Dave Armstrong, upon realizing it was unwise to post Columbine-style pictures of Reformed apologists on the same blog that talks about how he respects Protestants, pointed to a response he wrote to the comparison of his “exegesis” with an example of my own (found here) as a means of providing cover for his mistake. I had briefly looked at the response, thrown my hands up in despair, and chosen to ignore it. Why? Because, as is so often the case, Mr. Armstrong just didn’t get it. It was obvious he thought I had written my exegesis as a response to his own. I hadn’t. As I had pointed out, I took the sample of his own writing from his book. Mine I took from an article I was writing at the time for a scholarly journal. That was what made the comparison worthwhile: his example was not directed at me, specifically, and mine was written without any connection whatsoever to Armstrong. The point of the comparison was completely lost on Mr. Armstrong as well. The point was to illustrate the difference in exegetical methodologies between us. It was not to provide a point/counter-point argument. But Armstrong treats it like it is supposed to be a debate presentation. As such, he misses the entire purpose of the comparison.
But since he has insisted I have “ignored” his “reply,” a few comments are in order. Armstrong’s “response” can be found here. I will be very brief…no, downright terse, as there is little of substance here to respond to.
A) Upon reviewing a footnote that discusses a range of lexical and LXX background information, Armstrong writes, “Nothing to quibble with here.” Of course not: it is factual information, the very kind of factual information that plays no part in his own ‘exegesis.’
B) Next, I commented very briefly, and in a summary fashion, on Hebrews 7:22. Armstrong replies, “But of course White does not here deal with my own particular argument.” How on earth could I? I wasn’t writing this in response to Armstrong. But the argument that follows again displays the very point I was making all along: that what Armstrong calls “exegesis” is actually Roman Catholic proof-texting. Note he says:
Jesus holds a perpetual priesthood (“He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” — 7:24; not just a one-time priestly sacrifice of Himself that has no application to His priesthood beyond the time it occurred in history).
Yes, we agree that Jesus sacrificed Himself once on the Cross (7:27). But that is a one-time act, in history. Why, then, does 7:26 continue to refer to Jesus as a “high priest” in the present tense, “exalted above the heavens”? It is this paradoxical interplay between the one act and the “present-ness” of Jesus’ priesthood that suggests a timeless nature of the sacrifice: precisely what Catholics claim is occurring at the Mass: the one-time sacrifice is being made present to us, because Jesus is a priest “forever.”
When doing exegesis, the burden of proof lies upon the one asserting. No one has argued that Christ’s priesthood is anything but permanent. But note the shift in Armstrong’s terminology from Christ’s priesthoodto “a one-time priestly sacrifice of Himself.” No basis for this exchange is offered, and it then becomes the basis of the statement, “that has no application to His priesthood beyond the time it occurred in history.” Of course, we’ve already left the realm of exegesis at this point, but Armstrong is not aware of the parameters of the activity, and hence thinks that these kinds of statements are exegetical in nature. The second paragraph contains only one exegetically-relevant question (not even an assertion) in the midst of its theological speculations. Evidently the entire argument is based upon the fact that Jesus is, present tense, the one, singular High Priest, and therefore, there must be an on-going aspect to His priesthood, and hence an on-going, perpetual sacrifice. Of course, to substantiate such an argument one would have to provide a textual basis for the perpetual sacrifice and this is the very thing Armstrong does not attempt to do. Using his “Socratic” methodology, however, he forges a plausible line of thinking and seemingly believes this is sufficient. Exegesis this is not. Christ’s priesthood is permanent not because His sacrifice is perpetual but because He ever lives to make intercession for us: intercession cannot happen without a completed sacrifice. To make the sacrifice perpetual is to destroy the perfection of both it, and the intercession made upon its completed nature.
C) Next, in my comments I worked through the supremacy of Christ to the old priests. Armstrong’s response? Exegetical? You judge:
Sure, but this doesn’t rule out the Catholic claim with regard to Jesus’ priesthood. It makes little sense to me to keep referring to Jesus as a “priest” in the present tense when He is (according to most Protestants) no longer doing at all what a priest does (sacrifice). Jesus sacrificed Himself as the Lamb of God. That was His priestly act (this is stated explicitly in 7:27, so it cannot be doubted).
But if that was strictly a past tense and not perpetual, why keep calling Him a priest after He is glorified in heaven? It would seem much more sensible to refer to His one-time priestly act, rather than continuing to call Him something denoting a characteristic activity that He is no longer performing.
