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

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It has often been remarked that Jehovah, the peculiar and sacred name of
the true God, is singular, whilst the plural name, Elohira, CD'n'?^ is one
which is equally applied to idols, and is even given, without impropriety,
to human objects of respect, and which, so far as we know or have any
means of judging, may be supposed to be a word of human construction,
signifying an object of adoration. Dr. S. indeed maintains, that when the
word Elohim is applied to a single idol, it refers to something plural in its
nature, and he reminds us of the multiform appearance of many idols ; but
this is a mere hypothesis, and it is more natural and reasonable to suppose
that the plurality in the name had the same cause in all the cases of its oc-
currence. Dr. S. thinks that when it is said to Moses (Ex. iv. 16), "Thou
shall be to him (cD'n^^'?) /or, as ox instead of Elohim,'' "The sense is
palpably limited to his acting, on the occasion, as the immediate messenger
and representative of the Most High," and in like manner Ex. vii. 1. It

* The word does not occur in the full plural form, but in construction with a
pronominal suffix, rV^l Dr. S. denies that this is plural at all, and supposes the
» to be introduced in imitation of other names of relationship, li^ a father, *]'!«
thy father, n« a brother, rnt^ his brother, an a father-in-law, ri^T:in her father-
in-law. But in all these instances the primitive forms, as our author properly states,
appear to have been >n« 'n^ »Dn which readily accounts for the insertion of the
» before the suffix, and there is no reason why they should have been in)itated in
words of a different form ; at the best the supposition is a mere conjecture, resorted
to to suit a purpose, and not being a very plausible one, the more obvious explana-
tion founded on the analogy of 'JT« will continue to be generally received.


cerlainly seems to us, on the contrary, that the only admissible sense is,.
*'thou shall be to him as a superior being deHvering directions, which it
shall be his business to obey;" that it is not being the organ of Jehovah,
but exercising that kind of superiority and authority which the name Elohim
implies, which is intended, and, therefore, that the word could not have been
used had it been of the nature of a proper name, or had its plural form been
considered as connected with any mystery. Again, in the passage adduced
by Mr. Belsham from 1 Sam. xxviii. 13, " I see Elohim olim literally,,
Gods ascending, but supposed by Mr. B. to mean only the figure of Samuel,'*
Dr. S. affirms, that

" Whatever the impostress saw or pretended to see, her words undeniably
affirm a pluriiHty of objects. The figure of Samuel could, therefore, have been»
only one form out of several; so that to regard Elohim as an appellation
given to Samuel, is both begging the question, and a violation of the plain
grammar of the passage."

Now this is pretty strong assertion, but it cannot alter the facts of the case.
When the woman said to Saul, " I saw Gods ascending out of the earth, he
said unto her. What form is he of?" (Plainly shewing that Saul under-
stood her to speak of one figure.) " She said. An old man comelh up and
is covered with a mantle, and Saul perceived that it was Samuel." The
connexion seems to us to prove, beyond all question, that only one figure is
at all said to have appeared, and that this being considered as something su-^
pernatural, was called a God (Elohim) by the ignorant or artful woman. As,
to the grammar, the construction is precisely the same with Elohhn Shofetim^
(both plural,) "a God that judgeth," Ps. Iviii. 12. Elohim haiim, (both
plural,) the living God, &c. Mr. B.'s example, then, is a very clear and
important one of this plural in a singular sense being used of one being re-
cognized as distinct from and inferior to God, and consequently implying no
mystery of the Divine nature. But, according to our author, Elohim not
being limited like Jehovah to express the Supreme Being alone,

" For that very reason it became the more necessary to guard against pos-
sible and probable abuse. As the word was in ordinary use to designate the
numerous false deities of the nations, it was the more likely, and even una-,
voidable that the Hebrews would understand its perpetual occurrence in the
plural form as the designation of their own God to be an express intimation
that plurality in some sense belonged to him." — (Script. Test. p. 517 )

