In recent times, liberal scholarship and its use of the Critical Text and Biblical languages to undermine the historically received Biblical texts and the King James Version of the Bible has met with a strong backlash from Christians who hold to a Biblical position of inspiration and preservation. This backlash, while rightfully denouncing the apostate scholarship that seeks to discredit the doctrine of perfect preservation, has in some camps swung to an extreme position of denying the need for the use of the Biblical language study. One obvious and often dangerous fruit of this knee-jerk reaction has been the embrace of incorrect doctrines and interpretations of Scripture that stem from only considering the English words of the Common Version without further study of their varied senses against the underlying Biblical language text.
Through the influence of the ravings of KJV-inspirationists such as Peter Ruckman and Gail Riplinger, even the use of lexicons (foreign-language dictionaries) has been labelled toxic or dangerous. One wonders which English language dictionary was produced by either Christians with impeccable doctrine (the Oxford English Dictionary was not), or even by inspiration of God. While we await the production of such a dictionary, it may be beneficial to consider the historic Baptist position on the benefit and importance of the study of the Biblical languages, a position that necessarily arises from a proper theology concerning the preservation of Scripture.
We trust that the list that follows will encourage the saints of God (and in particular, the ministers of the Lord's churches) to see the value of the study of the Biblical languages. Resources for studying the Biblical languages from a believing basis (as opposed to textual criticism) may be found [here] and [here].
Notable Baptists who encouraged the study of the Biblical languages:
Felix Mantz (died, 1527)
Mantz lived around the same time as the Reformer Zwingli. Mantz was eventually drowned for his refusal to repent of his adherence to Scriptural baptism.
“He was baptized by Blaurock, a companion in suffering, and in the fields and woods, as occasion offered, with the Hebrew and Greek scriptures in his hand, he expounded the word of God to the people who flocked to hear him.” Tieleman Janszoon Van Braght, A Martyrology of the Churches of Christ, Commonly Called Baptists, During the Era of the Reformation, ed. Edward Bean Underhill, vol. I (London: Hanserd Knollys Society, 1850), 15.
Van Braght also mentions, in passing, a man named Lodovicus, also proficient in the Biblical languages, who was martyred in 1529. - Van Braght, A Martyrology of the Churches of Christ, Commonly Called Baptists, During the Era of the Reformation, I:97
Henry Jessey (1601-1663)
Through the influence of Hanserd Knollys, Jessey left the Episcopal church in England, was Scripturally immersed in 1645, and went on to pastor a Baptist church in London.
“Much of his time was spent in translating the Bible into English, a work for which he was well qualified by his familiarity with the original languages in which the Bible was written. His habit was to carry about with him his Hebrew and Greek Testaments, calling the one, his ‘sword and dagger,’ and the other, his ‘shield and buckler.’” Richard B. Cook, The Story of the Baptists in All Ages and Countries (Greenwood: The Attic Press, Inc., 1884), 110.
John Clarke (1609-1676)
John Clarke was one of the earliest Baptist preachers in New England.
“One of Dr. Clarke's biographers states that ‘he attained high repute for ability and scholarship in languages, including Latin, Greek and Hebrew, law, medicine and theology.’” Thomas W. Bicknell, Story of Dr. John Clarke (Providence: Bicknell, Thomas W., 1915), 41.
Vavasor Powell (1617-1670)
“Another victim of the persecutors of those times, was Vavasor Powell, who is called the ‘Whitefield of Wales.’ He was born in 1617, was learned in the languages, and while a young man received ordination as a minister of the Episcopal Church and for awhile officiated at Clem. He confessed afterwards his unfitness for the sacred office, because he slighted the Scriptures and was a stranger to secret and spiritual prayer, and a great profaner of the Sabbath. One day as he was preaching on the Sabbath, a Puritan rebuked him which led him to be concerned for his soul. He was afterward converted and joined the nonconformists, being baptized on profession of his faith in 1636, and finally became a Baptist minister.” Cook, The Story of the Baptists, 132.
The General Assembly of Particular Baptists (1689)
These churches met together and agreed to create a fund dedicated to training men with a desire to learn the original languages of Scripture
“The fund was further devoted to ‘Assist those members that shall be found in any of the churches that are disposed for study, have an inviting gift, and are sound in fundamentals, in attaining to the knowledge and understanding of the languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.’“In replying to a number of questions it was affirmed that it was an unquestionable advantage: ‘For our brethren now in the ministry, to obtain a competent knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin tongues, that they may be the better capable of defending the truth against opposers.’” John Tyler Christian, A History of the Baptists (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1922), 323.
