and a half hours of intensive debate over the course of two
evenings. That’s the privilege I had July 6-7, 2000.
The first three hours had an audience of hundreds of
thousands, as I was privileged to join Hank Hanegraaff at the
headquarters of the Christian Research Institute in Rancho
Santa Margarita, California, for the third “marathon”
session of The Bible Answer Man Broadcast.
Only three times in the history of BAM have they ever
gone for three consecutive hours: in 1995 when I joined Hank
and discussed my book, The King James Only Controversy,
in 1996 when I engaged in a dialogue on Roman Catholicism with
James Akin of Catholic Answers, and now this third
time, again on Catholicism, with Tim Staples of St. Joseph
was accompanied on my journey to Southern California by my
good friend Warren Smith.
Warren and I were joined by Eddie Dalcour once we
reached the LA area, and the three of us went to the
headquarters of CRI together, and then later had dinner at the
gracious invitation of Sam Wall of CRI, and thereafter clowned
around a bit (see photo).
Little did I know how nice it was going to be to have
friends like Eddie Dalcour the next evening at the debate in
Fullerton where we were outnumbered 5:1.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
BAM broadcasts were fascinating.
They are currently archived at www.equip.org
(click on the programs for July 6&7--the third hour has
not yet aired at the time of this writing, but should air
shortly). I have
become accustomed to the fact that I need to speak quickly and
concisely because my opponent will get at least 20% more time
than I will to make his arguments.
This was true with both James Akin and Tim Staples.
If a person listens to the programs and times the
relative amounts of time both sides are given, they will find
that it averages around 60% for the Catholic, 40% for me.
Hence, I’ve learned to ignore the side trails as much
as possible, and focus upon the important stuff.
Staples started off as I expected: in his opening monologue he
covered at least six major topics, leaving me the impossible
task of refuting false assertions on a broad spectrum of
things. We took
no calls at all the first hour, even though BAM set a new
record for call volume during the three hours, with people
still calling in even as we finished the third hour.
Then as the callers came in I was pleased to note a
fair consistency in the questions.
Though one RC caller in the second hour made it clear
she considered me a liar, most calls were on the subject of
Mary. During one of the breaks Tim commented on how surprised he
was about that, and he wondered aloud why more people were not
calling about salvation/justification.
I replied, “Tim, you’ve added Mary to the gospel.
What do you expect people to ask about?” He had, in fact, admitted on the program that belief in the
Bodily Assumption of Mary is part and parcel of the gospel as
preached by Rome.
Mr. Staples does not share my commitment to fairness in
dialogue. Any person listening to the broadcasts can hear that he would
often interrupt me while I was speaking, or, he would simply
make comments over top of me, like, “that's a lie.”
Strangely, he refused to call me a liar, while
styling a number of my comments lies.
Mr. Staples sounded very nervous and would often
stumble over his words, or he would start a sentence and then
stop half-way through to start a whole new thought.
A common response I heard to both the BAM broadcasts
and the debate was, “I had no idea what he was saying.
He rambled on, going from topic to topic, never making
the second or third hour we got into the topic of
justification a little, and Mr. Staples illustrated the truth
of the phrase, “a little Greek is a dangerous thing.”
In attempting to respond to Romans 5:1 (“Therefore
having been justified by faith we have peace with God through
our Lord Jesus Christ”) he immediately left the passage and
went to Galatians 2, and there he attempted to make the point
that Paul taught that justification was not a certainty.
He referred to Galatians 2:16 which states,
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in
Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ
and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the
Law no flesh will be justified.
sat in utter amazement as he insisted that the phrase “so
that we may be justified” is a doubtful affirmation because
it is in the subjunctive in the Greek.
That is, “so that we might be justified.”
I could tell by looking at the clock that I had little
time, but I had to point out the egregious error of such a
person who can read Greek can see that there is a reason
“may be justified” is in the subjunctive: it is in a hina
clause. This is
the classic purpose/result clause in Greek.
Paul’s point is so obvious that it is amazing that a
Roman Catholic apologist would attempt to use this passage to
get around Romans 5:1. Paul
says that we (Paul and Peter, Jews by nature) have believed in
Christ Jesus so that they might be justified: the
purpose of their faith in Christ was so that they would be
justified by that faith.
