Saturday, August 29, 2020

WM 174: Life of Jerome.Part Two: From Bethlehem to Death


I have posted WM 174: Life of Jerome.Part Two: Bethlehem to Death.

This continues my review of the life of Jerome, begun in WM 173, drawing upon on J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (1975).

As a man, Kelly concludes, Jerome "presents a fascinating puzzle" (335). No other famous figure of his age had "such a complex, curiously ambivalent personality" (335). He could be "warm-hearted, kind to the poor and distressed" but also "vain and petty, jealous of rivals, morbidly sensitive, and irascible, hag-ridden of imaginary fears" (336).


Eusebius, EH.9.2-4: Paganism Strikes Back

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 9, chapter 2-4.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe a renewal of persecution which took place at the instigation of Maximin, the tyrant of the East.

Chapter 2 reports that Maximin, hater of the good and plotter against virtuous men, attempted various devises to overturn the peace and tolerance extended to the Christians. He attempted to bar Christians from gathering in cemeteries, where they were apparently assembling to commemorate the martyrs. He also tried to stir up resistance to Christians in Antioch, along with the curator Theotecnus (whose name ironically means “child of God”). Eusebius describes him as “a clever cheat, and an evil man, quite unlike his name.”

Chapter 3 describes Theoctenus’s anti-Christian efforts in Antioch. He erected there a statue to Zeus, “the Befriender”, in an apparent effort to defend or restore paganism, as well as to court the favor of Maximin, and made use of various occult means to declare that this god had ordered the removal of Christians from the city and its borders.

Chapter 4 adds that when other governors saw that this was pleasing to the tyrant, they followed suit, and persecution was rekindled. Maximin appointed priests to and high priests to serve with great zeal the images erected in each city.


These chapters tell us how resistance to the Christian movement continued under the tyrant Maximin and under local rulers, like Theotecnus of Antioch, even after the official end of the Diocletian persecution.  These descriptions are particularly interesting in that they seem to reflect an effort by the devotees of the pagan religions to reassert their dominance and win back the populace from the appeal of the Christian sect.


Friday, August 28, 2020

The Vision (8.28.20): Pure and undefiled religion


Image: Knockout roses, North Garden, Virginia, August 2020

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 1:26-27.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

James 1:27 describes two marks of true or authentic religion (faith in Christ). The first of those two marks is care for the fatherless and widows, while the second is keeping oneself distinct from the world.

By calling for care for the fatherless and widows, James is making contact with some deep themes from the Old Testament Scriptures. Read through the Old Testament, and you will find again and again an emphasis on God’s special love and concern for the fatherless (the orphan) and the widow (cf. Exod 22:22-24; Deut 14:28-29; 24:17-19; 1 Kings 17:8-24). Psalm 68:5 declares, “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.”

Why is this theme found in the Old Testament? It shows the heart of God in salvation for those who are weak and helpless and defenseless. As the Lord will tell the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:9: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

This theme appears in the New Testament Gospels. It is there when a godly widow named Anna welcomes the birth of Christ (Luke 2:36-38), when Christ raised from the dead the only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16), and it is there when Christ praises the generous widow who drops here mites into the temple offering (cf. Mark 12:43-44).

And it continues in the ministry of the apostles. In Acts 6, we read of how the apostles set apart seven men to care for the Greek speaking widows who were “neglected in the daily ministration” (v. 1). And in 1 Timothy 5:3 Paul wrote, “Honour widows that are widows indeed.”

What is pure and undefiled religion? It is to take care for the weakest in your midst, remembering how God reached down to help you in your weakness. Thomas Manton points out that here orphans and widows are specified “but others are not excluded” (175). Brethren are to care for one another in times of need (Matt 25:40). Of course, this duty extended beyond the circle of believers, as Paul exhorted the Galatians to do good to all men (Gal 6:10).

The thing that stood out among the pagans was the way in which the Christians cared not only for the best and strongest, but also for the weakest and the most vulnerable. And this is still the way it so often works. Who leads the way in caring for the aged, in fighting for the lives of the unborn, in constructing orphanages, and in adopting the forsaken? It is so often those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

How can we be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22)? How can we practice religion (faith in Christ) that is pure and undefiled? We can visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Saturday, August 22, 2020

WM 173: Life of Jerome.Part One: From Birth to Bethlehem

I have posted WM 173: Life of Jerome.Part One: Birth to Bethlehem.

It offers an overview of the life of Jerome of Stridon, one of the most important early Christian churchmen and scholars. One of his most significant achievements was the translation of the Bible into Latin (the Latin Vulgate), later editions of which would be declared by the RCC at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to be the authoritative edition of the Bible. Though Protestants reject that claim, we do see his work as important for (1) preserving the Hebrew as the divine original of the OT; and (2) preserving many key readings in the Greek NT.

In this overview I share my reading notes from the classic biography of Jerome by J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (original, 1975; Christian Classics Reprint Edition, 1980).

