Dr. Brian Abasciano’s Second Response to James White on 1 John 5:1

Brian Abasciano, “A Reply to James White on 1 John 5:1 And The Order of Faith and Regeneration”

You can find the beginning of his interaction with James White here

Excerpt:

Ironically, it is White who argues regarding 1 John 5:1 as the JW’s do regarding 2 Peter 1:1. For they point to minor syntactical differences in 2 Peter 1:1 from the other uses of the Granville Sharp construction in 2 Peter to argue that 1:1 does not refer to Jesus as God. Compare White arguing that the minor syntactical differences in 1 John 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 from other instances in John involving an articular present participle combined with a perfect indicative make 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 a special Johannine usage that differs from normal Greek grammar. Take this example of JW apologist Greg Strafford arguing the JW position on 2 Peter 1:1.

_____________

“We can see that four out of the five articulated nouns are the same; one is significantly different. In 2 Peter 1:1 we have θεός and in the other four Peter uses κύριος. The question we ask is, Why would Peter call Christ “God” in verse 1, but in 1:11, 2:20, 3:2, and 3:18 use “Lord”? . . . he uses “Lord” for Jesus in a number of instances. . . However, when referring to the Father, Peter uses θεός 45 times, excluding 2 Peter 1:1” (Greg Stafford,Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics (2nd edn.; Huntington Beach: Elihu Books, 2000, 404).

_____________

Notice how similarly the JW apologist argues to White. He argues that a minor difference in Peter’s use of the construction in 2 Peter 1:1 means it does not carry the same import as the construction normally does in 2 Peter—and though he does not mention it specifically, generally in Greek grammar. And his numbers are much more impressive than White’s. Rather than 2 instances White can cite in 1 John, Stafford points to 4 in 2 Peter (admittedly there are only 4 instances of the present participle/perfect indicative construction in John outside of 1 John 5:1, two that White can point to and two that go against him). And then he points out that Peter uses θεός of the Father a whopping 45 times excluding 2 Peter 1:1. Talk about a consistent pattern! Of course, we know that Stafford is wrong here in his conclusions, and so is White in regard to 1 John 5:1. In the former case, normal Greek grammar identifies Jesus with God and minor syntactical difference does not change that. In the latter case, normal Greek grammar portrays the action of the present participle and perfect indicative as roughly simultaneous (or the present participle preceding the perfect indicative) allowing for logical order but not indicating it, and minor syntactical differences do not change that.

 

Dr. Brian Abasciano Answers James White on 1 John 5:1

You can find the link to the podcast and some brief supplemental comments from Dr. Abasciano at SEA:

Brian Abasciano Interviewed on the Claims of James White Concerning the Greek of 1 John 5:1 and the Order of Faith and Regeneration

Dr. Brian Abasciano’s Follow-up Response to James White on Acts 13:48

Brian Abasciano, “A Reply to James White Concerning His Faulty Treatment of the Greek and Context of Acts 13:48

Excerpt:

The pluperfect construction places the disposing prior to the belief of the subjects of the verbs in Acts 13:48, which means that it could have happened any time before they believed. But strikingly, White does not contest this point, which shows a concrete error on his part, but sidesteps it by attacking my suggestion that the people in view could have been disposed to eternal life by various means, including the preaching of the gospel the previous week, and he does so on the basis of Calvinist theology as opposed to exegetical points drawn from the context of Acts 13. Ironically, he accuses me of eisegesis at this very point when his reply is a vivid display of it.

Dr. Brian Abasciano Critiques James White’s Argument That Acts 13:48 Proves Unconditional Election

Brian Abasciano, James White’s Faulty Treatment of the Greek and Context of Acts 13:48

Excerpt:

So really, White’s argument is very weak. Sometimes it seems that some are convinced by arguments like these because an author gives concrete reasons and mentions Greek, but that they do not necessarily think through the arguments well enough. In the midst of White talking about the mysterious sounding Greek pluperfect, he says it would have to apply to such and such a point in the narrative, though without any foundation for doing so, and his following naturally believe it. But the argument is not sound.

Related: Acts 13:48: Two Non-Calvinist Views

Great Follow-up Comments by David Martinez on the Recent Conversation Between James White and Austin Fischer

You can read the post at SEA here.

David does a fine job exposing White’s spurious debate tactics.  James White has truly made an art out of poisoning the well as Martinez well points out (See post below for more evidence).  And again, we see the tired old assumption that one cannot possibly disagree with Calvinism on Biblical grounds.  Why?  Because Calvinism is so obviously Biblical, of course.  So any disagreement with Calvinism must be driven by some sort of ulterior motive or disrespect for Scripture.

