The Theological Contributions of J.P. Barrow
By Jesse Owens
One Sunday night earlier this year, I was speaking with my grandfather, a lifelong Free Will Baptist pastor and evangelist. He mentioned a name I’d never heard before: Jesse Parrot Barrow. My grandfather had visited my grandmother’s grave that Sunday afternoon in a small North Carolina town, as he often does, but that Sunday he had also found the grave marker of J. P. Barrow.
In all of the reading and conversations I’ve had about Welch College and Free Will Baptist history, I don’t think I had ever heard Barrow’s name before. So I inquired a bit more, and my grandfather told me he had taught Free Will Baptist theologians F. Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli while they were students. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.
As soon as I had an opportunity, I asked these men and others who might’ve known J. P. Barrow what they remembered about him. The reviews were somewhat mixed. Some remembered Barrow’s unorthodox testing style when he often asked students to provide him with sub-point “B” under section “2” in the lecture notes. Understandably, this approach frazzled Barrow’s students. When I asked Leroy Forlines about Barrow’s testing style, however, he acknowledged the oddities but quickly turned the conversation.
Forlines told me J. P. Barrow was one of the first people who helped him see a person could retain vast amounts of biblical knowledge and put that knowledge to practical and theological use. This is the aspect of Barrow’s legacy I want to focus on here. My aim in this brief article is to provide an overview of Barrow’s life and ministry, along with some initial theological insights I’ve gained from reading after him.
J. P. Barrow was born in 1898 in the Hull Road Community of Greene County, North Carolina, to Christian parents. Like many folks in the region at the time, the Barrow family’s occupation was farming. Barrow was converted at a young age and felt called to the ministry around age 12. His interest in the ministry created a desire to pursue a formal education, and he eventually attended Ayden Seminary, Atlantic Christian College, Moody Bible Institute, Northern Baptist Institute, Louis Institute, Wheaton College, and Burton College and Seminary.
In 1944, L. R. Ennis hired Barrow as a faculty member at Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville. Barrow’s wife Anna (see the couple below) was the college librarian for many years while Barrow taught courses in Christian education and Bible doctrine. By all accounts, Mr. Barrow had a vast knowledge of the Bible and could call to memory multiple biblical passages to support his views on a given topic.
During his 19-year teaching career at the college, Barrow started the Christian Work department, which emphasized evangelism through street preaching, tract distribution, personal conversations on the city streets of Nashville, and work in children’s and convalescent homes. He was also dean of the college for a time and led the Missionary Prayer Band and Foreign Missions Fellowship. The 1950 Lumen was dedicated to him.
In 1963, Dr. Barrow retired from his teaching post. He and his wife Anna eventually moved back to North Carolina where he taught a Wednesday night Bible study at the Hull Road FWB Church, which he had attended during his childhood. This is where Barrow spent the rest of his life.
Questions and Answers
From 1952 to 1978, J. P. Barrow wrote a column for The Free Will Baptist magazine titled, “Questions and Answers on the Bible.” In the column, Barrow answered readers’ questions about the Bible. The questions covered an incredible variety of topics from the rapture and baptism to children dying in infancy and where Cain got his wife (which Ilean Stutz from Springfield, Ohio, desperately wanted to know in 1952). Barrow’s answers to these questions differed in length and tone depending on the question.
At least a couple of remarkable things should be noted about the column. First, Barrow wrote the column for 27 years, compiling a staggering amount of material worth mining. Second, the quality of the material is impressive. Consider several examples from 1952 alone that provide insight into Barrow’s theological contribution to Free Will Baptists.
Baptism and Church Membership
Reedy Saverance of Timmonsville, South Carolina, asked Dr. Barrow, “What place in the believer or saint does water baptism play? In other words, how important do you think water baptism is, and what place should it be given in one’s ministry?” To this, Barrow replied that Free Will Baptists believe in baptism by immersion, which should be administered only to believers; furthermore, it is a prerequisite for local church membership.
On the meaning of baptism, Barrow wrote:
“By it [baptism] the Christian being baptized is saying to the world, including all his former worldly companions, “I am dead to you and no longer belong to you; I am resurrected with Christ. . . . I am beginning my new walk in this new life. The things I once loved in that old life I have discarded, I now hate; the things I hated, such as the law and the faith rules in the Christian life, I now love and am delighted that I can begin an obedient life in them and to them.” 