This Part One covers Jerome's early years (primarily in Rome) from c. 331-386, or, "From Birth to Bethlehem."

Part Two will be forthcoming, focusing on his later years (primarily in Bethlehem) from 386-420, or: "From Bethlehem to Death."

Enjoy! JTR

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Vision (8.21.20): 2020 Keach Conference Coming


The Keach Conference is an annual theology and ministry conference sponsored by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia (RBFVA). The 2020 meeting will be hosted by CRBC, Louisa.

2020 Theme: Of Sanctification (based on chapter 13 of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith [1689]). This conference continues a consecutive exposition of the 1689 confession that began fourteen years ago.

2020 Keach Conference Schedule:

Saturday, September 26, 2020

9:00 am: Morning Coffee and Fellowship

9:30 am: Session One:

Morning Devotion: Pastor Ryan Davidson, Grace Baptist Chapel, Hampton, Virginia

Message One: Pastor John Miller, Grace RBC, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Message Two: Pastor Simon O’Mahony, Grace RBC, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

12:00 noon: Lunch Served on Site

1:00 pm: Session Two:

Message Three: Pastor John Miller, Grace RBC, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Question and Answer Session with Speakers

Meeting will conclude by c. 2:30 pm so that attendees will have adequate time to return home to prepare for the Lord’s Day.

Special Notes on Meeting:

·       Anyone interested in Reformed theology is welcomed to the Keach Conference. You do not have to be a member of a Reformed Baptist Church to attend.

·       There is no cost to attend the conference. Morning coffee and lunch are complimentary. An offering, however, will be collected for those who would like to support the conference meeting.

·       Due to current covid restrictions, conference attendance will be limited and attendees will be asked to practice social distancing, as appropriate.

·       In order to attend the conference you must pre-register by emailing Christ Reformed Church at with your name(s), contact info (email and phone), and local church affiliation. Groups from the same church may register by sending one email listing attendees. You will then receive a confirmation email with conference information.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

James on believers as "a kind of firstfruits of his creatures"


Image: Morning Glory, North Garden, Virginia, August 2020

Note: More exposition from Sunday before last's sermon on James 1:17-20. In that message I suggested three themes: Who is God (vv. 17-18a)? Who are we in Christ? (v. 18b)? How should we live? (vv. 19-20). The exposition below addresses the second of those themes.

James 1:18b: …that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Again, notice the first-person plural pronoun: “We.” James is identifying with his Christian readers, of the first generation and every generation thereafter.

Believers are described in many different ways in the Scriptures. We are disciples, followers of the Way, Christians, saints, the elect, the redeemed, pilgrims, aliens, strangers, the called, the adopted, the sons of God, joint heirs with Christ, etc.

As with many things in James, however, the description here is somewhat unique. And I think there is a good argument to be made for the fact that this description especially relates to the first generation of believers.

He describes the believers to whom he wrote as “a kind of firstfruits [aparche] of [God’s] creatures.”

This seems to combine two ideas we see in Paul:

First, Christians are a new creation or new creatures in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Second, the risen Christ is described by Paul as a kind of “firstfruits” in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits [aparche] of them that slept.”

The point seems to be: Just as Christ’s resurrection from the dead anticipated the general resurrection that all men will experience at the end of the ages, so the regeneration of that first generation of believers anticipated the regeneration of countless believers through many coming generation until the glorious return of Christ.

In that sense it can be applied to us also, anticipating the ones who will come after us.

We are new creatures in Christ, and we anticipate an even greater harvest that is yet to come. In our Father’s house there are many mansions!


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

James 1:18a: Begotten of the Father with the word of truth


More thoughts drawn from Sunday before last's sermon on James 1:17-20:

James 1:18a: Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth….

This statement addresses the work of the Father of lights in salvation.

Notice what this verse does not say. It does not say, According to the free will decision of man, begat he us….

The stress here, as always in the NT, is on the sovereignty of God in salvation: Of God the Father’s own will, begat he us….

This is the same thing John recorded in John 1:13 when he wrote that the redeemed “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

And it is exactly what Paul declared in Romans 9:16 when he wrote, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

Notice three more things that are said here about salvation:

First, notice the language of begetting: “begat he us.” God the Father of lights made us, by grace, to become his sons and co-heirs with Christ. We are begotten of the Father, born from above.

Second, notice the pronoun “us.” Who is encompassed in this? James the apostle, the first recipients of this letter, the “brethren” (vv. 2, 9, 16), and all other Christian readers down through the ages. If you are a believer James is addressing you!

Third, notice the divine means of God bringing about salvation for us according to his will: “the word of truth.”

This could be a reference to Christ, who is described by John as the Word (logos) (John 1:1) and who declared himself in John 14:6 to be the truth.