We cannot, we confess, understand the logic of this passage. Because the
word Elohim, a plural form, was in ordinary use to designate any one of the
false deities of the nations, each one of which was known to be, and always
considered to be singular, therefore the Hebrews would understand it to
have a plural sense when applied to a Being, "of whose essential unity,
(to use Dr. S.'s words,) from other infallible testimonies, they were certain."
We surely only do justice to them in supposing that had any doubt been
suggested they would have drawn the contrary conclusion, and knowing the
\iniiy of the object denoted by the plural term in the case of the idol, would
have concluded the unity also, independently of any declaration of it, of that
Being, concerning whose nature they could not have direct knowledge.
We have enlarged upon this subject, not because we think the argument from
the pluralisms likely to have much weight with any inquirer, rejected as it
has been by many of the most learned defenders of the Trinity, and obscure
and dubious as it appears, even admitting all that is affirmed — but because,
being a curious subject and very ably treated by Dr. S., we imagined many


readers might be glad to see it noticed somewhat more fully than Unitarian
controversialists in general deem necessary.

Dp. S. devotes a chapter to " An Inquiry into the State of Opinion and
Expectation with respect to the Messiah existing among the Jews in the
period between the closing of the Old Testament and the dissolution of their
National Establishment."

It is a subject to which many of the defenders of reputed orthodoxy
attach much importance, and what our author has written upon it claims our
notice as much on account of concessions^ which, comino; from one of his
opinions, as well as his learning, deserve to be recorded, as on account of
arguments which we are unwilling to pass by without an attempt to ascertain
their real value.

The chapter contains five sections devoted to the inquiry, and a sixth
stating the results. The subjects are, 1. The Syriac and Septuagint Ver-
sions ; 2. The Chaldee Targums ; 3. The Apocrypha ; 4. The Works of
Pliilo and Josephus ; 5. The Rabbinical Writings.

*' The Syriac Version of the Old Testament is considered by the critics as
of an antiquity prior to the Christian era .... It is a strict version ; and it
is remarkably clear and strong in those passages which attribute characters of
Deity to the Messiah."

In what degree Dr. S. has exaggerated the testimony of this version in his
favour, we shall not now stop to inquire. We think we might trust our
own cause to a fair examination of that version only; but we would ask what
he means by asserting that it is " considered by critics as of an antiquity
prior to the Christian era" } No doubt it is so considered by some writers ;
indeed, it has been affirmed to be as old as the time of Solomon ; but a much
later date has been assigned to it by critics of deservedly high authority in
such matters, aiid we have been accustomed to consider its having been
made some time after the Christian era so much as a settled point, that
we were surprised at a contrary statement, unaccompanied by a hint of un-
certainty or a particle of evidence. The most probable date of the Syriac
Version of the Old Testament seems to be about the latter end of the second
century after Christ. As to the Greek Version, Dr. S. avows that it gives
him no assistance, and in consequence he treats, perhaps, with less than
justice its venerable authors.

In the section on the Targums, or ancient Chaldee Paraphrases on
the Old Testament, he insists, indeed, that the instances he has brought
forward in speakinoj of the original texts, '* though the number of such is
not great, have sufficiently shewn that the writers did not refrain from
ascribing to the Messiah the titles and attributes of the Supreme God ;" but
be, with evident reluctance, and much to the credit both of his judgment
and his honesty, abandons the argument from the use of the phrase, the
word of the Lord, giving the following, after a full illustration of the sub-
ject by examples, as " the results of impartially examining the question :"

"I. That the primary import of the Chaldee expression is that, whatever
it may be, which is the medium of communicating the mind and intention of
one person to another,

" 2. That^ it thence assmned the sense of a reciprocal pronoun. 3. That
when used in the latter sense, its most usual application is to the Divine
Being; dei.o ing, if we may use the expression, God, his very set/ ; Deus
ipsisshnus^ ; and is the synonyine and substitute of the most exclusive of all
the appellatives of Deity, the name Jehovah. 4. That there is no certain
proof of its being distinctly applied to the Messiah in any of the Targums


how extant ; while, in very numerous places, it is so plainly used, with peV'
sonnl attrihutives, yet in distinction from the name of God, that an application
to the Messiah cannot be held improbable." [This extorted acknowledgment
is enough for our purpose, but we are prepared to contest the statement in
the latter clause.] " 5. That solely from the use of the phrase, the memra of
J((Ii, or the tcord of the Lord, in those paraphrases, no absolute information
can be deduced, concerning the doctrine of the Jews, in the interval between
the Old Testament and the New, upon the person of their expected Messiah.
1 have said {^olely from the use of this phrase ; but if we combine this fact with
others, derived from the study of the Old Testament, it uill, I conceive,
appear a very rational conjecture, that the Rabbinical authors of the age
referred to, had vague ideas of the Word 2^^ an intelligent agent, the medium
of the Divine operations and communications to mankind. I cannot, how-
ever, make this opinion a ground of independent argument, as has been done
by some writers,* who have probably taken it from each other in succession,
without much severity of examination." — Scripture 'I'est. Ch. vii. Vol. I. pp.
561 — 56:^ 2d edition.

