British and Foreign Unitarian Association.

A review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah online

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryBritish and Foreign Unitarian AssociationA review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

corrupt state of the text, and we cannot but think the sense at present too
uncertain for it to be appealed to as of any importance in the support of a
controverted doctrine. As, however. Dr. Smith finds in it the direct appli-
cation of the name Jehovah to the Messiah, we shall just lay before our
readers the true state of the fact. 2 Sam. xxiii. 4, the Authorized Version
gives, " And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth,
even a morning without clouds ; as the tender grass springing out of
the earth by clear shining after rain." Dr. Smith, inserting the word Jeho-
vah on the authority of a single Hebrew MS., (a valuable one certainly, yet
only one,) doubtfully supported by the ancient Greek Version, translates
thus ;

Ver. 3. •* Ruling- over man is a Righteous one

Ruling in the fear of God :
Ver. 4. Even as the light of the morning shall he arise,

Jehovah the sun,

A morning without clouds for brightness,

(As) after rain the herbage from the earth."

Dr. Keunicott, who first brought to light the various reading, thus renders
the words :

Ver. 3. '' The Just one ruleth ainong men.
He ruleth by the fear of God !

Ver. 4, As the light of the morning ariseth Jehovah
A sun, without clouds, for brightness ;
And as the grass from the earth after rain.

Ver. 5. Verily thus is my house with God," &c.
Though no considerate man would build much on a passage so doubtful,
we allow that the authority for inserting the word Jehovah is important, and
we think that Dr. K.'s version (which we much prefer to our author's) gives
a much clearer sense than we have seen derived from the common text ; but
admitting this version, and admitting what is more doubtful, though we
would not pretend positively to deny tt, that the words are prophetic of the
kingdom of the Messiah, the obvious and natural interpretation would be,
not to regard Jehovah as a name given to the Messiah, but to consider the
great events contemplated as the bright and glorious manifestation of his
presence, the proofs of his fidelity to his covenant with David. It is found,
then, that the passage is altogether very obscure ; that its application to the
subject of the Messiah is not a little doubtful; that its whole point in the con-
troversy respecting the person of Christ, depends on an uncertain emenda-
tion of the text; and that, admitting this, (which, us it is plausible, and stems


to clear the sense, we are willing to do, though without placing much reli-
ance upon it,) still the words are naturally explained of God's display of his
power and glory in the gospel ; and the construction which makes " the just
one" identical with Jehovah, is both needless and harsh— it is, indeed,
absolutely inconsistent with the preceding and following clauses : " He
ruleth by the fear of God'' — " Thus is my house with God."

Sect. 'ix. Job xix. 23—27.

Dr. S.'s translation of this passage is very peculiar :

Ver. 2b. *' I surely do know my Redeemer, the living one :

And HE the last, will arise over the dust.
Ver. 26. And after the disease has cut down my skin.

Even from my flesh I shall see God."

It is represented as " a prophecy of the second coming of the only Re-
deemer and Judge of mankind," and as " unequivocally designating Him
by the highest titles and attributes of Deity."

It may be sufficient for us to remark, that this passage is one of the most
difficult in the Bible ; that of the immense number of critics who have ap-
plied themselves particularly to the book of Job, scarcely any two agree
respecting its sense, or at least respecting the mode of deriving the sense
from the words ; and that a large proportion, equal to any in learning and
judgment, and many of them even in what is called orthodoxy of sentiment,
have denied all reference of the words to a future state of existence ; whilst
amongst those who have contended for their application to this subject, our
author stands almost alone in maintaining their direct application to the
Messiah, interpreted so as to apply to him the titles and attributes of Deity.
Unless, then, his version be so peculiarly clear and satisfactory, and esta-
blished by such irresistible force of evidence, as to justify its decided prefer-
ence to those of all his predecessors, no person of common sense will give
the passage much weight in a controversy respecting the personal nature of
one who appeared in the world so many ages after it was written.

