerate the implications of the text: basically read into it what he wants to see (which is both eisegesis and fallacious circular reasoning). The text itself cannot at all hold all the weight which White is attaching to it. And other clear biblical texts (many of which I’ve already noted) contradict White’s interpretation of this one.

So, if Jesus told His disciples and the crowds that they should not “do according to their deeds,” is He not telling them that they must examine those deeds by some standard and judge them to be wanting?

Yes. If one particular tradition of theirs contradicts the Bible, then it is a false tradition, and people ought not to be bound to it. That is, if they commit the hypocrisy of not making sure their actions are in harmony with the Law, rightly-understood in the light of the Bible, then they should not be imitated in that respect. We have no disagreement insofar as that goes.

And what is that standard? The answer is clear.

It sure is: the Bible and received, correct tradition, which is consistent with that Bible.

That is why I said Jesus was not telling the crowds to quit the synagogue or begin a revolution by throwing the Pharisees out, but He was freeing them from the ungodly control the Pharisees had over the “am ha’aretz,” the “people of the land,” who were told by the Pharisees that unless they acted and lived like them, they would never have the grace of God.

We mustn’t imitate sinners. I couldn’t agree more.

No, Jesus says, for they are hypocrites, and He is about to pronounce an entire series of woes upon them.

Indeed; yet he doesn’t take away their authority. As that is the subject at hand (is there an authority not technically, strictly confined to the words of the Bible?) , most of the above argumentation of Mr. White is a non sequitur, and much ado about nothing, accomplishing nothing. As we (hopefully) get into more specifics and substantiation for each of our views, that will become all the more clear. But you must give White credit for trying so hard to support a position which is so impossible to uphold, based on the biblical record. You know: give him an E for effort . . . it’s very tough to “prove” something that is untrue. It takes a lot more work, and is incomparably more frustrating. I’m having a wonderful time, though, because truth is a joy to discover and present (as well as much easier), and I can simply follow the biblical and historical evidence where it leads. Praise God!


Reply to White’s Part V:

At this point Armstrong opines,

It reminds me of the old silly Protestant tale that the popes speak infallibly and ex cathedra (cathedra is the Greek word for seat in Matthew 23:2) only when sitting in a certain chair in the Vatican – because the phrase means literally “from the bishop’s chair” — whereas it was a figurative and idiomatic usage). (sic) (pp. 47-48)

Of course, I have never made such a statement, . . .

I never stated that he did; but only that his sort of reasoning here reminded me of that particular instance of mistaken Protestant reasoning. They misunderstood ex cathedra to be referring always to a literal chair (rather than to authority). White is doing roughly the same thing, by limiting the usage in Matthew 23 to the synagogues. Thus, my analogy was quite apt.

. . . but the fact remains that in the context of the condemnation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, the identity of “Moses’ seat” and its function in synagogue worship is central.

White (as we have seen so often) simply assumes his interpretation, and proceeds onward, without seeming to realize that he needs to establish the validity of his premises first. He can’t just assume that Moses’ seat refers strictly to the literal seat in the synagogues, from which the Pharisees taught. In my book, shortly after this, I cited both The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, in favor of my position as to what the term meant. Without proper definitions, discussions go nowhere. So White is off on his tangent of restricting the term to synagogue teaching, and is off-base, because his definition is faulty to begin with. But perhaps White would claim that those two works know not the slightest thing about biblical exegesis, either (as he habitually claims about me).

If one allows the function of Moses’ seat to be removed from the discussion (as Armstrong does), you lose the connection with the condemnation of the Pharisees: the reason they are hypocrites is because they should know better: they read from the Scriptures on a regular basis, and then turn around and do away with that teaching by their traditions, and those traditions result in actions that are contrary to the Word.

A particular function in a synagogue is not required for the condemnations of Jesus to make sense. They need not read the Scripture in a synagogue to know what it teaches. We agree that their traditions in some (or many) cases ran contrary to Scripture. But they don’t have to read in the synagogue for that to be the case. Nor do they have to not accept extra-biblical tradition for it to be the case. And White still is neglecting to see that Jesus told people to obey their teachings. These teachings included extra-biblical tradition, because the Pharisees believed in oral tradition, received by Moses at the same time he received the Ten Commandments. He can’t overcome this, no matter how hard he tries.

This is why you do as they say in the context of the synagogue worship, but you do not do what they do.

This is eisegesis (reading into the text), in my opinion, relying upon the already highly-questionable definition of Moses’ seat that White has been utilizing. No such qualification is in the text itself, restricting it to synagogue worship. So White has a bad definition, and desperate exegesis, to shore up an already abysmally-weak position.

Since we know Christ held men accountable to have known the Corban rule was contrary to God’s Word, and the Pharisees taught this, even claiming it came from Moses, then clearly we must allow the limitation of the function of Moses’ seat to stand. And this Armstrong will not allow.

It’s not up to me to “allow” or disallow. I’m only going by the definition of the term that the scholars who have properly studied such things have given me. We can’t redefine terms whatever way we like them, like a wax nose.

He misconstrues the proper recognition of the synagogue context of Moses’ seat, and hence the limitation of its purview, with a woodenly literalistic idea about whether one is standing or sitting. He writes,

Jesus says that they sat “on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” In other words, because they had the authority, based on the position of occupying Moses’ seat, they were to be obeyed. It is like referring to a chairman of a company or committee. He occupies the “chair”; therefore he has authority. No one thinks he has the authority only when he sits in a certain chair reading the corporation charter or the Constitution or some other official document. (p. 48)

Notice the importance of this to Armstrong’s argument: he must create an authority that resides in the Pharisees separate from their place in the worship of God’s people in the synagogue. So, instead of the biblical limitation of their authority to the role they have taken in the synagogue, Armstrong speaks of the Pharisees (who are about to be condemned roundly) as having an inherent authority, and hence they are to be obeyed. Yet in Matthew 23, what is to be obeyed is not an inherent authority in the scribes and Pharisees, but, as the “therefore” of v. 3 shows us, the reason for obedience is the seat of Moses, not an authority separate from it. But having missed this distinction, Armstrong continues, “Yet this is how White would exclusively interpret Jesus’ words.” No, White would not force Jesus into internal contradiction, ignore the fact that He holds His disciples and the crowd accountable for exercising judgment on the deeds of the Pharisees (even those deeds they based upon “tradition”), and rip this section out of its role as the introduction not to the lauding of the scribes and Pharisees, but their condemnation.

