Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 24, 1955
NUMBER 41, PAGE 1,11-12,13b

Paul And "The Gospel Of Common Sense"

James W. Adams, Beaumont, Texas

(No. 5 in a series reviewing Brother Guy N. Woods' articles recently appearing in the Gospel Advocate.)

A sarcastic allusion by Brother Guy N. Woods to Luther's analysis of James and Paul relative to "salvation by faith only" is the inspiration for our title. Luther, in his thinking, arraigned James against Paul belittling the Epistle of James by styling it "an "epistle of straw." In posing his fateful dilemma (previously mentioned) in article No. 2 of his series on benevolent institutions, Brother Woods anticipates that those who oppose the organizational features of "our benevolent work" must accept his conclusions or do one of two things: (1) "stultify scholarship" or; (2) "as Luther once did . . . . , deny the truth of the passage itself." We have shown that Brother Woods has not indicted any proof from scholars that materially affects the issue. We are quite unwilling to accept our brother's unjustified interpretations of scholars. After all, scholarly though he may be, Brother Guy N. Woods could hardly be classified as a lexicographer. Too, it is hardly possible that the conclusions of our brother are inspired, hence quite ridiculous to suppose that one should become a "blatant infidel" in denying them. Mention has been made — by Brother Woods — of the fact that the epistle of James is alluded to as "the Gospel of Common Sense." Also, he has in the presentation of his argument joined 1 Timothy 5 to James 1:27, hence the inspiration for our title, "Paul and the Gospel of Common Sense."

To The Church Or To The Individual

No one known to us has denied the right of the churches to assist destitute children, widows, or aged persons. It is denied that "obligation and need are correlative." The benevolence taught by the Holy Spirit is not unlimited. To the contrary, it is hedged about by numerous conditions or qualifications. Therefore, whether or not James 1:27 applies to the churches as such or to individuals is not the basic issue in our institutional problem. We can and will grant the right of churches, as such, to care for destitute children, widows, and aged persons who are their responsibility from a scriptural point of view. All of Brother Woods' fanfare on this particular point is, therefore, utterly beside the point and calculated to confuse the honest inquirer. Could this be the purpose behind the lengthy discussion of such?

This concession, however, by no means is an admission of the correctness of the brother's argument relative to the parties addressed in James 1:27. His argument is completely fallacious. Hear him:

"The assumption that James 1:27 ('Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world'), deals with duties devolving upon individuals only, is an unwarranted one. In an effort to bolster this view, our attention is directed to the fact that the inspired writer had just previously said: 'If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain,' and the query is raised whether the improper use of the tongue by one member of the congregation determines the character of the religion of the congregation, as a whole. Here, obviously, attention is fixed upon activity characteristic of individuals; but to assume that this same limitation belongs to an entirely different matter in the context is unjustified. As a matter of fact, the contextual force is against this view; for immediately following James 1:27 (bearing in mind that the chapter and verse divisions are inventions of a later day), the author wrote 'My, brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place... church activity surely, and continuing a discussion of people poor in this world's goods, suggested perhaps by the writer's reference to the fatherless and widows of the section immediately preceding." (Gospel Advocate, October 28, 1954.)

Note the argument: Verses 26 and 27 of James 1 are arbitrarily separated from one another, and Verse 27 is characterized as dealing with an entirely different matter. This is palpably false and to separate the two verses on the assumption that they belong to entirely different matters is subversive of the rules of exegesis and common sense. A tyro in exegesis can see that the subject of both verses is "religion." The passage actually poses an anti-thesis for the reader's consideration — vain religion at one extreme and pure religion at the other. James 1:26 indicts an example of vain religion. Verse 27 indicts an example of pure religion. They both belong logically and scripturally to the same chapter, and, incidentally (Brother Woods' implication to the contrary notwithstanding), they are found in the same chapter in every standard translation known to this writer. We have before us some eight different translations including the Authorized, English Revised, American Standard, and Revised Standard. In all of these, verses 26 and 27 of James 1 are found in, the same chapter. If not to deceive, to what purpose may we ask was Brother Woods' allusion to the chapter divisions of the passage in question? A fundamental rule of exegesis with which our "scholarly" brother should be acquainted is that the elements of an antithesis must be taken in the same extent of meaning. If element number 1, contained in verse 26, applies to the individual (and Brother Woods agrees that it does), then, element number 2, contained in verse 27, applies also to the individual. That individuals and churches may both have duties respecting the indigent, none would deny, but this in no sense militates against the application of James 1:27 directly to the individual. For any man to seek to make the verse apply directly to churches as such is to "wrest the scriptures."

