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Unitarianism is the modern revival of the ancient heresy of Arianism, which denied the full deity of Jesus Christ, claiming that He was a created Being and not the eternal Son of God. Unitarianism is a denial of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, defined by Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language as “the union of three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in one Godhead, so that all the three are one God as to substance, but three persons as to individuality.”
Not many know that the history of Unitarianism is intimately intertwined with that of modern textual criticism.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNITARIANISM
Unitarianism began to show itself faintly in the 16th and 17 centuries.
Michael Servetus (1511-1663), who was an anabaptist, held some type of Arian views in Switzerland and was put to death by John Calvin’s government in 1553.
There were Unitarian congregations in Poland, Hungary, and Transylvania in the 16th century, and in Poland they became known as the “Polish Brethren” or the Minor Church. Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) was a prominent leader among the Unitarians there and during his days they drew up a statement of faith called the Racovian Catechism. Socinus believed “that there was only God the Father, a single divine being. The Holy Ghost was not a person but a divine force, not God and not coequal to the Father. Jesus Christ was an exceptional man without sin, but not divine. Salvation required a holy life after the example of the man, Jesus Christ” (http://www.exlibris.org/nonconform/engdis/socinians.html). Because of Socinus’ leadership in the movement, the name “Socinianism” came to be associated with this heresy.
UNITARIANISM IN ENGLAND
Unitarianism showed itself faintly in England in the 17th century after the Civil War. John Biddle (1615-1662) is considered the founder, but it did not spread until later.
In the late 18th century and into the 19th Unitarianism began to increase in England because of the “rationalistic atmosphere” and the spiritual weakness of the churches.
Book publisher Joseph Johnson (1758-1809) helped establish the foundation for Unitarianism and theological rationalism in England and America.
Johnson published the works of Joseph Priestly, William Wordsworth, William Beckford, Richard Price, Theophilus Lindsey, William Godwin, Thomas Paine, John Horne Tooke, Samuel T. Coleridge, and other Unitarians and “free thinkers.” In May 1788, Johnson began publication of the Analytical Review, edited by Unitarian Thomas Christie. “The review stood in the forefront of libertarianism. It espoused political and social ideologies sympathetic to the French Revolution, opposed the slave trade, encouraged parliamentary reform, supported religious toleration for Catholics and Unitarians, and acquainted readers with Continental literature, especially from Germany, which, until the end of the eighteenth century, was relatively unknown in England” (Gerald Tyson, “Joseph Johnson, an Eighteenth-Century Bookseller,” Studies in Bibliography, edited by Fredson Bowers, Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1975, Vol. 28). The Analytical Review ceased publication in 1799, but it had an influence among British intellectuals. Walter Graham in English Literary Periodicals calls it “unquestionably one of the most important periodical sources for the student of the late eighteenth century.”
Johnson’s shop and apartment at No. 72 St. Paul’s Churchyard “were a center for the exchange of news and ideas during the American and French revolutions, since his circle of writers was, with but few exceptions, sympathetic to various kinds of social and political reform” (Tyson, “Joseph Johnson, an Eighteenth-Century Bookseller”). Around the corner from the bookshop was The London Coffee House, where the likes of Benjamin Franklin of America congregated.
Johnson “negotiated the rental of an unused auction hall in Essex Street for the first Unitarian Chapel, appearing in person before the Westminster justices and petitioning them for a license to permit Dissenting worship” (Tyson).
Johnson’s last act of support for the Unitarians occurred the year before his death when he turned over to them the copyright that he held for William Newcome’s translation of the Bible so it could be used as the basis for a Unitarian version (Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the Late Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, 1812, p. 101). Newcome’s translation was desired because it was based on Griesbach’s Greek New Testament.
The first self-styled Unitarian congregation, Essex Chapel in London, was founded in 1773 by Theophilus Lindsey, who had left the Church of England.
The British and Foreign Unitarian Society was founded in 1825.
Some of the names of influential Unitarians in England in those days were Joseph Priestley, Thomas Belsham, and James Martineau. Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, influenced many in the unbelieving path of Unitarianism.