It could also be a reference to the apostolic preaching in the apostolic Scriptures which point to Christ. See:

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God (logon theou), which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

Of course, these two things do not need to be mutually exclusive. How does the Lord save men in this age? By the preaching of Christ as he is set out in the Gospels and in the writings of the apostles.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

James on the Immutability of God

Image: "Bouldering" at Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, Virginia, August 2020.

More reflection on the doctrine of God from Sunday before last's sermon on James 1:17-20:

James 1:17 Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The reference to every good and perfect gift may refer to the Lord’s generous supply of our every material need.

It may also refer to spiritual gifts, graces, and blessings.

These things come down “from above.” The idea is of a God who is transcendent, who is exalted, who is high and lifted up. As the Lord said through Isaiah, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). In that same chapter Isaiah records the Lord saying that just as he sends forth the rain and the snow to water the earth, so also he sends down his word, which will not return to him void, lest it accomplish that which pleases him (vv.10-11). I think James may well have had Isaiah 55 in mind as he composed this passage.

Theology is being taught here. God the Father is not lateral with us. He is not our buddy, our colleague, our peer. We are not co-creators with him in any ultimate sense. He is above, and we are below. He gives, and we receive. He blesses, and we are blessed.

James was a Calvinist!

He makes another point about the identity or nature of God in v. 17b: “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

The point here is that God does not change. To use the language of the philosophers, God is immutable. God does not possess or express passions as men do.

In Numbers 23, the pagan King Balak tries to hire a pagan prophet Balaam to curse Israel but every time Balaam opens his mouth to curse Israel, out comes blessings.

When Balak expresses his frustration about this, Balaam responds:

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

There are so many things that are comforting about this. God’s moral law does not change. God’s plan of salvation does not change. And, perhaps most comforting of all, God does not change his mind about us, just as he did not change his mind about Israel of old. God’s decree of election to salvation does not change. As Christ put it: “no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).


Monday, August 17, 2020

Thomas Manton: Reproaches for Christ are matters of thanksgiving rather than discontent


“Reproaches for Christ are matters of thanksgiving rather than discontent. In ordinary sufferings God’s people have this comfort, that as nothing cometh without merit, so nothing goeth away without profit. But here, whatever is done to them is an honour and a high vouchsafement. Oh! How happy are the people of God, that can suffer nothing from God or men, but what they may take comfort in!” (Commentary on James, 1693).


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Thomas Manton: A Christian's life is full of mysteries


A Christian’s life is full of mysteries; poor, yet rich; base, yet exalted; shut out of the world, and yet admitted into the company of the saints and angels; slighted, yet dear to God; the world’s dirt, and God’s jewels (Thomas Manton, Commentary on James, 1693).

Eusebius, EH.9.1: Christian Joy at the End of the Diocletian Persecution

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 9, chapter 1.

Notes and Commentary:

This opening chapter of book 9 describes the initial joy among Christians that met the announcement of the ending of the Diocletian persecution.

Eusebius begins by noting that Maximin “the tyrant of the East” and “monster of impiety” was not pleased with the order but only begrudgingly complied with it. In fact, he did not publish the imperial edict but only orally communicated to those under him.

An epistle, translated from its original Latin, from the prefect Sabinusis is cited. This noted announced the imperial decision to the provincial governors, stating that Christians were to be “free from molestation” and “from danger.”

Christians were then released from prisons and from the mines. The churches were thronged in every city with large assemblies, at which the pagans marveled, and many extolled their God to be true.

Those who has remained faithful continued in confidence. Those who had wavered “eagerly strove for their own healing.”

It is especially noted that the “noble champions of godliness” returned to their homes from the mines where they had been enslaved “proudly and joyously.” Crowds of men passed through the streets and marketplaces praising God with songs and psalms. Even those who had persecuted the believers rejoiced with them.


Eusebius provides an effusive description of the joy with which the Christians celebrated the end of the Diocletian persecution. The remaining antipathy of the tryant Maximin toward Christians, however, indicates the fact that there were still those who were hostile against them and foreshadows opposition that was still to come.


Friday, August 14, 2020

The Vision (8.14.20): The Father of Lights


Image: Wild ponies grazing under overcast skies, off the Appalachian Trail, Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, Virginia, August 2020.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 1:17-20.

Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17).

I noted Sunday that in James 1:17-20 three key themes are explored by the apostle: Who is God (vv. 17-18a)? Who is the redeemed sinner (v. 18b)? How should we live (vv. 19-20)?

James begins with theology (Who is God?). He uniquely identifies God here as “the Father of Lights”.

Christ taught us to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven….” Of course, this is the language of analogy. God is not a male. Christ said to the woman at the well: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We are not the physical offspring of God.

And yet the language here is not accidental. Although there are a handful of scattered “maternal” images for God in the Scriptures (cf. Psalm 91:4), the predominant Biblical image for God is as a Father.

Our liberal Protestant friends are thus wrong when they try to be gender inclusive and begin their prayers, “Our mother, which art in heaven….”