This is just more building of a house of cards on top of the fallacies already listed. Catholic apologist “Matt1618” — responding to Protestant apologist Ron Rhodes — (Reasoning From the Scriptures with Ron Rhodes), illustrates the weakness of such a position:

His words are practice and observe whatever they tell you. How can Rhodes say that this is not authoritative? . . . Here Jesus legitimizes this tradition. Yes, he later castigates the Pharisees because they don’t practice what they preach. But he binded them to whatever they told them. Thus, it is an authoritative statement that binds people to obey them, even if they can be hypocrites. ’Whatever’, makes it another authoritative source that followers must obey.

Rhodes even tried to use the Corban rule of Matthew 15, just as White did, but (also like White) inconsistently, as “Matt1618” notes:

I see the double standard of Rhodes. In the earlier chapter when he mentioned Matthew 15 to say that tradition had no binding authority, he did not balance that by mentioning Matthew 23 at all, when Jesus said that whatever they tell you to do from Moses’ seat, you obey them. Now, when Jesus legitimizes that authority, he mentions Matthew 15. If he was going to use Matthew 15 to help give insight to Matthew 23, he should have given us Matthew 23 to give insight to Matthew 15. But Rhodes does not do that. Of course, what Jesus condemned is non-legitimate traditions, that caused people to disobey commandments in Matthew 15. That was an illegitimate tradition. However, in Matthew 23 he recognized the binding authority of another tradition. Apparently, Jesus as God accepted a tradition that was binding on believers as noted in this passage.

. . . the Pharisees cannot trace themselves back to Moses. However, there is authority recognized by the Jewish tradition that had passed on this authority to the Pharisees and scribes. We also see that this Moses’ seat referred to the right to interpret the Mosaic law. Jesus validated that right, independent of Scripture. The acceptance of succession is also noted. The Pharisees are seen as legal successors. This gives precedence for succession of the apostles. By the way, Jews had no concept of Sola Scriptura.

“Matt 1618” then cites two Protestant statements on Moses’ seat, from fellow Catholic apologist Steve Ray’s copious research:

Sitting on ‘Moses seat’ referred to a place of dignity and the right to interpret the Mosaic law. The scribes were the successors and the heirs of Moses’ authority and were rightfully looked to for pronouncements upon his teaching . . . Jesus does not appear to challenge this right”. Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988], 2:1498, as quoted in Stephen Ray, Upon This Rock, [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999], p. 47, fn. 62.

DA Carson writes “Moreover, ‘to sit on X’s seat’ often means to succeed X” (Exod 11:5;12:29; 1 Kings 1:35, 46; 2:12; 16:11;2 Kings 15:12; Ps. 132:12; crf. Jos Antiq. VII, 353 [xiv.5] XVIII, 2 [i.1]. This would imply that the ‘teachers of the law’ are Moses’ legal successors, possessing all his authority – a view the scribes themselves held…Panta hosa (‘everything’) is a strong expression and cannot be limited to ‘that teaching of the law that is in Jesus’ view a faithful interpretation of it’; they cover everything the leaders teach, including the oral tradition as well’ Gaeberlein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:472), as quoted in Stephen Ray, ibid., p. 47 fn. 62.

Steve Ray added, right after this:

Carson later dismisses the whole passage by relegating it to irony, which even James White rejects. (p. 47, footnote 62)

New Testament exegete Floyd V. Filson concurs with the same general understanding of Moses’ seat:

The scribes, mostly Pharisees, copied, taught, and applied the Mosaic Law. They were pledged to obey and teach both the written law and the oral tradition, which they claimed was an integral part of the Law, received through a direct succession of teachers going back to Moses . . . Moses’ seat [was a] synagogue chair which symbolized the origin and authority of their teaching. Jesus does not challenge their claim; he seems here to approve it. (A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, New York: Harper & Row, 1960, 243; emphasis my own)

But continuing with his misunderstanding he cites from the Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary, likewise seemingly not understanding that the definition offered is not at all contrary to what I have written.

That’s not true. It referred to a general judicial authority. Here is the citation (which White curiously omitted, seeing that he made a big deal out of my not citing all of his words). Readers can decide for themselves what it entails:

References to seating in the Bible are almost all to such as a representation of honor and authority . . .

According to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees occupy “Moses’ seat” (Matt. 23:2), having the authority and ability to interpret the law of Moses correctly; here “seat” is both a metaphor for judicial authority and also a reference to a literal stone seat in the front of many synagogues that would be occupied by an authoritative teacher of the law.

(p. 48 of my book; Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1987; English revision of Bijbelse Encyclopedie, edited by W. H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands: J. H. Kok, revised edition, 1975; translated by Raymond C. Togtman and Ralph W. Vunderink, 919-920)

The ISBE is likewise noted, and its definition, “It is used also of the exalted position occupied by men of marked rank or influence, either in good or evil.” Of course, in this case, it is in reference to evil men, as the rest of Matthew 23 demonstrates. Armstrong continues,

White makes no mention of these considerations, but it is difficult to believe that he is not aware of them (since he is a Bible scholar well acquainted with the nuances of biblical meanings). They do not fit in very well with the case he is trying to make, so he omits them. But the reader is thereby left with an incomplete picture. (p. 49)

Actually, it is Armstrong who has the incomplete understanding of my own position, as has been demonstrated. On that basis he, seemingly, accuses me of purposefully omitting these “considerations” so as to strengthen my case, or worse, deceive my readers.

I’m only pointing out that one’s bias can lead one to many strange tactics, in order to avoid a conclusion that one doesn’t want to accept. I’ve never made an accusation of deliberate deception with regard to White (or almost any other theological opponent, for that matter), but White had no scruples about accusing me of that very thing in the earlier dialogue we engaged in concerning my book. I guess this is a bit of projection, which is misplaced, to put it mildly.

In the next section Armstrong comes out fully with his insistence that Jesus was here binding Christians to the oral traditions of the Pharisees, and this will certainly provide the fullest basis for the complete rejection and refutation of his reading of Matthew 23.

Not all oral traditions; only those which are consistent with the Bible. In other words, I was trying to demonstrate that such traditions exist, that they are positively mentioned in the Bible, and practiced by Jesus and the apostles, and that, therefore, sola Scriptura is contradicted.

But I wish to pursue White’s argument that the Pharisees’ authority was strictly confined to the synagogues. For example, we have the incident of St. Paul and the high priest. High priests (or any priests) had little directly to do with the synagogue, by definition, because they offered sacrifice, and that was done at the Temple. Yet they had authority. In this case, Ananias, the high priest, was a Sadducee, and, according to ISBE, a scoundrel: “lawless and violent . . . haughty, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for purely selfish and political ends” (vol. 1, p. 129). But Paul thought he had authority. Here is what I wrote in my book, on page 50:

Paul shows the high priest, Ananias, respect, even when the latter had him struck on the mouth, and was not dealing with matters strictly of the Old Testament and the Law, but with the question of whether Paul was teaching wrongly and should be stopped (Acts 23:1-5). A few verses later Paul states, “I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (23:6) and it is noted that the Pharisees and Sadducees in the assembly were divided and that the Sadducees “say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all” (23:7-8). Some Pharisees defended Paul (23:9).

