White on his web page attack on Catholicism uses the same tactics on those Catholic apologists who have debated him of the highest caliber, such as Pat Madrid, Tim Staples, and Bob Sungenis. He attacks articles written by recent converts such as Stephen Ray and David Palm as them misrepresenting the Protestant position of Sola Scriptura. Of course, there are differing Protestant views of what exactly Sola Scriptura means. Ironically, in his rebuttals, White will often himself misrepresent or misunderstand what his opponent is saying.
Here I want to focus on the letter that White sent to Tim Staples, after they had a debate on Sola Scriptura. This can be found here.
After reading the letter by White, I would not be surprised if Staples wants no further contacts with the man.
I listened to the debate between Tim Staples and James White on Sola Scriptura, and I encourage anybody to get it. In White’s letter to Staples you would think that all Staples did was misrepresent White, and White really showed him! After listening to this debate, I thought to myself, is this the same debate that he is writing about?
Before I get to the contents of his letter to Staples, I will comment on what White conveniently left out of his commentary on the debate. He never answered Staple’s points on two important things: 1) Where does the bible teach anywhere that the Word of God for after the apostolic age is reduced to writing? Where does the bible anywhere say one must hold only to the written word? If White can not provide an answer to these questions Sola Scriptura is absolutely false (Of course Sola Scriptura has many more weaknesses than this). White did not even pretend to provide an answer to this burning question. How did White in the debate deal with 2 Thes. 2:15? “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” First, White argues that this is not a command! Say what? Paul writes “Stand fast, and hold the traditions.” If we read the context of Chapter 2, Paul is writing about not falling into deception (about making
sure that people not be deceived vv. 3-12). What is to prevent these people from being deceived? V. 15 explains quite clearly that Paul COMMANDS the Thessalonians to STAND FAST AND HOLD THE TRADITIONS, whether written OR ORAL. This is what prevents them from falling into deception. The oral AS WELL AS the written tradition. So Whites’ argument that this is not a command is nonsense. When challenged by Staples he provided no biblical quotation or reasoning that Paul says to stop having oral tradition as binding, but continue to hold on to scripture as the only binding, infallible rule of faith.
2) Staples asked White, that using the bible alone, what is the gospel? Because 2 Thes 2:14 mentions the gospel, White said that the tradition that he is mentioning is the gospel, and what is in the oral tradition is exactly the same as the written tradition. Therefore oral tradition is not authoritative. Of course in 2 Thes 2:15 nowhere does Paul state that the written tradition’s authority is superior to the oral tradition. Nor did Paul write that oral tradition is exactly the same as written tradition. Likewise, nowhere did White explain what his meaning of the gospel is. As Staples pointed out, White’s gospel is quite different from many Protestants, and not only on ‘peripheral’ issues. Since White saw the gospel as a key explanation for the background to the verse, he indeed had a burden to explain what the gospel is. In correspondence with me on salvation, both White and his assistant basically denied that I was a Christian because I believe that one must do something for
salvation. White denies free will, and basically his gospel denies free will. Well, besides Calvinist Reformed Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists, most Christians of any kind affirm free will. Why did White not affirm in the debate his denial of free will is essential to his gospel? If Sola Scriptura is true, and White affirms the Calvinist view of free will, do all these Protestants have it wrong, besides us Catholics? I guess Sola Scriptura is not sufficient to most Protestants to deny free will. Even most (non-Reformed) Baptists that I know actually believe in free will.
Sola Scriptura supposedly is supposed to be clear on the issue of salvation. What about Baptismal regeneration? White and his gospel adamantly denies baptismal regeneration. However, Lutherans, Anglicans, Church of Christ, and others who go by Sola Scriptura, believe in baptismal regeneration. Most of the American Protestant denominations deny it. Sola Scriptura at work brings confusion on this most important issue.