David also does a great job easily dispatching the horrible Calvinist prooftexting of John 17:9.  I will borrow one of White’s favorite superlative phrases and agree with Martinez in my “utter amazement” that Calvinists still try to use this passage to support Calvinism.  I’m amazed, truly and utterly amazed!

Related:

Those in Glass ivory Towers Shouldn’t Throw Stones

Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” (Highlights Several Problems With Calvinist Argumentative Techniques and Fallacious Debate Tactics).

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics (14 Part Series on Apologetic Fallacies Typically Employed by Calvinists Like James White)

Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Prerogative Equals Unconditionality

Continuing with the series on Romans 9, we’ll now address the issue of God’s prerogative in saving who He wishes and how Calvinists often misinterpret its implications.

God’s Prerogative Reaffirmed

When speaking to zealous Calvinists, especially those who are very young and/or “educated” by internet echo chambers, the strawmen abound. It’s not uncommon to hear nonsense like,

“Arminians believe that man uses faith to save himself!”

“Free will means that God HAS to save someone who chooses to have faith!”

“The poor Arminian god can’t save people because he’s not sovereign enough to make them believe!”

The problem is further exacerbated by factually sloppy reformed polemicists who put forth no effort whatsoever towards accurate portrayal when discussing Arminian theology, James White being one of the worst offenders,

“…while the synergists get a lot of mileage out of preaching “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life if you will only let him into your heart” the absolutely necessary counterpoint to their feel-good proclamation is “however, I can never tell you He can truly save you perfectly and completely because, after all, my entire point is that He is helpless aside from your cooperation. (White, J. , ‘Phil Johnson on “Desire”‘)”

In contrast to White’s blundering portrayal of God being helpless, the scriptural teaching that he attacks so vehemently paints a far different picture than the one he attempts to dupe believers with. In the initial post in this series, we saw that God has an absolute divine prerogative to save whoever He wishes to. On that particular issue I have no disagreement with our Calvinist brethren. What that prerogative entails is another matter altogether.

Sovereignty Defined

The term “sovereignty” itself denotes power, dominion, and authority. A king is sovereign over his country, a man is sovereign over his house. To say that God is “absolutely sovereign” is simply to say He’s omnipotent –all-powerful over everything. I wouldn’t think anyone who believes scripture to dispute such a claim. As stated above, this naturally extends to who is saved; God not only has power to save, but a divine right to choose who is saved.

From that premise, the reasoning of most (sans those few who are more logically astute) Calvinists goes something like:

“God can save whoever He wants, therefore God saves who He wants to on an entirely unconditional basis.”

Those of you versed in logic may recognize that this type of reasoning is a non-sequitur, a fallacous conclusion that doesn’t necessarily follow from the premise(s).

The Critical Flaw in the Calvinist’s Reasoning

The reason why such logic doesn’t follow is that power tells us what one is capable of, not how that power is used. One who exercises his power one way rather than another isn’t more powerful for doing so. This can be easily demonstrated from an example of temporal authority. Let’s say there’s a general in the U.S. military who has been assigned an aide. The aide’s task today is to fill out some forms. The general has several options to get him to do so:

1. Give the order for him to do so and expect him to obey it without supervision.
1. Give the order for him to do so and expect him to obey it while occasionally checking on his progress.
3. Give the order for him to do so and stand over his shoulder to ensure he obeys it.

Q: Which of these options, if taken, will give the general more authority?
A: None. His rank and how he carries out his mission are two separate issues.

Q: Which of these options, if taken, is an indicator of a more power and/or authority on the general’s part?
A: None. All of these options are within a general’s authority to employ. His choosing one or the other tells us nothing beyond that.

How much authority someone has is no indicator of how said power will be used. Much as in the case of the general above, how and on what basis God chooses to save sinners is His prerogative; one method doesn’t make Him “more sovereign” than another, nor does His omnipotence necessitate only a particular method. This is why the occasions in which the over-zealous Calvinists hurl the typical “you deny God’s sovereignty” charge against someone who believes in conditional election merely show that they’re ignorant of what God’s sovereignty actually means and entails.

Armed with these mistaken principles, Calvinists then proceed to interpret Romans 9 in a likewise errant fashion, so that when the chapter speaks of God’s prerogative in who He saves, e.g. “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion,” many eager young Calvinists automatically read, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, which of course means that I do so on an entirely unconditional basis in accordance with the Westminster confession!” In fact, such a statement doesn’t tell us God’s basis for His choices, merely that who is saved and how is His to decide, which does not preclude His saving people on the conditional basis of faith in Christ.

Bottom Line:

The concept of God having power to choose who to save itself tells us nothing about how or upon what basis He chooses to save.

