By Ron Halbrook
Affirming the Negative on Women Teachers
On 6 December at Fairborn, J. W. Holcomb affirmed his negative proposition: “When the church comes together for the purpose of studying the Bible, and uses the class arrangement, it is a violation of the Scriptures for women to be appointed teachers of any of those classes.” “Any” means not even classes of women and children. About eight charts were offered but two basic passages appeared over and over on them: 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (“I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man”) and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (“let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak”). The charge in 2 Timothy 2:2 to train “faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” cannot include women in any way, Holcomb asserted, because if “men” means mankind it violates 1 Timothy 2. “Men” must be “male members of the church only,” he claimed.
Though Titus 2:3-4 says of aged women that they are to be “teachers of good things” and to “teach the young women,” this cannot mean it is a class arrangement because it would violate 1 Timothy 2 also. “Since the Bible does not contradict itself, then I maintain that contextually that this work, this particular teaching here is done by her deportment, her behavior,” said Holcomb. He added that a woman may also teach her own children privately in the home, may teach by singing in the church, and may teach other people in private conversation.
After saying, “Everything that is commanded of the church in 1 Corinthians 14 certainly applies in the church today with respect to conduct of the members of the church in assembly,” Holcomb added that “we are not inspired as they were” but only men have ever been given the authority of a teacher. Asserting that “there were no women in the Great Commission,” Holcomb said none were apostles, evangelists, elders, or otherwise “in the position of authority” as teachers of anyone under any circumstances. The restriction “not to teach” in 1 Timothy 2 applies “whether in man’s presence or out of his presence,” according to Holcomb. This excludes the church permitting her to teach “other women” and “children other than her own.” He stressed that if some women moved into a new community where there was no church, they could not establish one by any arrangement of group teaching even if limited to groups of women and children. Furthermore, Holcomb asked about a woman in a mixed class taught by a man.
Can the teacher turn the class over to her in a mixed Bible class and let her comment, read and comment on passages of Scripture before that class and thereby teach class while she is doing that?
He was certain she would be exercising the authority of the teacher if permitted to ask questions, make comments, or read a Scripture. When Paul said, “Let your women keep silence,” he meant al! of the women, in any and every arrangement of the church, whether convened in one assembly hall or several classrooms, and the total absence of men would not change the restriction. So Holcomb argued throughout the debate.
Negating the Negative Affirmation
Weldon Warnock asked Holcomb to define the place of assembly and to tell whether the Bible class arrangement meets the criterion of 1 Corinthians 14:23, “if the whole church be come together.” Webster defines assembly as “a company or collection of individuals in the same place usually for the same purpose,” then gives 25 definitions of “place,” including a region, a city, or a residence. If all classes meeting in separate rooms in one building constitute the assembled church of 14:23, then no more than two or three teachers could be appointed and they would be limited to speaking one by one rather than simultaneously in the several rooms (vv. 27-33). Warnock maintained that 1 Corinthians 14 did not preclude class arrangements with women teaching women and children, but dealt rather with disturbances in which women tried to take charge over men when the whole church assembled. As to a woman commenting in a class taught by a man, it is ludicrous to suppose a student has taken the teacher’s authority, simply by making a comment!
Warnock centered his attention on 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. The chart “What Does It Mean?” a’sked whether. 1 Timothy 2 prohibited a woman from all teaching, ever teaching a man, teaching when the church assembled, teaching men when the church assembled, or teaching under circumstances that violate subjection to man. Warnock said it was the last one, explaining that woman wqs simply not to take charge and authority over men in teaching the Bible or-in any other spiritual matter:
I do not read in 1 Timothy 2:12 that she cannot teach over women, or that she cannot teach over children. It says, “I permit not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over man,” brother Holcomb. Not woman. Not children. But man! That’s what the text says.
If the passage is not so qualified, then a woman cannot sing, teach a child, teach under any condition, prophesy in the first century, worship if only women are present, or fulfill Titus 2:3. Holcomb admitted he did not think women could come together to worship if no men were present, though several such situations have been known. The explanation of 1 Timothy 2 given by Holcomb would prohibit her teaching by participation in song service unless he could find the passage that specifies she is permitted to teach by song.
