6 - A Final Response
by James White, Mike Porter, Eric Nielsen, and
the course of the past few months a very lengthy exchange took
place between James White and Robert Sungenis on the topic of
John 6. We believe the facts have been established with more
than sufficient certainty for anyone who is willing to fairly
observe them. Mr. Sungenis has responded with a very lengthy
article, but to be perfectly honest, we do not feel the issue
can be made any clearer, and in fact, continuing the
exponential growth of point-by-point commentary and refutation
would only serve to obfuscate the key issues that began the
discussion anyhow. This is particularly the case due to the
fact that the main issue, that being certain claims by Mr.
Sungenis, have pretty well gotten lost in the shuffle.
of mine have provided brief commentary on different aspects of
Mr. Sungenis' final offering. With these comments we will
leave the issue for the certain day when James White and
Robert Sungenis will square off to debate issues such as
predestination and election, etc. So with these comments we
will close our contribution to the debate at this point.
The Use of MH
Sungenis wrote his first rebuttal to Dr. White, he made the
following comment regarding the use of MH and a defense of his
own comments about it:
For clarification, it is certainly possible that the use of
MH in John 7:31 expects a negative answer. Nevertheless, a
few things need to be said. Since Dr. White appeals to the
statement "many of the multitude believed in Him"
in John 7:31, he is inferring that the belief of these
people was so strong that they would be able to determine
whether Jesus was the Messiah, and thus answer the question
of John 7:31 negatively. I don't think that assessment is
provable, since we do not know what kind of belief the
people had. For all we know their belief could be like the
people of John 8:31, who are finally told by Jesus in verse
44 that their father is the devil. This chapter is in close
proximity to John 7:31, the verse in question, and thus
would have great impact on determining the type of belief
present among them.
Dr. White brought
out the point that Mr. Sungenis entirely missed the point.
While he agrees, seemingly reluctantly, that it is possible
that MH in John 7:31 expected a negative answer, he still
managed to say that it does not matter since it is not proven
that the people believed, or we have no knowledge of what kind
of belief they had. Thus, Mr. Sungenis used his interpretation
to override the grammar.
responded to this by noting that Mr. Sungenis specifically
1) MH before the
main verb does not always expect a negative answer. For
example, in John 7:31, MH before POIEESEI expects an
affirmative answer, not a negative one. In other words, the
implied answer to the question of whether the Christ will do
more signs than Jesus is affirmative.
I pointed out
that, in fact, the only meaningful way of understanding the
passage is to understand that the crowd is saying just the
opposite: that the expected answer is a negative. I even
cited A.T. Robertsonís comments that specifically note the
use of mh, indicating a negative answer. While it is hardly
central to the issue at hand, it does speak to Mr. Sungenis
knowledge of basic Greek grammar and to his general approach
to exegesis and interpretation.
In other words, Dr.
White was able to point out that a grammatical error on the
part of Mr. Sungenis that he seems simply unwilling to admit
that he erred. Mr. Sungenis asserted his interpretation in
order to validate his grammatical approach.
compounds his error by defending his eisegetical approach:
(9) R. Sungenis 2:
Suffice it to say, I am not saying X and then saying non-X.
When I said, "For clarification, it is certainly
possible that the use of MH in John 7:31 expects a negative
answer..." I was implying that the Greek is ambiguous
here. Second, Dr. White now asserts that my going to the
context to answer the question is "obfuscation."
Earlier he complained that "Mr. Sungenis makes a number
of rudimentary errors in his handling of the Greek language
in context..." but now he insists that my appeal to the
context is inappropriate. I exposed Dr. White's premise as
false. Dr. White was trying to claim that the people of John
7 would answer negatively because they were
"believers." By this he meant "true
believers," a distinction he made in a later part of
his rebuttal. But the context shows that we can't know if
they were "true believers," and, in fact, it shows
that they were probably just casual believers. Thus, a
negative answer to the question in John 7:31 cannot be as
definite as Dr. White would like it to be.
What he has done
here is rather obvious. Rather than admitting that his John
7:31 argument from a grammatical standpoint is untenable (Dr.
White cited scholarship, Sungenis cited himself), he argued
that the context supported his claim. His argument is
contingent upon the assumption that 1) the Greek is ambiguous,
and 2) we donít know what kind of faith they held.
Therefore, he feels justified to argue that the implication is
that they believed the Christ would in fact do more than this
man they just heard. The resultant interpretation is an odd
However, the main
flaw in his presentation is that the Greek is not ambiguous,
and his interpretive assumption is not clearly seen. If Mr.