To read into the passage doubt or hesitation is utterly
unfounded. No one who is a serious scholar of the language would ever
say such a thing. Yet,
when I pointed out the grammar of the passage refuted Mr.
Staples, as with so much else, his only response was to talk
over me and say “that’s a lie.”
Staples also demonstrated his lack of understanding of the
mindset of a true believing Protestant.
Mr. Staples, unlike other Roman Catholic apologists
like Gerry Matatics or Robert Sungenis, came from a background
of Pentecostalism, specifically, he attended the Jimmy
Swaggart Bible College. Because
of this, he simply did not realize that he was truly
“shooting himself in the foot” when he responded as he did
to my reading of the classic Marian prayer reproduced below:
Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the
goods which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this
reason he has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so
bountiful, that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art
the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who
have recourse to thee. Come then, to my help, dearest
Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place
my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count
me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy
protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect
me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because
thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the
devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell
together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge himself, because by
one prayer from thee he will be appeased. But one thing I
fear, that in the hour of temptation I may neglect to call
on thee and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, then, the
pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and
the grace always to have recourse to thee, O Mother of
I read this on the air, not only did Tim Staples keep saying,
“Amen” as I read it and nodding his head in agreement, but
when I got to the end he said, “And your problem is?”
Surely he could not possibly understand how
tremendously offensive such words are to the ears of
any lover of Scripture or the gospel.
He handled it with such a cavalier attitude that he
immediately lost the ears of any biblically-based Protestant
who was still listening at that point, and those who had
already figured out where he was coming from were pushed that
much farther into a full rejection of all of his claims.
at the CRI programs agreed that the encounter did not bode
well for the coming debate.
I was especially concerned about things Tim Staples had
done four years earlier when we debated in Fullerton.
As you can see from my open letter written after that
Mr. Staples had constantly gone past his time limits, and he
had encouraged the behavior of his “students” who were
loud, obnoxious, and rude, one even crying out, “The
Eucharist!” at one point during the question and answer
period, resulting in a round of applause...for what reason we
can only guess. What
was most troubling was the proposed cross-examination period.
I had requested that we handle this most important part
of the debate in the way that is best for the audience: in the
formal debate style, where the questioner asks questions, the
respondent provides concise responses, and the interaction is
how Mr. Staples couldn’t even let me respond to him without
talking over me and saying things like “that’s a lie” on
BAM, I was very concerned he would completely run amuck during
the cross-exam, which requires control and restraint on the
part of both participants.
So, prior to the debate, I expressed my reservations to
the moderator, Jerry Usher, who like Tim Staples works for St.
He said he would get Tim and I together before the
debate to discuss it.
led to a “huddle” immediately before the debate with Tim
Staples, Jerry Usher, and myself.
During this discussion I specifically pointed them both
to the example set by myself and Mitchell Pacwa during our
cross-examination period on Long Island in 1998.
Both said they had watched that portion of the debate,
and Mr. Staples specifically promised to follow the
rules for cross-examination. Succinct questions, concise answers, no filibustering.
It is a simple rule of debate that the person
cross-examining does so in the form of questions.
That person does not comment on the answers.
That is left for closing statements.
I was so concerned that Mr. Staples would violate the
rules that I suggested we impose time limits, but I was
assured that he would, in fact, follow the rules. We will see, such was a very, very empty promise.
Plummer Auditorium is a perfect place for a debate, as far as
facilities go. But we are always in the minority there, and such was the
case again for this debate.
And since the topic would be significantly more
“emotional” for the Roman Catholics than the previous
debate, where I
was defending the biblical truth of sola scriptura, I
knew it would be a “rough crowd.”
But, I love these opportunities, for though I know a
large portion of the Roman Catholics in attendance will not
hear my words, some will, and God can bless in that
you walked into Plummer you could see posters, hung by St.
Joseph Communications, announcing the debate.
Prominently displayed was the title: “Papal
program likewise had the title clearly displayed.
Why is this important?
Because, for the first 30 minutes, it seemed Mr.
