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Does the Bible Teach Predestination?
An Exegetical Debate


Dr. James White vs Darryl Barksdale

Rebuttal to Mr. White's Opening Argument

Darryl L. Barksdale

Some time ago, I encountered my esteemed opponent in an AOL chat room, as he has already indicated in his opening statement. Jokingly, I told him that I would be happy to give him a "lesson in exegesis" regarding his claims regarding the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination. Even though I spoke in jest at the time, little did I know just how extensively I would need to tutor him on this subject.

Mr. White opens his argument, as is frequently his wont to do, with an imaginary encounter with a Mormon "patsy" that allows Mr. White to create an artificially bright shining moment wherein his dazzling brilliance is made clearly known to all. Such situations in Mr. White's world are almost always fabricated and intentionally one-sided.1 One has to wonder what White would do if he encountered a Mormon who actually was well-versed in matters of Christian History and textual criticism. I highly doubt he would publish that encounter in any of his articles or books.

One of the most shocking accusations that Mr. White makes in this opening "dialogue" is directed to the fictitious Mormon "patsy" and claims that he (the Mormon) insists on "pick[ing] and choos[ing] what parts [he] will, or will not, believe." The irony in this statement is that this eisogetical practice is exactly what Mr. White himself engages in. Mr. White does not accept the whole of the Bible's teaching on salvation. Instead, he demands that we accept his definition and declaration of a "canon within a canon" which can only be considered, according to White, while ignoring the balance of the Bible's teachings, including those of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Indeed, in Mr. White's view, his interpretation is the only one possible or plausible. Everyone else who disagrees with him, whether their arguments are substantive or not, is simply in his view "picking and choosing" from Scripture.

Bible scholar Peter H. Davids, Ph.D., comments on the "canon within a canon" eisogesis in his essay, "Authority, Hermeneutics, and Criticism":

"We do not believe that one has any real authority if he or she removes material from its context. To snatch a few paragraphs from this chapter and read them out of context of the whole would be to distort their meaning. To look at Paul in isolation from the teaching of Jesus is to distort Paul's message and thus not to draw from Biblical authority at all."2

Dr. Davids goes on to articulate very clearly what the real weakness is in Mr. White's argument for Predestination:

"Hermeneutical discussion assists one in discovering how one is interpreting Scripture and thus what one might be filtering out of Scripture. Interaction with the full world of critical scholarship means that one is looking at Scripture from a variety of angles and traditions, many of which will be different from one's own. The result will be a tendency to see one's own blind spots and correct the shortcomings of one's theology."3

This, Mr. White has failed miserably to do. Instead of considering the "full world of critical scholarship," Mr. White insists instead that he, and he alone, is a sufficient "authority" to pronounce any matter of religion "closed" to further discussion or discourse.4 Further evidence of this kind of unjustifiable arrogance can be seen in White's endnotes, particularly in numbers 4,6, 11, and 12.. where he uses HIMSELF as a primary source to bolster his arguments. This kind of arrogance forms a common thread throughout all of White's writings. When he cannot find corraborating evidence to prove his point.. he merely quotes himself as a primary source. How convenient. And how unscholarly.

Indeed, the venerable Bible scholar Werner Stenger cautioned against the tendency to be selective with Scripture, and claims that theologians who succumb to the temptation to "pick and choose," as Mr. White does regarding Predestination, "belong to that group of poor readers who find in texts only what they already know. What echoes back to them from Scripture is the very words that they themselves have shouted into the forest."5

Stenger quotes Friedrich Nietzsche as demanding that true Biblical exegetes "[read] facts without falsifying them by interpretation, without losing caution, patience, delicacy, in the desire to understand."6

Finally, Stenger relates what he considers to be the true standard for correct exegesis:

"One prerequisite for [correct exegesis] is to transfer the Biblical texts from their apparent familiarity into an unfamiliar context, one that enables the reader to hear the Bible itself speaking, not merely the echo of his or her own voice. It is only such distance between reader and text that makes it possible to exclude any projections of meaning prompted by one's own ideas and desires and to open one's ears to the often alien voice of the text itself."7

Has White done this? The answer is a resounding 'No.'

General Refutations

First of all, I believe some boundaries would be useful to establish to facilitate a completely unbiased treatment of White's exegesis. And since, in reviewing his biography, I see no advanced degrees from any institution of higher education in the field of ancient languages, much less ancient Greek, I respectfully decline to use or accept James White's English translations, but rather will lean on those of genuine, accepted scholars with legitimate, accredited advanced degrees.