By 1831 the British & Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) was infected with Unitarianism. In that year a group of men within the BFBS attempted to have the Society adopt a Trinitarian policy “to ensure that Unitarians denying the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ could not be admitted to membership or hold office in the Society” (TBS Quarterly Record, No. 475, April-June 1981, p. 3). After a “prolonged and heated debate in Exeter Hall in the Strand, London, at the Annual Meeting, the motion was rejected by a large majority.” As a result, the Trinitarian Bible Society was formed on Dec. 7, 1831, by men who were concerned about doctrinal purity. This shows the dramatic progress that Unitarianism had made in gaining acceptance in the early part of the 19th century.
Large numbers of the English Presbyterian and General Baptist (non-Calvinistic) churches were infected with Unitarian heresy.
As the 19th century progressed many of the Unitarians in England adopted other heresies, denying the infallible inspiration of Scripture, denying the fallen nature of man, becoming more skeptical and more aligned with the theological modernists. “... in the 1830s James Martineau and some younger Unitarians led a revolt against biblical Unitarianism and its dogmas. ... They found religious authority in reason and conscience, rather than in a biased interpretation of Scripture. Henceforth the Unitarians were rather sharply divided into an older, ‘biblical’, and newer, ‘spiritual’, wing. The new group was well on the way to eclipsing the ‘biblical’ wing by 1850” (Lion’s History of Christianity, p. 505).
A prominent Unitarian in England was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Kahn. A close friend of the American poet William Wordsworth, Coleridge was a Unitarian from his childhood. In his student years at Cambridge he gravitated toward Joseph Priestley’s circle of friends, and he imbibed German rationalism while studying in Germany in 1798. In 1825, Coleridge wrote, “... a high German Transcendentalist I must be content to remain” (Coleridge, Letters, Vol. II, pp. 735-6). “It was Coleridge who was responsible, more than any other single individual, for the diffusion of German neology through Cambridge University and thence through the Anglican Church. His books Biographia Literaria, Aids to Reflection, and Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit had a profound effect on Julius Hare, J.F.D. Maruice, and John Sterling. Coleridge and Maurice may be said to be the founders of that section of the church known as the Broad Church or Latitudinarian party, which by 1853 had gained the allegiance of 3500 Anglican priests. According to D. C. Somervell, in his book English Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1929), ‘The whole of the Broad Church school of the next generation, in all its varieties, is derivable from Coleridge’” (James Sightler, Tabernacle Essays on Bible Translation, 1992, p. 12).
Coleridge exalted human reason as the foundation of Christian belief rather than Scripture. He rejected the divine inspiration of Scripture, saying, for example, that David’s psalms were inspired in the same sense as Coleridge’s own poems and rejected the doctrine that God gave David the words as “a superhuman ventriloquist” (E.S. Shaffer, Kubla Khan and the Fall of Jerusalem, p. 77). He spoke of “a Holy Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit” (H.N. Fairchild, Religious Trends in English Poetry, p. 319).
(d) He spoke of the virgin birth as “an execresence of faith” which should be discarded (J.H. Rigg, Modern Anglican Theology, p. 309). He rejected the biblical doctrine of eternal suffering. He conjectured that Christ might “be the World as revealed to human knowledge--a kind of common sensorium, the idea of the whole that modifies all our thoughts” (quoted by Fairchild, Religious Trends in English Poetry, p. 325).
UNITARIANISM IN ENGLAND
In America Unitarianism arose in the late 18th century.
The first Unitarian church in America was King’s Chapel in Boston, which had been the first Anglican congregation in America. Under the leadership of James Freeman in 1785, the church voted to adopt Unitarianism.
William Bentley, pastor of East Church in Salem, Massachusetts, accepted Unitarianism through the influence of William Hazlitt, an associate of Joseph Priestley. Hazlitt came to America in 1784 and “remained in New England for several years distributing literature, preaching, and disputing with numerous orthodox ministers” (The Diary of William Bentley, cited by James Sightler, Tabernacle Essays on Bible Translation, p. 10). Bentley, an assistant to the pastor, persuaded the congregation to overthrow the pastor and install himself in his place. He then led the church into Unitarianism. Several of Bentley’s members “were captains of sailing ships and brought back theological works from Europe along with their cargoes” (Sightler, p. 10).