Staples forgot what the topic was supposed to be.
the topic was Papal Infallibility, the Roman Catholic
representative gets to go first, so as to define the topic and
provide the initial defense of it.
So I fully expected Mr. Staples to define the dogma,
give some background on it, and then launch pre-emptive
strikes in defense of the most commonly used examples of papal
error, especially that of Honorius.
So I must have looked more than a little confused as
Mr. Staples delivered a rambling dissertation, aimed almost
only at his fellow, already-convinced Catholics, about the
primacy of Peter in the New Testament.
Matthew 16, Luke 22, John 21...all the classic
passages, but not a word about Honorius, Liberius, or
anyone else. No
defense of Papal Infallibility (hereafter PI).
Not even a definition.
He never even read from the First Vatican Council.
Nothing. Just a presentation about Peter’s alleged
my turn came I delivered a 30-minute presentation on the topic
of the debate: papal infallibility.
I started by providing a short recitation of the
statements John Henry Cardinal Newman had made in opposing
the definition of PI at the Vatican I, and how he had
eventually given in to the teaching, resulting in a truly
I then pointed out that I believe the Pope to have
taught many errors, such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary, or
I said that these kinds of errors are dismissed by Roman
Catholics because of their dedication to the higher authority
of the Pope himself. So,
I said that we have to focus upon examples that would show the
Pope to be in error on the basis laid out by Roman
Catholicism itself. And
this is I sought to prove by presenting information on three
papal errors: most of my time was spent on the condemnation of
Honorius by the 6th, 7th, and 8th
ecumenical Councils; then I spoke of Zosimus’ error in
rehabilitating Pelagius and commanding the North African
Churches to drop their condemnation of Pelagius and Coelestius
(a position the North Africans rejected, and eventually
Zosimus had to do a complete about-face); and finally,
briefly, I noted the error of Sixtus V and his allegedly
Protestants in the audience were more than a little surprised
when Mr. Staples returned to the podium for his 15 minute
started off by saying that at least he had stuck with
the Scriptures in his presentation, and he then spoke of the
“tactic” I was using of focusing solely upon papal
I responded in my time I pointed out that it is amazing to be
accused of engaging in the use of a “tactic” just to
debate the very topic you were invited to debate in the first
place, and that was on every poster hanging in the foyer
announcing the event! What
a strange thing that is!
And I likewise said I would enjoy sticking to Scripture
too, but, since the Bible knows nothing of PI, that would be
an impossibility. Staples
attempted to begin playing catch-up by trying to respond to
the information I had presented.
But it was an impossible task.
I had already provided far too much documentation on
the case of Honorius, so that all he could do was attempt to
make the same arguments I had already refuted.
the end of my rebuttal period I pointed out yet another
problem for Mr. Staples.
I quoted from a papal decree of Alexander IV which
prohibited laymen (and Staples is a layman) from engaging in
debates with heretics on theological issues.
I pointed out that Rome had used these decrees as
recently as less than a century earlier.
I then said that Mr. Staples would have to explain why
these decrees did not apply to him, tell us if they had been
rescinded, etc. I
quoted extensively from Staples himself, from a tape of his on
the papacy, wherein he had asserted that even the juridical
pronouncements of the Papacy are binding upon Catholics.
I closed by saying that either Tim would have to quit
and forfeit the rest of the debate in obedience to the Pope,
or he would have to demonstrate the fact that Roman Catholics
have to privately interpret the Pope themselves.
In either case, my point would be made, and it was.
came a 15 minutes intermission, during which time I had the
pleasure of meeting many fine folks who can come out to
support us. But
this rest was short, and soon I was standing behind my podium,
waiting for Staples to begin his cross-examination.
the conversation from before the debate, and the clear
concerns I had expressed to both the moderator and Mr.
Staples, I was experiencing true apprehension.
It took no time at all to realize that I had been right
all along. [I did a Rush
Limbaugh style, "stop the tape!" review of the
cross-examination period on the Dividing Line program of
7/22/00, which can be heard by Real Audio by clicking
began by saying he just had to respond to what I had
said about Alexander IV, and it would only take “5
took a minute. A
plain, inexcusable breach of the rules, and the moderator said
nothing. Then Staples launched into his first “question.”