So here is a case of the high priest, who sacrifices at the Temple, being granted authority by the Apostle Paul. So much for White’s argument that Jesus granted authority only to Pharisees in synagogues who read the Bible in services, in Moses’ seat. Secondly, he was a scoundrel, which disposes of White’s continual reiteration that Jesus strictly limited Pharisaical authority, because some of them were bad men, and because He sternly rebuked them for hypocrisy. Thirdly, the Sadducees were on a lower theological plane than the Pharisees, and adopted “liberal” or dissenting views on may doctrines which Pharisees and Christians alike accepted, as noted above. But Paul still thinks they have authority! Fourth, Paul had rebuked this man (for having him struck) in much the same terms that Jesus had rebuked the authorities:

Acts 23:3 God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

After he was informed that it was the high priest (23:4), Paul (for some odd reason) quickly changed his tune:

Acts 23:5 I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”

A what???!!! I thought these people had no authority other than to sit and read the Bible publicly??? Obviously, being a “ruler” of a people entails more than that. So the analogy to Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees is very close. And this time it has nothing whatsoever to do with synagogues, and the person is in an even higher position of authority than the Pharisees (in fact, he was the president of the Sanhedrin when Paul appeared before it).

Shortly afterwards, “some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party” defended Paul:

Acts 23:9 We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?

Now how can all this be squared with White’s scenario? I dare say that it cannot be. Likewise, his commentary on Jesus’ statements about Moses’ seat is based on a woefully inadequate understanding of the power that the Pharisees yielded, and on related passages such as this one.

As to the general nature of Pharisaic authority, character, and Jesus’ relationship to them, the Internet article, “Who Were the Pharisees and the Sadducees?”, by Bryan T. Huie, is a storehouse of useful, fascinating information. Pharisaical teaching in synagogues included the oral law:

They followed ancient traditions inspired by an obscure text in Deuteronomy, “put it in their mouths”, that God had given Moses, in addition to the written Law, an Oral Law, by which learned elders could interpret and supplement the sacred commands. The practice of the Oral Law made it possible for the Mosaic code to be adapted to changing conditions and administered in a realistic manner.

By contrast, the Temple priests, dominated by the Sadducees . . . insisted that the law must be written and unchanged. . . . they would not admit that oral teaching could subject the Law to a process of creative development. (Paul Johnson, A History Of The Jews, New York: Harper & Row, 1987, 106)

Dr. Brad Young, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, writes of the oral law:

The Oral Torah clarified obscure points in the written Torah, thus enabling the people to satisfy its requirements. If the Scriptures prohibit work on the Sabbath, one must interpret and define the meaning of work in order to fulfill the divine will. Why is there a need for an oral law? The answer is quite simple: Because we have a written one. The written record of the Bible should be interpreted properly by the Oral Torah in order to give it fresh life and meaning in daily practice. . . . Moreover, it should be remembered that the Oral Torah was not a rigid legalistic code dominated by one single interpretation. The oral tradition allowed a certain amount of latitude and flexibility. In fact, the open forum of the Oral Torah invited vigorous debate and even encouraged diversity of thought and imaginative creativity. Clearly, some legal authorities were more strict than others, but all recognized that the Sabbath had to be observed. (Jesus the Jewish Theologian, 105)

And he states, concerning Jesus’ view of the Pharisees:

Many scholars and Bible students fail to understand the essence of Jesus’ controversial ministry. Jesus’ conflict with his contemporaries was not so much over the doctrines of the Pharisees, with which he was for the most part in agreement, but primarily over the understanding of his mission. He did sharply criticize hypocrites . . .

A Pharisee in the mind of the people of the period was far different from popular conceptions of a Pharisee in modern times . . . The image of the Pharisee in early Jewish thought was not primarily one of self-righteous hypocrisy . . . The Pharisee represents piety and holiness. . . . The very mention of a Pharisee evoked an image of righteousness . . .

While Jesus disdained the hypocrisy of some Pharisees, he never attacked the religious and spiritual teachings of Pharisaism. In fact, the sharpest criticisms of the Pharisees in Matthew are introduced by an unmistakable affirmation, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:2-3). The issue at hand is one of practice. The content of the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees was not a problem . . . The rabbis offered nearly identical criticisms against those who teach but do not practice . . . Unfortunately, the image of the Pharisee in modern usage is seldom if ever positive. Such a negative characterization of Pharisaism distorts our view of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity . . . The theology of Jesus is Jewish and is built firmly upon the foundations of Pharisaic thought . . . (Ibid., 100, 184, 187, 188)

John D. Keyser writes:

As a result of the harsh portrayal in the New Testament of these teachers of Jewish law, the very name Pharisee has become synonymous with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.” He goes on to say that many modern scholars “have failed to realize that the Pharisaic religion was divided into two separate schools — the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The group that Christ continually took to task in the New Testament was apparently the School of Shammai — a faction that was very rigid and unforgiving in their outlook.” (“Dead Sea Scrolls Prove Pharisees Controlled Temple Ritual!”, p. 1)

Huie adds:

Although Pharisees were frequently the adversaries of Christ, it should also be noted that not all their interactions were hostile. Pharisees asked him to dine with them on occasion (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1), and he was warned of danger by some Pharisees (Luke 13:31). Additionally, it appears that some of the Pharisees (including Nicodemus) believed in him, although they did so secretly because of the animosity of their leaders toward Christ . . . the New Testament records that there were Pharisaic Christians in the early Church. Acts 15:5 shows some of the Pharisees who had accepted Christ as the Messiah voicing their opinion on the circumcision question. Some commentators believe that the zealous Jews mentioned in Acts 21:20 were actually Christian Pharisees. And Pharisaic scribes on the Sanhedrin council stood up for the apostle Paul when he was brought before them in 58 A.D. (Acts 23:9) . . . In Acts 23:6, Paul publicly declared, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6). It is very telling that more than twenty years after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul still claims to be a Pharisee. This alone should be proof that, on a basic level, Pharisaism and Christianity did not conflict . . . In Philippians 3:5, Paul states that he was “concerning the law, a Pharisee.” In verse 6, he goes on to say that he was “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”

In presenting St. Paul’s speech before the Sanhedrin, Luke depicts:

. . . Christianity and Pharisaism as natural allies, hence the direct continuity between the Pharisaic branch of Judaism and Christianity. The link is expressed directly in Paul’s own testimony: he is (now) a Pharisee, with a Pharisaic heritage (23:6). His Pharisaic loyalty is a present commitment, not a recently jettisoned stage of his religious past (cf. Phil 3:5-9). His Christian proclamation of a risen Lord, and by implication, of a risen humanity (Acts 23:6), represents a particular, but defensible, form of Pharisaic theology.” (Harper’s Bible Commentary, 1111)