Sungenis is going to challenge a point of grammar, he needs to
demonstrate the impossibility of the view put forth using the
grammar. However, in this context, it is quite clear that the
people were saying that Christ himself would not do more than
this man has. Yet, without citing a single grammar (to do so
would destroy his point) and without referencing a single
commentary, Sungenis offered his unique interpretation as
overriding the grammar of the sentence.
In short, Mr.
Sungenis erred, simply put, and he was unable to bring himself
to admit that he erred, and was forced to create a hermeneutic
principle where grammar is subordinate to interpretation.
I admit that this
observation is not central to the bulk of the dialogue, but it
is a point that is worth mentioning. A rather basic point of
grammar cannot be arbitrarily overturned for the sake of a
Sungenis and Sola Ecclesia
begins his recent rebuttal to James White
with an objection to Dr. White's use of the term sola
ecclesia. He states:
Ecclesia" I believe Dr. White is trying to say that he
thinks I get my information only from the Catholic Church.
Mr. Sungenis goes on
to explain that sola ecclesia is therefore an
inaccurate, misleading term to describe his position. Indeed,
if Dr. White used the phrase sola ecclesia in this
manner, Mr. Sungenis would have a valid objection. A quick
search of the Alpha and Omega Ministries web site, however,
reveals that Dr. White gives the term sola ecclesia an
entirely different definition than the one provided here by
Mr. Sungenis, a definition that Dr. White uses in a consistent
manner throughout his web site:
What is sola
ecclesia? It is the concept that the Roman Church
(exemplified in the Papacy especially) is the sole and final
authority in all matters.
Since Dr. White uses
this phrase in the same manner throughout his web site, it is
safe to assume that he meant to apply the same definition to
describe Mr. Sungenis's position. That is, for Robert Sungenis,
the Roman Church is the sole and final authority in all
matters. Is Dr. White justified in claiming that Robert
Sungenis exercises this sort of sola ecclesia? More to
the point, is Dr. White applying the term fairly to describe
Let's examine the
claim, that for Robert Sungenis, the Roman Church is the sole
and final authority in all matters. In the book Surprised
by Truth, Mr. Sungenis discusses his discovery that
"the whole debate between Catholicism and Protestantism
could be boiled down to authority." 
As I studied
Scripture in the light of the Catholic materials I had been
sent, I began to see that the Bible in fact points to the
Church as being the final arbiter of truth in all spiritual
matters (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15; Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18;
It is evident from
Mr. Sungenis's own statement about the authority of the Roman
Catholic Church that, although he does not apply the term to
himself, he believes sola ecclesia exactly as Dr. White
sense, especially on a practical level. Since only an entity
with the ability to observe and correctly interpret
information can act as an authority, I saw that the
Bible, though it contains God-breathed revelation, cannot
act as a final "authority" since it is
dependent on thinking personalities to observe what is (sic)
says and, more importantly, interpret what it means.
continues in his rebuttal:
In response, let
me say a few things. First, the Catholic Church believes
Scripture, Tradition and the Church are equally coexisting
authorities (whereas Protestants believe Scripture alone is
inerrant, thus "sola scriptura"). From that
premise alone, "sola ecclesia" is inappropriate.
Here Mr. Sungenis
attempts to demonstrate that the Roman Church is not his sole
authority, claiming that "Scripture, Tradition, and the
Church are equally coexisting authorities." Certainly the
Roman Church does claim these three sources of authority, and
doubtless Mr. Sungenis recognizes these three as well. It is
difficult to see, however, what Mr. Sungenis could possibly
mean by the phrase "equally coexisting authorities."
In his own testimony he has already made the claim that the
Scripture cannot be a final authority, while the Church
must be the final authority. The Church, then, as the
interpreter of Scripture and the final authority, exercises
authority over the Scripture, and is therefore not equal to,
but greater than the Scripture.
Sungenis later admits to his practice of sola ecclesia
as Dr. White defines it even as he denies the charge:
Third, in my
rebuttals to Dr. White, now amassing close to 100 pages, I
think I mentioned the Catholic Church only once, which came
in a quote from the Catholic Catechism, para. 600: "To
God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy.
When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of
'predestination,' he includes in it each person's free
response to his grace." So, again, with only one
citation to the Church, the use of "sola ecclesia"
is not at all applicable to this present discussion.
Ninety-nine percent of my rebuttal is based on an exegesis
of the biblical text.
Since Mr. Sungenis
has already established that the Roman Catholic Church is the
final arbiter of truth in all spiritual matters, he has
admitted that he can not make any "exegesis" of the
Scripture passages under discussion other than interpretations
that coincide with what the Church has already decreed about
predestination and free will. This is indeed sola ecclesia.
