Apologetics for the Masses #407: The Roman Catholic Controversy - Dr. James White

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Responses to James White's comments on Luke 22:31-32 and Peter


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     Okay, this week I take on the king of the anti-Catholics...Dr. James White.  I have never gone head-to-head with Dr. White before, but he has, in the past, gone head-to-head with me.  What I mean by that is that he discussed at least one of my talks on his then internet radio show...which I guess would now be called a podcast...some years back. Someone sent me some audio of the show.  If I remember correctly, he played short excerpts of the talk and then would give his infallible take on what I said. The talk he was trying to take apart was my Once Saved, Always Saved talk.  I do remember that he pretty much took everything I said out of context - I guess that's why he played only short excerpts - and did not do that good of a job with his responses.  And, during the show, he stated that he was going to call me to let me know he was discussing my talk and maybe get me on in the future to discuss it with him.  I guess he got busy, though, because I never heard from him.  What a surprise.  He may have also done the same for other talks of mine, but that is the only one that I know for sure he did.

     Also, while I have never taken on Dr. White himself, I have taken on one of his surrogates - James Swan.  Swan is apparently also some bigtime anti-Catholic apologist.  Swan was, and maybe still is, a subscriber to this newsletter.  He would, on occasion, take potshots at me in his blog.  At one point, a few years back, Swan posted a lengthy reply to one of my newsletters on his blog, which was also posted on Dr. White's blog, and to which I responded in a subsequent newsletter.  However, for some reason, Swan would never reply to me directly, nor did he ever print any part of my responses to him in his blog.  Again, what a surprise.

     Now, back to Dr. James White.  Dr. White wrote a book back in 1996 called, The Roman Catholic Controversy.  On pages 114 - 115 of that book, Dr. White formulates some arguments as to why Luke 22:31-32 cannot be used as scriptural evidence for the primacy of Peter and the concept of the papacy.  I want to give you three arguments that he makes, and then give my response to each.  I hope you enjoy...


Luke 22:31-32, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you [plural - the Apostles] that he might sift you [the Apostles] like wheat; but I have prayed for you [singular - Peter] that your faith may not fail; and when you [Peter] have turned again, strengthen your brethren." 


James White, Argument #1:  Peter just needed some pastoral care.

"Some have even gone so far as to say that the Lord's prayer for Peter's faith extends to Peter's successors, the bishops of Rome, so that their dogmatic teachings are infallible! This passage, like John 21, shows us nothing more than that Peter needed pastoral care by the Lord due to his impetuosity. The Lord's prayer was fulfilled, for even having denied Christ, Peter, unlike Judas, went out and wept bitterly. But his faith did not fail completely, and he was restored and humbled, but wiser. To take this as indicating Petrine primacy, however, goes beyond anything the text says."  James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 115