How does Sola Scriptura deal with perseverance of the saints? How does White’s gospel deal with this? Can one lose salvation? Why did White not affirm what his gospel teaches on this? After all, he said that the tradition in 2 Thessalonians is the gospel. In correspondence with me, White’s assistant says that Rome is denying the gospel because I affirm with Paul (1 Cor 9:27, 1 Cor 10:12, Romans 11:22, etc.) that one can lose his salvation. Well, that puts White and his assistant again in a very limited camp of people who follow “the gospel.” Again, only Reformed Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists (and those influenced by them) follow that 16th century human tradition invented by Calvin. White even actually disagrees with most Baptists, who believe once saved, always saved. Most Baptists say that if one is really saved, even if they go committing alot of adultery and killing, those people will still go to heaven. White on the other hand will stress the perseverance of the saints,
and those who are truly saved, would not do such things, if they died unrepentant. Lutherans say that one can lose their salvation only by falling into unbelief. All other denominations (Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) teach that they can lose their salvation, though in different ways. So are all non-Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians missing the gospel, according to White? I wonder if Sola Scriptura is so clear on Salvation, why are all these Protestant denominations (including other Baptists) getting the gospel wrong?
Now I will comment on some of White’s complaints about Staples. The paragraphs in red are part of his Open Letter to Tim Staples file. What follows is my comments:
“On a personal level, I was quite simply shocked at the amount of ad-hominem argumentation you utilized in our debate. Of course, I find such tactics indicative of a lost cause, Tim, but I also get the feeling that you were doing what you had been instructed to do by folks like Patrick Madrid, who likewise uses the "insult, deprecate, and impugn your opponent" means of debating.”
And White is the one complaining about insulting and deprecating? All he does in relation to Catholic apologists is deprecate, as he is doing here! He blasts Staples as having a lost cause, and claims that he is only mouthing what Patrick Madrid spoke. Madrid himself in the earlier debate was defending himself from attacks by White. That is the very reason people like Scott Hahn do not want to debate him, he has no respect for people. BTW, I have written critiques of his view on justification, hereand here.
1) I, on the other hand, had the entire Eerdman's set on my hard-drive, the volume of Athanasius sitting on my desk, and a good ten times the amount of cited material in your packet in my own notes. 2) I'm sure your followers will accept your claims without question, and will never bother to look up what Athanasius actually said. However, what of those who are not your followers, Tim? What of the person who is simply seeking the truth? 3) Will they not notice that it makes no sense to accuse me of misrepresenting someone on the basis of citations from Athanasius' words to Serapion since I was not citing that material? You see, the fair and scholarly thing to say would be, "I believe you are misrepresenting Athanasius' entire doctrine of authority and tradition, and here is a citation that supports my assertion." In fact, allow me to be of assistance to you in your attempt to substantiate the accusations you made so easily Saturday evening, and that were so readily accepted
your devoted followers. I quoted four passages from Athanasius. I here provide you not only with the passages ......
1) Here White smugly asserts his superiority to Staples by showing that he brought volumes of books to debates, whereas Staples only brought short notes, basically attacking Staples’ credibility. Well, maybe White is one of those speed readers, but when one actually is at a debate, and one must give quick responses, is it fair to expect that the opponent has full books in front of him, to sort through everything when one must give very short responses? Is it not possible that prior to coming Staples did read these volumes for the background of these quotes, but at a debate one is not likely to have time to read full books? I have never heard of a debate where an opponent just reads whole pages from books.
2) Here not only does he attack Staples but even those who agreed with Staples are called in effect mind-numbed robots who do not care one whit about truth. Not only is White doing an ad-homenim attack on Staples, but those who merely agree with Staples. The gall of him to say that others are doing ad-homenim attacks on him! I guess the only ones who seek the truth are those who blindly follow White.