Although his conjecture as to the Rabbinical use of the term Word does
not seem to us very rational^ we can excuse Dr. S.'s anxiety to find in the
phraseology of the Targumswhat his flmcy may represent as relics of a faith^
in his estimation purer, existing in earlier times, in consideration of the
candour of his acknowledgment that the use of the phrase " Word of the
Lord," can afford no absolute information concerning the doctrine of the
Jews of that age upon the person of the expected Messiah. As to the
alleged instances of titles and attributes of the Supreme God being ascribed
in the Targums to the Messiah, we can only say that we are acquainted with
no such instances, and that in the examples produced by Dr. S. he appears,
to us to have strangely misconceived the meaning of the author's words ; of.
this we shall give one or two specimens in justification of what we have as-
serted. In Dr. S.'s supplementary note on 2 Sam. xxiii. 1 — 7, is the fol-
lowing passage :

** A part of this Targum or Chaldee Paraphrase of Jonathan deserves to be
transcribed, as an interesting proof that the ancient Jews regarded the pas-
sage as certainly referring to the Messiah; and that in so applying- it, they
attributed to him the exj)ress characters of Deity. The God of Israel spake
tvith respect to me, the Hock of Israel, the Sovereign of the sons of men, the
true Judge hath spoken to appoint me king, for He is the Messiah that shall
be, li'lio shall arise and rule in the fear of the Lord."

Now we venture to present what follows as a faithful translation of the
words of the Targum as found in the London Polyglott, which we transcribe
in the note :

" David said. The God of Israel hath spoken to me; the Rock of Israel,
He -who ruleth among- the sons of men ; the righteous Judge hath said,
that he would appoint to me a king (i. e. as a successor). This is the Messiah
who will arise and rule in the fear of the Lord." f

Whatever may be the sense of the original, it is perfectly evident that this
Paraphrast considered the words of God to David to be the promise of a

* " Particularly by Dr. Piter AUlv, in his Judgment of the y^ncient Jewish
Church; a work not remarkable for accurate statement or jiulicious reasoning." —
Author's note.

«u^j« »jni to'^ptyi ^«itr^n «E3'pr) hhr:^ "hv V«nii^n «nV« nn ")d« f

Targum on 2 Sam. xxiii. 3, 4. — : v\


king to sit on bis throne, and explained that promise as applying to the Mes-
siah, who was to rule in the fear of Jehovah, not to be the God of Israel.
Dr. S.'s translation is unwarrantable, as the meaning he assigns to the pas-
sage is preposterous.

One other example, which we shall take from the xlvth Psalm, will suffice.
Dr. S. quotes from the Targum,

** Ver. 2. Thy beauty, O kin^ Messiah, is pre-eminent above the sons of
men : the spirit of prophecy is given unto thy lips : therefore God hath
blessed thee for ever. (Ver. 7-) The throne of thy glory, O Jehovah, standeth
for ever and ever ; a righteous sceptre is the sceptre of thy kingdom. (Ver.
8.) Because thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness, therefore
thus hath Jehovah thy God anointed thee with the ointment of joy profusely
above thy fellows."