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #7: Arminianism Leads to Universalism

Related Fallacies:
Oversimplification
Non-Sequitur
Slippery Slope

“The choices are not between Calvinism and Arminianism; it’s between Calvinism and universalism. Arminianism is a self-contradictory mess that can never defend itself.” – James White

This is a favorite rhetorical jab of many Calvinists, but is in fact one of the more obvious fallacies they often employ. The logic behind it is simple and can be summed up with the statement:

“If Christ’s death saves, and Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved.”

Seems pretty easy, right?

Problems with this logic

Turns out the simplicity of the argument is its weakness, because it masks a hidden difference in underlying assumptions. The critical distinction lies in the first part of the sentence, “…Christ’s death saves….”

The differences in viewpoint on atonement

5-point Calvinists (and those of similar belief) view Christ’s atonement as a definite and unconditional act, that is to say, those who Christ died for will definitely receive its benefit, with no exceptions. Arminians (and most other Christians) view His atonement as provisioned upon faith, so that all the people it’s made for will receive its benefit only if they believe.

One can further clarify what is meant by “Christ’s death saves” from these beliefs. For the Calvinist, it means, “Christ’s death saves absolutely everyone for which it was made.” For the Arminian, it means, “Christ’s death saves all who believe in Him.” So the summary statement above makes sense if the Calvinist view of the atonement is assumed:

“If Christ’s death saves absolutely everyone for which it was made, and Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved.”

Of course, Calvinists aren’t using this kind of logic to argue against their own view. Since they’re trying to show how ‘self-contradictory’ the Arminian view is, it would be only fair to assume the Arminian view of the atonement when making the statement, which would then be:

“If Christ’s death saves all who believe in Him, and Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be saved.”

This of course doesn’t follow, since it’s not been shown that everyone Christ died for will necessarily believe in Him. Given God’s foreknowledge that He reveals in scripture concerning some people and the Arminian view of resistible grace, it’s quite evident that no Bible-believing and logically consistent Arminian can accept the idea of Universalism.

I suppose that if it could be proved that Arminians (who believe the scriptures which tell us that Christ died for all men) for some mysterious reason could only become ‘consistent Arminians’ by accepting the non-Arminian/Calvinist view of the atonement, then the accusation of inevitable Universalism might hold water. Until then, the assertion remains a ridiculous slippery slope.

Perseverance of the Saints Part 7: Who is Sanctified in Hebrews 10:29?

We will now examine one of the alternative interpretations offered by the proponents of unconditional security concerning the apostate of Hebrews 10:29 being “sanctified by the blood of the covenant”.  Calvinists are well aware that if the text is stating that the apostate had truly been sanctified by Christ’s blood, then their doctrine cannot stand.  It is for this reason that these alternative interpretations are offered despite the clear language of the warning.The first attempt is to assert that the one sanctified by the blood of the covenant is not the apostate at all, but Christ Himself.  Grudem does not hold to this view but believes it is worthy of careful consideration (Still Sovereign, pg. 178, footnote #91), while Calvinists Peterson and Williams find it unacceptable (Why I Am Not An Arminian, pg. 86, footnote #24).

The argument is well presented in James White’s book, The Potter’s Freedom, and for this reason we will interact with his defense of this particular interpretation.  He writes:

The error that is often made in regards to this passage is to understand “by which he was sanctified” to refer to the person who goes on sinning willfully against the blood of Christ… But remembering yet again the argument of the writer we see that the writer is referring to Christ as the one who is sanctified, set apart, shown to be holy, by his own sacrifice, and that this is why it is such a terrible thing to know of the power and purpose of Christ’s blood and yet treat it as “common,” like any of the sacrifices of goats and bulls offered under the old system. (pp. 244, 245)

James White then quotes John Owen as support for his unusual interpretation, and then concludes,

The dire warning of this passage, then, comes from understanding that there is no more sacrifice for sins.  Christ has offered Himself once, and has, thereby, perfected those for whom he dies.  To treat that perfect sacrifice, then, as “common” by going back to the repetitive sacrifices of the old system is to spit in the very face of the Son of God.  What kind of punishment, indeed, is fitting in such a situation! (ibid. 245)

In examining White’s claim that the one “sanctified” by the “blood of the covenant” is “Christ, the Son of God”, and not the apostate, it is very important that we have a clear understanding of what “sanctified” means in this passage.  While the word generally means “set apart”, the context must determine how the word is being used.  Does sanctified simply mean “set apart” in this passage, or does it have reference to something more?  It is clear that Mr. White wants us to look no further than “set apart” as it will allow him to better apply this word to Christ, and not necessarily to the apostate being addressed in the passage.

Again, White writes, “But remembering again the argument of the writer [Christ’s superiority as a high Priest] we see that the writer is referring to Christ as the one who is sanctified, set apart, shown to be holy, by his own sacrifice.” He quotes Owen favorably, who offers John 17:19; Heb 2:10; 5:7, 9; 9:11, 12 as Scriptures supporting this novel interpretation.  We will therefore examine each text to see if they are applicable to the verse in question.  But first, we will look at some other passages in Hebrews, as well as related passages elsewhere in Scripture, in order to determine if something more than being “set apart” is meant by the word “sanctified” in Heb. 10:29.