Now, Dr. S. himself will hardly venture to deny that the words of the
original may, with strict propriety, be rendered,

" For I know that my deliverer (or avenger) Uveth,
And that hereafter he will rise up over the dust," &c. :

where the epithets to which he attaches so much importance entirely dis-
appear, and even if his version were admitted, the application to the Messiah
would not, considering the connexion, be even probable. We should still
agree with nearly all translators and commentators in supposing God him-
self to be referred to. We ourselves embrace with great confidence the
opinion of those who maintain that Job here speaks only of a temporal deli-
verance, and that both the general object of the book and several remark-
able passages in it, prove the author to have been ignorant of the doctrine
of a future state : but whatever the reader may think on this point, we have
made it evident that the application Dr. S. has made of the passage is ut-
terly unfounded and indefensible.
Sect. X. Psalm ii.

** The last clause of the Psalm" (says Dr. Smith) " merits particular atten-
tion as demanding that trust and confidence in the JMessiah, which the
general tenor of Scripture and many particular passages direct to be reposed
only in the Almighty and Everlasting God. It is religious reliance that is
requiied. If this powerful and victorious King were but a creature, such


confidence would be * trusting in an arm of flesh,' and would mark * a heart
departing from the Lord.' But the reason upon which this confidence is
called for is equally inapplicable to the idea of a mere creature. It is his
right to the most absolute homage; it is his al)ility to bless ; it is \)\?, power
as shewn in the dreadful consequence of provoking his justice and incurring
'even but a little' of his righteous displeasure."— Scrip. Test., second edition.
Vol. I. p. 307.

The last two verses of the Psalm are thus rendered by Dr. Smith :

11. " Serve Jehovah with reverence.

And rejoice with trembling.

12. Do homage to the Son, lest he be angry
And ye perish on the road ;

When his wrath is even for a moment kindled !
Blessed are all who trust in Him !"

Did it never occur to our author, that since " the general tenor of Scrip-
ture, and many particular passages direct (religious) trust and confidence
to be reposed only in the Almighty and Everlasting God," it would be but
reasonable to understand this passage in consistency with them, which may
be done by a very obvious and altogether unobjectionable construction ?

" Do homage to the Son, lest He (Jehovah, referring to the preceding
verse) be angry.
And ye perish on the road (rather * in your way') ;
AVhen His (Jehovah's) wrath is even for a moment kindled.
Blessed are all who trust in Him (Jehovah)."

But, though all difficulty is even thus removed, we must not omit to ob-
serve that the original word, rendered by Dr. S. and most other translators.
Son, and w hich truly has that meaning in the Chaldee dialect, cannot be
proved to have it in pure Hebrew, but does signify pure, sincere, whence
the words have been, with much probability of truth, translated, *' Reverence
sincerely," or, " offer sincere homage," " lest He be angry," &c., which
makes the whole passage relate to God alone.

Another remark of Dr. S., that " the Messiah is clearly and plainly re-
presented as an existing and acting person, at the time when the Psalm
was written," is answered by observing, that there can be little doubt of the
Psalm having had an immediate application to David himself, whatever
secondary and prophetic reference to the reign of the Messiah may be found
in it, and that, therefore, it must necessarily speak of the anointed king as
living and acting, though not intending by that language to convey any-
extraordinary doctrine respecting the nature of a greater Messiah afterwards
to be raised up, but already appointed in the Divine counsels.

Sect. xiii. Psa. xl. 6 — 10.

6. " Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in :

Then a body thou hast prepared for me.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering thou desirest not :

7. Then I said. Behold, I come !

In the roll of the book it is written concerning me,

8. To execute thy pleasure, O God, I do delight," &c.

*' The terms of the passage," says Dr. S., " appear to require absolutely
the sense of the abrogation of animal sacrifices by a person who declares that
the very book which described those sacrifices had its superior reference to
him, and that he himself would present the only sacrifice that should be
worthy of Deity to accept. I must despair of ever ac(iuinng consistent know-


ledg-e, or satisfaction on any subject of rational inquiry ; I must give up the
first principles of evidence as to prophecy and inspiration, and, rcnouncin<if
all sober rules of interpretation, commit myself to the extravagance of fancy
and arbitrary dictates, — if this be not a clear and characteristic description
of the Messiah."


'* That glorious Person is represented as, in a state of existence previous
to his appearance amon^ mortals, contemplating with supreme joy the de-
signs of Divine benevolence, g-lowing witli holy ardour to bear his part in the
gracious plan, and ready to assume that human form, which in the appointed
time would be prepared and adapted for this all-important desig-n." — Scrip.
Test. Vol. I. p. 325, second edition.