There is surely enough in this passage which is inconsistent with Deity in
the person addressed, but the question is whether Dr. S. has rightly trans-
lated and applied the words of the Targum, ver. 7 ; and if we were obliged
to admit without question the present pointing of the word D^p, we could not
object to his version, however much we might be astonishea at the sense it
seems to convey ; but the Targums originally existed and long remained un-
pointed. The pointing was first performed by various and unknown indi-
viduals in a very inaccurate manner, and as now given, it has been reviewed
and corrected by several Christians, especially by Buxtorf, who would, with-
out doubt, point according to their own notion of the sense of the passage.
Now, considering the word D'p as a verb, and pointing it with a Trere in-
stead of a Kametz under the >, the translation is, " The throne of thy glory
Jehovah hath established for et?er," which exactly corresponds with the
sense ascribed to the Hebrew original by Mr. Belsham and others. And if
any one is scrupulous about altering the points, (though their authority is
generally allowed to be exceedingly small,) we would refer him to the Tar-
gum on Ps. X. ver. 12, where the same word occurring as a verb is, never-
theless, pointed with the Kametz, probably by mistake, as there seems to be
no doubt about the sense. The words are ")1> r)^Hll> D*p ** Dip, " Arise,
O Jehovah, establish the covenant of thy hand." All other supposed cases
of divine names being attributed to the Messiah in the Targums are suscepti-
ble of equally easy explanation.

In his chapter on the Apocrypha, Dr. S.'s utmost ingenuity can produce
nothing more like evidence for his system than the expression " Eternal
Saviour" in the book of Baruch, a book the date of which is unknown, and
which is entirely destitute of authority. Yet even here the Common Ver-
sion, " The Everlasting, our Saviour," is to be preferred to his, because the
Everlasting occurs frequently as a name of the Deity in the same book, and
is even found in the same sentence.

From Philo our author quotes pretty largely. He identifies the logos of
this writer with the Messiah, supposing him to have been led by his philo-
sophical opinions to dwell chietly on the spiritual part of the mixed nature,
whilst he occasionally recognizes personal qualities rather through the influ-
ence of the prevailing opinions of the Jews in general, than in strict con-
sistency with his own theories.

** It appears to me," says Dr. S , ** that there is a real inconsistency in the
assertions and doctrines of Philo concerning the Logos ; but such incon-
sistency as, though not excusable, is yet capable of being accounted for on
the common principles of human infirmity." . . . *' From all the circum-
stances, it seems to me the most reasonable conclusion, that the leading


acceptation of the menira or logos^ among the Jews of this raitUlle age, was
to designate an intelligent^ intermediate agent ; that in the sense of a Media-
tor between God and man, it became a recognized appellative of the Messiah ;
that the personal doctrine of the word was the one generally received ; and
that the conceptual notion, which Philo interweaves with the other, was purely
his own invention, the result of his theological philosophy, and the filling up,
as it were, and finishing of a favourite theory."— Script. Test. Vol. I. pp. 699,
600, 2nd ed.

No one will be surprised that a sufficient number of passages may be
found in the writings of Philo, in wiiich the logos is so spoken of; that taken
from their connexion, considered apart from the other doctrines of their
author, and with the assumption of inconsistency and error on his part,
whenever it may seem to be required, they may appear favourable to the
doctrine which Dr. S. labours to defend ; but a more particular examination
of the opinions and language of the Jewish philosopher will, we think, prove
that he has been greatly misunderstood by those who quote him as favouring
the pre-existence or Deity of the Messiah, and that his writings can throw
little light on Christian controversy, except as an example of that false phi-
losophy which so early corrupted the church.

After rejecting the notion entertained by some, that Philo was a Christian,
Dr. S. says,

** The coincidences of sentiment, and more frequently of phraseology,
which occur in the writings of Philo with the language of Paul and of John
in the New Testament, must be accounted for on some other principles.
Yet it would be contrary to all the philosophy of human nature, not to ascribe
these different but similar streams to one primary source. That source, I
venture to propose, is not so much to be sought in the writings of Plato, or
in the ethical lectures of the learned Jews of Alexandria, or in the sole spe-
culations and invented diction of Philo himself;— as in the Sacred Writings
of THE Old Testament, transfused into the Alexandrian idiom, paraphrased
and amplified in the terms and phrases which were vernacular to the Grecian
Jews, and mixed in a very arbitrary manner with the speculations both of the
Persian and the Greek philosophers." — Script. Test. Vol. I. p. 574, 2nd ed.

Dr. S. can hardly mean to deny that many of the most remarkable charac-
teristics of the religious philosophy of Philo are derived from the school of
Plato, and if due weight be given to his first remark in this passage, that the
coincidences between the Jewish writer and the New Testament are more
frequently of phraseology than of sentiment y and to the concluding one, that
whatever was drawn from the Old Testament was inixed in a very arbitrary
manner with the speculations both of the Persian and Greek philosophers,
we see nothing in the rest to which we are disposed materially to object, or
the full admission of which has any bearing on the points of difference be-
tween us and Dr. S.

