Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 17, 1955
NUMBER 40, PAGE 1,10-12a

Faith Or Philology, Which?

James W. Adams, Beaumont, Texas

(No. 4 in a series reviewing articles by Guy N. Woods on "Benevolent Organizations" recently appearing in the Gospel Advocate.)

Let none think that we are unappreciative of Brother Guy N. Woods' linguistic talents. It is freely granted that all Bible teachers need a working knowledge of the original languages in which the word of God was given to mankind. However, very few matters, if any, affecting the conditions of salvation to the alien, the duties of the Christian life, or the work and worship of the church depend for their solution on linguistic scholarship, except, of course, the scholarship involved in the production of the recognized, standard, English translations of the world. Many times an appeal to the original languages on the part of would be scholars but muddies the water and confuses the issue to the injury of the average hearer or reader. The issues involved in the benevolent enterprises among churches of Christ cannot be settled in the realm of "Philology." The issue revolves not around the meaning of any word or words in the original Greek of the New Testament, but rather is a question of faith — do we or do we not believe in the autonomy, equality, and all-sufficiency of local churches of Christ ? We shall, however pay our respects to Brother Woods' adventures in the realm of linguistic scholarship or "philology." Let us now open the door to a careful investigation of "Orphanages and Homes for the Aged (No. 2)" in the Gospel Advocate of October 21, 1954 by Guy N. Woods, and begin by considering his

Prefatory Thesis

"Do the scriptures teach that there is any duty obligatory upon the children of God to provide for the homeless and orphaned, the aged and infirm who lack the means with which to provide for themselves? Prefatory to any consideration of means or methods is the proper answer to this question. If the duty itself does not exist, it is idle and fruitless to discuss procedures. As obvious as the answer to this question is to even the most casual student of the New Testament, it is shocking to know that there are those among us who do not hesitate to deny any continuing obligation to those thus classified. True, those who entertain this view affect to believe that in emergencies the church may temporarily provide for the needy; but, what constitutes an emergency is, in their conception, exceedingly nebular, it obtains but for the moment and terminates though the situation which occasioned the emergency remains." (G. A., Oct. 21, '54.)

Brother Woods is eminently correct and perfectly logical in stating that the question of "duty" should be settled before any consideration of "means." However, he misrepresents certain of his brethren as believing that "children of God" have no "continuing obligation" to provide for the needs of the "homeless, orphaned, and aged." I categorically deny that there is man in the brotherhood who believes anything of the kind and call upon Brother Woods to produce the evidence, or in the absence of such evidence to retract and apologize. In such a statement, Brother Woods ignores the question of church action as contrasted with individual action, and incidentally, unlike some of his colleagues on the Gospel Advocate staff is committed in print to the truth that there is a difference. In his review of G. C. Brewer's book "Contending for the Faith," Firm Foundation, Feb. 3, 1942, Brother Woods indicts support of Christian colleges by "the churches, as such" as being equivalent to the support of a "missionary society." Our brother has always approved the practice of the "children of God" as individuals supporting with their means the Christian colleges, hence he recognizes the fact that many duties, privileges, and responsibilities devolve upon God's children as individuals that are no part of the obligation of the "churches, as such." Brother Woods further represents certain brethren as being "exceedingly nebular" in their conception of the extent of the obligation devolving upon the Christian in such matters. Coming from the champion of "our benevolent work" this statement is laughable. Of all the issues which have ever confronted the churches, the controversy over benevolent institutions stands head and shoulders above all with reference to the "nebular" character of the arguments which have been offered in their defense. Trying to pin the proponents of these organizations down to a consistent position on the scriptural basis for their institutions is like trying to corner a Mexican Jumping Bean in a hot skillet. They are all full of ideas, but no two of them can be found to agree.

Does Brother Woods have so little confidence in his position that he must attribute to his brethren views which no representative man has ever espoused and wage his war against such rather than on the basis of the real issue? It would seem so! We are now ready to observe our brother's

Philological Exegesis Of James 1:27

After a learned dissertation on the Greek of this passage, Brother Woods reaches the very height of indignity by posing a dilemma with which he supposes the opponents of our benevolent societies are confronted. One horn of the dilemma he represents as "stultifying scholarship" and the other "blatant infidelity." All of which exists only in the imagination of our learned exegete. His trouble is that he is unable to represent scholarship correctly or to deduce from established premises valid conclusions.

