Peterson & Hamblin vs White: Biblical Inerrancy

This is a neat debate held between William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson of BYU, and James White of A&O Ministries. They discuss the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. This debate was held a few years ago on a radio show that Martin Tanner used to have (he is LDS). I believe the transcript was typed up by Kevin Graham, who since has left the church.  I found this on Kevin’s website a couple years ago and saved it as a Word document and eventually forgot about it. Luckily I did that because Kevin’s once very useful and informative sight is now down and all the material there is unavailable.

This is not a transcript of the entire discussion, but only of the portion on biblical inerrancy. I don’t remember anymore why I don’t have the rest of the discussion. But, you can purchase the audio of the entire discussion here.

From here on is the debate.

William Hamblin: I think one of the fundamental issues that the book raises, surrounds the question of inerrancy of the Bible. Jim White tells us that the Bible is the inerrant and sufficient Word of God, and the LDS position is that the Bible is neither inerrant  nor is it sufficient. So I would like to explore some of the issues that I think the question of inerrancy raises. First of all, I’d like to ask Reverend White why he thinks the Bible is the Word of God at all. Why not the Quran or the many other scriptures. And what evidence does he have that the Bible – is the Bible the word of God and secondly is it inerrant?

James White: That’s very interesting, uh, especially in light of the fact that Dr. Peterson and Dr. Ricks frequently cited an acquaintance of mine in their book, I’m not sure how many times, Karl Keating of Catholic Answers, based in San Diego. And uh, this last Tuesday I was in San Diego debating the vice-president of Catholic Answers, Patrick Madrid uh, in public on the subject of sola scriptura. Uh, the sufficiency  the scriptures to function as the sole rule of faith of the church. The exact same question was asked there, in the context of the Roman Catholic claim. That without the, uh, authoritative pronouncements of the magesterum of the Roman catholic Church, there’d be no way that I could know, uh, that for example the gospel of John was scripture and that it was authoritative in my life. And it very was interesting because my response to that question has, has always been along these lines. If I’m asked why do I believe the Bible is the Word of God, uh, I first of all would say by the authority of Jesus Christ. And I do that in the sense that the Old Testament scriptures I believe carry, most definitely his authority. I’d have to disagree with Dr. Peterson and Dr. Ricks in their statement in Offenders for a Word that the Old Testament canon was, uh, was, uh undecided at the time of Christ. I think that um, um there is very good evidence. Dr. Beckwith’s fine work from 1985, for example, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, makes a very strong case that the Old Testament canon, of course the Hebrew canon of 22 books, which is of course the Protestant canon of 39 books, uh, the 12 Old Testament small minor prophets being rolled into one, so and so forth, uh, I believe was very firmly in place. And the Lord Jesus utilized that canon of scripture and util- , uh, referenced that canon of scripture as being authoritative. And yet, the process by which that took place, was not some sort of miraculous thing it wasn’t a matter of Church council meetings, the the bishop of Rome [giggling] certainly had nothing to do with it since there wasn’t such an individual. And yet the Lord Jesus obviously held people accountable for knowing what the scriptures were. So there must be some mechanism, uh, whereby people can know what is and what is not scripture, that does not require the infallible pronouncement, shall we say, of some sort of Church, rather it be Rome or any other, because the Lord Jesus did hold people responsible for what God had said to them in scripture. And think the answer to how we know the Bible is the word of God. We know that Jesus Christ is the Word of God who became flesh and we know that he accepted that canon of scripture and we know that he promised his apostles would be led into all truth by the Holy Spirit of God (Jn 14:26). The main thing though, that I would say, is that we need to be careful to saying well do you have some sort of external authority by which you prove that something is the word of God. Because the apostle Paul taught what is scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). He said scripture is (Greek word) that is, God breathed. That is the very speaking of God, Jesus spoke the same thing when he said have you not read what God spoke to you, saying (Matt 22), this is God speaking. And God’s speech cannot admit of any higher authority because God is the ultimate authority. Uh, and so,.. when someone asks  well how can you know when something is the word of God or that it is sufficient to function as the word of God, uh, I would refer to the very speaking of God himself in the Lord Jesus Christ, his reference to the OT canon, and the fact that his apostles provided to us a consistent testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ and what follows. And because of that, the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto every good work 2 Tim 3:17. Now I don’t recall that Dr. Peterson and Dr. Ricks addressed this passage in Offenders for a Word, but I know that Dr. Robinson did in Are Mormons Christians, and uh, uh,  Martin, you had that book a year and a half so ago, and I remember seeing it on your uh, pile there, and you’ll be glad to know that I added it to me “to be read” file, just because I saw Martin Tanner with it here in the radio station. But uh, 2 Tim 3:17 says that because scripture is God breathed, the man of God may be complete thoroughly furnished for every good work. I know I’ve taken a lot of time, but let me just mention that the terms that are used there (2 Greek terms) mean “complete, fully equipped” and in fact at least two other Lexical sources (rambles something too fast to comprehend) based upon semantically means, and uh, the (Greek term + muffled rambling) linguistic key. The meanings of these terms, “sufficient”, sufficient for the work of the man of God in the Church. Sufficient to undertake every good work.  And so uh, I think the Protestant anyway who will probably base his belief in the scriptures upon that and say that which is God breathed equips the man to do the work of the ministry.