Notice the utter disconnection from the text under discussion. Exegesis has been abandoned, we are back to theological jargon. In response to the theological (non-exegetical) argument: what makes little sense to Dave Armstrong is hardly the basis for theological truth. Note the errant assumption made: “what a priest does (sacrifice).” Oh? Mr. Armstrong, what was the priest doing in the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement? Was he sacrificing? No, he wasn’t. He was presenting a finished sacrifice. Did he cease to be a priest as soon as the sacrifice was completed? By Mr. Armstrong’s reasoning, yes. Of course, that reveals its fundamental error. The writer to the Hebrews teaches us that Christ has entered into the holy place in heaven. If he were to follow the analogy, does it not follow that just as the high priest ceased sacrificing when he entered the holy place in the earthly tabernacle, that likewise the one High Priest accomplished His one sacrifice on Calvary, and has now entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption (9:12), so that His priestly work now is, as Hebrews 7:24-25 says, intercessory, not sacrificial?
D) Continuing his non-exegetical “response” to exegesis, Armstrong replies to my noting Christ’s ability to save (7:25):
If He is actively saving men — present and future tense — (as is undoubtedly true), but is doing so as a priest then He is presently saving by the sacrifice of Himself (i.e., the priestly act) which is an act made eternally “now”. Thus we are right to the heart of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the same concept. Jesus saves us as a priest. The sacrifice is of both an ongoing and salvific nature. This is the Mass! It’s heartening to see that James White can present it so clearly from the Bible despite his own lack of belief in it.
Notice again that there is absolutely, positively not the first attempt to make a connection to the text that is supposedly being “exegeted.” None. This is what makes it next to impossible to respond to Armstrong without writing page after page of disjointed rebuttals. In response to the assertions made: the text under discussion defines for us, directly, in the clearest language, why the Lord Jesus has complete salvific power: “because He ever lives to make intercession for them.” Does Armstrong note this? No, of course not. Does he note the difference between saving to the uttermost and the Roman concept of satispassio in purgatory? No. Instead, we get the repeated error of thinking a priest only sacrifices (refuted above), which is used to slide directly into modern Roman dogma without the first attempt to draw this from the text itself. This is eisegesis in its purest form. Nothing I said is even slightly relevant to Rome’s Mass; Armstrong is the one closing his eyes to the text and its assertions of Christ’s saving power, intercession, etc., and yet, in the midst of presenting this kind of eisegetical nonsense, he finds a way to “take a shot” as if I were presenting Rome’s position, but am just not bright enough to “get it.”
E) The rest of this “response” is a flight of fancy, leaping out of Hebrews to all sorts of other passages, and demonstrating, for any thinking person, that Dave Armstrong has never once cracked the binding of a book on exegesis, let alone taken the subject seriously enough to equip himself to honestly approach the subject with integrity. Note just one last example. I had written:
As noted above, the soteriological content of the superiority of Christ’s work as high priest and of the new covenant cannot be dismissed or overlooked.
Armstrong completely misunderstood the point: I was focusing upon the fact that the new covenant is soteriological in nature. He is probably unaware of the viewpoint expressed by those who see a non-soteriological element to the new covenant, and hence did not even notice the italics as they flew by. But he had plenty of time to respond as follows:
I agree 100% That’s why I go to Mass every Sunday and partake of the body and blood of the once-for-all-sacrificed Lamb of God, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, made sacramentally present by the sublime miracle of transubstantiation, because this sacrifice is my salvation. It’s not often that I get excited about the Mass based on the arguments of an anti-Catholic Baptist who detests the very concept. 🙂
Again, this is simply beyond rational discourse. This is not exegesis, and the one acting as if he knows what exegesis is cannot, seemingly, even make a show of it.
I have often had folks comment, “Man, that Dave Armstrong sure has a lot of stuff on his website!” Yes, he sure does. The IRS website has a lot on it too, so if verbosity is the measure of religious truth, we should worship toward our local tax office. But verbosity is not the measure of truth, and as we have seen above, Mr. Armstrong’s vain attempt at trying to act as if he can engage in exegetical work only shows that he has a tremendous amount of time on his hands, a high-quality keyboard, a large hard drive, unlimited ISP space, and no end of mental energy to dedicate to his cause. But anyone looking for substantial biblical exegesis from him will be sorely disappointed.