Thursday, May 12, 2005

Refutation of James White: Moses' Seat, the Bible, and Tradition, Parts VII and VIII (Now Complete)

[White's words will be in blue; my former words in green]

Previous links:

Part I

The eight parts of my reply are in response to the eight parts of White's critique: the part numbers correspond. Hence, I am replying to White's Part VII and Part VIII.


It's clear that (as predicted), White has no intention of actually attempting to rationally refute my response. That is especially true in Part VII, where he mostly repeats what he already wrote, or replies to someone else's argument.

Regular readers of this blog are already well aware of the fact that in almost every instance of apologetic conflict with the various religions of men the issue comes down to either the validity and accuracy of the Bible as the Word of God, or, to the proper exegesis of the text of the Bible itself. And surely that is the case here as well.

It certainly is. White and I only disagree as to where the improper exegesis lies. After repeating a citation, White opines:

We have already pointed to the many problems with the far-reaching attempt of Armstrong to find in the introduction to the announcement of judgment upon the Pharisees its polar opposite. Rather than seeing the main point in Jesus' words (the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and the judgments coming upon them), Armstrong's commitment to Rome helps him to find the opposite: Jesus hasn't gotten around to condemning the Pharisees yet; instead, he starts off lauding them as possessors of divine tradition passed down from Moses himself! The screeching transition into the condemnation of them is hard to imagine, but keeping this text consistent with the surrounding inspired material has never been a high priority of those who interpret via Roman decree.

I thoroughly answered this charge. White, throughout has simply assumed what he is trying to prove, with the following shallow "reasoning":

1. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.
2. Therefore, they are utterly evil, and nothing good can come from them.
3. Therefore, He couldn't possibly have been granting them any authority at all; He must have meant something else.

Very briefly I wish to note that the listing of passages Armstrong provided regarding alleged "oral tradition" include some which simply refer to the passing down of historical incidents or facts, which does nothing more than prove that ancient men kept historical records just as modern men do. History does not have to be inspired to be recorded or referenced.

I agree. I wasn't trying to prove that it always was.

Further, it seems odd to believe that supernatural knowledge could be granted to the writers of Scripture in various portions and yet, when it comes to the NT writers, they must be enslaved to merely human sources.

Yes it is odd, but who believes this?

In any case, it is a huge leap to move from "NT writers did not limit themselves to solely the Scriptures as their source of knowledge" (i.e., they knew other books had been written, they knew of history, and they knew of current events, and used these things in their teaching and exhortation) to "the biblical writers embraced the idea of extra-biblical tradition as inspired and equal to the Tanakh."

I have given my reasons for believing that such a tradition was authoritative (not "inspired", which is another White red herring).

As we documented many times in the initial responses to Mr. Armstrong's book, he is unaware of what he must provide on an exegetical basis to substantiate a particular reading of any text, let alone a disputed one.

The usual charge of profound ignorance . . .

Armstrong is here presenting the simplified version of what has been presented by others, like David Palm, in a more scholarly format . . .

White then goes off on a tangent of the question of oral tradition itself, with long quotes intended originally for David Palm. As this is not the topic at hand, it is irrelevant to our current discussion. I won't be diverted by this tactic.

These questions are just as applicable to Armstrong as they were years ago in this context.

As I said, that's another discussion. Here the topic was supposedly Moses' seat. We've seen how bankrupt White's arguments have been. He claimed in Part VI that he was ready to issue his actual "response." I have yet to see it, and now it's already on to Part VIII, after marveling at White's weakest, most irrelevant presentation yet.

But let us hurry to the real issue:

What a novel concept! Here we are at Part VIII and White is now prepared to arrive at the "real issue". I suppose some people are slow learners. Maybe white will give us something of significant substance this time, at long last.

Armstrong wrote, "...Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only nonscriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed." Armstrong assumes no distinction between practice, interpretation, or doctrine, regarding the teaching of the Pharisees, ignoring the function of the seat of Moses in the synagogue, and assuming an entire mountain of later Roman Catholic concepts in the process.

