I got to watch James White debate live last night. To the left is a crappy shot I took from my camera. Blurry unfortunately. Better pictures are here if you like. He had a pretty good night though, trouncing his opponent, Sheikh Awal. The topic was "Is The Bible We Have Today the Word of God." This ought to be a slam dunk for the negative, but it wasn't last night. White has done I don't know how many dozens of debates. Awal, while pretty knowledgeable about the Bible, just does not have the debating skills.
In addition Awal actually made some basic errors in his description of Christian belief. To me this made it pretty clear that Awal is just not of the caliber he needs to be to be involved in such a debate. So had I been debating him I would have felt a little sorry for him and tried to be gracious. Explain his errors, but in as gracious a way as possible. Not James White. It would be statements like "Honestly that's the worst example of the abuse of the text of the Bible I've ever heard" and similar statements. White would shake his head in disbelief at statements from Awal or lift his hands in exasperation, playing up Awal's ignorance.
While James White made it clear that no particular error in an English translation of the Bible is relevant Awal would just carry on and talk about mistakes in the KJV as if they proved something. White would reply to Awal's arguments specifically, briefly so as to reply to them all, and effectively. Awal barely interacted in rebuttal with the things White said, instead rambling about various often unrelated to the topic objections to Christian belief generally. It was kind of sad. For James White I suppose this is another triumph for the obvious truth of the Christian scriptures. For me it's proof that a seasoned and skilled debater can defeat an unskilled debater. The topic could have been "Is The Grass Blue" and James White would have won.
Questions were submitted on 5x7 cards, so I offered one. It was a little complex so I wasn't sure if White would have the knowledge base he needs to address it, but on the other hand discussion of textual variants was front and center throughout the debate. White seemed to have a command of these things. So this is what I asked, working from memory. And I explain this question in more detail here.
At Mark 7 Mark puts in the mouth of Jesus an argument that is based on an erroneous translation of the Hebrew scriptures from the Septuagint. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah saying that they are "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." That's what the erroneous Septuagint says, but in fact the Hebrew reads something like "Your worship of me is merely an act of going through the motions." It seems unlikely that the Pharisees would be stumped by a mistaken translation of Isaiah in Greek when they work with the Hebrew. Doesn't this suggest that Mark is unreliable and is putting words in the mouth of Jesus that he is unlikely to have said?
Here's how James White replied.
"Mark 7 is about certain hand washing practices from the Pharisees. The questioner presented NO EVIDENCE that there was any rational basis for his conclusion, so there's no way to respond to any of it."
He just extremely confidently said that there was nothing to my argument. Good enough. So I'm sitting there kind of confused. Didn't I just provide the relevant citations? Isn't that evidence? Now, I understand it's not easy to answer such a question on the spot. But part of the reason I asked it is because White constantly asked Awal questions like "Do you have any lexical citations that can justify your understanding of the Biblical text you cited." I thought that was a rather crappy way of treating Awal. What Awal does is he reads English translations and forms arguments based on them. White knows that Awal does not have lexical data at hand, so he can just pull this trump card as a stumper in every case and treat Awal rudely as if he hasn't done his homework. Well, has White done his homework? Shouldn't he know about the variants of the Septuagint and how they emerge in the NT? This subject was a major part of the debate.
After the debate I introduced myself to both Awal and White. I told White that I'm "Jon in Detroit" that calls his webcast sometimes to spar and I told him that I was the one that submitted the Mark 7 question. I told him that I have to fit the question on a 5x7 card and I'm not sure what he's expecting in terms of evidence. He replied "Honestly I have no idea what you're talking about with that question." And I said "Fair enough. That's a reasonable answer." So I suggested he look into it.
But that's not what he said during the debate. He could have said "I don't know enough about the references, so I'll have to consider the question later." I can respect that answer. But that's not his method. He's honed his skills and he knows that this is not the presentation he wants to offer to listeners. That's because truth is not the goal. The goal is being as persuasive as possible. And he was.