Joseph Priestley moved to America in 1794 and wielded a significant influence on American churches, particularly in the Northeast.
By 1800, one-third of the Congregational churches in Boston had become Unitarian.
In 1805 Unitarians took control of Harvard College with the appointment of Henry Ware to the Chair of Divinity. The aforementioned James Freeman and William Bentley, who were graduates of Harvard, “played an important role in the movement of Harvard toward Unitarianism” (Sightler, p. 10). The divinity school was established at Harvard in 1816 and “became the centre of Unitarian thought.”
In 1819 influential Presbyterian pastor William Ellery Channing publicly espoused Unitarianism in his “Baltimore Sermon.” Channing was minister of Federal Street Congregational Church in Boston.
In 1825 the Unitarian congregations organized themselves into the American Unitarian Association, with its headquarters in Boston.
As in England, the American Unitarians became increasingly skeptical and anti-supernatural as the 19th century progressed. They preferred terms such as transcendentalism and anti-supernaturalism. In about 1819 William Channing “became the spokesman and the new leader of the Unitarians. In his sermons and writings he enunciated three principles of the greatest importance: God is all-loving and all pervading; the presence of this God in all men makes them divine, and the true worship of God is good will to all men” (Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, http://lonestar.texas.net/~mseifert/unitarian.html).
Some of them, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, formed a religious philosophy that attempted to synthesize pagan religions such as Hinduism, Confucianism, and Zorastrianism, with Christianity.
Emerson was the Unitarian pastor of Second Baptist Church in Boston and following the death of his first wife he began an intense study of the aforementioned religions, “not in order to identify the superior credentials of one religion over another, but in order to develop their own religious thoughts and practices” (Christopher Walton, Unitarianism and Early American Interest in Hinduism, 1999, http://www.philocrites.com/essays/hinduism.html).
In his writings, Emerson frequently quotes from Hindu writings such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavata Purana. In July 1842, Emerson wrote: “Each nation has its bible more or less pure; none has yet been willing or able in a wise and devout spirit to collate its own with those of other nations, and sinking the civil-historical and ritual portions to bring together the grand expressions of the moral sentiment in different ages and races, the rules for the guidance of life, the bursts of piety and of abandonment to the Invisible and Eternal;--a work inevitable sooner or later, and which we hope is to be done by religion and not by literature” (Emerson, The Dial, July 1842; quoted in R. K. Dhawan, Henry David Thoreau, a Study in Indian Influence, 1985, pp. 27-28; The Dial was a transcendentalist periodical that featured extracts from non-Christian religions).
In his 1841 essay “The Over-Soul,” Emerson wrote: “...within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One. ... there is no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins” (Emerson, The Over-Soul). Thus, Emerson taught that man’s soul is God and God is man’s soul.
In his message to the Phi Beta Kappa society at Harvard in 1837 entitled “The American Scholar,” Emerson exhorted scholars to free themselves of tradition (such as the Bible) and to maintain a “self-trust.”
Another influential Unitarian in America was Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), author of On Walden Pond, who said in his Journal, “I am a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot.” He denied the Fall and the New Birth and the Saviour and sought for “truth” instead through communion with nature, study of eclectic philosophies, and reflection.
UNITARIANISM HAD A STRONG INFLUENCE ON MODERN TEXTUAL CRITICISM IN THE 19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURIES.
The Unitarians loved the critical Greek text from the days of German modernist Johann Griesbach onward. Prominent Unitarian leader Joseph Priestly attempted to publish a new English version based on the Greek text of Griesbach, and the project was well advanced when the manuscript was destroyed in a fire in 1791. Priestly’s successor, Thomas Belsham, continued to make this project his primary objective.