William Collins (????-1702)
Collins is recorded in history as one of the earliest examples of a man who began in the ministry as Baptist minister, and never involved in Anglicanism.
“So that his sermons were useful under the influence of divine grace, to convert and edify, to enlighten and establish, being drawn from the fountain of truth, the sacred Scriptures, with which he constantly conversed in their original languages, having read the best critics, antient and modern; so that men of the greatest penetration might learn from his pulpit-discourses, as well as those of the meanest capacity.” Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, vol. II (London: Joseph Ivimey, 1814), 400.
Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)
“The knowledge of the original languages, in which the scriptures are penned, is of very great utility, that we may converse with that sacred book in its own emphatical and native idiom; so that this kind of literature is good as a handmaid, Hagar-like; but if it must needs be mistress, and usurp authority in the family; if like scoffing Ishmael, it will mock at the Spirit, and the simplicity of the Gospel, let it be cast out. To aid such whose Christian minds incline them to instruct others, when their tender years have lost the education of languages, I should rejoice: But at the same time would strongly recommend them to be indefatigable towards the attainment of the Hebrew and Greek languages.” Benjamin Keach, Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors, in Four Books (London: William Hill Collingridge, 1856), 16.
Bristol College (founded, 1770)
Bristol College was financed by Edward Terril, a member of the church at Broadmead. Terril had been baptized in 1658, and remained a faithful member at Broadmead for 30 years, enduring imprisonment several times.
“[Terril] was a respectable school teacher and valued an education in ministers. Hence he left, by will, a sum of money, $500 a year, to the pastor of the Broadmead church, ‘provided he be an holy man, well skilled in the Greek and Hebrew tongues, in which the Scriptures were originally written; and devote three afternoons in the week to the instruction of any number of young students, not exceeding twelve, who may be recommended by the church, in the knowledge of the original languages and other literature.’ Special provision was made by him for students in destitute circumstances. These were noble gifts and led to the establishment of a theological school at Bristol for the education of students for the Baptist ministry.” Cook, The Story of the Baptists, 165.
John Brine (1703-1765)
Brine, a Particular Baptist, was a contemporary of John Gill
“Mr. Brine, even while compelled to labour for his daily subsistence, embraced every opportunity to cultivate his mind, and at an early age had acquired a respectable acquaintance with the learned languages, and with other branches of useful knowledge.” Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, vol. III (London: B. J. Holdsworth, 1823), 367.
William Carey (1761-1834)
William Carey, that well-known Baptist missionary, was converted at age 22 and a shoemaker in his early years. Consider how he spent his time:
"Being a shoemaker, he worked at his bench, and at the same time applied himself to study with such diligence, that he soon became wonderfully proficient in the languages of the original Scriptures, as well as in several of the modern languages. While working at his trade, making and mending shoes, he had his book before him, and while his hands were employed on the one, his mind was busy at the other, and thus he acquired a knowledge of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, and other languages." Cook, The Story of the Baptists, 310–311.
Alexander Carson (1776-1844)
Carson left the Congregational movement to become a Baptist, going on to write extensively and thoughfully on subjects related to Bibliology and Ecclesiology.
“An acquaintance with the original languages of the Scriptures, with history, &.c. is very necessary to be possessed by the church in at least one of its pastors: but though this is desirable, even as to every Christian, it is by no means indispensable as to some of the pastors. They may be very useful labourers in many respects without this accomplishment.” Alexander Carson, A Reply to Mr. Brown’s Vindication of the Presbyterian Form of Church Government: In Which the Order of the Apostolical Churches Is Defended (Edinburgh: J. Ritchie, 1807), 170.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
“But Mr. Spurgeon was a diligent student of the Bible in its original languages. He taught Latin and Greek before he entered the pastorate in London, and those who were intimately acquainted with him say that his knowledge of all English literature was wonderful, and that in this respect no public man in England surpassed him. That he was very widely read in certain kinds of theological literature is manifest to any one who is acquainted with his published works.” H. Wayland et al, Charles Spurgeon: His Faith and Works (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1892). p.77.
Other examples of Baptist pastors inclined to the study include
Benjamin Beddome (1717-1797) - Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, vol. IV (London: Isaac Taylor Hinton, 1830), 465.
John Tommas (1723/4-1800) - Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, IV:286.
Samuel Stennett (1727-1795) - Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, IV:352.
Abraham Booth (1734-1806) - Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, IV:368, 376.