3) White misrepresents what happened in the debate in regards to Athanasius, as well as the other Church Fathers! It also shows his very flawed use of Athanasius to try to shoehorn him into believing Sola Scriptura. First, I listened to the whole debate, and I paid special attention to his quotations in reference to Athanasius. On his web page he said that in the debate he quoted him four times, with citations. In fact, he only quoted Athanasius twice, and there he did NOT EVEN GIVE THE CITATION! (Now it may be true that White had not actually listened to his own debate at the time he actually wrote this, and maybe he planned to quote Athanasius during the debate four times, but was not able to. Nevertheless, by now I am sure he has had those tapes for a long time, and he knows that his statements are false, and he is yet to make a correction). As Staples does not have the gift of reading minds, it is obvious he did not intentionally misquote anything, as you imply. You did not even
give him a specific citation to misquote!
The quotes that White gives in regards to Athanasius show that indeed that he loves scripture, and finds it sufficient. But remember, Catholics are allowed to believe in material sufficiency. A Catholic can hold that all the truths of the faith can be found explicitly or implicitly in the bible. So scripture can indeed be sufficient to overthrow heresy, as Athanasius shows. However, White failed to show that Athanasius denied the church binding authority to interpret the scripture. Elsewhere Athanasius expounds that the rule of faith is the Church interpreting those very scriptures, as held in councils. Formal sufficiency of scripture states that scripture is so sufficient that the church is not a binding rule of faith. One’s own interpretation of scripture is the ultimate, binding rule of faith, according to Sola Scriptura. I invite the readers to read
which has 2 sets of quotes from the Fathers, asserting the Church Father’s assessment of scripture and tradition. The first set includes Athanasius quoting that scriptures are sufficient (but materially, not formally). The second set of quotes from that file show 25 texts from Athanasius showing in various degrees that the Church Fathers, tradition, and the Ecumenical Councils are also necessary AND sufficient to set the rule of faith. White wrote elsewhere that Staples never dealt with Athanasius. On the contrary, Athanasius saw the church as necessary to interpret those very scriptures that he saw as sufficient. For example, the text that Staples gave from Athanasius (He did give the citation, BTW) was this:
Ad Serapion 1,28 'But what is also to the point, let us note that the very TRADITION, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning was preached by the Apostles and PRESERVED by the FATHERS. On this the CHURCH was founded; and if anyone departs from THIS, he neither is, nor any longer ought to be called, a Christian.'
Other citations that Staples could have given on Athanasius include:
De Synodis 54 .but do you, remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the TRADITIONS of the FATHERS, pray that now at length all strife and rivalry may CEASE and the futile questions of the heretics may be condemned...'
C. Gentes 1 'Of course, the holy Scriptures, divinely inspired are self-sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. But there are also numerous works composed for this purpose by blessed teachers. The ONE WHO READS THEM will ==UNDERSTAND== the INTERPRETATION of the Scriptures AND will be ABLE to GAIN knowledge he desires'
Ad Afros 1 'The confession arrived at Nicaea was, we say more, SUFFICIENT and enough by ITSELF, for the subversion of all irreligious heresy, and for the security and furtherance of the doctrine of the Church'.
Epis 59.4 We are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the Fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture,...
Orat 1,37 'forcing on the divine oracles a misinterpretation according to their OWN PRIVATE sense'.
Epis 59.1 I thought that all vain talk of heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the synod which was held at Nicaea. For the faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ.
These are only a few of the quotes that show that Athanasius absolutely did not believe in Sola Scriptura. The Church, Church Fathers and Councils had authority to subvert heresy. Now it is true that the Councils referred to scripture, but it was indeed the Council’s authority to interpret those scriptures that was relied on. Now it is true that many bishops went astray, but Athanasius did rely on the authority of the living tradition in order to grasp the correct interpretation of scripture.
Now, let us see whether Athanasius is a Protestant or Catholic on specific beliefs that differentiate Catholics from Protestants.
Athanasius "Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the EVER-VIRGIN MARY" (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).
"[A]s we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened" (Four Discourses Against the Arians 3:26 [A.D. 360]).
