Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 28, 1952
NUMBER 17, PAGE 8-9a

Reply To Brother Atkinson

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

For the sake of clearness I have given numbered headings to the points set forth in brother Atkinson's article.

1. Paul was no babbler In Athens Paul was accused of being a babbler. (Acts 17:18) Denominational preachers today often toss aside some of Paul's words as senseless, or useless, or of no meaning, or without any significance; because these words interfere with their defense of erroneous views and make manifest their failure. But for a gospel preacher to pursue such a course is very unusual. This is exactly what brother Atkinson does with the word "own" in 1 Cor. 7:2.

If the word "own" neither "adds nor subtracts anything from the original principle" of the divine injunction in 1 Cor. 7:2; if the word "own" has no meaning; if the sentence means the same without the word as it means with it, as he claims, then God is a babbler, Christ is a babbler, the Holy Spirit is a babbler and Paul is a babbler, for all these are behind Paul's words in the Corinthian letter. Paul says his words are the words of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:18) and the commandments of the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:37)

Many sectarian preachers have contended that the word "baptized" in Mark 16:16 neither "adds nor subtracts anything from the original principle," and that the sentence means just the same "without" the word as it means with it. But gospel preachers ought to know better than to try that method, and they should not hold to any theory that necessitates their doing such a thing, for the Holy Spirit is no babbler. Every word has a meaning and a purpose; to try to make them void by saying that they neither add nor subtract anything is not safe.

If all today could be caused to see the significance of the word "own" in 1 Cor. 7:2, and the word "one" in 1 Tint 3:2, they would be able to see that as far as marriage is concerned no more is required of elders in 1 Tim. 3:2 than is required of all Christians in 1 Cor. 7:2.

Brother Atkinson proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that "under no circumstances could Paul be commanding marriage as an absolute necessity" among all Christians in 1 Cor. 7:2. That is what I have been saying all the time; because in that verse Paul did not use the sentence that forbids celibacy: he did not say, "Let each man be married"; he used the sentence that forbids fornication with the wife of another: he said, "Let each man have his own wife."

We have exactly the same proof that "under no circumstances could Paul be commanding marriage as an absolute necessity" among all elders in 1 Tim. 3:2; because he did not use the sentence that forbids celibacy: he did not say, "The bishop must be married"; he used the sentence that forbids polygamy: he said, "The bishop must be ... the husband of one wife."

I certainly agree that "the single state of man is approved" by 1 Cor. 7:1 and Matt. 19:12; and I do not make any exception in the case of elders, because the scriptures do not make that exception and I do not want to legislate where God has not. If Paul had said, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman, unless he wants to be an elder; but if he wants to be an elder he must touch her," then I would say "Let him touch her" and would have no trouble in defending my statement.

I heartily agree that "those who cannot live chastely unmarried should enter into marriage," whether they be elders or evangelists. But why cannot brother Atkinson see that it is very unreasonable to conclude that it is possible for some other Christians to "live chastely unmarried," but never possible for an elder to "live chastely unmarried"? And yet he cannot understand why it is arbitrary and inconsistent to say the "bishop must be married," which no inspired writer ever said.

2. A frank admission Brother Atkinson expressly admits that it may be erroneous to conclude that 1 Tim. 3:2 teaches that "a bishop MUST be married"; he admits that as far as this verse is concerned "there could be some doubt as to whether Paul is just condemning polygamy or whether he is indicating that a bishop MUST be married." Why then does he ask, "Has he ever indicated that an elder should or could be unmarried"? His admission as to the meaning of 1 Tim. 3:2 is an answer to his question. Why does he try so hard to prove that 1 Tim. 3:2 requires the bishop to be married, when he so emphatically admits that "there could be some doubt" that the passage teaches it? Why use a doubtful passage at all? And yet he does not understand how I can say that his contention is arbitrary and inconsistent, without being like the sectarians on baptism! Shades of sectarianism! Look at brother Atkinson!

3. "His own house"

After throwing overboard all he said about 1 Tim. 8:2, he turns to two other qualifications to prove that "the bishop must be a married man." They are:

1. "One that ruleth well his own house . . ." (1 Tim. 3:4)

2. "having his children in subjection with all gravity." (1 Tim. 3:4)

It has not been easy at all to get the baby-sprinkling-type of Methodist preachers to see that Lydia (Acts 16) could have her "own house" without being married and having children; but I never thought that anybody would have any trouble in convincing a gospel preacher that the jailor (Acts 16), or an elder, or a janitor could have his own house without being married and without being the father of the children in his "own house."

Does brother Atkinson agree with the Methodists that Lydia had to be married in order to have her own house? Is it not possible for a man to rear and train as a part of his own house his nephews, or nieces, or adopted children? I am surprised that a man like brother Atkinson would contend that it is impossible for a faithful man to "take and rule someone else's children." It is being done by some of the most Godly men in the church today, and if he does not believe it can be done, I should be delighted to take him by the hand and lead him to one, and let him see with his own eyes.

4. Lipscomb and McGarvey The difference between the quotations from McGarvey and Lipscomb is that McGarvey gave no reason whatever why he thinks 1 Tim. 3:2 requires a bishop "to be a married man"; Lipscomb did give a reason for saying that the passage does not require the bishop to be married. He showed that the purpose of the wife and children is disciplinary and that a man could obtain the training without being the father of the children trained. Lipscomb's quotation shows that McGarvey's thinking was wrong on 1 Tim. 8:2.

5. Peter and Paul Did Peter preach anything on the day of Pentecost or at the house of Cornelius that Paul could not or did not preach in dozens of places? We are not discussing what Peter knew about the fishing business which Paul did not know; we are discussing the work of these two men in the church. I doubt that even a Catholic would claim that Peter was superior to Paul because he knew more about the fishing business. Brother Atkinson, "are you not straining the scripture quite a bit in attempting to make this prove" the primacy of Peter?

What could Peter do in any church that Paul could not and did not perform just as well? The Romish doctrine of the primacy of Peter is not true. Paul was not a whit behind any apostle in anything pertaining to the work of the church and the gospel of Christ. If Peter deserves special "honors" for being the first to preach the gospel in two new places (Jerusalem and Caesarea), does not Paul deserve just as many "honors" for being the first to preach it in dozens of new places? Eleven other preachers were with Peter when he preached first in Jerusalem. Paul labored more abundantly than they all. (1 Cor. 15:10)

"The verse still reads the same": "a bishop must be . . . the husband of one wife," and brother Atkinson has been unable to make it say; "the bishop must be married." But after much effort he frankly admits that there is some doubt as to the verse's teaching what he tries to make it say.

Brother Atkinson made a few other blunders which I have not pointed out in this reply; but another brother has sent in an article in which the same errors appear, and I shall deal with these blunders when I reply to his piece.

All these brethren who have written in defense of the arbitrary and inconsistent claim that elders must be married are my friends. And though I am not pulling my punches in reply to them, I hope no one becomes offended or thinks I am hitting too hard. I do not ask them to soften their blows when aimed at me, and I hope they are not expecting me to do so. I know I am right on this issue, because I know that no inspired writer ever taught that the bishop must be married.