Huh? Is this an argument? No; once again, it is a declarative statement, and largely a non sequitur. I have made my case at great length, and have now defended it at almost equally great length. At no time have I assumed "an entire mountain of later Roman Catholic concepts." I don't have to do that for my argument to succeed, and it would be dumb and historically anachronistic anyway. I didn't do it, but White (with more of his patented cynical wishful thinking) thinks I did. As usual, he provides no proof of his curious charges. What else is new? If most of his "arguments" are logically circular, it shouldn't surprise us that his accusations are also circular and incoherent.

But there is a simple, easy way of determining if Armstrong's central assertion is true (indeed, without it, the rest of his argument is vacuous and irrelevant): are we to seriously believe that the opening words of the condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy and opposition to God's truth are in fact commendations of the theology of the Pharisees, so that their extra-biblical traditions are to be taken as normative for Christians? Let's test this theory.

No argument again; just a repetition of his earlier remarks. I guess this must be what White does in his oral debates: he plays to the crowds with boilerplate and non sequiturs and straw men. I could see how that would work with your average anti-Catholic, but it won't fly with mainstream Protestants or Catholics or open-minded individuals trying to decide between the two presented positions.

And yet, in the immediately preceding chapter, the Lord Jesus had defended the truth about the resurrection (did He get this truth from the Pharisees or did the Pharisees simply believe the truth about the subject?) against the Sadducees, had He not? And how did He do so? If we are to believe Armstrong, he would do so by reference to Pharisaical tradition, since, as he said, the Old Testament is not clear enough, and besides, it is much clearer in the oral traditions, correct? Of course not!

I dealt with this false dichotomy last time. White, almost more than anyone I have ever seen, is such a prisoner of his false premises and presuppositions, that he makes some amazingly weak arguments, yet thinks they are so compelling. This is a striking example of one such "argument."

How did Jesus respond?

Matthew 22:29-33 29 But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 "But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 32 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB '? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

Did Jesus appeal to Pharisaic traditions? Surely not. He took His opponents directly back to the text of Scripture itself, held them accountable for the words as if God had spoken them directly to them that very day, and proved that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. And please note the reaction of the crowds: they were astonished at His teaching. This was not the first time.

Jesus appealed to Scripture in making arguments. Wow, what an astounding realization! I'm delighted that White informed me of this little-known fact. I'll have to remember this (and so I take out my handy-dandy notebook to record the momentous tidbit of truth from White).

This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Jesus respected Pharisaical traditions or not. He did because He observed several of them. White's reasoning is as silly as saying that, because I emphasize almost exclusively biblical argumentati0n for Catholic doctrines in my first two books, that therefore I must not accept Catholic tradition. It proves exactly nothing. The assumption would be dead wrong in my case, and it is exceedingly likely (if not certainly) just as wrong with regard to our Lord Jesus.

White continues on with this sort of utterly-irrelevant argumentation, which resolves nothing in our discussion, concluding that "He did not argue from tradition, but from the Scriptures" (as if there is an absolute separation of the two in the first place: this is yet another of White's false, unbiblical dichotomies).

This is just the opposite of the conclusions we would draw from Armstrong's position.

Since White adopts one side of a false dichotomy; he assumes that we Catholics must adopt the other extreme side. But of course, a false dichotomy is just that: false. We don't accept "tradition-only" as a viable option for anything. Our position is Bible-Tradition-Church: all in harmony with each other. Sola Traditio is just as silly as sola Ecclesia, and neither is the Catholic position. But note how White vainly tries to make it so. That's what we call a "straw man," folks.

But most compellingly the interpretation offered by Armstrong (and others) falters with finality when we ask a simple question: even if we were to grant all the inserted ideas about the centrality of "tradition" here, the fact is that Armstrong's interpretation goes directly against Jesus' own teaching in Matthew 15. You just cannot make these two passages fit together.

This is the passage concerning the Corban rule, which we have already dealt with, and disposed of, as any sort of successful objection at all.

