TO: Tim Staples, St. Joseph Catholic Radio
FROM: James White, Alpha and Omega Ministries
RE: The Debate in Review: An Open Letter to Tim Staples
It’s truly amazing what a good 40+ mile bike ride will do for you. It was great to get back home, see my wife and kids, pick up my bike from the shop (replete with a new frame, no less!), and head out on the road. This time, though, I wasn’t listening to tapes of you speaking, I was recalling specifics of a most memorable evening in Fullerton.
Now I note right off that I don’t have the tapes of our debate as yet. I assume they will arrive in a few days. So, I’m going from memory, and from my notes. Hence, some things I will leave for later refutation, as I will want to double-check the specific citations with the tapes. But a number of specific statements have stuck in my mind, and I wish to bring them to your attention. Let me also note that this is an open letter. It is being uploaded to Internet mailing lists, and will be posted on our web page. If you would like to write a response, we could post it as well [ as of 2/25/97, no response, public or private, has been received].
Allow me first to say that I felt things went quite well Saturday night, at least as far as the facilities and organization went. Plummer Auditorium is a fine facility, and though I think we got kicked out a tad bit early, in general it was a good location for the debate.
I was much less excited, however, by a number of things that detracted a good bit from the debate, at least from a professional viewpoint. While the moderator took great pains to be fair, you took advantage of him many times, and went over your time limit again and again and again. I have found this a common thing amongst Roman Catholic apologists: Gerry Matatics can’t restrain himself, either. I hope in the future you will show more respect for your opponent, and the audience, by paying attention to that issue.
On a personal level, I was quite simply shocked at the amount of ad-hominem argumentation you utilized in our debate. Of course, I find such tactics indicative of a lost cause, Tim, but I also get the feeling that you were doing what you had been instructed to do by folks like Patrick Madrid, who likewise uses the “insult, deprecate, and impugn your opponent” means of debating. I had honestly hoped for something better.
Throughout the debate you accused me of misrepresentation, out-of-context citation, and toward the end, direct “misquoting” of Augustine and Athanasius. Sadly, you never proved those accusations, nor, as we both know, could you. I saw what resources you had, and you did not have the original contexts of any of the citations I gave. I saw your list of short quotes from the Fathers-it was all you had with you. You can’t hardly prove I’ve been misquoting someone when you don’t even have the quotes I’ve been given! I, on the other hand, had the entire Eerdman’s set on my hard-drive, the volume of Athanasius sitting on my desk, and a good ten times the amount of cited material in your packet in my own notes. I’m sure your followers will accept your claims without question, and will never bother to look up what Athanasius actually said. However, what of those who are not your followers, Tim? What of the person who is simply seeking the truth? Will they not notice that it makes no sense to accuse me of misrepresenting someone on the basis of citations from Athanasius’ words to Serapion since I was not citing that material? You see, the fair and scholarly thing to say would be, “I believe you are misrepresenting Athanasius’ entire doctrine of authority and tradition, and here is a citation that supports my assertion.” But, of course, your citation didn’t provide that kind of basis, so it seems better to simply cloud the emotions with strong assertions that do not accurately reflect the reality. I simply point out, Tim, that you did not respond to a single reference I gave to Athanasius, Augustine, Theodoret, Basil, or anyone else, in the context in which it was given. You did not even attempt to deal with the extensive material I provided, based upon the original writings of Athanasius in the Greek language, in my article in the book, Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible (pages 27-62, specifically, endnotes 41 through 46). What makes this even more important is that I cited from Athanasius’ letter to Serapion in that article, and provided a strong passage indicating his assertion of the self-sufficiency of Scripture, and the passage you cited did not in any meaningful way contradict that. Tragically, you continue to ignore the corrections offered on your misunderstanding of sola scriptura, and on the basis of that, think you have found contradictions to it in patristic sources. Your unwillingness to stand corrected, Tim, is loud testimony to the correctness of my charge: you believe in sola ecclesia.