Nearly 30 years ago, back in the August 16, 1993 issue of Christianity Today magazine, there was an article, still well worth reading, titled, “Why God is not Mother,” by a woman OT scholar named Elizabeth Achtemeier, which ably makes this point.

The Bible calls God Father, because it suggests that he is like an ideal Father. Even if you did not have a good and loving human Father, you can still imagine what an ideal Father should be.

How is God like an ideal Father?

He is the initiator. He is the one who conceives the plan to be carried out. He is the one who issues decrees to accomplish his plan. He is the one who provides from the fullness of who he is. He does not let his children go hungry. He meets their physical needs. He is generous and kind and liberal in his affections with his children. He is a loving Father. He satisfies the emotional and spiritual needs of those who are his own. The ideal Father will also exercise discipline, not because he enjoys punishment, but because he desires to train, correct, and improve his children. A Father is a protector and defender. He will step in the gap to shield his dear ones from any threat. A Father is also a rescuer and a savior. If he sees his child in danger, he will intervene to pluck him out of trouble.

Every human father will confess that he falls short of this ideal, but every Christian will affirm that our heavenly Father perfectly fulfills this ideal in his paternal care for us.

James adds that God is “the Father of lights.” What is meant by this?

The first thing that came to my mind was an acknowledgement of God as the creator of light and the creator of the heavenly bodies that provide light to this world (cf. day one and day four of creation, Genesis 1:3, 14).

One might also think of the triune God and how God the Father sent forth his Son who declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

Or one might especially think, given the plural here (lights), of the spiritual illuminations and graces, which he bestows on so many.

Matthew Poole observed here: “God is the author of all perfection, and so of corporeal light; but here we understand spiritual light, the light of knowledge, faith, holiness, as opposed to the darkness of ignorance, unbelief, sin; of which he cannot be the author.”

There is a theological point being made here: God is the Father of lights, not the Father of darkness. As the theologians say, God is not the author of evil.

By starting with God, James reminds us that we will not understand ourselves, or how we are to live, until we know who our God is. He is the Father of lights.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Book Review posted: Dirk Jongkind, An Introduction to the Greek New Testament (THGNT)

Note: I have posted my book review of Dirk Jongkind, An Introduction to the Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge (Crossway, 2019).

The review appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (July 2020): 233-236.

You can listen to the review above and/or read a pdf here on


Saturday, August 08, 2020

The Vision (8.8.20): The "Rusty Chain" of Temptation

Note: Devotional taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 1:12-16.

James 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

In Romans 8:29-30, Paul describes what has been called “the golden chain” of redemption, and in James 1:2-4 we described what we called James’s “golden chain” of perseverance.

These “chains” provide a series of interconnected events or actions that lead to some glorious end, according to the design of God.

Now, in James 1:14-15, the apostle describes what might be called the “rusty chain” of temptation. This, however, is not a positive chain. It is not a golden chain but what we might call a “rusty” one.

The first link in this chain is “lust” (in Greek it is plural: “lusts”). The Greek word epithumia means a desire, a longing, or a craving. But the word entails a desire that is inordinate or ungodly. It is a desire that trespasses beyond the bounds of what is holy, good, and right.

We typically think of lust as referring to inordinate sexual desire, as when Christ taught that the man who looks at a woman lustfully (using a verb from the same root of the word used here) has committed adultery in his heart (Matt 5:28).

But there are many other lusts or desires, including lust for power, lust for control, lust for revenge, lust for anger, lust for money, lust for dominance, etc.

The rusty chain of temptation begins in the heart of sinners, even in the hearts of believers (who still battle with sin), when they are governed by any inordinate desire or lust.

This desire draws a man away and entices him. Sin promises pleasure, but it delivers pain. Proverbs 20:17 says, “Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.”

The second link in v. 15a is sin itself. This tells us that there is a difference between the idea of sin and the doing of the deed itself. But notice the imagery here. It is reproductive and gestational. Desire conceives the enticement to sin that, if nurtured and fed, will give birth to the monster of actual sin itself.

The third link in v. 15b is death. The monster child of sin “when it is finished” (when it reaches maturity) leads to death. This last link is simply an alternate expression of Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.”

There is a warning here: Do not be enticed by temptation. Do not give yourself over to wicked desires. Do not let these lead to actual transgressions. The end result will be death, not merely physical death but spiritual death, what the Scriptures sometimes call “the second death” (Rev 2:11; 20:6).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Eusebius, EH.8.16-17 & Appendix: The End of the Diocletian Persecution


This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 8, chapter 16-17 & Appendix to book 8.

Notes and Commentary:

Chapter 16 describes how the great Diocletian persecution began to lessen by the eighth year and came to an end in the tenth year.

This change did not come about due to “human agency” or “pity” or from the “humanity of the rulers.” Instead it came about by divine providence.