Rests his case. Brother Woods is ready to rest his ease on a correct exegesis of James 1:27. Says he,

"What, if any, duty falls upon those who are the Lord's in the field of Christian benevolence? Without advancing at this time, the abundant collateral evidence of such responsibility, it will suffice to offer but one verse which plainly, positively and pointedly establishes our duty in this respect: ." (G. A., Oct. 21, 1954.)

Our brother concerns himself with the phrase, "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction He proceeds to analyze it by dividing it into three particulars: "(1) to visit; (2) to visit the fatherless and widows; (3) to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." He then comments as follows:


"The verb 'visit' is, of course, used metamorphically, and suggests a call made for the purpose of assisting. It is translated from the Greek episkeptomai, defined by Mr. Thayer, 'to look upon, or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes. a. tina, in order to see how he is.' The eminent lexicographer adds that, Hebraistically, it means 'to look upon to help or benefit, i.e., to look after, have a care for, provide for.' In this sense, it is often used of the bestowal of a blessing, both by God and by men, in the sacred writings. (Luke 1:78.)"

All of which, no one denies, but Brother Woods might have further favored us with the benefits of his scholarship by quoting the comment of scholarly Marvin R. Vincent in his "Word Studies in the New Testament " — a standard work and no doubt one which our brother proudly displays in his library — on the meaning and application of episkeptomai. Mr. Vincent says:

"To visit (episkeptesthai). See on Matt. xxv. 36. James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money. Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world's sorrows to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction ..." (Vol. I, p. 736.)

"Our" benevolent institutions provide the perfect opportunity for the brethren to perform their benevolence by proxy. How soothing it is to the conscience for a fundamentally selfish man to convince himself that he has fulfilled his obligation to the needy and suffering in the sight of God by sending a pittance (relatively speaking) to some benevolent society to care for some needy person of its selection and in a manner in keeping with its judgment and discretion. The church for which W. L. Totty preaches in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in whose building a debate was recently conducted involving the question of benevolent organizations averages about 10 cents per member, per month, in gifts to orphan homes. Brother Charles A. Holt was, in this debate, characterized as an inhuman monster and a hater of orphans because he opposed the benevolent organizations among us. Brother Holt has in his own home three orphan children, not all of whom were blue-eyed baby boys three days old when he obtained them, and for whom he provides total support. The Garfield Heights Church of some 500 members gave at the time of the debate ten cents per member per month for the support of orphans. Charles Holt spends in money, not counting time, thought, love, devotion etc., in two months more than the entire membership of Garfield Heights, as a church, spends in an entire year for the care of orphan children, yet "he hates them" and "they love them." This is a sample of the kind of thing which Brother Woods defends. Why did he not enlighten his readers by showing that the Greek term, episkeptomai excludes benevolence merely by proxy such as is fundamental to the existence of "our benevolent work" as it manifests itself in "our institutions"?

Now let us have a lesson from Brother Woods on another word from the text of James 1:27:


"'Fatherless,' in the text under study, is the rendering of the Greek orphanos, a term signifying one bereft, i.e., without parents, whether by death, abandonment, or otherwise. It appears in the text of John 14:18 where it describes the situation wherein one is without a teacher, guide, or guardian. The Seventy translated the Hebrew yathom by it in the Sepuagint rendering of Lam. 5:3, where it denotes children whose fathers were wicked and dissolute and who had abandoned them. From this induction, it will be seen that the term properly signifies children without parental care, without indicating whether the parents are living or dead. This, incidentally, forever effectively answers the objection that many of our homeless children have living parents (about which a great deal more later), on which it is sometimes alleged that in such instances there is no obligation. A child is fatherless, in the scope of this term, when he is without parental care, whether the parents be living or dead." (G. A., Oct 21, 1954.)

While it is not denied that a church may care for destitute children who come within the scope of her responsibility, Brother Woods contention with reference to the meaning of the term, orphanos, cannot be sustained. An examination of his authorities and his proof texts shows conclusively that he cannot prove the word includes the idea of "abandonment." Our library includes such lexicographers as Thayer, Bagster, Pickering, and Donnegan none of whom suggests any 'such definition of the term. You will note that Brother Woods quotes no lexicographer in proof of his contention. His proof texts likewise in no sense sustain his conclusion. Jesus contemplating his death and subsequent resurrection and ascension tells his disciples, "I will not leave you orphanous." (John 14:18.) Many translators render the term orphanous, "orphans." It is so rendered in the Douay Version, Bible Union Translation, by Dr. George Campbell, George Ricker Berry, footnote American Standard Version, and others. The idea of abandonment does not inhere in its use here, however, for Jesus was going to die and then go back to the Father.