We read with astonishment such confident assertions, resting on so very-
slight a foundation, and cannot repress the reflection, that the defenders of
popular opinions could not attach much importance to passages like this,
unless driven to them, by the entire absence of all really satisfactory evi-

In the second clause of ver. 6, Dr. S. adopts the reading of the ancient
Greek version, " Then a body thou hast prepared for me," chiefly because
it has been so quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The literal translation
of the present Hebrew text is what is found in the Received Version :
" Mine ears thou hast opened." There is no variation in the Hebrew MSS.,
and no ancient version, except those taken from the Greek, differs from the
common reading ; for Dr. S.'s remark, that there exist MSS. of the very
ancient Syriac Version, having the reading " a body," is of no importance,
since these MSS., written by Christians, may have been corrected to the
Epistle to the Hebrews, and there is no good reason to doubt the genuineness
of the printed Syriac text, which follows the Hebrew reading. Indepen-
dently, then, of the quotation in the Epistle to the Hebrews, no one would
hesitate to prefer the reading of the present Hebrew copies. The Greek
translation contains many strange blunders, and though of great interest and
value, would not alone in a case of this kind be sufficient to shake our confi-
dence in a reading which gives a good sense, and is supported by all other
authorities. Many learned men suppose that the word *' body," even in
the Greek, is a later corruption, but for this we see no reason, as it has been
shewn how, by mistaking a letter or two, they might have derived that sense
from the Hebrew words, and it is not a solitary instance of their falling into
such a mistake ; but no critic would hesitate (setting aside the Epistle to
the Hebrews) to adhere to the received text in the Psalm. The question then
is, whether the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who, as a Jew acquainted
with the Greek language, would be familiar with the LXX. Greek translation,
and disposed to quote from it, was protected by his inspiration from follow-
ing any error that might be found in it, and does by his authority establish
a reading which would otherwise be without hesitation rejected. Now, we
do not know who was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrew.^, and the
ancient church differed greatly as to its value ; but granting it the highest
authority, the writer quotes the passage from the Psalm, not as prophetic,
but in the way of application, as a suitable mode of expressing his doctrine.
That doctrine, we doubt not, he received on sufficient authority. Grant
that he had it by direct personal inspiration, (which if Paul was the writer
was true, and may have been true if it was written by others to whom it has
been ascribed,) yet is it to be supposed, that he not only received the doc-


trine, but also the mode of expressing it, or that the h<2;]it he had obtained
respecting the meaning and purpose of the ancient Scriptures extended to
the correction of every error in the version of those Scriptures witli which
he was famihar ? We can neither find that such inspiration as this was
pretended to, nor can we perceive its utihty. The v/riter of the Epistle, teach-
ing what he knew (probably by personal inspiration) to be genuine Christian
doctrine, quoted the Psalm in the form in which it was familiar to him,
using its words to express the sentiment he wished to convey. That senti-
ment is the abolition of the sacrifices of the law, of which the death of
Christ, in obedience to the will of God, described as the offering " of his
body," was the sign and seal. But we can find nothing resembling Dr.
Smith's doctrine in the Epistle, and much less is it to be extracted from the
Psalm, which indeed we can see no pretence for considering as at all pro-
phetic. The following, we apprehend, to be a fair translation of the prin-
cipal verses quoted, which we request the reader to compare with that which
we have given from Dr. Smith :

Ver. 6. " Sacrifice and meat-offering thou desirest not ;

(My ears thou hast opened;) [i. e. thou hast made me willing to

attend to thy instructions]
Burnt-offering and sin-offering thou requirest not.

7. Then I said, * Lo, I come ; [I am ready to hear and obey thy

In the roll of the booli, it is prescribed to me,

8. * To do what is acceptable to thee, O God, is my delight :

And thy law is within me.'"

Wellbeloved's Bible, Part VI.

Section xiv. Psalm xlv. 2 — 8. The important vi^ords are in ver. 6,
** Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever !"