I give you the opportunity now, Mr. Staples, to document and substantiate your accusations that any passage I cited in our debate, or in my written works, is “mis-cited” or is in fact “out of context” in any way, shape, or form. In fact, allow me to be of assistance to you in your attempt to substantiate the accusations you made so easily Saturday evening, and that were so readily accepted by your devoted followers. I quoted four passages from Athanasius. I here provide you not only with the passages themselves, but with the immediate context, in Greek, of each one. I look forward to the demonstration on your part, Tim, of how any of these passages is “out of context.” I will use the standard source here: Migne, volume and page. First, Migne 25:196:
De incarnatione verbi 56.1.1 to De incarnatione verbi 56.2.5
56.1 Tau=ta me/n soi par’ h(mw€n di’ o)li€gwn, o€son pro\j stoixei€wsin kai€ xarakth=ra th=j kata\ Xristo\n pi€stewj kai€ th=j qei€aj au)tou= pro\j h(ma=j e)pifanei€aj, a)nateqei€sqw, w€ filo/xriste a€nqrwpe, su\ de\ th\n pro/fasin e)k tou/twn labw€n, ei€ e)ntugxa/noij toi€j tw€n grafw€n gra/mmasi, gnhsi€wj au)toi€j e)fista/nwn to\n nou=n, gnw€sv par’ au)tw€n teleio/teron me\n kai€ trano/teron tw€n lexqe/ntwn th\n a)kri€beian. 56.2 €Ekei€nai me\n ga\r dia\ qeolo/gwn a)ndrw€n para\ Qeou= e)lalh/qhsan kai€ e)gra/fhsan. €Hmei€j de\ para\ tw€n au)tai€j e)ntugxano/ntwn qeolo/gwn didaska/lwn, oi€ kai€ ma/rturej th=j Xristou= qeo/thtoj gego/nasi, maqo/ntej metadi€domen kai€ tv= sv= filomaqei€#.
Next, Migne 25:476:
De decretis Nicaenae synodi 32.1.1 to De decretis Nicaenae synodi 32.3.1
32.1 €All’ i€swj kai€ dia\ to\ o€noma to\ a)ge/nhton e)legxqe/ntej ponhroi€ to\n tro/pon o€ntej e)qelh/sousi kai€ au)toi€ le/gein: e€dei kai€ peri€ tou= kuri€ou kai€ swth=roj h(mw€n €Ihsou= Xristou= e)k tw€n grafw€n ta\ peri€ au)tou= gegramme/na le/gesqai kai€ mh\ a)gra/fouj e)peisa/gesqai le/ceij. nai€ e€dei, fai€hn a€n kai€ e€gwge, a)kribe/stera ga\r e)k tw€n grafw€n ma=llon h€ e)c e(te/rwn e)sti€ ta\ th=j a)lhqei€aj gnwri€smata: a)ll’ h( kakoh/qeia kai€ meta\ panourgi€aj pali€mboloj a)se/beia tw€n peri€ Eu)se/bion h)na/gkase, kaqa\ proei€pon, tou\j e)pisko/pouj leuko/teron 32.2 e)kqe/sqai ta\ th\n a)se/beian au)tw€n a)natre/ponta r(h/mata. kai€ ta\ me\n para\ th=j suno/dou grafe/nta dia/noian o)rqh\n e€xonta de/deiktai, tw€n d’ €Areianw€n kai€ ta\ loga/ria saqra\ kai€ o( tro/poj ponhro\j e)fa/nh. kai€ ga\r kai€ to\ a)ge/nhton o€noma, i€di€an e€xon dia/noian kai€ duna/menon eu)sebw€j profe/resqai, au)toi€ pa/lin kata\ th\n i€di€an e)nqu/mhsin w€j h)qe/lhsan o)noma/zousin e)p’ a)timi€# tou= swth=roj, i€na mo/non w€j gi€gantej qeomaxei€n filoneikw€sin.
Then, Migne 25:548:
Epistula ad episcopos Aegypti et Libyae 25.548.17 to Epistula ad episcopos Aegypti et Libyae 25.548.26
Polla\ me\n ou€n a€n tij gra/yeien, ei€ bou/loito peri€ tou/twn e)pecerga/sasqai pollh\ ga\r kai€ poiki€lh tw€n ai€re/sewn h( a)se/beia kai€ h( kakofrosu/nh fanh/setai, kai€ deinh\ li€an h( tw€n a)patw€ntwn panourgi€a. €Epeidh\ de\ h( qei€a Grafh\ pa/ntwn e)sti€n i€kanwte/ra, tou/tou xa/rin toi€j boulome/noij ta\ polla\ peri€ tou/twn ginw€skein sumbouleu/saj e)ntugxa/nein toi€j qei€oij lo/goij, au)to\j nu=n to\ katepei€gon e)spou/dasa dhlw€sai, dio\ ma/lista kai€ ou€twj e€graya.