In beginning his presentation, White methodically sets up his straw man…that the Scriptures "plainly teach the divine truth that God predestines men unto Salvation." If this were so, one would think that there would not be any other belief system in existence within Christianity. Yet such is demonstrably not so, as any Methodist can readily attest.

White's premise (and the major weakness of his position) is not simply that it is plausible to find a Predestination teaching in Scripture, he actually demands that it is the only way that Scripture can be legitimately interpreted. In making this drastic assertion, White opens himself up to the harshest of scrutiny.. for he has made the job of his opponents.. in this case myself.. infinitely easier. The task that White has dictated for his opponents by his rigid proclamation is not to prove that Predestination is wrong, but simply that other interpretations are hermeneutically possible, or at least legitimately plausible. If such can be accomplished, then White's claim that his interpretation is the only one possible is fatally flawed, and must be rejected on its face. That having been said, let us begin.

What of Ephesians 1:3-11?

White claims that from Ephesians 1:3 we learn three major tenets.. namely that 1) God is the one who blessed us; 2) that Paul is not speaking of "all mankind" here, but specifically of the redeemed; and 3) that the phrase "in Christ" is central to God's thought. As to this conclusion, I would find objection only to White's demand that "us" be interpreted as meaning the elect or redeemed. This assumption demands that the text of Scripture be overlaid with the template of Calvinistic bias in order to be interpreted, which is in direct opposition to the direction provided to us by Davids, Nietzsche, and Stenger, whom I cited earlier.

White proclaims that verse 4 is "central to our subject." And so it is. But even as it appears to White that it is "central" to his argument, it also poses some interesting questions in its own right. The verse reads, "…just as He chose us in Him before the creation of the world so that we should be holy and blameless before Him."

This verse, interpreted as White demands, begs the question. If we did not exist before the world was created, how could He "choose us in Him"? How can something that does not exist be "chosen"? According to White's view, this would be somewhat akin to walking into an art gallery and "choosing" a work of art that had not yet been painted. Without a knowledge of the premortal existence of man and of our pre-Earthly relationship with our Heavenly Father, this is the kind of absurdity that one is reduced to.

White claims that "The passage says that we were chosen by God the Father, not that a mere 'plan' was chosen, or a 'process' put in place." Interestingly, that is certainly not how genuine scholars have interpreted this passage. For instance, scholar Rebecca Lyman translates this passage as follows:

"For he has made known to us the mystery of his will according to the purpose which he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of time…" (Eph 1:9-10, emphasis added)8

Clearly, attempting to set God's WILL against His plan is nonsensical. Pheme Perkins says, "Those who come to believe in Christ find themselves participating in God's eternal plan"9 Following this line of reasoning poses other problems for White, not the least of which is how to deal with why Paul stated that the Jews who reject Christ will be included in salvation.10

Preexistence Arguments

White then proceeds to declare that because we were chosen "before the creation of the world", that our salvation "therefore cannot possibly be based on anything that we ourselves do or "choose". This is sovereignty--free and unlimited."

One has to legitimately wonder how White can draw the conclusion that "sovereignty" is "free and unlimited" from the fact that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. White certainly doesn't tell us.

One clue, I suppose, might be found in White's 3rd endnote wherein he declares, "I reject the LDS doctrine of pre-existence, and there is nothing in Paul's theology, or the Bible's teaching, that presents such a concept…"

As for the Bible not teaching of the premortal existence of man, I provided copious references to such in my opening statement, and am very eager to see White's exegesis of those passages. White himself seems to acknowledge that if the premortal existence of man were a reality, that his own arguments would collapse under their own weight. Therefore, he forms a logical fallacy to hide behind.

Mathematics teaches us a basic construct. If A=B, and if B=C, then A=C. This formula only holds up, however, as long as A=B, or B=C. If either of those are incorrect, the formula is false. One can posit that all dogs are blue. One can further posit that Rover is a dog. One can then, use this formula to say that Rover must be blue. But since the first "leg" of this formula is factually false, the conclusion is as well.

Such is the case with White's argument. His logic takes the following form:

  • There is no Biblical doctrine of the Preexistence of Man.

  • Predestination requires that Man did not Preexist the Creation.

  • Therefore, Predestination is true.

In this example, White's first assumption, that there is no Biblical doctrine of the preexistence of man, is fatally flawed. Therefore, his conclusion is also in error.

In his attempted definition of the Greek for "predestined", White attempts to pull the wool over our eyes a bit to avoid having to address this issue. White is most emphatic about the definition of the Greek proorizo which appears in vs 5 and 11. He says, "The meaning of the term is not ambiguous, no matter how hard some might try to avoid its impact. It means "to choose beforehand" or "predestinate." (emphasis mine)

Any true linguistic scholar would howl at this statement. As soon as anyone says that there is "no ambiguity" about the meaning or usage of ancient languages (scripts or orthographies), alarm bells should be ringing off the hook somewhere. Someone is trying to "sell" you something. So it is in this instance.