When the Unitarian Book Society was formed, a major objective was the translation of a new English version based on the Griesbach critical text. Abandoning this plan, in 1808 it published, instead, an “improved” edition of the 1796 translation by William Newcome of Ireland “chiefly because it followed Griesbach’s text” (Earl Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism in Transylvania, England, and America, 1952, p. 339; see also P. Marion Simms, The Bible in America, pp. 255-258). The complete title was “The New Testament, An improved version upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome’s new translation with a corrected text and notes critical and explanatory.” It was published in London by Richard Taylor & Co., in 1808, and in America by William Wells of Boston in 1809. This publication “drew the fire of the orthodox by omitting as late interpolations several passages traditional cited as pillars of Trinitarian doctrine,” such as “God” in 1 Tim. 3:16 and the Trinitarian statement in 1 John 5:7.
In 1869 the American Unitarian Association of Boston published The New Testament, translated from the Greek text of Tischendorf, edited by George R. Noyes.
Many of the prominent early textual critics were Unitarians, including Johann Wettstein (1693-1754), Alexander Geddes (1737-1802), Edward Harwood (1729-94), George Vance Smith (1816-1902), Ezra Abbot (1819-84), Joseph Henry Thayer (1828-1901), and Caspar Rene Gregory (1846-1917). Others such as Johann Griesbach, though not Unitarian, were modernists who denied the deity of Christ.
JOHANN JAKOB WETTSTEIN
Wettstein was a textual scholar who collated manuscripts and published Greek New Testaments in 1730 and 1751-52. He was Swiss-born but lived in the Netherlands. “Travels to Geneva, Lyons, Paris, and England, in connection with which he visited all accessible libraries and made himself acquainted with all the more important manuscripts of the New Test., served to enlarge the range of his views, as did also association with Montfaucon, La Rue, and Bentley” (McClintock & Strong Cyclopedia). Wettstein identified more than 200 manuscripts, classifying them as uncials, minuscules, and lectionaries. His system of identifying manuscripts, designating uncials by capital letters and minuscules by Arabic numerals, held sway until it was modified into its modern form by Caspar Gregory.
Wettstein was heretical in his theology.
He was Socinian, meaning that he denied the full Biblical deity of Jesus Christ. “Wettstein’s orthodoxy had for some time been suspected. He was charged with holding Arian and Socinian errors, and to this fault were now added his alleged critical aberrations. His preference of “os” (which) over “theos” (God) in 1 Timothy 3:16 ... was credited to an alleged desire of depriving the doctrine of Christ’s deity of a proof. Complaints respecting his heterodoxy were expressed even in the Diet of the Confederation, and ultimately a formal process of inquisition was inaugurated against him. ... He was ultimately dismissed from his post, May 13, 1730. It was obvious to most Bible believers of that day that the critical Greek text supported heretical doctrines, weakened the doctrine of Christ’s deity, and represented doctrinal corruptions introduced by heretics in the third and fourth centuries.
After that, Wettstein taught philosophy and Hebrew at the Arminian college in Amsterdam (College of the Remonstrants), assuming the vacated seat of the modernistic Jean Leclerc (Johannes Clericus), who had “maintained that reason is an infallible guide in judging of all that man needs to know for salvation” (Schaff-Herzog). Leclerc suggested that Luke produced two editions of the book of Acts (Metzger, p. 163). Thenceforward Wettstein made Holland his home” (McClintock & Strong Cyclopedia, “Johann Wettstein”).
Wettstein also denied the infallible inspiration of Scripture and in this he influenced the German modernist Johann Semler. “The traditional view regarded the canon as constituting a unit which is everywhere equally inspired; and this view had been shaken in his [Semler’s] own mind by the studies of R. Simon Clericus, and Wettstein, and also by his own investigations” (McClintock & Strong, “Johann Semler”).
Wettstein’s Prolegomena, containing his critical principles, was published anonymously in 1730 (because these were considered heretical by the majority of Bible believers in that day) and his Greek New Testament appeared in 1751-52, not long before his death. His 19 rules of textual criticism included the following:
* The common text should have no prescriptive authority;
* Conjectural emendations are admissible with caution;
* A reading which is obscure or in poor Greek is to be preferred;
* The reading which involves an unusual expression is to be preferred;
* The shorter reading is to be preferred;
* The reading which seems most orthodox is suspect;
* The oldest reading is to be preferred;
* A reading may rightly be adopted without certain proof that it is genuine.