And finally, I quoted the famous line from Contra Gentes, Migne 25:4:
Contra gentes 1.1 to Contra gentes 1.13 1
1 €H me\n peri€ th=j qeosebei€aj kai€ th=j tw€n o€lwn a)lhqei€aj gnw€sij ou) tosou=ton th=j para\ tw€n a)nqrw€pwn didaskali€aj dei€tai, o€son a)f’ e(auth=j e€xei to\ gnw€rimon: mo/non ga\r ou)xi€ kaq’ h(me/ran toi€j e€rgoij ke/krage, kai€ h(li€ou lampro/teron e(auth\n dia\ th=j Xristou= didaskali€aj e)pidei€knutai: poqou=nti de/ soi o€mwj ta\ peri€ tau/thj a)kou=sai, fe/re, w€ maka/rie, w€j a€n oi€oi€ te w€men, o)li€ga th=j kata\ Xristo\n pi€stewj e)kqw€meqa, duname/n% me/n soi kai€ a)po\ tw€n qei€wn logi€wn tau/thn eu(rei€n, filoka/lwj de\ o€mwj kai€ par’ e(te/rwn a)kou/onti. au)ta/rkeij me\n ga/r ei€sin ai€ a€giai kai€ qeo/pneustoi grafai€ pro\j th\n th=j a)lhqei€aj a)paggeli€an: ei€si€ de\ kai€ polloi€ tw€n makari€wn h(mw€n didaska/lwn ei€j tau=ta suntaxqe/ntej lo/goi: oi€j e)a/n tij e)ntu/xoi, ei€setai me/n pwj th\n tw€n grafw€n e(rmhnei€an, h€j de\ o)re/getai gnw€sewj tuxei€n dunh/setai.
All of these citations are found in my article, Mr. Staples, yet, I cannot escape the feeling that you did not read or at least did not do any serious work on, that article. In fact, throughout the debate, it was crystal clear to me that you were debating the ghost of San Diego Past: that is, you were responding to what I had said in my debate against Patrick Madrid in 1993 in San Diego. You even used his own words at times (indeed, I noted this during one of the breaks, where I said to you, “I almost messed up and called you Patrick a few times.”) I find this fascinating, since in 1993 Patrick responded to what I said to Matatics in 1990! In every instance, rather than responding to my current presentation and emphasis, you respond instead to something from the past! This was most notable (and others pointed it out to me as well) when you said that I had pretty well “beat to death” 2 Timothy 3:16 in my opening comments, when in fact I had only mentioned it briefly as an important passage! This reflected the fact that in 1993 I debated Patrick on whether the Bible taught the doctrine of sola scriptura; hence, I emphasized the biblical data. I do not know why Roman Catholic apologists refuse to respond to what I’m saying in the present debate, but it is a most interesting phenomenon.
I also note, Mr. Staples, your citation of Basil and the interesting rendering of the last line as a “mere term.” I shouldn’t be surprised: This Rock cited the same passage (I’m sure Patrick was behind that, too), and that is Jurgens’ rendering. How good it would have been, Tim, had you taken the high road and attempted a meaningful critique of my own citation of this entire passage as it is found in my chapter in the book on sola scriptura-how much more meaningful that would have been! I would truly have been impressed by someone who would have attempted to deal with my citation of Jurgens’ own words with reference to “things written and things not written” (p. 38, footnote 17). But instead we get a surface-level dismissal of all of this (indeed, you didn’t even acknowledge that I had dealt with these passages in my published works!), and a focus upon the phrase “a mere term.” It almost seemed as if you were trying to parallel “a mere term” with sola scriptura-were you? Such would be an interesting, though a-contextual, reading of that specific passage.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of your “debating style” has to do with your constant misrepresentation of what I’ve said. Sometimes this may come from over-excitement, sometimes from ignorance of the Protestant position. Case in point: my citation of Hebrews 4:12. Of course the Lord Jesus is the “Word of God,” Tim. I’ve never denied that. But your view of Scripture is truly sneaking through here, for the Scriptures are the very speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, and hence partake of the same authority. Are you denying that Hebrews 4:12 can in any way be applied to the Scriptures, especially in light of the preceding verses, which quote the Scriptures as the speaking of God? Have you ever considered why you have such a vested interest in turning the Scriptures into a “dead letter” rather than a living one? Is it not because you believe in sola ecclesia, and hence must adopt this stance?
