St. Irenaeus of Lyons versus Dr. James White

Or

The Gnostic System in Dr. White’s Neo-Platonism:

An Ignorant Son Who is Third after the Father

Who Participates in the One Who is First: Divine Being

Rev. Dr. Christiaan Kappes

TurretinFan, an uncontestably loyal friend and defender of Dr. James White, has to his credit of friendship provided a rather extensive (about two-hour) apologia or defense of his fellow Alpha & Omega apologist from Arianism.[1] Most of his two-hour commentary will be unaddressed here since very little has to do with substance of the controversy: (1.) Dr. James White’s assertion and (so far) refusal to deny that it is heretical to assert the Father, Son, and Spirit “participate in divine being”; (2.) His newly highlighted affirmation, below, is astounding that the “Son as Son” is ignorant in his temporal life on earth about something that the Father alone knows to the exclusion of the Son qua Son. The substance of the TurretinFan’s defense of Dr. White is as follows:

  1. As Dr. White has not renounced his affirmation of Trinitarian participation in divine being to Turretinfan according to his YouTube video, TurritinFan provides his own double-pronged defense: a. Dr. White can use participation acceptably because he doesn’t mean it in a partial way but in some other way that is orthodox and my accusation is a red herring. b. Even if Dr. White might have slipped up, it’s no big deal. Everybody makes mistakes (which is not Dr. White’s own assertion) is TurretinFan’s alternative defense, if a. were found to be wanting.
  2. According to TurretinFan, Dr. White only presented what “critics” or exegetes argue but Dr. White doesn’t himself embrace “the consistency argument,” rather only the bad critics argue (not supposedly Dr. White) that “monos (only)” (Matthew 24:36) and “monos (only)” (John 17:3) must be consistently read to exclude anyone else, so that the Father exclusively knows the Last Day (but not the Son) and that there is God only or exclusively (and therefore no other legitimate gods in existence)

What TurritinFan accidentally emphasized in his elongated commentary on YouTube accidently proves the opposite and has, so far, been otherwise missed by commentators, where Dr. White doubles down that he agrees with the critics or unnamed exegetes: At 1:24.00, where Dr. White critiques upholders of a Chalcedonian reading of Scripture thus:

[Dr. White:] What we are being told is, um, … “[The Chalcedonian Christian:] Well… when it says: ‘Nor the son,’ (Mark 13:23) you have to take the fully developed later definitions of Christology [namely, Chalcedon (AD 451) & Constantinople III (AD 680)], read them back in here, and do “partitive exegesis” and, so, and that’s the easy way to do, the easy out to Mt 24:36 [namely, the “Father only” knows] is to say: “Well that’s the humanity,” um, “and not the deity.” That’s the easy way out and that’s normally how people try to respond to the critics and the critics go: “Can you show me that from the text?” Especially since it says:[NKJV Matthew 24:36]But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only (oudeis oiden, oude huios, ei mê ho patêr monos).

But the “Father only” but you are saying: “It’s not the Father only, it’s the Father and the Son and the Spirit,” right? That’s what you are saying. So, you don’t believe “the monos [only]” part and there are people on the other side that are sharp enough to catch you on that because you are gonna have to use of “monos” [viz., “only”] in John chapter 17; it’s this consistency thing; I know it’s a bit of pain but it’s this consistency thing. So, if you want to say in order to protect my formulations, um, I’m gonna go beyond what the text say and I’m gonna say this is speaking on the son in his human incarnation and I’m gonna just ignore the use of the term monos.[2]

Turretinfan accuses us of being less than thorough, since a longer part of Dr. White’s original clip in context necessarily justifies Dr. White as allegedly and merely presenting other exegetes’ false positions but not adjudicating them on the show. Strangely, asserts TurretinFan, Dr. White describes an anti-Christian error but provides his listeners with no way out of the error on a show dedicated to apologetics…a strange apologist indeed! But, taking Turretinfan’s advice, let’s use the extra minutes that Turretinfan wants us to additionally hear (viz., read) in order to correctly understand Dr. White in context:

And, so, I simply go look the Son speaking as the Son at this point in his incarnational experience makes this statement. Don’t try to…Matthew is not trying address the stuff you’re trying to address Matthew is not trying to say the things that you are trying to make me say that you’re accusing me of errors in Christology for. You’re going beyond the text. You’re reading it, reading stuff into it that ain’t anywhere near, you couldn’t exegete that if your life depended on it. But you’ve got your external systematic theology and it tells you the text says and since I have dealt with Roman Catholics who left the Reformed faith and have taken them to texts that are clear and perspicuous on the peace of God that comes from justification. And their response has been “But that’s not what it means because…” and then they bring in the external authority. Maybe you don’t do that kind of stuff, I don’t know. But I just simply can’t contradict myself. I can’t be that inconsistent. And, so, I just go that’s what the text says. It’s not making these applications. You are pushing it too far to go there. And there is a day when we all went: “Yeah it’s a tough text.” Now, not a tough text at all. But is that because of exegesis or because of the adoption of an external authority. There you go.[3]

Dr. White is clearer, but not to TurretinFan’s liking: Dr. White doesn’t say “The Son speaking as the Son of man” (as I have shown from Mark, the greater context of Matthew, and from Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 using a Chalcedonian approach), but rather Dr. White claims it is restrictively the “Son speaking as Son” or “Son qua Son”! Of course, “the Son” refers here to the person or hypostasis and not to the human nature that is not a separate human person (viz., Nestorianism).

Furthermore, according to Dr. White’s consistency argument, the monos (only) of John 17:3 must have the same meaning as monos (only) in Matthew 24:36: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only (monos) the Father.” This means of course that the Son, to be consistent with John on terminology (per Dr. White), means the Son-Logos. So, it is clear, from Dr. White’s argument that the Son-Word or Son-Logos qua Logos, or qua Son, or Son speaking as Son knows not the day nor the hour. After all, for Dr. White, it’s a consistent reading of John’s Gospel back into Matthew.

Let me illustrate from John: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Was the incarnate Jesus sent from heaven (as Apollinaris might assert) having flesh before he was in his mother’s womb? No, it was the Son or Word (of John 1) without flesh who was sent from heaven. To be consistent, there is for Dr. White the Son-Logos of John’s Gospel who is the Son in Matthew 24:36, which means that the “Son speaking as Son” (not as Son of Man) is ignorant. The Son, the person second in order after the Father, sent from heaven, is putatively ignorant. Let us combine this with Dr. White’s theological apology for himself below:

[Christ] is not merely some secondary created creature no matter how exalted. All “the pleroma,” the fullness, of that which makes God, God, “is dwelling in him in bodily form.” He is the creator, he took on human flesh, he is not abandoned that flesh, he is not ceased being the God-man. Now, I wasn’t going to mention this but I would just point out … that just seems honestly to cause some serious problems for people who try to force Aristotle’s Categories on the Christian God and it would seem to cause some problems for people who are today just obliterating the clear distinctions between [sic] Father Son and Spirit; not as to their deity, not as to the fact as each is described as Yahweh, their full participation in the divine being, but the fact that the Bible differentiates between.[4]

The Bible should be the sole rule of faith, at least that is what we are told by Dr. White. But when we point out that participation is a human characteristic in the Bible, not something that is divine; that it is something a creature does, not a creator, TurretinFan seems to scoff at us in favor of Dr. White. I cited Scripture: the Bible alone expert like Dr. White surely knows that (NIV) 2 Peter 1:4 states: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” I analyzed the Greek in previous articles. It is to humans alone that Bible-theology attributes participation, not to Father, not to Son, nor to Spirit. TurretinFan does not claim his friend Dr. James White repudiates this assertion in a program designed to defend himself against heresy and therefore meant to be technical and orthodox. Instead, what is TurretinFan’s defense of Dr. White and Alpha and Omega’s theological stance by its two biggest apologists? First TurretinFan simply asserts that “participation” doesn’t mean for White “partial.” I’d like to know in what English or Greek Bible that’s true? More importantly, I’d like to see what dictionaries assert that this is not the Biblical or the plain English or Greek reading. For example, look at dictionary.com:

participation

[ pahr-tis-uhpey-shuhn ]SHOW IPA

See synonyms for participation on Thesaurus.com🍎 Elementary Level


noun

an act or instance of participating.

the fact of taking part, as in some action or attempt:participation in a celebration.

a sharing, as in benefits or profits:participation in a pension plan.

adjective

of or relating to a venture characterized by more than one person, bank, or company participating in risk or profit:a participation loan.

