Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 30, 1960
NUMBER 9, PAGE 5a,13a

Comments On "The Bereft Woman, The Widow" -(II.)

Jerry C. Ray, Irving, Texas

In the May 15, issue of the "Sunny Glenn Reporter" brother Ralph Godfrey, Superintendent of the Sunny Glenn Home (which is under the elders of the San Benito, Texas church of Christ), writes an article entitled "The Bereft Woman". Although brother Godfrey draws no conclusion nor makes any affirmations, it seems that he believes "widows" can have living husbands. From this he evidently draws the conclusion that the church can create benevolent societies to take care of these widows (using James 1:27 as authority). If I have misunderstood our brother and have misrepresented him I apologize, but if this is not his intended purpose I can see no point to his article.

He begins his article: "The world (sic) "widows' in James 1:27 is thought by some to be restricted to women whose husbands are dead. All will agree that the death of the husband makes a widow of his wife but there is some evidence that Bible writers make use of the word where the death of the husband is not involved." The evidence (?) he presents is in the form of two passages.

The first passage, 2 Sam. 14:5, in the King James Version reads, "I am indeed a widow and my husband is dead." Because this passage has the word "indeed" used with the word "Widow" nearby the conclusion is reached that this passage "seems to offer a commentary of some sort" on Paul's teaching concerning the "widow indeed" in 1 Timothy 5. The false conclusion to the whole matter is that a widow indeed is one whose husband is dead, but a widow can have a living husband.

Paul explains what a "widow indeed" is in 1 Tim. 5: a widow who has no one to take care of her, no children or grandchildren and none of close kin. The widow indeed is the woman (meeting the qualifications of 1 Tim. 5, naturally) completely alone in the world, NOT a woman whose husband is dead in contrast to a woman deserted by her husband.

The passage, 2 Sam. 14:5, has no connection with 1 Tim. 5 other than the fact that both mention widows. A person is hard-pressed to build a theory on this passage and the theory has a precarious foundation upon which to rest. The woman is not making a distinction between widows and widows indeed but is simply saying. "Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead" as the Revised Standard Versions renders it. J. P. Lange, in his commentary on the books of Samuel, writes: "The rendering: 'I am a widow, and my husband is dead,' presents a useless tautology. Bottcher therefore suggests a relative force for the... (Hebrew word. JCR): 'inasmuch as my husband is dead;' but it may be better (with Thenius) to connect this latter clause with following verse: 'and my husband died and I had two sons,' that is, when my husband died, I was left with two sons. — Tr." This explanation or the rendering of the RSV is much more logical than our brother's theory.

The concluding paragraph reads: "It would seem presumptuous to insist that the word 'widow' in each usage in the Bible would include the death of the husband". To this we agree, for there is introduced a passage in which this very thing is true. In 2 Sam. 20:3 ten concubines whose relationship as wives to their husband, David, ceased (1 Cor. 7:3-5) were said to be "living in widowhood" (KJV). In this passage widowhood is figurative; the marginal reading ("in widowhood of life") and the context make this evident. Thus, the Revised Standard Version reads: "So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood." However, the fact remains that the term "widow" in its common meaning is one whose husband is dead and unless the context indicates otherwise (as is the case in 2 Sam. 20:3) the word should be understood thusly.

Here again we have the problem of eisegesis instead of exegesis: taking a figurative usage of the word and reading an idea into it. Yes, it is true that the passage in 2 Sam. 20:3 mentions "widows" (a life of widowhood) whose husband was living, but the context makes it evident that the term is figurative. What reason is there for concluding that other passages, where context does not indicate such, should have such a meaning? In 1 Cor. 10:2 Paul says the children of Israel were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Is baptism immersion? Then how does Paul say they were baptized "in the cloud and in the sea"? In a figurative usage of the word they were "baptized" — with the cloud around and overhead and the sea on each side — they were enclosed or "immersed" in the cloud and in the sea. But this figurative usage of the word would be poor argument for those insisting that the Israelites were sprinkled by the waters on each side and the clouds above, hence baptism is sprinkling.

I do not think our brother would accept his own conclusions though. In this issue, May 15, 1959, he states that the study of the scriptures (2 Sam. 14:5; 20:3; 1 Tim. 5) "leads toward the belief that causes less than death of the husband recognized as bring (sic) about widowhood." And the theory that a woman with a living husband can be a "widow" is advocated. Now, dear reader, do you really believe this?

In 1 Tim. 5:14 Paul writes, "I desire that the younger widows marry". The King James Version inserts the word "woman" but the American Standard Version inserts the word "widows", and rightly so. In 1 Cor. 7:8-9 Paul desires the unmarried and widows remain unmarried, (because of the present distress, v. 26) "but if they cannot contain, let them marry". Paul states that widows may marry and in 1 Tim. 5:14 desires that they do marry. Now if a "widow" with a living husband came to you and desired your performing a marriage ceremony for her, quoting 1 Tim. 5:14 and 1 Cor. 7:8-9, would you marry her or advise her to marry? I dare say you wouldn't. But according to the theory a woman deserted by her husband ("causes less than the death of the husband") would be a widow and free to marry again.

There is another dilemma involved in the misapplication of James 1:27 to the church rather than the individual. In 1 Tim. 5 Paul teaches that the church cannot enroll all widows, but only those who are "widows indeed". He gives the qualifications one must have to be classed as a widow indeed and entitled to permanent church support. He concludes by saying that those widows who have kinfolks should be supported by the kin and "let not the church be charged", thus forbidding the church to take care of them. To this our brother agreed: "Paul seems to be saying to Timothy that the widow who might be enrolled was a woman whose husband was dead."

The advocates of church-supported benevolent societies vigorously affirm that James 1:27 authorizes church action in regard to orphans and widows. But this puts Paul at variance with James! Paul says only widows indeed are to be the charge of the church while James (if the theory were true about James 1:27) includes all widows as the charge of the church! Talk about contradiction, this would be it! Would Paul be right or James? The sectarian in Opelina, Ala. when confronted with James 2:24 as opposed to his false teaching on Rom. 5:1 (as offering proof of faith only) said, "I rather lean towards Paul's teaching than James". Will our brethren "lean" towards James' teaching (?) on widows rather than Paul's teaching?