Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
06/15/2005 - James White
Dr. Sippo:In a state of fear and panic James White has begged me not to debate him on justification! He grovels asking that I pick any other topic but not THAT!
Well, maybe that is overstating it. James wants to do another topic. He suggests Purgatory. Unfortunately, that is poor debate topic and it does not get to the heart of the matter.
My areas of special interest is St. Paul and Justification. I know that area inside out. It is also the only thing that matters in a cath/prot debate. As Martin Luther stated the heresy of "justification by faith alone" (JBFA)is the doctrine upon which the Deformation stands or falls. If it can be shown that the prot doctrine of JBFA is false, then the whole prot system collapses and Catholicism remains standing triumphant. Purgatory is trivial by comparison and is indeed a derivative topic from Justifcation.
This is a grudge match, James. We debated this topic before and you lost. You have written several books dealing with Justification. Why are you afraid to revisit the topic now? You should be able to do this one in your sleep.
Puragatory is out. Our respective fans what to hear us do justification. We should give them what they want.
I firmly believe, deep down inside, you know you cannot handle any other topic, such as the Papacy, Papal Infallibility, etc., and that your sole area of self-claimed expertise is your New Perspective-tinged personal view of justification from the Roman Catholic viewpoint. Surely you would have to admit that the next debate on that topic shouldn't be with a Roman Catholic (I speak as one seeking to fill out the library of materials my ministry offers), but with a representative of the New Perspective, correct? Debating another Roman Catholic who happens (unlike my previous opponents) to think the work of Sanders or Dunn is highly compelling in reference to Trent might be interesting to a very small group of people, but that isn't a group of people we are going to be hearing from anyway.
So, I guess this is where we stand: you have declined to fulfill the role of a robust Roman Catholic apologist and defend your church's dogmatic definitions regarding Mary, purgatory, or indulgences. I assume the same will be said of the Papacy as well. I have already experienced your...hospitality in reference to a debate on justification, and given your behavior, you do not deserve a second chance on that one. If you are not willing to defend Rome's dogmatic claims on any other subject, so be it. You have admitted this is, for you, a "grudge match." I don't debate for such things, Dr. Sippo. Papacy or Purgatory. Either pick one of the two, or admit you will only debate a single topic, one which we have already debated before.
Secondly, you have claimed more than once (in between assertions of my alleged mental illness and desperate unhappiness), that I will not engage people in a forum I do not control. I guess that's why I do moderated debates and national radio programs where I am a guest? But that obvious inconsistency aside, I would like to prove you wrong, if you are up to it. One of my current writing projects has to do with the exegesis of John 6. So, how about we discuss the Greek text of John 6 in close exegesis on the Envoy board, just you and I? One post per day per person, no one else involved, no use of others (no collaboration), just the two of us discussing the biblical text?
Wait, I just remembered something. I was digging around in some old archive files on my home computer, and I ran across something I wrote to you in 1999. In fact, I'm going to post it here in its entirety, as it is still quite interesting (and rather contradictory to your own statements that I do not engage folks when I do not "control" the venue, etc.). But you wrote at one point, "Rubbish. The rules of grammar in any language are purely arbitrary." If you still believe that (an amazing statement indeed!), then discussion of John 6, or even James 2, would be irrelevant, since, as you seem to believe, even language itself is defined by the Magisterium. How the Magisterium communicates with you is anyone's guess, but that's another topic.
So how about it, Dr. Sippo? I look forward to your acceptance of my challenge to debate the Papacy or Purgatory.
And now, from early in 1999, six year old proof that I have in fact invested a lot of time in the past interacting with Dr. Sippo, and that his positions remain utterly in error on so many levels. Please note! The conversion process lost the original apostrophes, and I simply don't have time for a close examination of every word to insert them all again.
Dear Dr. Sippo:
In your last missive you made many statements, most of which went far beyond what I was addressing. However, in the process, you made many interesting claims. Unfortunately, time does not allow a full examination of everything that would be liable to refutation or discussion. Indeed, I must allow you to have the final say yet again, as I must put aside most extra-curricular activities for the next few weeks, including lengthy dialogues such as these.