Chapters 9 and 10 are, as James White has pointed out, addressing Christ’s superiority to the Levitical priests of the old covenant.  The writer is especially concerned with the soul cleansing power of Christ’s blood in contrast to the blood of animals used in the old economy.  While the blood of “goats and calves” could “sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh”, the holy blood of Christ is able to “cleanse” our “conscience” (9:13, 14).  We are reminded that it is “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4), but that “the blood of Christ has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14), and that having been so cleansed by Christ’s blood we “have confidence to enter the holy place” (10:19), “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22).  The blood of Christ is the means by which we are forgiven and justified.

We can conclude from these passages that the blood of Christ sanctifies sinners by a real and powerful cleansing.  While the blood of animals merely represented cleansing, and could therefore “never take away sins” (10:11), the blood of Christ truly cleanses the sinner from the guilt and stain of sin, and thereby makes him holy.  This same concept is expressed in 1 John 1:7, “but if we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (Emphasis mine), and in 1 Peter 1:1, 2 with regards to those “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood…”(Emphasis mine).  Here we also see that the Spirit of God is the Agent who applies the cleansing power of Christ’s blood to the sinner (see also 2 Thess. 2:13).

We should especially mention Hebrews 13:12, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Emphasis mine).  The language here is important as it closely parallels the language of Heb. 10:29, “…who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (Emphasis mine).  We see that in Heb. 13:12, it is the “people” who are sanctified by Christ’s blood, and not Jesus Christ Himself!  It is also the most natural reading of Heb. 10:29 that it is the person who has regarded the blood as unclean who had, himself, been previously sanctified by that same blood.  It is hard to imagine that any honest reader would conclude that the apostate and the one sanctified are different persons, unless driven by a prior commitment to “Reformed” theology.   Nowhere in the book of Hebrews, or anywhere else in Scripture, do we read that Christ Himself was sanctified by His own blood, nor could there be any reason for the holy and blameless Son of God to need such a cleansing.  The blood of Christ was shed for the sanctification of sinners and not for Himself!

So what of John Owen’s Scripture references cited by Mr. White?  Do they teach that Jesus Christ was sanctified by his own blood?  We will first examine the passages cited from Hebrews, and then deal with the reference made to John 17:19.

Heb. 2:10 reads, “For it was fitting for Him [God the Father], for whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect forever the author of their salvation through sufferings.”  It is hard to see why Owen would refer us to this passage in support of his position.  While the passage tells us that Christ was perfected through “sufferings”, this is far from teaching that He was sanctified by His own blood.  If we read a little further we will see what these “sufferings” have reference to, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (verse18).

While this passage does not lend any real support to James White’s interpretation, it does further verify that only sinners are sanctified by Christ’s blood.  The very next verse reads, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”  Clearly, Christ is the one “who sanctifies”, and the people are the ones who are “sanctified”, and are therefore made worthy to be called His “brethren”.  This passage says nothing of Christ sanctifying Himself by His own blood, but rather teaches the exact opposite of what White is contending for.

Heb. 5:7, 9 reads,   “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety….And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”  Again, we must ask ourselves where it is said in these verses that Christ was cleansed [sanctified] by His own blood?  If we simply supply the verse between 7 and 9, which Owen strangely omits, we see again that Christ was perfected through His sufferings, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things which He suffered.”  These “sufferings” may have reference to His being tempted as in 2:18, or it may have reference to His agonizing in the garden- offering “prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears” (vs. 7), or it may have reference to His suffering and dying on the cross, or all of these, but there isn’t the slightest reference here to Christ being sanctified by His own blood!

Heb. 9:11, 12 reads, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the Holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”  Certainly, Owen and Mr. White want us to focus on the words, “but through His own blood, He entered the holy place, once for all…”

Again, we must ask ourselves whether this means that Christ had to be sanctified by His own blood.  The key to understanding this passage is context.  Verse 7 says, “…but into the second [the Holy of Holies] only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.”  The point that the writer is trying to make is that the priests of the old covenant were, themselves, sinful and therefore had to offer blood both for the purpose of cleansing themselves as well as the people.  They went into the Holy of Holies with the blood of goats and calves in order to offer them to God for cleansing.  Christ, unlike the priests of the old covenant, has no need of personal cleansing.  He does not enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of goats and calves to be offered to God, but rather enters through His own blood “once for all”, for He will never need to repeat His atoning sacrifice.