The Psalm is considered as a prophetic address to the Messiah, who is
therefore here called God, and the use made of the words in Hebrews i. 8,
'' But to the Son (he saith). Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever," is
regarded as establishing beyond all doubt the validity of this application.
Some Unitarian expositors, as Mr. Belsham, adopt the translation, " God is
thy throne," the support of thy throne, i. e. he will make thy dominion
mighty and durable, which both the Hebrew of the Psalm and the Greek of the
quotation in the Epistle will equally well bear, and which suits the connexion
in both places: others suppose the word God to be here employed in an in-
ferior sense. The prevailing and most probable opinion is, that the 45th Psalm
was written on occasion of the marriage of Solomon with the daughter of the
King of Egypt, and this opinion, as to its primary sense, is held by most of
those who consider it as having a secondary reference to the Messiah and
his kingdom, that is, by the great majority of Christian commentators.
Some interpreters, indeed, of great learning, and whose opinions deserve
much respect, have affirmed that the Psalm must be considered as primarily
addressed to the Messiah, and is not properly applicable to Solomon or to
any other person ; but their chief arguments are drawn from the quotation in
Heb. i. 8, (of which we shall speak presently,) and from the assumption of
the point in dispute, that ver. 6 is an address to some individual as the
Supreme God, whilst their application of other parts of the Psalm is figura-
tive almost throughout, and in some instances extremely forced. The 9th
and following verses may be explained secondarily of the church as the
bride of the Messiah, but their direct and sole application in that sense is
what the sober judgment of no unprejudiced reader can admit. The argu-

rivent from the everlasting duration ascribed to the kingdom of the person
addressed is of no weight, being a common oriental idiom : thus, for ex-
ample, in Nathan's prophecy to David respecting Solomon, 1 Chron. xvii.
1 1 — 14 : " 1 will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons ;
and I will stablish his kingdom. He shall build me an house, (plainly
shewing that Solomon is the person spoken of,) and / will stablish his
throne Foil ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son ; and I
will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before
thee : but I will settle him in mine house and in mykingdom/o?- ever ; and
his throne shall he established for evermore.'''' It is universally acknowledged
that this magnificent, prophetic language was intended, and, according to the
notions o( the age and country, uas well adapted, to express the promise
of a long reign to Solomon, and of posterity to succeed him on his throne,
but nothing more; and we cannot but consider it as going far to justify the
sense, '* God is thy throne, for ever and ever," in the passage under our
consideration, by siiewing how peculiarly God had promised to establish
and support the throne of the prince to whom that passage, beyond all rea-
sonable doubt, immediately referred ; but supposing the common translation
to be preferable, the use of the word God, in an inferior sense, is not un-
known to Scripture, nor at variance with oriental idiom. It must be under-
stood to mean (as Bishop Young has translated it) prince, and it is certain
that what could with propriety be addressed to Solomon, could not be un-
suitable to his great descendant, and could not possibly imply any thing
inconsistent with the unrivalled deitij and perfect unity of the Supreme
Being; indeed, any such abuse of the words is guarded against by the lan-
guage of ver. 7 : " Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil
of gladness above thy fellows,'' words which, if they have any meaning at
all, ascribed to the person addressed inferiority, derived and dependent au-
thority, and equality of rank with some human beings.

Referring to Mr. Belsham's statement, " It is well known that the words
ef the original will equally well bear to be translated God is thy throne'" —
a statement which, after due deliberation, we have ventured to adopt in the
preceding remarks, Dr. S. says, " It is not quite consistent with fairness
in argument, for the learned writer roundly to assert as well known, what he
could not but know to be extremely disputable, and to have been in fact
generally objected to." There is nothing so plain that it may not be dis-
puted, and Mr. B. did not say or mean that nobody had denied what he
asserted, but he certainly neither did think, nor ought in reason to have
thought, it extremely disputable. He was safe in his assertion, 1st, because
he was directly supported by the authority of Enjedenus and Crellius, Gro-
tius,* Dr. Samuel Clarke, Pierce, Sykes, J. G. Rosenmiiller, and V/akefield,