One sign of this was that Galerius, the cruel emperor and “chief author” of the persecution, was stricken by an illness which began an an ulcer and wasted his inward parts, bringing forth worms and a terrible stench. The suffering described here is reminiscent of Herod’s illness in Acts 12:23.

Chapter 17 describes how Galerius became conscience-stricken for his cruel deeds and decided to command the persecution against Christians to cease. It includes a copy of this decree, translated from Latin to Greek allowing, “that the Christians may exist again and build the houses in which they assemble, always provided they do nothing contrary to order.”

In the Appendix found in the AER manuscript tradition, more information is added as to the fate of the four men who served as the Tetrarchy and under whom the persecution had begun.

It is noted that Galerius, who held last place among the four tetrarchs, died from his illness and that he had been the chief villain in the persecutions.

Diocletian had held the chief honor in the tetrarchy [thus we call it the Diocletian persecution] but retired from public life and eventually fell under painful bodily infirmity.

The one who held second place was Maximian whose life ended by strangling.

The tetrarch in third place had been Constantius [father of Constantine] and he is praised as the only who lived a noble life and who did not persecute Christians or tear down their churches.

One begins to see this as a bit of Constantinian propaganda.


These chapter describes the welcomed end of the Diocletian persecution and stresses the divine providential care for the church in ending the suffering.


Monday, August 03, 2020

Book Review Posted: Grantley McDonald, Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe: Erasmus, the Johannine Comma, and Trinitarian Debate

I have posted my book review of Grantley McDonald, Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe: Erasmus, the Johannine Comma Trinitarian Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

It was published in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (July 2020): 238-241.

You can read the pdf of the review here on


WM 172: James White Doubles Down on his Refusal to Debate Mark 16:9-20


On Saturday (8.1.20), I posted WM 171: Why does James White refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?

In an effort at damage control and spinning the narrative JW quickly responded with a blog post later the same day under the title, This Really Isn’t Hard. Here is his post, paragraph by paragraph, with my responses (his article is in black italic below and my responses in blue):

On July 28th I commented on the Dividing Line about an invitation to do a debate with Dr. Jeffrey Riddle on textual critical issues, specifically, a comparison of his position (TR Onlyism) and the Critical Text position (mine). I attempted to plainly and clearly lay out the main issue. Dr. Riddle has responded with an article accusing me of “refusing” to debate him. As anyone who listened to my comments knows, I did no such thing.

Response: If JW did not refuse the invitation to debate Mark 16:9-20 then why are we having this conversation? Clearly, he has refused the invitation. JW also does not provide any answer as to why he broke off the three-way conversation with me and Samuel Nesan of Explain Apologetics about a possible online debate. He also does not explain why he did not respond to my offer to do two debates: the first on Mark 16:9-20 and the second on a TR position supported by the minority (e.g., Acts 8:37).

Why does JW refused to debate Mark 16:9-20?

This is not a difficult issue. Dr. Riddle represents a small minority position without representation in the wider field of scholarship. You can see this plainly in the dialogue that took place early this year between Peter Gurry, James Snapp Jr., and Jeffrey Riddle. The two portions can be found here and here. I commented on the dialogue on this edition of the Dividing Line.

Response: I agree that it is not a difficult issue. Why does JW refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20? If he will not debate me on this topic, what about James Snapp?

Notice how JW tries to minimize me as his opponent, since I represent “a small minority position without representation in the wider field of scholarship.” So, is he refusing to debate Mark 16:9-20, because I do not have the proper academic credentials to meet his standards?

I have noted many times that the Confessional Text position is a minority position, even among those who are confessionally Reformed. Does this mean this topic should not be discussed? Isn’t the Reformed Baptist position generally a minority position overall among those who are confessionally Reformed? Does this mean that a Reformed Presbyterian should refuse to debate baptism with a Reformed Baptist, because confessionally Reformed Baptists are only a “small minority” in the wider Reformed world?

On the other hand, is the TR position really a minority position when we consider the fact that a great number of Christians all over the world, from many different denominations (from Pentecostals to Eastern Orthodox) continue to read and use translations (in various languages) based on the traditional text? In the English-speaking world, for example, the KJV and NKJV continue to be consistent best-sellers. Recent surveys by Lifeway suggest that many still prefer to read the KJV.

Does JW only engage in debates with those who are deeply involved in mainstream academic scholarship? A survey of his past debates does not indicate that this is the case. Is JW being inconsistent, attempting to justify and excuse his refusal to debate this topic?

JW notes the dialogue I had with James Snapp and Peter Gurry. Should Peter Gurry not have engaged in a conversation with me and Pastor Snapp, because we did not hold the proper credentials? Should Bart Ehrman have refused to make his one and only joint appearance with JW 11 years ago, since JW does not have proper academic credentials and has never published any academic works in the field of text criticism? The readers can make their own judgments regarding JW’s objections.

Why does JW refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?