 Surprised By Truth, p. 117
 Surprised By Truth, p. 118
In his second
"rebuttal" to Dr. James White, Mr. Robert Sungenis
Ecclesia" I believe Dr. White is trying to say that he
thinks I get my information only from the Catholic Church.
In response, let me say a few things. First, the Catholic
Church believes Scripture, Tradition and the Church are
equally coexisting authorities (whereas Protestants believe
Scripture alone is inerrant, thus "sola scriptura").
>From that premise alone, "sola ecclesia" is
It is astounding
that, after the many debates and discussions that have taken
place between Dr. White and Mr. Sungenis, not to mention the
reams of paper and kilobytes of web pages that have been
devoted to discussion of the issues, Mr. Sungenis still
does not seem to understand what is meant when these terms are
used. The issue here is not as much about inerrancy or
infallibility (although Protestants deny Papal Infallibility),
or even authority, but one of final authority. For the
Protestant, the Scriptures are the final arbiter. They are the
rule of faith and practice. It is to the Scriptures that every
Christian must submit; all other opinion is mere opinion, open
to debate and to critique. This is what is meant by the phrase
Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is that which
determines doctrine and practice. Dr. White is not suggesting
that the Roman Catholic does not regard Scripture as
authoritative. When he uses the phrase Sola Ecclesia,
he is asserting that, while the Roman Catholic Church holds
Scripture, Tradition, and the Church to be equally
authoritative, it is the word of the Church that carries the
most weight at the end of the day. Regardless of what
Scripture may teach, the meaning of Scripture is determined by
the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Hence, because of
Roman Catholic soteriology, it is very difficult for the Roman
Catholic apologist to read even the clearest passages any
other way. John 6 is a very clear passage, demonstrating
without any ambiguity that salvation is of God and by God
without reference to the free will of man. The only reason
that Mr. Sungenis and his colleagues in the Roman Catholic
Church do not see this is because to agree with Dr. White
would be to elevate the Word of God above the Word of Rome.
Whiteís contention is that no Roman Catholic would do this,
demonstrating that, at the bottom line, the Roman Catholic
holds to the Church, and the Church alone, as the final
authority for doctrine and practice. Hence, Sola Ecclesia
is quite appropriate.
Marginalizes the Enemy
Mr. Sungenis continues:
Second, it is a
simple fact of history that those who hold to the doctrine I
espouse are not only from the Catholic Church. Dr. White has
plenty of opponents in his own Protestant denominations who
believe something very similar to what the Catholic Church
believes regarding Predestination and Free Will. In fact,
while Dr. White calls himself a "Reformed
Baptist," there is a denomination which calls itself
"Free Will Baptist." In fact, the majority of
Protestant denominations repudiate Dr. White's view of
absolute predestination as being thoroughly unbiblical
(Note: "Absolute predestination" is the view that
God predestined some men to heaven and the rest to Hell, the
former without regard to their Free Will, and in most
versions, the latter without regard to their sin).
should be noted here, especially by every Arminian who
crusades against Roman Catholicism. Sadly, Mr. Sungenis is
correct in his assertion that the Arminian and the Roman
Catholic views of soteriology are very similar. However, it is
important not to lose sight of what Sungenis is trying to do
in this paragraph. He is attempting to marginalize Whiteís
views. If Dr. White can be labeled an "extremist"
who holds to a theological position that is not representative
of modern Protestantism, then Sungenisí battle can be
presented not as Roman Catholicism versus Protestantism, but
Roman Catholicism versus a small, fringe group of extremist
Calvinists. This is smoke-and-mirrors. It does not matter in
the least whose position Dr. White represents, whether 90%,
50%, 20%, or 1% of Protestantism. Biblical theology is not a
matter of counting noses to see who has the majority view;
rather it is a matter of searching the Scriptures to see whose
theology is most consistent with Godís revelation of
Himself. The reader must answer the question: Of the two views
presented, which most accurately and consistently exposits the
meaning of John 6, both in its own context, and also in the
context of the rest of Scripture.
A few words need
to be offered with regard to Sungenisí use of the term
"absolute predestination," and his definition of
this term. Scripture does not speak of an "absolute"
predestination, only predestination. Since predestination is
both a Biblical term and a Biblical concept, no serious
student of the Bible would deny that the Bible teaches
predestination. The difference between the Reformed and the
Arminian/Roman Catholic usage of the word lies in its
definition. For the Arminian, God predestines those whom He
knew would exercise faith in Christ. For the Reformed, God
predestines those whom He chooses, without regard for who they
are or what they will or will not do.
an explanation of the term "absolute
predestination": God predestines some to Heaven and
others to Hell , the former without regard to their Free Will,
and, in most versions, the latter without regard to their sin.