Verse 14, as we have already seen, again verifies that this precious blood was offered for the sole purpose of cleansing sinners.  We also see in verse 14 that Christ offered Himself “without blemish”, and for this reason did not, like the priests of old, need personal cleansing.  He was “without blemish” before He offered Himself, and could therefore not possibly have been sanctified by His own blood.  Heb. 7:26, 27 unmistakably drives this truth home,

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself (emphasis mine).

Christ offered up Himself as the sacrifice perfectly acceptable to God, and He shed His precious and holy blood for the purpose of cleansing sinners, and not Himself.  Christ consecrated (sanctified) Himself through His life of perfect submission and obedience to the Father’s will, including His self sacrifice at Calvary’s cross.

John 17:19 reads, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”  Here it is clearly taught that Christ “sanctified” Himself.  This is, without a doubt, Owen’s strongest argument.  We cannot assume, however, that the same concept expressed in Heb. 10:29 is being conveyed in this passage.  After all, this passage appears in an entirely different context and should be carefully considered in light of this context.  We must heed Mr. White’s advice and be very mindful that we are not “pressing onto Scripture a meaning that is not a part of the original context” (ibid. 27, 28).

We have seen that the purpose of sanctification in the context of Heb. 10:29 is primarily for the cleansing of the soul from the guilt and stain of sin, and that the means of this sanctification is the blood of Christ.  This is not the case in John 17:19.  In this passage, the word hagiazo is primarily concerned with being “set apart” from the world, and consecrated for a certain mission, and has no reference to the cleansing and purifying power of Christ’s blood (see John 10:36).

Jesus is praying to the Father concerning His disciples.  They have been “set apart” by their obedience to the “word” Jesus has given them (vss. 6, 14).  They are “in the world”, but not “of the world”, just as Christ is “not of the world” (vs. 16).  For this reason “the world has hated them” (vs. 14).  In verse 17 Christ prays that the Father will “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.”  Christ then says, “As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves may be sanctified in truth.”

The means of sanctification for the disciples in this passage is “the word of truth” (see John 15:3), and not the blood of the covenant. They are “set apart” by their obedience to the word (vs. 6), and are consecrated for the purpose of bringing the word of truth to the world (vss. 21, 23).  In the same way Christ sanctifies Himself through His continued obedience to the Father’s will, culminating in His death on the cross (see Phil. 2:8).  The disciples are to follow His example of obedience in the face of suffering and death as they bring His message of truth to the world.  Christ’s obedience in holiness is what qualified Him to be the only acceptable and perfect sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 5:8, 9; 7:26).

It is for this reason that the interpretation James White wishes to press onto Heb. 10:29 is impossible.  Christ was a “faultless and pure lamb…. without blemish…holy, innocent, undefiled, and separated from sinners” (1 Pet. 1:19; Heb. 9:14; 7:26), and therefore had no need of being sanctified by His own blood.  To claim that Christ needed to be made holy by His own blood is like the erroneous Jewish teaching that the gold of the temple was more sacred than the temple (Matt. 23:16).  The temple made the gold sacred, and not the other way around.   Likewise, Christ’s blood is “holy” and makes “holy” (sanctifies) because it is His blood.  The holy and innocent Lamb makes His blood holy, and not the other way around.

We may find it disturbing to accept the possibility that one truly cleansed by Christ’s blood can yet apostatize and perish eternally, but we should be far more disturbed by any interpretation that seeks to make the holy and blameless Lamb of God in need of purification by His own blood.  Christ Himself made it perfectly clear that his blood was given to provide forgiveness for sinners (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24, cf. Eph. 1:17), and could therefore never be given for the purpose of sanctifying Himself.

We conclude in agreement with Williams and Peterson who “reject as contrived John Owen’s idea, accepted by Roger Nicole and others, that en ho hegiasthe refers to Christ.” (Why I Am Not An Arminian, pg. 86, footnote #24).  In my next post we will examine the alternative interpretation offered by Robert Peterson and Michael Williams as well as the nearly identical interpretation suggested by Wayne Grudem.

Go to Part 8

Go to Part 1

Those in Glass Ivory Towers Shouldn’t Throw Stones


I would like to get some opinions on the following two quotes by James White. The first comes from his debate with Dave Hunt and the second comes from his website. Maybe I am wrong, but I detect a bit of inconsistency here. It seems to me that he is quite comfortable using virtually the same tactics he rebukes Dave Hunt for in Debating Calvinism.

Am I reading this wrong? I know that Mr. White often plays the misrepresentation card so I want to be cautious here. That is why I am asking what you think.

Here is Mr. White on Dave Hunt comparing Calvinism to Roman Catholicism via Augustine:

Hunt’s entire presentation is an attempt to poison the well through poor argumentation. He is saying:

1. Augustine was Roman Catholic.
2. Calvin cited heavily from Augustine and respected him.
3. Therefore, Calvinism is suspect by association with Catholicism through Augustine.

