Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 24, 1957
NUMBER 37, PAGE 6-7b

"Is Religious Debate Authorized Or Condemned?" (II.)

James E. Cooper, Campbellsville, Kentucky

Last week we began a review of Harry F. Roberts' tract with the above title. We noticed that "debate" in the King James Version of Romans 1:29 and II Corinthians 12:20 is to be understood as an archaism, or a word that has changed its meaning since 1611. We pointed out that the lexicons define eris as "strife, contention, wrangling." We further noticed that both the American Standard and the Revised Standard Versions have dropped the word "debate" as a translation of this word in the nine times it appears in the New Testament. Thus, we have showed that from these passages Brother Roberts has no ground for objecting to orderly, regulated, honorable discussions.

It is interesting how Brother Roberts uses his Webster's International Dictionary, second edition, in tracing down synonyms until he arrives at the word "debate." We have noticed in his comments on Romans 1:29 that he checks the definition of "debate" and lands on the archaic meaning, "strife," and from strife he looks up "contention" and arrives at "debate," and concludes that "debate" and "strife" mean the same thing. We pointed out that his argument was based on a meaning of "debate" that is not now inherent in the word. We could, by his technique, prove that sensual gratification is a fruit of the spirit. We turn to Webster and find in his definition of "joy" the word "pleasure," and under pleasure we find a definition of "sensual gratification." But, even Brother Roberts would not affirm that Paul listed "sensual gratification" as a lust of the flesh.

When he turns to II Corinthians 12:20 he asks, "Why did Paul fear lest there should be debates? Could it be because they produce (Emphasis, JEC) the things he enumerates? . . . . Did you ever attend a debate and note the results?" Brother Roberts, are you certain that Paul feared that he would find "debate" in Corinth? Was he not afraid that he would find the brethren quarreling? You can be assured that the Corinthians had no signed propositions and rules for an orderly discussion. Yet, Brother Roberts finds this feared in II Corinthians 12:20.

Reading Galatians 5:19-20, Brother Roberts falls on the word "variance." Then he finds it to mean "a difference of opinion producing dispute, controversy, dissension or discord." Immediately the word "debate" flashes to his mind, and he finds it as a lust of the flesh. But, remember, his word "debate" is archaic, meaning "to engage in strife or combat."

He next goes to "emulation," defining it "to vie with, to strive in rivalry." Then he checks his synonym, "vie," and finds its etymology is "to challenge." "Challenge" suggests "debate" to him, so he equates emulation and debate. It is strange that so many words in this passage mean "debate" to Brother Roberts, but the translators of neither the King James, American Standard, or Revised Standard Versions saw it there. Perhaps Brother Roberts slipped a cog back on the word "variance." Brother Roberts, the "striving" in emulation is "to equal or excel another."

The word translated "emulation" is "zelos" and is defined by Thayer as used in this passage as "an envious and contentious rivalry; jealousy." Burton, in the I.C.C. on Galatians, p. 307 says, "the common element in all its uses is its expression of intense feeling, usually eager desire of some kind." Since this attitude is not necessarily to be found in religious discussions, Brother Roberts evidently has a "constituent element" in his idea of "debate" that is not denoted in the word.

In Titus 3:1 he notices the word "brawlers" and defines it, "to wrangle, squabble, contend, quarrel." He then takes the synonym "wrangle" and defines it, "to argue, dispute, jangle," and concludes that "a brawler is one who argues and disputes." But, is a religious discussion necessarily a brawl, "a noisy quarrel or fight; a wrangle, also a noise likened to wrangling"?

It seems that Brother Roberts' failing is not realizing that synonyms do not have identical meanings in all their senses. For instance, under the word quarrel we find a discussion giving the distinction in its synonyms, some of which are under consideration in Brother Roberts' tract. Webster says, quarrel, altercation, squabble, spat, tiff, mean an angry discordant dispute. Quarrel implies verbal strife followed by strained or severed relations; wrangle, a noisy, insistent dispute; altercation, a fight marked by quarreling and, often, blows; squabble, childish and unseemly wrangling; spat and tiff, a squabble over something insignificant. All five words indicate "an angry, discordant dispute" but the distinctions are then given. Brother Roberts does not limit his meanings to "angry, discordant dispute" when he refers to debates, and concludes that orderly and regulated religious discussions are condemned in the Bible, and classified as lusts of the flesh. But, all religious rebate is not characterized by "angry, discordant disputes" and would not be properly classified as "wrangling," or "emulation."

In II Corinthians 6:3 he sees "giving no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed" and observes, "Blame means `to find fault; condemn.' Can a debate be held without finding fault (condemning) what each other teaches?" To what length will the man go to make his point? Disregarding the context he finds Paul saying "blame" and takes it as meaning, "don't debate." Brother Roberts seems to think that finding fault or condemning can only be done in public discussion. He certainly finds no fault in his position of finding fault with those who do engage in public debates. He debates that it is wrong to debate. "0 consistency, thou art a jewel!"

Next, in I Timothy 1:4-6 he finds Paul sayings some had turned aside from preaching the gospel to "vain jangling." He defines jangling as "to quarrel, wrangle" and then wrangle as "to argue, dispute, to brawl." Then he refers to Titus 3:2, ". . . . to be no brawlers" and Philippians 2:14, "Do all things without murmurings and disputings." Presto, he hopes to leave the impression that religious debates are wrong. But, Brother Roberts, wrangling involves "angry, discordant dispute" which is not necessarily a characteristic of religious debates.

Brother Roberts says that debate is a "work of strife, contention, conflict, and fight," and in the next paragraph calls debate the fruit of these things. He doesn't know whether these are the fruit of debate, or if debate is the fruit or works of these things. All he knows is that he is "agin' debates."

After reading I Corinthians 14:33, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace ...." he asks, "Who is the author of debate? Solomon tells us where to debate in Proverbs 25:9-10, "Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself . . . ." Me doesn't mean to answer his question and say that Solomon is the author of debates is he ? No, he wants us to infer that Satan is the author of public debates. The Bible is only author of private debates. But, Brother Roberts has spent half his booklet trying to convince us all debate is wrong. Now he must retreat enough to admit, "Well, Solomon said 'debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself . . . " The same attitudes expressed in the passages to which he has referred are condemned, whether private or public. Two people, out in the woods, could have an "angry, discordant dispute," and be guilty of wrangling.

Thus, in spite of all the skillful maneuvering in and out among synonyms, Brother Roberts fails to establish his position that religious debate is condemned. Our next installment will do with Jude 3, and whether Stephen and Paul debated.