My Response #1
    “This passage...shows us nothing more than that Peter needed pastoral care.”  Really?!  And Jesus’ washing of the feet of the Apostles shows us nothing more than that their feet were dirty, right?  And Jesus’ telling of parables shows us nothing more than that Jesus was a good storyteller?  And the Apostles falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane shows us nothing more than that they were overworked and needed a good night’s rest?  It is amazing to me what preconceived biases will lead people to say in order to justify their biases.  
    Does this passage apply to the papacy, in general, and to the charism of infallibility, in particular?  I would say, yes, to the former, not necessarily so, to the latter.  This passage definitely shows Peter was indeed set apart as the leader of the Apostles and, therefore, the leader of the early Church.  One could infer, then, that the successor to Peter’s office, or bishopric, would then be the leader of the Church, and isn’t the leader of the Church, any church, supposed to strengthen his brethren?  You can argue that maybe Peter’s successor in office wasn’t the de facto leader of the Church a la the papacy - although church history would beg to differ - but you cannot argue that the function of the leader of any church is, by nature of his office, to strengthen his brethren.  So, yes, this passage applies to Peter and to whoever it was that filled his shoes, or sandals, when Peter put off his body, as I will speak to momentarily.  
    There was something else here in his comment, however, that I must address.  He claims that John 21, like Luke 22, “shows us nothing more than that Peter needed pastoral care.”  I find that a bit of an odd claim.  In John 21, Jesus pulls Peter aside, from the other Apostles who were present, and tells him to: Feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed My sheep.  Who is it that feeds the lambs, tends the sheep, and feeds the sheep?  The shepherd.  Jesus, Whose time on earth is very nearly at an end, is appointing Peter to shepherd His flock in His absence.  How that can be interpreted as simply showing that Peter needed pastoral care is, again, quite odd.  No, it is showing that Jesus is appointing Peter as the one who will strengthen his brethren, and not just the Apostles this time around, but all of his Christian brethren - the sheep and lambs - and it is Peter who will be giving others the pastoral care that they need.  
    I am glad he mentioned John 21, though, because I think this passage with Jesus and Peter is linked to an oft overlooked nugget of information buried in the 2nd Letter of Peter.  In 2 Peter 1:14, Peter mentions that he is about to put off his body, or “tabernacle” as the KJV puts it, “as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me”.  In other words, he is about to die.  But, when did our Lord show him this?  The only possible scriptural verse he could be referring to is in John 21, verses 18-19.  
    Why did Peter bring us back to this moment in time?  What was going on in John 21?  As mentioned above, Jesus had little time left on earth and he was appointing Peter to be the shepherd of His flock...the Church.  How does that connect with 2 Peter, chapter 1?  Well, if we look at verses 12-15, what is going on here?  Peter is saying that he has little time left on this earth in verse 14, just like Jesus had little time left in John 21.  But, Peter is telling his readers that after his departure (verse 15), he will see to it that they will be able at any time to recall the truth that they have (verse 12).  
    The question is: What did Peter do to see to it that these folks would always be able, at any time, to recall the truth after his death?  What did he do?  Did he write another letter that was delivered after his death?  Nope.  So what did he do?  Did he maybe, just maybe, do exactly like Jesus did in John 21, and appoint another shepherd of the flock to take his place when he died, just as Jesus had appointed him shepherd of the flock when He was about to ascend to Heaven?  Another shepherd who could continue Peter’s work of feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, and feeding the sheep?
    I can’t say that is definitively what Peter was referring to, but I have always found the connection between John 21:15-19 and 2 Peter 1:12-15 and how they separately and together point squarely in the direction of the Papacy to be most intriguing. Unfortunately, for Dr. White, the best he can say on this would be, “I disagree.”  But, since he has no authority to put behind his private opinion, then his opinion carries, at best, the same weight as this poor, ignorant, damned to Hell Catholic’s opinion.  He can’t even offer any possibility for what it was Peter was referring to in 2 Peter 1:15 since, other than John 21:15-19, there is no other Scripture verse that he can use to interpret Scripture with Scripture on this.  Man, that’s got to be frustrating.

James White, Argument #2:  Peter isn't the only one who strengthens others.

"Some have said that Peter is set apart from the others by the phrase "and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Yet even here we find no basis for reading Papal prerogatives into the passage, for such terminology is common in the New Testament. For example, the term used here [see footnote 8] (14:22; 15:32; 15:41; 18:23) is used of Paul's confirming the churches of Syria and Cilicia, of Judas and Silas's confirming the brethren at Antioch, and of Timothy's confirming the Thessalonian Church. Amazingly, Paul uses the same Greek term in writing to the Church of Rome...No mention is made of Peter at all!"  James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 115