Daniel Peterson: Martin, uh. Can I respond to that just a little bit. It was a very long and eloquent discussion but it did not really address the question that was asked. To respond with biblical quotations to a question about the authority of the Bible is to really miss the point, I think. The question is – Why.. and I’m asking this as a believer in the Bible and a believer in Christ. But why do you say that Christ has authority? Why do you say that the Bible has authority? Why should I accept – if you quote me passages from the Bible to prove that the Bible has authority, I as say a nonbeliever, hypothetically, in the Bible, would find that unmoving. If a Muslim comes to me and I say why do you believe the Quran to be the word of God and the Muslim says because the Quran says it is the word of God – and I could quote you passages every bit as strong as those you quoted from the Bible – “truth has come and falsehood has vanished away..(something in arabic).. its efficient, its absolutely true” and so on, nevertheless, I as a Christian am unmoved by that. The prior question is why accept the authority of the Bible or even of Jesus in the first place. You have to have a metabiblical, an outside the Bible position, to come to that conclusion. What is that position?

William Hamblin: One of the things I’d like to add is that we could do exactly the same thing with the Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants. They proclaim the truthfulness of those documents as well. So if we are to accept the authenticity of the Bible because the Bible says its authentic, why not accept the Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants for the same types of reasons?

James White: Sigh…well two responses. The first one goes to Dr. Peterson’s question. It seems that I am being asked to…this metabiblical position is fundamentally contradictory to the Protestant position in regards to sola scriptura. Because it requires me to find a metabiblical basis, an outside the Bible basis for the Bible’s authority when the Bible’s authority is God speaking himself. And hence, epistemologically, if God is the absolute being who defines all things by His very word, there can not be  any authority outside of the Bible, that therefore proves the authority of the Bible, anymore that God saying “I am God” can be therefore be proven by anything outside of that. Now that does not mean,  because of course historically, Calvin and others have been very plain in saying, there is plain evidence  of the inspiration of scripture. There is plain evidence in the sense of its fulfilled prophecies, in the sense of its historicity, in the sense of its consistency so on and so forth. But they have also been very plain in pointing out that these things in and of themselves do not have a superior authority of the Bible, but then proves the Bible. And because of the sin darkened human mind outside the work of the human spirit, even in the light of those evidence, without the spirit working, an individual find reasons to not to believe in those things. So, I cannot uh, uh, abandon the concept of sola scriptura, which I believe is plainly taught in scripture and is functioned upon, by the apostles themselves – to provide is metabiblical. And in response to Dr. Hamblin, very quickly, in regards to the BoM and D&C, these books are not considered by themselves in a vacuum, they are considered part of a larger canon that included the Bible itself, and so, when I, when I, uh, address D&C and the POGP,  then I apply a standard of consistency in regards to what is agreed upon, by the Mormon and non-Mormon, myself, is the inspired word of God, and that is the Bible.  And I find grave inconsistencies, just as I find grave inconsistencies in the Gospel of Thomas, or the various Gnostic gospels, there are very grave inconsistencies between what they say and what the scriptures say. And if God is a God of truth, then those inconsistencies demonstrate that those books are in fact scripture.