Now, there are a shelf full of books on such topics as the longer ending of Mark, the Pericope Adulterae, etc. In fact, there is a fine 4-position book on the topic that was published just over a decade ago (I would primarily agree with Daniel Wallace’s chapter). There is profit from discussing this text amongst those whose positions are dependent upon textual critical analysis, manuscripts, etc.

Response: So, is JW saying that the discussion of textual variants such as Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53—8:11 has been so thoroughly and definitively discussed in academia that there is not need for any further discussion of these matters? Really? Is this the way academic research and discourse works? Hardly! These issues are still hotly debated and discussed by scholars and laymen alike.

JW notes the book on four perspectives on the ending of Mark. Yes, I know the book well. I wrote an extended scholarly review of the book that was published in the journal American Theological Inquiry (even though I hold a minority position in text criticism and am not apparently engaged in “real” academic research). I’d love to hear JW explain why he rejects Dr. Maurice Robinson’s winsome arguments in that book in favor of the originality and authenticity of the traditional ending of Mark. Surely, that brief book is not the end of the discussion. Why does JW refused to debate Mark 16:9-20?

But this is the real issue: Dr. Riddle’s acceptance of the longer ending of Mark is not due to how many manuscripts contain it, how early they are, or of what character they are. His reason for accepting the Pericope Adulterae likewise has nothing to do with manuscripts, the history of the text, etc. And he is open about this. It is actually part of his critique of the majority position (which would include the Majority Text position and the Byzantine Priority position—in fact, all textual critical positions). His critique reflects the reality that he is not presenting a textual critical position, he is presenting a theological position that overrides all textual critical considerations. This came out in the dialogue linked above, and it is found in every single presentation from Text and Canon Conference done in 2019 featuring himself and Robert Truelove (available on Sermon Audio).

Response: If the Confessional Text position is so obviously incoherent then JW should have no problem dismantling it. He says, I am “not presenting a textual critical position.” I would modify that statement by adding two key adjectives to correct it: I am “not presenting a modern reconstructionist textual critical position.” This is a point what JW, unlike others, continues not to grasp.

He also persists in somehow dismissing our position as merely a “theological position.” Again, this seems odd in the extreme. Is JW saying that his position is not a “theological position”? Isn’t his modern reconstructionist position based on a nineteenth century re-imagining of the doctrine of preservation? Or does he reject the Westminster doctrine of providential preservation altogether as does Dan Wallace?

Isn’t JW supposed to be a presuppositional “apologist”? What is wrong with having theological presuppositions?

Thanks for recommending the Text and Canon conference lectures. You *forgot* to include the link, so I’ll add it here (my lecture one, lecture two, lecture three, and lecture four). Yes, I hope people will listen. If these lectures were so inconsistent and illogical JW should have no problem dismantling them.

Why does JW refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?

Therefore, to actually debate Riddle’s position requires Riddle to defend readings that are unique to his position, not those that he shares with others. Why? Because his position specifically eschews consistency of textual critical methodology. Since he begins with a theological conclusion (the Textus Receptus is the Providentially Preserved Text, PPT), its readings cannot be questioned. Therefore, he can use arguments for the longer ending of Mark (found in the TR) that are different from, and contradictory to, the arguments for the Pericope Adulterae, and this is not a problem for him. The manuscripts and history do not matter, so there really is no meaningful basis for a comparison of textual critical conclusions, since his position is not, actually, derived from textual criticism.

Response: How does JW know that my arguments in favor of the traditional text of Mark 16:9-20 will be “different from, and contradictory to” the arguments for the PA? Is he a clairvoyant? In fact, I think my argument for both texts would be very consistent.

He ends by saying he cannot debate Mark 16:9-20 with a TR advocate because our position is not “derived from textual criticism.” Again, two key adjectives need to be added to correct this: The TR position is not “derived from modern reconstructionist textual criticism.”

JW forgets a very important part of this proposed debate. The discussion is not merely about my side defending the TR reading, it is also about JW defending the modern critical text reading.

Why does JW refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?  

So this is really easy: the only way to engage with Dr. Riddle’s theological position is to look at those readings that are unique to the TR. By so doing you have a fair, clear comparison of two positions. If he uses different arguments to defend different readings in the same text, his position is shown to be incoherent unless he makes it clear from the start that the arguments are not actually relevant, that the TR is the PPT, and the listener should simply accept this without argumentation. But the point should be clear to anyone: if Riddle’s position is true, then what text we are looking at should not matter, as his reason for accepting the reading of any particular passage has nothing to do with its transmission history, it has to do with an action of God at a certain point in history that established the text for all generations thereafter. That reality will not be seen when he hides amongst the Byzantine or Majority Text folks. It will be seen when he defends the unique readings of the TR, such as Ephesians 3:9, 1 John 5:7, or Revelation 16:5. Given his teaching and preaching, these texts are just as genuine, just as revealed, just as providentially preserved, as the longer ending of Mark, so why not address them? Only by doing so will he be defending the unique claims of his own position.