What Does It Mean? 1 Tim. 2:11-12
1. I permit not a woman to teach (period)?
2. To teach a man (period)?
3. To teach when the church is assembled?
4. To teach a man when church assembled?
5. To teach in such a way as to disregard her place of subjection to man?
1. A woman may not sing (Col. 3:16).
2. Teach a child (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14).
3: Teach under any condition (Tit. 2:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:2)
4. Do what God endowed her to do (Acts 2:17; Acts 21:9).
5. May not worship if only women are present.
6. Cannot fulfill God’s command (Tit. 2:3).
Warnock charted the comments of scholars R.C.H. Lenski (famed commentator), Homer A. Kent (New Testament and Greek professor at Grace Theological Seminary), and Stephen W. Paine (Greek professor at Houghton College) showing that “not to teach” is explained by “nor to usurp authority over the man” in 1 Timothy 2:12. The-woman is not to teach when she exercises authority over man.
Scholars On 1 Tim. 2:12
. . we have explicative oude, for `neither to exercise authority over a man’ states the point involved in the forbidding to teach” (R. C. H. Lenski, D. D. )
“I understand Lenski’s comment to be the proper explanation for that passage. I regard `neither to exercise authority over a man’ to be somewhat exegetical of the previous clause and giving one of the reasons why the prohibition to teach is made” (Homer A. Kent, Th.D., Prof. of N.T. & Greek, Grace Theological Sem.).
. . concerning Lenski’s comment . . . As you realize, the Greek word oude means simply `and not’ and thus presents us with a double negative in the combination `I do not permit a woman to teach and not to take (the) authority of a man’. However, in Greek, a double negative does not follow the mathematical process that English does. Hence, `nor’ is an inadequate translation, and the interpretative step which identifies `to teach’ with `to take (the) authority’ is justified and Lenski is grammatically correct” (Stephen W. Paine, Ph.D. Prof. of Greek, Houghton College).
This chart could not be overturned, but Holcomb said he found one Greek scholar (Bruce M. Metzger) who thought Paul intended to forbid a woman from all teaching anal that “not to teach” was independent from the expression which follows in the text: On Titus 2:3-4, which Holcomb claimed referred only to the woman’s behavior~by example, Warnock pointed out that part of her behavior is being an exemplary teacher. They were commanded to be “teachers of good things” and several of these things are specified in the text. Also in 2 Timothy 2:2, “faithful men” who are to teach and raise up teachers does not refer to sex but does include women, just as “men” is generic in 1 Timothy 2:5 (“one mediator between God and men”). Since Holcomb wanted to know where in the Bible a woman taught a class, Warnock pointed out that classes taught by both men and women are authorized under the generic command to teach.
No Fellowship Here and No Heaven Hereafter?
Every speech of Warnock pled for brethren to receive one another in Christ while studying these differences which involve personal conscience. His chart on “Narrowing, the Circle” pointed out that Holcomb was determined to impose his own conscience to the extent of congregational discipline and rejection of brethren who differ from him on several such questions. The church was neither sound in teaching nor faithful to the Lord where women have no symbolic religious garb on the head, teach classes, trim their hair, wear women’s slacks on any occasion, or exchnge gifts as a private family affair on 25 December. Pursuing this course, J.W. Holcomb is about to narrow the circle down to himself alone. “Brother Howard See has been alienated from brother Holcomb. Brother Wendell Wiser, who moderated for him back in 1956, has been alienated. We don’t want to see this” alienation continue and spread, but it will if Holcomb is allowed to impose his own private convictions, Warnock warned.
As if to underscore Warnock’s warning, Holcomb explained the view that first led him to condemn sister Irven Lee’s classes and then to debate the question of a woman teaching:
What’s she a’doing in a Bible class? What’s she a’doing at 10 o’clock in the morning with the women together and her preaching to them but delivering a discourse to instruct them. She’s in a position of authority and is out of order and sinning and will be lost in hell if she doesn’t repent. And the brethren who appoint her to that and encourage her to that will go to hell with her, if they don’t repent. That’s why I’m here.
Warnock need not complain about my “pressing these things” to the point of discipline and division, said Holcomb, because there would be no pressing “if you could go to heaven and do what you’re doing. I don’t believe you can.”
