Are Bible Classes Scriptural? A Review of a Booklet
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
Dade City, Florida
I have before me a booklet written by various authors entitled, Teaching The Bible. The introduction and first chapter deal with the Bible class situation. A stand is taken in opposition to this practice among churches of Christ. The authors of these two sections use the prejudicial expression "Sunday School" throughout with the same effect that a person would use "anti". I know of no sound brethren who defend the modern "Sunday School" arrangement with its organization apart from or within the church. We stand opposed to any organization larger than or smaller than the local church doing the work assigned to the church. What we do defend are Bible Classes which do not constitute another organization. The Bible Classes we defend are functional arrangements of the collective under the oversight of the respective eldership. If and when the class arrangement becomes an organization with its own laws, treasury or officers within or without the local church, I too, will oppose it.
Delos V. Johnson, in his introduction says that "the Sunday School occupies a central role in the teaching programs of most churches". Unless he is talking about the liberal churches, I deny this. I cannot speak for the liberal churches. I can certainly say that I do not know of a single conservative church that has a modern "Sunday School". If Brother Johnson knows of one then let him inform us of such. What he should have said is that "the Bible Class arrangement occupies a central role". I repeat: conservative churches reject the "Sunday School Organization" method of teaching. That the booklet uses "Sunday School" to mean the modern "Sunday School" is obvious from reading G. B. Shelburne's section (first chapter), "Teaching The Bible Without Sunday Schools." Shelburne identifies his "Sunday School" concept as the one that originated with Robert Raikes, an Englishman, in 1780. He applies this to the Bible Class arrangement. He should know that there is no parallel between the two.
The booklet likewise opposes women teachers (p. 6). It is interesting that on page two in the introduction, 2 Timothy 2:2 is appealed to as an authority for instructing teachers to teach. But observe that this passage authorizes women to teach as well. The passage says, "and the thing that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also". The term "men" is translated from the Greek anthropos, which is defined as "a human being, whether male or female" (Thayer, P. 46). He further says, "with reference to the genus or nature, without the distinction of sex". Another definition reads as follows: "generally of a human being, male or female, without reference to sex or nationality" (Vine, Vol. III, p. 33).
This demonstrates that men (male or female) are required to teach. In the case of John 7:22, the context identifies the sex as male. In this passage anthropos may be used to refer to man, excluding women (Thayer, p. 45). The context of 2 Timothy 2:2 does not contextually identify the sex as male. Therefore anthropos is used without distinction of sex, male or female.
Those who argue that women cannot teach Bible classes in the church building cannot find room or sphere in which a woman can obey 2 Timothy 2:2, as it pertains to the work of a local church.
The only chapter dealing with the subject at hand is chapter one, and as suggested it is written by G. B. Shelburne, Jr. of Amarillo, Texas. He offers four arguments against Bible Classes and Women Teachers which he labels "Scriptural Objections To The Sunday School". First, he says, "We believe that the New Testament sets forth a definite law of procedure for all public teaching assemblies of the church: men only as teachers, speaking one by one to all of the learners in one group, with the women in silence". He cites two passages: 1 Corinthians 14:31-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
The Corinthian passage has no bearing on Bible classes today for the simple fact that it is dealing with spiritual gifts in the whole assembly and is to be taken with chapters 12-13. This passage simply does not apply to group or private teaching without removing it from its context. It has reference to the "whole church" coming together in "one place". Furthermore, the women of 1 Corinthians 14 applies to the wives of the prophets. Weymouth's translation (The New Testament, In Modern Speech, third edition, 1909) renders "let your women keep silence" (KJV), "let married women be silent" (p. 467). Verse 35, where the husbands are referred to, further confirms this conclusion. And then there is the word "silence". This word means to "keep silence, hold one's peace" (Thayer, P. 574). It means in verse 34 exactly what it means in verse 28 and 30. Absolute silence! This is not the way "silence" is used in 1 Timothy 2. The silence of I Corinthians 14 would forbid a woman to sing in the assembly. Remember, when one sings, he teaches and admonishes (Col. 3:16).
The heart of his argument on 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is that it "does not say that a woman may teach as long as she does not do it 'in such a way as to usurp authority over the man' " (p. 7). He is mistaken in this. Look at the passage: "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be silence". Basically there are two things of significance in this passage: (1) Silence, and (2) teaching over the man.