My Response #2
    I find this claim from Dr. White to, again, be a bit odd: “Some have said that Peter is set apart from the others by this phrase,” referring to what Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32.  I say it is odd because Dr. White’s attitude towards Jesus’ words to Peter seems to be, “Eh, no big deal. It’s not anything that didn’t happen elsewhere in the New Testament.”  
    Yet, it is precisely that - something that didn’t happen elsewhere in the New Testament.  Let’s set the table, as it were, for Jesus’ words here at the Last Supper: Jesus has just instituted the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper as Dr. White would probably refer to it.  Jesus is about to undergo His Passion and Crucifixion.  And right before He leaves for the Garden of Gethsemane, what does He do?  
    First, He tells the Apostles that He has appointed a kingdom for them and that they will all be sitting on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.  Pretty heady stuff!  These guys are the big dogs!  Then, He turns to Simon Peter, and in front of the others that He has just told they will be sitting on thrones in His kingdom, He tells Simon that Satan is after all of them, but He, Jesus, has prayed - not for all of these future rulers in the Kingdom - but for just one of them, Simon Peter.  And that when Simon Peter has come back around - or been “converted” as it says in the King James Version - that he should strengthen his brethren.  
    This is extraordinary!  Does the stronger strengthen the weaker, or does the weaker strengthen the stronger?  It is the former.  Jesus is recognizing here, in front of all the Apostles,  that Peter is their strength.  He is the one Jesus is relying upon to bring order out of the chaos that is about to ensue.  He is the one who will steady his brethren.  He is the one who will make sure all is as Jesus intends it to be.  And all this gets from Dr. White is, essentially, “Eh, no big deal.”  Really?!
    Dr. White doesn’t think Peter is set apart here?  What else can you call it when all the Apostles are present yet Jesus speaks to one, in particular, and prays for one, in particular, and instructs the one, in particular, to strengthen the others?  That is, by definition, being set apart.  Can you imagine if Dr. White was sitting at dinner with several of his colleagues, and with Jesus, and Jesus turned to him and said, “James, Satan is trying to get to all of you, but I have prayed just for you, James, and I want you to strengthen your brothers.”  I dare to say that Dr. White, would indeed feel “set apart from the others.”
    That he tries to minimize Jesus’ charge to Peter by saying that “such terminology” is common in the New Testament is a rather weak argument.  We see in a few places in the New Testament that we are all to pick up our cross to follow Jesus.  Does that mean, since “such terminology” is common in the New Testament, that Jesus taking up His cross was, “Eh, no big deal?”  Or, maybe since a bunch of folks got baptized in the New Testament that Jesus’ baptism was, “Eh, no big deal?”  
    Yes, in Christianity, we are all called to strengthen our brethren, not just Peter or Paul or Timothy or Silas but all of us who have any strength to give.  However, Jesus’ words to Peter are unique in that all the other Apostles were present; yet, Jesus prayed for one and only one of them and gave a specific command to one and only one of them, to strengthen his brothers.  Eh, no big deal, right? 


Dr. James White, Argument #3:  Peter will be better able to share with others because of his denial.

"So Peter is simply being instructed to strengthen his brothers after he himself is restored and strengthened by Christ. We all know that we are better able to share with others when we ourselves have gone through trials, which Peter most assuredly did after being restored to fellowship after his fall. No primacy or Papacy is found here."  James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 115

My Response #3
    Again, the word that comes to mind when I read White’s argument is - odd.  Dr. White sees no greater meaning in this passage than Peter will be better equipped to share with others after he has come through his little rough patch of denying Jesus?  I guess that will make him more sensitive to the needs of others or some such thing?  Kumbaya, folks, kumbaya.  He'll be like the Dr. Phil of the Apostles? White is not at all curious as to why Jesus says Satan is after all of the Apostles, but prays only for Peter?  He is not at all curious as to why Jesus tells Peter, but none of the other Apostles, to strengthen his brethren?  Why does Jesus pray only for Peter?  Are the other Apostles not worthy of prayer?  Why doesn’t Jesus tell the other Apostles to strengthen their brethren?  Is it because they didn’t deny Jesus three times and so won’t be as emotionally equipped to share with others as Peter will be?  Why isn’t James White, Scripture scholar extraordinaire, curious about these things?  Could his lack of curiosity be because he has no interest in delving deeply into something that might lead in a direction that he does not want to go?
    At the end of the day, in spite of all the letters behind his name, Dr. James White, Scripture scholar extraordinaire, is left with giving us nothing more than his own private fallible interpretation of what Luke 22:31-32 means or doesn’t mean.  His own private, biased, fallible, non-binding interpretation that, again, in spite of all of the letters behind his name, carries no more authority than the interpretation of any other private individual who picks up a copy of the Bible and reads it for themselves - including poor lost, ignorant, bound for Hell Catholics like me. He must really hate that!  
    And it must be very frustrating for him that his preconceived biases lead someone as smart as he is to be able to do no better in his exegesis of this passage from Luke 22, than to say Peter being singled out here by Jesus is really no big deal and just shows that Peter needed a little extra pastoral counseling.  Really?!  That’s the best he can do? 

Closing Comments

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter and I hope all of you have a great week.  Please keep the Bible Christian Society in your prayers.  I keep all of you and your loved ones in mine.


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Apologetics for the Masses