Since Warnock asked for the passage that specified woman’s right to sing, Holcomb responded,
It’s the next verse down under where you get-specific authority for her to teach a Bible class or group of women every morning.
Warnock reminded the audience that Holcomb himself allowed women to sing and therefore must base it on some passage. Now by Holcomb’s own admission, that passage stood next to the one that permits women to teach Bible classes. Warnock wondered if the debate was over at that point! Since Holcomb had insisted that women usurp the place of men in teaching a class even in the total absence of men, Warnock asked what man would a woman be usurping authority over in the absence of all men. Furthermore, he asked if Holcomb would apply the same rule to 1 Corinthians 11 and maintain that a woman must be covered in all worship and devotion, even that she might offer when no man is present. When Holcomb argued that no woman was given the authority to teach in the New Testament because there were no women apostles, evangelists, and elders, Warnock pointed out that he had overlooked the role of prophetesses (Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). She taught others not merely by example of behavior but by speaking.
Woman Teachers or No Classes, Which?
The debate concluded on 7 December. Holcomb said that he did not know when or where the prophetess spoke but that it would have been sinful for the church to make any arrangement for her to do so. As to Holcomb’s repeated charge that Warnock would end up with a “woman ministry” in the pulpit, Warnock warned that Holcomb’s confusion on the generic authority for classes with both male and female teachers would logically lead to the “no-class position.” Gary Halcomb, who had been on the stage at Holcomb’s side in the Ogden debate, had already followed that course. He could not attend the present debate because he was away holding a meeting for the no-class, one-cup church in Nashville, Tennessee, where sister Irene S. Foy had ended up before her death because of taking these positions which J.W. Holcomb was defending in debate.
Warnock emphasized affirmative arguments the last night. Matthew 28:19-20 says to teach and baptize people of all nations, then to train these disciples to continue spreading the truth. This would include both males and females. This charge is in part implemented by Titus 2:1-10, where aged women are charged to teach the younger. The specific arrangements, whether made by the church or an individual, would be under the generic authority to teach and a matter of human judgment. Women would be limited by 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 not to exercise authority over men in teaching. The passages that tell men to teach authorize the class arrangement with male teachers, just as the Scriptures charging women to teach authorize the class arrangement with women teachers over women and children. Holcomb wanted to know where the Bible specified women as class teachers, but Warnock reminded him that no Scripture specified males as class teachers. Classes arranged with male or female teachers are authorized in precisely the same fashion. If the generic authority for women to teach in Matthew 28 and Titus 2 is not sufficient to permit women to teach classes, then the same authority in Matthew 28 and 1 Timothy 4 is not sufficient to permit males to teach classes. Warnock pointed out Holcomb’s dilemma: women teachers or the no-class position.
Holcomb emphatically denied that women were included in the Great Commission or that Titus 2 implemented anything taught in Matthew 28. “The Great Commission is not in Titus 2,” and Titus 2 “doesn’t say that a woman taught a Bible class,” thundered Holcomb. He was especially upset at the idea that a woman might face circumstances where she would baptize the woman or child she had taught. He further thundered concerning those who disagree with him on the covering, women teacher, and other issues mentioned on “Narrowing the Circle,”
I’ll tell you this. Unless it is an accident some way, I never will sit in your assemblies. I don’t fellowship stuff like that.
The reference was to visiting the services and hearing men preach with whom he disagreed.
Women Can’t Write: “Take That Thing Out”
Since Warnock had asked about the tract “Fashions” by Mrs. Lurie G. Yater in Fairborn’s tract rack, Holcomb addressed the church he was representing as follows:
I don’t know where the brethren got the tract and 1 don’t know what it’s doing here. But I’ll tell you this. It’s wrong and you need to take that thing out because women have got no business being a teacher of the Word of God. And you need to correct that. You take that out. She’s setting herself up as a teacher. What right does she have to do that? Even in the printed page, what right does she have to do it? You give me Book, Chapter, and Verse for that. Give it to me. I’ll tell you I don’t condone that . . . . I don’t condone a woman becoming a writer! . . . That woman is out of place doing that.