You noted a number of areas of differences amongst Protestants, seemingly asserting that 1) Catholics have no such differences (you do, and on just as important things, such as the issue of election and predestination), and 2) that these differences showan epistemological flaw in Protestant thinking. I would like to suggest that there is a better explanation: the failure to apply sola scriptura. Just as I would imagine you would agree that if Catholics were better educated, more widely read in the documents of the Roman Church, and more willing to submit to said teachings, that there would be far more unity of doctrinal belief expressed by Catholics, so too I would say that the better educated, more widely read in the Scriptures, and more submissive to Gods law Protestants are, the more unity exists amongst them on those same issues.
I am reminded of the words of Scripture:
(2 Peter 3:14-18) Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,  and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,  as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,  but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
If being amatheis (ignorant) can lead to distortion of the Scriptures, and if being asteriktos can lead to the same thing, then it logically follows that being taught and stable can lead to the proper interpretation of those Scriptures without distortion. Seemingly, being on your guard (phulassesthe) is necessary so as to not be carried away in error: likewise, growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a preventative to such error as well. I do not find anywhere in these passages any Christian being told, "Hold firmly to the successors of Peter as the bishops of Rome so that you will not be led astray."
I will agree with you, however, on the assertion that without the Holy Spirit's work, it is all in vain. I know many persons who have a head knowledge of Scripture, but not a heart knowledge. They may speak good theology, but it does not change the way they live. You can speak all you wish of the Spirit of God: but if it does not translate into kindness, meekness, gentleness, and true love, it means nothing.
By your own admission, you think that proper grammar and syntax is all that you need. I think you are at best naive and at worst will fully blinded. You need to assume an awful lot BEFORE you can read the text correctly. None of this can be derived via "Sola Scriptura" and any attempt to do so would be by definition circular and thereby would beg the question.
I am not sure why Roman Catholics won't let us define our own beliefs, but it seems somewhat endemic to the RC apologetic community. I have never said that proper grammar and syntax is all that you need. I said that consistent use of these things will demonstrate the consistency of Scripture, to be true, and that to twist and distort the Scriptures, you must twist and distort those things. I likewise said that the Scriptures, being inspired, sufficient, and consistent with themselves, will not yield inconsistent teachings. My emphasis was on the sufficiency of the source, not anything else. As to what you think you have to assume before reading the text correctly, and why something like the relationship between aorist participles and finite verbs is something I must find in Scripture for sola scripturato be true, I have no idea: you can't possibly think that is what sola scriptura means.
You went on to say:
But look at how much you and your method get WRONG. You deny the literal meaning of Matthew 16:16-20, John 6:53ff, James 2:24, Matthew 25:31ff, Luke 1:6 and many other verses simply because the clear meaning of these verses conflicts with your Protestant prejudices. How anyone with integrity can claim to believe in "sola scriptura" when the phrase itself never occurs in the Bible I will never understand. While you claim to believe that the Bible is the sole rule of faith, you do so using a non-biblical statement. Even worse, how can anyone believe that "justification is by faith alone wothout good works" when the James 2:24 clearlys says that, "justification is not by faith alone but by works"? I am sorry James but the operative concern in your approach to the Bible is to only find what you have already determined that youwant to find in it. What ever does not square with you preconceived notions, you explain away. I am singularly unimpressed.
This is where I would like to focus what little time I have left for our current interchange. You see, the literal meaning for these passages seems to be dictated by your ultimate epistemological authority (the Magisterium), not by the consistent application of sound hermeneutical or exegetical principles. Matthew 16, literally read, is about the identity of the Messiah, not about successors to the bishop of Rome in the Papacy. In the same way, no one listening to Jesus' words in John 6, and following the context literally, would think He was talking about transubstantiation in the Mass, either. Such requires the insertion of the authority of a much later Magisterium as well. I am not sure what you mean by Matthew 25, unless you speak only of whether one takes such things prescriptively or descriptively.