The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters adds more fascinating information about Paul, Pharisaism, and the oral law:

As a further cause for boasting in Philippians, Paul claims to be a Pharisee. Here the term was defined with precision. The expression ‘as to the Law a Pharisee’ refers to the oral Law. . . . Paul thereby understood himself as a member of the scholarly class who taught the twofold Law. By saying that the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat (Mt 23:2), Jesus was indicating they were authoritative teachers of the Law. . . . In summary, Paul was saying that he was a Hebrew-speaking interpreter and teacher of the oral and written Law. (“Jew, Paul the”, 504)

Historian Paul Johnson concludes similarly concerning Jesus’ closeness in doctrine to the Pharisees:

He was closer to the Pharisees than to any other group . . . Jesus openly criticized the Pharisees, especially for ‘hypocrisy’. But on close examination, Jesus’ condemnation is by no means so severe or so inclusive as the Gospel narrative in which it is enclosed implies; and in essence it is similar to criticisms leveled at the Pharisees by the Essenes, and by the later rabbinical sages, who drew a sharp distinction between the Hakamim, whom they saw as their forerunners, and the ‘false Pharisees’, whom they regarded as enemies of true Judaism.(Ibid., 126)

Jewish historian Abba Eban states largely the same thing, from his religious perspective:

Jesus was a Pharisaic Jew . . . He meticulously kept Jewish laws, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Passover, ate unleavened bread, and uttered a blessing when he drank wine. He was a Jew in word and deed.

. . . He himself declared in the Sermon on the Mount that he “had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.” Nourished by the ideas of Pharisaic Judaism, he stressed the Messianic hope . . .

Early Christianity is closer to Judaism than the adherents of either religion have usually wished to admit. Both Christian theologians and Orthodox Jews have underestimated the original Judeo-Christian affinity. It was only gradually that Christianity severed its connection to the Jewish community and became transformed into a gentile religion. (My People: The Story of the Jews, New York: Behrman House, Inc. / Random House, 1968, 104-106)



March 17, 2017

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648), by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


[see all the other installments of this multi-part debate on my James White web page: second section]


Mr. White’s words will be in blue; my former words in green.


I am now replying to White’s Part III.

We continue reviewing Dave Armstrong’s comments on Matthew 23. He continues with a citation from my book, The Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 101, on p. 47 of The Catholic Verses. However, he does not provide some key elements of the material he is citing, so I will provide the paragraph, but will bold what was skipped, or not included, in the citation:

This appears to be the tired old charge of citing out of context. Not every instance of partial citation is incorrect or out-of-context citation. But it is one of the oldest rhetorical tricks in the book. Let’s see if White can make a positive case that I have misrepresented him at all or neglected “key elements” in his presentation. It is all the more comic and ironic, that a man who habitually ignores his opponents’ arguments and skips over huge amounts of the others’ words to rush to what he wishes to express (the present exchange is no exception to that rule), would nitpick about someone not citing absolutely every one of his words. Here is his citation, as he wishes it to be:

Indeed, the Lord’s unwillingness to become an “ecclesiastical rebel” is in perfect harmony with the Scriptural teaching on the subject of authority in the church. There was nothing in the tradition of having someone read from the Scriptures while sitting on Moses’ seat that was in conflict with the Scriptures, and hence, unlike the corban rule which we saw earlier in Matthew 15, Jesus does not reject this traditional aspect of Jewish synagogue worship. He does not insist upon anarchy in worship in the synagogue anymore than His apostle Paul would allow for it in the worship of the church at Corinth. It is quite proper to listen to and obey the words of the one who reads from the Law or the Prophets, for one is not hearing a man speaking in such a situation, but is listening to the very words of God.

Now, it is a measure of Armstrong’s understanding of the issues involved in exegesis that he responds in these words:

This is true as far as it goes, but it is essentially a non sequitur and amounts to a “reading into,” or eisegesis of the passage (which is ironic, because now White plays the role of “a man speaking” and distorting “the very words of God”).

And he is merely assuming what he is trying to prove, which is no logical argument; it’s a fallacy.

He then repeats the text, as if this somehow proves his point.

The point was that the text was more general than white’s arbitrary restriction of it, in order to conform to the arbitrary and unbiblical notion of sola Scriptura, and the rejection of Tradition as understood by the Church throughout the centuries.

Now I am going to try to read Armstrong’s work in the most positive light and assume that the next few pages, as they have paragraphs starting with “first” and “second” and so on, are his attempt to substantiate the assertion that my words are reading into the text something that is not there.

How thoughtful of him . . . imagine the novelty of granting one’s opponent the courtesy of acknowledging that he means what he obviously means.

Of course, to do this, he will have to do something more than just assume his own reading is exegetically sound. He will have to provide solid, positive argumentation.

That’s right, and this works both ways, doesn’t it?

Let’s see how well he fares. His first paragraph reads:

First, it should be noted that nowhere in the actual text is the notion that the Pharisees are only reading the Old Testament Scripture when sitting on Moses’ seat. It is an assumption gratuitously smuggled in from a presupposed position of sola Scriptura.

Quite true, but does it not likewise follow that it is a gratuitous assumption that Jesus is actually telling His disciples to embrace extra-biblical traditions that parallel Rome’s—an assumption smuggled in from a presupposed position of sola ecclesia?

First of all, “sola ecclesia” is a false description of the Catholic system of authority. This is not a Catholic term (whereas sola Scriptura is the Protestant;’s own terminology for his principle). We don’t believe in “Church alone.” We believe in the “three-legged stool” of Bible, Church, and Tradition, which is quite a different concept indeed. But White seems to think that he succeeds in rational argument by caricaturing opposing positions. The implicit reasoning seems to be: “if you don’t accept Bible Alone, you must believe in Church alone,” as if there are not other possible positions besides this stark contrast: one extreme to another.

Secondly, I agree that everyone has presuppositions that they bring to the table. But the presuppositions have to be tested to see if they can stand up, and if they are harmonious with biblical teaching. Whether “extra-biblical traditions” are involved remains to be proven; that’s what our discussion is largely about. White’s task, however, in line with his own beliefs, is to prove that they are definitely not involved, and he can’t do that by simply assuming without argument his system of sola Scriptura, which rules out such an eventuality beforehand. Thus far, he has given no one any reason to believe that such traditions are absolutely absent in the New Testament accounts under consideration.