An amusing, even ludicrous, example of "scholarly" exegesis is found in Brother Woods' attempt to join James 2:1-3 to James 1:27. Having pontifically set forth the rule that the limitation of James 1:26 cannot apply to James 1:27 due to the fact that it deals with an "entirely different matter," he immediately violates his rule by understanding verse 27 in the light of James 2:1-3. May we remind Brother Woods that "chapter and verse divisions are inventions of a later day." All standard translations place James 1:27 and James 2:1-3 in different chapters while placing James 1:26 and 27 in the same chapter. Who is it that "stultifies scholarship"? Not only does our brother imagine that he is a lexicographer, but he now proposes to make an arbitrary division of the Sacred Text into chapters and verses at variance with the unanimous decision of the linguistic scholarship of the world from the Reformation until this hour. One does not have to be a scholar to see that James 1:26, 27 deals with an entirely different subject from James 2:1-3. One passage deals with pure and vain religion. The other has to do with manifesting partiality on the basis of material wealth among brethren. The Revised Standard Version makes a very happy and sensible division into() chapters of James 1 and 2. Chapter 1 is divided as follows: verse 1; verses 2-4; verses 5-8; verses 9-11; verses 12-15; verses 16-18; verses 19-21; verses 22-25; and verses 26 and 27. Chapter 2 is divided after this fashion: verses 1-7; verses 8-13; verses 14-17; and verses 18-26.

Another interesting fact is the application of James 2:1-3 to the church, as such. Actually, the verse has to do with the conduct of the individual in the assembly and does not necessarily involve the conduct of the church, as such. Any individual might manifest partiality in the manner indicated without such being an act of the church, as such.

That all of these statements in principle apply to the church, we think none would deny. However, that the verse in question affirms an unlimited obligation of the church, as such, we will and do deny. The verse affirms the responsibility of the individual Christian. Passages dealing with the benevolent work of the church, as such, all place definite limitations upon the scope and character of her obligation.

No, Brother Woods, the contextual force of James 1:27 is diametrically opposed to your exegesis of the passage. In addition to the considerations already suggested, note that James says, "If any man thinketh himself to be religious" and "this man's religion is vain." (vs. 26.) Now note verse 27, "Pure religion . . . . is this, to visit . . ." Question: Who is "to visit." The subject of the infinitive, "to visit" can be none but the "any man" of verse 26. Corroborative of this fact is the object of infinitive number 2, "to keep." The infinitives have the same grammatical subject. The object in question is indicative of the identity of the subject. What is it? It is "oneself" (ASV) and "himself" (Authorized), hence looks back to "any man" and cannot possibly be applied to the church, as such. Having settled this matter, let us now consider:

Paul And "The Gospel Of Common Sense"

Brother Woods' illogical scrambling of Paul and James contrary to all known rules of exegesis to produce a conclusion favorable to his present position on benevolent organizations is one of the most audacious pieces of chicanery it has ever been our privilege to witness. A sophist extraordinary such as D. N. Jackson (Baptist debater) might do well to sit at the feet of our brother. Let us get Paul's teaching before us.

"Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any have children or nephews (grandchildren ASV), let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, .... Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work ... If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed." (1 Tim. 5:3-5, 9, 10, 16.)

Based on this passage, the affirmation is made that, "The early church operated a home for destitute widows." The reader is witness to the fact that this is but a fanciful figment of our brother's imaginative and inventive genius. Paul says nothing of "a home for destitute widows." By what rule of exegesis or logic does Brother Woods read such into the passage or infer such from anything contained therein ? If "honour widows that are widows indeed" may be understood to affirm that "the early church operated a home for destitute widows," may we not also infer from verse 17, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour," that the early church operated a home for the elders that ruled well twice as good as the one which she operated for her widows indeed? If not, why not? As Brother W. L. Totty so elegantly put it in the Indianapolis debate, "What is sauce for the goose is also for the gander." Is it not possible for the "scholarly" mind of our brother to conceive of aged widows being cared for in their destitution without the establishment of an institutional home under a "board and conclave unknown to the New Testament"? Churches where this writer has labored through the years have often aided poor widows, but no church of this number has ever established an institutional home for that purpose.

Brother Woods spends much time weaving weighty arguments to establish the fact that the church, as such may and must care for destitute widows. Why? No one has ever thought of denying this fact. He reaches a grand climax in this respect by tersely stating, "He who denies this repudiates reason, revelation, logic, and faith." Then, he tries to slip in his own unfounded assumption by tying a rider to a universally accepted fact. Says he, "If we may rely upon the affirmations of sacred writ the early church operated a home for aged and destitute widows." Where, Brother Woods, did sacred writ affirm anything of the kind? Where? Cite the passage.

Having cited 1 Timothy 5, Brother Woods tries to escape the force of the passage as it bears on our institutional problems by saying,

"It is not sufficient answer to this to say that these widows were of a limited group, with special characteristics, and that our homes for the aged and infirm accept aged people not possessed of some of the characteristics enumerated by the apostle. The instance is cited, not for the purpose of showing that our benevolent work parallels, in every detail, that mentioned in this passage (it does not mention the fatherless, it establishes no responsibility for aged men, or destitute young widows — it was not designed to set out comprehensively the charitable activities of the church), but to exhibit the principle seen in the practice here detailed. This we may sum up as follows: (a) a special class of needy people is dealt with in the passage. (b) It is composed of individuals who have neither relatives upon whom they may depend no means with which to survive. (c) These, the church must care for. The church, as an organization, is obligated to provide for widows. But the same passage of scripture which authorizes care for widows (without designating the manner or method) likewise enjoins care for the fatherless (orphans). (James 1:27.) Widows (destitute and helpless) are to be cared for by the church. Therefore, the fatherless, orphans) are to be cared for by the church! This conclusion is irresistible and decisive of the issue."