Daniel Peterson: I would respond to that, that I still don’t think you’ve really addressed the question, or maybe there is no possible Protestant response to the question. Because to say that this is the voice of God is already to beg the question. The question is “Is that the voice of God?” That is the question to be determined by someone on the outside. Now it seems to me that you face two choices, as I understand your answer. There is a possible arbitrary choice, um, you allude to the consistency of scripture in the fulfillment of prophecy, now many would dispute those, many would say that there are gross inconsistencies in the scriptures, and that the prophecies are at best vague. That can be debated, and of course as you allude to the sin darkened mind, it does question whether the human mind is to be trusted with such decisions. Again I say, unless you can provide some  sort of metabiblical position, there seems to me no rational basis between the Quran, the (something in Arabic?), the Bible, or the Book of Mormon. Now Mormons are consistent in this in saying that yes there is position from outside the scriptures, that is the voice of the spirit. You seem to allude to something like that, right now, which interested me very much because you seem to deny that possibility with regards to the Latter-day Saint scriptures.

James White: Um, noo..I wouldn’t uh, noo I, I think possibly, uh, are you familiar, uh, Dr. Peterson at all, with um, for example the Westminister Confession of Faith, in regards to scripture, and the reason why we believe scripture to be sufficient?

Dr. Peterson: Somewhat.

James White: Well the reason I would say… that there is a pretty large difference with the concept of the Mormon testimony, which may be what you’re referring to in the comments I made in my book, is, is that what your, what forms the background of your, of your statements there?

Dr. Peterson: No, no actually there is no discussion in your book that I think addresses this issue.

Martin Tanner: Someone tells you the Shephard of Hermas ought to be thrown in the Bible, tell me how I know. How do you respond to something specific like that.

William Hamblin: Let me add one other thing in relation to that. The passages quoted from the NT about the God inspired nature of scripture and the sufficiency of scripture, they were in fact talking about only the Old Testament, which was the only scripture that existed at that time. So its precisely the same question there. Maybe the OT is sufficient. Maybe it is God inspired.. Why do we think the NT is, because those NT passages is only speaking of the OT.

James White: Ok, if I could respond to that immediately, uh, that is a position for example, that is presented by John Henry Cardinal Newman in his work and it is very commonly repeated by Roman Catholics about that very issue. The problem is that I think it is very mistaken because, uh, while it is very true, that uh, the  canon of scripture to which Timothy would have access did not include the NT scripture, that is not Paul’s point. Paul’s point is that the sufficiency that is provided to man of God is based upon the (theopneustos?) nature of scripture, and in that sense the NT shares the same nature of scripture. That is the basis upon which the man of God can be made complete. It is not a issue of well, this is the canon, here are your 39 books, there is not going to be anything added to that.  The point is that which is (theopneustos), that which is God breathed, is what makes a man of God sufficient. Why? Because the Church never lacks the voice of God within her. That is a very important point, a lot of LDS people feel that “well you think the heavens are closed.” No. As long as we recognized that scripture is God speaking to us, as Jesus taught in Matt 22, that God’s voice is never absent from the Church, hence the man of God is thoroughly equipped for every good work that he would undertake, so I don’t believe that that really strikes the presentation that I made because I was not dealing with canon issues, in regards to that, I was dealing with the nature of scripture.

William Hamblin: So why, why can’t the Book of Mormon and D&C have the same characteristic? Why is the NT the only document, why not something from the middle ages, why can’t that be inspired by God, or the BoM?

James White: Well, again, first of all it would have to be “theopneustos” and hence it would have to be..

William Hamblin: Precisley and the Book of Mormon is “theopneustos

James White: Well the point being, that which is theopneustos, has to be consistent with that which is already revealed,  which of course the NT documents are with the old,  and I do not believe D&C 132 or 130 can in any way shape or form be considered to be consistent with Is 43 or 44, or passages such as this.