Thirdly, it should be noted that in my book, I am critiquing White’s attempt to deny that extra-biblical Tradition could possibly be in play in these passages. All I have to do is cast doubt on his “proofs” along these lines, and show that they are not adequate to their task. Technically (i.e., logically), I don’t even have to prove that such traditions are there, in order to refute his argument, because his reasoning is somewhat similar to the following scenario:

1. James says he can prove that there are no children in the schoolyard from 2 to 3 PM.
2. His proof is that the school allows children there only from 12 to 1 PM.
3. Therefore, no children are there from 2 to 3.

Does this prove that no children are there from 2 to 3? Of course not. All it proves (assuming the documented truthfulness of #2) is that if children are there from 2 to 3, that it is against school rules. It doesn’t prove that no children are there, because it has simply assumed what it is trying to prove, by appeal to a rule which may or may not be broken in fact or actuality. It doesn’t rest upon actual observation of the schoolyard. Likewise, a critic of the argument does not have to prove that a child was actually there from 2 to 3, to disprove the above argument, because it is fallacious of its own accord.

The analogy to the present case are as follows:

children = extra-biblical traditions
schoolyard = Christianity
school rules concerning what is permitted = sola Scriptura
conclusion (#3) = presupposed, unproven, axiomatic, dogmatic assertions of Protestantism with regard to what is permitted and not permitted in Christianity

All this being the case, both sides have to strive to make a plausible biblical case for their own position. Since the Bible is the authority both sides agree upon, it is the “field” where the argument can succeed, using the agree-upon standard of Divine Revelation.

Remember, the Corban rule of Matthew 15, which Jesus specifically rejected on the basis of Scripture, was one of the Pharisees’ favorite “Mosaic traditions,” claiming divine authority. Was Jesus contradicting Himself? Surely not. And so the point clearly is, what understanding of the text is consistent with Jesus’ own practices when faced with such things as the Corban rule elsewhere?

This doesn’t prove White’s contentions of “no extra-biblical traditions” at all, because to prove that Jesus opposed one tradition doesn’t say anything at all about whether He opposed all such traditions. He Himself made this distinction clear in Mark 7:3-9. St. Paul also makes it abundantly clear that there is a legitimate tradition and a false tradition of men. So White can’t simply assume that the “approved” category of tradition is nonexistent. This is exceedingly weak reasoning; in fact, it proves nothing whatsoever.

Secondly, the specific example of the Corban rule (Matthew 15:5) is actually simply another proof that Jesus did not reject all tradition (which is the issue at hand), and this is quite simple to demonstrate. He was rebuking this particular Pharisaical tradition as a corruption of the larger tradition of proper sacrifice, which He did not abrogate at all; quite the contrary: He continued to participate in the old sacrificial system. Thus, The New Bible Dictionary (edited by J. D. Douglass, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962) states:

The Old Testament sacrifices . . . were still being offered during practically the whole period of the composition of the New . . . Important maxims are t be found in Mt. 5:23-24, 12:3-5 and parallels 17:24-27, 23:16-20; 1 Cor. 9:13-14. it is noteworthy that our Lord has sacrifice offered for Him or offers it Himself at His presentation in the Temple, at His last Passover, and presumably on those other occasions when He went up to Jerusalem for the feasts. The practice of the apostles in Acts removes all ground from the opinion that after the sacrifice of Christ the worship of the Jewish Temple is to be regarded as an abomination to God. We find them frequenting the Temple, and Paul himself goes up to Jerusalem for Pentecost, and on that occasion offers the sacrifices (which included sin-offerings) for the interruption of vows (Acts 21; cf. Nu. 6:10-12). (p. 1122 in article, “Sacrifice and Offering”)

I thought the reader might appreciate a little balance being gained as to whether Jesus opposed all tradition. White wants to mention only the times where Jesus rejected one particular tradition. It’s important to get the whole New Testament picture and not just one small part of it, ignoring the rest.

Is it Armstrong’s, or that which sees this as the beginning of the condemnation of the Pharisees that takes up the rest of Matthew 23, and hence is actually restricting the authority of the Pharisees?

Matthew 23 is not necessarily about “restricting the authority of the Pharisees” at all. It is about Pharisaical hypocrisy, as anyone who knows the passage at all, is well aware, and also about their legalistic corruptions of the legitimate Mosaic Law (which is what Jesus found hypocritical). But condemning hypocrisy and corruption is not the same as condemning the thing that they are being hypocritical about and distorting.

The fact remains (and it is obvious in the New Testament) that much of the Pharisaical tradition was retained by Christianity (as sanctioned by our Lord Jesus and St. Paul). I wrote about this in my second published book: More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism:


Many people do not realize that Christianity was derived in many ways from the Pharisaical tradition of Judaism. It was really the only viable option in the Judaism of that era. Since Jesus often excoriated the Pharisees for hypocrisy and excessive legalism, some assume that He was condemning the whole ball of wax. But this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Likewise, the Apostle Paul, when referring to his Pharisaical background doesn’t condemn Pharisaism per se.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, were much more “heretical.” They rejected the future resurrection and the soul, the afterlife, rewards and retribution, demons and angels, and predestinarianism. Christian Pharisees are referred to in Acts 15:5 and Philippians 3:5, but never Christian Sadducees. The Sadducees’ following was found mainly in the upper classes, and was almost non-existent among the common people.

The Sadducees also rejected all ‘oral Torah,’ — the traditional interpretation of the written that was of central importance in rabbinic Judaism. So we can summarize as follows:

a) The Sadducees were obviously the elitist “liberals” and “heterodox” amongst the Jews of their time.

b) But the Sadducees were also the sola Scripturists of their time.

c) Christianity adopted wholesale the very “postbiblical” doctrines which the Sadducees rejected and which the Pharisees accepted: resurrection, belief in angels and spirits, the soul, the afterlife, eternal reward or damnation, and the belief in angels and demons.
d) But these doctrines were notable for their marked development after the biblical Old Testament Canon was complete, especially in Jewish apocalyptic literature, part of Jewish codified oral tradition.

e) We’ve seen how — if a choice is to be made — both Jesus and Paul were squarely in the “Pharisaical camp,” over against the Sadducees.

f) We also saw earlier how Jesus and the New Testament writers cite approvingly many tenets of Jewish oral (later talmudic and rabbinic) tradition, according to the Pharisaic outlook.

Ergo) The above facts constitute one more “nail in the coffin” of the theory that either the Old Testament Jews or the early Church were guided by the principle of sola Scriptura. The only party which believed thusly were the Sadducees, who were heterodox according to traditional Judaism, despised by the common people, and restricted to the privileged classes only.

The Pharisees (despite their corruptions and excesses) were the mainstream, and the early Church adopted their outlook with regard to eschatology, anthropology, and angelology, and the necessity and benefit of binding oral tradition and ongoing ecclesiastical authority for the purpose (especially) of interpreting Holy Scripture.