Note the text: 1) These are Pharisees, the very ones Armstrong refers us to as carrying divine traditions as those who have seated themselves in Moses' seat. 2) The Pharisees begin with reference to one tradition (note it is behavioral in orientation, interpretive of other laws, not doctrinal or revelational) and the Lord respond by reference to a completely different tradition--but both are encompassed by the one phrase, "the tradition of the elders," which, no matter how hard Armstrong may try, is definitional of the entire body of tradition to which he wishes to bind us via his reading of Matthew 23. 3) If Armstrong is right, the Corban rule to which Jesus refers here would be properly defined by the Pharisees and properly taught from "Moses' seat." Does it not follow, inexorably, that for Jesus' followers to do as He commands in both Matthew 15 and Matthew 23 that they would have to exercise the very discernment and examination of the Pharisees' teaching that Armstrong decries? The Corban rule was just as much a part of "oral tradition" as anything else. It was an "interpretation" of the law concerning a man's duties to his parents as well as the laws dealing with giving to the temple and its worship. But it was a false teaching, as Jesus here makes clear. It was an allegedly divine tradition that men should have examined and rejected on the basis of their own reading of the Scriptures.

That's right: people should reject corrupt traditions. No argument there . . . this gets back to a statement I made earlier, concerning the modern misunderstanding of Hebrew idiom of "everything" and "all." It was not understood in the sense of having no exceptions whatsoever. That was a later, more logical, "Greek" mode of thinking. So it is entirely possible in the Hebrew mind that the Pharisees could have authority, while they might teach some things that are corrupt, and to be rejected (just as civil governments have authority, but in extreme cases, must be disobeyed, in matters of conscience). But by and large, they were authoritative. This is no contradiction; a paradox, maybe, but not another of White's false dichotomies.

In fact, it seems plain beyond contradiction that Jesus is here teaching the Scriptures are so clear and compelling on this point in relationship to honoring one's father and mother that there is surely no need for a magisterium to tell you this, for the "magisterium" of the day was telling you just the opposite!

Here White smuggles in his prior disposition of sola Scriptura, which doesn't follow simply from Scripture being clear enough to clinch a particular argument. That can be, and often is, true, but it has no inherent implication that, therefore, authority does not exist, or exists only in a provisional sense. White's general fallacy here is arguing from the particular to the general, and "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." Just because one corrupt tradition was rebuked does not mean that Pharisaical authority was null and void. He can't prove his case from the single case of the Corban rule. All the relevant data must be taken into consideration. But White refuses to do that because it doesn't help his superficial "case" for the matter to be examined too closely. We mustn't do that!

But how could Jesus say these things about the Pharisees, who had seated themselves in Moses' seat, in Armstrong's scenario? He couldn't!

No??!! He can say them just like Paul rebuked Peter. If someone is being a hypocrite, or has corrupted one aspect of their teaching, they should be rebuked. White seems to have forgotten that God made an eternal covenant with David, which wasn't broken even by murder and adultery.

But if we simply allow the context to speak, and realize Matthew 23:1-3 is not a positive statement about the Pharisee's authority, but the beginning of their condemnation, and their having seated themselves in Moses' seat in the synagogue only adds to their condemnation (but has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with later Roman Catholic theories of authority or tradition), then we find a consistent reading of Jesus' words.

This is not a plausible interpretation at all, as shown in previous installments, at great length.

In Conclusion

While there is much more that could be said, we have certainly said enough. Mr. Armstrong was unwise to sub-title his book, "95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants" when he is manifestly ill equipped to provide the "goods" to back up his claims. His work is convincing only to the already convinced, but surely not to anyone who is actually familiar with what is necessary to show respect to God's Word by handling it aright. It is truly my prayer that the time I have invested in demonstrating the lack of substance in this work will help those who are seeking to minister the gospel of grace to those who have been ensnared by Rome's false and deceptive "gospel."

Thank you, James, for a clear summary of your position (and derision). I will pass on my own summary, preferring to let what I have already written speak for itself. I continue to await a substantive, rational, biblically sound reply to my argument from James White.

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