But I found most interesting your use of James 2. If you dont mind, Id like to cite the passage from the Anchor Bible Commentary. The volume on James was done by a Roman Catholic, a Benedictine monk and a priest, Luke Timothy Johnson. Ive been impressed with many things Johnson has done. He has taken on the Jesus Seminar in an impressive manner. But I think here we can see what happens when you allow the text to speak for itself. Here is his translation:
14. What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have deeds? Is the faith able to save him? 15. If a brother or sister is going naked and lacking daily food, 16. and if one of you should say to them, Go in peace! Be warmed and filled,but does not give to them what is necessary for the body, what is the use? 17. So also faith, if it does not have deeds, is by itself dead. 18. But someone will say, you have faith and I have deeds.Show me your faith apart from deeds, and by my deeds I will show you my faith. 19. You believe that God is one. You do well! Even the demons believe, and they shudder! 20. Do you wish to know, you empty fellow, that faith apart from deeds is useless? 21. Was not our father Abraham shown to be righteous on the basis of deeds when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22. You see that faith was working together with his deeds, and by the deeds faith was brought to perfection. 23. And the Scripture was fulfilled that declared, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called a friend of God. 24. You see that a person is shown to be righteous on the basis of deeds and not on the basis of faith only. 25. And likewise also Rahab the prostitute: was she not shown to be righteous on the basis of deeds when she received the scouts and sent them out by another route? 26. For just as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from deeds is dead.
Johnson recognizes the contextual meaning of the passage: that James is addressing a body of believers and exhorting them to consistent Christian living. James is not addressing the issue of how a person is made right before God. He isexhorting believers to be both hearers and doers, both those who claim they have faith and those who can show (deixon, v. 18) that faith by their deeds. The anaphoric use of the article in v. 14, together with the simple context of the entire epistle, demonstrate that the above translation, and the response that has been given to Rome throughout the years by Reformed believers, are in full harmony with the Scriptures. It is not the context of James that brings you to your conclusion, Dr. Sippo. It is the ultimate authority of Rome and her doctrine of justification as you understand it that determines your reading of the text. You may say that your interpretation is binding: however, to my knowledge, Rome has not infallibly defined the passage, so, from your viewpoint, you cant infallibly say Johnson is in error, can you? I dont believe you can.
I believe it is useful to contrast my ability to give an answer on such a passage as James 2:24 with the opposite situation: asking Roman Catholics to given an answer regarding, for example, the claim that the Bodily Assumption of Mary is an apostolic belief. This is the flip-side of the epistemological issue: you have here a dogma that is binding, de fideChristian truth, according to Rome. Yet, not only can you not even begin to make a meaningful Scriptural defense, but not a single Christian during the first 500 years of the Church even mentioned the idea (outside of condemning the Transitus literature as heretical, that is), let alonetaught it as 1) apostolic, and 2) as a dogma of the faith. Yet, with the same level of confidence by which you assertion James 2:24 condemns sola fide,you assert this is divine and Christian truth. To me, and to many others, this is highly significant. You may not see it that way, but I assure you, it again confirms, beyond question, the validity of the phrase sola ecclesia.
Jason picked his own version of the "Magisterium" and thereby created his own "strawman" Catholic Church. None of his examples were magisterial. If you want to know what we accept as the Magisteirum, read Denzinger's Enchiridium Symbolorum.
I see. So unless a papal pronouncement makes it into Denzinger, it is not a part of the Magisterium? Is it likewise your view that everything in Denzinger isrepresentative of the Magisterium, and I will not find in that document any Scriptural interpretation that is wildly inaccurate?
There is no need for infallible interpretation of Scripture until errors and disputes arise. I would concur with you that Scripture is generally perspicuous enough for the common people to understand. That is why we read so much of it at Sunday Mass over the three year liturgical cycle. But when problems arise, you need an "answer man" to settle disputes. That is where the Magisterium comes in. It does not represent the opinions of mere men, but rather the protection of the "Spirit of the Father through the Son" by which we can settle disputes and arrive at the truth God wants us to know.
There have been errors and disputes, even from your viewpoint, on hundreds of Scriptures, for hundreds of years. Rome says nothing. How can this be? I believe the Spirit of the Father through the Son does protect those who are His own---I just deny that this has anything to do with Rome. It is your choice to believe otherwise, but your choice is no more infallible than mine, is it?
This Psalm is all about how necessary it is to actually keep the ordinances of God in faith to remain is right relationship with him. It is echoed by St. Paul's words in Rom 2:6-13 and provides a strong refutation of the heresy of "justification by faith alone without doing good works."
Another excellent example of the differences between us, Dr. Sippo. I do good works because I am in Christ, you do them to remain is [in] right relationship with him. Do vs. done, completed verses incomplete. I wish I still had the comments you made in Toledo about it is finished, for as I recall, you very energetically said, "It is not finished, it is just begun!" Yes, a major, major difference. And as for Romans 2, I believe Murray and Moo, both, did an excellent job on the section. I won't reproduce them here.