Though rejected by Bible believers, Wettstein’s textual criticism was heartily approved by a heretic. His critical notes were reprinted by the Christ-denying modernist Johann Semler in 1765, who, in turn, passed them along to his student Johann Griesbach.
Geddes was a Scottish Catholic priest in Auchinhalrig and Preshome in Scotland from 1769 to 1779, at which time he moved to London where he spent the rest of his life.
He was closely associated with the Unitarians in Britain led by Joseph Priestley (James Sightler, Tabernacle Essays on Bible Translation, 1992, p. 11). Geddes was a contributor to the Analytical Review, which began publication in May 1788. The editor was Unitarian Thomas Christie and the publisher was Unitarian bookseller Joseph Johnson. The aim of the publication was “provide a principal repository of sentiments most favourable to rational liberty, both in politics and religion”
Geddes studied in Germany under theological modernists and went even farther than the German theologians in some ways.
In 1800 Geddes published Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures, which presented the heresies of Eichhorn and his German school. In fact, he even went beyond Eichhorn. Geddes “broached a theory of the origin of the Five Books exceeding in boldness either Simon’s or Eichorn’s. This was the well-known ‘Fragment’ hypothesis, which reduced the Penteteuch to a collection of fragmentary sections partly of Mosaic origin, but put together in the reign of Solomon. Geddes’ opinion was introduced into Germany in 1805 by Vater” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 493).
Geddes gave the famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a letter of introduction to the modernist H. Paulus in 1798, when Coleridge and fellow poet William Wordsworth traveled to Germany.
Geddes published the first part of his translation of the Bible in 1792, and the second part in 1797. Geddes was working on a critical translation of the Psalms when he died on February 26, 1802. The translation of the Psalms was published postumously in 1807.
Harwood had a D.D. from Edinburgh and was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in Bristol, England, in 1765. McClintock & Strong (1895) says, “His character, however, was so immoral that his congregation dismissed him.” He moved to London, where “he supported himself by teaching the classics and correcting the press.”
Though Metzger describes Harwood merely as “a Non-conformist minister,” McClintock & Strong identifies him as “a learned Unitarian minister.” Thus Harwood denied the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. He also translated many works of Firmin Abauzit, a French Unitarian.
Harwood published an edition of the Greek New Testament in 1776, which “deserted the Textus Receptus more than 70 percent of the time” (Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 1968, p. 116).
Harwood also published “A Liberal Translation of the New Testament into polite English (or, in other words, a burlesque of the sacred Scriptures)” (London, 1768).
GEORGE VANCE SMITH
Smith was on the British translation committee that produced the English Revised Version.
He was a Unitarian minister of St. Saviour’s Gate Chapel, York, who denied the deity and atonement of Jesus Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, and the divine inspiration of Scripture. This was made plain in his book The Bible and Popular Theology, which appeared in 1871. This was reissued in 1901 in an enlarged fifth edition entitled The Bible and Its Theology: A Review, Comparison, and Re-statement. Consider some of the blasphemies that came from the pen of this man:
“... what is really meant by the term in question [the Holy Spirit], is no other than God himself ... but this fact will not justify us in saying that it is ‘God the Holy Spirit,’ as though it were a distinct personality...” (Smith, The Bible and Its Theology, p. 215).
“[Salvation] was in no way purchased of him [God] or of his justice. It was not because his ‘wrath’ was appeased, or satisfied by the sufferings of an innocent substitute, but because of his own essential fatherly goodness and ‘great love.’ ‘It is the gift of God,’ not a thing bought from him with a price, except in so far as this might be FIGURATIVELY said in reference to that death of the Messiah...” (Smith, The Bible and Its Theology, p. 246).