To the Newly Baptized (MG 26, 1325) You shall see the levites bring loaves and a chalice of wine, and place them on the table. As lon as the invocation and prayers have not begun, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been pronounced, then the bread BECOMES THE BODY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE WINE BECOMES HIS BLOOD. Let us come to the celebration of the mysteries. As long as the prayers and invocations have not taken place, this bread and this wine are simply bread and wine. But after the great prayers and holy invocations have been pronounced, the Word descends into the bread and wine, and the body of the Word is.
Epis. 5.5 He willed it to be in every place, so that in every place incense and a SACRIFICE MIGHT BE OFFERED TO HIM...The Savior also, since he was changing the typical for the spiritual, promised them that they should no longer eat the flesh of a lamb, but His own, saying, “Take eat and drink; this is my body, and my Blood’ When we are thus nourished by these things, we also my beloved, shall truly keep the feast of the Passover.
Let us see now. Athansius is White’s great hero, yet he believes that Mary was not only the Bearer of God (Theotokos - Mother of God), but she was ever virgin. He believed in Baptismal Regeneration. He believed as the above quotes show in transubstantiation (bread and wine is no longer bread and wine, but now the body and blood of Jesus), and that the Eucharist is a Sacrifice. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound very Calvinist to me. Can James White affirm the above teaching? No, because to affirm this he would more likely be a Roman Catholic. And we know that James White would not want to become that. So how on earth is Athanasius White’s hero?
But Athanasius indeed elsewhere speaks of people like James White, to those who love to refer to scripture but deny the binding authority of tradition:
Epis. 2.6 “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, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions.”
So we see here Athanasius referr to 1 Cor. 11:2 as the traditions that MUST be held to. This is one of our favorite verses that shows the authority of tradition. Those that deny the authority of the tradition are called by Ahanasius inventors of unlawful heresies. White does indeed refer to scriptures, such as the heretics who Athanasius condemns. White throughout his writings refer to Roman Catholic traditions as traditions of men. Athanasius rightly shows that the Catholic tradition is right in accord with 1 Cor 11:2, and White is in league with the Arian heretics who likewise called the Catholic tradition the tradition of men. Indeed, Athanasius labels people like White as “an inventor of unlawful heresy.”
The same Fathers that he quoted as affirming Sola Scriptura (and as I have shown Athanasius does not believe in Sola Scriptura and he believes in uniquely Catholic things) likewise refer to the binding authoriy of Church and tradition. White forgets to mention that in his tirade against Staples. They also affirm the uniquely Roman Catholic (as I have shown Athanasius does) teachings that White so abhors. White likewise does the same thing with other Church Fathers. He selectively quotes them, does not quote their belief in the binding authority of the church, and ignores the doctrines in which they support Roman Catholic teachings.
Tim, that when you spent half of your closing statement discussing Papal infallibility, you made a few statements that were way out of line. First, you discussed Vigilius, when I never mentioned him. Next, you seemingly were trying to cast doubt upon my honesty by constantly saying, "But what Mr. White didn't mention was…." Yet, of course, all I did was mention a few names-Honorius, Liberius, and Sixtus, specifically-and did not even attempt to expand upon the errors made by the last two. To accuse me of then not telling them what they needed to know is disingenuous at best... Again, your ardent and excited followers won't care, but those listening to the debate for truth value will.
This is typical James White style. He wants to blithely throw out a few lines which proves the falsity of Church tradition and papal infallibility. The way to prove Sola Scriptura is to attack papal infallibility even though the topic is Sola Scriptura. He attempts to divert attention from the weaknesses of his own position. This is not new for him. For example, when he is having a tough time on justification, he loves to talk about Satispassio in purgatory, when purgatory is not even under discussion. He even brought up Satispassio in purgatory in the Staples Sola Scriptura debate!! And he gets upset when people show him that he is wrong. Staples showed, even if briefly, that the diversions that White used on papal infallibility were inaccurate. The acts that he mentioned had nothing to do with papal infallibility. Staples rightly dealt with the issue that White himself brought up. It was not right for White himself to bring up the issue. Who is being disingenuous except the
person who brought up papal infallibility in a Sola Scriptura debate?