* Dr. S. remarks, that Gi otiiis " seems anxiously to avoid giving any construction,
contenting himself with saying, '* the sense is." Does Dr. S. then mean to insi-
nuate that this great critic affiimed that to be the sense of a passage of Scripture
which he knew could not be derived from the words ? Such seen)s to be his meaning,
but such a charge neither needs nor deserves an answer. Grotius gives a reasuu
why he thinks that the word " God" must, in this phice, be understDod of the
Supreme Being himself, and adds, " Sensus ergo est: Deus ipse cj-t sedes tua
perpetua." He perceived no difiiculty in this construction : he considered the ori-
ginal words as ambiguous, and not seeing reason to admit that Christ could be called
God in the highest and proper sense ; having, besides, before observed that the
Psalm primarily referred to Solomon, he thought the reason he had given for under-
standing the woul God in its highest sense, a sufficient reason for not addressing it



not now to mention others, men certainly as con^petent to juf^ge, and as
little under the influence of prejudice, as any who have pven an opinion on
the subject ; and 2dly, because, whilst the majority of commentators,
adopting, in conformity with their own doctrinal views, the common con-
struction, pass by this one without particular notice, those who have under-
taken to give reasons against its grammiatical propriety, have signally failed
in their attempts.*

Dr. S.'s objections to the propriety of the fi9;ure, " God is .thy throne,"
seem to us to be either altogether unfounded, or at least oreatly exagge-
rated. God is spoken of as a rock, a foiver, a fortress, a shield, a refuge :
and we do not find much truth in the remark, that the protection or aid
implied in these terms has more dio;nity than that implied in calling him the
throne, i. e. some emblem of dominion of a creature. If we consider that
the word throne is not to be understood literally as a seat, but stands for the
sovereign power and dignity of which it is the symbol, and compare the
passage with Numb, xviii. 20, where God says to the house of Aaron, " I
am thy part and thy inheritance,''^ I will provide for thee a suitable main-
tenance ; Psa. xvi. 5, " Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of
my cup," he allots to me and secures to me ray portion ; Psa. Ixxiii. 26,
" God is my portion for ever," he will provide for me, and to him I look
for comfort ; we cannot but perceive that to describe God as a throne,
meaning the Giver and Upholder of its glory and dominion, is not incon-
sistent with the poetical style of the ancient Hebrews, and by no means
deserves to be spoken of as irreverent, or as indicating the want of all correct

We do not decide in favour of Mr. Belsham's interpretation ; we are in
much doubt on the subject, and rather incline to favour the common trans-
lation, understanding " God" in the sense of " mighty prince ;" but we
have no doubt of the original words fully admitting the sense ascribed to
them by Mr. B. and so many distinguished interpreters of Scripture : we
think there is good reason for the inquiring mind to pause and hesitate be-
tween two highly probable explanations, and it only appears to us certain
that the Psalm must have been originally an epithalamium addressed to some
prince, (who is determined, with great probability, to have been Solomon,)
and consequently that the words under consideration could not possibly have
been designed to ascribe deity to the person addressed.

We proceed to consider the true character and intent of the quotation in

as a title to a created being. Dr. S. would, in like manner, detract from the value
of the opinions ou this point of Enjedin, Clarke, and Pierce : the former only says
*' the worda will admit of this explication :" possnnt sic commodfe explicari. And
tliis, we answer, is all that is wanted, as no one denies that they mai/ be taken ac-
cording to the olher construction. Clarke, in a book written after his Scripture
Doctrine, " follows the commonly-received construction ;" but he does not retract
his opinion that the other is perfectly allowable. Pierce only affirms, in a note, that
it is doubtful which construction is preferable — i. e, precisely the sentiment for which
he is quoted.

* The ambiguity of the Hebrew cannot be denied : the objection to rendering the
Greek words, " God is thy throne," is taken from the article being found in the
predicate of the proposition ; but though not of common occurrence, there are ex-
ceptions to the ordinary practice in this respect, and Mr. Yates, in his Vindication
of Unitarianism, (p. 113,) has produced an instance of a precisely similar construc-
tion, which sufficiently justifies that translation :

Psa. Ixxiii. 2G : 'H //.epj? imv 6 @eo<; sk; rov aiavoi.

Psa. xlv. 6 ; Heb. i. 8 : 'O Bpovoq (tov o Geoq ei^ luv aicovoc.

the Epistle to the Hebrews, and our remarks will extend to the two passages
which form the subjects of Dr. S.'s fifteenth and seventeenth sections, which
are applied to the Messiah solely on the authority of the author of the

Whoever was its author, which must probably always remain a matter of

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryBritish and Foreign Unitarian AssociationA review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah → online text (page 4 of 15)