(Debating Calvinism, pg. 244)

Below is a post from Alpha and Omega with a few observations of mine concerning White’s comments:

The Arminian01/05/2004 – James White

A fine young fellow that I’ve been seeing a lot of lately (has something to do with my lovely daughter, I do believe) showed me a periodical titled “The Arminian.” I was first amazed that there are still folks left on planet earth that willingly, gladly, without a word of remonstrance, accept the name of themselves.

Does Mr. White really feel this way? Does he think it incredible that there are people who would still call themselves Arminians today?

But what was far more interesting was the fact that there was an article in it by Steve Witzki written against “eternal security.” You can see the article Here. Right at the beginning you will find the author quoting James Akin, staff apologist for Catholic Answers, from the debate notes he posted on his website from our radio debate from many years ago. This is the same debate where Akin misidentified various elements of the Greek language, as we documented in a previous Dividing Line broadcast.

Notice how James White doesn’t say anything about the argument Steve Witzki was making regarding the total lack of historical precedence for the Calvinistic understanding of perseverance. He doesn’t deny that Calvin invented a doctrine that was unheard of prior to Calvin himself. Instead, he tries to undermine Akin’s credibility by pointing out that he made some mistakes with Greek grammar.

What was so strange is that this Arminian writer seemingly has no problem borrowing from a Roman Catholic when he is arguing that church history stands opposed to a belief in the perfection of the work of Christ.

The reason Steve Witzki references James Akin is because Akin did considerable research looking into the origin of the doctrine. This research included calling numerous Calvinist Seminaries and speaking with Calvinist professors asking them if anyone taught this doctrine prior to Calvin. The answer was always “No”. This is the point that Mr. White should have addressed in this article, and not the issue of any blunders on Akin’s part concerning the Greek language. Oh, and BTW, the belief in perseverance from a synergistic perspective is in no way analogous to opposition to “a belief in the perfection of the work of Christ”.

Of course, would the author likewise follow Akin’s historical arguments on such topics as the Mass, purgatory, or the Marian dogmas? We think not.

Oh good, so Mr. White gives Mr. Witzki a little credit.

But for those who get all upset when I point out the confluence of Arminianism and Roman Catholicism (based upon the centrality of synergism to both systems), please take up your complaint with Mr. Witzki.

And what exactly was the point of all this? Wasn’t it to cast doubt on Arminianism by pointing out how it is similar to Catholicism? Does it matter that Arminianism and Catholicism have similar synergistic views of salvation? Does it matter that James White agrees with Roman Catholics on the doctrine of the Trinity? Maybe he will say that the belief in the Trinity predates the RCC, and he would be quite right about that. It is just as true that a belief in synergism predates the RCC as well, which was one of Witzki’s main points. What does not predate the RCC or John Calvin is the Calvinistic understanding of Perseverance, and this was Steve’s and Jimmy Atkin’s main point. So just what have we learned from Mr. White? Could someone please explain?

How about this:

1. James Atkin is a Roman Catholic.
2. Arminian Steve Witzki cited James Atkin.
3. Therefore, Arminianism is suspect by association with Catholicism through James Atkin.

Sound Familiar?

Calvinism And Free Will: An Exegetical Vindication of Matthew 23:37

Arminians have long pointed to Matthew 23:37 to respond to the Calvinist doctrines of determinism, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.

Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect (particular atonement), that he has decreed whatsoever shall come to pass in human history (determinism- no human free will as pertains to true contingencies), and that man has nothing to do with his own salvation (monergism), which necessitates their doctrine of irresistible grace.

Matt. 23:37 poses serious problems for all of these doctrinal positions. It would seem that though Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews, they were not saved. They were not saved because they were unwilling. If this be the case, then Calvinism cannot stand. Why?

Calvinism believes in unconditional election and reprobation. God determined from all eternity who would be saved and who would be damned. This determination was unconditional. This choice was according to God’s good pleasure. It pleased God to unconditionally elect some for eternal life. It also pleased God to irrevocably reprobate others to eternal punishment [this may be an active or passive reprobation]. Arminians feel that any such choice, if truly unconditional, would make God arbitrary. Very few Calvinists want to claim such a word as a description of God. They contend that God’s choice was not arbitrary but was still unconditional. If God’s choice was not arbitrary, then he must have had some reason for choosing one and rejecting the other. The Calvinist avoids this conclusion by appealing to God’s inscrutable counsel. God had a reason, but it had nothing to do with those being chosen or rejected, and it is simply beyond our understanding. This is the approach taken by Peterson and Williams in Why I Am Not An Arminian. They state, “His gracious choosing ultimately transcends our reason, but it is not arbitrary.” (pg. 66) The Arminian finds this unacceptable given the clear Biblical assertion that one is saved or rejected based on whether or not that person believes the gospel or continues in unbelief (Jn. 3:16-18, 36). The Arminian contends as strongly as the Calvinist for the Biblical doctrine of election, but believes that God’s decision to elect is based on the free response of his creatures to either accept or reject the gift of salvation.