“... it is equally clear that it was not as their substitute that he died for men; not to redeem them from eternal misery; not ... because the clouds of God’s wrath had gathered thick over the human race, and required a victim, and could find that victim only in the innocent Jesus! ... The popular theory, in reality, is largely the product of dark and ignorant ages...” (Smith, The Bible and Its Theology, pp. 248, 253).
“It is, that the Bible manifestly offers itself to us, the people of these later times, largely as a Book of History. It never professes or claims to be more: never, in truth, makes any profession or claim at all on that point; but stands before us there, simply as a collection of writings preserving for us the remaining literature, the traditions, and the history of the Hebrews. ... It nowhere, in truth, claims inspiration, or says anything definite about it. The biblical inspiration, whatever it is or was, would seem, like the genius of Shakespeare, to be unconsciously possessed. The phrase, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ and its equivalents, are simply to be referred to the style of the prophet; or to be understood only as indicating his belief that what he was about to say was conformable to the Divine Will. ... It is scarcely allowable, in short, to think of inspiration as being or acting in THE DEAD WORDS OF ANY BOOK” (Smith, The Bible and Its Theology, pp. 269, 276, 277).
“Then again, are we not, all of us who seek to be so, spiritual Sons of God?” (Smith, The Bible and Its Theology, p. 298).
“Jesus of Nazareth is nowhere presented to us as God, but simply as the Christ... ‘There is one God, the Father,’ and ‘one Lord, Jesus Christ;’ but these are not in any sense one being or one nature” (Smith, The Bible and Its Theology, p. 299).
When an attempt was made to have Smith removed from the ERV translation committee, Westcott, Hort, Stanley, and Thirlwall stood by him and threatened that they would resign if Smith were removed. The sordid story is given by A.G. Hobbs in the foreword to the Centennial Edition of Burgon’s Revision Revised: “[Smith’s participation in the communion service] led to a public protest signed by ‘some thousands of the Clergy.’ The Upper House passed a Resolution that ‘no person who denies the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to be invited to join either company to which was committed the Revision of the Authorized Version of Holy Scripture: and that it is further the judgment of this House that any person now on either Company should cease to act therewith.’ This Resolution was also passed by the Lower House. And still they could not get this non-believer off the Committee. Here is a real shocker: Dean Stanley, Westcott, Hort, and Bishop Thirlwall all refused to serve if Smith were dismissed. Let us remember that the Bible teaches that those who uphold and bid a false teacher God speed are equally guilty. ‘For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds’ (2 John 9-11). No wonder that the Deity of Christ is played down in so many passages!” (A.G. Hobbs, Foreword, The Revision Revised Centennial Edition).
Smith testified that the textual changes in the English Revised Version and the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament reflected his own theology. Some of the passages listed by Smith as being theologically superior in the modern texts and versions as opposed to the King James Bible were Rom. 9:5; 1 Tim. 3:16; Tit. 2:13; and 1 Jn. 5:7, and that is because these passages in the critical text weakened the doctrine of Christ’s deity, which Smith rejected. This English Reviser admitted what modern version proponents today such as James White often try to deny, that the modern Greek texts and versions weaken the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ! No man is blinder than he who WILL NOT see. Following are two examples from Smith’s pen:
“The only instance in the N.T. in which the religious worship or adoration of Christ was apparently implied, has been altered by the Revision: ‘At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,’ [Philippians 2:10] is now to be read ‘in the name.’ Moreover, no alteration of text or of translation will be found anywhere to make up for this loss; as indeed IT IS WELL UNDERSTOOD THAT THE N.T. CONTAINS NEITHER PRECEPT NOR EXAMPLE WHICH REALLY SANCTIONS THE RELIGIOUS WORSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST” (Smith, Texts and Margins of the Revised New Testament Affecting Theological Doctrine Briefly Reviewed, p. 47). This statement, of course, is a lie; but we reprint it to demonstrate the damnable heresies of this modern textual critic.