While the definitions mentioned by White are certainly valid definitions, Strong's also lists "foreordained" as a valid definition. One must wonder why White neglected to mention this possibility? Why was he so selective in his definitions? Since "foreordained" fits the text much better, especially in light of Jeremiah 1:5, one must wonder why White did not include that definition? Very simple. Foreordination assumes the prior existence of man, which is what White does not want the reader to consider.

One can only speculate on how White explains John 9. In this passage, we have an individual born blind. This fact is emphasized several times, including the testimony of his parents that he was, indeed, born blind. Christ's disciples asked Him a very interesting and instructive question: "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he born blind?" (John 9:2, emphasis mine) White clearly fails to see how an individual could "sin" prior to birth.

It is more than significant that the core of White's argument, his rejection of the preexistence of man, upon which rests the entirety of the credibility of his argument, is relegated to one footnote which quotes no primary source, no evidence, no authority…other than James himself.

What Does "Predestined" REALLY Mean?

Scholar Markus Barth teaches us that in verse 11 (which White refers to), "The Greek original uses a verb (kleroo) which meant originally to 'cast a lot,' or more specifically, 'to appoint or designate an officer by lot.' When the procedure of using a lot was forgotten, the world assumed the meaning, 'to assign something,' or in the passive, 'to be in possession.' Ephesians 1:11 is the only NT passage where this word occurs. Probably because of its ambiguous meaning, but perhaps also due to careless copying, some ancient MSS and the Vetus Itala substitute the better known verb, 'we have been called.'"11

Far from stating that "The meaning of the term is not ambiguous," Barth actually directly contradicts White and says that it is ambiguous, and then goes on to say "The complicated problems posed by the present text must be met, and a choice among three possibilities faces the interpreter:"

This is most curious indeed. White asserts that only his definition must be used, and that that definition is "not ambiguous." Now we have a genuine scholar directly contradicting White's assertion. Who are we to trust? More importantly, what does this do to White's argument that the scriptures "plainly teach predestination", and that only his interpretation is the only plausible possibility?

What White does not seem to comprehend very well is the overall context of this Ephesians passage. Let us consider carefully verses 11-13 for a moment. In this passage, Barth notes that "The congregation of the saints is suddenly no longer described only by the anonymous pronoun "we." It is not an amorphous mass in which each individual may be exchanged for another; rather it has a structure. Christ is at its head; the apostle and other servants installed by God address it with authority and are its foundation. Thus there is a vertical difference of authority in the Church, and now a differentiation on the horizontal level becomes apparent. A group called "we" is distinct from another group addressed as "you." Though both participate in the same love, election, and grace of God and are one body, some were first called to constitute god's people, others were added later." 12

Quite simply, this passage speaks of the "election" or "calling" of the Jews, and the subsequent addition of the Christians as God's "chosen people."

Barth suggests that of the three possible interpretations of this text, one of them is "We were given a share." Col 1:12, the parallel text to Ephesians 1:11, speaks distinctly of a "part in the share of the saints." To the notion of "blessing" (1:3) such a distribution fits beautifully. This interpretation leaves room for further additions to the bequeathed property.. as indeed according to 1:14 the Spirit now given is but an "earnest" of the total that is to come. Barth notes that "Ephesians 1:11 can be translated as "We have been made God's clergy," and the Christians can be considered a sort of "levitical community.""

Indeed, the third possibility that Barth presents (and which he indicates is the most correct interpretation), is that the proper translation is "We have been appropriated," or "Claimed as God's own," in the same manner as Jehovah told the ancient Israelites in the covenant formula "I will be your God, and you shall be my people", which points back to the liberation of Israel.

White goes on to embark on a rather tedious sermon of sorts, asserting that there are three "bookend" points come from the Ephesians passage, none of which I disagree with.

The first point raised is that Christ is the center and author of our Salvation, and that outside of Him, there is no other. I agree that salvation is strictly and completely in, and through Christ Jesus. I have no issue with the idea that we do nothing of ourselves that in any way merits salvation, for that is Christ's and Christ's alone to effect.

The second point raised, as White articulates it, is that God's people.. AS a people.. are "possessed by Him," as He has made known so eloquently regarding the Jews, and then the early Christians. As a people, they were.. and are, His chosen. I find no disagreement in this statement either.