Women may teach (Acts 2:18; 18:26; 21:9; Tit. 2:34). "Silence" must therefore be qualified. She certainly is not to remain silent in the assembly in the sense of being restricted to utter a sound. She is commanded to sing, and singing involves teaching and admonishing (Col. 3:16).
On the word "silence" in this passage, Thayer says, "quietness" (Gr. heschia), "descriptive of the life of one who stays home doing his own work, and does not officially meddle with the affairs of others" (p.. 281). Vine says (Vol. 111, p. 242), "tranquillity arising from within, causing no disturbance to others." The context therefore does not mean absolute silence, but rather a tranquil, quiet life. This is not restricted to the assembly and therefore one cannot possibly throw in 1 Corinthians 14, for the "silence" here does not apply, as suggested above.
With reference to "teaching over the man", it should be observed that: (1) "Teach" means "to teach or speak in public assembly" (Bagster). To "deliver didactic discourses" (Thayer). There is more involved than simply to impart knowledge. (2) "Over the man" is a prepositional phrase modifying "to teach" and "to usurp". The two latter expressions qualify "over the man". Women can teach and have authority over some people (Tit. 2:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:5). But she cannot have authority over the man.
Shelburne's second objection to Bible Classes is: "We find no divine authority to deviate from the procedure for teaching services of the church that is set up by command and example in God's word", (p. 8). This objection is meaningless for the simple fact that he has not demonstrated from the Scriptures that "one man" is to speak in one assembly which is undivided. In other words, he has not offered a valid objection to the Bible Class arrangement!
His third argument is as follows: "those who occupied the office of public teachers in the early church are listed along with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11), and those who occupied these offices were men". This is presented as an argument against women teachers. What he overlooks is that there were women among the prophets in New Testament times. ". . . Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy" (Acts 21:8-9). The writer cannot say that all who occupied the office of a prophet were men. Away goes his contention!
The final argument made in the booklet is simply this: "we believe that the apostles set up a norm for the church for all time" (p. 8). The conclusion is that "the Spirit did not guide them into the use of classes and women teachers in public teaching services of the church". This writer certainly agrees that the apostles set up the norm for the church. Furthermore, I agree that women cannot teach in the public or worship service of the church. However, we have already established that women can teach in the Bible Class arrangement within the framework of the local church and in other places as long as she does not teach over the man.
Shelburne then offers some "Difficulties and Dangers Involved In The Sunday School" (p. 8). I do not see that these have any bearing in the Bible Class arrangement. As suggested above, as long as the Bible Class arrangement is kept as a functional arrangement of the local church, these dangers simply do not exist. He simply cannot take the dangers associated with the denominational Sunday School and apply them to the Bible class situation under the eldership of the local church.
The booklet concludes its objection to Bible Classes and women teachers by saying, "There Is a Better Way" (p. 10). Applying the Sunday School to the Bible Class arrangement, the author says, "the early church, to which this system was unknown, had the greatest success and the most phenomenal growth that the church has ever known". However divided groups were not unknown to the early church. Remember, the issue centers around place, i.e., a plurality of classes under one roof. One can teach from "house to house" (Acts 20:20) and even two arrangements under separate roofs would be scriptural. But when the two classes come together under one roof, this arrangement becomes sinful, we are told. To put it another way, the objection is in opposition to a divided assembly, i.e., a group smaller than a previously assembled group retiring to another section of the building. The contention is that this constitutes another organization through which the church does its work.
The New Testament does teach that it is scriptural to conduct Bible Classes among several groups at the same time and that it is scriptural for a group to retire from a previously assembled meeting of the church. Space will permit only one example. Look at Acts 15:4-6 and observe that the controversy over circumcision at Antioch necessitated taking the matter up with the church at Jerusalem since those who introduced the issue were from the church there (vv. 13). When Paul, Barnabas and certain other brethren arrived in Jerusalem, "they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders" (v. 4). After the church met to consider and discuss the matter, the apostles and elders "came together for to consider of the matter" (v. 6). Thus from a meeting of the whole church at Jerusalem (including the apostles and elders), the apostles and elders divided and separated themselves in order to reconsider the matter among themselves.
The booklet under review, Teaching the Bible, is not the strongest defense of the non-Bible Class and women teachers' position that this writer has seen. Since the booklet has no publisher stated in the foremat I assume it is published by Gospel Tidings. You may obtain a free copy of the booklet by writing them at P.O. Box 21, South Houston, Texas 77587. I believe that in this writing with space permitting, we have given the booklet a fair review.
Truth Magazine XX: 36, pp. 560-570