At this point you talk about how you refuted his position by interpreting the text of Philippians 2:5-7. This is all well and good, James, but it seems to me that you are placing more faith in pagan Greek linguistics than in historic Christian witness. The simplest way to refute such silly arguments is to refer to the consitent teaching of the Magistierum throughout history. The Oneness position was condemned long ago at the First Ecumenical Council.
I'm sorry, I don't remember referring to any pagan Greek linguistics. I referred to the language inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Do you deny that the Spirit inspired the words, indeed, the very grammatical forms, used in Scripture? Do you deny that the Scriptures were written in the language of the day, so that the person in the street could understand them?
Now, it is fascinating that you would say the simplest way to refute such silly arguments is to refer "to the consitent (sic) teaching of the Magistierum (sic)" throughout history. Why didn't they do that when Arius was troubling the churches? And when the majority of recent councils stood against Athanasius and forArianism, would the same concept hold true then as well? In the year after Sirmium, which had twice the number of bishops present as at Nicea, would it have been right to refer to the consistent teaching of the Magisterium at that point as well?
I would like to point out, Dr. Sippo, that your answer is another clear example of sola ecclesia.
Besides, there is a problem. None of the authors of the New Testament had the advantage of your grammar books, dictionaries, and concordances. No such things existed in those days. None of the NT authors were under any obligation to conform to the standards contained in you books. In fact, all of your Greek studies were deduced from inferences that scholars had drawn from the mass of Greek texts available including the NT. Their conclusions about the rules of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax are therefore tentative and open to modification. They can even be called "circular" in some sense when you use them to justify your interpretations of the texts since the alleged rules you you wish to apply to the NT were actually derived from analysis of the NT.
Is it your assertion that we cannot know what God inspired in Scripture?
I remember when you were on that "aorist" kick 10 years ago claiming that the aorist verb form represented a past completed action to which nothing further could be added. I have since found out that in every major grammar book I referred to about NT/ Koine Greek the aorist was considered to be the simple past tense. What you were talking about was best expressed by the passive perfect participle. So even you are fallible. ;-)
Please be more specific, or, at least cite a passage from a book. I have never said the aorist represented a past completed action to which nothing further could be added.
I had written: [[ Now, I came to these conclusions without any reference to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.]]
But you can never be sure about the correctness of your position since it depends on the correctness of your understanding of your grammar books. Neither you nor they are infallible.
Nor is 1) Rome, 2) your choice to view Rome as infallible, 3) your knowledge of Roman dogmatic teachings. Im sorry, but what advantage do you have? I go directly to the text of Scripture; you have a myriad of canon laws, Denzinger citations, and Papal decrees to muddle through first. I would dearly love to see you attempt to debate Dr. Sabin with that kind of argument.
I said: [[Please feel free to correct me, but I am not aware of an infallible pronouncement on the meaning of Philippians 2:5-7 in Roman Catholic dogmatic decrees. ]]
We don't need any. The interpretation of the Oneness people contardicts previously defined Catholic Dogma. Interpretations that do not contradict defined teaching are open for discussion and varying opinions can be held within the Church. So even if the Magisterium did not pronounce on this specific section of the Bible, it still helps to guide our interpretations.
You don't need any? Its just enough to say "Hey, the Church says you are wrong?" Why bother with the Scriptures at all? Seemingly, from your viewpoint, if the issue is important enough, you turn to the Church. If it is not important, you can play dueling interpretations of the Bible. Sola ecclesia again.
[[The meanings of the words, the rules of grammar, all pre-existed any organization that called itself the "infallible Roman Catholic Church." I believe we can go directly to God's revelation and know His truth, without such intermediaries.]]
Rubbish. The rules of grammar in any language are purely arbitrary.
Fascinating! Completely arbitrary! OK, well, if thats the case, I say you just agreed with me. See, I choose to interpret (since rules of grammar are completely arbitrary) that what you were really saying is that it is "rubbish" to say that the rules of language are completely arbitrary. No, wait, you said that the rules of grammar are pure. I choose to interpret purely as not functioning adjectivally at all: they are "purely" rules, in any language. And I guess if rules of grammar are arbitrary, so are rules of lexical meanings, and arbitrary now means decided according to strict and universal rules. How is that?