Matt. 23:37 lines up perfectly with the Arminian view. In the Arminian view God genuinely desires that all of his creatures be saved (see also Ezk. 18:31, 32; 33:10, 11; 1 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3). If they are not saved, it is due to their own refusal of God’s gracious gift, and not because God has unconditionally determined from all eternity to damn them (Hosea 11:1-2; Jer. 13:15-17; Rom. 10:21; Heb. 3:7-13). The Calvinist feels that determinism is the only way to reconcile human choices with God’s sovereignty. There is no room for libertarian free will in their theology. Some Calvinists then deal with these passages by dividing God’s will into parts which are plainly contradictory. They maintain that God does not desire the eternal death of the wicked while at the same time unconditionally determining from all eternity that some should remain wicked, never know his saving grace, and perish eternally, according to his good pleasure. Here is pictured a God who stretches his hands out to the perishing while refusing to give them the grace they need to be saved. He can say that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, while secretly desiring and guaranteeing their eternal death. The Arminian points out the inherent façade and is met with responses like, “God’s ways and thoughts are high above ours; his counsel is inscrutable”, or “Who are you O’ man to talk back to God?” etc. John Wesley summed up the problem well,

Our blessed Lord does indisputably command and invite “all men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30]. He calleth all. He sends his ambassadors in his name, “to preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15]. He himself “preached deliverance to the captives” [Luke 4:18] without any hint of restriction or limitation. But now, in what manner do you represent him while he is employed in this work? You suppose him to be standing at the prison doors, having the keys thereof in his hands, and to be continually inviting the prisoners to come forth, commanding them to accept of that invitation, urging every motive which can possibly induce them to comply with that command; adding the most precious promises, if they obey; the most dreadful threatenings, if they obey not. And all this time you suppose him to be unalterably determined in himself never to open the doors for him, even while he is crying, “Come ye, come ye, from that evil place. For why will ye die, O house of Israel?” [cf. Ezek. 18:31]. “Why” (might one of them reply), “because we cannot help it. We cannot help ourselves, and thou wilt not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass [cf. Ps. 107:16], and it is not thy pleasure to open them. Why will we die? We must die, because it is not thy will to save us.” Alas, my brethren, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Saviour?” (Excerpt from Predestination Calmly Considered; Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 2, pg. 97)

Consider the Lord’s words to Judah in Jeremiah 13:15-17,

Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness…But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.

With regards to this passage, Walls and Dongell make the following observation,

Knowing that Judah did not turn and listen, the Calvinist concludes that God had already chosen to withhold his transforming grace from them, though he could easily have granted it. So while the text seems to identify Judah’s pride as the root cause of punishment, the Calvinist instead concludes that Judah’s ability to repent depends on God’s eternally fixed plan. Again, although the text seems to identify salvation as God’s deepest desire, the Calvinist must conclude that at a deeper level God never intended to bestow transforming grace on Jeremiah’s hearers. In other words, the true intentions of God cannot be discerned from his words. (Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 57- emphasis in original)

It would seem that some Calvinist are rather uncomfortable with appealing solely to contradictory wills within God, and prefer rather to undertake exegetical wrangling in order to conform these passages to the tenets of Calvinist theology. This is the approach taken by James White in The Potter’s Freedom. His handling of Matthew 23:37 is revealing, and ultimately does more harm than good for his position.

In Chapter 6, Mr. White attempts to explain away what he refers to as Norman Geisler’s “Big Three” verses to which he makes constant appeal in his book, Chosen But Free (Matt. 23:37; 1 Tim. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:9). White’s treatment of Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matt. 23:37 is not only problematic, but detrimental to his Calvinism. The passage reads, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” This passage seems to plainly indicate that Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews (cf. Ezk. 18:30-32; 33:11), but their unwillingness prevented him from saving them.