For these events he sought to prepare his disciples. His death upon the cross would not result in their becoming "orphans" as would normally be the case, but rather he would give them another guide.

Brother Woods also adduces Lamentations 5:3 as proof that the idea or "abandonment" is to be found in the word, "orphanos." He calls attention to the fact that the Seventy translated the Hebrew word, yathom, by the Greek word, orphanos. He then contends that the "orphanos" of the text were made such by abandonment. This is not the case. The context clearly shows that they were "orphans" by death. Note verse 7, "Our fathers have sinned and are not." What does "are not" mean? Note Genesis 42:13: "And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not." What did Joseph's brethren mean by the expression, "one is not"? Note Genesis 44:20: "And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead . . . ." The first time before Joseph, his brothers said, "He is not." The next time they said, "We said unto my lord, .... his (Benjamin's, JWA) brother is dead." It is absolutely certain in the light of these facts that the orphanos of Lamentations 5:3 were made such by death and not abandonment. The passages in the Old Testament containing the Hebrew yathom and those in the New Testament containing orphanos have been checked carefully. If there is any evidence that they are used in the sense suggested by Brother Woods, our investigation has failed to reveal it. The passages he suggests certainly do not. Thus does the "forevermore answer" like Jericho's walls come tumbling down.

We next are treated to the enlightenment of Brother Woods' scholarship on the word, "widows" as used in James 1:27. Hear him:

"The word, 'widows,' in the phrase under study, is from cheras, feminine form of the adjective chera, that which is sterile, barren, without provision. It is a term indicative of want; it designates the status of those who are to be 'visited,' i.e., who are to be supplied that which they need."

Not that it is particularly important as far as the issue is concerned, but because Brother Woods saw fit in his argument to consign those whom he proposes to expose to one of two classes: (1) those who "stultify scholarship" or (2) "blatant infidelity," we deem it necessary to point out that our brother is also wrong in his criticism on cheras. It seems that he even has difficulty in copying the lexicons correctly. Thayer makes the following comment on the word cheras:

"Chera, as, (fem. of the adjective cheros, 'bereft'; akin to chersos, sterile, barren, and the Lat. careo." (Thayer, p. 668.)

Brother Woods' comment to the effect that the word indicates the status of those who are visited and is "indicative of want" is not correct. The term cheras simply indicates that the woman is bereft of a husband by death but indicates nothing with reference to her status relative to food, clothing, and shelter. When the New Testament desires to set forth the status of the widow in these respects, terms descriptive of such are added. "A certain poor widow . . . ." (Mark 12:43.) "Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate ...." (1 Tim. 5:5.) The term, "tribulations," in James 1:27 (thlipsis, "strain of want") is that which suggests the status which makes visitation necessary. (More will be said later about the term, "widow.")

Brother Woods infers a conclusion from James 1:27 which is not valid. His conclusion is that the obligation to help the orphan and the widow and their need are "correlative" — the one including the other. He thus assumes that the need of the "widow" is the only consideration involved in benevolence undertaken in her behalf. That such a conclusion is invalid can be immediately perceived upon reading 1 Timothy 5, a passage which our brother discusses at length in later articles.

Brother Woods closes his article by affirming that James 1:27 cannot be proved to be addressed exclusively to the individual. Inasmuch as he argues this matter further in a subsequent article and indicts an interesting rule of interpretation in connection therewith, we shall wait to deal with it. He also has considerable to say about those who teach that "every home should be an orphan home." I know of no one who teaches such. We neither believe nor teach it. The very reverse is true. Many homes are unfit to be orphan homes due to a variety of reasons. To be explicit the following are suggested: finances, health; temperament; other children in the home; and age. This fact, however, does not justify unscriptural organizations for the care of the orphan and the widow, nor does it militate against the fact that James 1:27 is addressed to individuals and not churches, as such. Brother Woods' assumption that, if the passage is addressed to individuals, every Christian home must be a widow's and orphan's hornet is wholly unwarranted. Taking a widow or an orphan into one's own home, as noble as such an act is, constitutes but one of many ways that one might "visit the widow and the orphan in their afflictions." Our brother does right well with the straw man of his own creation, we shall see how he does when he gets down to the basic issue, if he ever does. Look for a continuation of the review under the title, "Paul and the 'Gospel of Common Sense."