William Hamblin: I doubt the Rabbis would agree with you that the New Testament is consistent with the Old.

James White: Well, and they may not..

William Hamblin: Where the inconsistency lies is between your interpretation of the Bible and the LDS interpretation of the Bible. That is to say, we interpret it in a consistent manner that we find there is no inconsistency.  Between LDS doctrine and Reformed doctrine or Evangelical doctrine, there are certainly inconsistencies. But that is a problem of interpretation and not of the biblical document itself. Our doctrines may disagree but we do not see ourselves as inconsistent with the Bible.

James White: Well I think there is much in LDS scripture as it is and we can get into that, but there are now two questions on the table that I haven’t had the opportunity of responding to yet. The first is Dr. Peterson’s statement, uh, saying that I still don’t think Mr. White hasn’t addressed the issue. And again I think I have in that  in pointing to Christ’s authority as the incarnate Word in regards to the OT canon, and in regards to Matt 22, where Jesus again refers to scripture as speaking to us. Yes, I am presenting to you a radical epistimology based upon the doctrine of Paul taught in Colossians that all wisdom is tied up in Jesus Christ and that we are in fact taking every thought captive under the obedience of Christ and that outside of Christ there is no basis for human knowledge, and I do believe that is very very true. Now Martin you then asked me a statement uh, question in regards to James in Revelation. I think that thou misuseth  Dr. Luther, because while Martin Luther made some interesting statements in regards to revelation, uh I, I think a full orbed perspective of what Luther was saying would not lead you to quite that radical position because you know that eventually Martin Luther founded a tract, Martin, uh, on the subject on the papacy are you not. And he found that for centuries people had been interpreting the book of Revelation that the pope was the anti-christ. And so he would go onto that and really enjoyed that and used it a lot, in regards to the issue that you raised in there, how would I respond to someone, well I think you should remove the book of James from the canon of scripture. Well, I’d take it back to a question that I asked, and in fact I’d ask Dr. Peterson and Dr. Hamblin. Dr. Peterson said we do have this authority outside the Bible to speak to us of the inspiriation of scripture and what is and what is not scripture, which I would assume would be the teaching authority of the church. Would that be what you were referring to Dr. Peterson?

Daniel Peterson: No.

James White: What were you referring to?

Daniel Peterson: I was referring to the spirit.

James White: Ok, so you’re you’re saying that, uh your knowledge of that is due to direct revelation of the spirit, and not through the Church saying this is the canon of scripture?

Daniel Peterson: I say that if you’re going to talk about an inerrant scripture, then you first of all have to come to an inerrant decision as to what that inerrant scripture is. If you have not got an inerrant decision as to what the inerrant scripture is, you can have an inerrant scripture but you cannot be sure it is inerrant (background laughing). You can’t be sure that you have the right one. The initial uncertainty destroys any possible subsequent certainty. And so, it seems to me you have to have some basis upon which to make a decision.

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8 comments on “Peterson & Hamblin vs White: Biblical Inerrancy

  1. Sheldon says:

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  2. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for posting this. Peterson was spot on! The spirit truly is the key to understanding these things. Sadly, most theologians try to reason with the mind of man to understand what the mind of God is.

    I didn’t know that about Kevin Graham. Sad note.

  3. openminded says:

    Love hearing these guys show James White’s circular reasoning, I just wish he had it in him to understand his lack of foundation.

    Maybe then we could get to some debates that don’t involve, well, circular reasoning.

    I’d much rather hear something along the lines of:
    I received a very strong No to the Book of Mormon when I prayed about it, what makes your Yes any different? Come to think of it, it’s almost analogous to this innerrrency debate. Is praying for answers innerrent? If so, then what about all the contradictions?

    Ha. That’s almost EXACTLY the biblical innerrency debate

  4. James says:

    Hello openminded.

    I don’t find the discussion about prayer to be analogous to the discussion held by White, Peterson and Hamblin. They were discussing the possibility of inerrancy. Latter-day Saints don’t generally believe that answers to prayer are inerrantly interpreted. I, at least, don’t consider myself to have inerrantly interpreted the spiritual experiences that I have had. There is always room for uncertainty…..which is absolutely wonderful.

