Monday, January 27, 2014

Dr. James White and Theopneustos

I most readily understand nuances by comparisons. Such as: This is a grayish green rather than a bluish green when you put it up to blue or yellow. The white on the walls looks positively yellow when compared to the stark white of a sheet of paper.

So to help see potential weaknesses and strengths in Catholic or Protestant theology I listen to debates and theological radio call-in shows--often. Pretty much daily. 

If you do an internet search on Catholic/Protestant debates you will inevitable come across Alpha Omega Ministries run by Dr. James White. I think I have listened numerous times to most of his debates. His apologetics against Catholicism are most prolific online, but he is not the best Protestant debater. 

Not to judge his heart, but it does seem that Dr. White is not debating to bring clarity to the subject of theology. Rather his goal seems to be to “expose” Catholicism as an evil, anti-gospel message. His agenda is not to bring glory to God by respectfully listening,
understanding and presenting truth, but to win a theological battle. 

Dr. White’s apologetics looks positively grayish-wrong when debating Mitch Pacwa, Robert Sungenis, Patrick Madrid or any of his Catholic opponents.

Dr. White (knowingly or unknowingly) uses verbal tricks that create the idea that he is the trusted authority, the expert, and his
opponent’s opinions cannot be trusted. He will accuse his opponent of using circular arguments as he is making his own. He will denounce his opponent of misrepresenting history when he is in actuality composing his own. He tries to make solidly Catholic early Christian Fathers and scholars and bishops (and even popes!) seem like they are closet Protestants born and enslaved in Catholicism eagerly awaiting the Reformation. While he is claiming we use history and the Bible inaccurately to support our own positions, he is busy twisting the same for his own purposes. 

Dr. White is notorious for setting a false premise and demanding that the opponent argue within that premise.
White will read some ancient document or obscure quote from a malcontent Catholic scholar and then demand that the Catholic apologist he is debating use that quote as an authority and the foundation of the Catholic arguments rather than something from the current official Catholic Catechism.

I must admit, White speaks with such confidence, and even logic that it seems he is right, when he is profoundly wrong.

That Which is Theopneustos

One of White’s continual mantras is that the sole and final authority for the Christian is “that which is theopneustos.” The Greek word means, “God-breathed.” 

White bases this upon the text where Paul is telling his protege Timothy that as a young bishop, he can look to scripture to help him lead the people because:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God (theopneustos), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.  2 Tim. 3: 16, 17

Scripture is God-breathed. An excellent and logical choice for one’s final spiritual authority-- "that which is theopneustos,” right?

But White’s demand that his ultimate and infallible authority, theopneustos, is not based upon what the Bible teaches. 

“Wait?” You say. “We just read that the scripture is God-breathed and perfect!”

My reply is: Absolutely. Catholics teach that the Bible is a God-breathed, infallible and a perfect authority. But look carefully at the text. It no where says or even implies that it is the sole and final authority. That is an addition to the text.

This idea of the Bible being the final authority because it is theopneustos is White’s own invented standard, his personal tradition. In fact, the authoritative, theopneustos God-breathed scriptures actually points to something else than itself as Christian’s final authority. Very weird isn’t it? But let’s back up for a Biblical overview.

Is God’s Old Testament Final Authority Theopneustos?

Let’s go through the Bible and see who is considered the authority for God’s people starting in the old testament. Passing up the tribal patriarchal examples, let’s go to Moses.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” Ex. 7:1

Like God? That is, I would expect, the final authority. However, the text doesn’t call Moses a God-breathed authority. While one might make a good case that Moses was, it is not explicitly nor implicitly in the text.

Could an Israelite go up to Moses and show him scripture and kindly disagree with Moses’ interpretation of God’s Word and opt out of Moses’ flock to be a rogue sheep? Maybe this Israelite might even claim that since Moses wasn’t infallible or God-breathed he wasn’t the true final authority for Israel?

What happened if you spoke against or went against Moses? 