This is a shallow, and incredibly misleading presentation of
Reformed thinking. In the Westminster Confession of Faith, we
read the following:
Every sin, both
original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous
law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature,
bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the
wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to
death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.
So, according to
Reformed belief, man, due to both original and actual sin, is
condemned to an eternity in Hell. Those that are not elect,
therefore, are already sentenced to eternal punishment, and
this is because of sin. This is in directly
contradiction to Sungenisí definition.
With regard to
manís free will, the Westminster Confession states:
Man, by his fall
into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to
any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural
man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in
sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself,
or to prepare himself thereunto. (9:3)
Notice that the
Confession does not deny manís free will. It merely states
that the will of fallen man is unable to will any spiritual
good, and, hence, man is unable to save himself. So, when God
elects someone to salvation, He does act with regard to the
creatureís free will. God regenerates the unregenerate so
that his will is no longer bound to sin, but is truly free to
serve his Creator.
explanation is provided for two reasons. Firstly, Mr. Sungenis
badly misrepresented the Reformed view. It is only fair for
the reader to understand properly what Reformed theology
teaches with respect to these issues. Secondly, the issue of
Mr. Sungenisí credibility as one who knows what Reformed
Protestants believe is called into question. On his website,
there is a small biography of Robert Sungenis which, toward
the end, states the following:
Robert was born
into a Catholic family in 1955, but left the Church and
joined Reformed Protestantism at the age of 19. During his
next 18 years in the Protestant faith, he served as an
elder, adult education director, radio-talk show host, and
itinerant preacher for various Protestant churches. Robert
came back to Catholicism in 1992 and his self-told
conversion story can be found along with 10 other converts
in the book Surprised By Truth (Basilica Press 1994).
experience in "Reformed Protestantism" may be, it is
clear he did not truly understand Reformed theology. The
statement that he served in "various Protestant
churches" does not further his position as one who
understands Reformed Protestantism, since, as he has already
acknowledged, there are plenty of Protestants who would
disagree over this subject. It is to Mr. Sungenisí shame
that he assumes he knows Reformed doctrine, and yet does not
cite Reformed writers to support his understanding. If his
presentation of Reformed theology can be shown to be erroneous
with citations from as basic a Reformed document as the
Westminster Confession of Faith, one cannot hold much hope for
future dialog with him.
and Dr. Whiteís Alleged Self-Refutation
Mr. Sungenis writes with regard to the doctrine of
"absolute predestination" and Godís sovereignty:
In answer to Dr.
White, I explain later in this paper that such a position is
self-refuting, since even Dr. White and the Calvinists must
believe that Adam, before he sinned, had a genuine Free Will
that coincided with God's foreknowledge and foreordination
of all events. The Calvinists cannot explain how this
"mixing of the unmixable" is possible,
nevertheless, they must believe it exists. Unless Dr. White
claims to be a supralapsarian Calvinist (a Calvinist who
says that Adam really had no free will, such that Adam
committed sin because God foreordained him to commit it, and
that God predestined the non-elect to Hell but not based on
their sin but on His own choice and pleasure), then he
really has no room to say that a theology which seeks to
coincide predestination and free will is not
"rational." If Dr. White is an infralapsarian,
then he believes that God took into account Adam's free will
prior to His ordaining of predestination. If so, then Dr.
White would have to agree that Predestination and Free Will
can be mixed.
Notice that he says
that Dr. White and the Calvinists "must believe that
Adam, before he sinned, had a genuine Free Will that coincided
with Godís foreknowledge and foreordination of all
events." Why is this? Why must the Reformed Protestant
deny Godís sovereignty at the Fall? Once more, the
Westminster Confession, which is held to by supralapsarians
and infralapsarians alike, states:
Our first parents,
being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan,
sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God
was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to
permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. (6:1)
One wonders if Mr.