His third statement is equally innocuous, as far as it applies to God's people as a whole. His purposes will not be frustrated. His will is sovereign.

The point on which White errs is the unBiblical extension of the predestination of a people to the "irresistable grace" of individuals. This is clearly not the case, and cannot be found in scripture.

As Dr. Davids warned, we must not pull passages out of context, lest we completely lose our Biblical authority. Along with his teachings regarding the predestination of groups of people, Paul also teaches us that Christ is the author of eternal salvation to "all them that obey Him". This statement is clearly conditional and cannot be ignored. It places a requirement of obedience on the believer to gain salvation, which falls squarely outside of the realm of "irresistable grace."

The ancient Israelites are a perfect example of this principle. As a group, they were "possessed" by the Lord as "His people" in covenant relationship. Inasmuch as they, as individuals, adhered to the laws given them, they as a people were accepted and "predestined" to be God's people. When they as individuals strayed and were disobedient, God showed His displeasure of them, and His rejection of them because of their behavior. The key to understanding the principle of predestination in the case of the ancient Israelites lies in their covenant relationship with God.

To reject this obvious truth causes numerous problems for Calvinists. For instance, if God predestinated the Israelites, and if they were truly "regenerate", why did they so often turn from the Lord? Wasn't it His "will", being "predestined", that they follow Him? Was He then powerless to bring to pass His will? Was it truly His will that they apostatize and worship idols, as was their wont to do?

What about the early Christians? If they were "predestined", why did a general apostasy take place after the ascension of Christ? Why did Christ Himself prophesy of such an apostasy occurring? Why did He not exercise His "sovereign will" to ensure that his elect would not fall away? Why were the very same saints who were "predestined" according to Paul then warned by John on the Isle of Patmos that they were in danger of LOSING their salvation? Was this the will of God, or was God thus powerless to bring about the salvation of this group of people?

The truth is very simple and far more congruent with Scripture. GROUPS of people, in different circumstances, have been predestined to be "God's Chosen". However, God in His infinite wisdom and compassion still grants them, as individuals AND as a group.. their free agency to choose who they will serve. For some, it was Satan, even though they had previous been identified as "God's Elect". Others quietly and humbly attested that "…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15)

Paul affirmed this truth quite clearly when he wrote that our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, "…being made perfect…became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;" (Heb 5:9) Notice that if Paul had meant that individuals were saved no matter what had they had the "happy accident" to be predestined individually for salvation.. he surely does not mention any hint of that here. In fact, he seems to take great pains to contradict such a position.

Replacing the predestination of "God's Chosen" people and the foreordination of individuals with absolute predestination of individuals poses another interesting question for Mr. White. As noted in Romans 8:29-30, we learn that those who are predestined are called, and the called are then justified, and then glorified. Note that they are called… not bound and gagged under the guise of "irresistable grace". Matthew 10:1-4 lists those that Christ called to him: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Lebbaeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. Following White's logic, and the concept of "irresistable grace," one can only assume that Mr. White believes that Judas is in heaven.

The predestination of "God's Chosen" people, but the "free will" accountability of each individual saint formed the backbone of Paul's theme throughout his writings. As a people, the Christian saints were "God's Chosen", as were the ancient Jews. Individually however, they had their free agency to choose God, or Satan. And as a people, a predestined people at that, they ultimately chose to be reject God, to reject His apostles, and be beguiled by the paganistic wiles of the Greek Hellenistic philosophers, just as Christ and Paul and others had foretold.

John 6

Mr. White, incredulously, attempts to use Christ's sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum to "prove" his fallacious theory. His "proof" however, falls completely apart in the first two sentences, which Mr. White desperately attempts to rationalize away in his endnotes, using no other authority than his own reasoning. It doesn't work.

The passage cited by Mr. White is John 6:35-40, which reads:

"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day."

Mr. White would have us believe that Jesus' words in verse regarding "all that the Father giveth me" refers to the predestination of the individual. Does it? Is this the only plausible interpretation, as White suggests?

Raymond Brown, in the Anchor Bible, sheds some light on the meaning of this passage (as does the rest of the passage itself, in context): he says:

"The stress in vs. 37 that God destines men to come to Jesus does not in the least attenuate the guilt in vs. 36 for those who do not believe. One might conjecture that the reason that they do not believe is because God has not "given" them to Jesus. Yet it would be unfair to NT thought-patterns to elaborate this as a psychological explanation of the refusal to believe. The NT often gives its explanation on a simplified level wherein all happenings are attributed to divine causality without any sharp distinction between primary and secondary causality. Nor do these verses resolve the disputes about predestination that have been the subject of theological debate since Reformation times. With all John's insistance on man's choosing between light and darkness, it would be nonsense to ask if the evangelist believed in human responsibility." (emphasis mine)13

Christ makes a number of very clear statements here that John captures, which completely oppose the overlay of a Predestination template on this passage. Those who make the choice to come to Christ will never be hungry. Those who make the choice to believe in Him shall never thirst. "Indeed, this is the will of the Father, that EVERYONE who look upon the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life." (vs. 40) Everyone. All-inclusive. Not some select, exclusive "club." Everyone.