    Thanks.

  5. I’m sorry James, but I think I will agree with Openminded on this one. I see some parallel’s to “Biblical inerrancy” and “prayer inerrancy.” For example:

    1. I think that the “word of God” itself is actually inerranct. Meaning what God actaully says it in fact correct.

    2. Likewise, what God says in answer to my prayers (or your prayers) is also inerrant. Meaning, whatever His answer really is is the most perfect answer that could be given.

    3. While the “Word of God” is “inerrant,” I do not think that it was recorded, copied, translated, and interpreted perfectly.

    4. Likewise, while God answers my prayers perfectly, I do not necessarily understand what God is trying to communicate to me, so I misunderstand and make mistakes sometimes (it is a learn process).

    So there are just a couple parallel’s that I see. Of course, these are dependent on how I view the issue of biblical and prayer inerrancy, so I would guess if you see it differently, these parallel’s may not exist.

    Anyway, just thought I would throw my two cents in!

  6. James says:

    Neal,

    I can see how the issues are similar, but there are important nuances that I think negate “openminded’s” argument.

    Whether we are talking about scripture or prayer, the underlying foundation that they both share is revelation. Scripture is merely revelation that is written down. Answers to prayers are revelation. If an answer to a prayer is written down it become scripture for whomever the revelation was given. So scripture and prayer are really two manifestations of the exact same thing…revelation. That is the first thing I want to establish.

    The second thing is that Evangelicals and Mormons take very different approaches to how we understand the nature of revelation. It might be simplistic (because there is significant diversity of belief among both Evangelicals and Mormons respectively) but, in general, these are the differences:

    (A) Evangelicals generally understand the reception of revelation and the writing of revelation to be an inerrant process. That is, as information is passed from God to man, and from man to paper, there is no possibility for corruption or loss of message. The final outcome is as inerrant as if God himself had written the words with his own hands. In fact, most Evangelicals speak as if God himself did write the words (ie “God’s word”). It is essentially a form of ghostwriting.

    (B) Mormons, on the other hand, generally believe that the possibility exists for corruption or loss of message as revelation is filtered through man’s mind and finally recorded on paper. While God’s act of communication may be inerrant, man’s act of reception and recording is very fallible. Thus, in Mormonism, the reception and recording of revelation is a two man job, not a one man job. Scripture is a co-authored, not ghostwritten.

    So, when I receive revelation from God through prayer I am fully cognizant of the fact that I may not be receiving the message perfectly. There exists a very real possibility that I am misinterpreting the message. When Joseph Smith writes revelation down in the Doctrine and Covenants there is a very real possibility that some of the message is lost or corrupted.

    So how do we deal with that? We seek multiple confirmations of truth through repeated trials of faith and prayer. We don’t pray about the Book of Mormon once, get an answer, and then never return to the question. We continually seek to strengthen our testimony by seeking out further spiritual experiences. At the end of the day we could be extremely cynical and tell ourselves that the repeated experiences were all misinterpreted, but it isn’t likely. At least, not in my opinion.

    Joseph learned to receive revelation through repeated practice and experience. As he matured as a prophet he became better and more confident at it. So must we be in our communication with the Lord.

  7. I agree with much of what you have said.

    Certainly there are differences, but, ultimately (as you point out), we are dealing with the same thing: How Mormons and Evangelicals view revelation (albeit, revelation in two different forms). Thus, when we get right down to it, the inerrency of prayer and the inerrancy of scripture are the same debate: the irrenency of revelation. Though, I admit the different nuances certainly alter the debate depending on which form of revelation one is debating.

  8. [...] The debate occurred on talk radio in Salt Lake City, but I’m not exactly sure what year it occurred (2007 maybe). The debate was on James defending his book Letters to a Mormon Elder and it ended up touching upon many issues, one of which is biblical inerrancy. I will provide a few snippets from the debate, but will encourage all to go to this website to read the transcript of the section on inerrancy (here). [...]

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