“The old reading [“God” in 1 Tim. 3:16] is pronounced untenable by the Revisers, as it has long been known to be by all careful students of the New Testament. ... It is in truth another example of the facility with which ancient copiers could introduce the word God into their manuscripts,—a reading which was the natural result of THE GROWING TENDENCY IN EARLY CHRISTIAN TIMES ... TO LOOK UPON THE HUMBLE TEACHER AS THE INCARNATE WORD, AND THEREFORE AS ‘GOD MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH’” (G. Vance Smith, Texts and Margins, p. 39).
Abbot was on the American Standard Version translation (ASV) committee (1901). He was a Harvard theology professor and was an influential textual critic.
The testimony of Matthew Riddle, who was a translator on the ASV committee: “Dr. Abbot was the foremost textual critic in America, and his opinions usually prevailed when questions of text were debated” (Matthew Riddle, The Story of the Revised New Testament, 1908, p. 30). Matthew Riddle‘s testimony is very important, as he was one of the most influential members of the ASV committee and one of the few members who survived to see the translation printed.
The testimony of the ASV committee upon the death of Abbot on March 21, 1884. The following excerpt from a memorial resolution issued by the committee gives additional evidence of the Unitarian’s influence on the Revision on both sides of the ocean: “Always one of the first in his place at the table, and one of the last to quit it, he [Ezra Abbot] brought with him thither the results of careful preparation. His suggestions were seldom the promptings of the moment. Hence they always commanded consideration; often secured instant adoption. ... But it was in questions affecting the Greek text that Dr. Abbot’s exceptional gifts and attainments were pre-eminently helpful. Several of his essays on debated passages, appended to the printed reports of our proceedings which were forwarded from time to time to the brethren in England, are among the most thorough discussions of the sort which are extant, won immediate respect for American scholarship in this department, and HAD NO SMALL INFLUENCE IN DETERMINING THAT FORM OF THE SACRED TEXT WHICH WILL ULTIMATELY, WE BELIEVE, FIND ACCEPTANCE WITH ALL CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS” (Historical Account of the Work of the American Committee of Revision, 1885, p. 68).
Abbot was a Christ-denying Unitarian.
He authored the footnotes in the ASV that say that Christ should not be worshipped and that question his deity. For example, at John 9:38, the wicked footnote states, “The Greek word denotes an act of reverence, whether paid to a creature (as here) or to the Creator.” I cite this from an edition of the 1901 ASV that I have in my library.
He argued that the last clause of Romans 9:5 was a doxology to God and does not refer to Christ.
In Acts 20:28 Abbot led the committee to remove “God” and replace it with “the Lord,” thus corrupting this powerful witness to the deity of Jesus Christ. Unitarians and theological modernists alleged that Jesus is “the Lord” but not actually God.
Abbot wrote a long article arguing for the omission of “God” in 1 Timothy 3:16.
JOSEPH HENRY THAYER
Thayer was on the American Standard Version translation team (chairman of the New Testament committee) and was the author of the famous Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.
He was a Harvard professor of New Testament criticism. He was the assistant to Ezra Abbot at Harvard, and succeeded him as Bussey professor of New Testament criticism and interpretation at the Harvard Divinity School when Abbot died in 1884.
He was a Unitarian who denied the deity of Christ and the infallibility of Scripture. Prior to his tenure at Harvard, Thayer was a professor at Andover Seminary, but resigned in 1882 in protest to Andover’s requirement of “a rigid assent to the letter of the Creed” (Ernest Gordon, The Leaven of the Sadducees, 1926, p. 145). Thayer could not assent to the infallibility of Scripture and the deity of Jesus Christ.
CASPAR RENÉ GREGORY
Gregory, who was American-born but German by naturalization, wrote influential books on textual criticism, including The Canon and Text of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1907). He perfected the system of identifying manuscripts that is still in use today, with the papyri indicated by an initial p followed by the number (p45, p66), the uncials by numerals with an initial 0 (Aleph or Sinaiticus is 01, Vaticanus or B is 03, etc.) (while retaining Wettstein’s capital letters for the uncials through 045), the minuscules with Arabic numerals (1, 2 , 3, etc.), the lectionaries Arabic numerals prefixed with the l (l2, l4), etc.