I have more material along these lines, included in my article, Rabbinic Credentials of Jesus and St. Paul:

Jesus Himself followed the Pharisaical tradition, as argued by Asher Finkel in his book The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (Cologne: E. J. Brill, 1964). He adopted the Pharisaical stand on controversial issues (Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17), accepted the oral tradition of the academies, observed the proper mealtime procedures (Mark 6:56, Matthew 14:36) and the Sabbath, and priestly regulations (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:4). This author argues that Jesus’condemnations were directed towards the Pharisees of the school of Shammai, whereas Jesus was closer to the school of Hillel.

The Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: 1971) backs up this contention, in its entry “Jesus” (v. 10, 10):

In general, Jesus’ polemical sayings against the Pharisees were far meeker than the Essene attacks and not sharper than similar utterances in the talmudic sources.

This source contends that Jesus’ beliefs and way of life were closer to the Pharisees than to the Essenes, though He was similar to them in many respects also(poverty, humility, purity of heart, simplicity, etc.).

The answer is clear. If Armstrong is going to claim an exegetical basis for Rome’s position, he cannot simply assume it. So far, that is all he is doing.

I provided more than enough of that, in my (admittedly biased) opinion, to cast significant doubt on White’s argument, in the book. Even if I didn’t provide sufficient exegetical argument in the book, I certainly have added much biblical cross-referencing and relevant data in this paper (far more than White’s brief, passing references, such as to the Corban rule), which White would have to deal with, if he thinks his argument can withstand the scrutiny of proper examination. But it is almost a certainty that this dialogue will never get to the stage of a second round, judging by virtually all past experience with White for ten years. As soon as the discussion gets really interesting and biblical and logical, he is no longer interested, and either flees altogether or becomes insulting. I don’t blame him, since he has such a weak and insubstantial case, in the present instance.

In any event, I submit that I have provided far more biblical support for my position than White has for his, at least as far as we have gotten. Perhaps he’ll produce a “golden bullet” in subsequent installments. I keep waiting for at least an attempt, but it never comes . . .

March 17, 2017

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648), by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


[see all the other installments of this multi-part debate on my James White web page: second section]


Mr. White’s words will be in blue; my former words in green.


In the previous installment of this series I provided an introduction and the comments I made in The Roman Catholic Controversy regarding the use of Matthew 23:1-3 by Roman Catholic apologists. Let’s make sure we understand what is required of the Roman Catholic apologist in order to substantiate their claims. First, there needs to be an identifiable oral tradition regarding “Moses’ Seat” that is passed down outside of Scripture. This tradition must grant to the scribes and Pharisees some kind of authority that is not given in Scripture itself,

It’s not necessary that it is not in Scripture; only that it is in harmony with Scripture, and something alongside it, which is not opposed to it, and is, to the contrary, sanctioned by it.

and Jesus must be making reference to this tradition, and the resultant authority, and binding His followers thereto. Is that what is going on in Matthew 23?

Something very un-Protestant is “going on” here! I believe that at the very least it is a difficulty, or difficult to explain, within a Protestant position.

Let’s see if Dave Armstrong can provide a positive defense or, will he do what most of the rest of his compatriots do: hope that an attack upon the text will be sufficient to confuse their followers into thinking they have actually provided a meaningful defense of their claims.

Interesting cynical touch . . . Yes, I and “most of the rest of” my “compatriots” sit around at night dreaming up fanciful ways that we can “attack” the biblical text, so as to confuse and mislead our “followers.” Is that really what White thinks motivates me and other Catholic apologists and commentators? Apparently so, or he wouldn’t have written such a ludicrous thing. I don’t (for what it’s worth) reciprocate the cynicism. I think White (like most devoted Bible students) sincerely believes that he is interpreting the passage to the best of his abilities, and is trying his best to respect it and let it speak for itself. I think he’s dead wrong in his opinion, but I don’t have to attack his very motivations and modus operandi with uncharitable speculations, putting the worst spin on everything he does. That’s a major difference between Mr. White and I, and this hostile predisposition will no doubt color his comments throughout (just as I noted in my book with regard to historic Protestant exegesis).

Armstrong begins:

Jesus teaches that the scribes and Pharisees have a legitimate, binding authority, based on Moses’ seat, which phrase (or idea) cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is found in the (originally oral) Mishna, where a sort of teaching succession from Moses on down is taught. Thus, apostolic succession, whereby the Catholic Church, in its priests and bishops and popes, claims to be merely the custodian of an inherited apostolic Tradition, is also prefigured by Jewish oral tradition, as approved (at least partially) by Jesus himself.

So we see that Armstrong takes “the whole enchilada,” so to speak, and sets the highest bar possible, even “prefiguring” Roman apostolic Tradition in the Jewish form, though, he seems to allow a small out for himself with the parenthetic statement, “at least partially.” It is hard to know what this refers to at this point.

Mr. White, being the Bible scholar and exegete that he is, is certainly not unfamiliar with the notion of typology in Holy Scripture (though you’d never know that, reading the above). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia ([ISBE] a Protestant work, as will be all sources that I cite, unless indicated otherwise: edited by James Orr, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1956), discusses biblical “types”:

The Bible furnishes abundant evidence of the presence of types and of typical instruction in the Sacred Word. The NT attests this fact. It takes up a large number of persons and things and events of former dispensations, and it treats them as adumbrations and prophecies of the future. A generation ago a widespread interest in the study of typology prevailed . . .

. . . A type . . . must be a true picture of the person or the thing it represents or prefigures . . . A type always prefigures something future. A Scriptural type and predictive prophecy are in substance the same, differing only in form. This fact distinguishes between a symbol and a type. A symbol may represent a thing of the present or of the past as well as of the future, e.g., the symbols in the Lord’s supper. A type always looks to the future; an element of prediction must necessarily be in it. (Vol. 5, p. 3029)

Presbyterian pastor and writer Peter J. Leithart, writing in First Things (November 1997, 12-13), noted that modern evangelicals tend to reject typology (note that the ISBE above stated that things were different a mere “generation ago”):

Modern scholarship has approached the Old Testament in a very different manner. Rejecting typology as fanciful and unscientific, many theologians have treated the Old Testament as a historical document with little or no religious significance for the Church.

. . . For all their real differences in approach to the Bible, evangelicals are at one with Protestant modernism in their rejection of typology and, frequently enough, in their belief that Christianity is more or less purely internal, a religion of unmediated individual contact with God.