Now, Dr. Sippo, if what you say is true, then every word ever uttered by the Magisterium is, likewise, unknowable. You've just destroyed epistemology so as to save sola ecclesia. Thats a mighty high price to pay.
This does not throw scholarship away but puts it in its proper place: under subjection to the Spirit of God. The Protestant apostates rejected this idea and opted for the literal historical-method under the deluded notion that there was an "objective meaning" to the text which could only be teased out with scientific exegesis. What they failed to understand is that by rejecting the Catholic Church, they abandoned God's own context for the proper understanding of Scripture. Oh, there were a lot of bad things in the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, but if the people had actually adhered to the teaching of the Magisterium instead of lusting after the flesh-pots of bougeosie society, they would have been able to separate
the gold from the dross. This is what eventually happened in the Counterreformation and it was glorious!
Ah yes, the Counter-Reformation. Loyola and his minions. I am reminded of this citation:
"That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it black." - [St. Ignatius Loyola, "Rules for Thinking with the Church", Rule 13, (cited from: Documents of the Christian Church, pp. 364-365, ed. Henry Bettenson, New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1947.)]
This is your "Pelagian" view of "faith" at its worst. Everyman must work out his own religion for himself, eh? We all have to be theologians? Is that what membership in the Church of Christ represents: an advanced degree in theology? Get real.
No, I cited it before:
but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
BTW, since theology means a knowledge of God, yes, we are all called to that. And as I've seen it, I know many a man who has a very advanced degree in theology: its called a long, sanctified, godly life.
James, a Protestant should be ashamed to say such a thing. There were no Protestants until the apostasy of the 16th Century. Your entire religion is a man-made hoax based upon nominalism, skepticism, and bourgeoisie moralism. No one ever believed what you lot believed. The Christian religion was Catholic from the very beginning. We may have deepened our knowledge since Apostolic times. But our sacramentalism, soteriology, Christology, and moral values have not changed from NT times.
I see. Well, I'm sure you believe that. Unfortunately, no amount of documented evidence will change your mind. Sola ecclesia.
I had said: [[If John 19:26-27 has *always* meant what Rome today says it means, then it follows logically that there should be some kind of evidence of this early on (outside of the anachronistic insertion of such a
belief into the early Fathers). But such evidence is lacking.]]
Let me get this straight. There is only a univocal meaning to any Biblical text so that it can mean one thing -- and only one thing -- forever after? (That is what is seems good to Mr. James White for it to mean.) And in order for that meaning to be true, it must have been taught explicitly in the early Church and documented as such to your satisfaction? Are you crazy? The Biblical text stands on its own. It sits in judgment on us. We don't sit in judgment on it. With a deeper understanding, new insights will occur to those in whom the Spirit is at work. These insights do not eliminate the literary meaning of the text. They supplement and compliment it.
Well, you suggest in your missive today that I am, in fact, mentally disturbed, but is it not fascinating that here we again have you indicating that the text of Scripture can mean one thing when written, but another centuries later? The Roman Catholic perversion of John 19 is 1) a-contextual and 2) a-historical. It meant what God intended it to mean when the Spirit inspired it: I am not denying that we can have deeper understandings of it. I am denying that God created a Church that could PERVERT the meaning of a passage, which is what Rome has done.
I wrote: [[It's easy to attack the sufficiency of Scripture: but rarely do I find Roman controversialists who are willing to take the positive side and defend the infallibility of Rome's teachings over time.]]
That is because you do not portray the real teaching of the Catholic Church. You dredge up curiosities form the past which are not relevant to the question and then claim that they are the teaching of the Church. What you practice is a fancy kind of lying with some calumny and slander mixed in. I stand on the Sacred Traditions as we have preserved them. The Magisterium is now and always was infallible whenever it taught the universal Church on faith and morals. If you had any integrity you would recognize that you are attacking a "strawman" Catholic Church of your own making because you cannot handle the truth.
I see. Again, a nice statement of faith, but hardly a cogent argument. I'd ask you to document your assertions, but, I think we know what that would get me.
After this point you started to slip back into your standard diatribes and insults, so I'll skip the rest. I will respond to your note today in e-mail. As for me, as far as I am concerned, I have completed our discussion.