Response: So, the only way to engage with a TR advocate is to discuss readings that are “unique to the TR”? But the TR does not consist only of a readings that are supported by minority traditions. In fact, most of the TR agrees with the Majority Text. I would submit that one could not in fact have a meaningful discussion of the TR without considering texts like Mark 16:9-20.

JW assumes a TR advocate will use “different arguments” to defend different text. But doesn’t the modern critical text position use a variety of arguments in its reconstructed critical text? For example, it rejects the Majority Text in omitting Mark 16:9-20, but follows the Majority Text in omitting Acts 8:37. Is that inconsistent? JW also seems wrongly to assume that the modern critical text has produced a uniform method that has resulted in a uniformly agreed upon modern critical text. But that simply is not the case.

He also continues to ignore the fact that the purpose of a debate on Mark 16:9-20 would not only be to for the TR advocate to defend the traditional reading but for JW to defend his modern reconstructed reading (whatever it is). If JW does not believe that Mark 16:9-20 is an appropriate text to examine in discussions related to the TR, let me ask again as to why he included a discussion of this text in the appendix to his 2009 revision of the King James Only Controversy?

Why does JW continue to refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?

I have made it plain for years: I find the infiltration of TR Onlyism into the Reformed camp an apologetic disaster, hence I would be willing to step away from other writing projects and duties to engage Dr. Riddle on this specific topic. I would not be interested in other debates that have already been done (note the book linked above). This debate, with the actual heart of Riddle’s position, has not been done. It is not I who is refusing the debate. I stand ready to do so, based upon what I think is a clear and compelling case.

Response: So defense of the TR is an “apologetic disaster”? It seems to me that this is hardly the case. See Pooyan Mehrshahi’s recent discussion of why the TR is preferred for apologetics, especially with Muslims. See also WM 167.

Quite the contrary, it seems that the Protestant and evangelical embrace of the modern critical text has been an apologetic disaster. The Muslim apologists have not posted videos from the Text and Canon Conference to their youtube sites, but Muslim by Choice has an entire playlist devoted just to James White’s teaching on text. MBC does not, by the way, take these out of context but offers extended clips without comment. It is clear whose material he finds most useful for his cause. Let the reader/listener consider this.

JW says, “It is not I who is refusing to debate?” This is clearly not the case.

In this discussion, there is only one person who has offered to do two debates: one on Mark 16:9-20 and a second on a TR text based on a minority tradition (like Acts 8:37).

And there is only one person who has refused to debate, and it is JW.

Why does JW refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?


Saturday, August 01, 2020

WM 171: Why does James White refuse to debate Mark 16:9-20?

I have posted WM 171. Listen above or view this video.

Here are some notes:

First, some background on recent discussions concerning an online debate with JW:

Back on Saturday July 18, 2020 I got a text from Samuel Nesan of Explain Apologetics asking me if I would like to be a participant in a 2 on 2 debate regarding the text of Scripture in which I would represent the TR position.

I texted back that I’d be happy to discuss this as a possibility and we ended up talking on the phone on Monday July 20. In that conversation, Samuel asked me what topics I would be interested in discussing. I suggested that rather than a general discussion on the modern critical text versus the traditional text, that we choose a particular passage to discuss. The passage I suggested was the traditional ending of Mark: Mark 16:9-20, since it is accepted as genuine and inspired by those who embrace the TR but generally classified as secondary and even spurious by those whom embrace the modern critical text. Also in that conversation, Samuel said he was planning to contact JW about taking part, as well as Stephen Boyce. I suggested Pastor Dane Jรถhannsson as partner in the debate.

The next afternoon, Tuesday, July 21, I got a text back from Samuel saying he had talked to JW who had indicated his preference for a 1 on 1 debate, rather than a 2 on 2 debate. He also reported that rather than the traditional ending of Mark, JW wanted to debate either the CJ or Ephesians 3:9.

Later that day I sent the following email to Samuel:

Hi Samuel,


I am open to doing the debate one on one with JW.


I also think it would be best to focus on one singular text.


For this type of discussion, I think it would make more sense to focus on a passage that is more typical of the differences between the texts (modern critical and TR) and that deals with a more substantial number of verses. Since the ending of the Mark is one of the two most significantly contested texts in the NT (along with the PA, John 7:53--8:11), I suggest we make it the focus.


I also think it would make sense to have a very clear thesis statement, which one person would affirm and the other deny.


Would White be willing to defend the following thesis: "RESOLVED: Mark 16:9-20 is uninspired and spurious and should not be considered part of the Word of God."?


I have heard White say that he would be willing to address any disputed text in the TR, so I assume he would be more than willing to address the traditional ending of Mark as one of the two most significant textual variants in the NT….