Sungenis has ever read a discussion of Godís use of means
and secondary agents by a Reformed writer. He may have a
clearer understanding how God can sovereignly ordain sin
without being the author of it. Those who would try to
"protect" God from having control over the sinful
actions of men must deal with some very cold, hard Biblical
data. It was God who hardened Pharaohís heart when Moses
issued the command from God to free the Israelites (Exodus
10:1-3). It would appear that God ordained Pharaohís
disobedience toward God. God caused Samson to desire after a
Philistine woman (Judges 14:4). God caused Eliís sons to
ignore their fatherís advice (1 Samuel 2:25). God caused
Assyria to attack Israel as punishment on His people, even
though the Assyrians were ungodly and would be punished by God
for their arrogance (Isaiah 10:6-7, 12). Finally, it was God
who ordained the sinful act of crucifying His only Son, so
that He may save His people from their sin (Acts 2:23).
Ezek 33:11; 2
Peter 3:9 and Zech 1:3
These passages came up more than once in Mr. Sungenisí
response, so it seems necessary to say a few words about them.
Of course, Sungenisí first problem is that he fails to
understand these passages (as well as other proof-texts) apart
from the rest of Scripture. While the Reformed Protestant is
forced to look to Scripture for his understanding of
potentially difficult texts, the magesterium of Rome has
provided Mr. Sungenis with his theological framework.
With regard to
Ezekiel 33:11, the reader is urged to look at the context of
the passage. God is addressing His people, Israel. He does not
enjoy the sin of His own people, which is why He will chastise
them, and bring other nations against them, that they may be a
people pleasing in His sight. It is not unusual to read of God
urging His people not to sin, and to walk in righteousness.
Even though God has decreed the ends and ordained the means of
our lives, He always holds before us His righteous demands.
Without His enabling, we are unable to follow those demands,
but that does not excuse us from obeying those demands.
Someone who is drunk is still required to drive safely, even
if his condition means that he is incapable of so doing.
One can only
imagine that Mr. Sungenis does not read much Reformed writing,
since 2 Peter 3:9 has been addressed numerous times,
especially in recent years. Firstly, the context of the letter
demands that we understand the referent in the verse to be the
Christians Peter is addressing. The context of the passage is
the end times. His readers are concerned that the Lord has not
yet returned, and Peter is exhorting them to be patient;
Godís promise still stands, but He is not being slow for the
sake of it. The delay of Christís return has a purpose: the
salvation of "all" of "you." That is, that
all those whom God intends to save will be saved at the time
that God ordains. If one insists on reading the
"all" in this verse as "all people," one
must answer some tough questions: if it is Godís will to
save all people, why do people die in sin and unbelief? Is
Godís purpose in delaying Christís return that every
person on earth may be saved, or that they will
be saved? What does the text say?
As for Zechariah
1:3, again, God urges His people to walk in His ways and in
His righteousness. He can do this and ordain their actions. It
seems that the Arminian/Roman Catholic has as much problem
seeing that God can exhort His people to righteousness while
also ordaining the path they will go as the Reformed
Protestant allegedly has seeing Godís sovereignty and
manís free will as co-existent. The question is, which is
the most Biblical position?
1 Timothy 2:4
Mr. Sungenis makes clear his lack of understanding with regard
to the Reformed position on this passage in the following
Do you see how Dr.
White is so used to inserting words and concepts into
Scripture that he can glibly say, "We have already seen
that 1 Timothy 2:4 refers to all kinds of men," without
the slightest pangs of conscience. Even though he is fully
aware that "kinds of men" and "all men"
are two entirely different ideas, he is cock sure that
"kinds" should be in the translation or
interpretation. Until Dr. White ceases from making these
inordinate insertions into the text, he will never see the
Sungenis seems so
intent to maintain his position that he is blind to the
obvious context of the verse that would clearly restrict the
meaning of "all." In verse 1, Paul tells Timothy to
pray for "all men." Does this mean that he wants
Timothy to pray for every person on the face of the planet?
Clearly not, and, indeed, Paul goes on to qualify the phrase.
In verse 2, Paul makes it clear that he wants Timothy to be
sure to pray for kings and those in authority. The
authorities, whether Jewish or Roman, were not friendly toward
the infant church, and so it appears that Paul is using the
phrase "all men" in the sense of "not just your
friends and those who are good to you, but all men." It
would be appropriate to understand "types of men"
since this is clearly Paulís implication. The reason that
Paul wants Timothy to pray for all men is because God desires
to save all men. Continuing the context, this would mean that
Timothy should pray for those who rule and not just his
friends, because God does not intend to save only Timothyís
friends, but even those who are currently at enmity with him.
It makes sense to continue the understanding "all types
of men." Once again, if God wills the salvation of
everyone on the planet, then surely that will come about.
There is no qualification that God wants to save them if only
they would believe. God desires to save men from all strata of
society, and whatever God desires to do will be accomplished
(Psalm 115:3; Psalm 135:6).