Mr. White wastes no time in helping us understand that we have it all wrong, and this should be very plain to us if we would just focus very hard on the context. The passage in question comes after a lengthy rebuke of the Pharisees and Scribes for being blind guides, hypocrites, etc. Therefore, Mr. White concludes that when Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, he is not speaking of the Jews in general, or Jerusalem personified, but the leaders of Jerusalem (the hypocritical Pharisees and Scribes), and saying that he wanted to gather their children (in some sense, then, the Jews are the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s children?), but these corrupt leaders were not willing (to let Jesus gather “their”, i.e. the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s) children to himself, and therefore it was not the children themselves that were not willing. Mr. White concludes, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’…This one consideration alone renders the passage useless for the Arminian seeking to establish freewillism.” (pg. 138 )

This “exegesis” is problematic for several reasons. First, it is hard to fit the further comments made by Jesus of these people (in verses 38, and 39) with the idea that Christ is only addressing these corrupt leaders. It is to the same people that Christ says, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (vs.39) If Mr. White’s interpretation is accurate, then this statement must also be directed to the wicked Scribes and Pharisees. Were they the same who would call him “Blessed” when they saw him again? Such an interpretation does not seem to fit the historical context, for the Scribes and Pharisees certainly saw Christ again after this event and continued to be hostile towards his ministry to the point of securing his death. If Christ is speaking of the final restoration of Israel, as many scholars believe, then surely all of the people of Jerusalem are in view and not just the Scribes and Pharisees. Again, if Christ was addressing the Scribes and Pharisees that he had just rebuked, it is quite clear that none of them survived to see Israel’s final restoration. Even If we apply these passages to the triumphal entry (as very few scholars seem willing to do), it was the common people who called him “blessed”, and the Pharisees who called on Christ to rebuke them. Mr. White does not even address these verses in his book.

Second, this same lament is recorded in Luke 13:34-35 in a completely different context; one which will not so easily lead to Mr. White’s conclusions (in Luke, the Pharisees are trying to protect Jesus from Herod). Mr. White does not even mention the Luke account.

Third, there is no exegetical warrant for making such a strong distinction between “Jerusalem” and the “children” of Jerusalem. Such was a common use of Biblical language to use two terms to describe the same object. In the Old Testament we find God both calling his people “Israel” and the “children of Israel”. Consider the word usage in Jeremiah Chapter 4,

At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them…O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved…Tell this to the nations, proclaim it in Jerusalem…Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment…My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. (11, 14, 16, 18, 22, NIV-emphasis mine)

It is clear that, in these passages, the Lord speaks to the city, the people, and the children as the same entity. When Jeremiah speaks of Jerusalem it is an obvious personification of those who live within the city, for he says of Jerusalem, “wash the evil from your heart”. Just as in Jeremiah’s day, the city is about to be destroyed due to the sin of its people. These are the very people whom the Lord desired to save. Their destruction is deserved due to their continual rebellion. They were “unwilling” to submit to their Lord, but instead killed those sent to them who were calling them to repentance. They will compound these sins by rejecting and killing the very Son of God. The city will therefore suffer destruction, and the rebellious “children”, unless they repent, will suffer the loss of their eternal souls,

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation. (NAS- Luke 19:41-44-emphasis mine).

Notice that in this parallel lament Christ says that the city’s enemies will level “you” and “your children within you”. If we assume again that “Jerusalem” is shorthand for the leaders of Jerusalem, then we need to explain how “your children” can be within these corrupt leaders [Jerusalem]. Obviously, as in Matt. 23:37, Jerusalem is personified, and is not a reference to leaders as contrasted with the common people of the city.

The fourth and most glaring problem comes from the fact that if we accept Mr. White’s “exegesis”, it creates an even bigger problem for his Reformed doctrines. Remember, according to Calvinism, God is sovereign over his creatures to such an extent that they have nothing to do with their own salvation (monergism). When God desires to save his elect, nothing can stop him, not even the unwillingness of the rebellious sinner (God will simply “make” him “willing”). Man can do nothing to thwart God’s saving purposes, they are irresistible. This is the very doctrine that Mr. White is trying to preserve with his “exegesis” of Matt. 23:37. But does he succeed?

Listen again to Mr. White’s explanation, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’.” (pg. 138 ) He reinforces this by connecting it to a previous verse [13], “But woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from the people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (pg. 138 ) Mr. White, then, trades one problem in for another, for the text plainly states that the Pharisees and Scribes were not allowing those who were entering to go in!! Now we have really opened a can of worms! If those who are saved are the ones that God has unconditionally elected from all eternity, how could anyone, including the Scribes and Pharisees, prevent them from entering in? How could they possibly “shut off the kingdom of heaven” from them? How could anyone “not allow [Jesus] to gather” them to himself? If they are the elect, then nobody can effectively “shut off the kingdom” from them; and if they are reprobates, it is God who has “shut off the kingdom” from them (by refusing them his saving grace), and not the Pharisees! And if they are reprobates without hope (for God has eternally and unconditionally decreed to reject them), then in what sense could Christ possibly have “longed” to gather them unto himself? Perhaps Mr. White did not think through the ramifications of his conclusions, or perhaps he just hoped that we would not. Whether we accept the traditional Arminian interpretation, or Mr. White’s proposed exegesis, it would seem that Calvinism still suffers a fatal blow.