The Theological Contribution of J. P. Barrow

One Sunday night earlier this year, I was speaking with my grandfather, a lifelong Free Will Baptist pastor and evangelist. He mentioned a name to me that 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 my reading and all of the conversations I’ve had about Welch College and Free Will Baptist history, I don’t think I’ve heard Barrow’s name before. So I inquired a bit more about Barrow, and my grandfather told me that he’d taught F. Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli, eminent Free Will Baptist theologians, while they were students. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

As soon as I had an opportunity, I asked Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, 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, he acknowledged the oddities but quickly turned the conversation.

Forlines told me that J. P. Barrow was one of the first people who helped him see that 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 a brief overview of Barrow’s life and ministry, as well as 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 that time, the Barrow family’s occupation was farming. Barrow was converted at a young age and felt called to the ministry around the age of twelve. 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, was the college’s librarian for many years. Barrow taught courses in Christian education and Bible doctrine. By all accounts, he 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 nineteen-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 the 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 Free Will Baptist Church, which he had attended during his childhood. This is where Barrow spent the rest of his life.

Question and Answer Column

From 1952 to 1978, J. P. Barrow wrote a column for the Free Will Baptist Magazine entitled, “Questions and Answers on the Bible.” In this column, Barrow answered readers’ questions about the Bible. The questions covered an incredible variety of topics from the rapture, to Baptism, to children dying in infancy, to 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 in tone depending on the question.

At least a couple of remarkable things emerge about this column. First, Barrow wrote the column for twenty-seven years. There is a staggering amount of material here that is worth mining. Second, the quality of the material is impressive. In the remainder of this article, we’ll consider several examples from 1952 that provide some insight into Barrow’s theological contribution to Free Will Baptists.

Baptism and Church Membership

Reverend Reedy Saverance of Timmonsville, SC 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. . . . no 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.[1]

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.[2]

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.”[3]

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, NC 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.”[4] To be fully human meant to have a human nature. Yet, like Adam and Eve prior to the fall, this did not mean that Christ’s human nature must be fallen in order 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 that 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 that 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.”[5]

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 that I shall meet them I 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.


[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 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. 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.

Author: Jesse Owens

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  1. Dr. Picirilli did not care for his testing style, and talked with Dr Barrow about it. Dr. Barrow didn’t appreciate being questioned and said something to Dr. Pic that probably no other professor ever said: “The problem is you’re just not a good student. Other teachers give you good grades because they like you, but you’re not a good student.”

    I would have loved to have seen Dr. Pic’s face when he made that statement! And i think we can all agree that for all the good things Dr. Barrow did, he was wrong on that one. 🙂

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    • Dr. Barrow is the first professor whose first class influenced me greatly. I first noticed his pants had baggie knees where he had spent long hours in prayer. As he would walk to the school down Richland Ave. he was on one side and his wife on the other side, he would be praying. His first, or near the first, he handed out what seemed to be an endless list of verses we were to memorize and learn. Overwhelmed is not as powerful a word for me at the time. I had already attended a college before attending FWBBC and had never had such an expectation from another professor before. Looking back I know it was worth it.

      Dear brother Owens you did me proud and it is a blessing to see you grow into your role. I know you have blessed your family fully.

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