Let us observe the obvious mistakes, logical absurdities, manifest evasions, and downright distortion of facts involved in these lines.

(1) Like the proverbial crayfish, Brother Woods backs away from the logic of his own argument. He is the Gospel Advocate's champion of "our benevolent work" (all of it, no exceptions). He introduces 1 Timothy 5 as a proof text to sustain the scripturalness of "our orphan homes and homes for the aged." He recognizes the fact that there is no benevolent institution among "us" practicing the kind of benevolence Paul commands. This is tantamount to admitting that the practice of the churches is at variance with the teaching of the New Testament in the matter of benevolence. He cannot "crayfish" out of his dilemma by affecting to establish a mythical and "exceedingly nebular" principle which to him is "decisive of the issue" respecting "our orphanages and homes for the aged." Like the Sabbatarians who want the sabbath but not the divine laws relative to its observance, Brother Woods wants the "care of widows by the church" in 1 Timothy 5, but not the Inspired limitations placed about the benevolence therein authorized. That we should live to read such from the pen of Brother Guy N. Woods is one of the greatest surprises we have ever encountered.

(2) The statement is made that 1 Timothy 5 "does not mention destitute young widows." Any Bible reader knows that this is not a fact. Young widows are specifically mentioned in the passage. Further than that, they are specifically mentioned in the passage. Further than that, they are specifically excluded from the benevolence therein authorized. Paul says, "The younger widows refuse .... I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children . . . ." (1 Tim. 5:11, 14) Does Brother Woods propose to receive the young widows in direct violation of Paul's prohibition? Mind you, this is his proof text.

(3) Brother Woods' argument is logically absurd and fallacious. He infers the universal from the particular. He uses the example of 1 Timothy 5, admittedly specific, and from it infers a universal conclusion respecting benevolence. He joins a passage manifestly directed in its teaching to the church, as such (1 Tim. 5), with a passage addressed to individuals (James 1:27), assumes that the one involves the other, then draws a universal conclusion respecting benevolence from a collation of the two while ignoring the specific limitations of his basic proof text. (1 Tim. 5.) The particular may be inferred from the universal if they belong to the same class, but the universal may not logically be inferred from the particular. The logic of this argument would condemn every benevolent institution in the brotherhood. If James 1:27 is the authority for "our orphan homes" when considered in the light of 1 Timothy 5 as Brother Woods argues, then the limitations of 1 Timothy 5 must be recognized in our care of orphans. This would mean that they must be orphans indeed, without relatives able to care for them, that they must be members of the body of Christ or from such families, that they and their families must have been exemplary in character etc., etc. No orphan home or home for the aged "among us" is operated on this basis. This being true, they are all without scriptural foundation. It is possible that Brother Woods will live to regret his logical ( ?) coupling of James and Paul.

The Only Argument In The Entire Woods' Series

In closing number 3 of his series, our brother makes the one argument of his entire series on the scriptural basis of "our" benevolent institutions that is affirmative in nature (if we exclude his effort to make a benevolent board of Paul and his companions who journeyed to Jerusalem with aid for the poor saints there). Here it is: (1) The church is obligated to provide for widows and orphans (1 Tim. 5 and James 1:27); (2) No method of caring for widows and orphans is revealed; (3) Therefore, the churches are at liberty to establish and maintain the various benevolent homes of the brotherhood. We could as logically argue as follows respecting evangelism: (1) The church is obligated to evangelize the world (Mark 16:15-16); (2) No method of evangelizing the world is revealed; (3) The churches may establish and maintain a missionary society to accomplish their objective. One of these syllogisms is fully as logical and scriptural as the other.

The issue respecting benevolent organizations has nothing to do with the method a congregation may employ in caring for its widows and orphans. Any one of many ways might be employed. No one presumes to try to tell elders of a New Testament church how that church must care for its widows and orphans. The question is: Is it scriptural to form institutions under "boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament" for the purpose of performing the benevolent work of the churches, and for the churches to delegate to such their benevolent responsibilities and from their treasuries to support them? In the language of Brother Woods, may we say that it is subversive of both reason and revelation to suppose that such is scriptural in the realm of benevolence and unscriptural and vicious in the realm of evangelism.

Our brother's strictures on creed-making are purely gratuitous. Such is simply the old "digressive" cry of "liberty." The "digressive" wants to preach through the missionary society. Brother Woods wants to minister through a benevolent society. Look for us next week under the caption, "Adoption of Orphans Destructive of Pure and Undefiled Religion."