Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 1, 1953

Interpreting The Scholars

Ralph Edmunson, Wolfe City, Texas

In the Gospel Advocate of September 25, there appeared an article by Brother Jernigan, "The Husband of One Wife." In it was a collection of what scholars had said on the subject of the marital relationship of bishops. Brother Cecil Douthitt took his article to be a vindication of his position that elders do not have to be married men. In a desire to obtain the truth on this very important question, I have attempted to interpret what the scholars say to see if Brother Douthitt's position is so. One thought before we proceed: "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so." Contemporary brethren would have us examine the scholars daily, whether these things were so. Undoubtedly there is much to be learned from scholars, but it seems that we are giving more honor than is due them.

One of the old arguments was that Paul was driving hard at polygamy. Does any one believe that a Christian may have more than one wife at the same time, while the elder must be a monogamist?

I doubt very seriously if Newport J. D. White, who was one of the scholars quoted, had a correct understanding of the office of the bishop, or of a Christian's correct attitude toward the scriptures. He speaks at length on Paul's contradicting himself on the question of the resurrection, as though the Holy Spirit were not guiding him. With his attitude, and the fact that he was an unbeliever, we should be slow to accept his conclusions as the standard.

His argument (?) was concerning the general drift of the qualities required of the bishop. One could argue on the non-essentiality of baptism from the general drift of "saved by grace through faith" but that would be far from proving that baptism is not essential.

George Barlow says that the elder could very well have been a polygamist with God's sanction if it had not been for the "feeling which prevailed among the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, of that age against a second marriage." So, had that feeling not prevailed, no such prohibition would have been given!

The sectarians are continually telling us what a certain passage says, then they labor to show us what it means. As if it didn't mean what it says! So Professor T. Creskery reasons: "It says, 'he must be the husband of one wife,' but it doesn't necessarily mean that." "It seems to mean . . ." He leaves its meaning in doubt. He all but says that one cannot positively determine its meaning, but it SEEMS to mean ...!

I wonder if Brother Douthitt goes along with Matthew Henry when he identifies the bishop with the modern pastor of denominational usage. Certainly no one believes that one must be married to be a preacher, and that seems to be Mr. Henry's conception of the bishop's office.

Notice the doubt that prevails in Robert Milligan's writing: "These words considered abstractly would SEEM to imply that either celibacy or polygamy disqualifies a man for the office of bishop. But there are some reasons which SEEM TO IMPLY that the latter is only intended." There you have it! The words of apostle Paul are not sufficiently clear for us to make out what he means, but they SEEM TO IMPLY opposite positions.

"And . . . celibacy is not, in itself, an evil ... It is, therefore, PROBABLE that monogamy is here opposed only to polygamy." I call your attention to another of the qualifications of the elder, which can also be gotten rid of by this process of reasoning: "he must be not a novice." But we know that being a novice is not, in itself, an evil. Therefore, we can put novices into the pastor's office.

Notice Brother Lipscomb's uncertainty: "I THINK where the scripture says 'the husband of one wife,' IT MEANS ..." Why can't we be sure what it means?

Brethren, it grieves me to find preachers, who know better, try to add to the word of God. In spite of all the prohibitions in Holy Writ against adding or subtracting from God's word, there will be brethren who will do that very thing to prove a point. In the discussion of the elders by Paul, he uses "if" only ONE time. The word IF may be a small word, but if the apostle did not use it, we have no right under the sun to add it to the word of God. Brethren who do so will not be guiltless before God. According to many, Paul did not know how to write the qualifications of elders and he left out words that should have been in.

We try to make the scriptures read, "The bishop therefore . . . IF HE HAS A WIFE must have only one ... IF HE HAVE CHILDREN they must be in subjection." These "if's" are not in the Bible! We are perverting the scriptures to put them in.

One correspondent asked Brother Douthitt how he would explain "unmarried husbands." Instead of answering his question, he made light of it by asking about "four-cornered globes." Brother Douthitt, when you can show some of these four-cornered globes from God's word, then they can be dealt with. You deal with unmarried husbands. For the Bible says, "the bishop therefore must be the husband ..."