Confessional Bibliology and James White

On the July 25, 2022 edition of the Dividing Line James White addressed the first chapter of the London Baptist Confession. While it is clear that JW has a well-worn historical argument it seems that his Confessional commitments are not as obvious or as obviously employed in his defense of the biblical text and translations.

The following quotes were in my debate materials on the night of the debate. The goal was to answer some of JW’s questions with his own words. But as it turns out he never really got around to asking any theological questions so the employment of his words as a rebuttal tactic were less germane to his line of questioning.

Still, I think it is instructive in a number of ways to take a look at what JW actually said about the Scriptures and how we believe what they say.

1.) [25:12] – “The Tenak is just as much theopneustos as the New Testament is.” “Is” not “was”. Very true, but this of course yields a bit of a contradiction. If the OT and NT ARE God-breathed then it stands to reason that all the words of the OT and NT are currently God-breathed. Otherwise the more accurate statement would be, “The OT and NT are mostly theopneustos.” At best then JW is equivocating and at worse the above quote is unintelligible given his Bibliology and its dependency upon man’s interpretation of the manuscript evidence.

2.) [28:25] 1.1 – First quoting the LBC then commenting he says, “‘The only’ – scripture is in a class by itself – it is the only thing we have that is from God that is God breathed – sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.” Present tense again “IS” as well as sufficient, certain, and infallible to boot. Sounds like Dr. White has the Autograph in hand, seeing his Scripture is sufficient, certain, and infallible. Again, given #1 JW’s position is either equivocating or unintelligible on this point.

3.) [31:25] He goes on, “there is always a natural rebellion toward a sufficient revelation from God we always want upgrades, that’s the corruption of the flesh, the malice of Satan, and of the world.” I completely agree. The funny things is that JW is calling for an upgrade to the TR without accounting for the fact that he himself has argued that the desire for upgrades could easily be evidence of “the corruption of the flesh, the malice of Satan, and of the world.” As such, it is incumbent upon him to provide sufficient reasoning which simultaneously asserts his NT as necessarily better than the TR while dodging or resolving the claim that “upgrades” may be a result of the corruption of the flesh, the malice of Satan, and of the world.

4.) [34:14] He goes on to address section 1.4, “The authority of Scripture for which it ought to be believed is itself.” And again, [35:18] “The authority of Scripture is not built up by the number of arguments you can come up with” Indeed, and as such the number of arguments for this or that reading is not the ground for which that reading is believed to be the word of God. JW and I both agree that the way we recognize the authority of God’s words is not through presenting arguments, even arguments from manuscripts. If not arguments, what then?

5.) [36:19] And then he doubles down, “Put your hand on the Bible and swearing by a higher authority than you. The collection of man’s arguments can’t be piled up to equal an authority higher than God.” Dr. White and I both agree that piling up man’s arguments cannot equal the authority of the Holy Spirit speaking through His words to His people. As such it stands to reason that the piling up of arguments based on manuscript evidence cannot equal the higher authority of the Spirit of God speaking through the word of God to the people of God.

6.) [38:00] “God being truth itself demonstrates the ultimacy of authority and the circularity of authority – ultimate authority cannot appeal to a higher authority to validate its authority.” Indeed, it seems JW and I agree on the ultimacy and circularity of God authority in Scripture. The Holy Spirit gave us Scripture by inspiration and we must wholly lean on him in order to recognize His words [circularity and ultimacy]. It is puzzling then why JW accuses me of circularity in his closing statement.

7.) [40:23] – Quoting then commenting JW continues, “the author thereof, if you believe God is the author of all Scripture you are a small minority – if God speaks it, it is true by nature not by proof “oh, look at that archeology over there!” – [42:07] “am I diminishing archeology? no. But that is not sufficient to establish God is speaking.” Amen and Amen. I too agree that the deliverances of archeology i.e., manuscript evidence is not sufficient to establish God is speaking. Only the Holy Spirit through His words in His people can do that work. It seems that JW would agree, but apparently he doesn’t.

8.) [45:15] Continuing on JW says, “it’s not from the arguments. Our full persuasion of the divine infallible authority of Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit within us and that Holy Spirit comes in regeneration and so only the regenerate man is going to have that full persuasion and assurance.” Amen. JW and I both understand that full persuasion and assurance is a work of the Holy Spirit through His words in the hearts of His people by faith, yet that nowhere came out in the debate unfortunately.

9.) In his treatment of the LBC JW skips 1.8 interestingly enough.

10.) [57:05] Finally, JW concludes, “The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined…can be nothing other than the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit into which Scripture so delivered our faith is finally resolved…A-MEN. Going to my grave defending that, going to my grave defending that.” Seeing JW is not in his grave we all expect his sufficient, certain, and infallible Scripture to serve as the cornerstone of his rebuttals, to be the supreme judge. Our debate was a religious debate, around a religious controversy. I fully expected JW’s presentation to begin with Scripture, because as we both know, “Scripture is the supreme judge of all religious controversies.” But of course it did not.

In sum, it is unclear why JW does not readily use these truths in his argumentation while defending the Scriptural text. If he would have I think he and I would have had a lot of common ground. Perhaps if he did so he thinks he would have to accuse himself of a “category error”. Perhaps he has yet to find a way to reconcile his historical presuppositions with his theological commitments. Whatever it may be, it certainly seems to be a kind of theological schizophrenia which is in urgent need of attention. All told, if JW could make such an adjustment I believe we would be more on the same page than perhaps JW realizes.

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