He did not say whether these strictures would apply to Dorothy Avenue also permitting some females in classes to communicate by writing comments or questions on the classroom blackboard. Brother Warnock asked if the next step was for men like Holcomb to demand that the song books be Tipped up to eliminate songs written by women. Such songs were sung at both Knollwood and Dorothy Avenue, but he did not seem to worry about this inconsistency. “Get your scissors,” said Warnock. He then closed with an appeal not to permit men to bind matters of their own conscience and private conviction as matters of the faith (Jude 3).
Does Romans 14 Apply?
At the debate’s conclusion, a letter from Knollwood’s elders to Dorothy Avenue expressed a commitment and requested a reciprocal “commitment to encourage greater unity among us all as brethren in Christ.” Women who wore coverings and abstained from teaching classes were not asked to change their practice for unity.
We ask nothing of the kind and can fully respect brethren who have a conscience in such matters. We believe that all such matters as have been discussed in the debate can be treated on the basis of Romans 14. The Holy Spirit said through Paul that each of us is allowed to have his strong convictions, being “fully persuaded in his own mind” (14:15). We need not judge one another in respect to these matters (14:13).
The hope was expressed that those brethren who disagreed with us on the covering and woman teacher would be willing to extend the right hand of fellowship with love and respect in Christ. A letter six weeks later from Dorothy Avenue said that they chose not to clarify such matters directly, but added that “in the past” they had announced Knollwood’s meetings and called upon her members for prayer.
The following responses have also been noticed. After several weeks no reciprocal letter has been received but the response of the following people was made known. (1) J. W. Holcomb had made clear in the debate that he could not agree to the letter but insisted that the issues discussed be treated as matters of the faith, matters essential to salvation, or matters of discipline within the church and of division from brethren if necessary. (2) His moderator, Emery M. McCollister, had written in a tract on “Let Her Be Covered” that the covering is “essential to our soul’s salvation” but ought not to become “a test of fellowship or to cause division” (p. 1). But he said concerning the letter read, that should brother Begley take such a stand as it requested, “then brother Begley would no longer be in fellowship with me.” McCallister explicitly said that these matters could not be left to the determination of personal conviction as per Romans 14. These conflicting statements illustrate the difficulty of declaring some thing a matter of the revealed faith without at the same time treating it as a matter of fellowship. (3) Joe Hill, Holcomb’s timekeeper who has challenged for several debates on these issues, said in conversation after the debate that Romans 14 emphatically could not be applied to the pre
(4) Brother Begley said that unity should be the goal, just as with institutional brethren. This would appear to exclude the approach of Romans 14 since institutional-social-gospel problems involve the faith and function of the whole church. But he did not clarify further and he had said in private that the approach of Romans 14 should be taken. Like McCallister, Begley illustrates the distressing inconsistencies in which many of these brethren are trapped. They couple a high degree of certainty that such issues as the covering are matters of the faith along side a high degree of uncertainty as to whether these same issues are matters of fellowship. On fellowship, many of these brethren have one foot firmly planted on each side of the fence and are uncomfortably seated on the fence itself. They can lean either way as the occasion demands.
The issues of which Paul wrote in Romans 14 – “receive ye” one another – are certainly not in the same class with those discussed in such passages as:
2 Timothy 3:1-5, which describes false teachers and trucebreakers coming in perilous times, adding, “from such turn away;”
2 Peter 2:1, which warns of false teachers who bring “damnable doctrines;”
Acts 20:30, which speaks of “perverse men” drawing away their own disciples; and
I John 2:19, which speaks of those who depart from apostolic teaching because “they were not of us.”
Yet, those four passages were used by Begley in his radio review (23 December on WPFB, Middletown, Ohio), as he spoke of “doctrines that cause the soul to be lost” in warning against the “elders and preachers” involved in the debate with Holcomb. Why did Begley use these passages and omit Romans 14 on the radio, but claim privately that Romans 14 should apply? Brethren such as Holcomb are consistent in linking the faith with fellowship, but those such as Begley are still straddling and juggling the two questions. One thing is certain: Romans 14 is not discussing “doctrines that cause the soul to be lost” and consequently does not say “from such turn away.” Truth Magazine is ready to publish an article from Begley on “How Romans 14, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Peter 2:1, Acts 20:30, and I John 2:19 Can All Apply to the Same Issue at the Same Time,” or “How to Apply ‘Receive Ye’ One Another and ‘From Such Turn Away’ to the Same Brethren at the Same Time.” We were charged with gross misrepresentation for saying a certain brother had been withdrawn from, over the issues under debate. Let us bypass that brother’s name, then, and ask whether a church should withdraw from women who do not wear a covering. Holcomb shouts, “Yes!” Warnock pleads, “No!” What does Begley – standing at Holcomb’s side – say? Would “from such turn away” include disfellowship by a local church and a refusal to extend the hand of fellowship among brethren generally? Which way will our dizzy brother Begley go?
