Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 18, 1952
NUMBER 20, PAGE 10,11b

"Husband Of One Wife"

John T. Overbey, Tulsa, Oklahoma

In the June 19th issue of the Gospel Guardian brother Cecil Douthitt has a very thought-provoking article under the above caption. While he strikes at the root of some very fundamental principles, I believe that he has done violence to Paul's statements concerning the qualifications of elders, especially as they pertain to the matter of their being husband of one wife. I have no personal feelings against brother Douthitt (having only met him once), for I have always appreciated his frankness, and I have a great deal of respect for his ability as a writer. However, I should like to point out some things which to me seem rather presumptive on his part.

I also appreciate the fact that brother Douthitt is not the only one who holds the view that one does not have to be married in order to be a qualified elder. Brother D. Lipscomb, like many others of his day, held the same view as brother Douthitt. For many years I have held the writings of brother Lipscomb in high esteem. Like many others, I believe that he was one of the greatest students of the English Bible that the church has ever had. I consider his books a "must" in my library.

Brother Douthitt says, "it is arbitrary and inconsistent to contend that the scriptures require all bishops to be married." He reasons that Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 7:2, "let each man have his own wife," and his statement in 1 Tim. 3:2, "The bishop therefore must be ... the husband of one wife," are of equal force, and therefore, if marriage is arbitrary in one, it is in the other; while on the other hand, if it is not arbitrary in one, it is not in the other. Taking the two sentences out of their context, one would be inclined to agree. But, is that a fair way in which to reason the scriptures? Let us look at the two sentences in their context.

In 1 Cor. 7, Paul is answering a question that had been asked by the Corinthians concerning marriage. Among the Jews in the church at Corinth the thought prevailed that every person whose age and circumstances allowed him to marry certainly ought to do so; and if he did not, he was considered guilty of transgressing a divine commandment. While on the other hand, there were certain ones who held to the view that matrimonial connection was inconsistent with purity. Paul reasoned that although in their present distress it was better for them to have no matrimonial connection at all, yet, to avoid unchastity, he commanded them to marry. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that one does not have to be married in order to be a Christian. However, if all circumstances are favorable, men ought to marry. That is God's order.

In 1 Tim. 3, Paul is talking about the qualifications of elders. He lists them both negative and positive, and I might add, one is as arbitrary as the other. It is my contention that Paul's injunction in verse two not only forbids polygamy but it likewise forbids celibacy. The force of the language and the grammatical construction of the sentence I think demands this conclusion. "The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, . . . one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)" Should we follow brother Douthitt's reasoning through to its logical conclusion the sentence would read thus: The bishop therefore must be without reproach; and if he is married, the husband of one wife; . . . one that ruleth well his own house, if he has a house; having his children, if he has children, in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, if he has a house, how shall he take care of the church of God?). I sincerely believe that sentence is too superfluous for even brother Douthitt to accept! Literally, the sentence reads thus: It behooves then the overseer to be . . . the husband of one wife . . ." In this sentence, "husband" is the subject of the infinitive "to be." "Of one wife" is a prepositional phrase used as an adjective modifying the word "husband." Therefore, "of one wife" is an adjectival element describing the kind of husband the overseer must be. One of the qualifications of an elder is that he be a husband. But not just any husband will do, he must be a husband with one wife; he must be a husband that rules well his own house; he must be a husband who has his children in subjection with all gravity. Perhaps it would be interesting if brother Douthitt would tell us how a man can be a husband, have a house (home) with children in it, and at the same time be an unmarried man!

But Paul's language is even more forceful, if possible, in Titus 1:6 where he says, "If any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children that believe, who are not accused of riot or unruly ..." Verse six begins what is commonly called in grammar a "conditional clause," in which all the conditions specified are necessary in order to reach the desired conclusion. The correct conclusion is determined by the fulfillment of the conditions stated. The conclusion in this case is to appoint elders in every city, which is based upon the conditions set forth in the conditional clause, "If any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children that believe, who are not accused of riot or unruly, etc. — such men appoint as elders in every city.

Should the governor of the state of Texas issue the following statement: "As I give charge, men in every city of the state of Texas shall receive $1,000; if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children that believe in the sovereignty of this State, who are not accused of riot or unruly," I wonder how many unmarried men would make application!

My purpose in writing these lines has not been to enter into controversy with brother Douthitt over these things, but I shall welcome from him a careful examination of the things I have written, for I feel that if I have erred in my reasoning, he is certainly capable of pointing it out to me. It is with that spirit I send this article forth.


Douthitt's Reply

All of brother Overbey's arguments have been discussed in my other articles which have appeared in the Gospel Guardian, except the two following points:

1. His grammatical analysis. I do not agree with brother Overbey as to the "subject of the infinitive 'to be'" in his literal translation of 1 Tim. 3:2 or Titus 1:6, but that is not germane anyway; his more relevant error is the conclusion that the purpose of the disputed qualification is to reveal the kind of a husband an elder must be. But he is mistaken there; the purpose of the wife and children is disciplinary as David Lipscomb so truly explained. The character and ability to do the work is the over-all purpose. Brother Herbert Winkler discusses this point in his essay which appears in this issue. Please read it.

2. The governor's $1,000 illustration. If brother Overbey is right in his view of the meaning of this qualification, then the elder, whose wife died, would be compelled to give the $1,000 back to the governor; for the passage says, "must be"; it does not say "must have been." I doubt that brother Overbey holds that absurd view that a man ceases to be an elder when his wife dies. His article sounds like he is too reasonable and logical for such a ridiculous opinion.

In my first article of this discussion (June 19) I presented that case of the elder whose wife died, and it has been mentioned in other articles. If brother Overbey had endeavored to remove that difficulty, the governor's $1,000 illustration would have dwindled to a value of less than 10c. So brother Overbey chose to remain silent on the elder whose wife died. Does anybody wonder why?

— Cecil B. Douthitt