But the Church Fathers interpreted the Bible quite differently, Leithart informs us, noting:

. . . the typological exegesis of the Bible practiced by patristic and medieval theologians. Typological interpretation assumes that events and institutions of the Old Testament present (to use Augustine’s terminology) “latent” pictures of Christ, and the Christ to whom the Old Testament testifies is the totus Christus: Head and Body, Jesus and his Church. In this, the fathers and medieval theologians fully agreed with Paul, who wrote that the history of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness were “things written for our instruction.”

Following the apostolic example, the fathers taught that Israel and “daughter Jerusalem”—and all brides and harlots of Old Testament history—manifest the Church under various guises. . . . the fathers plundered the Old Testament to divine the patterns of history. Because the interpretive path runs from old Israel through Christ to the new Israel, moreover, typology assumes that the New Covenant, like the Old, is concerned with a concrete, historical community.

. . . The typological method—by emphasizing that the Church as a real historical institution and communion was prophesied and typified in the Old Testament—provides theological grounding for the Church’s efforts to discipline the state.

This has to do with historic exegesis (precisely what my book was about). James White is out of touch with the exegesis of the earliest Christians, even with St. Augustine (whom he views very highly indeed, as I could easily prove from his own remarks), and pre-modernist Protestants. Thus, my delving into typology in the course of the extended argument of my book seems something foreign to him. Typology is no novel notion, either for the Fathers or many evangelical commentators through the centuries, but it seems to be for Mr. White.

I can’t help that, but in any event, he is free to argue that some particular interpretation of mine is unreasonable and implausible, according to the usual cross-referencing, systematics, linguistic considerations, etc. That is an unobjectionable method, but dismissing all types and shadows altogether is quite a bit more difficult to do, in light of historic exegesis: both Catholic and Protestant.

Following these claims Armstrong lists five “anomalous facts” for Protestants, other passages he believes likewise refer to “extrabiblical and oral tradition acknowledged by the New Testament writers.” These include 1 Cor. 10:4 and the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness; 1 Pet. 3:19, where Armstrong assumes the passage is drawing from 1 Enoch, together with Jude 14_15 and the citation of 1 Enoch 1:9; Jude 9 and the dispute between Michael and Satan over Moses’ body; 2 Tim. 3:8 and the naming of Jannes and Jambres; James 5:17 and the information that the drought had lasted for three years.

White outlines my argument. I will actually cite it, so readers know exactly what I stated:

Other examples of extrabiblical and oral tradition acknowledged by the New Testament writers include:

* 1 Corinthians 10:4, where St. Paul refers to a rock which “followed” the Jews through the Sinai wilderness. The Old Testament says nothing about such miraculous movement, in the related passages about Moses striking the rock to produce water (Exod. 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13). Rabbinic tradition, however, does.

* 1 Peter 3:19, where St. Peter describes Christ’s journey to Sheol/Hades (“he went and preached to the spirits in prison“), [and] draws directly from the Jewish apocalyptic book 1 Enoch (12-16). Jude 14-15 directly quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9, and even states that Enoch prophesied.

* Jude 9, which concerns a dispute between Michael the archangel and Satan over Moses’ body, cannot be paralleled in the Old Testament, and appears to be a recounting of an oral Jewish tradition.

* In 2 Timothy 3:8, the reference to Jannes and Jambres cannot be found in the related Old Testament passage (Exod. 7:8 ff.).

* James 5:17 mentions a lack of rain for three years, which is likewise absent from the relevant Old Testament passage in 1 Kings 17. (p. 44)

He concludes his list with these words:

Since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition (in so doing, raising some of it literally to the level of written revelation), we are hardly at liberty to assert that it is altogether illegitimate. Jesus attacked corrupt traditions only, not tradition per se, and not all oral tradition. According to a strict sola Scriptura viewpoint, this would be inadmissible, it seems to me. (p. 44)

Immediately the careful reader will note that there seems to be no difference at all in Armstrong’s thinking between “authoritative Jewish oral tradition,” non-authoritative Jewish oral tradition, and any historical story, whether oral or written.

This is highly curious and inexplicable, since in my very act of mentioning “authoritative Jewish tradition,” it follows by simple logic that there must be something to the contrary which I (and anyone) could and would label “non-authoritative Jewish oral tradition,” and indeed, my mention of “corrupt traditions” presupposes this. Yet White accuses me of not making the very distinctions that I clearly made. Go figure . . . this is what happens when the unfortunate tendency to caricature opponents runs head on into simple logic and carefully reading what one’s opponent actually wrote, before immediately dashing off to tear it apart. For in such a rush, what is “refuted” is often not what the opponent actually wrote or believes. And that creates all sorts of problems and weakness in arguments, and holes large enough to drive a truck through.

What “any historical story” is supposed to refer to, is anyone’s guess, since context makes abundantly clear that I was referring exclusively to Jewish tradition.

Likewise, he leaves untouched the issues relating to the citation of Enoch, for surely he knows Enoch as a whole is not canonical, hence, is he actually insisting that only a portion of Enoch contains some kind of authoritative, inspired material?

My argument doesn’t necessitate regarding all such material as “inspired”; only authoritative and true. Remember how I phrased that to which I was referring: “extrabiblical and oral tradition acknowledged by the New Testament writers.” An inspired biblical book might cite any number of non-inspired books as true, insofar as the portion cited is concerned. That’s exactly what happened in Jude 14-15, where 1 Enoch 1:9 is directly quoted (as the footnote for this verse in my Oxford Annotated RSV Bible states), and is described by the apostle as that which Enoch “prophesied.” Whether that counts as “inspired” or not, on that basis, I don’t know, and I’ll leave that technical question for the appropriate scholars to decide.

But it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that what is cited is true, and an instance of true prophecy not different in kind from a prophecy of Jeremiah or Isaiah: whose prophecies are recorded in inspired Old Testament Scripture. And that’s just the point, isn’t it? If Jeremiah’s prophecy is regarded as inspired because it is in the Bible (OT), then Enoch’s must likewise be, because it is in the Bible (NT). Therefore an “extrabiblical tradition” was “acknowledged by the New Testament writers,” and my contention is unassailable. White can only try to minimize the implications of this, and attempt to show that it all fits in perfectly with his Baptist, sola Scriptura conception of authority, but he can’t discount the fact of it, because there it is . . .

All of these passages have sparked a great deal of discussion in both Protestant and Catholic biblical scholarship, but none of that discussion is referenced here. An allegedly “straightforward” reading is all that is noted.

That’s correct. One can’t write about everything all the time, and one chooses what to emphasize, where, and how deeply to delve into the subject matter at hand. What does that have to do with anything? White’s task is to refute what I have presented. Perhaps he does that later, but he hasn’t yet done so, and making non sequitur points like this, doesn’t bring him any closer to the conclusion of his task. If he wants to deal with these passages, then he can make his argument, and I’ll surely respond. One thing at a time . . .

