Monday, August 03, 2020

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?



David Miller said...

One could seemingly ask why you seem unwilling to debate him based on his invite at the bottom of his article. Let's get this straight. James White has debated hundreds of men from every walk of religion in various decades, on their turf and on home turf. Suggesting he is unwilling to debate could be proven false by my nine year old. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

And yet he refuses to debate Mark 16:9-20....

Gary Good said...

Why do you refuse to debate Ephesians 3:9, 1 John 5:7, or Revelation 16:5?

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the question. As noted my last offer to JW was to have two debates: the first on Mark 16:9-20 and the second on a TR reading based on a minority tradition (I mentioned Acts 8:37 and even said I'd consider Rev 16:5).

I have explained why I have concerns about giving JW a public forum to debate the CJ (1 John 5:7-8). Namely, his presentation will be used by Muslim apologists.

I have addressed all the texts you mentioned:

For the complete archive of my WM podcasts look here:

For Ephesians 3:9 see WM 138 and WM 142.

For a recent presentation on the CJ, see my lecture on the Confessional Bibliology Roundtable #2:

On this I'd also highly recommend the book review I just posted yesterday:

For Revelation 16:5, see WM 114 and 115. Note that in those episodes I point out that JW mistranslates and misinterprets Beza's Latin annotations on Rev 16:5 in his KJV Only book, but he has yet to acknowledge his error.

It was after my offer that JW did his DL on 7/28/20 in which he never mentioned my offer of two debates but only explained why he refused to debate Mark 16:9-20.

I have agreed to debate a TR text based on the minority. It is JW who has refused to debate Mark 16:9-20. I hope you will get in touch with him and ask him why he refuses to explain or defend his views on the ending of Mark.

David Miller said...

Mr. Riddle, it seems clear in his article why he doesn't want to bother with that. In my opinion, it isn't worth his time to start a debate where the responses would be simple and short. He'll say this isn't in the early manuscripts. You'll say you believe the TR is the true received text and therefore better. End of debate. Not worth either of your time. The subject he offered however, that does seem like something that would be interesting to talk about. You could even bring in Mark's long ending into any such debate. So who doesn't want to debate? He's the more prolific debater, all due respect, so if you want to debate him, why not meet his requirements? Doesn't matter in the end. You believe what you believe. I've listened to your position before and it doesn't seem like you're quite willing to budge or explore evidence. I don't mean that disrespectfully, just as an honest portrayal of your seeming position. All the best. God Bless.

CC said...

His inconsistency does not cease to amaze and even appall me. He misrepresents our position as blind faith and unwillingness to 'reconstruct' the text, all the while not even having a definitive text. To say that the TR is wrong implies that there exists a perfect standard to which it can be compared. Yet the editors of the ECM don't know if 1 John 1:4 should say "our" or "your", and are willing to omit 'us' in Rev. 5:9 based *solely* on the faulty testimony of A and the Ethiopic. If one manuscript can preserve the correct reading there, no one has any basis to claim that κοινωνία is wrong when it had the double testimony of 2817, and possibly some others and some Armenian. This kind of irrational behaviour from PIA does not surprise me when in comes to Mark 16:9-20. He knows his position on this text is indefensible in the real world, a stumbling block to Christians, dangerous to apologetics, and not something that reformed men should doing.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

CC, thanks for the comment and insights. Yes, I have been dismayed by JW's words and actions. Yes, he wants to attack the TR but has no interest in defending or, in some cases (as with the ending of Mark), even articulating which modern critical text he affirms. The traditional ending of Mark is a good example of how the modern method does not produce any consensus, other than undermining and rejecting the traditional text. Hopefully some who have uncritically accepted JW's views on text will begin to have their eyes opened to the problems inherent in his approach. Thankfully, I've heard from more than a few who say, "I used to follow JW, but now...."

Gary Good said...

If JW misrepresents your position, wouldn't a debate be a good way to flesh out your position? Wouldn't debating how your position comes up with the readings for 1 John 1:4, Rev 16:5, or Eph 3:9 be enlightening? JW has recently said that he's not interested in debating the longer ending of Mark because it has been debated so often and would not likely demonstrate the difference between your position and other positions that come to the same conclusion. If the editors of the ECM don't know if 1 John 1:4 should say "our" or "you," that would seem to be a good verse to debate, demonstrating how JW conclusions differ from yours.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Gary, as noted (now ad nauseum) I offered to do two debates: the first on Mark 16:9-20 and the second on a TR text supported only by a minority tradition. I suggested Acts 8:37 or even Rev 16:5, but I also said I was open to negotiation.

The best way to flesh out JW's position is to deal with a text like Mark 16:9-20. He is unwilling to do that. Does this make you wonder, even in the least, as to why he wants to avoid having a debate on mark 16:9-20? It's not because he's too busy. We are all busy. It is because he cannot defend the modern critical text of Mark 16:9-20. It's not because this matter has already been settled by scholars. That suggestion is laughable. The idea that one would not debate Mark 16:9-20 because a book was written on it ten years ago is patently absurd.

In fact, JW has never defined in writing exactly what his position on Mark 16:9-20 is. He wrote in his recent blog post that his view close to the view of Dan Wallace. What does that mean? Why is he unwilling to articulate, define, and defend precisely his position?

If you want to read my position on Mark 16:9-20, see my article "The Ending of Mark as a Canonical Crisis":

If you find any place where JW has presented his position on Mark 16:9-20 in detail please send me the information, because I have not been able to find it.


Unknown said...

Updated response below on 9/15/20 beginning at 58:30