Brother Begley’s radio review charged the elders and preachers working with Knollwood as “trucebreakers” on the censorship stipulation. Either Warnock kept the agreement, or Begley broke it. Warnock signed his name on the blackboard giving consent for reviewers to write or speak, thus giving Begley written consent for his radio review of 23 December. That would justify Begley in never sending a manuscript or tape of his radio address to Warnock or Knollwood for approval. The fact is that Begley had Warnock’s signed approval on the blackboard and so is not obligated to send us his manuscript or tape at any time. This we freely grant. But if Begley considers Warnock’s blackboard signature inadequate to permit reviews, then Begley should have submitted his material to us for specific approval. He whinned on the radio, “When folks won’t even recognize their own signature, I don’t know whether 1’d want to accept a check they’d write me because it might not be good” (he can check the tape for the exact wording if he ever decides to send us a copy). As a matter of courtesy, Holcomb and Begley received advance copies of this article and are receiving free extra copies of its publication. In addition, they were assured several months ago that Truth Magazine is open to their reviews. We want to be open and fair toward those who disagree with us, but do not intend to be censored and shackled by them.
From our standpoint, the debate was held not in the hope to divide brethren, but to study the issues with open Bibles while emphasizing a plea for unity. How did the covering and woman teacher issues get into one debate? Holcomb admits no special circumstances in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 which affect their application today. He repeatedly referred to these passages as “Siamese twins” because “they’re joined together in their teaching in that they teach the same thing” (his 4 December, second affirmative speech). In debate Holcomb controls his own speeches and tries to control the speeches of opponents by repetitious charts and questions. Rather than reviewing all of these in detail, Warnock pointed out what passages they centered upon and dealt with the passages. Those who debate Holcomb in the future should take note because this approach kept him on the defensive much of the time. In addition to his censorship stipulation, he may dream up a new stipulation trying to “lock in” future debates to his repetitious questions and charts which allow him to make pat speeches made a hundred times before. The debate generated much good Bible study. We have talked to people whose doubts on the covering and woman teacher were cleared up. A brother from Akron who had believed in the covering idea all his adult life, an elder from Columbus, and two Cincinnati-area brethren all said that their minds were changed by hearing the two positions examined side by side. Most importantly, a large number of brethren were brought to a renewed appreciation of the importance and application of Romans 14 in matters of personal conscience or private conviction. The Spoken Word (P.O. Box 127 Greenville, IN 47124) plans to make the tapes available. Numerous and lengthy quotations from tapes of Holcomb’s speeches have been given to insure accuracy, but he can submit his own transcriptions to Truth Magazine if ours are not exact. He and Begley got advance copies of our article; we are always glad to weigh any suggestions they might have.
An extensive review of the debate at this time is justified by the recurring need to emphasize the difference between matters of the faith clearly revealed and matters of private opinion, which often involve difficult passages or principles requiring judgmental applications. In addition to five questions mentioned in this debate, we hear of discussions on kneeling for certain prayers, belonging to unions, the right of private foundations and colleges which provide Bible teaching to exist, the “located” preacher, Sunday evening communion, funerals and weddings in the meetinghouse, and any number of others from time to time. Just as the poor shall always be with us, so shall many of these questions. A continuing effort to study such differences as a people united in Christ is healthy. But it is another matter to face the demand that churches disfellowship certain brethren and that a division of churches all across the country should take place over the covering, woman teacher, and similar questions of personal conscience. Appealing directly to people who might agree with his position but worship where a different view prevailed, Holcomb exhorted, “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” It is time for those of us who differ on such issues but are determined to study them as a united people in Christ, in keeping with Romans 14, to say so!
Truth Magazine XXIV: 11, pp. 185-188
March 13, 1980