He made statement after statement, assertion after
assertion, and finally, after taking another long period of
time, finished his sermonette with the off-topic question,
“How do you know Hebrews was in the canon?”
Remember, this is supposed to be a debate on PI.
The questions are supposed to be on the material
already presented. Instead,
Mr. Staples decided to go for the old “canon” question.
Again, no moderator action.
So I answered the question.
Staples said, “Perhaps you didn’t hear it, let me
try again.” Another
commentary leading up to the question.
I respond again. This time, he replies not with a question, but by arguing
with me. “Is
that a question?” I ask.
No response, more diatribe.
I have not made the effort to time it, but, I would conservatively
estimate that in the 12 minutes of cross-exam, Staples himself
talked, normally making statements, catching up on stuff he
wanted to say in earlier sections, or arguing my replies, for
8 of the 12 minutes. One
of our regular visitors in our chatroom listened closely to
the tapes and counted a grand total of five questions asked by
Mr. Staples, one of which was more of a statement to which I
answered, "Was that a question, sir?" Five
questions in twelve minutes! Only a couple were
even on the Papacy, let alone on the topic of the debate.
It was exactly what I had predicted.
He made no effort, at all, to abide by what he had
personally said he would do only 90 minutes earlier.
the end of his time period he went on and on and on for about
three minutes, with his “question” finally coming right as
his time ran out. I
began to reply, but halfway through decided it would be best
to just get on with my section as I could address the issues
better in that format. When
I asked the moderator, he agreed, but then the RC’s in the
audience started yelling out, “Answer the question!”
The moderator again said I did not have to, but I
pressed on and indicated the answer would come in the next
section. And so
began the longest twelve minutes Tim Staples had ever spent
behind a podium. He
never once looked at me the entire time. The same individual who
listened to the tapes and counted five questions by Staples
counted thirty one unique questions by me in my 12
minute period, with a further 8 repetitive questions,
"Yes or no, sir?" That means not counting the
one statement/question by Mr. Staples, I asked almost nine
times the number of questions he did, in the same period
of time. And
they happened to be on the topic of PI.
And they happened to be on the information already
presented in the debate. In other words, I followed the rules, despite the fact that
Mr. Staples acted as if there were no rules at all for how
debates are to be run.
defense Staples used for Honorius, (that Leo II had in essence
“corrected” the condemnation of the 6th
ecumenical council) collapsed quickly under questioning.
Staples insisted that no council is truly infallible
until the Pope affirms it.
I asked him what councils before the 6th, or
where in the 6th itself, we were taught this.
He had obviously never even considered the idea, and it
was likewise clear he was completely unaware that the idea
that a council is dependent upon papal approval made its way
into canon law not from the ancient church, but from the
Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, forgeries that were written around
the year A.D. 845,
one hundred and fifty years after the 6th
ecumenical council. Reading
that back into the preceding time period is an obvious example
of anachronism and is invalid.
Staples had no meaningful response.
He angrily insisted that Honorius was condemned only
for his negligence.
I asked him if, in fact, Honorius’ letters had been
burned before the Council as “hurtful to the soul.”
He didn’t know.
But when he again insisted Honorius was condemned for
his actions not his teachings I asked, “Were his letters
actions, or teachings?”
He was obviously flustered, and often had to look for
words. To any
person with any level of fairness in their thinking, the
debate was over at that point.
Well, at least the debate on the announced topic.
my opening I had said that time failed us to mention so many
other possible examples of papal error.
I then listed some of those examples that have been
used over the years, though I did not even begin to base my
case upon them. Yet,
Staples chose to focus primarily on some of those, as he
seemed more comfortable debating examples I didn’t even
begin to present and elucidate.
This continued in his closing remarks, but even here he
blundered badly. He
had no response for the Zosimus situation, and when he decided
to launch into the fall of Liberius, he made the incredible
statement that the Sirmium Creed that Liberius had signed was
not really heretical! I
was incredulous. But
then, as soon as he finished, his ardent supporters were on
their feet, applauding wildly and cheering with gusto.