Again he attacks the supporters of Staples as people who are so excited that they do not value truth at all. So White continues to make ad-hominem attacks not only on Staples, but those who support the Catholic faith.
Do you recall when you decided you were going to break the rules and give yourself a second opportunity to speak on the same question? When I looked at the moderator and pointed this out, your "students" went nuts. Obviously, you should not have flaunted the rules in that way to begin with (your continued going over-time likewise encouraged such behavior), but if I had just erred in speaking out of turn, and my followers had reacted in that way, I would have immediately spoken to the issue and
asked them to behave and to be fair.
So here White accuses Staples of breaking the rules of debate. Of course, he refuses to give the background. During the question and answer period, someone in the audience would ask a question, one debater would answer the question, and the opponent would rebut the answer. In fact, on the opening question White broke the rules that he later accuses Staples of breaking. White answered the question, Staples rebutted, and White gave another comment on the question, beyond what was allowed. Later on is the question that White is complaining about. A question was asked of Tim Staples. Staples answered the question. Then White said something like “the last three minutes have been all lies.” How is that for a debate tactic? At the end of his three minutes, after calling Staples a liar, he says “you called me wrong in such and such, PROVE IT!, The Challenge to you is PROVE IT! So he calls Staples a liar, says Prove it, and then when Staples tries to respond to the challenge that White
himself had made, White complains about Staples speaking. He then began to whine about the fairness, to make sure that Staples could not talk. Remember, on the first question in the question and answer period, White himself had given an extra response. Because of White’s complaining, Staples was not given a chance to speak. Obviously, people who supported Staples did not take a liking to the baiting of White, and booed (even if they should not have) when Staples did not have a chance to respond.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of your "debating style" has to do with your constant misrepresentation of what I've said. Sometimes this may come from over-excitement, sometimes from ignorance of the Protestant position.
Here again, White uses an ad-hominem attack labeling Staples as ignorant. The thing is that Staples exactly was attacking Sola Scriptura on the points White brought up. Again he stated that the bible was the only Word of God that was binding on believers, and yet White provided no biblical support for this contention. White again stated that the gospel is the background to 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and claim that Paul reduces that to writing. Yet Staples rightly challenged him to say what is the gospel. White refused to answer that question. Staples rightly concluded that Sola Scriptura leads to anarchy because there is nothing ultimately binding but people’s own private interpretation. Yet he calls this a misrepresentation. He claims that it does not matter that there are 23,000 different denominations, with many using the bible alone as their criteria. After all, within the Catholic Church he says, there are just as many differences within the Catholic faith, as there are Protestants.
Of course White knows that Catholics have a living magisterium headed by the papacy always acting as the recourse that Catholics can turn to. Yes there may be on the left many modernists, and on the right there are people who call themselves traditionalists who ignore the Pope. However we have the Pope who has the final authority who can make Catholics submit. We have a Catechism that can resolve doctrinal questions. Catholics who do not submit to the Pope in his teachings, are Catholics only in name. Catholics have a binding authority to bring unity that Sola Scriptura lacks. What does Sola Scriptura do to resolve the differences 23,000 denominations? Absolutely nothing. So the statements made by Staples are not misrepresentations but are backed by the objective facts and the results of Sola Scriptura.
Finally, White seems to think that his book ‘The Roman Catholic Controversy’ should settle all controversy. Both in the debate and in his web page letter, he continued to refer to his book as near to infallible. However, he never directly quoted from his book, and so why should Staples have to refer to something in his book when White never brought up a specific quote from the book during the debate? If White wanted to debate his book, he should have quoted it incessantly, and I am sure Staples would have been quite happy to refute his errors. His book has many errors, and my review of just one chapter on justification took lots of space. Paul in 2 Tim. 3:16 did not write “All James White’s Books” is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
© 1997 James White Misrepresentations, and Errors on Sola Scriptura...by Matt1618. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.
Last modified May 27, 1998.
Last modified May 27, 1998.