In sum, Barrow understood baptism to be of utmost importance for the believer and the life of the local church. Every believer should be immersed, and every Free Will Baptist church should require believers be baptized prior to their admission into church membership. 
Perseverance and Repeated Regeneration
To the question, “Can one be born again twice?” Barrow offered a hearty no. Barrow recognized that some Free Will Baptists might answer yes to this question, yet he maintained, “I do not think anyone experiences the spiritual or the new birth, or the birth from above more than once.”
Barrow also affirmed the possibility of apostasy, “To me, the Bible seems to say by warning against such that a saved person may go completely back into sin, turn against Jesus and deny the power of the blood and thereby be lost, but that he may not ever be saved again.”
But he cautioned against dismissing anyone as an apostate. Barrow pleaded, “We should work with such as if they are not [spiritually] dead until every gleam of hope is gone, using and applying God’s word in every possible way. As long as the subject shows conviction of sin, it is scripturally correct to pray for him and try to keep him.” 
The Incarnation and Fallen Human Nature
“What is the difference between the fallen nature of man and human nature? Was Christ subject to either?
If He was subject to either, in what way?” Reverend Ronald Creech of Kenly, North Carolina, asked.
Barrow’s answer to this important question was classically orthodox: Christ possessed both a divine nature and a human nature. The human nature that Christ possessed was the same as that of Adam and Eve prior to the fall. Barrow wrote, “Human nature in its original state was free from sin and even without bent to or inclination toward sin.”  To be fully human meant to have a human nature. Yet, like Adam and Eve prior to the fall, this did not mean Christ’s human nature must be fallen for Him to be fully human.
Although Christ expressly did not have a fallen human nature, He was not exempt from the effects of the fall. Jesus wept, hungered, thirsted, became tired, and even died. Here, Barrow worked between two poles of biblical tension: the incarnate Christ was without sin but experienced the effects of living in a fallen world, just as we do. The significance of this, Barrow realized, just as the Apostles did, is that Christ became like us so He might die in our place as a substitute. Yet because of His divine nature (and perfect obedience), He was able to atone for our sins.
Children Dying in Infancy
Barrow’s replies often carried a pastoral tone, which is evident when he answered the question, “Will children who die in infancy go to heaven?” Barrow admitted the Bible doesn’t offer a “direct, definite, unqualified” answer to the question. However, the Gospels offer insight into God’s love for children. Furthermore, 2 Samuel 12 implies that David will see his infant son who had died in Heaven some day. From this Barrow explained, “It seems that this should be a most consoling thought to Christians whose children pass into eternity during infancy.” 
Then Barrow offered something even more personal, “I have two brothers that passed out of this life, one just before he was one year old, the other just short of two years of age. I feel most certain I shall meet them in Heaven and spend eternity with them.” Barrow’s conclusion wasn’t a purely emotional one but a reasoned, gentle response from Scripture.
Conclusion and Assessment
J. P. Barrow’s writings are a neglected treasure for Free Will Baptist pastors and theologians. As is always the case when dealing with historical writings, his question and answer column is somewhat conditioned by its historical setting. Yet a great deal in Barrow’s writings is worth retrieving, particularly for Free Will Baptists who lack a strong literary heritage during the last century or so. Barrow was an early leader and shaper of theological minds at Welch College, and his theological contributions to Free Will Baptist thought are worth further exploration.
About the Writer : Jesse F. Owens is leading a church plant in Gallatin, Tennessee, and working for Welch College. Jesse is a Ph.D. candidate in historical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Tiffany have one son, Gavin.
1 J. P. Barrow, “Questions and Answers on the Bible,” in The Free Will Baptist: National Weekly Religious Publication 67 No. 41 (October 15, 1952): 8.
2 Much of the biographical information in this section came from an interview conducted by Scott Sowers in 1973. It can be found in the historical archives at Mount Olive College.
3 J. P. Barrow, “Questions and Answers on the Bible” in The Free Will Baptist: National Weekly Religious Publication 67 No. 6
(February 13, 1952): 8.
4 J. P. Barrow, “Questions and Answers on the Bible” in The Free Will Baptist: National Weekly Religious Publication 67 No. 40 (October 8, 1952) 8.
5 J. P. Barrow, “Questions and Answers on the Bible” in The Free Will Baptist: National Weekly Religious Publication 67 No. 2
(January 9, 1952): 8.