If White declines the opportunity for a one of one debate with me on the ending of Mark, Dane is still willing to join with me for a two on two debate with Stephen Boyce and another participant.


Blessings, Jeff


On Thursday, July 23, Samuel called me again to say that JW had stated his refusal to debate the ending of Mark. I then told Samuel that if JW did not want to defend the modern text of Mark 16:9-20, I would also be willing to debate the PA or Luke 23:34, but that I would not prefer a discussion of 1 John 5:7 for fear that Muslim apologists, like Muslim by Choice, would immediately post excerpts of JW’s presentation to further their attacks on the integrity of that text and the doctrine of the Trinity, as they have done in the past with previous JW presentations.

On Monday, July 27 I received a text from Samuel that read as follows:

JW …. said that your position is a theological position and not based on the manuscript evidence. He feels you should be able to debate any variant as it would challenge your position.

Samuel added, “I just don’t see the debate with JW working out.” He therefore suggested that we move on from discussions with JW and go back to original idea of the 2 on 2 format and try to make arrangements with Stephen Boyce to debate either the ending of Mark or the PA.

I texted back to Samuel on Tuesday morning, July 28:

Samuel, interesting response from JW. So my position is based on theology but his isn't? Sounds like he is unwilling to defend the modern text reading of either of the two major textual variants (the ending of Mark or the PA) against an able TR defender, supposedly because our view is not based on "evidence." Odd. About two years ago we were both approached by a church to have a debate on text. As in this case, I accepted, and he declined. His excuse then was that the venue location was too obscure (he would have to take a "puddle jumper", as he put it, to get there) and there was not adequate interest in the topic. This, despite the fact, that the location was a major metro area (Roanoke) in Virginia and there is obviously interest. A few weeks later he tried to invite himself to a TR conference being held in Atlanta claiming we would not debate him. Very odd.

I also told Samuel that I would still be willing to do a 2 on 2 debate (as he had originally suggested) with Stephen Boyce, since JW was unwilling to debate me.

A few hours later (12:31 pm) the same day, I sent this text to Samuel:

A thought came to me today before closing the door on JW. What about two separate debates? The first on Mark 16:9-20. The second on a text in the TR not supported by the majority. Acts 8:37 perhaps. I might even entertain Rev 16:5.

Samuel relayed my message to JW and responded later in the day with this note:

I informed James and he just replied that he would be addressing this on the Dividing Line today…. We will keep you posted on his actual response whether he would accept or not….

My first thought on receiving this news: Why is JW sharing this on the DL when we are in the midst of a three-way conversation about trying to get this event set up? Is he trying to find some reason to justify not having to define or defend his position on the ending of Mark? Or, Is he trying to provide some cover for his unwillingness to participate in this debate?

Late Tuesday evening, I then received a text from Samuel:

Dr. White sent this via email:

"Well, I'd like to invite him to listen to my comments and explain why he would want to address texts that do not define his position rather than the ones that do?  If we did the longer ending of Mark, for example, the fact that it appears in the majority of texts is not relevant to TR Onlyism because that position rejects the majority reading in Ephesians 3:9, etc. Only my position really has anything to say to the issue, because the actual textual data is just not relevant.  So why not use the texts that actually highlight the real issue?"

Second, some responses/observations on JW's refusal to debate Mark 16:9-20:

First, I find it strange that JW broke off the conversation with me and Samuel and decided to take his case to his DL audience.

Second, I find it interesting that JW placed all the focus on Mark 16:9-20 and did not mention that I also offered to debate the PA and Luke 23:34. He also never mentioned that I also offered to do two debates: the first on Mark 16:9-20 and the second on a TR text with only minority support (like Acts 8:37).

Third, I found his reasoning against debating Mark 16:9-20 unconvincing. It is one of the two most significant variants in the NT!

Fourth, JW continues to show that he does not really understand the TR (Confessional Text position).

Fifth, Mark 16:9-20 is clearly an appropriate text for debate.

Sixth, the ending of Mark is one of the few texts upon which JW has produced some written analysis. See Part II of his revised the King James Only Controversy (2009): 316-320.

Seventh, it is clear that JW would prefer to debate passages from the TR with minority support, since he perceives this would give him an advantage.

Third, conclusion:

As things now stand, I continue to offer to JW the opportunity to debate Mark 16:9-20 as one of the two most significant variants in the entire NT. It provides a clear difference between the modern and the traditional text.

Would White be willing to defend the following thesis: "RESOLVED: Mark 16:9-20 is uninspired and spurious and should not be considered part of the Word of God."? 

If JW is not willing to debate a TR advocate, like me, on this text, perhaps he would be willing to debate a Majority Text advocate (like James Snapp). I will suggest to Samuel Nesan that he reach out to James Snapp regarding this.

Since JW is not willing to debate me on this topic, I will also suggest to Samuel Nesan that he invite Stephen Boyce to take up this discussion with me.