There has been much discussion on the question, to what school of philo-
sophy Philo ought to be considered as belonging ; the general voice of anti-^
quity declaring him a Platonist, whilst some learned moderns have maintained
that he was an Eclectic; others have supposed him to represent the prevailing
opinions of the Alexandrian Jews of his time ; others, again, regard him as
himself the founder of a sect, and the original author of the doctrines he de-
livered. It has been very justly remarked, that there is much less real dif-
ference between these several statements than would at first view appear, and
than their authors supposed. If in insisting on the Platonism of Philo we
must be understood to maintain that he professedly and exclusively addicted


himself to the Platonic school, against such an opinion arguments scarcely to
be resisted mio;ht, without much difficulty, be adduced. Indeed, how could
a Jew attached to his religion, di>;posed probably to regard as indirectly de-
rived from the writings of his own lawgiver all that seemed excellent in the
philosophy of other nations, and obliged to modify into at least apparent
harmony with those writings all the doctrines which he embraced, profess
unresisting submission to the dicta of any Pagan master ? It is not to be
denied, however, that some of the most striking peculiarities of the Platonic
doctrine are adopted by Philo, and that he explains his meaning by phrase-
ology and imagery derived from the works of Plato himself, and much used
among his followers. If we call him an Eclectic, as there is no doubt that
he occasionally quotes with approbation, and adopts v.'ithout reserve, the
sentiments of philosophers of different schools, still it is not the less mani-
fest that his notions respecting the Divine Nature are Platonic. The later
Platonists and Eclectics hardly differed except in name, the latter greatly
admiring Plato and following him, especially on subjects relating to the
nature of God and the mind.

Those who maintain that Philo only adopted the prevailing sentiments of
the learned Jews at Alexandria, should recollect that these Jews studied in
the schools of philosophy for which that city was celebrated, and in which a
system, which, if not strictly Platonic, was very nearly allied to Platonism,
was generally taught. It is probable enough that Philo may not have mate-
rially differed in opinion from the more learned of his countrymen in his
native city, but it does not follow that his doctrines are Jewish traditions ; it
is rather evident how much the circumstances of their education led them to
accommodate their religion to the wisdom of the age, explaining its simple
truths according to the fanciful speculations of philosophy, and saving its
historic details from the contempt with which they would otherwise have been
inclined to treat them, by allegorizing them into the mystical expression of
obscure and useless dogmas. Those who speak of Philo's philosophy as his
own invention, and represent him rather as the founder of a sect than as a
supporter of the doctrines of any former leader, can surely mean no more
than that he made \i\i=, selection of opinions for himself, that he adopted the
principle of the Eclectics, but not satisfied with what was done in their
schools, being, indeed, in a peculiar situation as a Jew, his doctrines did not
sufficiently agree with theirs for him to be correctly described as belonging
to their sect ; all which is not, or need not be denied by those who call atten-
tion to the manifest signs of Platonism in the works of Philo, and clearly
shew that much of his language, respecting the nature of the Deity, is de-
rived, not from the principles of his own religion, or the traditions of his
nation, but from the doctrines of the Greek philosopher, which, however,
he has mixed with opinions derived from various other sources, and reduced
into some sort of agreement with the principles of his own religion.

We cannot hope to understand the language of Philo respecting the logos,
except by considering it in connexion with his whole doctrine concerning
the Divine Nature. We ought, perhaps, hardly to expect perfect consis-
tency from so obscure and mystical a writer, but it will help much to remove
difficulties, if we keep in mind that many parts of his works are written
popularly, according to that view of rehgion which he considered to be
suited to the condition of mankind in general, whilst others are designed to
express the more just and sublime sentiments to which only the learned and
contemplative could attain, and which differ from the former so widely,
that we might despair of harmonizing them, did we not meet with passages


in which the precepts and opinions of the popular religion are adapted to
and explained by the sublimer theology.

That Philo, believing in one God, nevertheless frequently speaks of three

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Online LibraryBritish and Foreign Unitarian AssociationA review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah → online text (page 8 of 15)