Mr. White has certainly not disappointed his loyal followers. He has yet once again proffered the same level of scholarship and accuracy for which Evangelical scholars Paul Owens and Carl Mosser observed concerning another paper written by White:

"The article by James White, Of Cities and Swords: The Impossible Task of Mormon Apologetics, was an attempt to introduce evangelicals to LDS apologetics, to the work of FARMS, and, in the process, critique the group. This article failed on all three points. White's article does not mention a single example of the literature we have presented in this paper. He does not accurately describe the work of FARMS, or of LDS scholarship in general. He gives his readers the mistaken impression that their research is not respected in the broader academic community. We believe that we have demonstrated that this is simply not the case. His attempted critique picks out two of the weakest examples. Not only does he pick weak examples, he does not even give these an adequate critique. This is nothing more than 'straw man' argumentation."

Consider the facts. Mr. White entered this debate with a written agreement that we discuss Predestination from a Biblical perspective only. This was not a Mormon/Non-Mormon debate. This was the debate of a Biblical principle between two opposing apologists. Even Mr. White states at the beginning of his opening statement, "I hope that this debate will, in fact, focus upon… the meaningful, fair, scholarly exegesis of the text of Scripture. Indeed, for my part, I shall do all I can to keep the focus where it needs to be." (emphasis mine)

White seems to ignore his commitment even in his opening statement, where he takes numerous irrelevant and inappropriate pot-shots at Mormon theology and doctrine, attempts to drag non-canonical Mormon statements into the debate (see his remarks about the King Follett Discourse), and cannot otherwise resist throwing out numerous insults and condemnations of Mormon doctrine in general. One certainly would have hoped that Mr. White would have followed his own injunction at least throughout his own opening statement.

Mr. White has insisted that his interpretation of the text of Scripture is the only plausible interpretation that can be made. I have shown that this is not the case, using scholars such as Markus Barth, Raymond Brown, and others.

Mr. White insists that Predestination cannot refer to God's Plan for us. I have presented several other scholars who beg to differ with his translation.

Mr. White has denied the reality of the premortal existence of man, without any Scriptural justification whatsoever.

Mr. White has insisted that passages that deal with God's Chosen people as a whole must apply to the absolute predestination and "irresistible grace" of individuals, denying them any choice in whether they follow Christ or not. I have shown that this is clearly not a biblical concept, and is in contradiction to the statements of both Paul and Christ.

Mr. White demands that the absolute sovereignty of God can only be what HE defines it to be, denying the basic foundational principle that he himself labors so diligently to prove: namely, that God can do whatsoever things He wishes. Even if that means that God wishes to allow us the freedom to choose whether we will follow Him or not.

Mr. White has preached a good sermon. But he has produced very little, if any, substance to back up his claim. Instead, he has intentionally disregarded context, historical background, and correct hermeneutics to force-fit a Reformed theology onto Sacred text which contradicts it in innumerable places. He even managed to be insulting and ill-behaved in the process.


  1. See introduction to Letters to a Mormon Elder, which is the only place in the entire book where the "Elders" are identified as "fictitious".

  2. Peter H. Davids, "Authority, Hermeneutics and Criticism", New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, David Alan Black and David S. Dockery, Editors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991) pg. 32.

  3. Ibid, pg. 33

  4. For instance, in discussions with those of opposing views in the Christianity Online area of America Online, Inc., when asked for citations from valid Biblical scholars to support his assertions, Mr. White has repeatedly demanded that his word alone stand as the final authority against which all matters religious be weighed and determined, and that no other authority other than himself is necessary to consider.

  5. Werner Stenger, Introduction to New Testament Exegesis, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pg. 2.

  6. Friedrich Nietzsche, "The AntiChrist", The Portable Nietzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954) pg. 52.

  7. Stenger, pg. 2

  8. J. Rebecca Lyman, Christology and Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 20.

  9. Pheme Perkins, Ephesians (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 38 Emphasis mine.

  10. Rom 11:25-32

  11. Markus Barth, Ephesians: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1974) pp. 92-113

  12. Ibid.

  13. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday & Co.) p. 276


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