Armstrong moves from here to the specifics of his response to the material in The Roman Catholic Controversy by stating, “I shall quote the heart of his subtle but thoroughly fallacious argument.” He cites the very beginning of the comments, to the point where I note that there is no way to trace this alleged tradition back to Moses, since this refers to an element of synagogue worship that did not come into existence until only a few hundred years prior to the time of Christ. He then writes,

White agrees that the notion is not found in the Old Testament, but maintains that it cannot be traced back to Moses. Yet the Catholic argument here does not rest on whether it can be traced historically to Moses, but on the act that it is not found in the Old Testament. Thus, White concedes a fundamental point of the Catholic argument concerning authority and sola Scriptura.

White skipped over roughly a page of material (mostly my page 45), where I cited the commentator Albert Barnes at length, and also the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary, and also noted how Jesus distinguished between good and bad traditions. Since we are centering primarily on my critique of his argument, this is not a major concern.

Yet, on the other hand, it can often be observed in White’s replies to Catholics, that he will pick and choose what he wants to respond to, rather than reply to everything (his ignoring of those portions of his opponents’ arguments might reasonably be construed as indicating a possibility that they are difficult for him to answer, since he skipped over them more or less arbitrarily). The passages of NT citing of extrabiblical traditions were not technically related to White’s own presentation, either, but he saw fit to mention them.

While I wish to wait to respond to the full argumentation until after outlining Armstrong’s response, I must point out in passing that “admitting” that Jesus is making reference to a concept that developed during the intertestamental period is hardly relevant to sola scriptura nor is it a concession to a “fundamental point of the Catholic argument.” There is nothing in sola scriptura that requires the NT to be silent about developments during the intertestamental period. There is nothing in the doctrine that requires the Bible to remain silent on the form of synagogue worship. This is simply wishful thinking on Armstrong’s part, once again.

I wasn’t arguing those things; rather, the topic at hand is whether there is an authoritative extrabiblical tradition, acknowledged by Jesus and the apostles. If some parts of those traditions can be cited as true in the NT, then it stands to reason that other parts can be true (and hence, authoritative) without being cited in the NT. White simply assumes without argument that anything which is fully authoritative must be in the Bible. But since that is the issue in dispute, assuming it does no good. It has to be rationally demonstrated, with biblical support. I’ve been providing biblical support for my contentions. But these complex points of consideration will obviously have to wait till White presents his “full” response. I presume it will eventually be forthcoming, since White’s response consisted of eight parts.

Further, unless I misread Armstrong, he saw a “prefigurement” of the Roman position in the Jewish one regarding tradition; yet, the Jews claimed their traditions did, in fact, go back to Moses, and yet here it seems Armstrong is admitting that the Jews could be wrong about the very origin of their traditions, and yet Jesus would still find the tradition binding.

I argued no such (intrinsically nonsensical) thing. White read that into my statements because he didn’t understand them (a sadly common occurrence, as we’ve seen in past installments of this discussion, and will often see again, surely, largely because he vastly underestimates his opponents and considers them much more “ignorant” than they are in fact — see the Introduction for many examples). I was making a logical point, reiterating that the Catholic reply to White’s sola Scriptura arguments does not require proof that Jewish oral traditions go back to Moses; only that some of them were considered authoritative by Jesus and the apostles. For my part, I assume that they do go back to Moses, because that is part of the biblical (and historical) record, too, and the early Christians continued this tradition, over against the quasi-sola Scriptura position of the Sadducees, the “liberals” of their time). But that aspect was not logically required for this particular argument to be effective in its purpose of refutation.

Does it follow that Rome could admit her traditions do not go back to the Apostles but they are still binding? We are not told.

No (now you’ve been told). It was a silly query to begin with.

Next we encounter the following paragraph:

White then cites Protestant Bible scholar Robert Gundry in agreement, to the effect that Jesus was binding Christians to the Pharisaical law, but not “their interpretive traditions.” This passage concerned only “the law itself,” with the “antinomians” in mind. How Gundry arrives at such a conclusion remains to be seen. White’s query about the Catholic interpretation, “Is this sound exegesis?” can just as easily be applied to Gundry’s fine-tuned distinctions that help him avoid any implication of a binding extrabiblical tradition. (pp. 46-47)

One will note that this is at best a partial accounting of the views I noted; but beyond this, there is no meaningful interaction with Gundry’s exegesis. And given that I have worked through a number of attempted arguments made by Armstrong in this book, I believe I can say with some foundation that I do not believe Dave Armstrong understands what he would have to do to provide an exegetical response to Gundry or myself or anyone else. He simply does not understand the field. Writing “Is this sound exegesis?” and then in essence saying, “Well, you too!” is a poor substitute for meaningful exegetical interaction, that’s for certain.

Here we go with more of White’s sadly typical condescension and patronizing of his opponent, leading to lack of argument or no rational argumentation at all. It is “(wishful) meta-analysis” rather than reasoned refutation and a demonstration of exactly how an opponent is in error. Let me briefly illustrate how far this method of “reply” differs from actual dialogue. A non-dialogue, or “mutual monologue” runs as follows:

1. X presents position A with a multitude of biblical proof texts and historical evidences.

2. Y basically ignores or quickly dismisses X’s biblical proof texts and historical evidences for position A with a one-sentence “reply” and proceeds to present position B with a multitude of alternate biblical proof texts and historical evidences.

Or, in a briefer form:

1. A
2. Not-A.

This is (sadly, too often) White’s frequent method. But real dialogue (which is what I seek), proceeds in a very different way:

1. X presents position A with a multitude of biblical proof texts and historical evidences.

2. Y offers alternative and (so he thinks) superior explanations of each of X’s biblical proof-texts and historical evidences, and then presents his own biblical proof texts and historical evidences for position B.

3. X offers alternative and (so he thinks) superior explanations of each of Y’s biblical proof-texts and historical evidences, counter-responds to the critique of his own previously-stated biblical proof texts and historical evidences, and then presents more of his own biblical and historical proofs (if he has any more on the subject).

4. Y again offers alternative explanations of X’s contentions, and/or counter-responds to X’s counter-response (or concedes the argument if position A is superior) . . . Etc.

5. X does the same in turn (if Y is still maintaining his position) and either proceeds or concedes the argument if position B is superior . . . Etc.

This is how the present discussion ought to proceed, if it is to be at all constructive and worthwhile. But will it? Judging from ten years’ past experience with Mr. White, it is highly unlikely, yet there’s always a first time . . . In any event, my method is the second one above; I welcome challenges, and relish arguing for what I think is a superior and true position, rather than ignoring and belittling my opponent as an ignoramus, in over his head, and presenting my positions as a preacher rather than as a disputant or person who provides reasoned argumentation in response to the other.

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