There are a few other things that come to mind that I think you would need to deal with, Mr. Staples. I would highly recommend, especially on canon issues, that you read seriously Beckwith’s work, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church. I had suggested this work to you months ago, but it was evident, from your comments in the debate, that you have yet to deal with that source of information on the OT canon. Also, with reference to your statement, which truly caught me by surprise, that despite the losing of the Scriptures and their discovery under Josiah, “The Church went right along without the Scriptures,” I must admit I have to wonder what you were talking about. Do you not recall that the people were wandering in darkness, violating God’s laws, and that they endured His wrath as a result? The “oral traditions” and “magisterium” of the day failed to lead the people aright. The “Church” did not “go along” without the Scriptures: she stumbled right into the pit of wrath, in point of fact.
I also found it most interesting that you did not realize how clearly you undercut your own canon argument when you admitted that the Old Testament people did not have, or need, an infallible authority for their knowledge of the canon, yet, you insisted that I had to give you such an infallible authority. I have to wonder if you would have made those comments had you read R.C. Sproul’s contribution to the sola scriptura book.
I might note as well, Tim, that when you spent half of your closing statement discussing Papal infallibility, you made a few statements that were way out of line. First, you discussed Vigilius, when I never mentioned him. Next, you seemingly were trying to cast doubt upon my honesty by constantly saying, “But what Mr. White didn’t mention was….” Yet, of course, all I did was mention a few names-Honorius, Liberius, and Sixtus, specifically-and did not even attempt to expand upon the errors made by the last two. To accuse me of then not telling them what they needed to know is disingenuous at best. By the way, a person came up to me afterward and noted that you had erred even in your accusations: if you will listen to the debate, you will see that even when I did mention, earlier, Liberius’ lapse, I mentioned he was forced into the signing of the creed. You said I “forgot” to mention that. Again, your ardent and excited followers won’t care, but those listening to the debate for truth value will.
Your attempt to turn me into a horrible villain in the eyes of my fellow Protestants backfired, and that badly. My volunteers mentioned that every single person who asked, “Is James a Calvinist?” was overjoyed to hear that in fact I am indeed Reformed. You need to realize, Tim, that your deep-seated hatred of Calvinism (a hatred that comes across on your program all the time) is not shared by all.
Finally, I would think that you would be more than just a bit embarrassed by the behavior of your more vocal supporters on Saturday night. Booing and the like, if it were coming from my “friends” and “students,” would certainly bother me, anyway. Do you recall when you decided you were going to break the rules and give yourself a second opportunity to speak on the same question? When I looked at the moderator and pointed this out, your “students” went nuts. Obviously, you should not have flaunted the rules in that way to begin with (your continued going over-time likewise encouraged such behavior), but if I had just erred in speaking out of turn, and my followers had reacted in that way, I would have immediately spoken to the issue and asked them to behave and to be fair. Yet you remained silent. Again, Tim, perhaps you think this kind of behavior is fine. Perhaps you don’t realize how damaging it is to your credibility, and the value of the debate. But please keep this one thing in mind: I do not debate for “my side.” I realize that there will be “X” number of people at a debate who will agree with me, and there will be “Y” number of people who will agree with my opponent. Those folks are going to sit there and listen, and hopefully be blessed, but their minds are already made up. I debate for the person who is truly seeking answers-the best possible answers. I seek to convince the person who is going to check out everything I say, and critically analyze my arguments. Hence, I would be mortified if my “students” yelled out “the Eucharist!” or booed when the other side scored a telling blow. You may well wish to consider the impact such emotional outbursts had upon your own speaking.
I look forward to future opportunities of debate. Sola scriptura is, in the thinking of most Roman Catholic apologists with whom I am familiar, the “favorite” topic, the one that the Roman Catholic feels most comfortable with. But the Papacy, Infallibility, the Marian doctrines-those are all issues where you will be called upon to not only present a solid case, but defend that case against a knowledgeable opponent who will not be relying upon Jack Chick tracts for his information. You claim to have proven “without a doubt” that the Bible teaches the Marian doctrines, and that the “answers” you provide on Honorius or Liberius are, seemingly, infallible. I, for one, look forward to the opportunity of seeing just how deep your original research is into these topics. And when it comes to justification-well, if your rapid-fire comments on the Greek language regarding the tenses of dikaio/w mean anything, I very much look forward to that discussion as well. I would think that the most likely topic of the second round would be the Papacy itself, as Papal Infallibility assumes the existence of a Papacy to examine. Perhaps we could do a Friday night/Saturday morning type debate, with the first night examining the biblical evidence, the next morning the patristic, much as I did with Gerry Matatics in Denver in 1993.
In the service of the Risen Lord,