It was quite the display.
I had the opportunity to speak.
I replied to a number of issues, including how Staples
had completely dodged the decree of Alexander IV, and then I
concluded with these words.
I quote directly from the notes I carried with me that
cannot avoid your duty this evening.
You will be the one held accountable for what you
believe: no man can bear your responsibility before the
throne of God. I
cannot convince the mind that is unwilling to listen to
facts and reason. But
I can, out of love for God and love for His truth, warn any
and all who have embraced a deception, a falsehood.
And that is why I am here this evening.
It is an act of love for God, love for his truth, and
love for my fellow man, that has brought me to this place
this evening. We
have seen that those who desire to believe in Papal
Infallibility labor hard and long at finding ways to
maintain that belief, even when the facts are clear and
assert that unless one had already embraced the theory of
Papal primacy and infallibility that the excuses and
defenses offered this evening would not even suggest
themselves, let alone provide a compelling argument for
faith in the infallibility of the bishop of Rome.
review what we have seen thus far this evening.
A guide that leads you down the wrong path is not an
infallible guide. A
guide that leads you to jump off a cliff is not an
infallible guide. A
guide that has to constantly double-back and make
corrections in his guidance is not an infallible guide.
“Woops” is not a valid excuse for one who claims
to be infallible. “We
made a mistake, we are going to go back and take a second
shot at this” does not work when you are telling folks
they have to believe everything you have to say to be right
with God. In light of this, we have seen how Zosimus had to
say “woops” when Augustine and the North African bishops
corrected him and refused his direct command, as bishop of
Rome, to accept Pelagius and Caelestius back into communion.
He reversed himself and his “mature examination”
upon which he had commanded, by the authority of his
Apostolic See, the North Africans to reverse course.
Instead, he reversed course and contradicted
everything he had said before.
Who, here, was the infallible guide, Zosimus, or the
North African bishops led by Augustine?
We have seen how the entire Papacy had to say
“woops” with reference to Honorius who was condemned by
not one, not two, but three Ecumenical Councils, and every
Pope who took the oath of the papal office for the space of
three hundred years. We
saw how Pope Leo II likewise anathematized Honorius and said
that he had “permitted
her who was undefiled to be polluted by profane teaching.”
If someone had followed the understanding of the
bishop of Rome during those years, they would have embraced
formal heresy. We
have likewise seen how Cardinal Bellarmine had to come up
with a lie to cover for Sixtus V’s
not-quite-as-infallible-as-we-thought Vulgate, a woops of
truly biblical proportions.
each of these instances we have seen that it would have been
impossible, on the grounds taken by Rome today, to know if
the Pope was speaking the truth or not.
I reiterate what I believe is an inescapable argument
against belief in the infallibility of the Pope.
You can’t have any confidence that the
interpretation you hold this evening of the current Pope’s
teaching is actually right.
You may understand Ut
Unum Sint or Veritatis Splendor or Redemptoris
Mater one way, but history teaches you one thing without
contradiction: fifty years from now, or a hundred years from
now, the understanding of the same documents, the same
doctrines, may be substantially different than it is today.
You may accept a Papal teaching today as
authoritative that will not only be abandoned in the future,
but may be contradicted in the future.
A person who accepted the doctrinal content of
Honorius’ first letter to Sergius and died in that state
would find himself anathematized by the next three
ecumenical councils. Remember,
letters existed for more than 45 years before the official
correction of their error. A person who accepted
Zosimus’ considered and careful conclusion in his
encyclical Magnum Pondus, as bishop of Rome, that
Pelagius and Coelestius were Catholic and orthodox would
likewise take heresy into his very soul.
The simple fact of the matter is, you don’t know
that what you think
the Pope is currently teaching is
what he is teaching, and what’s more, you have no way of
knowing if what he really is
teaching today will be considered orthodox and proper a
hundred years from now.
so I urge you to consider the contrast between the uncertain
guide that is the bishop of Rome and the certain guide that
is God’s Holy Word. While
the bishop of Rome is subject to ignorance, political
intrigue, abuse of power, sin, greed, and lust, the
Scriptures are subject to none of these things.