1. You got leprosy. 

When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; Numbers 12: 10

2. Or the earth opened up and swallowed you.

Eliab's sons were Nemuel, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram were the same community officials who refused to obey Moses and Aaron. They were among the followers of Korah who refused to obey the Lord. Numbers 26: 9
and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. Deut. 11: 6 
This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God, but had violated his covenant--all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out. 2 Kings 18:12 

Israel was given the God-breathed Torah that Moses heard and infallibly wrote down on Mt. Sinai but the final authority for Israel wasn’t the written word. Moses wasn’t theopneustos or infallible but he was the final authority for the people of God.

Please notice that Moses had such power he even loosened Israel’s divorce restrictions on his own authority. 

“Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Matt. 19: 7, 8 (See also Mark 10)

Joshua, the Judges (including Samson), King Saul, King David... These men were Israel’s final civil authorities, while the High Priests were the final spiritual authorities. Neither of which were theopneustos or infallible. These authorities were expected to teach and implement the theopneustos and infallible Torah. However, individual Israelites were not allowed to invoke their interpretation of Torah, no matter how sincere, and start a revolt and Reformation.

When Israel fell into corruption and idolatry, God didn’t blame it on the fact that the people weren’t going to scripture, but that the people had no authority. 

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (Judges, 17: 6; 21:25)
Again and again, in the Old Testament, while the Torah was indeed God-breathed and infallible and readily available, God used fallible men to be the final authority for His people. And Christ used the same standard in the New Testament.

Is God’s New Testament Final Authority Theopneustos?

Jesus vilified the hypocritical Pharisees, but before that, He warned those listening to obey them. As corrupt as they were as leaders, these white-washed tombs must be obeyed because of their position as Israel’s leaders.
So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. Matt. 23: 3

Look at other fallible, not God-breathed but completely authoritative people in the New Testament scripture.

Children must obey their parents as final authority. They cannot appeal to scripture to excuse disobedience. Eph. 6: 1-5, Col. 3: 20, I Peter 1: 14.

Wives are to submit to their husbands. Col 3:18-4:1, Ephesians 5: 24

Slaves are to submit to their masters Eph. 6: 6, Col. 3: 22, I Peter 2: 18.

We must submit to our civic authorities. Rom. 13: 1, 5, I Peter 2: 13

I am not arguing for slavery, just making the point that throughout scriptures, authorities, even final authorities, were not infallible or theopneustos. Since God’s authorities in scripture were not necessarily infallible, why make that a prerequisite? 

Dr. White’s assumption that, “only that which is theopneustos” is our true and final authority just doesn’t stand up to critical examination, especially within the Protestant realm of sola scriptura. For nowhere in scripture does it imply that our final authority must be God-breathed.

Another premise that White may not necessarily say but imply is that anything theopneustos or God-breathed is necessarily infallible. Therefore, since the Bible is God-breathed it means it is infallible.

Yet not everything God-breathed was infallible.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Genesis 2: 7
We inherited original sin because of God-breathed Adam, so the idea of something being theopneustos must therefore be infallible is incorrect.

Our Final Authority is Not Theopneustos?

I can imagine some readers are aghast! “Are you kidding? Seriously are you saying that man is above that which is God-breathed? We are to look to a fallible, not God-breathed authority rather than an infallible, God-breathed one?” Of course that sound completely irrational! My point is only that it, as a premise, is not found in scripture. That’s the bad news for White. His premise is not Biblical. However, there is good news for all the rest of us.

In the New Testament God doesn’t pit the theopneustos and infallible authority against the fallible, not God-breathed man in the Old Testament--like Moses vs. the Torah.

In fact, our New Testament final authority is God-breathed!
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said , he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.  Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit , they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain , they are retained.  John 20:19-24

The Apostles were God-breathed. The Bible is God-breathed. We have both!

While White might argue that the Apostles’ were not technically theopneustos because that word wasn’t used in John 20 or anywhere else in scripture. It was only used in 2 Timothy in the context of scripture. (As if the word theopneustos itself had a special type of God-breathing in the Bible that wasn’t for the Apostles.) 