Somehow, asserts TurretinFan, Dr. White doesn’t mean “partial” when saying “participation” in his theology, although the only biblical meaning and the dictionary meaning signifies only a partial sharing or sharing in someone else’s stuff. Here, for Dr. White, God is first and primary being, and secondly there is the participating Father, and thirdly in order is the Word or Son (not to mention the fourth being the Spirit). TurretinFan wants his listeners to believe that even if this “participation in divine being” were ever to prove to be heresy, well…we all make mistakes…no biggy. In other words, the most fundamental idea and biblical view of God (Trinity), in the very heated and apologetic defense of his own Trinitarian orthodoxy against accusations of Arianism is no big deal; we all make mistakes. But, by no means, or never, put too much stock in Nicene and Chalcedonian formulations…for Dr. White’s reading of Scripture is far superior to others’ reading of the same. The contention here is not that Dr. White is a maniacal Arian but rather that he’s so mixed up on terms and theological meanings (let alone plain English) that he is in no position to dictate Trinitarian and Christological formulas to students and believers alike. Dr. White, I advise, ought to defer, instead, to theologians like Calvin and Turretin and simply plagiarize them, not going beyond these learned humans, since they are trained in enough disciplines not to make these basic errors while attempting to defend their own orthodoxy

On a last note, Dr. White has traditionally advertised himself as an approving reader of St. Irenaeus and Dr. White has naturally, too, then railed against Gnosticism, which is condemned by St. Irenaeus. However, a consistent application of Dr. White’s self-defense of his own Christology by using his own self-apologetics (his apologetics programs) puts Dr. White in a very unfortunate state, where, after naming the divine being, he names the participating-Father in this divine being secondly, and thirdly the Son in his theology as someone participating in “divine being,” while “the Son speaking as the Son” is ignorant of the Last Day. This confused attempt to defend his own beliefs by asserting novel theological positions puts Dr. White precisely overlapping the Gnostic positions condemned by Irenaeus:

It cannot therefore longer be held, as these [Gnostic] men teach, that Logos, as occupying the third place in generation, was ignorant of the Father. Such a thing might indeed perhaps be deemed probable in the case of the generation of human beings, inasmuch as these frequently know nothing of their parents; but it is altogether impossible in the case of the Logos of the Father. For if, existing in the Father, he knows Him in whom he exists — that is, is not ignorant of himself — then those productions which issue from him being his powers (faculties), and always present with him, will not be ignorant of him who emitted them, any more than rays [may be supposed to be] of the sun. It is impossible, therefore, that the Sophia (wisdom) of God, she who is within the Pleroma, inasmuch as she has been produced in such a manner, should have fallen under the influence of passion, and conceived such ignorance. But it is possible that that Sophia (wisdom) who pertains to [the scheme] of Valentinus, inasmuch as she is a production of the devil, should fall into every kind of passion, and exhibit the profoundest ignorance. For when they themselves bear testimony concerning their mother, to the effect that she was the offspring of an erring Æon, we need no longer search for a reason why the sons of such a mother should be ever swimming in the depths of ignorance.[5]

For Gnostics and Fr. Dr. White (like TurretinFan’s defense) Dr. White means that the Father, Son, and Spirit participate in a divine being (no big deal since he means it [non-biblically] in a way that is beyond dictionaries and new testaments), so that the first divine reality is divine being, second the Father (as participant thereof), and third the Word, who is ignorant of something the Father knows. Dr. White has unknowingly embraced this aspect of the Gnostic thinking about the divinity. Perhaps, TurretinFan is right, Dr. White is not an Arian, for he embraces something far older than Arius, and Irenaeus knew exactly the teacher of such self-described Christians as following Valentinus who embraced these two concepts aligned with Dr. White’s own Trinitarian theology. In fact, by asserting these truths, Dr. White has embraced one of his least favorite categories: Christian Platonism, for Gnostics were, indeed, an unorthodox group of self-described Christians who were Platonic on just such a kind of participation. Perhaps Alpha and Omega should reconsider its opposition to the Christian Platonists among Evangelicals in light of Dr. White’s systematic exposition of the participating Trinity and the ignorant Son.

FURTHER READING

“Nor the Son [knows the last day], but the Father only”

Hocus Pocus and a Very Arian Happy Halloween


[1] Turritinfan, “James White, and False Accusations of Arianism” (21 October 2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E6K7FfSAqQ.

[2] Dr. James White, “Ninety Minutes of Biblical Exegesis and Theological Ruminations” (25 August 2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B9Rlh5tqFw.

[3] Dr. James White, “Ninety Minutes of Biblical Exegesis and Theological Ruminations” (25 August 2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B9Rlh5tqFw.

[4] Dr. James White, “On the Road Trip with James” (no. 4): https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/road-trip/on-the-road-trip-with-james-4/.

[5] Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, bk II, 17.8: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103217.htm.

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