The Scriptures have never led any person into
Arianism, Pelagianism, or Monotheletism.
Only men’s own traditions, lusts, and sin have
caused them to reject God’s truth in the Scriptures and
enter into error. The
fault has always been that of man, never that of the
infallible guide that is the inspired and Holy Word of God.
No matter how challenging the exegetical task of
understanding even the most difficult passages of Scripture,
in comparison with attempting to sort through the maze of
Roman history, the volumes of papal encyclicals, the tomes
of canon law, the numerous false decretals and forgeries,
the reversals and clarifications and canons and decrees and
everything else Rome offers the exegetical task of
understanding Scripture is nigh unto simplistic.
Give me Romans 8 any day over the code of canon law.
I finished my remarks, the brave and greatly outnumbered band
of Protestants likewise leapt to their feet in applause, led, I did not fail to
notice, by the young folks in the front row, including my own
children, and the children of my good friend Simon Escobedo
(see his comments in his review of the debate by clicking
They were joined
by the students I met from Master’s Seminary, by some who
had traveled from Talbot Seminary, and our good friends from
New Life Orthodox Presbyterian Church in San Diego.
closing remarks are not the end of a debate.
Audience questions are always that wonderfully
anti-climactic, never on the topic, never-ending, slow-death
to a debate. And
so it began. I
believe two questions were asked of Staples: all the rest were
aimed directly at me, and almost none had anything at all to
do with anything I had said. No one wanted to touch Honorius.
No one wanted to attempt to rehabilitate Zosimus.
No, they wanted to attack sola scriptura,
nothing more. It’s
all they knew, for it is about all the Roman Catholic
apologists who have trained them know.
But the “lets get the Protestant for daring to say
the Pope is wrong” tactic didn’t work, for the person to
whom the question was asked got 60 seconds to respond, while
the other only got 30 to comment.
That meant that in the last half hour of the debate, I
got to speak about ten minutes, while Tim Staples got to speak
about five! I
wondered if the folks on the other side realized that was
it was over. A
crowd gathered around as I was packing up my computer and my
books. My good
friend Eddie Dalcour towered over me and kept an eye on
Protestants in the audience were ecstatic.
They knew what had just happened.
A little Catholic lady came up on stage and said to me,
“I believe you owe Jesus an apology for calling Him a
replied, “I would never call Jesus a liar, mam, and I do
wish you had listened to something I had said.”
The folks at the auditorium were really hacked with us
for going so long, so we got rushed out the door in a matter
we left I expressed to Jerry Usher, the moderator, my dismay
at Mr. Staples’ inability to keep his own word and obey
rules---rules that exist to give the audience
a fair shake at following the debate.
Mr. Staples showed great disrespect for Mr. Usher,
myself, and the audience by his behavior, and I informed Mr.
Usher that if Mr. Staples ever wants to debate again, he will
need to do some serious review of debate rules.
the vast majority of my debates I let the tapes speak for
themselves, and in this instance, they do so with tremendous
clarity. But I
will do something very unusual here, and make the clear
proclamation: we won the debate Friday night July 7th,
2000, in Fullerton, California.
We won it on every level you can win a debate.
We won on content, for Mr. Staples chose to ignore the
debate topic until we were an hour into the battle.
We won on cross-examination, where he failed to even
attempt to engage the debate and collapsed on his part when
pressed with the issues.
We won on every technical question of debate as well.
And we won simply because we had the truth on our side
and no amount of obfuscation could hide it. And
you know why I am certain
we won? It’s
easy: if I knew of a person who was considering embracing
papal claims, I would not hesitate for a moment to send
them the tapes of this debate, and I know my fellow
Protestants would not either.
But while Mr. Staples himself might venture to send the
tapes of this debate to such a person, other Catholics
apologists who know better would not.
And that proves the point.
a review of the debate by Mrs. James White, click
here, and for one by Summer White, Dr. White's daughter, click
here. Jason Engwer has also written an excellent
rebuttal of the comments made by Mr. Staples in his
not-quite-on-the-topic opening that I was unable to respond to
without abandoning the actual topic of the evening. Click
Here for Jason's article.