I would then reply that God also used a word to describe the breathe that He gave the apostles that he didn’t give the scripture. Emphusao is also only used once in all of scripture. Emphusao is also the breath of God in the context of the Apostles receiving the Hagios (Holy) Pneuma (Ghost).

The Greek root pneu was used in giving the Holy Spirit to the writing of the scriptures and to the Apostles themselves. The breath of God in scriptures is the theopneustos. The Apostles received the Hagios Pneuma. Pneustos = pneuma. Same thing! Same breathe of God.

Who did God place in charge?

The most important point of all is that Christ did not place the theopneustos of scripture as the final authority but the church.

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matt. 18: 15-18
No Bible at all in this scenario. The final authority is the church.

Notice also other texts that place enormous authority in the Apostles: 

He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me. Luke 10 16 
Remember the words I spoke to you.... If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. John 15: 20

Paul as an Apostle demanded obedience from believers and he was the one who wrote to Timothy that the Bible was theopneustos (God-breathed). Even with the idea of the written Word of God being vital, Paul never implies that the written word carried more authority than the God-appointed leaders. submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I Cor. 16:16
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 2 Thess. 3: 14 (When writing this letter, Paul did not consider it scripture.)
The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 2 Cor. 2: 9   
And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 2 Cor. 7: 15 
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. 2: 12

Other New Testament texts that support men as authority:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrew 13: 7 
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Rev. 3:3

Dr. White is usurping and replacing who God put in charge (clearly attested to in scripture) with who he believes should be in charge, “only that which is theopneustos.” Why? Because it gives him an excuse for disobeying God’s appointed leaders. 

Protestants misunderstand God. They believe their only authority should be that which is infallible and perfect. The written Word is the only thing that comes near that. Flesh and blood is fallible and they don't like to be subject to anyone who can tell them they are wrong and at the same time be fallible themselves. Black little letters don't disagree with their interpretation. 

So, they come up with their man-made tradition that their authority must be infallible and theopneustos. But that is not Biblical. What they have missed is a great and wonderful gift to the church. The church leaders may not be personally infallible, but they are God-breathed.


Stephen Korsman said...

"However, individual Israelites were not allowed to invoke their interpretation of Torah, no matter how sincere, and start a revolt and Reformation."

Yet they did. Sadducees, Pharisees, Nazarenes, Essenes. Not that they were right to do so. Jesus said the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Today he'd say the Pope sits in Peter's seat. Do as the pope teaches, not necessarily as he does (although we've had a long line of holy popes for ages now.)

Arthur Beem said...

Hi Stephen! I see what you mean. Perhaps I didn't writ that well.

They didn't lead people out of Israel into a New Israel state with new priests, etc. But yes, Israel had factions. However, the idea of a personal interpretation of Torah wasn't known--in the way that it is today among Protestants.

Evan Hamilton said...

I am very happy to see that someone else has picked up on this argument that Dr. James White uses as a refutation against the authority of The Church. Dr. James insinuates that only written scripture is 'God-breathed.' It is a convenient argument for him because the Greek term 'Theopneustos' is used only once in the entire Bible, and only in that verse. But, different authors of the scriptures uses different language to describe similar things. So, I wonder why it is that Mark can't be ascribing the same level of inspiration when he states that Jesus said, 'It is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit' Mark 13:11. My question to Dr. James White would be in Mark 13:11 ,'Are the Holy Spirit's words theopneustos [God-breathed] or not?' If they are; then the Bible confirms that inspiration can occur verbally. I doubt that Dr. James White would argue that the Holy Spirit's words are not Theopneustos because a quill is missing from the hand of the Apostle. Did the speech need to be inscribed before it was 'God-Breathed?'

Arthur Beem said...

Excellent point, Evan! Thanks for writing. And I apologize for not getting your comment posted in a timely fashion. I hurt my jaw and it has given me vertigo so I haven't been much online to notice anyone even posted! (All replies here are monitored!) Blessings!