Gregory was a Unitarian. He was the pupil of Unitarian Ezra Abbot at Harvard and was the son-in-law to Unitarian Joseph Thayer (Michael Maynard, A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7,8, p. 216).
Gregory became Professor of Textual Criticism of the New Testament at the modernistic University of Leipzig, and he worked with Ezra Abbot in Germany (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1908, Vol. II, p. 109). Gregory and Abbot completed the work Constantine Tischendorf left behind at his death (Schaff-Herzog, vol. II, p. 109) and reissued the eighth edition of Tischendorf’s New Testament with critical notes. Gregory was planning a ninth edition of Tischendorf’s New Testament, but he was killed in World War I fighting on the side of Germany.
Gregory’s unbelief is witnessed by the following quotes from his writings:
“Christianity has not grown to be what it is, has not maintained itself and enlarged itself, by reason of books being read, no, not even by reason of the Bible’s being read from generation to generation” (Caspar Gregory, The Canon and Text of the New Testament, 1907, p. 44).
“THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN AUTHORS DID NOT FOR AN INSTANT SUPPOSE THAT THEY WERE WRITING SACRED BOOKS” (Gregory, The Canon and Text of the New Testament, p. 49).
“THE LETTERS THAT THE APOSTLES WROTE TO THEM WERE NOT ‘BIBLE’” (Gregory, The Canon and Text of the New Testament, p. 55).
It is important to note that Bible believers of the 19th century did not accept the modern critical Greek text and many critiques were published to refute the theories of textual criticism. We have documented this in the book For Love of the Bible. The eager acceptance of the critical text was largely limited in that day to theological modernists and Unitarians.
By 1917, Francis Pieper, a conservative German Lutheran theologian, wrote: “During one period of the Arian controversy it was said that the world had become Arian. TODAY IT CAN BE SAID THAT THE SO-CALLED PROTESTANT WORLD HAS BECOME UNITARIAN” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, I, p. 421, translated from the German of 1917).
This is an interesting statement in light of the Unitarian influence within modern textual criticism and the wholesale modification of Trinitarian passages such as the following in the modern versions:
Matthew 19:17 -- “Why callest thou me good?” is changed to “Why do you ask me about what is good?”
Mark 9:24 -- “Lord” omitted
Luke 23:42 -- “Lord” changed to “Jesus,” thus destroying this powerful reference to Christ’s deity.
John 1:27 -- “is preferred before me” omitted
---- 3:13 -- “who is in heaven” omitted
---- 6:69 -- “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is changed to “the Holy One of God,” thus diluting this powerful witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God
---- 9:38 -- “Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him” omitted, thus removing this powerful and incontrovertible confession of Christ as God
---- 10:14 -- “am known of mine” is changed to “mine own know me.” “...this change destroys the exquisite diversity of expression of the original, which implies that whereas the knowledge which subsists between the Father and the Son is mutually identical, the knowledge the creature has of the Creator is of a very different sort; and it puts the creature’s knowledge of the Creator on the same level as the Father’s knowledge of the Son, and the Son’s knowledge of the Father” (Philip Mauro, Which Version: Authorised or Revised?).
Acts 20:28 -- “church of God” changed to “church of the Lord.” The Traditional Text says plainly that it was God who died on the cross and shed His blood, whereas the Alexandrian text allows for the heretical view that Jesus is the Lord but that he is not actually God.
Romans 14:10 -- “judgment seat of Christ” is changed to “judgment seat of God.” The “judgment seat of Christ” clearly identifies Jesus Christ with Jehovah God (Isaiah 45:23).
1 Corinthians 15:47 -- “the Lord” omitted
Ephesians 3:9 -- “by Jesus Christ” omitted
1 Timothy 3:16 -- “God” is omitted and replaced with “who” or “he”
1 John 4:3 -- “confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” changed to “confesseth not Jesus”; every false spirit will “acknowledge Jesus” in a general sense (even Unitarians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses), but the spirit of antichrist will not “confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” meaning that Jesus Christ is the very Messiah, the very God manifest in the flesh, promised in Old Testament prophecy.
1 John 5:7-8 -- “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth” omitted
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